Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"The Life of the Land is Preserved in Righteousness."

How a Nation Dies by Ray Stedman

Surely there is one great fact everywhere revealed—in history, in nature, in Scripture. It is called "the law of retribution." Even an atheist, who does not believe in God at all, must admit that when he examines the laws of nature he is faced with the fact that one either obeys them, and lives, or disobeys them, and dies. There is no other alternative. All man's wisdom and adaptability must function within these inexorable limits. He is not at liberty to go beyond them. No one fools around with 10,000 volts of electricity, hoping to make up the laws of electricity as he goes along. The laws are already in force and he had better discover them before he goes much further.

So it is also with nations. Napoleon's cynical answer to someone who asked him whether God was on the side of France was: "God is on the side of the heaviest artillery." Then came the battle of Waterloo, the loss of his empire, and, finally, exile to St. Helena. There, chastened and humbled, he said, "Man proposes; God disposes." What Franklin saw so clearly and Napoleon learned so painfully is that nations, like individuals, can lose their right to exist. "The powers that be are ordained of God," (KJV) writes St. Paul in Romans 13:1, and J. B. Phillips translates 1 Corinthians 2:6 as referring to "the powers-that-be, who soon will be only the powers that have been."

The rise and fall of empires is, of course, the very stuff of history. We chronicle it in voluminous detail without actually understanding it. We record the flux of political and economic change which results in toppled thrones, violent or peaceful conquest, radical swings from world leadership to obscurity, and feel we have analyzed the underlying reasons for change. But political movements and economic pressures are as much effects as they are causes. The causes in turn which produce them are ill-defined and little understood, arising as they do from forces that operate in our essential humanity, and are, therefore, so close to us as to make detection difficult. For example, an unknown writer has said:

If a man does not believe in God, his own ego becomes the ruler of his life. Since there are no standards of right and wrong existing apart from himself, right becomes that which pleases him, and wrong that which does not minister to his own ego. Since he himself is the supreme consideration, life is restrained by nothing but his own wishes and easily reaches the conclusion that the best possible world is one in which his will is supreme. He therefore enforces it upon others to the limit of his ability. The denial of God thus becomes the seed from which totalitarianism develops.

Freedom is possible only if men believe in God and seek to do his will. William Penn was right when he said that if men will not be governed by God, they must be governed by tyrants.

In the face of history, it is hard to argue with that. One must not, of course, make the mistake of equating the widespread practice of religion with being truly governed by God." Religious totalitarianism is perhaps the worst kind of all; certainly it is the most deeply hated. But the religious tyrant is no more being governed by God than the iron-fisted atheist is. Pirate ships often flew the flags of lawful nations to deceive and disarm their intended victims, and even modern dictators are not averse to flying the flag of the church. But Senator Daniel Webster caught the essence of true government by God, in a speech made in 1847.

If truth be not diffused, error will be; if God and his Word are not known and received, the devil and his works will gain the ascendancy; if the evangelical volume does not reach every hamlet, the pages of a corrupt and licentious literature will; if the power of the Gospel is not felt through the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.

When Hawaii became the 50th State of the Union, she brought with her to statehood the motto she had adopted as a territory, reflecting her missionary beginnings: "The life of the land is preserved in righteousness." It sounds like a pious platitude, but it is actually a profound truth which should be taught in every classroom in the land. A widespread myth exists in our day that the foundation of our freedoms lies in the great documents that launched our national history: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But important as these may be as instruments of freedom, they are not the foundation of it. Freedom rests on the moral righteousness of each individual member of the nation. When individual righteousness fails on a large scale, laws lose their force, judges fail in their powers, enforcement becomes impracticable, and the Constitution itself is soon changed to reflect the currently acceptable level of morality.

There is no more accurate description of where the United States stands right now.

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