Sam Adams

Samuel Adams: A Life (New York: Free Press, 2008)

I really enjoyed this one. I had never taken a close look at the contribution Sam Adams made to our liberties, and this fine biography shows that the contribution was extensive.

Here are a couple of favorite moments. One adversary said, after Adams’ death, that his politics were derived from “two maxims, rulers should have little, the people much” (p. 259).

In another apt application, Stoll refers to Adams’ religious tranquility, and notes the odd juxtaposition — a tranquil revolution. He then applies Perry Miller’s wonderful assessment of the Puritan character — of which Adams was a prime specimen — a characteristic “most difficult to evoke,” that being the “peculiar balance of zeal and enthusiasm with control and wariness” (p. 265).

If you are like many, and need some gaps filled in with regard to your knowledge of Samuel Adams, this would be the place to start. Did you know that the redcoats likely went to Lexington and Concord because they were looking for Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were on the lam?

My Seventies Bride

I have recently been uploading family photos and organizing them via Evernote — which I heartily recommend by the way — and I came across this one. It is one of my favorite pictures of Nancy, taken as a snap by a friend as her Dad was walking her up the aisle. Some day, if I am feeling up to it, I will show you a pic of what she, for some mysterious reason, was walking toward.

 

One of my favorite pictures of Nancy, taken as a snap by a friend as her dad walked her down the aisle.

Stuff Inviolate

I have been arguing that property rights are human rights. I have been insisting that it is not possible to love your neighbor without respecting his stuff. I have been saying that the commandment thou shalt not steal presupposes the institution of private property in just the same way that the prohibition of adultery presupposes marriage. And in the same way, I cannot honor the command not to covet my neighbor’s wife if I cannot come up with a definition of “wife.”

But there has been some surprising pushback on this simple idea, so let us dig a little deeper.

So what do I mean by property? Within the boundaries of the law of God, property entails the authority to retain or dispose of material goods without the permission of another. If you are renting something, or leasing it, you do not have the right to dispose of it in the same way you would if you owned it. When you rent a car, you are answerable to someone else for the use. When you own a car, you can paint the passenger door turquoise if you wish.

This means that all property is ultimately God’s. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10), and the earth is the Lord’s and all that it contains (Ex. 9:29; Dt. 10:14). So God is the only absolute owner of property, and in reference to Him, we are all stewards. We will all give an accounting to Him for what we have done with the goods He has entrusted to us.

So my argument does not neglect this relativization of property in the sight of God, but merely insists that no creature — especially including kings, parliaments, congresses, and presidents — may usurp and supplant God in this role.

This is why Jesus can tell the rich young ruler to give all his goods to the poor (Matt. 19:21), and if he did not do it, he was stealing in the eyes of God. At the same time, he would not be stealing in the eyes of man — any more than a lustful man could be charged with adultery in our courts, or a spiteful man with murder, despite the words of Jesus (Matt. 5:28; Matt. 5:21). We must, always and everywhere, maintain the distinction between sins and crimes.

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings” (Mal. 3:8).

Tithes went, in part, to the poor. The same thing would be true of offerings. And offerings were entirely voluntary — but a man could rob God by refusing to offer them. He would be guilty before God of the sin of theft (greed, covetousness, and so on). But he would not be guilty of the crime of theft. Consider the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1). Peter told them that they could have sold their land, kept all the proceeds at home, sitting on top of the pile cackling like Scrooge McDuck, and they would not have bought the farm, so to speak.

“Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4).

After he sold it, was it not within his power? Yes — as far as the authority of fellow creatures could reach. But could he do whatever he wanted with it, and not have to answer to God? No, of course not.

And this is what I am arguing. When any creaturely entity assumes the prerogatives of the Deity, assuming the power of control over the property of others, that entity has become lawless and wicked. And the Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote.” The Bible does not countenance the notion that two coyotes and a sheep can form a rudimentary democracy, and then vote on what’s for lunch.

If I am walking down the street and encounter someone begging alms, and I have twenty bucks in my wallet, and I receive an unmistakable burden from the Lord to give him that twenty bucks, and I suppress the impulse and walk on, am I being disobedient? Yes. Am I robbing God? Yes. Am I robbing the beggar? No. For if I were, he would have the right to chase me down and take the twenty bucks.

If a woman had her purse snatched by a bicyclist, and fifteen minutes later she pulls into a drugstore parking lot, and that same bicycle is outside with her purse hanging on the handle bars — the thief having run inside to buy smokes with some of her dollars — is she stealing if she takes her purse back? Of course not.

We must learn to distinguish that which is sin in the eyes of God, and that which should be a crime in the eyes of man and God. Being a selfish pig is a sin, but must not be made a crime. If we outlaw “being a selfish pig,” I have ten dollars here that says that within two weeks this crime of selfish piggery will be vigorously policed (and fined) by tribunals made up entirely of selfish pigs.

When we make something a crime without scriptural justification, and penalize it, we invert the order of God. When we make property ownership a crime, and fine people heavily for being guilty of it, we have a society as corrupt and as mendacious and as greedy as . . . well, as our own.

If we love people, if we love our neighbors, we will consider their stuff inviolate. We will form governments that respect our neighbors’ property as much as we ourselves do. But as it is currently, we form the kind of government we now have because we the people have larceny in our hearts. We are governed by thieves who represent us well.

Idols and Tyranny

Introduction:

One of the reasons we have trouble dealing realistically with evil in this world is that we have drawn mental cartoons of the evil beforehand. When someone says “tyranny,” we think of goose-stepping armies, missile parades, and funny looking helmets. But then, when something genuinely bad happens in our own lives, and we see it with our own eyes, because it doesn’t match the cartoon we treat it as an anomaly, a one-off occurrence . . . a thing we don’t have a category for. But we need to have a category for something this common.

I am a child of the Cold War, and my first glimpse of an actual communist country taught me this lesson. Don’t fight the caricature—fight the real thing. In the early seventies the submarine I was on was pulling into Guantanamo Bay, and when I came topside I was astonished and taken aback because this commie land was emerald green. Bright green. But all my childhood images of communist countries resembled something like a grainy black and white newspaper photo of Budapest in the rain.

The Text:

“And it came to pass the same night, that the Lord said unto him, Take thy father’s young bullock, even the second bullock of seven years old, and throw down the altar of Baal that thy father hath, and cut down the grove that is by it . . .” (Judg. 6:25–32).

Summary of the Text:

Earlier in this chapter, an angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and told him that he would be the instrument for saving Israel from the oppression of the Midianites. After his interaction with that angel, that same night the Lord spoke to Gideon and told him to use his father’s bullock to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, along with the grove by it (v. 25). The groves were part of the way the idols were set apart as holy. They would have been planted, and tended, and cultivated. Idol worship does not occur in fits of absent-mindedness.

The Household of Faith, Hope, and Love

One of the ways we diminish our understanding of the Lord’s Supper is through saying that it is just a metaphor. In the first place, the world is more mysterious than that and there is no such thing as “just” a metaphor. God created the cosmos by speaking, and words are not impotent little labels. But even using the common language of metaphor, the Lord’s Supper would be a complex metaphor, not a simple one. There are many things going on here—thanksgiving, proclamation, longing for the day of redemption, and more.

One of those elements is underscored by our practice of celebrating this Supper weekly. What this accomplishes—among other things—is the creation of a household. Households eat together. Companions are those who share bread together—the word panis, bread, helps to form the word companion.

The Soul of the Building

Scripture tells us to strengthen the things that remain—strengthen the things that appear to have some lingering stability. Shore up the permanent things.

But because of our penchant for idolatry, we sometimes make a grave mistake when it comes to this. We see churches and cathedrals built centuries ago, and we think that the stone and brick are what remain because they are still here. But those who built these structures from a vibrant and true faith are now with God, and they will live forever. They remain, while the world and everything in it do not. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord is forever.

The faith of the people is the soul of the building. The building itself, without living, evangelical faith—without songs pouring out of forgiven hearts, without a proclamation of truth that is piping hot, without prayers of honest and sincere contrition—becomes a mausoleum. When the people are alive, the sanctuary is animated and alive.

Nothing true will ever die. No sincere sacrifice to God has ever gone extinct. We strengthen the things that remain so that they will continue to remain, and this is all by the grace of the God who has said that whatever work He begins, He will complete.

The Holy Spirit does not build the kingdom in fits and starts. His work is purposive, all of it. Everything has a function. He does what He does in accordance with the counsel of His will. Some tools are used up in the course of His work—like a building—while other things grow increasingly useful—like you.

We are not the scaffolding for the building; the building is the scaffolding for the true church, the church that will stand forever. To the extent that the dead stones are a help to the living stones, we rejoice in their use. If they get in the way, it would be better to meet in places like this until the Lord comes. So let the stones cry out.

Sure. Let’s Call It a Contribution.

So I have distinguished the payment of taxes that are owed, and the payment of taxes that is rendered out of a principled prudence. In the former instance, paying taxes is a matter of conscience and in the latter it is a matter of intelligence. When I give my wallet to the mugger, I am not granting him authority over my wallet, and still less am I giving him authority over any future wallets that I might come to possess. I am simply doing a cost benefit analysis, and his gun trumps my five dollars.

Now some want to argue that all taxes whatever are illegitimate. While this makes life simple on the conscience front, making every decision of whether to pay taxes or not a prudential one, the simplicity is, ironically, too easy. A good example of such an approach to the argument can be found here. While Joel and I would agree on a great deal on this general subject, we do differ at this particular point. It is an important point, so let me deal with it briefly.

In my argument for this position, I cited Romans 13, which tells us to pay taxes to those to whom taxes are due, and Joel reads this as simply as entirely circumstantial and prudential, telling us to pay taxes to whom taxes are — and please note the scare quotes — “due.” Since the one levying taxes always has the power to coerce, this reading is always possible and sometimes likely. He has the gun, so not only do I give him the five dollars, I also go along with calling it “my contribution.”

So the real test would be those instances when a godly ruler requires taxes (or the equivalent) be paid. Remember that I have no problem granting that the power to tax is routinely abused. All we are looking for are cases where it is not abused, establishing that as a possibility.

Take Joseph in Egypt (Gen. 47:13-26). He was a godly ruler who saved the lives of the people, but at the same time he was not exactly an instrument who introduced a libertarian paradise. To head off commenters, I am aware that Joseph presents a problem to my ten percent rule outlined earlier, which I hope to get to. The issue here is whether there were any level of legitimate taxation occurring. I am not here talking about Joseph selling the grain to the Egyptians in exchange for their land, but rather to the collection of a fifth of the harvest in the plentiful years (Gen. 41:34).

Here is another example.

“And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee” (Matt. 17:24–27).

Now Jesus is making an implicit distinction here between tribute money illegitimately collected (where most of our discussion centers), but He is also assuming that the collection of tribute from strangers is legitimate. He has Peter pay the tribute for prudential reasons (so as to not give offense, distracting them from their main mission), even though the tribute is not owed by them because they are “children.” But what happens to the Lord’s argument if tribute were illegitimate when collected from strangers also? His argument would simply collapse. This means there is a type of taxation that would be legitimate to levy, and therefore which would create a moral obligation to pay.

If there is such a thing as lawful taxation (as I believe) and if there is something which goes by the name of taxation which is rank theft (as I also believe), we have to do the hard work of determining where the line between the two categories might be. We also have to determine who makes the call, and what standard they must appeal to.