If the religious foundation upon which the burgeoning intellectual framework that was being erected at the time of the inception of our nation’s independence was not fully understood by many then, it ought to have been fully understood by now—when hindsight affords us perfect knowledge—but, alas, many still misinterpret the causes that shaped our revolutionary being.
Fallacious reasoning, truncated arguments and presumptive premises are all the brain-children of an unenlightened mind; it ought not to be the children of the regenerated mind, however, but too often the Christian is just as mentally inert and ignorant as the unregenerate.
The United States of America has been designated by God to shine the gospel light to the far corners of the globe. Our indisputable root can be most definitely ascertained; this article will be too short, however, to elucidate this in any kind of exhaustive fashion. Nevertheless, I will link the Reformation to the Great Awakening via the medium of the Enlightenment (at least in a rough philosophical sketch).
The Reformation began when Martin Luther opposed the ecclesiastical authorities of his day because he began to understand wherein they were arbitrary and tyrannical. Luther was not, in response, arbitrarily rebellious; he declared that when Caesar calls me, God calls me. Only when he exposed the capricious nature of the papal powers at the Diet of Worms, did the Edict of Worms begin to indict itself by manifesting rhetorical nonsense.
Truth is always buoyant; it can never be submerged and drowned for any length of time. The Dark Ages cloaked the Truth with a hierarchy like a seamless coat of mail; the darkened souls of the unlearned were impregnable to the light of Scripture only because of the suffocating power’s refusal to nourish the masses with proper elemental education.
Luther, having the advantage of general learning, was ripe for Scriptural enlightenment; likewise, Moses was first learned in all the ways of the Egyptians before he was able to see the unseen. Because ecclesiastical powers were also the ruling powers in Luther’s day, the Reformation was more than a religious emancipation.
When individual conscience is eclipsed by an overbearing dogma, one can hardly be responsible for what he cannot see; if that individual simply complies with the dogmatic regime and becomes servile and spinelessly compliant, he is denuded of any moral vigor and consequential impetus for right and true works. He is drowned in the sea of a larger body than he could ever walk across –if he should ever attain to the Master’s steps, or not, we shall never know. His absorption negates his assimilation by liquefying that which ought to remain solid in him.
“To thine own self be true” is a fundamental and inalienable right that cannot be exercised by someone outside individual experience; though that experience might be unintelligible without the corporate framework, the corporate framework also can never replace that which it ought to frame –the individual.
The mass publishing of Scripture was the logical addendum to these facts. Those that were emancipated came in all kinds of mental shapes and sizes; the tattered and fractured fabric of society led to both good and evil consequences. A proper rendering of the Scriptural intent for a mind free to think for itself also allows for the free thinker to outstrip and corrupt clear meaning.
The deistic thinking that led to a revolutionary war was, I believe, the inadvertent and ironic tool of God; the clockwork-efficiency of God can often fool the wise into thinking He is not involved in the affairs of men—but His plans endure throughout the generations, and I believe He found this country for His own purposes (in spite of, or in concert with, the motives of our founding fathers).
Enlightenment of mind without warmth of spirit is like the reflected light off a dead moon. Forget its dark side and its feigned and weightless optimism—all there is consists of shadowed turnings. G. K. Chesterton said detached intellectualism is (in the exact sense of a popular phrase) all moonshine; for it is light without heat, and it is secondary light, reflected from a dead world.
Nevertheless, the satellite nature and naked reality of our existence gathers warmth wherever we are inclined to believe it might exist. Into this shadow-land of our own mind God began to raise His sun. Because Christ really does set us free for freedom’s sake, we are also free to warm ourselves by mirages.
Rife with error, we exuberantly throw off all restraint and pursue our unblocked way without distinction. We become zealous without knowledge which must surely accomplish knowledge without zeal when the divine spark within us finds no permanent fuel to ignite and burn.
We swing immaturely between a reformed theology and a disconnected individualism; the Enlightenment was a mental emancipation which—had it been properly interpreted—should have freed us into a proper constraint. The deep darkness of ignorance that covered the medieval populous was now the even deeper and darker unleashing of deception upon the educated.
Deism was an outstripping of the proper limits of a governing mind beneath a governing God. The visceral part of man, where God intimates and incubates His word within our engine, was never designed to only animate our basement; neither can a disconnection from this engine room by the captain animate his cabin (and inspire true and accurate navigation).
It is essential that we know God viscerally, and very important that we know Him intelligently—we are to judge nothing before its time, however, because we cannot know anything comprehensively. The Enlightenment was only the canvas upon which the art of the Great Awakening was expressed; like as Egypt was plundered to fund the Promised Land, so the Great Awakening was to remove all the gold from the alloy of the Enlightenment.
The Great Awakening burned the fat off the entrails of visceral man and freed his mind to better digest the heavy meat of Scripture and the import of its words. Those that had been freed intellectually were now being warmed sentimentally; a fire that was previously shut up within the marrow of man was finding passionate and intelligible expression.
This spontaneous combustion that began to engulf the thirteen colonies was mostly attributable to a kind of corporate flagrancy that arose from within the minds and souls of the emancipated man. The Reformation corrected theology, which then corrected man, which then further corrected theology.
A new strand was being weaved into the flag of mankind; a restoration to the natural fabric of community was beginning to cover our nakedness. Truth, however, should never be covered; and a flashpoint in Thomas Paine, making Common Sense said “The least fracture now will be like a name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak; The wound will enlarge with the tree, and posterity read it in full grown characters.”
The emancipation of man was always the intent of God in Christ Jesus; the city made without hands might yet be a reality, but it might also have been prefigured within the nation of refuge that is America. The Reformation restored God’s Word to its preeminent position which consequentially freed mankind in the Enlightenment; the Great Awakening then melded the two movements and birthed a nation unto God.