The American founders knew that a sound government needed a virtuous citizenry. George Washington insisted that we distinguish “the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last.” Similarly, founder and statesmen Samuel Adams said, “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.” Without decent citizens and politicians, the Constitution is just ink and parchment. It can’t secure our liberties if politicians and judges ignore it.
The rule of law depends on us, too. Adams refers not merely to politicians, but to a people. Charles Colson has often talked about the trade-off between cops and conscience. The more cops we have inside, the fewer we need outside. Imagine a country where every child was born into a loving family headed by a mother and a father. All parents raised up their children in the way they should go with the perfect balance of love and discipline. The adults always did their duty, not for fear of punishment but from well-developed consciences. Even when no one was watching, everyone still did the right thing. As long as the country was sealed from outsiders, it wouldn’t require any cops and prisons. The more people freely obey the rule of law, the less need there is for the state to coerce us. The eighteenth-century Irish statesman Edmund Burke made the same point when he said, “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.”
If we all do whatever we feel like doing, we won’t have a limited government for long. If we can’t make our passions submit to our moral reason, they will have to submit to the sword. This is why Lord Acton said, “Liberty is the delicate fruit of a mature civilization.” If we all do whatever we want, we won’t be free to do what we ought.
Have you gotten the rule of law into your habits and conscience, as virtues, so that you would do the right thing even if you knew you wouldn’t get caught? Maybe you’ve never steal an iPad from the Apple store, or use your neighbor’s credit card, but do you fudge on your tax returns? Have you used software that you were supposed to pay for? Have you “enhanced” your resume when applying for a job? Have you blurred the truth when selling a house or business, or when applying for a mortgage? Do you respect traffic rules even when you’re really, really in a hurry? Have your children seen you do these things? If so, you’re not just committing private sins; in a way, you’re helping chip away at the foundations of freedom.
To restore freedom, we must restore respect for the rule of law. That should start with us. If those submitted to the Holy Spirit won’t do it, how can we expect it from anyone else?
Excerpted from Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late (FaithWords). Watch LIFE TODAY all this week as James and Betty discuss “faith, family, and freedom.”