“We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” (Ellen White, Counsels for the Church, 359)
Over the last two articles in my series on Religious Liberty I emphasized the separation of the spheres of Caesar and God. In this last article of my series of Religious Liberty themed essays, we will explore the importance of freewill. In the world we live in, we face civil and moral decisions that affect our daily lives and we learned how we must know the line between our obligation towards God and the obligation we have towards fellow men. Yet the discussion on Religious Liberty doesn’t stop at a mere knowledge of the separation of the dual spheres.
We should also know what underlying principle guides us in our work to uphold the Righteousness which God asks us to defend. The duty of every Christian believer to warn others of their wrong doings so they can repent isn’t a thing to take for granted. Exalting and conducting Righteousness is the duty of every believer. I still remember my grandfather teaching us this principle when I was a young boy, quoting Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” In a world beset by growing wickedness, it is going to become more and more unpopular to follow God’s commandments, even among those who claim to believe in God.
The particular irony of it all is that in an effort to confront and curb sins as the Bible asks us to do, many professed believers fall into the temptation of resorting to unbiblical methods to do it. Protestants learned the hard way that Church and State must be separated; decades of persecution by the Catholic Church and other Protestants helped form the refuge of religious freedom that we know as the United States of America.
It wasn’t always a haven of liberty. We know the historical narrative of Pilgrims and Puritans migrating to the New World to escape the tyranny of the Church of England. While the Pilgrims that landed at Plymouth in 1620 exercised a good measure of religious liberty, the Puritans that populated the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1628 were intolerant of others with different religious views. Charles I granted a Royal Charter for the Massachusetts colonial expedition, which he later came to regret, seeing that the Puritans became so successful in New England. The king sought to annul the charter in 1635, but, fearing a rebellion, Charles left it untouched, and the Puritans were masters of their new domain.
Quickly forgetting their plight under the persecutions initiated by Charles’ Anglican Archbishop William Laud who persecuted them in England, once given their own power the Puritans were themselves determined to conduct their own campaign of religious suppression. It is one of American History’s most flagrant ironies and one which historians, like myself, are unable to explain. Because the Puritans of Massachusetts executed the Quakers Marmaduke Stephenson, William Robinson, William Leddra and Mary Dyer for their religious beliefs in the 1660’s, New England lost its autonomy when Charles II forbade further executions for religious reasons, revoked the Charter issued by his predecessor and sent a Royal Governor in 1686 to enforce English Law in the Colonies. Three years later, Charles II passed an Act of Toleration, granting more (although not complete) liberties to individuals of diverse faiths.
So in an irony of all ironies, England became the champion of more religious toleration towards the end of the 17th century, whereas the inhabitants of the Colonies which fled to New England on the pretense of escaping persecuting were chastised for their own intolerance. It wouldn’t be until another hundred years later that America would achieve full national autonomy, and I truly believe it was allowed because the founders of this nation finally understood the light of religious liberty through the legacy of Roger Williams and other trail blazers in the search for freedom.
Early Adventists were aware of this history. Roswell Cottrell, in the American Sentinel of July 17, 1889 wrote: “It was not an oversight [by the American Founders] that no one form of religion was preferred above another, and no religious test was to be applied as a qualification for citizenship or for office under the Government. They knew the pernicious results of religious legislation and a union of Church and State, both in the Old World and in the New. The persecutions of Baptists, Quakers, and others in the New England colonies had not faded from their memories.”
America, as we know her as the lamb-like beast of Revelation 13, will sadly again revert to religious bigotry and intolerance. Just like when the Puritans which comprised New England quickly forgot the lessons they learned while being persecuted in England, Americans, many generations later will forget their legacy of Religious Freedom and toleration for all, won with much sacrifice. How is this possible?
It is possible because Satan will use all his cunning in convincing the religious world that freedom and righteousness cannot co-exist. The Devil’s ultimate ace card isn’t an unfettered proliferation of secular atheism and humanism throughout the earth, but a false religion, masquerading as “Christian.” We learned earlier that the Jesuit scholar Francisco Ribera believed the antichrist was a future civil power that will outlaw Christianity; his theological successor the Chilean Jesuit Manuel Lacunza Diaz (1731 – 1801) suggested that the antichrist would be a growing movement of apostates and atheists that will arise one day to persecute Christians, an idea that greatly influenced 19th century premillennialists and allowed Dispensationalist Futurism to become the dominant eschatological view in modern Evangelical Christianity.
For a large part, the plot to unseat prophetic Historicism as the main Protestant view has been successful. William Miller’s and Adventism’s prophetic views are now relegated as heretical and cultish. Even in our own denomination and movement we have those that sympathize with the eschatological views of Dispensationalists and lean towards Christianizing the nation in an attempt to foil the atheist antichrist. One thing is for certain, the antichrist isn’t an atheist.
“… the devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:19, KJV)
Satan believes there is a God, and he wants to overthrow God’s throne and declares “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” (Isaiah 14:14, KJV) Satan also knows he cannot hide the existence of God from man forever. If miracles are to be seen by people, he’s going to make sure they’re his doing. For a time, God will allow it as the loyalties of the human race are to be tested in this great controversy.
“And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.” (Revelation 13:13 & 14, KJV)
It is important for Adventists to rediscover their eschatological understanding of the end times instead of succumbing to popular mainstream Christian views. Satan will deceive many. Ellen White writes, “Satan will not only appear as a human being, but he will impersonate Jesus Christ…[h]e will exercise his power and work upon the human imagination.” (Ms 39-1894) The end time deception upon all people isn’t an act of convincing men on atheism or humanism, but an act of an impersonation of Jesus Christ, meaning that by that time men would have accepted either true or false Christianity, and Satan’s magnum opus will cause “all the world [to wonder] after the beast.” (Revelation 13:3, KJV)
This is why Religious Liberty must be defended at all costs. Satan will pitch the deception to Christians that freewill and righteousness cannot coexist, and, mixing righteous laws and human tradition he craftily forms his final masterpiece of a deception. He succeeds in doing so only because the vast majority of Christians cease to go to the Word of God for instruction on how to combat the growing evils of today and instead resort to worldly methods, coercive laws that infringe on the conscience.
Freedom of will has been an underlying principle of the universe since its creation. God Himself allowed the possibility of sin so that His created subjects could serve Him out of true loyalty, not from pre-programmed instructions. True, when blight begins to exist in a perfect universe it cannot be suffered for long, but God gave evil a period of probation so that all beings in the cosmos will learn the consequences of wrong doing and choose to eschew evil of their own will.
Lucifer is the originator of wickedness, and he is seeking to malign the character of the Biblical God who instituted freewill, and instead erecting a false god who is only interested in controlling the conscience and destroying liberty of choice. Inspiration confirms this is the strategy of the enemy:
“Again Satan was defeated, and again he resorted to deception in the hope of converting defeat into victory. He now represented God as unjust in having permitted man to transgress His law.” (From Eternity Past, 231)
Satan, rebuffed in his efforts more than enough times now resorts to slander the character of God, this time by claiming God is unjust by allowing freewill! The Deceiver, who in previous times claimed God’s demands and standards too lofty to fulfill by humans is trying to turn the argument on its head and now claim God is wrong for not coercing humanity to follow His Law.
Ellen White continues, “Thousands today are echoing the same rebellious complaint against God. They do not see that to deprive man of freedom of choice would make him a mere automaton. Like the inhabitants of all other worlds, he must be subject to the test of obedience; but he is never brought into such a position that yielding to evil becomes a matter of necessity. No temptation or trial is permitted which he is unable to resist.” (ibid.)
Humanity is to be given the test of loyalty and Satan would like to force men to choose the wrong side. But when men move to restrict freedom of conscience, God’s people will know they still have a choice. They will know they can choose to stay true to their convictions even if the whole world would fall apart around them. Righteousness and Freedom can coexist, and Heaven will not be comprised of beings forced to be there beyond their will; it will be comprised of freewill beings that relied on Jesus to save them to the utmost and are given the victory over sin.
Adventists, especially, are warned: “The Lord has shown me clearly that the image of the beast will be formed before probation closes; for it is to be the great test for the people of God, by which their eternal destiny will be decided.” (Selected Messages, Vol. 2, 80, emphaisis supplied)
What is the “image to the beast”?
“The ‘image to the beast’ represents that form of apostate Protestantism which will be developed when the Protestant churches shall seek the aid of the civil power for the enforcement of their dogmas.” (The Great Controversy, 445)
Let us continue to uphold the freedom of conscience and remember that in order for men to be able to choose righteousness, there needs to be freedom of choice to begin with.