On this date, 243 years ago, Patrick Henry delivered seven of the most profound words ever spoken in American history. On March 23, 1775, in the Virginia House of Burgesses gathered in Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Henry called for action against the encroaching British military force. In a speech that would not appear in print for 18 years, the planter-turned-lawyer said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Let’s back up. Patrick Henry lived a colorful, controversial, contradictory life. He spoke for liberty while purchasing up to 78 slaves. He championed the revolution while voting against the Constitution. He was an Anti-Federalist, but at the urging of George Washington he ran for, and won, a position in the Virginia House of Delegates as a Federalist. Twice elected Governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry cared about state rights, pushing for the Bill of Rights. He was a big family man, caring for his ailing wife, afflicted with mental illness, until her death. Married twice, Henry had 17 children, most of whom became highly successful. But let’s go back to those famous words. “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” No one understood the value of liberty more than Patrick Henry. And no one offered liberty more than Jesus Christ.
Speaking to a Jewish audience raised on the Law of Moses, Jesus spoke of slavery and liberty. “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” But then he added the good news, “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” At the end of the school day, the teacher sets the students free, but not “free indeed.” After the inmate serves his term, the warden sets him free, but he is not “free indeed.” When a bird is released from his cage, he is free, but not “free indeed.” Jesus said “the truth will set you free.” But he concluded, “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” Patrick Henry cried out for liberty from the British. He spoke for colonialists who wanted, like all men, to be free. Henry would not settle for anything else. What about you? Are you content to be enslaved by your sin, addiction, job, relationship, or empty dreams? Or are you willing to sell out for liberty, for freedom? You can do a lot of things to find freedom. But if you want to be totally free, both on the inside and the outside, if you want to be “free indeed,” you must look in one direction. Bow to the only one in history who came to make you totally free, the only one who is able to make you “free indeed.”