A Declaration of Independence: A Product of the Enlightenment

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”

On July 4, 1976 the citizens of the United States will celebrate the bicenten­nial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.* It has been 200 years since the founders of our country, also known as patriots, dared to stand in defiance of the sovereignty of the king of England and declare their right to be free and independent states. The founding fathers were not content just to declare their independence and win it in battle. They felt compelled to let the world know by what right they could sever the ties that so long had held them to the mother country. They knew this momentous step could not be taken lightly. This is what compelled them to write the document we call the Declaration of Independence. In it they set forth the philosophy of govern­ment which gave them the right to declare their independence. A right which up to this time was not based on anything other than the principle of might makes right which needed no rationale.

Every child of God who is a citizen of the United States should be familiar with the ungodly philosophy of man upon which our independence was declared. Many are those who acclaim it as the greatest document of freedom that has been produced. Some Christians have even said it is the document which gave our country its Christian foundation and principle. They base this on the use of the word God and the idea of liberty found in our Declaration. We must not be caught up with these arguments because those who make them are seeking to justify an unjustifiable cause.

Thomas Jefferson was the chief architect and guiding spirit of the document we call the Declaration of Independence. In fact, he is the author of it. Much of his philosophy of government and religion became apparent in it.

In this article I would like to share briefly with you some of the ideas that he incorporated in our Declaration and that were subsequently adopted by the Conti­nental Congress as the rationale for our country declaring its independence.

Jefferson was a product of the Enlightenment, which was the philosophic movement of Europe in the 18th century. This movement had taken upon itself the questioning of the traditionally held idea of the church, science, government, etc. The Enlightenment is distinguished pri­marily by the efforts of its philosophers to make reason the absolute standard by which man can obtain truth. It was a movement that looked back to the Renaissance rather than to the Reforma­tion with its emphasis on reason at the expense of faith. They felt the period of medieval times and even the Reformation were periods of darkness as a result of religion and that man only by pure reason could be enlightened.

This movement had its effect on Jefferson through the work of men such as John Locke. He was the British political philosopher who was given the task of justifying the British overthrow of their king in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Locke’s works were studied in the universities in America and even in the religious colleges and seminaries of Harvard and Yale so that his influence extended even into the ministry at the time of the Revolution. He declared that all government originated with mankind in terms of a social contract for the reservation of those human rights which nature’s god had conferred upon man. This is sometimes referred to as the “social contract” theory of government. According to this theory, the government enters into a contract with its subjects who delegate authority to the government, and the government agrees to protect the “natural rights” of the people. These natural rights are life, liberty and happiness. According to Locke, when a human government fails to observe the terms of the contract or fails to protect those rights which it had been created to defend, its citizens have the undoubted natural right of revolution. These ideas of Locke have been incorporated into our Declaration through the pen of Thomas Jefferson who had adopted them as his own. They are the rationale for our revolution.

But the political philosophy of John Locke was not the only influence of the Enlightenment on Jefferson. He also adopted its religion which was Deism.

Deism is a revolt of man against a sovereign God who controls all things for his own purpose. The Deist said the knowledge of God, and what God requires of man, is rationally perceived and the Bible is binding only to the extent to which its teachings correspond to the dictates of right reason. The Deist had succeeded in robbing God of His sover­eignty and had replaced it with man’s sovereignty, which was in reality the consent of the governed. Jefferson adopted the ideas of the Deist. As a Deist he said that God is the Creator of the universe. But so far as the government of the universe was concerned, he looked to natural law rather than the providence of the sovereign God of the Scriptures. Jefferson had this to say of God and the Scriptures: “Do we want to know what God is? Search not the book called Scripture, which any human hand might make, but the Scripture called creation.”

These are some of the ideas that had their influence on Jefferson. It is not too much to assume that these ungodly ideas found their subtle way into our Declara­tion through the pen of Jefferson. Just take the time to read the Declaration of Independence and it will become evident that this is the case. But lest you think Jefferson was alone, let me hasten to add that these ideas were more or less adopted by most of the signers of the Declaration.

In conclusion, let me say:

  1. Christians should stop kidding them­selves that the foundation of our govern­ment is Christian. It is founded on nothing more than the wicked imagination of man’s mind.
  2. The god of the Declaration is of man’s creation. Man wanted a God who would allow him to revolt so he set up a god that would fit his purpose. Our God is the sovereign God of the Scriptures who sets up governments and brings them down by His sovereign will.
  3. Jefferson in the Declaration assumes that man is able to govern himself based on his goodness. This must be denied because man is totally depraved and seeks himself.
  4. Jefferson, in the Declaration, makes government dependent upon the will of the people not upon God’s will. This replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of man.
  5. The freedom of Jefferson in the Declaration is based on man’s doing what he wants, which is nothing more than license. Scripture knows only one kind of freedom, which is the child of God doing the will of his heavenly Father.
  6. In the Declaration Jefferson makes man the sole judge of when his natural rights are violated. This, of course, will lead to anarchy if followed to its extreme. Man is sinful and his imaginations are sinful. He does that which is right in his own eyes.

The celebration of the Fourth of July is man’s celebration of a great event in man’s achieving his purpose in history. Man achieved a great freedom for himself when he threw out a sovereign God who shackled him. But do not forget that God was there sovereignly directing the evil intents of man for his eternal good purpose. God was preserving and saving His Church through these carnal acts of man. He was doing this to His glory. That is our comfort, young people. This is not our holiday nor our celebration. It is the world’s hour. But do not forget to thank God as He uses the evil intents of men to serve His Church. Do not forget to thank Him for the privilege to worship Him so that the Word can be preached and the Church gathered. Thank Him for the privilege of Christian instruction and all its benefits as well as all the other blessings we receive as citizens of the United States of America.


*This is actually the date when it was passed by the Continental Congress. The men who actually signed, waited until August or even later to sign it.