Westminster Presbyterian Church
“Hear us From Heaven: An Independence Day Sermon”
Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.
(2 Chronicles 7:12-15, ESV)
Two-hundred and Thirty-two years ago, fifty-six men gathered together for the purpose of pledging to one another their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, and to gather to sign a document drafted by young Thomas Jefferson. A document that began with the following words:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which would impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
It is worth noting that the 4th of July not only remembers the signing of the Declaration of American Independence, but it also remembers the death of its author, Thomas Jefferson as well as his friend, John Adams, another signer, who both died within hours of one another on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of this document.
I think that it is also interesting to note, that Thomas Jefferson, who would become the third President of the United States, and who would accomplish many things as a historian, a philosopher, and as a public official in his lifetime, desired as his epitaph to be remembered only for three things:
The First—of writing this Declaration of Independence
The Second—of writing the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
The Third—for founding the University of Virginia
With this in mind, on the celebration of the birthday of the signing of this document, I would like to essentially talk about three things: 1) I would like to talk about the character of the document and of the men who signed that document, 2) I would like talk about the character of our nation now as we have departed from the heart of this document, and 3) of the character of the solution as God reveals it in scripture.
The Declaration of American Independence, though no verses are explicitly cited, is an intensely Biblical document. Why were there no verses cited within it? They were working on a certain assumption—they were working on the assumption that the Bible is the cornerstone of all good and just political systems of government. The Bible had been the cornerstone of all humanitarian governmental documents up to that date and they were working on the assumption that it was a given that all future governmental documents would also be based upon Biblical principle.
But the text of the Declaration of Independence is especially built on two very important Biblical ideas.
Firstly, that men and women are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. You need to understand what that word “inalienable” means because it is a word that we don’t commonly use anymore. The word inalienable means that it cannot be taken away; that it cannot be given away; that it cannot be deprived of someone; it is part of the warp and of the woof of the very being of their existence; it is part of who they are, and it is impossible to strip or to separate somebody from that which is inalienable to them.
And they held that these rights were inalienable to all men: The Right of Life; the Right of the Pursuit of Happiness. Why is it that they are inalienable? Because they understood Genesis 1:27. That God, when he looked down upon his creation and he decided to make man, he decided to make man and woman in a very particular and special way. That we would be made not in the image of the natural world, but that we would be made in God’s very image. To use technical, theological terms, we call this the Doctrine of the Imago Dei, the Image of God in man. That we are image bearers, from conception unto death we bear the image of God. Men and women, throughout the world, throughout history, and for all time, we bear God’s image. And because God has those rights within himself, as something that is inseparable, as something that is part of God’s inseparable character, we who are created in the image of a God who has these rights and freedoms unto himself also have these rights and freedom within ourselves as part of our very being. To take those rights away, they understood, was to make someone no longer human.
We need to understand and be reminded of that. That everyone, men and women, children, young and old, the embryo within her/his mother’s womb, the elderly who is dying in a sickbed, the person who is laying there, barely able to move, eat, or breathe. The homeless man begging on the street corner, the hooker, the prostitute, the indigent, all bear the image of God. And our founding documents remind us of something very important. Because they bear the image of God, these rights and privileges to them are inalienable. They cannot be taken away. And we that understand that not only have the right to protect it for ourselves, but have an obligation to protect it within others. They understood that the British government of the day was stripping them of those inalienable rights—that it was treating them as if they were no longer human and that they had a responsibility to those that they served to stand up and to protect those rights within them.
To Life: Genesis 9:6 (ESV) reads as follows—
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
By man shall his blood be shed.
For God made man in his own image.
Because you bear the image of God, it is sin for somebody to kill you, period, no ifs, ands, or buts. That makes abortion murder. That makes euthanasia murder. Beloved, that gives us a responsibility to stand against these things—that our founding fathers understood, we must stand against.
To Liberty: The state of being free from oppressive restrictions or forced enslavements. The ability to act and be responsible for one’s own actions. Is not man accountable before God? Is not man accountable before God’s divine judgments? Indeed, they understood that this is part of the Biblical model that has been presented to us, that we need to understand ourselves, and when we understand ourselves, these rights cannot be taken away from us.
And the Pursuit of Happiness—that is so long as that said happiness does not rob others of their life and of their liberty.
The second principle is a principle that Peter affirms in 1 Peter 2:13-15. That the role of the government, that the job of the government was to do primarily two things: to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil. And they thus affirmed in a case where a higher government abuses their privilege and role severely, no longer serving the Biblical mandate for what a government was called and set to do, the lower or lesser powers of government had a responsibility to protect those who are under them. This is the concept of what we call Federal Headship. It goes down not only in terms of our governments, but it applies to our families as well, where fathers have a responsibility to protect and care for their children and their wives.
It is important for us to understand just how important our founding fathers understood that these Biblical principles were. Benjamin Franklin, who was not by any means a Christian, held that these Biblical principles were fundamental to a free society.
George Washington, in his farewell address said, that national morality is impossible without religious principles.
Charles Carroll, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and a representative from the state of Maryland, said:
Without morals, a republic cannot subsist for any length of time; those, therefore, who are decrying the Christian religion…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free government.
You know, that could be written today. Do you understand what Carroll is saying to us? He is saying that if you are seeking to undermine Biblical principles in our culture, in our society, in our families, in our children, you are undermining the very foundation of the nation that we live in.
John Adams wrote that, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” See what he is saying. There is an expectation that the writers of the Constitution had, that we would be a religious and moral people—explicitly a Christian people.
Noah Webster, the compiler of the first dictionary of American usage and Federalist political writer, though he was not one of the signers of the Declaration or Constitution (though he taught or influenced the teaching of some of the signers’ children) wrote in his preface to the 1828 edition to the American Dictionary of English Usage, the following words:
In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed. No truth is any more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.
Are you hearing the words? He is saying that the government of our nation—if our government is not functioning from a Christian perspective, if it is not grounded in scripture, that it will strip us of our freedoms and of our securities. Abraham Lincoln would echo these words later by one day saying: “the philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
And beloved, how far we have gone. Let me begin by noting the mis-construal if you will of the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights –the amendment to the constitution, to mean that church and state can have nothing to do with one another. Let me read for you the first part of that amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting free exercise thereof.”
The language of “church and state” or to quote Jefferson, of the “wall of separation” developed when he was writing to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut who were trying to develop a state religion. He said you cannot do that and that this is the reason for this amendment—so that the government cannot mandate to us what religion that we can be.
But at the same time we need to remember the second document that Jefferson wanted to be remembered for—the document that was written to preserve the religious freedom in Virginia. Now what he wrote that document for was along similar lines. He said understand that the government cannot compel you as an individual to pay money to a particular church, or denomination, or affiliation, of different set of beliefs than that of your own Christian peculiar ideology. In other words, the Baptists weren’t to be required to pay for the Presbyterians, and the Presbyterians were not required to pay the Methodists and all around the circle this is developed.
This document was never meant to strip religion out of public life. It was never meant to strip religion out of government life, and it was never meant to even begin to suggest that government officials should not take their religion and their religious ideas into the realm of government and guide them in the writing of government documents. Because that is exactly what all of our founding fathers did. They took Christian beliefs into their roles in state.
Yet this misunderstanding—this mis-construal—has allowed secularists to radically transform the educational system and the legal system of our nation from what is intended to be an explicitly Christian system of government and education has become an explicitly secular one. Now don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that Christians abandon government or abandon the world of teaching, but what I am suggesting is that a secular model is fundamentally corrupted and mis-construing what our government was meant to be. And it has led to a breakdown of morality that has infected all of our society.
Since 1973 and the Roe vs. Wade decision, approximately 48 million babies have been aborted. That is 342 times more people that were killed at Hiroshima when we dropped the Nuclear bomb there. That is approximately 1 out of every 4 American pregnancies is terminated through abortion.
School shootings is on the rise. There were four in February of this year alone—all of the way down on the Middle School level. Violent crime statistics are on the rise. “Pornography floods the streets like open sewers,” to quote one Christian speaker. Homosexuality is becoming the norm. Redefining the marriage is on the legislation in multiple states. Do you understand, that when we understand the Bible, going back to Genesis chapter 2, that the family—the husband and the wife and their children—is the most fundamental unit within society. Beloved, when you change the definition of the family, you change the definition of the society. When you change the culture of the family, you change the culture of the society that that family was meant to be a foundation for.
They are redefining gender, not simply in terms of roles, but even what it means to be male and female. Beloved, these things are infecting the church. Homosexuals are being ordained, adultery is on the rise even in evangelical churches amongst evangelical church leaders. There is secularization not only in church services but in the way things are done. And Christians so often no longer live every aspect of their lives—or live outside of the church—in the same way as they live inside of the church. I could go on, but I don’t expect that I need to.
So what is the solution?
I was talking with someone the other day about some of these things and he pointed out that all of these issues—whether homosexuality or abortion—are symptoms. Sin is the disease. The symptoms are a result of us fleeing from scripture.
So lest you think that my text for this morning is the Declaration of Independence, what does scripture say the solution is?
Look with me back at 2 Chronicles 7, verses 12 and following:
“When the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him, ‘I have heard your prayers.’”
Notice historically, what this is following. Solomon has just finished building the Temple and they have just finished celebrating and sacrificing to the Lord—this is a high time! This is a time of celebration, a time of rejoicing, a time of God’s glory! And God says to him… “when I shut up the heavens…”
Wait a minute! What is going on here! We are glorying in your name, what’s this shutting up the heavens! The tendency of man is to slip into sin.
“When I shut up the heavens, so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence amongst my people…”
Note the language of “my”—he has not rejected them as his people, even under discipline.
“If my people who are called by my name…”
Notice the emphasis on my people and called by my name. Beloved, that is us. As born again believers in Jesus Christ we are called “my people” by God in his word.
“If they humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land”
I am going to make two comments:
First, note the heart’s attitude. We are to humble ourselves before God when pray and when we seek his face. How oftentimes when we go to the Lord in prayer we go fairly casually, we go thinking of it as an obligation or something that we simply must do. Scripture says that we are entering into the presence of an almighty God. That should make our knees quiver a little bit. Rejoice, yes in the privilege that we have been given, but it should make our knees quiver. It should humble us knowing that a God of might and a God of glory, a God who is above all things has said, ‘yes, you may come into my presence—in your sin and your wickedness, let me draw you to myself.’ Humbly—what a model for us—how we should be convicted of those words.
Secondly, note our actions. Not only are we to pray and seek forgiveness. But God says that there is something more. That we are to turn from our wicked ways. Beloved, that takes action. That takes simply not saying, ‘Lord forgive me for all of my idolatry,’ and leaving those idols in place. Read the Old Testament historical accounts and you will find that when God blesses his people, it is a result of the king standing up and destroying and tearing down the idols that the sinners have set up before them. What are the idols around us that need to be torn down? If we want to repent, if we want to expect God to heal our land and to bring revival as we so often pray for, what are we doing to tear down the idols of our culture? To bring them into wreckage. And beloved, we need to begin that task not simply engaging the culture out there—we do need to do that—but we need to begin that task by engaging the culture in our own lives. What are the idols that you need to tear down in your own life? What are those things that are stumbling blocks between you and God?
I want to leave you with two verses that stand in contrast of one another:
Verse 14b—“Then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land…”
Verse 22—“Then they will say” (this is those who will refuse to repent and turn from their wicked ways) “because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on gods and worshiped them and served them, therefore he has wrought all this disaster upon them.”
Beloved, which of these two verses will you choose to pursue? Which of these two verses do you yearn to see, to secure the blessings of liberty for yourself and for your posterity?
Beloved, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.