John Wise: the man who inspired the Declaration of Independence
Wise (1652-1725) served a Congregational church in Chebacco Parish in the southeastern part of Ipswich, Mass., for most of his ministry. He was the first son of an indentured servant to graduate from Harvard and was an impressive preacher and forceful writer.
But Wise was even more tough and tenacious as an opponent of governmental overreach. In 1687, he grappled with the royal governor of New England, Sir Edmund Andros, because of a tax Andros had levied at the command of King James II without the consent of the legislative body. In pulpit and town council, Wise sounded the alarm and blasted Andros’ scheme, warning of encroaching British tyranny. Two contemporaries wrote commending Wise’s efforts: "All our Watchmen were not asleep, nor the camp of Christ surprised and taken, before they had Warning."
Wise stirred up his fellow townspeople in revolt against the tax. As a result, Governor Andros had Wise arrested because Wise refused to submit on biblical grounds to what he considered to be the unjust demands of the government. Governor Andros brought Wise before royalist judges and a crown-friendly jury. Wise so infuriated them with his defense that they threatened to sell him as a slave. The pastor was suspended from his ministry and fined. But that did not stop him from preaching against tyranny and in favor of liberty.
One year later, Governor Andros was deposed and Wise was vindicated. In 1710, Wise wrote “The Churches Quarrel Espoused.” He followed that with his masterwork in 1717, “A Vindication of the Government of New England Churches” in which he dealt with the basis of both religious and civil government.
What Wise said was so forward-thinking and so appropriate to the time leading up to the Revolution that when his books were reprinted in 1772, they quickly sold out and were reprinted again. In these works, Wise demonstrated from the Bible that:
-- God created all men equal and every man must be acknowledged by the state as equal to every man.
-- The end of all good government is to promote the happiness of all and the good of every man in all his rights: his life, liberty, estate, honor, etc.
-- The consent of the governed is the only legitimate basis for government.
-- Taxation without representation is tyranny.
What is significant is that many of Wise's Bible-based concepts and some of the phrasing was picked up by leading patriots and is even found in our Declaration of Independence.
Indeed, in his book “Seedtime of the Republic,” Cornell University historian Clinton Rossiter traces six individuals that he considers the most influential thought leaders of the American Revolution. Interestingly, two were political leaders but four were ministers of the Gospel. Among those, Rossiter lists Wise, whose pulpit and pen provided some of the soaring thoughts in America's founding document, thoughts that compose the very foundation of our republic.
Kenyn Cureton is vice president for church ministries at the Family Research Council. Reprinted by permission from The Daily Caller.