By Dr. Chester E. Ratliff, (1920 - 1995)
where he was pastor for 32 years, and founder of Temple Baptist College.
In 1976, as many of you remember, the first service each month in our church was a patriotic service. Will all of the veterans in our congregation today please stand up, those from World War I on, so we can recognize you. Yes, thank you very much. May God bless each one of you.
Thank you, Brother Ron, for the music today. Every time I hear music relative to our flag or to the liberty of our country, I get chills up and down my spine. I’m an American from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet and I thank God for it. I think you do, and I know this church does.
This morning I want to preach on the subject of LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS, and it is taken from the Declaration of Independence. I think only the Bible supercedes that document. In the 8th chapter of John, verse 32, you will find the words that Jesus said "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." Jesus is talking to His disciples and He said if there is anything that will move and motivate your life, it is the TRUTH. In verse 36 of the same chapter, we find Jesus saying "If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed."
The document that gives us our independence and our freedom for living in this country is the Declaration of Independence, and the framer for this document was none other than Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest presidents we have ever had. Thomas Jefferson was a Presbyterian. He had a habit every Sunday morning of attending a little church in the hills of Virginia, just outside of Arlington, VA. He heard an Englishman preach, and was very interested in what this man had to say about freedom, about being free.
Now you may not know the Declaration of Independence has a lot of its content taken from charter of England, and this preacher being an immigrant in this country from England, and was a Baptist preacher, Sunday after Sunday he harped on the subject of FREEDOM, of what it meant to be free. When people come to America, the thing that strikes them most potently is the freedom that we enjoy, and rightly so.
Thomas Jefferson was the framer and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and whether you know it or not there was one preacher who signed too, and that was John Witherspoon, only one preacher on it. But I believe I can say this morning without successful contradiction that God guided those men when they framed this document which is so important to us today. This was adopted by the Continental Congress of the United States, July 4, 1776, two hundred and two years ago. And in it are these words, which I think are the most important words the Declaration of Independence contains, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and it is true that God wants all of us to have these three wonderful gifts.
I think if God were to speak to you this morning He would say, I want you to have life. I gave you the life to begin with. We are all the creation of God, every person born on this earth is a creation of God. But there is another life. The Declaration of Independence speak of life here and now, but after this one there is a life of eternity span. There is a life that never ends, and God talks about this life, and He offers us life eternal. He offers us liberty – if the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. You could capture me, you could incarcerate me, you could tie my hands and feet, you could blind my eyes and stuff my ears and my mouth, but you cannot change my capacity to think.
The Declaration of Independence is a wonderful document, it is one the most precious document in the archives of Washington, it give us our freedom, but yet, let me tell you that document is circumvented and equated and confined to this life and to this life only. But when Jesus says “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”, He is telling us the truth that God exists, and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that the Holy Spirit is in this world, God incarnate. That truth can not only give us life here, but give us life beyond this life.
When I was thinking about this message and searching the Scriptures to see what God says about life, I got a real surprise when I noticed the word “abundant” in so many scriptures about life. Jesus didn’t say just “I will give you life” but He gives us abundant life. Now lets consider health. There is a difference is being super healthy. Nearly everyone has some little thing wrong with them. Everyone here today is living, and everyone is going to die, if Christ does not come first. Everyone here, from the smallest of the children to the oldest of us, is going to die. What happens then? This is why Jesus wants us to have life. And He offers not just life here, but eternal life.
No one is here today by accident, but by the grace of God. And if we go to Heaven, and enjoy the abundant life, we will go by the choice and the grace of God. It will be through the mercy of God. In the Scriptures we find Christ offering us everlasting life, in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 10:27-29 says “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” There is something gratifying and satisfying about that. Every time I preach a funeral I think about not just the individual, the hunk of clay we live in, but I think about the soul, the real person, God giveth and God taketh away that soul. There is where everlasting life comes in but we think so much about this life that we forget about the life that is to come until we are ready to die.
If you want to live the life God expects us to live, the super kind of life, the abundant life, the only way we can life it is in Jesus Christ. There is no other way. The person who is dead is either in hell or in heaven, no intermediate stage, the real person is gone, only the body is left, the body that the person lived in. When you see someone you don’t see the real person, only God sees the real you – the person who has eternal life.
In Romans 6:23 we find the apostle Paul inscribing these words “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” So you see life, eternal life, everlasting life, abundant life, the super-life is found in Jesus Christ.
John 10:10 says “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” I guess I like to live as well as anybody, and I like to have a good time as much as anybody. I think I can have a good time and can live my days with the absolute knowledge that when I leave this world I am going to be with God. If you are here this morning and don’t have that knowledge, you need to get right with God. Isaiah 55:7 says “let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
I read in the paper this morning that for the first time in years this country is at peace. That is we are not shooting at some foreign country, or not that we know of. And everyone seems to think that is wonderful, because we are not getting shot back at, but I don’t know so much about that. I’m not a dove, I’m a hawk – I believe in defending our country if it need be with our life. I think anyone who wouldn’t defend it, he ought to be hung in the public square. That is the truth. Christ Jesus came into this world and gave his life that we might be free. The only way we are going to keep peace is to stand up for it, reach out and take hold of it, believe in it, possess it. That is what God wants us to do about this spiritual peace.
God offers us abundant life, abundant pardon, abundant peace, and abundant liberty. The statue of liberty sits on Liberty Island, it used to be Bedlow Island till 1957 when they changed the name to Liberty Island. It sits out on that protruding island standing 305 feet and one inch from the base of the pedestal to the top of the torch and if you have never been by that you have lost an experience. That is the most commanding sights, that is one of the most picturesque sights that one has ever seen.
It is up there to guard the harbor. It was given to us by the French government in 1884 and the thing was so big they had to build it in the streets of Paris, France. We paid 284 thousand dollars for it, and they contributed 250 thousand dollars and the thing today is worth millions and millions of dollars. There it stands! And in 1903 Mr. Emma Lazarus inscribed words on a tablet on the pedestal, when you walk across the plank over on the left side facing the sea, you will read these words:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame with conquering limbs astride from land to land, here at our sea while sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch whose flame is the imprisoned lightning and her name is Mother of exiles. From her beaconed hand glows worldwide welcome, her mild eyes command the air bridged harbor that twin cities frame. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
God offers us liberty, true liberty. I said at the top of this message, I believe the Declaration of Liberty was led of God through the foresight of these men. They followed a precept that had taken place in England. We got the Declaration of Liberty and we have that freedom today but THIS document – the WORD OF GOD gives us liberty now and hereafter. I remember an incident that greatly impressed me was when a Vietnam prisoner, who had been in prison for 7 ½ years, I watched him when he got off the aircraft, he bent down and kissed the ground, kissed the soil of America.
Many people sit today not knowing what it means to live under tyrannical rule under a dictator. It might do some good to have to live under those rules and regulations for awhile, then you would say “THANK GOD FOR AMERICA!” Thank God for this great country in which we live. We must admit that today we have more than we need, more than we can take care of, and it consumes too much of our thought. We are interested in material things and have become too materialistically minded. Things can take away our liberty. You know something? Peace, contentment and joy comes only in using what we have in the furthering of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Did you ever see a shroud have pockets, or see anyone put as much as a penny in a coffin? Not at all. You will leave everything you have. The Bible says where a man’s treasure is, there will his heart be also. Lay not up treasures up on earth, but lay them up in heaven.
Friend, where is your happiness, where is your peace and joy? Where is your satisfaction? Let’s bow together and promise God by His grace we will walk closer, pray more, do more, read more of the scripture daily. By the help of God we will be what God wants us to be. And if you don’t know Jesus Christ as your Saviour, He will save you now if you give your heart and life to Him.
Webmaster's Note: Dr. Chester Ratliff was a great soldier of the cross, a real "prince in Israel," and was for over 30 years a special friend of James and Georgia Dearmore, missionaries to Africa for 33 yrs. His widow, and surviving family are still among our dearest friends. Jim Dearmore, Webmaster and Missionary