In this episode, we begin our series on what it means to be rich. Our starting point is a distinction between getting rich and being rich. As a case study, we look at the wealth of America – how did this British outpost become the richest country in the world? At the founding of America as we know it, the Declaration of Independence was a necessary communication to Europe. It let them know we were going to try to do things differently. These early American communications help set the stage for the way we view wealth and riches in our modern world.
I’m starting a new series today called How to be Rich. A lot of people spend a lot of effort trying to get rich. That’s a pretty fruitless task. The scripture tells us a lot about how to be rich because riches is something God bestows on us as a gift for our acceptance. What we typically call getting rich has to do with material accumulations which, if understood correctly from the scripture, is either a curse or a by-product of already being rich.
Why America is so prosperous
As an introduction today since it’s July 4th weekend, I’m going to talk some about why America is so economically prosperous. We have a lot of spiritual poverty; but we also have a lot of spiritual wealth. If you’ve spent time in other countries like I have, you can see that when wealth comes to many other countries, it brings death and devastation.
Poor Africa. Our church has done a lot of work in Africa. Every time they discover a new diamond mine or a new copper mine, there’s a civil war because they have to fight over which “big man” controls it. It’s really sad since you get to know the heart of the African people, and they’re such gentle and happy spirits, until a little money shows up. Then it all just breaks down.
Why is it that America has this amazing ability to handle material wealth without it destroying us to the extent it does other places in the world? And why do we have so much?
Just as an overall context, you can go to a website called globalrichlist.com, and you can put in your investment wealth or your income, and it will tell you how you rank in the world. If you go in and put in that your investments are $50 billion, it will give you this little thing that says, “Warren, is that you?” “If not, try again.”
But if you put in $31,000 as your income, which is below the average income for American workers, if you put in $31,000 a year of income, do you know where you’ll rank in the world’s wealthiest people? Can you guess? Top one percent. You’re in the top one percent at $31,000 a year.
If you put in a poverty amount, like poverty line for a family of four is $23,850 a year. If you’re an American and you’re in poverty, you’re in the top three percent wealthiest people in the world.
If you put in poverty line for a family of one, which is $11,670 a year, you’re still the top 15 percent in the world.
This top one percent movement of the top one percent’s too wealthy, if you apply that to America, then it’s everybody, just about. It’s just a handful of people that don’t fit.
How did it get that way, and why is it so much?
It’s fairly popular to say America’s blessed with natural resources. Which it is. There’s no doubt it’s blessed with natural resources. More so than other countries? No, not really. One of the most astonishing things to me, when I first went to Africa, was the immense natural resource wealth around me.
Growing up in Texas—I love Texas—but, it is a paltry, nasty place compared to Africa, from a natural resource standpoint. It is just unbelievable how wealthy that place is. They don’t have economic development. And why? Why is that?
It’s because our system of governance is what God gave to Israel to bless them. It’s called self-governance. Our system of governance is called self-governance. We are the only-large scale implemented example of self-governance ever in the history of the world.
There’s a couple of small-scale implementations.
Switzerland is a self-governing nation. In terms of natural resources, Switzerland is way at the bottom on the list. It’s basically just one big mountain canyon. They don’t have “nothin’.” The one thing they have is these big mountains so people will leave them alone. It’s a nation of badgers. They have their tunnels dynamited, so that they can shut them off quickly.
Hitler didn’t invade. They weren’t neutral so much as just not worth going and getting. Hitler determined he would lose three divisions and have to fight hand to hand, valley to valley to get them, and they just weren’t strategically important.
They’ve been fairly well self-governing since the 1100s, when William Tell happened, and they became a democracy. They’re one of the wealthiest nations in the world even though they don’t have any natural resources.
Switzerland is where the Reformation was born. John Calvin was in Geneva, which is Swiss. Zwingli was in Zurich.
This self-governance came to America; and part of what I’d like to do today is talk about American history and how it’s different. It’s exceptional. American exceptionalism—exception means different than everybody else. You can be exceptionally bad, and you can be exceptionally good. Exceptional just means different. In our case, the thing that makes us really exceptional is this governance structure.
We are so used to it; we don’t even know it’s different. It’s all we’ve ever known. If you go to another country and spend much time there, you will think that they are weird because you’ll be at a restaurant, and the tables need to be arranged. You’ll get up with your friends and just rearrange everything, and they will think you’re nuts because you didn’t go get the authority and ask for permission and petition, or you’ve risked offending somebody or something like that.
We do this kind of stuff all the time. The rest of the world thinks we’re unbelievably arrogant because when we see a problem, we just get together and fix it.
This is because we’re self-governing. We’re exceptional.
I want to give you some historical examples to back my point. Then I want to give you the biblical basis for this, and I want to show you that God actually implemented this system of governance as the ideal when he founded Israel.
So, first let me tell you a few historical stories. And, I’m going to do some reading to you. I hope I can read sufficiently where it’s interesting to you.
Let me tell you the story of Peter Muhlenberg. Peter Muhlenberg was a pastor, and he was also a general in the Revolutionary army. Peter Muhlenberg, if you go to the US capitol, his statue’s there. He’s in Statuary Hall. Each state gets two statues in the US capitol, and he’s there for the state of Pennsylvania.
The event that’s depicted in his statue happened from the pulpit. He gave a sermon from Ecclesiastes 3. According to the story, he preached and says,
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.
He took off his robe, and underneath he had his Continental Army uniform. He said, “And this is a time for war.”
He marched to the back of the room, and he said, “Who’s going to join me to fight?” He recruited 300 guys that formed the nucleus of that company.
He was at the Battle of Yorktown. He was at Valley Forge with George Washington. They were called the Black Robe Brigade, these preachers of liberty against tyranny.
Peter Muhlenberg’s brother was really against him joining the Continental Army until the British burned his church down in front of him. Then he changed his mind and said, “I think you ought to go.”
There was this connection between what they saw as their religious duty and what they saw as their patriotic duty. In fact, they were inseparable in the minds of the early American patriots.
Let me give you another story that makes the same point and really cements this idea of self-governance. This is from the remarks before the Sons of the American Revolution, April 19, 1894.
April 19th was an important day in American history because the battle of Concord, the shot heard around the world, was fired on April 19, 1775.
Concord, Massachusetts is where one of the two big battles was fought, the lawn at Lexington and then Concord, just a few miles down the road.
A fellow named Mellen Chamberlain, who was a school teacher and a historian, was giving this speech to the citizens of Concord. Hme was at the church in Concord where the Continental Congress had actually met at one point, and he says,
Citizens of Concord, this is your shrine.
He’s talking about this church.
It ought to be the shrine of a nation. Invoke it for divine protection from lightning and tempest. Provide for it protection from fire and wasting tooth of time—
because it had so much significance. He’s talking to the citizens of Concord about this event, the shot heard around the world, the Battle of Concord.
And then he says,
Of the events of April 19th, 1775, I need to say but little. They’ve passed into history. Every year, they’re recounted in our public journals.
Att least that was the case in remarks in 1894.
They’re household words. My purpose is not to rehearse them, but to ask what these events meant for the colonists at the time, what they’ve meant since, and what they may mean for future ages. On the first question, I have some direct, authentic intelligence from an actor in those scenes.
When the action at Lexington on the morning of the 19th was known at Danvers
another town in Massachusetts,
the Minutemen there under the lead of Captain Gideon Foster, made that memorable march—or run rather—of 16 miles in four hours and struck Percy’s flying column at West Cambridge. Brave but incautious in flanking the Red Coats. They were flanked themselves and badly pinched leaving seven dead, two wounded, and one missing. Among those who escaped was Levi Preston, afterwards known as Captain Levi Preston.
When I, was about 21, and Captain Preston about 91, I interviewed him as to what he did and thought 67 years before on April 19, 1775.
Levi Preston was 24 when he went to the Battle of Concord.
And now, 52 years later, I make my report. A little belated, perhaps, but not too late, I trust for the morning papers.
I guess some things don’t change, huh?
At that time, of course, I knew all about the American Revolution—far more than I know now. And, now, if I know truly anything, it’s chiefly owing to what I’ve since forgotten of the histories of that event then popular.
In other words, he’s saying what is popularly taught about the American Revolution was already wrong in 1894. And he’s about to correct the record.
With an assurance passing even that of the modern interviewer, if that were possible, I began.
“Captain Preston, why did you go to the Concord fight on the 19th of April 1775?”
The old man bowed beneath the weight of years raised himself upright and turning to me said, ‘What? What? Why did I go?’”
“Yes,” I replied. “My histories tell me that you men of the Revolution took up arms against intolerable oppressions.”
“What were they? Oppressions? I didn’t feel any.”
“What? Were you not oppressed by the Stamp Act?”
“I never saw one of those stamps. I always understood Governor Bernard put them in Castle William. I’m certain I never paid a penny for any of them!”
“Well, what about then, the tea tax?”
“Tea tax? Never drank a drop of the stuff! The boys threw it all overboard.”
“Well, then, I suppose you’ve been reading Harrington or Sidney or Locke about the eternal principles of liberty.”
“Never heard of them! We read only the Bible, the Catechism, Psalms, hymns, and the Almanac.”
“Well, what then was the matter? What did you mean going to fight?”
“Young man, what we meant going for those Red Coats was this: We had always governed ourselves, and we always meant to; and they meant we shouldn’t.”
“And that, gentlemen, is the ultimate philosophy of the American Revolution. It correctly assigns its underlying cause. It explains and accounts for the actions of the patriotic party. Doubtless there were subsidiary causes affecting localities and interests, especially on the sea coast and in larger commercial towns, but the yeomanry of the interior felt none of those grievances. And yet, from Maine to Georgia, they were among the first to resist the British pretensions.
Thomas Payne once said something like this: The British ministry were too jealous of the colonists to govern them justly, too ignorant to govern them well, and too far away to govern them at all.
That puts the matter very neatly. But Levi Preston, the Danvers yeoman put it far better; for no other words known to me ever expressed the actual condition of affairs with more historic truth or more tersely for the attitude of the colonists was not of slaves seeking liberty, but of freemen, free men for five generations, resisting political servitude.
When the Pilgrims came across and put the Mayflower Compact down, they were reiterating what had happened in England hundreds of years before with the Magna Carta. But the Magna Carta only applied to the wealthy landowners. It was a statement that the law’s above the king for wealth landowners. It didn’t apply to everyone in general.
In America, there was no land-owning monopoly. Basically, all you had to do to own land is go get some. It broke that monopoly.
In America, they had been ruling themselves for five generations, 200 years already.
The American Revolution was not a revolution per se; it was actually a defensive action to prevent an invasion.
—resisting political servitude. And as Mr. Webster (who must often have conversed with his father on the subject) once said with his usual historical accuracy and a felicity all his own, “While actual suffering was yet afar off, they went to war against a preamble. They fought seven years against a declaration.
The preamble was that of the Stamp Act, and it said this: “Whereas it is necessary to raise a revenue from the colonies for their defense, the declaration was, that the power of Parliament over the colonies extends to all cases whatever.”
Samuel Adams properly understood this and coined the phrase “taxation without representation” which the colonists properly interpreted as “If we allow this to happen, we’re now slaves. We’re not self-governing any longer.”
Few events in the world’s history have been more tremendous consequence than those of the 19th of April 1775. And nothing but a completed cycle in the world’s history will reveal their full significance.
Here we are a 120 years later still in that cycle.
It was no new thing to overthrow dynasties or disrupt empires. It was no new thing to make conquests or repel invasions. But the battlefields on which the condition of any considerable part of the human race has been permanently changed are few. And fewer still on those which has been instituted the new principle of government apparently destined to affect the whole human race.
Thermopylae—the 300 Greeks that staved off the Persians for a few days––Thermopylae saved for a time the civilization of Greece. But it did not advance the civilization of the world.
Waterloo merely restored the old status of Europe.
The wars of the great English revolution did not bring into the British constitution true representative government. That came two centuries later with the Reform Bill of 1832
But the Concord fight, as Levi Preston substantially said, preserved, if it did not inaugurate what Webster called a government of the people, for the people, and accountable to the people.
The 19th of April, 1775, was indeed notable in the progress of national autonomy and representative government. Other days come and go. The sun rises and hastens to its setting. But on the 19th of April, no second born will rise. It’s sun once risen never set. It still rides high and clear. Its prescribed arch is not through the visible heavens but over the ages.
A mile away from us is the North Bridge. We are familiar with the scene and the incidents which make it memorable. We see Major Buttrick with his little band of farmers moving down to dislodge Captain Laurie’s company. We see Isaac Davis and Abner Hosmer fall. We hear Major Buttrick exclaim, “Fire, fellow soldiers! For God’s sake, fire!”
That was the fight at Concord bridge. That was the shot heard ′round the world. The shot that will resound through the ages, forever reverberate in the air, forever quicken the pulses of the human race.
So, Mellen Chamberlain through Levi Preston helps us understand that what is a fairly popular narrative about the American Revolution is totally false. That is this: that some guys, some genius fellows, snuck away from their ignorant countrymen and went to Philadelphia. There, in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, they concocted something brand new no one had ever thought of. They came out and said, “Look, we want to have a free nation!” The Americans said, “What a brilliant idea! We will follow you wherever you go!”
And America was born.
That’s just totally false. In fact, the leaders in Philadelphia were great leaders, but they were great leaders because they were opportunistic enough to sniff where everything was going.
The Declaration of Independence was intended for Europe
In 1825, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter, and in the letter he says the Declaration of Independence did not express anything new or unknown to the Americans. It was, in fact, intended for the audience of the Europeans, to explain to them what was happening over here. Because Europe was a serfdom culture. You had landowners, and they owned the land; and you had serfs, and they belonged to the land. They had rights. The rights ran with the land.
Slavery and despotism was the worldwide governance structure. No one would understand what’s happening in America without the Declaration of Independence.
There were about a hundred declarations of independence before that one. Towns, states, fire departments, fire associations, because this was in the heart of the American people. “We’ve governed ourselves for five generations, and we don’t now want to change and be slaves.”