A city on a hill?

Published 9:50 pm Friday, June 29, 2012

By Chris Surber

The story of America is the story of courage, conflict and liberty. In a famous sermon in 1630, John Winthrop spoke of the pilgrims’ hope to establish “a city upon a hill.” The hope of their hearts was to establish a place of peace, security and liberty.

Leaving behind state established religion and monarch rule, they set sail into unknown waters in more ways than one. What would freedom of religion look like? What would a society look like if it were built primarily upon the goodwill of a man’s neighbors?


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That free society has taken many forms and in many ways is still being shaped. American liberty, as embodied in the Constitution, is more of a promise of liberty than a guarantee. Every generation has had to battle to secure and promote liberty.

Whether it was slavery, women’s rights, child labor, state and national power, prohibition and temperance or wars abroad, liberty has not come without courage and conflict. Its dream must be constantly brought into reality.

Even for the casual observer there is no question that the birth and burgeoning of this great nation is peculiar. For religious observers, it seems obvious that God had His hand upon it.

If it is true that God granted His favor in the establishment of this free people, have we not then also been entrusted with a great responsibility? What I mean is, rather than being content with laziness and satisfied with slothfulness, do we not have our own burden to bear in order to secure and promote liberty in our lives, community and land?

Perhaps you say, “That sounds nice enough but who am I? What can I do?” I’m reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson, our third president. “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

Liberty’s cause needs to be defended in our own homes and neighborhoods. Ignorance of the lessons of the past grips the children of our land. Teach them. Illiteracy plagues us. Read a book to a child. Obliviousness is our public virtue. Seize knowledge. Liberty’s battle happens in every mind, on every street corner, and in every home.

The light of this city on a hill will shine only as brightly as the minds of each generation. Jefferson also wrote that we must “educate and inform the whole mass of the people…. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

If we would honor our inheritance of liberty this Independence Day, we must go beyond fireworks and fun. Essential liberty is God’s gift to every man upon his birth. It is then every person’s responsibility to secure it in his home, his community, his mind and his land.

The light that proceeds from our land starts from the candle burning in the minds of the people of our land.

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at www.chrissurber.com.