Samuel Adams, perhaps the most indispensable of the Founding Fathers, wrote to his friend Richard Henry Lee near the beginning of the American Revolution (1776): “Should there be found a citizen of the United States so unprincipled as to ask what will become of us if we do not follow the corrupt maxims of the world?” I often ask myself a similar question: So what if we don’t follow the pied piper of a corrupt world?
What if we, as nations and as individuals, truly marched to a different drummer? Dare I say it, what if we Americans, Canadians, even Chileans, were good, instead of just proud of how great we are?
“America will be great if America is good. If not, her greatness will vanish away like a morning cloud.” –Andrew Reed & James Matheson, often attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville
Blessing or Curse
I’m writing this on the eve of Veterans’ Day in the United States, when we honor the millions of men and women who have faithfully served our country in the military. On Memorial Day in May, we remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to preserve our nation. Canada’s November Remembrance Day kind of combines the two holidays as it’s “poppy day” there.
Thousands have marched into danger, endured crises hot and cold, supported the peace, and literally saved the world over the history of our countries. As the preamble of the United States Constitution reads (in part), they have aimed to “…ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…”
I offer a hearty thank you to our Founding Fathers and to all the sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nephews and neighbors, friends and grands past and future. And to the chaplains who remind us we are “one nation under God” still, if “in God we trust.”
If, though. And sometimes it’s a pretty big if.
What if we actually used our freedom—the blessings of liberty—to do good in the world and right in our society?
“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.” –Peter Marshall, former Chaplain of the US Senate
Read the deathbed letter of patriot Patrick Henry: “Whether this (American independence) will prove a blessing or a curse will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation…”
If we use our blessings wisely and prudently, we could be great and happy. If we use them for self-indulgence and self-aggrandizement, we could end up mulish and miserable. I wonder…
“Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” –from the Jefferson Memorial
On a Hill or Under a Cloud
In a sermon entitled “City Upon a Hill,” the Puritan preacher John Winthrop shares his vision of the New England colony as an ideal which other settlements might look up to and aspire to emulate. “The eyes of all people are upon us,” he said.
Sadly these days, we don’t admire the Pilgrim Fathers or the Puritans like we used to. Instead we often put down their bold passion to establish a society governed by God and biblical principles as fanaticism, to say the least. And admittedly, you could find heavy-handed legalism and gross bigotry in their religious commonwealth.
“Take the high road. The low road looks easier, but it will end up where you don’t want to go.” –Earlynne Thompson
On the other hand, many came with a zeal to remake the old order and create a new world where God would be praised and prioritized. What if everything they did stemmed from a refusal to conform to the evil of their times? What if they burned with a desire to shine “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15, NASB)?
This lovely word picture of a glittering city built on a hill, lighting up the world, was originally spoken by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:14-16). He refers to His followers, His kingdom on earth. This comes to my mind every time we drive from our country home into the city of Coquimbo, Chile, at night.
If only it were that godly city shimmering through the darkness. Instead of dimmed beneath the same haze that seems to block the Sun of righteousness everywhere.
Building a House
Somehow we don’t mind standing out for being great. For winning first place in something flashy and eye-catching. For cool and current and avant-garde, oh yes. But oddly, being labeled odd for goodness’ sake doesn’t appeal. Who wants to get left behind, considered out of step with the modern drumbeat?
But hear Benjamin Franklin’s speech before the Constitutional Convention of 1787: “I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men! And if a sparrows cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?
“We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe…that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial local interests, our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach…”
Well, now. Does anyone besides me feel like that could have been spoken yesterday? Dear Lord, how I wish some brave soul would’ve stood up and said it before our constitutional assembly in Santiago de Chile earlier this year.
What if we actually involved the Lord in the building of our homes and families?
They might have more solid foundations. What if we invited Him to participate in the enterprise of building and governing our nations instead of barring Him from the process? We might see a brighter future on the horizon.
It’s a perilous undertaking to pursue greatness without God’s presence and blessing. History ought to teach us that much, at least. If we can’t raise a child without His strength and wisdom, what hope have we with cities of millions? It’s futile, “laboring in vain,” the Bible calls it (Ps. 127:1). Whether we know it or not, we can’t even raise a barn unless He’s in on the project.
“How much more the establishing of a…nation, one unlike any ever seen on the earth?” –Robert J. Morgan, 100 Bible Verses that Made America
Reader friends, let’s ask for God’s discernment in the complex issues of our day and for His healing amid the divisions that would tear us apart. Let’s work with God to promote that domestic tranquility and general welfare spoken of in the Constitution and to provide the world—especially the youth, our posterity—with a glowing example instead a guttered-out candle.
Because what if it all comes crashing down…sooner than we’d like to think?
The blessings we have aren’t a sure thing that we’re somehow entitled to because we’re us. We’re not great because we think so, because we work extra hard, or because we got lucky. If we’re great, it’s because God has “shed His grace on thee.”
And because, once, we were good.
Did you know that the Christian faith all but collapsed in America in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution? We’d won what we wanted, so what did we need to pray about? In Chile as well, after a ten-year open window following Independence, the concept of religious freedom mutated to little more than empty words on paper for another eighty years or so.
But God has a purpose for even our nations in this world.
“One of the marvels of American history is how the country was born between two of the greatest revivals in history,” writes Robert J. Morgan (100 Bible Verses that Made America). “The First Great Awakening prepared the colonies for independence, and the Second solidified her moral and spiritual foundation for the future. Today our country’s problems are not primarily political but spiritual. And the answers are not found in our politics but in the hope of another spiritual return to God.”
It remains to be seen whether we live today in times like those of the prophet Isaiah, who thankfully experienced periods of spiritual revival and cultural restoration in his nation. Or do we face like Jeremiah, instead, the demise of hope for change? The point of no-return because they had so completely rejected God and His Word?
And we do remember where Israel ended up.
To best enjoy our blessings, we need to appreciate and share them with generosity. When did you last spend some time thanking God on Thanksgiving Day?
“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.” –Peter Marshall
To keep our light of worldwide impact for good burning bright, we desperately need leaders—and ordinary citizens—who are willing to walk in step with God and fall on their knees from time to time, too.
Because our Lord Jesus Christ is still the only remedy for the diseases, disagreements, and disorders of our countries and our world.
Each of us has been placed in a sphere of influence, however small or wide. Let’s use it to spin blessings out of every curse, before our blessings become a curse. And dear God, keep us from conceited opinions, bitter jealousy, and selfish ambition (Rom. 12:16). May we humbly seek the “wisdom from above” (Jas. 4:13-18)
So, Mr. Adams, what if…I didn’t follow the world? What if I didn’t chafe so much at “different”? I don’t mean we look different. But we act different. We talk different, we think different. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s great.
For my part, I’d like to make America good again.