Our Nation Under God
July 7th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM
OUR NATION UNDER GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-7-68 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Our Nation Under God. As I thought of a text, a background, for the message, my mind went clear through the Bible. I could speak of Moses and his longing to see the Promised Land [Deuteronomy 3:23-25]. I could speak of Nehemiah and his tears; as the prime minister of the Persian Empire, he wept over the destruction of Judah [Nehemiah 1:2-4].
I could take as a text the one hundred thirty-seventh Psalm:
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Or I could read in the life of Daniel; as an exile in Babylon, every day he opened his window and prayed toward Jerusalem [Daniel 6:10]. Or I could read from the first epistle of Peter, chapter 2, verse 17: “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” [1 Peter 2:17]. All of which is to say that love of country is like love of God. And we are enjoined and mandated to obey the laws of the land in which we live, to fear God, and to honor our rulers. So the message tonight, this Fourth of July weekend, Our Nation under God.
I speak first of the blessings of God’s providential care, guiding the building and the founding of America. The sails of Columbus were set toward what is now Delaware Bay. And he would have landed on the continent of North America had it not been, as he neared this Western Hemisphere, a flock of birds passed his ship flying to the south and to the west. One of his navigators persuaded Columbus to follow the flight of those birds, and he landed in San Salvador and the West Indies. Columbus, flying under the Spanish flag, never set foot on our continent, nor did the Spanish conquistadors ever colonize America. They turned south under the providences of God, seeking gold.
And in the goodness and mercy of God, out of deep and profound religious conviction, there gathered together a little band of worshipers seeking freedom of faith, freedom to preach, freedom to love and serve God. One of their ships was the Mayflower, and they were called Pilgrims, seeking a better land.
In the stormy Atlantic it seemed as though the Mayflower and the sister ship would go down in a violent storm. They fell on their faces before God, and after intercession the storm subsided. They rose from their knees to write the Mayflower Compact, one of the great documents of soul freedom in the history of mankind, beginning with these words, “In the name of God.” Amen! That’s the kind of people who turned their faces to the North American continent.
After the Pilgrims had landed at Plymouth and after they had been here but two years, a severe and disastrous drought overwhelmed them. They faced certain starvation, with no recourse for supplies. They were called to prayer. On their knees they supplicated and importuned heaven for nine continuous hours, and that evening God sent them rain.
And in 1746 from Nova Scotia, the French set out in forty warships to conquer the New England colonists. When they heard of it, consternation swept through the little bands. Once again they fell on their knees, and all day long importuned the mercy and the intervention of heaven. A hurricane developed at sea and swept those forty ships off the face of the earth, and the colonists were saved.
And the days passed and John Hancock presided over the Continental Congress, and on July 4, 1776, they formulated a doctrine and a document that by right and under God, we in America ought to be and shall be forever free. John Hancock, who had the most to lose, being the most affluent, signed the document first and wrote it big, saying, “I write it big enough that King George can read it without his glasses.” And when they formalized and finalized that document, it was to this end, that, “In the firm assurance of divine providence of God Almighty, we pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
In the dark days of the winter of 1777, when certain defeat faced Washington and his brave little army, the general of the army, George Washington, knelt in prayer on the surface of the snow in Valley Forge and poured out his heart to God, for the Lord’s blessings upon the cause for which they were laying down their lives.
And as the days continued and the war progressed, a mighty armada of British ships were coming in, and George Washington’s army, pressed from the land side and the British armada from the sea side, faced again certain destruction. But in prayer and in the intercession of thousands and thousands of American patriots, again a great storm arose and blew those ships away! Washington escaped to Yorktown and there defeated General Lord Cornwallis and the Revolutionary War was crowned with victory for America.
And the days passed and fifty-five brave men gathered in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, there to forge an instrument of freedom for the struggling young republic. And in that session, presided over by General George Washington, there was one Book, one Book, on the table behind which General Washington presided over that Congress, that Constitutional Convention, and that one Book was the Bible, the Word of God.
And Benjamin Franklin rose to say, “If no sparrow can fall to the ground without God’s notice [Matthew 10:29], we could not expect that a nation could rise without His aid,” and made the motion that they begin the sessions in prayer. And as the Constitution was framed and as it was accepted by the thirteen original colonies, General George Washington was elected the first president of the new republic. And in his first inaugural address, the thirtieth of April in 1789, he closed that inaugural address with this prayer:
Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou will keep the United States in Thy holy protection. That Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of obedience to government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States.
Don’t you wish there was a George Washington today to pray a prayer like that, that we learn to love our country and to be obedient to its laws? And as the days continued, Andrew Johnson said—the president who followed Abraham Lincoln—“When I die, I desire no better winding sheet than the Stars and Stripes and no softer pillow than the Constitution.” So Andrew Johnson was laid to rest July 31, 1875, wrapped in a beautiful silk flag and his head pillowed on his own well-worn copy of the Constitution of the United States of America.
This is just a few of the narratives and recitatives of God’s blessings upon God’s devoted and consecrated men who have helped to shape and to fashion our America. I speak now and we must hasten. I speak now of the price that they paid.
Did you ever wonder what became of those fifty-six men who signed that Declaration of Independence? Do you ever wonder what kind of men they were? Once in awhile today, over the radio, or in a television speech, or in an editorial, or in a magazine, I will read where some fellow will arise and liken what is happening in America to what happened in the Revolutionary War, as though these hoodlums who loot, and burn, and destroy are to be named in the same breath with the General Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock, and those glorious men who fashioned the infant Republic of America. It is an insult to intelligence and a trampling underfoot of all that love of country meant yesterday, today and forever.
What kind of men were these fifty-six who signed that Declaration of Independence? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists, eleven were merchants, nine were large plantation owners, men of means. But they signed that document knowing it meant death if they were apprehended. What became of them?
Nine of that fifty-six fought and died in the Revolutionary War. Five of that fifty-six were captured by the British and were tortured as traitors until they died. Two lost their sons in the war and another two had their sons captured. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Carter Braxton of Virginia, wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. Thomas McKeam, hounded by the British, his family kept in hiding, lost all of his possessions and died in poverty.
Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge, and Middleton saw their homes and all their possessions looted and destroyed. Thomas Nelson, Jr. at the battle of Yorktown noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the family mansion for his headquarters. He turned to General George Washington and urged the general to open fire. The general gave the command, the home was destroyed, and Nelson died in bankruptcy. Frances Lewis had his home and all his property destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, where she died a few weeks later. John Hart saw his fields and mill laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves. He returned home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later he died of exhaustion and a broken heart.
A like sorrowful fate awaited Norris and Livingston. They had security. They were wealthy men, but they valued freedom more. Standing tall and straight and unwavering, they pledged in that Declaration of Independence for the support of this declaration with a firm reliance on the providence of God. “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” They lost their lives. They lost their fortunes, but they kept inviolate their sacred honor.
And so through the years and the years the story of our republic has been molded, and fashioned, and inspired by the love and the tears of the people who have supported it and died for it. Even in that awesome conflict between the states, there were godly men and women by the uncounted thousands who sought the remembrance of heaven in that disastrous and terrible war.
Nor could there be a more appropriate monument to the America that survived than the one raised on Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. On a great high, high, high column stands a soldier dressed in blue and a soldier dressed in gray and between them the flag unfurled.
No more shall the war cry sever,
Nor the winding river run red,
We banish our anger forever
When we laurel the graves of the dead.
Under the sod and the dew
Waiting the judgment day,
Love and tears for the blue, tears and love for the gray.
And through the years that have multiplied since, the tremendous dedicated willingness of our men to build around America a wall, a protective fence of blood and of brawn, of steel and of life; never in my whole ministry have I been more moved than in my pastorate before I came to Dallas, where I was when the war was declared, when America was plunged into that terrible holocaust. One of the finest young men in the congregation immediately volunteered; a tall, strong, handsome young man out of one of our finest families. And as I talked to him, I asked him about his going away to the war, and he replied to me, “Pastor, if I can keep for you an opportunity to preach the gospel of the Son of God, if I lay down my life, the sacrifice is worth it.”
And he went away to the war, fought throughout the years in the Pacific theater, and I prayed for that boy every day of my life. “If I can keep for you an opportunity, an open door, to preach the gospel of the Son of [God], if I die, the sacrifice will be worth it.” And these are the men who are offering their lives in Vietnam today and tonight.
May I close? As I think of the story of our America and the blood and the tears and the sacrifice by which these great freedoms we enjoy have been given to us, I wonder, I wonder if we are beginning to lose those glorious inheritances for which they laid down their lives. America has been a nation under God. It has been a people who worshiped the Lord. However the ruggedness of our frontier and however the individual choice of some of those rugged men, yet the background of our forefathers has been ever one of religious respect; loving God, honoring the preacher, seeking in times of tremendous crisis God’s intervention and God’s blessing.
Are we today turning aside from those humble appeals and those prayers to the God who holds the nations of the world as fine dust in the balance? [Isaiah 40:15]. O Lord, that there might come in our day, and in our time, and in our generation a great turning back to God; a great revival and a mighty outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord God who rules above us [2 Chronicles 7:14; James 4:10]. I pray so!
And in the effort that God might be able to place in my hands and in yours, tonight, this night, we dedicate ourselves to that great and holy gift. Lord, for me and my house, and for this church and its influence, and wherever I may speak or wherever we may have opportunity to witness or to testify, there shall we make appeal that our people turn once again to God, that we open our hearts heavenward, that we ask God’s blessings upon our government and upon our armed forces, upon our homes and our people, upon our churches and our preachers. And it could be as in the days of Wesley, and as in the days of Whitefield, and as in the days of Finney and Moody, it could be that our eyes shall see the glory of the Lord, a mighty outpouring of the presence and Spirit of the divine Savior. God grant it as He blesses our home, our country, our nation, our America.
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, you, somebody you tonight, what a glorious hour to come, “Here I am, pastor, I make the decision for Christ, for God, tonight. And here I am.” A family you, a couple you, or one somebody you; in the throng in this balcony round, there is a stairwell at the back, at the front and on either side; there is time and to spare, come, come. The press of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God.” As the Spirit of the Lord shall press upon your soul this invitation, come tonight. “I want to take the Lord as my Savior,” or, “I want to be baptized as God has written in the Book [Matthew 28:19-20]. Or, “We want to put our lives in the circle of this dear congregation.” Or, “I want to give my life in a new way to God.” As the Lord shall speak, come, make the decision now where you are seated, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming. God attend you in the way. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.