THIS NATION UNDER GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-19-84 10:50 a.m.
And once again welcome the great multitudes of you who share this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled This Nation Under God. The background text is a beautiful and simple avowal in Psalm 33, verse 12. Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance.”
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” and this is our America. With what pride do we look upon our native land, stretching from side to side—as far as the continent is wide—from ocean to ocean, a land of charm, and beauty, and grandeur, and wealth, and resources; with its towering mountains, and its vast forests, and its great prairies, and its winding rivers. With what joy, I say, and pride, do we look upon our America!
Some years ago, the foreign mission board of our denomination sent me on a preaching mission around the world. I was gone four months; and in returning, in the middle of the night, the pilot announced over the PA system in the plane, “The next lights you see on our right will be those of California.” Home! America!
Sir Walter Scott wrote in his “Lay of the Last Minstrel”:
Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
Whose heart within him never burned,
As homeward his weary footsteps turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand.
[“Lay of the Last Minstrel,” Sir Walter Scott]
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
A flash of color beneath the sky;
Our flag is passing by!
Sign of a nation, great and strong,
To ward her people from foreign wrong:
Power and glory and strength—all,
Live in the colors to stand or fall.
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums;
And loyal hearts are beating high:
Our flag is passing by!
[“The Flag Goes By,” Henry Holcomb Bennett]
About a block from our church is a beautiful square called Thanksgiving Square. And inside of the rotunda of that beautiful monument, there is a bronze statue of General George Washington kneeling in prayer. It is a replica; it is a copy of the heroic statue of the father of our country kneeling in Valley Forge. In that terrible winter of 1777, the Revolutionary Army faced inevitable defeat. And in that tragic and awesome hour, George Washington knelt in prayer for God’s preserving grace upon this new nation aborning. Ten years later, fifty-five brave men assembled in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, there to write the Constitution of our country. On the desk of the presiding officer was one Book, God’s Holy Word, the Bible. A British visitor one time asked a friend, “Which one is George Washington?” And the reply came back: “When Congress goes to prayer, the one who kneels is George Washington.” And the Constitution that they wrote is one of the greatest documents of liberty and freedom outside of the Word of God to be found in political history or in human literature.
When our founding fathers were assembled to write that great document of government, they sought for a basis and a guarantee of the rights and liberties of the people; a bulwark against tyranny and oppression. They first turned to Spain to find in Spain a model of our government. And they found that in Spain, the rights and liberties of the people were guaranteed by the monarchy. But, said our founding fathers, if a monarchy can grant rights and liberties, the same monarchy can then take them away. They then turned to England for a model for our government; and found there that the rights and liberties of the people were guaranteed by a Parliament. But, said our founding fathers, if a Parliament can guarantee rights and liberties, that same Parliament can take them away. They then turned to France for a model of our government; and found that in France the rights and liberties of the people were guaranteed by the vote of a majority. But, said our founding fathers, if a majority can guarantee rights and liberties, that same majority can take them away. It was then that our founding fathers turned to Almighty God and found in the nature and truth of the revelation of God the basis and the guarantee for the rights and liberties of the people. These things are self-evident before Him, they said. And before the Lord and before the law all men are created free and equal.
Our country was founded upon the church and the Christian home. There is not any schoolboy but is conversant that the conquistadors from Spain came here, to the New World, seeking gold. But the Pilgrim and the Puritan came to the shores of New England to find God. And the nation they built is the greatest nation the earth has ever seen. What makes a nation great? Is it the vast expanse of its national territory? If so, then Russian Siberia would be the greatest nation in the earth. If resources made a nation great, then Brazil would be the greatest nation in the earth. If vast population made a nation great, India would be the greatest nation in the earth. If ancient civilization made a nation great, then China would be the greatest nation in the earth. But a nation is made great not by its fertile acres, but by the men who till them; not by its vast forest, but by the men who use them; not by its rich mines, but the men who work them; not by its vast transportation system, but by the men who built them. As Lyman Abbott said, “America was a great land when Columbus discovered it. Americans have made of it a great nation.”
When I was in high school, I won a silver loving cup for declamation. And one of the declamations memorized and delivered in that state contest was a noble, marvelous address by that far-famed Southern orator, Henry W. Grady, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution. He was speaking on the secret of the greatness of America. And he said standing on Chesapeake Bay he saw a display of the might of America in its naval strength, in the great ships on the sea. Then turning to the land, he saw a display of the mighty military might of America in our armed forces. And the great orator said, as he looked upon that naval squadron, and as he looked upon the army passing by, he said, “Surely, the strength of America lies in its naval and military might.” Later, he said, “I stood in the Capitol rotunda in Washington D.C., then on either side watched the democratic process of government in Senate and in the House. As I looked as those legislators gathered there in behalf of the republic, I said, ‘Surely, the great things of America lies in its democratic process, in its great national freedom.’”
Then he said, “Sometime later I was in the country home of a friend of many years in Georgia. And after the chores and the work of the day, the farmer in the house gathered around him his children, his wife, and the family. And to close the day, he read out of God’s Book and knelt down in prayer.” And the great orator said, “As I saw that friend of mine on his knees, with his family, in that farm home, the vision of the might of America in its naval battleships and its marching armies faded away. The great Capitol building with its representatives of the nation faded away, and instead I saw the true might and strength of America; it lies in its godly people.”
Whether we live or whether we die lies in the imponderables of Almighty God, the Judge of all the nations. History is strewn, the shores of the story of mankind is literally covered with the wreckage of great empires of the past. One of them, the greatest of all of them, has died under our very eyes: the British Empire. In June of 1897, there was gathered in London, the capital of the British glory, the greatest assembly of marvelous, wonderful, glittering rulers, princes, kings, prime ministers, pageantry, that the world has ever known. They were celebrating the second Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. And in July of that year of 1897, when the great pageant was finished and the captains and the kings departed, Rudyard Kipling wrote his tremendously effective and remembered “Recessional”:
God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far-called, our navies melt away.
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that hold not Thee in awe—
Such boasting as the heathens use
Or lesser breeds without the law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
[“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling]
Our nation cannot survive, it cannot live, in drunkenness, and in debauchery, and in desecration. Psalm 9:17 avows, “All the wicked shall be turned into hell, and the nations that forget God.” We have drugs to tear our bodies apart. We have promiscuity to tear our families apart. We have crime waves to tear our cities apart. We have secular humanists to tear our schools apart. We have sodomites to tear the fabric moral of our nation apart. We have cults to tear our churches apart. America increasingly finds itself in despair before the awesome inroads of sin that we never named before, never spoke in public, never referred to. Yet it is common in every headline of every newspaper: this new America.
Can God judge Sodom? Can God judge Gomorrah? Can God judge Tyre? Can God judge Babylon, and Assyria, and Egypt, and Greece, and Rome, and not judge us? Is it possible for us to escape the visitation from Almighty God when our nation gives itself to violence, to desecration, to repudiation of every value revealed to us in His holy and heavenly Word? We need in our country a great turning back to the Scriptures; a great turning to the revelation of God; a great revival and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit of the Lord. And without it, we shall not ultimately survive.
I was asked a day ago about a newspaper—from a newspaper reporter, “What do you mean when you say, ‘Except God intervenes, there is a day of judgment coming for America’?”
I said, “I mean just that. He is no respecter of persons. Even His own chosen and elect people lost their nation, lost their city, went into slavery. We are not special in the presence, and in the sight, and in the judgment of God; except we repent, except we turn, except we come back, we also shall face the awesome outpouring of the wrath of our great God who judges the world in heaven.”
It could happen overnight. It could happen any minute. We have enemies with great, giant nuclear-headed missiles pointed toward the city of Dallas. They say in their submarines, just outside the coast, they have them there ready to be sent, aimed at our city and all the great cities of America; it could happen overnight! We live in the imponderables of Almighty God. Whether we live or whether we die lies in His choice, in His judgment, in His sovereign purpose and will. We need in the church, in the legislative halls, in the home life of our people, in the school, in every area of assembly, we need a great consciousness of, and a great turning to, God.
I grew up, as many of you know, in far northwest Texas and lived, when I was a little boy, on a farm in that desert, drought-stricken country. In the great Dust Bowl of the years gone by, we lost everything that we had, everything! I remember as a little fellow, five years old, I remember standing by my father in the back door of the farmhouse. And as I stood by his side, my father began to shout to the top of his voice. My father was very quiet, and reticent, and reserved; very timid, self-effacing. And to hear him shout to the top of his voice was an amazing thing to me as a little child. And I looked up into my father’s face, and I said, “Daddy, why are you shouting so? Why?” And he replied, “Son, look! The rain! The rain! The rain! God has sent us rain!” It was food for our hungry mouths. It was bread for our starving souls. It was clothing for our naked backs. It was shoes for our naked feet. It was life for our family. “Son, God hath sent us rain!”
O, for the floods on the thirsting land,
O, for a mighty revival.
O, for a fearless, sanctified band
Ready to hail its arrival.
The need of the land is revival.
A freshen of grace from above;
Repentance toward God and forgiveness
More trusting of Christ and His love.
[“Abundant Life”; William Leslie]
But a nation cannot turn to God if the individual men and women do not turn to God. A nation cannot repent if I do not repent. A nation cannot change if I do not change. A nation cannot turn if I do not turn. A nation cannot confess if I do not confess. A nation cannot believe if I do not believe. A nation cannot accept if I do not accept. A nation cannot come forward and bow before God, if I do not come forward and bow before God. A nation cannot believe if I do not believe. A nation cannot be baptized if I am not baptized. A nation cannot be saved if I am not saved.
Our hope lies in its people, in that father, in that mother, in the children, in the family, in the assembly, in the church. God bless America! God save America! God grant life and repentance to America, and Lord, let it begin in us; this minute, this moment, this hour, in this appeal, in this invitation. Do it Lord, grant it Lord!
In the moment that we sing our invitation hymn, no one will leave. We’ll all be present in prayer, in expectation, believing God for the miracle of a response. And while we stand and wait before the Lord, somebody you to give himself to Jesus, “This day, I open my heart heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward and I’m coming, pastor. I’m on the way.” A family you to put your life in the circle and communion and circumference of this dear church, “We’re all coming, pastor, my wife, these children of mine, all of us are coming together.” You and your friend; you and your husband; a couple you; two of you, “This is God’s day for me and we’re coming, pastor.” Or just one somebody you, “God has spoken to my heart and I’m answering today with my life.” As the Spirit shall lay the appeal upon your heart, make it now, come now. In the balcony round, down a stairway, there’s time and to spare. In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, God has spoken to me. This is God’s will for me and I’m answering.” Make the decision now in your heart and that first step you make will be the most meaningful you’ve ever made in your life. Do it now, come now, answer now, and may the angels of heaven attend your way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.