A Declaration Of Dependence Upon God
Are you aware of the fact that when Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg address, he added two words which were not in the address as originally written?
In the written manuscript for that address, we read these words, “That this nation shall have a new birth of freedom…” However when Lincoln actually delivered that line in the address, this is what he said, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…” Lincoln added the two words “under God.” That phrase, “this nation, under God,” has now become so much a part of our national vocabulary and our national understanding that we have made it a part of our Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, but the day when President Lincoln first used that phrase, it was quite unusual. He was declaring for all the world to hear his deep and abiding conviction that the destinies of all nations, including this one, are determined by God. I have little doubt that Lincoln was influenced in his thinking by the eloquent words of Psalm 33. Let me show you what I mean…
The Psalmist declares that God directs the nations.
Listen again to the words:
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,
their starry host by the breath of His mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
He puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere Him.
For He spoke, and it came to be;
He commanded, and it stood firm.
Now let me flesh out those words by taking you on what I confess will be a sinfully quick tour through human history—but I want to do that because I am trying to make a point here.
God, wishing to make His voice and His will known in the world, chose a nation—Israel—to become the agent of His instruction. But Israel became stiff-necked and proud. Israel made the mistake of thinking that because it was great it had been chosen by God when, in fact, exactly the opposite was true. It was because Israel was chosen by God that Israel became great. However, the people would not hear of that, and so God determined that Israel would have to be humbled. God raised up the Babylonian Empire for that purpose. The Babylonians came and conquered Israel and led the people away into slavery where they learned subjection and humility. The Babylonians themselves showed no subjection or humility before the Lord and so their empire soon passed from the pages of history. This was accomplished through the rise of the Persian Empire which came with mailed fists and beat upon the brass gates of Babylon until they fell. However Persia, too, became addicted to her own power, and consequently, the Persian Empire with all of its power soon faded away into the mists of history.
God decided at that point that He wished to come to His people in a new way. He wanted to be able to walk with His people and talk with His people. Therefore He decided that He would come to His people in person in the form of Jesus Christ. Now in order for that to occur, a new language would have to develop which would then spread through the world. So it was that the Greek civilization arose. God put it into the mind of a young man named Alexander that the whole world should think Greek and speak Greek. Alexander then set out to conquer the world and, for all practical purposes, that is what he did. Tragically enough, though, Alexander became so intoxicated by his own power that he began to think of himself as god until a little wine began to wash him away. But God had done what God set out to do. For now, indeed, there was a language abroad in the world which could capture the words of God in Jesus Christ in such a way that the people of the world could understand them. Then God began to draw the world together in a new kind of unity. The Greeks were laid aside and Rome was brought to the fore. Suddenly the nations of the world were tied together in a commonwealth unknown up to that time. Roman roads, Roman laws, Roman ships, Roman seaways, Roman rules tied one country to another and made it possible for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to spread with extraordinary speed and effectiveness. However, Rome herself never fully bowed the knee to the Lord. So Rome too passed away—now only ruins for tourists to see.
The people whom God used to finish the Roman Empire were the savage Huns from the North, but beneath their animal-skin clothing and their rough-hewn exterior these people possessed a deeply engrained but undeveloped love for deep thoughts and high aspirations. It was that love that later on developed the great universities of Germany. Christian scholars came to those universities from all over the world—and there they began to articulate the great truths of the Christian faith and from there, they began to communicate those truths to the world. The Germanic Empire made the mistake of pushing God off the throne in life, worshipping instead the God of materialism. As a result the story of the Germanic Empire became a story of great decline. It was then by the design of the Creator that the Anglo-Saxons stepped front and center on the stage of human history. The Druids set aside their animal sacrifice, and the Celts began to carry the cross of Christ. Eventually, England then became the first, great Colonial Empire—an empire which in fact eventually covered the earth. Now wherever England went with its flag, it also went with its Bible. But alas in time, the English gave themselves more to the acquisition of gold than to the extension of the Gospel, and consequently the great British Empire, upon which once the sun never set, is remembered now only in history books.
It was then that God began to forge a new people—a new nation. This new nation would be like no other. It would be made up of all the world’s people. God brought men, women, and children from every land on earth to this land so that Herman Melville could actually write, “We are not a narrow tribe. Our blood is as the flood of the Amazon River with a thousand noble currents flowing into one mighty stream. We are not so much a Nation as we are a world.” Melville was right. God was at work developing His strategy, completing His purposes, and determining the destiny of His people. The great Phillips Brooks of Boston said it best of all, “I do not know how one can be an American even if he is not a Christian and not catch something with regard to God’s purpose for this great land.”
Of course, that is a very sketchy portrait of the flow of human history painted in ridiculously broad and sweeping strokes. But I would contend that we can see the message of the psalmist shining through it all. “Let all the earth fear the Lord. Let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke and it came to be. He commanded and it stood firm.” Yes, God directs the nations.
But then the psalmist declares that the nations depend upon God.
Again Psalm 33.
The LORD foils the plans of the nations;
He thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever,
the purposes of His heart through all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people He chose for His inheritance.
Tell me, dear friends, could there ever be a more significant illustration of those words than you find in the story of America. You will understand, I hope, if I now speak passionately of this nation I love.
Henry David Thoreau recommended that we begin each day with the prayer, “Lord, I thank Thee that I have been born.” Well, that’s a worthy prayer, but I have to tell you that whenever I pray that prayer, I always add to it some other words, “Lord, I thank Thee that I have been born… and that I live in America.” Mind you, I do not disparage those who live in other lands. I would never do that, not for a moment. It is just that because America is in my heart, my heart is in America. You know, when Christopher Columbus first arrived here, he believed that he had found Paradise. My beloved people, America is not Paradise. What those of us who believe in Jesus Christ know that Paradise will be found only on the other side of death. However, there have been times in our history when America has come close to being Paradise. There have been times in our history when we have been so aware of living under God’s guiding hand that we have experienced the full measure of God’s blessing. But there have been other times when we have not put our trust in God, when we have relied too much on our own resources, and we have fought too hard for our own desires. That seems especially true in this country today. We seem to have become a nation where Patrick Henry’s great and noble cry, “Give me liberty or give me death,” has been reduced to just “give me.” We seem to have become a nation of people who have forgotten that freedom is not the license to do as we please but rather the liberty to do as we ought. We seem to have become a nation where anything goes, losing sight of history’s lesson that in a nation where anything goes, soon everything is gone. Mark this down, God is not so genially tolerant as to be morally indifferent. God has lifted nations, and God has lowered nations. And God did not run out of ideas after thinking up America. God can remove us from the flow of human history just as Babylon, or Persia, or Greece, or Rome. God’s purposes and God’s truth shall prevail in this world with America’s help or without it.
That is why today I call us to remember who we really are. I call us to recapture the decencies of life which have been so smothered by the philosophy of “anything goes.” I call us to unite our voices in saying that we have had enough of cleverness without wisdom, brilliance without values, liberties without responsibilities, and power without compassion. I call us to make “a declaration of dependence”—we have a Declaration of Independence, thank God, but I am calling us now to make a declaration of dependence upon God determining that we shall strive to live the way God wants us to live. I call us to do these things because I love America. There is in me a deep, unfailing love for this land. I glory in her history. I exult in her freedom. I am wounded by her failures. I am hurt by her occasional blindness. I love America. I become absorbed in reading about her great heroes. I marvel at the sheer genius of her Constitution, her Bill of Rights, and her valiant attempt to make them all work for all of the people all of the time. I am moved to tears when I sing her songs, when I see her flag, when I speak of her promise, and when I pray for her people. I love America. America testifies to the truth that the more a nation depends upon the greatness of God, the more the greatness of that nation will be revealed. I love America.
I know that I cannot speak for you, only for me. I cannot proclaim your hopes, only my own. But I can do that and perhaps, just perhaps, my thoughts and my hopes will be yours as well. For you see, because I so love America, this is what I hope and this is what I pray for: America, first, only, always, one nation, under God. Let me say that again: America, first, only, always, one nation, under God. For then, in this land, the promise of the psalmist shall be fulfilled, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”