The 232rd anniversary of the battle of Yorktown, Virginia, is October 19. On this day, Lord Cornwallis (1738-1805) surrendered to General George Washington (1732-1799). The eight-year war between the Crown and her American colonies, costing “thousands of lives and millions of money,” was about to end (Burns 219).¹
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1, NKJV)²
There was a time when I proclaimed like Peter that “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). I hated the word “submission” and passages like Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 offended me. I’m an adult now. Rebellion isn’t glorious. It has serious consequences.
God created all human authority, both good and evil. If we resist it, then we are resisting God. This is sin and it will be judged. Through his prophet Samuel God told Saul, Israel’s first king, that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:22-23). Witchcraft and idolatry are God’s opinion of rebellion, against him and the human authorities he creates. God punished these things in the Law of Moses – his law. These sins righteously deserved death.
Spiritual rebellion in one generation produces physical rebellion in the next. Rebellion breeds rebellion. America has a 260-year history of it. First we rebelled against God by exchanging righteousness for civil religion. Then we rebelled against Britain in the American Revolution (1775-1783). Others rebelled in a “civil” war (1861-1865) and “civil” rights movement (1954-1968). We also have a history of whitewashing rebellion as “liberty” and “freedom.” However, in spiritual terms rebellion, independence, and self-government are really sin.
What journalist John Peter Zenger (1697-1746) suffered under New York’s Governor William Cosby (1690-1736) in 1735 was true tyranny. Cosby “raised taxes on traders and merchants,” refused to listen to opposing voices, appointed his underage and unqualified son to a government office, and publicly displayed debauchery (Burns 100). Zinger denounced Cosby as a tyrant with “schemes of general oppression and pillage, schemes to depreciate or evade the laws, restraints upon liberty, and projects for arbitrary will” (102). Believing “newspapers should remain silent about affairs of state” (101), the governor arrested Zenger (103). Thanks to the Philadelphia attorney Andrew Hamilton (1676-1741), he was found not guilty (108). Cosby died the next year (109).
Zenger and his friends did not remove “the yoke of oppression” by killing Cosby or fighting the Crown. Instead, they trusted in the law and God’s vengeance. When colonists learned about the Stamp Act (taxed goods) thirty years later, some newspapers briefly stopped printing (Burns 126-27). Other papers removed their titles and mastheads, while still others said they couldn’t find stamped paper (126). This civil disobedience was also practiced with the 1733 Molasses Act, but it didn’t last (120). Colonial America rejected both law and order and civil disobedience and violently declared its independence from Great Britain.
When the 1765 Stamp Act was passed, Ben Franklin (1706-1790) “urged restraint” and asked people to obey “until he and his fellow colonial agents could help persuade Parliament that it had made a mistake” (Burns 124). Many refused to listen. As newspapers stirred rebellion, colonists destroyed Crown supplies, burned commissioners in effigy, and trashed their homes (125-27). Others rebelled against the 1773 Tea Act, which created a monopoly on British tea in order to save the East India Company from bankruptcy (159). The Boston Tea Party dumped 300 chests of tea into the harbor, worth £15, 000 (160). Franklin, stationed in London to “improve relations between the Crown and the colonies,” chastized them for “destroy[ing] private property” (162). This clamor for liberty was really lawlessness and chaos.
Most Americans ridicule Tories, those who remained loyal to the Crown. Yet they just wanted law and order, in contrast to the chaotic rebellion around them. Having read their Bibles, they knew obedience produced blessing and peace; rebellion produced judgment. America is reaping that judgment. She has simultaneously fallen under the hands of dictators (President Obama, the UN) and rebelled against life, gender, marriage, government, and God. Meanwhile, the American government has become like hated Britain – a superpower that curtails liberty at home and abroad and sends troops overseas (Burns 149). What’s next?
Maybe America was right to cast off the British “yoke of oppression,” maybe not. God clearly had his hand in this business (Daniel 7:4), since he guides world affairs, but that doesn’t mean he approved of it. God also used ancient Babylon to chastize rebellious Israel (586 BC) and ancient Rome to destroy her (AD 70). He brought heathen nations against his own wife.
Rebellion against any human government is sin against God and we cannot whitewash it. [We can’t return America to the United Kingdom either, not with all that water under the bridge.] So how do we cast off oppressive yokes? There is a “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).
¹ Eric Burns, Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of Journalism, New York: Public Affairs, 2006.
² All Scripture verses are NKJV, unless otherwise noted.