"Freedom," Joseph Smith once wrote, "is a sweet blessing."
The Prophet knew the joy of being free because he had suffered the anguish of being in bondage. His long confinement in the Liberty Jail under dreadful conditions undoubtedly made his feelings all the more tender for the precious days of freedom.". . . Our circumstances are calculated to awaken our spirits to a sacred rememberance of everything," the Prophet declared in an epistle to the Church from the Liberty Jail, written between March 20-25, 1839. "Nothing therefore can separate us from the love of God and fellowship one with another; . . . every species of wickedness and cruelty practiced upon us will only tend to bind our hearts together and seal them together in love." (History of the Church, 3:290.)
But the Prophet also knew that freedom was part of the eternal plan of God, and unless man was free to act for himself that plan could not be accomplished.
On Dec. 16, 1833, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation, now known as the 101st Section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In it, the Lord said:
". . . that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment. Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another." (D&C 101:78-79.)
In order for man to exercise his agency, he must be free to do so.
Members of the Church should understand this principle perhaps more than any other people. The Book of Mormon plainly teaches that man is free to act for himself - "to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life." (2 Ne. 10:23.)
Freedom to choose only comes with accountability for our choices.
President Ezra Taft Benson touched on this principle in an excellent address last July at the London, England, conference in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Church in the British Isles.
"Following the Great Apostasy from the principles and laws of Christ," said President Benson, "the world became enslaved in a cloak of darkness. . . . Before the gospel could shine forth its resplendent light, a flickering flame of religious and political freedom had to commence.
"Religious freedom," continued President Benson, "cannot prosper where political freedom does not exist. . . . For man to fully exercise the agency which God has granted him, his God-given natural rights must be recognized and protected. Only within the last 400 years has it been recognized that these rights inherently belong to man."
It was the flicker of freedom in the hearts of many that brought about the concession from monarchs that man does, indeed, have inherent sacred rights. But in spite of this, a heavy price has had to be paid for the blessings of freedom.
"The heritage of freedom is as precious as life itself," said President Benson. And in so many cases precious human lives have had to be sacrificed for those precious freedoms.
Freedom is not free; history attests to this. Nor will freedom ever be free. As long as there is "opposition in all things" (2 Ne. 2:11) we cannot say we have paid the price of freedom. There always will be things that we must do to ensure our freedoms.
This month in the United States, we are observing the birthdays of two great presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom knew personally the high costs of freedom.
But freedom must be more than just an abstraction, thought of only when we observe a national leader's birthday or when we sing patriotic songs or enjoy Fourth of July celebrations.
With freedom comes responsibility. Apathy could bring bondage. No one who truly has the spirit of freedom would shirk his responsibilities, whether they be at the voting booth, or in a town meeting, or in respecting and obeying the laws of the land.
We are taught in the Book of Mormon that the Spirit of God is also the spirit of freedom. (Alma 61:15.) The two go hand-in-hand; they are inseparable.
If we truly have the Spirit of God in our lives, the spirit of freedom will burn brightly in our hearts.