Rev. Hugo J. Handberg
1976 Synod Convention Essay
“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” Proverbs 14, 34
Just north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, between Reading and Philadelphia, lies a string of quiet, half-forgotten little cemeteries. West of Reading and stretching southward to Lancaster near the Maryland border is another cluster of old burial grounds, each within easy driving distance of the next. Still another succession of graveyards, similar to those in Pennsylvania, stretches north and south along either side of the Hudson River in New York State. North of Rheinbeck, between Taconic State Parkway and the old Albany Post Road one can visit several of these cemeteries in a good day’s drive.
What makes these graveyards interesting is that they are all Lutheran cemeteries, hallowed resting places for Lutheran people who lived and died in America, many of them as much as a century or more before there was a Wisconsin Synod, Missouri Synod or ELS. In these graves are buried the founder of the first Lutheran synod in America, the first speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, victims of Indian raids during the 1750s, and Lutheran soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. On display in many of the churches adjoining these cemeteries are church records from the early 18th Century, pewter communion ware from Colonial days and altar cloths more than 200 years old.
Many Americans will visit these places this summer and think of them as no more than old graves and quaint artifacts. But they are much more than that. I point to them as symbolic of much of the very best that has gone into the making of our nation. These graves and old curios are mute evidence that our nation had among its founders people on familiar terms with the Bible and the God of the Bible. Many of the big names of the Revolutionary period—Paine, Franklin, Jefferson—were not really Christians. They were deists influenced by rationalistic philosophies imported from England and France.
But among the common people who built America, among the tradesmen and land-clearers and farmers was a vast host of people who read their Bibles, who knew the God of the Old Testament and the New, whose lives were shaped by Bible teachings. Lutherans were a tiny minority among them, for Lutherans did not come to America in large numbers until the 19th Century. But the Puritans of New England, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of Pennsylvania and the Appalachian back-country, and the Church of England planters of the southern colonies had all been exposed, through the Scriptures, to the mighty power of God the Holy Ghost. This influence left its mark upon America, a mark still discernible.
There is evidence of this influence in the recognition of God in the language of our great founding documents. You can see evidence of it in the church steeples still pointing to the sky in towns and villages of New England. You can see it, too, in principles which have guided our nation, principles, that, sadly, are being questioned and abandoned today by many Americans, but principles, nevertheless, which have made our nation the greatest in the history of mankind, principles, such as honesty, decency, hard work and a high regard for the family and the home. A personification of those principles was George Washington, of whom Daniel Webster wrote: “America has furnished to the world the character of Washington, and if our American institutions had done nothing else, that alone would have entitled them to the respect of mankind.”1
When the Book of Proverbs gives us our theme for our convention, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people,” (14,34) it is, of course, setting forth truths intended not only for our United States. Those truths apply to any nation. The “righteousness” of which God speaks through the pen of Solomon is a righteousness that even non-Christians can display. Righteousness exalteth any nation, and national sin is a shame and disgrace to any people. This is speaking of the civic righteousness of which even heathen nations are capable, such as when an irreligious or idol-worshiping nation lives at peace with its neighbors, honors its treaties, has a government that is not oppressive to its citizens, or turns out useful goods of honest workmanship for sale in other lands.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. IV (Par. 23),2 calls this the “righteousness of reason,” and says of it, “This righteousness reason, by its own strength, can, to a certain extent, work, although it is often overcome by natural weakness, and by the devil impelling it to manifest crimes.”
Civic righteousness is enforced by the law. Where civic righteousness prevails among non-Christians, its motivation is either to gain one’s own selfish ends, or else to avoid punishment for non-performance. There surely are many people today who are not Christians in our land (e.g., Jewish citizens) who send truthful Forms 1040 to the Internal Revenue Department before every April 15th. Yet the honesty and accuracy of those forms is due in large part either to a desire to remain consistent with a false notion of one’s own righteousness, or else to laws against defrauding the government! The Pharisees had a superb civic righteousness, yet their motivation was all wrong. Jesus said they were like “whited sepulchres,” beautiful on the outside, but inwardly were “full of dead men’s bones.” Matt. 23,27.
I. THE RECORD OF HISTORY
The Bible shows us examples of heathen peoples and heathen rulers who evidenced righteousness. The king who cast Daniel into the lions’ den was Darius the Median. Dan. 5,31. Even before he acknowledged Daniel’s God to be the living God, he regretted the foolish law that his jealous counselors had caused him to make. “He was sore displeased with himself,” says the Bible, “and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him.” Those are the cogitations of a man of integrity, a man who knows what is just and fair. When he found that he could not deliver Daniel, this heathen king spent the night in anxiety and remorse and hurried at break of day to the lion pit to find out what had happened to his excellent friend, Daniel. Daniel 6.
Cyrus, king of Persia, sent the Jews from Babylon back to Judea to rebuild Jerusalem. It is true that the Bible says that the Lord stirred up his spirit to make him do it. Ezra 1,1. But here was a king who did not worship the God of the Jews, yet aided them in rebuilding their temple and also restored to them the gold and silver vessels which earlier had been looted from the temple by King Nebuchadnezzar. He ordered Mithredath, his treasurer, to make a careful accounting of them, and 5400 precious items were returned to the temple.
Still later another Darius completed the temple restoration begun by Cyrus after that work had been neglected for a considerable time. This Persian king, Darius, went to his national statute books to see if Cyrus had really decreed the work in the first place. When he found that it was so (Ezra 6), King Darius ordered the work resumed and completed. As a ruler, Darius governed wisely and well, and God let him occupy his heathen throne for 36 years and rule over an empire that stretched from India to Greece. He finally died at the age of 73.
Even Pontius Pilate, in his dealings with our Savior, was an honorable ruler — up to a point. The governor who knew no more about Jesus than to ask, “Art thou a king then?,” John 18,37, and who showed no affection for the writings of the prophets or the words of Jesus’ mouth when he sneeringly asked, “What is truth?,” still knew what his duty was when he was confronted with a situation that demanded justice. At great risk to his position he sincerely gave Jesus a hearing, then repeatedly announced to Jesus accusers, “I find no fault in Him,” In the end, of course, his flesh got the best of him, and “they crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Cor. 2,8.
Modern Japan is a heathen nation where a relatively high degree of righteousness prevails. The government of Japan is basically stable. Student rioting and protests by communist or other political pressure groups occasionally break out. But unlike the people of neighboring Red China, the Japanese do not live under an oppressive government. Neither does a chastened Japan oppress other lands or peoples as she once did. She enjoys peace and prosperity. The Japanese people’s standard of living is surely the highest in the Orient, and the Japanese are an example to the world of what it means to be industrious and hard-working. Because of the diligence of these heathen people, their high-quality products flow out to the marketplaces of the world, and Japan is exalted among the nations for her merchant fleet, her shipbuilding, her steel production, and her automotive and electronics industries.
But the annals of history are full, too, of shabby stories, sometimes horrifying stories, of evil rulers and of corruptions that permeated the citizenries of many lands. Here it is easy to see how sin has been a reproach to many peoples.
Edward Gibbon, who was a member of Britain’s Parliament during the American Revolution and published his monumental study of the decay of the Roman Empire just three years before George Washington’s death, says that “history … is little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”3
It is Gibbon who tells us about an evil Caligula, Roman emperor a few years after Jesus’ ascension (37–41 A.D.), and Domitian, emperor just before the end of the First Century. Both men were assassinated in their palaces by their own household servants. Four other Roman rulers perished by the sword within a period of 18 months. But aside from those palace blood-lettings during the first two centuries after Christ, civil life in the Roman Empire was basically peaceful. It is worth noting that God used that time of civil tranquility to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Mediterranean world.
When we say that there were no civil upheavals during those two centuries, this is not to say that life in the Roman Empire was peaceful or easy for Roman citizens. That victim of palace assassins, Caligula, was short-tempered and furious. Nero was a profligate who cruelly persecuted Christians. Vitellius was a beast, and Domitian inhuman. For eighty years during those two centuries, Rome groaned under unremitting tyranny from her own rulers. Ancient families were wiped out. Any virtue or talent in a citizen would almost certainly invite that citizen’s death at the order of some jealous or suspicious ruler. It is Luther who has said that in God’s kit-bag of chastisements there is no greater plague that He can send upon a nation than evil, unfit rulers.4
For thirteen years close to the end of the second century, Rome was ruled by a wretch named Commodus. He was skillful as an archer and, for amusement, had wild animals brought into the city that he might club them to death or else fill them with his well-placed arrows. The emperor would venture into a crowded arena and do battle with an ostrich, a panther, an elephant or rhinoceros. On one occasion Commodus took on one hundred lions at once, dispatching them one at a time with his marksman’s bow. People close to him finally intoxicated him with a cocktail laced with poison, and when he was almost unconscious, a wrestler was brought in to strangle him to death.
Almost fifty years later, on a July day in 238, when most of Rome was watching the athletic contests on Capitoline Hill, the co-emperors, Maximus and Balbinus, were taken by surprise and dragged from their palace apartments through the city streets behind chariots to their deaths.
Across the Mediterranean in Alexandria it wasn’t the Roman rulers so much as the people who brought disgrace upon themselves. There was no unemployment in that busy city for Alexandria was a trading and manufacturing center which exported goods to Arabia and India. But the people were a blend of the volatile qualities of the Greeks and the superstition and obstinacy of the Egyptians. The result was that the most trifling occasions set off conflicts among the Alexandrians. People were resentful of little hurts and quickly flew into rages. A temporary shortage of meat or vegetables at the marketplace, a failure to get an expected greeting from a neighbor, line-crashers at the public baths, or the wrongful killing of a sacred cat were the little sparks that instantly flared up into city-wide violence. Alexandria and its suburbs were wracked with civil war for twelve years, and every street was stained red with the blood of citizens. Unbelievably, this civil war was touched off by an argument between a soldier and a townsman over a pair of shoes!
Whether insurrection was fomented by the imperial bodyguard in Rome or a mad mob in the streets of Alexandria, it has rarely ushered in lasting peace or good government. The continual coups and topplings of regimes in modern Latin America bear witness to the fact that citizens enjoy no lasting security so long as there are political “outs” who want in, who covet power and will take it by force, or political “ins” who tread over the people, are jealous of their positions and rule by the fist.
When insurrection flares up, it is because those who instigate or support it have no respect for government. When insurrection succeeds, it is because government is weak or ineffective. “Insurrection,” says Martin Luther,
“is still an unprofitable method of procedure. It never brings about the desired improvement. For insurrection lacks discernment; it generally harms the innocent more than the guilty. Hence, no insurrection is ever right, no matter how right the cause it seeks to promote. It always results in more damage than improvement, and verifies the saying, ‘Things go from bad to worse.’ For this reason governing authority and the sword have been established to punish the wicked and protect the upright… But when Sir Mob breaks loose he cannot tell the wicked from the upright, or keep them apart; he lays about him at random, and great and horrible injustice is inevitable.”5
It is not hard to see from the example of Rome how voluptuousness, gluttony, drunkenness and lack of respect for authority can bring down an empire. When rulers are self-indulgent, when they care nothing for their duties or the welfare of the people, when citizens have no concern for their fellow-citizens, when servants can murder the head of an empire and when palace cliques can elevate or depose rulers at a whim, then a country has no inner cohesiveness, no national pride or purpose, and is asking to be vanquished, That is what God let happen to Rome. Hordes of barbarians from as far north of the Rhine as Sweden and Syrians from the east swept in successive waves over that once great empire, and soon enough it passed into history.
God’s people, the Israelites, of course, are a classic study in national unrighteousness. The last echoes of their glad songs of deliverance from Pharaoh had barely faded away there on the east shore of the Red Sea when they were murmuring and complaining out on the desert. They complained about water. They complained about food. They complained even though they had with them the God of heaven and earth who sweetened Marah and brought water out of rock at Meribah and led them into that lovely oasis called Elim, with its twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees. They had with them all bakeries in the world and the harvests of every orchard and field and all the world’s cool, rushing mountain streams in the person of God, the great Creator and Provider of all things! They had with them Him who claims all the cattle upon a thousand hills, who knows all the fowls of the mountains and who says, “The world is Mine, and the fullness thereof,” Psalm 50, and yet they complained and considered themselves poor and helpless.
In a way similar to the recent American abuse of food stamps, the Israelites misused the manna that God gave them in abundance. At Mt. Sinai they were so foolish as to forsake God, who was their King and their Legislator, and handmake His replacement out of molten earrings. No wonder Moses told them,
“I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount. And at Taberah, and at Massah, and at Kibrothhattaavah, ye provoked the Lord to wrath. Likewise when the Lord sent you from Kadeshbarnea, saying, Go up and possess the land which I have given you; then ye rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God, and ye believed Him not, nor hearkened to His voice. Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.” Deut. 9, 21ff.
It was this repeated rebellion, this shame, of the Israelites that brought about certain national punishments, such as the earthquake that swallowed Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their families, or the fire that burned up 250 fraudulent priests. Numbers 16. The God who controls the weather and sent seven prosperous years and seven drought years to the nations of the Middle-East in Joseph’s day, who sent ten plagues to Egypt in Pharaoh’s day, who caused the serpents to bite the Israelites so that the Bible says “much people of Israel died,” Numbers 21,6, is the same God who slew 24,000 Israelites for their idolatry with the Moabites, Numbers 25, who let none of the complainers of the wilderness enter Canaan but only righteous Joshua and Caleb. He is the God who sent the Jews into captivity in Mesopotamia for eight years for serving Baal, into Moab for eighteen years, and into slavery under Jabin, king of Canaan, for twenty years.
After the division of the kingdom in the days of Amos, prophet to the northern ten tribes, God exercised His lordship over nations and cities by reproving the one nation, Israel, in these words:
“I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city: … I have smitten you with blasting and mildew: when your gardens and your vineyards and your fig trees and your olive trees increased, the palmerworm devoured them … I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword … and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils … I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah … yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.” Amos 4,7 ff.
God let one evil king after another rule over the Israelites, this rebellious people who preferred Baal and their two calves at Bethel and Dan to Him, the true God. Many of their kings obtained the throne by killing the incumbent king, then were cut down themselves by assassins. God finally obliterated this unrighteous people from the world’s family of nations, and their obituary as they disappear from history is there in Second Kings 17: “So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.”
Of all the nineteen kings of Judah (plus a female usurper, Athaliah), that part of God’s once united kingdom from which He would bring the Savior, only Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah and Josiah distinguished themselves as good kings and faithful worshipers of God. God blessed Jehoshaphat’s reign, and the result was that the land and people prospered. Second Chronicles 17 tells us, “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he … sought not unto Baalim; but sought to the Lord God of his father, and walked in His commandments … Therefore the Lord established the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah brought to Jehoshaphat presents; and he had riches and honour in abundance, And his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Lord.”
Jehoshaphat is the king who saw to it that teachers “went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people” God’s Word. Of not many kings in all the world’s history, whether their deeds are recorded in the Scriptures or in secular annals, can be said what the Bible says of him “and Jehoshaphat waxed great exceedingly.”
There are few rulers in history who have attained renown because of personal righteousness, or because of a knack for meting out justice, or because they were endowed with just plain common sense. A French king kept his paramours in little cottages on the palace grounds. Emperor Maximilian of the House of Hapsburg was susceptible to bribes. His grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in Luther’s day, was most admired for his horsemanship and his skill at jousting. Elizabeth the Great of England had her affair with her horsemaster, the Earl of Leicester, who was suspected of throwing his wife down a flight of stairs to her death to make himself available for the queen. Elizabeth was out riding one day when she got news of the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris. The French king, Charles IX, had arranged for a Catholic slaughter of more than 3000 Protestant Huguenots (August 24, 1572). When the pope heard about it, he joyfully ordered a Te deum to be sung, and when the news reached the Catholic King Philip of Spain, a Calvin Coolidge of his day, he laughed his only recorded laugh.
Luther was long dead when this Protestant blood flowed in the Catholic Paris, yet, even though he had a high regard for temporal government, he had not been naive about the caliber of men who too frequently occupy seats of power. He complained about the princes and lords of his own day and said that “they must needs be sleigh riding, drinking, and parading about in masquerades. They are burdened with high and important functions in cellar, kitchen, and bedroom.”6
Luther said that, in his own lifetime, he had known only two government officials who instinctively could come up with sound decisions. One was his own dear Duke Frederick, a man, in Luther’s words, “created to be a wise prince … to be one of God’s extraordinary leaders,” and the other was a trusted advisor in Frederick’s court, Fabian von Feilitzsch (died 1520), whom Luther called “a born jurist.”7 “Such rulers,” he said, “are pretty rare birds.”8
II. SOME QUALITIES OF AN EXALTED NATION
When we ask what it is that makes up the “righteousness” of which the Book of Proverbs speaks, we must look at many things. Indeed, we must look at governments and at those in authority. But we must look also at those who are governed. We must look at a nation’s homes. We must ask questions about marriage and the regard in which the citizens of a nation hold it. We must inquire about relationships between parents and children. We must visit a nation’s marketplaces and observe her workers in fields and industries.
There is no more crucial criterion by which to judge a nation than its homes. If the homes of a nation are in disarray, inevitably, before long the nation itself will be in disarray. It is the home which transmits to the next generation attitudes toward other people, toward government, toward work, toward rules of conduct, and those attitudes will be either positive or negative. One’s whole outlook on life is, generally, the by-product of one’s home.
A good home ought to be a refuge. It ought to give both children and adults a sense of security in the world. T. D. Talmage wrote: “A church within a church, a republic within a republic, a world within a world is spelled with four letters: H-O-M-E. If things go wrong there, they go wrong everywhere; and if things go right there, they go right everywhere.”9
Martin Luther, as you know, was a great friend and advocate of marriage, He pointed out that God has more than once let severe punishments come upon nations, yes, even upon the entire world, because marriage and proper home life were despised and fornication became a prevalent vice. Luther says,
“The estate of marriage … redounds to the benefit not alone of the body, property, honor, and soul of an individual, but also to the benefit of whole cities and countries, in that they remain exempt from the plagues imposed by God. We know only too well that the most terrible plagues have befallen lands and people because of fornication. This was the sin cited as the reason why the world was drowned in the Deluge, Genesis 6, and Sodom and Gomorrah were buried in flames, Genesis 19.”10
In the year 1830 the homes of America seemed sound, closely-knit and most attractive to a visiting Frenchman, Alexis de Toqueville. After returning to France he published his observations of America. Hear them, and then consider how far we have come since the early part of the 19th Century! He said,
“There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is so much respected as in America, or where conjugal happiness is more highly or worthily appreciated. In Europe almost all the disturbances of society arise from the irregularities of domestic life. To despise the natural bonds and legitimate pleasures of home, is to contract a taste for excesses, a restlessness of heart, and the evil of fluctuating desires. Agitated by the tumultuous passions which frequently disturb his dwelling, the European is galled by the obedience which the legislative powers of the State exact. But when the American retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds in it the image of order and of peace. There his pleasures are simple and natural, his joys are innocent and calm; … he finds that an orderly life is the surest path to happiness … While the European endeavors to forget his domestic troubles by agitating society, the American derives from his own home that love of order, which he afterwards carries with him into public affairs.”11
A Harvard professor, Pitirim Sorokin, an exile from Russia, makes it plain that individual homes where marriage is honored have a priority in determining the complexion of a nation, a nation’s righteousness or lack of it. “We must remember,” he wrote,
“… That the family is the first and most effective educator of the nation’s youth. The family that is harmonious and solidly integrated delivers sound human material to bulwark society. The family that is disorderly and unstable is likely to contribute defective members to the community. Those families among us which frequently change husbands and wives, which fail in their duties to their children and adopt the moral code of the gutter are pushing all of us along the road to chaos.”12
Interestingly, he wrote that twenty-two years ago!
Ann Landers wrote recently, “The game has changed and so have the rules. More radical switches have taken place in our society in the last 20 years than in the previous 200. Parenthood was never easy, but it is far more difficult now than ever before.”13
She quotes a Washington, D.C., mother who wrote and asked, “WHERE ARE the joys of parenthood? We haven’t seen them. But we’ve seen a good deal of security guards who’ve caught our daughter shoplifting. We have also seen policemen who picked up our youngest son for selling drugs on the school grounds. We’ve seen some very depressing emergency rooms where the older boys were taken by ambulance after totaling two cars and one motorcycle. My husband and I keep asking ourselves, ‘What did we do wrong?’ but I’m not sure anything could have saved our kids.”14
Another mother, voicing the despair of so many American parents today, says, “God knows we did our best. My husband and I even took some night-school classes to learn how to be better parents. We followed the book, did all the ‘right’ things, but two out of three of our children turned out bad. I don’t believe we failed them. They failed us.”15
Is it the children who have failed the parents? Or are too many parents looking for a scapegoat for their own failures, even if that scapegoat has to be their own children?
“We followed the book,” said that mother who signed herself “Heartbroken in Long Island.” Very likely she meant Dr. Spock or some other child-guidance, or possibly parent-guidance, volume. How many other heartbroken parents are there in America alone who no longer wish to follow God’s Book, the Bible, when it comes to managing their households and training their children? It’s because we’ve moved so far from God’s holy Word in our churches and especially in our homes that our nation is awash today in pornography, illegitimate births, one legal abortion for every four births (1974) and one divorce for every three marriages. Today we have life in communes. We have cooed dormitories, trial marriages, contract marriages, “do-it-yourself” divorce, amicable divorce. If people, motivated by nothing but selfishness, wish to avoid the responsibilities and drudgeries of marriage, particularly the honorable toils and sacrifices that go into training up a nation’s next generation, they can resort, if not to abortion, then to surgery or to chemistry.
How refreshing are these words of a Jewish writer, raised in New York City:
“I believe that the humane quality of a society—and the women’s libbers talk grandly of humanizing society—can be judged by how its adults deal with children and childbirth. I was brought up in a family where the birth of each child was greeted as a tremendous blessing, where each child’s special identity was recognized while it was still in its mother’s womb, where the death of an infant or a young child was mourned intensely. There was always the sense of oneness, uniqueness, specialness about each new addition to the family. That particular infant became an important addition to the network of relationships that is the family, and even an adopted child was welcomed and given his special place; all the more so because it seemed that an adopted child needed a greater measure of love than a natural child because of its initial deprivation. Thus the idea of abortion has always been abhorrent to me.”16
Almost as if he were a prophet, looking down the last four centuries to our day, Martin Luther characterized the natural selfishness of both men and women that has brought marriage and the things of the family to their present low estate in America. He said,
“Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason … takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? … It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life…’”17
What a nation needs, then, if it is to be what God calls a “righteous” nation, is, first of all, stable homes, homes in which husbands and wives know that marriage is not a gossamer, fairy-tale thing. Marriage is not the everlasting fantasyland fobbed off on a gullible public by television and cheap romantic stories. Stable homes need dedicated, faithful spouses. Good homes require sacrificial living. Successful homes require better teachers, better examples than TV’s prime-time situation comedies with buffoons for husbands and omniscient, sharp-tongued shrews for wives.
But a righteous nation needs even more! It needs
Without good government, a nation is vulnerable to many evils: anarchy, attack from without, thievery, murder, rioting, unnecessary and foolish wars, civil injustices, tax inequities and many more. Luther knew that any society requires order, and order, to be effective, must be enforced. This calls for police powers, courts and prisons, or, as he put it, “There must be those who arrest, prosecute, execute, and destroy the wicked, and who protect, acquit, defend, and save the good.”18
Few rulers in all the world have had Luther’s simple grasp of a government official’s responsibilities. Too many kings and bureaucratic officials think more of their own honor, the perquisites of office or the opportunities available to them to line their own pockets than they do of the true welfare of all citizens. Consequently a certain cynicism pervades public life today and we have our governmental scandals, our Watergates, our Lockheed payoffs, cheating at the military academies, unnecessary congressional junkets at taxpayers’ expense, presidential immoralities and, of course, our Wilbur Mills and Wayne Hays escapades.
The Catholic concept that prevailed at the time of the Reformation was that the church is the source of all earthly authority. Therefore the pope claimed the right to crown or depose heads of state. Luther was the first to challenge this notion and defended the role of temporal rulers over against the pope’s claim that he, the pope, had primary civil jurisdiction.
Due to the prevailing conditions of the time, church and state matters were frequently mixed in the 16th Century, even by the Reformers. This can be seen in Luther’s call (1524) to the city councilmen of Germany to establish Christian schools in their communities.
John Calvin, a contemporary of Luther, advocated the imposition of Christian principles upon all citizens of a community, and then went much farther than Luther by actually influencing the structure of government in Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin advised the town fathers according to his own austere ideas.
Consider the following statement from his “Institutes” and see how Calvin mixed civil affairs with the Christian religion, and keep in mind that this mixing can be traced down to Calvin’s descendants, the Puritans, who played such a large part in the founding of our own country: “Civil government has as its appointed end, so long as we live among men, to cherish and protect the outward worship of God, to defend sound doctrine and the position of the church, to adjust our life to the society of men, to form our social behaviour to civil righteousness, to reconcile us with one another, and to promote general peace and tranquility.”19
But Winthrop Hudson, a church history professor at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, Rochester, N.Y., points out that, until modern times, whether made by Catholics or Protestants, “attempts to impose religious uniformity had been the cause of almost all the wars that had troubled the life of Europe.”20
For example, just four months after Luther’s death the pope and Emperor Charles V, a Catholic, entered into a secret agreement to use the power of the sword to compel Lutherans to accept the decrees of the Council of Trent and come back home to the Catholic Church. This led to the Smalcaldic War. It’s interesting that on the 4th of July, 1546 (not 1776!), five months after Luther’s passing, the pope officially declared:
“From the beginning of our Papacy it has always been our concern how to root out the weeds of godless doctrines which the heretics (read Lutherans!) have sowed throughout Germany … Now it has come to pass that, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, our dearest son in Christ, Charles, the Roman Emperor, has decided to employ the sword against these enemies of God. And for the protection of religion we intend to promote this pious enterprise with all our own and the Roman Church’s possessions. Accordingly, we admonish all Christians to assist in this war with their prayers to God and their alms, in order that the godless heresy may be rooted out and the dissension removed … To each and all who do these things we grant the most complete indulgence and remission of all their sins.”21
But what good government needs is not enforced uniformity, whether it be religious in character or that built upon the modern dogmas of the classless society or the totalitarian state. Good government needs good men in positions of authority, and few such men come to power. When they do, they are not always appreciated.
An unfortunate fellow named Pertinax shines forth briefly out of old Roman history as an example of a good ruler. From a Christian standpoint, he was a heathen. But this old man was roused out of sleep one night in the year 192 and told that he was the new Roman Emperor. For years he had been a senator of great esteem and ability, an honorable man, prudent and firm, and enjoyed widespread confidence as a man of integrity. After conspirators had done away with Commodus (that ruler who was dispatched with the poisoned drink and finished off by a wrestler), the same conspirators placed this good man, Pertinax, on the throne. But he lasted three months—and was beheaded by a band of jealous palace guards! Here was “righteousness” that could well have “exalted” that once-mighty empire that was even then on its slide into decay. But the sin that killed the man killed that chance for greatness, too!
Earlier two other Roman emperors, Titus Antoninus and his adopted son, Marcus, had given Rome 42 years of excellent rule. Gibbon says of them, “Their united reigns are possibly the only period of history in which the happiness of a great people was the sole object of government.” Over four decades father and son governed “with the same invariable spirit of wisdom and virtue.”22
Later came Aurelian who governed the Roman Empire for not quite five years (270–275). But his achievements are memorable! Aurelian ended the Gothic wars, chased the Germans out of Italy, and recovered Gaul, Spain and Britain for the Empire. He prohibited gambling, drunkenness and witchcraft among the soldiers. He demanded that soldiers be modest, frugal and hard-working. Their armor was to be kept bright, their weapons sharp, their clothing and horses ready for immediate action. They were to live in their own quarters and stop damaging cornfields, stealing livestock or even so much as a bunch of grapes. And they were to stop extorting salt, oil and wood from peasants out in the provinces.23
So we see that men who are not Christians can be good rulers. And virtuous citizens, though heathen, can bring glory upon their lands instead of shame. A non-Christian government ruling over non-Christian citizens, if those people live with a high degree of that virtue called civic righteousness, can bring about various earthly benefits for that land, such as long-lasting peace or times of prosperity. Roger Williams, founder of the Rhode Island colony, said, “A commonwealth is a true commonwealth, although it have not heard of Christianity.”24 And that commonwealth, whatever its name, could be gifted with wise rulers and honest, industrious citizens!
What is government, after all? Government is those powers, acting under laws and with authority and ability to enforce compliance with those laws, which see to it that men may dwell in peace and expect to enjoy both life and goods. Good government exists when the persons who occupy governmental offices carry out their duties with integrity and are zealous that justice be done for the citizens of the land. Let me ask you to hear an extended section by Luther which not only takes the “science” of government and explains it in the simplest of terms, but which ends with one of Luther’s charming illustrations, this one drawn from the realm of animals and birds:
“Worldly government is a glorious ordinance and splendid gift of God, who has instituted and established it and will have it maintained as something men cannot do without. If there were no worldly government, one man could not stand before another; each would necessarily devour the other as irrational beasts devour one another. Therefore as it is the function and honor of the office of preaching to make sinners saints, dead men live, damned men saved, and the devil’s children God’s children, so it is the function and honor of worldly government to make men out of wild beasts and to prevent men from becoming wild beasts. It protects a man’s body so that no one may slay it; it protects a man’s wife so that no one may seize and defile her; it protects a man’s child, his daughter or son, so that no one may carry them away and steal them; it protects a man’s house so that no one may break in and wreck things; it protects a man’s fields and cattle and all his goods so that no one may attack, steal, plunder, or damage them. Protection of this sort does not exist among the beasts, and if it were not for worldly government there would be none of it among men either; they would surely cease to be men and become mere beasts. Do you not think that if the birds and beasts were to see the worldly government that exists among men they would say—if they could speak—‘O men! Compared with us you are not men but gods! What security you have, both you and your possessions, while among us no one is safe from another regarding life, home, or food supply, not even for a moment! Shame upon your ingratitude—you do not even see what a splendid life the God of us all has given you compared with us beasts!’”25
Notice here that Luther says worldly government is “something men cannot do without.” It makes “men out of wild beasts” and prevents “men from becoming wild beasts.” Here Luther is recognizing what we know as original sin, the inbred wickedness of all men. When this wickedness is allowed to run unchecked, or when rulers themselves are wicked, God, as history shows, lets plagues and various distresses come to a nation. Unfit, evil rulers are the greatest of plagues, says Luther. Immediately we think of Germany with its Hitler, or Russia with a Stalin and a Beria. Many of us remember Mussolini as he strutted across the pages of history four decades ago. We also remember the pictures of him and his Clara Petacci as they were strung up by the heels from a truss of an unfinished gas station in Milan. Evil rulers in modern times have brought death and destruction to many nations, and to ever larger portions of the world. We all wonder how long America can escape widespread devastation.
After the disastrous Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, President Lincoln issued a proclamation in which he declared,
“It is fit and becoming in all people, at all times, to acknowledge and revere the supreme government of God: to bow in humble submission to His chastisements … It is peculiarly fit for us to recognize the hand of God in this terrible visitation, and in sorrowful remembrance of our own faults and crimes as a nation and as individuals, to humble ourselves before Him, and to pray for His mercy.”26
Luther believed that the troubles that come to a nation are in relation to that nation’s despising of the Word of God. Consider the deep poverty and miseries of India and its almost total rejection of Christianity. Earlier we mentioned the prosperity of Japan, also a heathen nation. Yet Japan suffered a bitter defeat in World War II, saw its people burned in fire raids, and is still the only nation whose cities, two of them, have felt the obliterating effects of atomic explosions.
We might say that Martin Luther was cast in the role of seer or prophet when he saw something like the regimes of Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler destroying his beloved Germany. But Luther said it would come about only because Germany would first turn away from the Word of God. He saw the religious fanatics doing it already in his day, and German blue-bloods and rich people were not only opposing the Word, but living dissolute lives dedicated to the flesh.
“Ought not God to be angry over this? Ought not famine to come? Ought not pestilence, flu, and syphilis find us out? Ought not blind, fierce, and savage tyrants come to power? Ought not war and contention arise? Ought not evil regimes appear in the German lands? Ought not the Turks and Tartars plunder us? Indeed, it would not be: surprising if God were to open the doors and windows of hell and pelt and shower us with nothing but devils, or let brimstone and hell-fire rain down from heaven and inundate us one and all in the abyss of hell, like Sodom and Gomorrah. If Sodom and Gomorrah had had or seen or heard as much as we, they would surely have remained until this day. For they were not one tenth as wicked as Germany is today, for they did not have God’s Word and the preaching office. We have both, free of charge, yet act like men who want God, His Word, and all discipline and honor to go to ruin.”27
But a righteous nation, to avoid such plagues, needs even more than good government. It needs
A RESPECT FOR WORK
The Bible is full of admonitions to work and not be idle. A nation can hardly be a righteous nation that is given to loafing and laziness, Neither can a nation be exalted among its neighbor nations if that nation’s people are unproductive, or if a typical citizen seeks to get his living from the toil of others, It is a general rule of life that prosperity follows where people are willing to work. This rule can be upset, of course, by regional or national unemployment, or by times of drought. Then people may be willing to work, but are unable to find work.
Another exception to the general rule that work leads to prosperity is the example of Russia with is bureaucratic mismanagement and bungling. Russia is blessed with rich natural resources and a vast work force. Yet her five-year plans fail and her production techniques, smothered in red-tape and inefficiency and providing little or no incentive to workers, leave the people without goods or complaining about the shoddiness of the goods they can obtain. It is the national plague of bad government under communist theoreticians that negates the benefits of work in Russia and keeps everybody poor together.
The Bible, meanwhile, tells us much about work. It says that we should not be “slothful in business.” Romans 12.
Abe Lincoln had a step-brother whose name was John D. Johnston. This man, about Lincoln’s age, was a drifter. Though he was likable, he just didn’t care to exert himself in a profitable way. In 1851 Lincoln wrote this shiftless son of his stepmother and said, “You are destitute because you have idled away all your time. Your thousand pretenses for not getting along better are all nonsense; they deceive nobody but yourself. Go to work is the only cure for your case.”28
But God said it first!
He told a fallen Adam “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.” Genesis 3. The ordinary day of any man is captured for us in the 104th Psalm, “The sun ariseth … Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.” That God has connected a measure of prosperity with hard work can be seen from His picture of His worshiper who is unafraid of toil, “Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.” Psalm 128. Again, the Book of Proverbs, that handbook for daily living, says, “He that gathereth by labour shall increase.” 13,11b. Proverbs 14 says, “In all labour there is profit.”
Part of the “exaltation” of an industrious nation can be seen when the Book of Ecclesiastes says a laborer should be able to make use of, to enjoy, to find delight in the fruits, or profits, of his own work. “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” 2,24. “To rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.” 5,19.
Paul, the tent-maker, considered himself a part of the laboring force and said, “We labour, working with our own hands.” 1 Cor. 4, 12. He labored “night and day,” he told the Thessalonians, in order not to be chargeable unto any of them. 1 Thess. 2,19. Paul knew of professed Christians who worked “not at all but are busybodies.” He commanded them that with quietness they should “work, and eat their own bread.” In fact, he said, “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” 2 Thess. 3, 10.
Even the lowly, often tedious labors of a housewife are raised to a position of honor and dignity by the Bible. It says that a virtuous, godly woman “worketh willingly with her hands.” She “layeth her hands to the spindle … She maketh herself coverings of tapestry … She maketh fine linen, and selleth it … and eateth not the bread of idleness.” Proverbs 31.
Luther complained in his day that “nobody wants to work.” Many employers in America today, with factories hit by slowdowns or walkouts, or with labor’s demand for fringe benefits becoming ever more exorbitant, would agree with what Luther wrote, “There is a very serious complaint in the world today against servants and the working class. The complaint is that they are disobedient, unfaithful, unmannerly, and interested only in themselves. This is a plague sent from God.”29
Back in pre-Reformation days this tendency to shirk work and enjoy holidays was combined with the church’s practice of observing saints’ days and other religious holidays. The result was that there was an overabundance of days off from work, but the days off were not spent in a religious way. Too often they were given over to worldly amusements and drunkenness! So Luther, writing in 1520 when he was not yet cleansed of all Catholic phraseology, said,
“All festivals should be abolished, and Sunday alone retained. If it were desired, however, to retain the festivals of Our Lady and of the major saints, they should be transferred to Sunday, or observed only by a morning mass, after which all the rest of the day should be a working day. Here is the reason: since the feast days are abused by drinking, gambling, loafing, and all manner of sin, we anger God more on holy days than we do on other days. Things are so topsy-turvy that holy days are not holy, but working days are.”30
In all the history of America and until modern times productive labor has been a characteristic of the people of our land. Forests were cleared and frontiers pushed back by settlers willing to invest hard, back-breaking labor in the hope of enjoying future prosperity. American inventiveness and developments have brought conveniences to the darkest corners of the world, Today the oil wells of Arabia are pumped by American know-how and equipment. American technology lights and fuels the world. Earth’s television eye can show footprints on the moon, but only because of American workers and the amazing equipment they have developed and produced. The whole world has benefited because of the fact that Americans, in the past, have not been afraid of work.
But the most amazing blending of God’s natural blessings upon America and the willingness of her people to work can be seen in the phenomenal output of American farms. Surely ours is an exalted nation today in part because American farmers and their wives are not afraid to work. Farmers are called the most potent force in the entire U.S. economy. They produce more, buy more and export more goods than any other business in the country. U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT (May 31, 1976, 53) says that American farms now supply fully half of all the grain moving in world trade. For machinery, feed, fertilizer and other production expenses American farmers will spend, in 1976, seventy-five-and-a-half billion dollars! While farmers in some parts of the world are still plowing with a stick behind an ox, an American farmer is providing food and fibre for himself and 48 other Americans, and he does it with machinery that is the most sophisticated, durable and efficient in the world.
It is true that a respect for work is a characteristic of an exalted nation. The British Empire, a dominant force on the world scene during the 19th Century, no longer exists. England’s glory as an exalted nation is gone. One reason for the present problems of England is that her people have lost their willingness to toil.
If this same unwillingness should infect the farmers and factory workers of our own country, something like the way in which it became part of the lifestyle of the hippies just a few years ago. it could quickly remove our United States from its position as a world leader. Work is not a part of the way of life of those today who misuse welfare help, militate against capitalism, or condemn the so-called Protestant work ethic.
But to possess “exalted nation” status, any nation must have people who know how to do what God told Adam to do, namely, eat his bread “in the sweat of thy face.” Luther had God. the Father Almighty, Maker and Provider of heaven and earth, in mind when he said, “All we need to do is to work and avoid idleness; then we shall certainly be fed and clothed.”31
There is much more that could be said about the qualities of an exalted nation. It must have good schools. It must have citizens who bow to governmental authority. Fairness and honesty must be present in its marketplaces. Selfishness must not predominate anywhere. And corruption and crime must be controlled.
But I shall try to display some of these qualities in our next section.
III. A CHRISTIAN IN THE LAND
A nation may have heathen rulers who are good rulers. A highly industrialized land may have heathen workers who are diligent, clever workers. The people of a country may have as their god prosperity, peace, or independence, yet those people, even though heathen, may be good citizens. Yet fortunate is the land that has among its citizens even one Christian!
Both the Bible and history show us that a nation that counts Christians among its people, even though those Christians be few in number, is the most exalted nation of all. It is the Christian who conducts a Christian home. It is the Christian who trains up his or her children to worship the Lord of the nations. It is the Christian who prays for his country and its rulers. It is only the Christian whose prayers God hears and answers. It is the Christian who knows best how to treat his neighbor next door. It is the Christian who knows what God has said about paying taxes, about respecting authority, about sword-carrying, and therefore is the most desirable citizen. It is the Christian who has been taught by God to know His Law and thus has a high regard for marriage, for the property and goods of others, and for the lives and safety of all men, even the unborn and the aged. And it is the Christian who understands the necessity and dignity of daily labor, who knows how to be in subjection to employers, and who can put into practice both God-trusting contentment and God-taught stewardship of money every payday.
Just one believer in Jesus Christ is a powerful force in a community!
Our Lutheran Apology, Art. III, says:
“Because, indeed, faith brings the Holy Ghost, and produces in hearts a new life, it is necessary that it should produce spiritual movements in hearts. And what these movements are, the prophet, Jer. 31,33, shows, when he says: ‘I will put My Law into their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.’ Therefore, when we have been justified by faith and regenerated, we begin to fear and love God, to pray to Him, to expect from Him aid, to give thanks and praise Him, and to obey Him in afflictions. We begin also to love our neighbors, because our hearts have spiritual and holy movements.”32
We repeat. The nation that has only one citizen with such a heart, a heart full of the “spiritual and holy movements” worked by the Holy Ghost, is exalted above all nations on the earth.
Luther was once writing about how the devil likes to keep the young people of a nation under his thumb. If no one thwarts the devil, “he then maintains undisputed possession of the world.” There is only one way to deal the devil a blow.
“It must be done through young people who have come to maturity in the knowledge of God … We are on the alert against Turks, wars, and floods, because in such matters we can see what is harmful and what is beneficial. But no one is aware of the devil’s wily purpose … Even though only a single boy could thereby be trained to become a real Christian, we ought properly to give a hundred gulden to this cause for every gulden we would give to fight the Turk, even if he were breathing down our necks. FOR ONE REAL CHRISTIAN IS BETTER AND CAN DO MORE GOOD THAN ALL THE MEN ON EARTH.”33
Is was “all the men on earth” — except one — who were judged fit for destruction in the days of Noah. At that time the populated earth was a single nation, and “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” The earth was corrupt and “filled with violence.” Yet of one man, Noah, does the Bible say, “According to all that God commanded him, so did he.” “Thee have I seen righteous,” God said to this man of faith. And, after the flood had subsided and his fellow citizens had been destroyed, when that one man, Noah, burned his thankoffering on his homemade altar, we’re told “the Lord smelled a sweet savour.” Genesis 6–8.
God had in mind a peculiar “nation” called the Church when He said to Abraham, “I will make of thee a great nation.” Genesis 12. Here again God was dealing with a single individual!
It was a one-to-one situation when God showed the land of Canaan, with its existing kings and governments, to Abraham and said, “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” Genesis 13. God asserted His right to dispose lands and peoples when He again told that same Abraham, “Unto thy seed have I given this land, from … Egypt unto … the river Euphrates.” Genesis 15,18.
When Abraham, a single worshiper of God, prayed for King Abimelech of Gerar, an unbeliever, that the women of his palace might bear children, God heard Abraham’s prayer. And they did! Genesis 20.
The servant of Abraham, off on an errand for his master in a foreign land, prayed for his master and his master’s cause, and the God of heaven led him to Rebekah. Genesis 24.
One man, Elijah, prayed to God that it might not rain in Israel for 3½ years, and it didn’t ram. Think of the distress that brought into the land. When he prayed again, the Bible says, “the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain.” 1 Kings 17; 18, 45. God once sent one man, Isaac, into the midst of a heathen land (Gerar), a land undergoing a famine. Yet God said to that one man, “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee.” Genesis 26.
We know that God said that He would stave off the destruction of Sodom for only ten people. He made Laban a rich man, but it was for the sake of a single individual, righteous Jacob—and Laban knew it! Laban said to Jacob, “I have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake.” Genesis 30. And we all remember the words of Mordecai to Queen Esther, a single individual, a pious Jewish woman whom God brought to the throne of those 127 provinces of King Ahasuerus, a land that stretched from India to Ethiopia, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4.
This sampling is enough to show that a single worshiper of the God of Scripture becomes a mighty influence in whatever land or city he or she might live.
We see also from this sampling the power of a Christian’s prayers. When the ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT said a few weeks ago (June 2), commenting on the unsavory scandals coming out of Washington, “It is time to face the fact that Congress has become a rotten institution run by men who have been too long in power. This once proud institution has become a moral cesspool, in addition to being a disorganized, spendthrift, malingering, ineffective legislative body,” part of the blame may be due to the fact that we Christians have been neglecting our prayers for kings and for those in authority.
Luther takes those verses about praying for kings and for all men from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy (2, 1–3) and says that when Christians get together in church, instead of complaining about the length of our general prayers and, as we Americans so easily do, itching to get home to watch a ballgame on TV, we should consider “this common prayer precious and most effective.” With one accord we are
“to bring our own needs as well as those of all men before God and to call upon Him for mercy … We must take to heart the need of all men, and pray for them in real sympathy and in true faith and trust … The Christian church on earth has no greater power or work against everything that may oppose it than such common prayer … If (the devil) noticed that we wished to practice this prayer, even if it were under a straw roof or in a pigsty, he would not tolerate it for an instant. He would fear such a pigsty far more than all the high, great, and lovely churches, towers, and bells that ever were, if such prayer were not in them.”34
Think what it means, then, when the Christians of a land use their mighty power of prayer and pray for their nation, their rulers and their neighbors!
But how many such people ate engaged in true, earnest prayer in any land? Luther is not pessimistic, only realistic, when he says, “The whole world is evil and among thousands there is scarcely a singe true Christian … The world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name. Christians are few and far between.”35
None of us today should entertain the notion that, if only we could fill the halls of Congress with Christian men, and if only we could insure that a Christian man, preferably a Lutheran, would occupy the Oval Office of the White House, then our country would be free of its troubles and only great benefits would ensue! This is a foolish dream. We would be forgetting that God has ordained two governments among men: the spiritual, by which the Holy Ghost produces Christians and righteous people under Jesus Christ; and the temporal, which restrains the un-Christian and wicked so that—no thanks to them—they are obliged to keep still and to maintain an outward peace.
Luther, once more, gives us an illustration.
“It is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, or indeed over a single country or any considerable body of people, for the wicked always outnumber the good. Hence a man who would venture to govern an entire country or the world with the Gospel would be like a shepherd who should put together in one fold wolves, lions, eagles, and sheep, and let them mingle freely with one another, saying, Help yourselves, and be good and peaceful toward one another. The fold is open, there is plenty of food. You need have no fear of dogs and clubs.’ The sheep would doubtless keep the peace and allow themselves to be fed and governed peacefully, but they would not live long, nor would one beast survive another.”36
Consider, then, what a blessing to any land are its Christian homes, the little folds where the sheep and lambs of the Shepherd, Jesus Christ, live. “At times in the privacy of his home a poor man,” says Luther …
“…in whom nobody can see many great works, joyfully praises God when he fares well, or with entire confidence calls upon Him when he is in adversity. He does a greater and more acceptable work by this than another who fasts and prays much, endows churches, makes pilgrimages, and burdens himself with great deeds in this place and that.”37
But in those homes, the Christian homes of a nation, fathers and mothers teach the Word of God to their boys and girls. Professor George Lillegard, who was seen often here at our conventions and served so many years as our synodical secretary, once told his Boston congregation in a sermon,
“If a Christian performs no other service for his country than to conduct a home in a Christian spirit and manner and to raise a family well grounded in the Word of God, he is worth more to the nation and its true welfare than any of those who are unbelievers, however great and mighty they may be in this world.”38
While we would not be in agreement with the religious views of Benjamin Franklin, yet, properly understood, his words, too, show what the product of a Christian home ought to be. Franklin, who himself had only two years of formal schooling, wrote that no knowledge is more important than “that of being a good parent, a good child, a good husband or wife, a good neighbor or friend, a good subject or citizen, that is, in short, a good Christian.”39
Christian homes are of infinite worth to any nation. The value of them is almost universally discounted by men. The world despises such homes even though, at the same time, it often grants them a grudging respect. It aims its epithets at such homes, homes with stable marriages, homes where the Bible is used and honored, where families attend church, the children study from catechisms, and the sons and daughters are upright, chaste and respectful. The world’s epithets range from “fanatic” to “narrow-minded” and include everything from “Victorian” to “old-fashioned” to “goody-goody.”
Yet from countless such homes have come law-abiding citizens, leaders in many fields and contributors to the welfare of their nations and the world.
It was Abraham Lincoln, surprisingly, who said of that Bible which is the center of a Christian home,
“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.”40
But it is not only the distinction of right from wrong that is taught by God’s holy Word. The Bible brings to human hearts the great personality-shaping story of God’s Son and His cross. It is when sinful men know that God has loved them through His Son, Jesus Christ, when guilty hearts know that God has not consulted them nor asked their permission before dealing graciously with them, that He has not demanded human works as a prerequisite for forgiveness, but has simply gone ahead on His own and dealt in mercy toward us through the blood and sufferings of Jesus — it is THEN that penitent hearts are melted and made loving toward such a gracious God. And it is these responsive Christians, with their grateful hearts, that God the Spirit shapes into a nation’s most valuable, useful and praiseworthy citizens.
Is a Christian a good citizen? Luther says,
“The Christian submits most willingly to the rule of the sword, pays his taxes, honors those in authority, serves, helps, and does all he can to assist the governing authority, that it may continue to function and be held in honor and fear. Although he has no need of these things for himself—to him they are not essential—nevertheless, he concerns himself about what is serviceable and of benefit to others, as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5.”41
Does a Christian help his government? He is under obligation to serve and assist the sword, says Luther. “Therefore, if you see that there is a lack of hangmen, constables, judges, lords, or princes, and you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services and seek the position …”42
But Christians themselves need neither constables nor hangmen! “Christians have in their heart the Holy Spirit, who both teaches and makes them to do injustice to no one, to love everyone, and to suffer injustice and even death willingly and cheerfully at hands of anyone … For this reason it is impossible that the temporal sword and law should find any work to do among Christians, since they do of their own accord much more than all laws and teachings can demand …”43 Here is the answer, isn’t it, to our overcrowded prisons, our overworked judges and the burgeoning crime that are such a shame to America today?
Do Christians place a high value on family life? “One should not regard any estate as better in the sight of God than the estate of marriage,” says Luther.44 “Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the Gospel.”45 God grants children to parents and commands that they be brought up to worship and serve Him. “In all the world,” says the Reformer, “this is the noblest and most precious work.”46
Are Christian parents those who count children a burden, an obstacle to their own “need for self-expression,” as we hear so often today? Are children the cause of disagreeable chores that must be endured for twenty years? No, Christian parents should count it a high privilege to train their children for service to both God and men. Again Luther:
“With (the souls of your own children) God makes a hospital of your own house. He sets you over them as the hospital superintendent, to wait on them, to give them the food and drink of good words and works. (He sets you over them) that they may learn to trust God, to believe in Him, to fear Him, and to set their whole hope upon Him; to honor His name and never curse or swear; to mortify themselves by praying, fasting, watching, working; to go to church, wait on the Word of God, and observe the sabbath. (He sets you over them) that they may learn to despise temporal things, to bear misfortune without complaint, and neither fear death nor love this life.”47
Does a Christian defraud his neighbor in the marketplace? No, he has been taught by his Friend, God, to be accountable for his neighbor’s money and goods, so he restrains his greed, is content with what God gives him, pays for his needs without complaint, and does not try to cheat his neighbor out of what is his. He will be like those financial secretaries, carpenters, stonemasons and, repairmen in the temple in King Josiah’s day, all of whom handled the offering money, but of whom the king required no accounting. Why? Because, we’re told, “they dealt faithfully.” 2 Kings 22,7.
When Abraham went to find a burial place for Sarah, his wife, the idol-worshiping Hittites exalted their Canaanite nation by generously offering Abraham his choice of parcels of ground. With great respect, Abraham bowed to them, then offered to pay whatever the chosen tract was worth. He was told it was worth 400 shekels of silver, but that it was to be a gift. Abraham insisted on paying full value, however, handed over the money, and again, with bowing and mutual courtesy, the deal was closed before witnesses. Genesis 23.
The late Robert Letourneau, heavy-equipment inventor and industrialist, recalled days in the early part of this century when bankers would loan money more informally than they do today. Today a big contract demands security more substantial than a hand-shake! But Letourneau, a Christian, said, “I still think a hand-shake between Christian men is worth more than all the fine print you can find in 50 pages of contract.”48
Does a Christian citizen know how to work? His whole life ought to be one grand succession of good works done to the glory of Jesus Christ. The forgiveness won by Jesus and pronounced upon him in the Gospel is what motivates him to be a good husband, father or workman. Luther put it like this: “Faith must cause the works; faith is the man in charge.”49
Letourneau made it a practice to hire a good number of Christians in his factories. He once said, “Ever since the birth of our Savior, the time hasn’t been when a good Christian can’t work rings around the toughest roughneck you ever saw.”50
Jacob got rich breeding cattle for his father-in-law, Laban. He called his two wives, Leah and Rachel, out into a field one day and said to them, “The God of my father hath been with me. And ye know that with all my power I have served your father.” Genesis 31,6, So it is that a Christian ought to work at his tasks today — with all his power — no matter how menial those tasks might be.
Does a Christian know how to be a boss, how to deal with employees and subordinates? He ought to be patient, understanding, courteous and fair. He ought to be like Joseph sitting in Pharaoh’s cabinet, or like those able men, Bezaleel and Aholiab, in charge of constructing the tabernacle. Exodus 31. And he ought to heed the good advice of Luther who said, “Masters and mistresses should not govern their servants, maids, and workers high-handedly. They should not scrutinize everything, but occasionally overlook some things and wink at their faults for the sake of peace. For as long as we live on earth in imperfection it is not possible for everything to go according to the rules in any class of men.”51
Time does not permit us to go on describing the contributions that Christian people make to that righteousness which exalts a nation.
IV. AMERICA’S FOUNDING: RIGHTEOUSNESS OR REPROACH?
We must make allowance under our general theme, especially in this Bicentennial year, for a consideration of the righteousness of our own land. More particularly, we must look at its origins.
A question has plagued Christians in America and been the subject of much debate since the days of the Revolution. Was our nation founded in sin? Was it contrary to God’s will for our founding fathers to rebel against British rule? Were we involved in a vast national violation of Romans 13,1, which says that “every soul (is to) be subject unto the higher powers”? When God’s Word tells us, “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation,” were our colonial fathers inviting God’s wrath when they declared our country’s independence? Are we this year celebrating something for which we should be hanging our heads in shame?
One difficulty immediately presents itself as we try to judge the matter. As with all things historical, the passing of time has made it impossible for us to recreate the exact conditions that prevailed. We must go to documents, books, old newspapers and letters to understand as best we can the motivations, fears and opinions of the people who lived at the time of the Revolution. From the British side, the enactments of Parliament are available for scrutiny, as are official reports which passed back and forth through government and military channels.
Several indisputable facts emerge out of these archives on file on both sides of the Atlantic.
One is that the Americans were not out to sever their connection with the British Empire. Exactly the opposite is the case. Repeatedly the Colonials asked to be treated like any other British citizens. When they asked for representation in Parliament, they were met with a bit of sophistry known as “virtual representation,” which meant that members of Parliament already seated served the entire empire, therefore also the American colonies.
During the wise administration of Oliver Cromwell (1653–58), the colonists felt themselves very much a part of the Empire. Upper class colonists tried to be as English as possible and copied the fashions, mannerisms, and even the tea-times of England. A basic factor at work in everything that transpired from 1765 to 1776 was that Americans wished to retain their full rights as Englishmen! This must be seen as anything but an attempt to throw off the jurisdiction of the home government in London. In simple terms, Americans were asking their government, “Rule us just as you do all other Englishmen.” If the Americans had had their way, and if Parliament had consisted of enlightened statesmen, our country today might still have had a status within the British Commonwealth akin to that of Canada today.
The displeasure of Americans was not a sudden, rash thing so typical of classic rebels. It didn’t flare up overnight and burn in a frenzy of hate directed at British soldiers and faithful English civil servants on duty in America. As late as the Continental Congress, which first convened in September, 1774, the displeasure of Americans was not directed at the British king, George III, but at his bungling prime ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer. The Continental Congress sent communications to the king and addressed him as “Most Gracious Sovereign.” By far the majority of Americans wanted to remain united to the mother country. They wanted the protection of the British army against the French to the north and of the British navy on the high seas. Even after the first shots were fired at Lexington, April 19, 1775, George Washington and many other Americans continued to think of themselves as British citizens. They actually called the British troops “ministerial troops” and their own rag-tag militia “the King’s troops”!
Second, and of greatest consequence, was the injustice with which Parliament and George’s ministry ruled the colonies. The welfare of the whole empire was not the chief concern of the British government. British merchants and manufacturers, and later, squires and landowners, occupied parliamentary seats and ran the government according to their own selfish interests. Too often this was at the expense of the colonies. A factor in Parliament’s bungling was the Atlantic Ocean itself, which took two to three months to cross, and the fact that Members of Parliament were ignorant of conditions in the colonies and misjudged much colonial thinking.
In 1764 Parliament made paper money illegal in all the colonies. It decreed that gold and silver were to be kept in the home islands, thus creating a money scarcity in the colonies. To protect British manufacturers, Parliament forbade the exportation of wool from the colonies, or even its movement from one colony to another on pain of seizure of ship and cargo. As early as 1750 slitting mills, necessary to the processing of iron, were outlawed in America. American ironmasters had to send their iron to England to be slitted and returned to America — at a profit, of course, to British industrialists. Many basic products such as lumber, raw silk and potash were put on a special list of goods and thus said to be “enumerated.” These could be sent from America only to England, Ireland, Wales or Scotland. Such mercantile tyranny caused many Americans to feel that a handful of British capitalists carried more weight at Westminster than the welfare of two or three million Americans.
The French and English War ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763. But that seven-year war left the British treasury drained. Now British oppression of the colonies turned from mercantile harassment to repeated attempts to tax the colonists in order to replenish England’s treasury and pay for the recent war.
If the same measures had been enacted against Scotland, Ireland or Wales, and thus had been imposed uniformly throughout the empire, Americans, as loyal British citizens, would have had little reason to complain. But these revenue-raising measures were directed only at the American colonies, and herein lay the Americans’ greatest grievance. This is the kernel out of which the Revolution grew.
To aid this tax-raising program, so irksome to Americans, “writs of assistance” allowed British customs officers to enter and search whenever and wherever they pleased. Coffee and pimento were taxed. Good wine from the Madeiras and Canary Islands could not be brought into the colonies because of British fears that smuggled goods would come in with the wine! British men-of-war patrolled the shipping lanes to enforce the tax on molasses. The Stamp Act was imposed, though later repealed. Any document not carrying a stamp that cost two pounds was automatically void. These stamps had to be affixed to marriage licenses, ships’ clearance papers, wills, school diplomas and even newspapers. In the colonies only, of course! Revenues from this one act, estimated to be 60,000 pounds a year, were expected to pay 1/6 of the cost of keeping the British army in North America.
No one today questions Benjamin Franklin’s patriotism. But a good illustration of the progression of American feeling against British political muddling can be seen in a certain incident involving a friend of his, a Philadelphia baker by the name of John Hughes. Franklin used his influence and got a British stamp-master’s position for Hughes. Franklin advised this man that he should be willing to sacrifice his popularity and reputation with his neighbors in order to uphold British authority in the matter of the Stamp Act. But Franklin later had his eyes opened when he realized at last that the British were operating out of a doctrine of their own superiority and the inferiority of the colonists. English leaders saw themselves in the role of masters, and the colonists were no more than paying subjects. Surely they were not fellow-citizens entitled to fair treatment under British rule!
Other acts were passed, aimed only at colonial purses. The Mutiny Act of 1765 required colonial assemblies to provide barracks, fuel, candles, vinegar, salt, and beer or cider for British troops. Nothing like this applied to Scottish or Irish citizens entitled to protection from the same troops. Glass, lead, paint, paper and tea were taxed — but not in England. The East India Company was headed for bankruptcy. When it appealed to the British treasury for assistance, guess who was expected to take the load off the treasury and bail out the company! The tea tax stayed in effect in the colonies—and led to the Boston tea party the night of December 16, 1773. There was the Boston Port Bill which closed that harbor and posted British frigates to see that it stayed closed. The Coercive Acts restricted town meetings in the colonies and said that, in the future, the king, not the people, would pick the members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The Quebec Act made it look to the Protestant colonists as if they would soon be surrounded by Catholics from Canada.
This is the stuff out of which the Revolution was made. Oppressive acts and repeated threats from London built up tensions in the colonies. The colonists, British citizens all of them, desiring very much to remain British citizens, wanted only to be governed under good, fair English laws which should apply equally to citizens in the Isles as well as off in the colonies.
One more factor must be related. It is the public contempt in which the English held the colonists.
One evidence of this contempt was the caliber of men sent to the colonies as governors and civil servants. Frequently they were unqualified to administer anything, let alone the complexities of a growing, prospering colony. Often they were raw youths, broken-down rakes or political has-beens. Miller writes of them, “In general, colonial governors were simply dull, commonplace Englishmen who badly needed a job but who ought to have been given a clerkship instead of a governorship.”52
The colonists had friends in Parliament, the English Whigs, but they were an ineffective minority. Those commendable Englishmen wanted the colonies treated fairly and as “customers” rather than as lands to be exploited. But most British officials felt that the way to deal with Americans was to cow them with whips! English newspapers considered Americans degenerate Englishmen, “the scum or off scouring of all nations” — “a hotchpotch medley of foreign, enthusiastic madmen” — a mongrel breed of Irish, Scotch and Germans, leavened with convicts and outcasts.
One Englishman said, “The colonies were acquired with no other view than to be a convenience to us, and therefore it can never be imagined that we are to consult their interests preferably to our own… We have in a manner created the colonies, and have a right therefore to give them laws.”53
“I have always considered the Colonies as great farms of the public,” said another, “and the Colonists as our tenants.”54
Still another said that he regarded the “American colonists as little more than a Set of Slaves, at work for us, in distant Plantations one Degree only above the Negroes that we carry to them …”55
The Marquis of Carmarthen spoke the mind of the majority of Englishmen when he said, “We sent them to those Colonies to labour for us … For what purpose were they suffered to go to that country, unless the profit of their labour should return to their masters here?”56
Members of Parliament were appalled at the prospect of admitting Americans to Parliament. Such representatives were derisively called “plantation Senators.” If uncouth colonials were seated in Westminster, respectability would surely suffer. Invite a Mohawk to sit beside an English gentleman? “Would our morals be safe under Virginia legislators, or would our church be in no danger from pumpkin senators?”57
Typical of those English dignitaries holding these befuddled, dangerously erroneous views of Americans was Charles Townshend, whose appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer was perhaps King George III’s biggest mistake. “Champagne Charley” they called him. He had the dubious ability to make a brilliant speech even when drunk! He was responsible for some of the most oppressive measures enacted against the colonies.
As tension mounted in the colonies and the citizens began marching, parading and practicing military drills in full view of the Redcoats, the ST. JAMES’S CHRONICLE; an English paper, carried a report (Nov. 17, 1774) from one unimpressed Englishman who had seen them.
“It is a curious Masquerade Scene to see grave sober Citizens, Barbers and Tailors, who never looked fierce before in their Lives, but at their Wives, Children, or Apprentices, strutting about in their Sunday Wigs in stiff Buckles with their Muskets on their Shoulders, struggling to put on a Martial Countenance. If ever you saw a Goose assume an Air of Consequence, you may catch some faint Idea of the foolish awkward, puffed-up Stare of our Tradesmen: the Wig, indeed, is the most frightful Thing about them, for its very Hairs seem to bristle up in Defiance of the Soldiers.”58
Colonial courage came from drinking rum, said the British. Without their rum New Englanders “could neither fight nor say their prayers.” There weren’t “meaner whimpering wretches in this universe” than sober New Englanders. So said some Englishmen.
They felt that one good battle would send all Americans fleeing, and no large army would be required to fight that battle. “Five hundred men with whips, it was said, could ‘make them all dance to the tune of Yankee Doodle.’”59
American soldiers had fought for the British against the French in the Seven Years’ War. General Wolfe, an Englishman, swore that Americans were “in general the dirtiest, most contemptible cowardly dogs that you can conceive. There is no depending on them in action. They fall down dead in their own dirt and desert by battalions, officers and all. Such rascals as those are rather an encumbrance than any real strength to an army.”60
But then came that day at Lexington in ’75. The farmers and the villagers were drawn up across the town square. The British, on their way to Concord to confiscate patriot gunpowder, made the first hostile move. Colonel Smyth of the 10th Regiment ordered his Redcoats to rush “the peasants” with fixed bayonets. The farmers fired their muskets!
Then came George Washington, eight years of rugged, ragged warfare, and the Declaration of Independence.
Soon after Lexington General Gage sent a report back to the ministry at London. “These people Shew a Spirit and Conduct against us, they never shewed against the French … They are now Spirited Up by a Rage and Enthusiasm, as great as ever People were possessed of.”61
I am not a student of history and, in particular, not of the American Revolution. But it would appear to me that England, hardly knowing what she was doing, goaded the colonies into armed conflict. Various British ministries under George III were most inept in their handling of British citizens who just happened to live in the American colonies.
The Apostle Paul appealed for his rights under the laws of Rome. When the magistrates at Philippi illegally imprisoned Paul and Silas, those officials tried to cover their clumsiness and the fact that they had discriminated against Roman citizens by letting the prisoners go the next day. A governmental order came down to the cellblock: “Let those men go!” Did Paul slip out of town and on the way say, “Thank you, gentlemen; we could have told you magistrates yesterday that you were wrong”? No, the same apostle who teaches us to be subject to the higher powers resisted this governmental violation of Roman justice and said, “They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.” Acts 16,35ff. This was a type of resistance based on rights, rights granted by existing laws. The magistrates came, hats in hand, apologized, and dismissed the two preachers.
I find here something of a parallel. The colonists wanted their old accustomed justice under English law. For close to ten years there was no intent to break away from the rightful authorities. Again and again they were discriminated against as British citizens. Polite requests for redress had gone from the colonial assemblies to Parliament many times (hardly the action of rebels!), and not one of those petitions was read in the House of Commons. The colonies did not withdraw from English government. Instead the British government foolishly abandoned its duty and obligation to govern the colonies righteously and fairly. The British government, for all practical purposes, treated the colonies as a foreign land, indeed, as an enemy nation! Rather than be cast adrift (for ignorance of the colonies’ true condition and needs on the part of the British constituted virtual non-government), rather than flounder with almost no true government at all, the colonies, in their break from England, seem to me to have been resorting, in an unplanned and initially unwanted way, to an attempt to restore true and just government again.
At best, I would say that the preponderance of guilt lies unmistakably with the British.
This is not to say that the American patriots were free from guilt. Neither do I wish to dispose of, in any offhand way, those Christian principles which apply to the throwing off of a government. Not all the British were tyrannical, and not all Americans were mistreated. Some Americans were rabble-rousers bent on goading the British. Smuggling became an American game. Among the pro-British American Tories, many of whom were affiliated with the Anglican Church, more than a few tender hearts cast their lots with the powers that be on the basis of nothing other than Bible teachings on obedience and subjection.
When I assign a preponderance of guilt to the British, I do it knowing that the matter is debatable, and that two centuries have made it difficult, if not impossible, to judge properly conditions that existed prior to and during the Revolution. As a brother Lutheran has pointed out, God is able to bring something good out of even the sins and mistaken motives and actions of men.
V. SOME PEOPLE WHO EXALT OUR NATION
People of many religious persuasions, and sometimes none, were the founders of our nation. Not all of them practiced civic righteousness, not all brought exaltation to our land. But a most remarkable thing came out of that first blend of Puritan, Presbyterian, Anglican, Quaker and Congregationalist.
Francis Grund came from Austria in 1827. He wrote books about his observations of America. In one he described the character of New Englanders: “Few people have so great respect for the law, and are so well able to govern themselves… They are sober, industrious, and, with the exception of a few straggling pedlars… just and honourable in their dealings.”62
Lord Bryce wrote in the 1880s: “… The people is disposed to obey the law … There is in the United States a sort of kindliness, a sense of human fellowship, a recognition of the duty of mutual help owed by man to man, stronger than anywhere in the Old World, and certainly stronger than in the upper or middle classes of England, France, or Germany.”63
Sydney Ahlstrom of Yale Divinity School observes that Americans have a strong sense of civic responsibility. “And this despite a history of tumultuous expansion and change that would seem to have given every opportunity to barbarism, anarchy, and chaos… We simply are face to face with a remarkable and somewhat paradoxical heritage.”64
But it is De Tocqueville who gives us the key to this heritage. In language that I wish I could reproduce at length he tells us (in 1830) how an American pioneer would make a clearing in the forest and build himself a poor log hut. Anyone seeing it would think it to be an “asylum of rudeness and ignorance.” But the man in that hut was anything but primitive, says this Frenchman. Often he was one who wore the dress and spoke the languages of cities. He had read about the past, had hopes for the future, and consented for a time to inhabit the backwoods.
But then comes the line that says so much. He “penetrates into the wilds of the New World with the Bible, an axe, and a file of newspapers.”65
He has come to work, and work hard — so he has brought his axe!
He wishes to stay in touch with the world — so he has brought his newspapers!
But he has brought his Bible with him. There is the key! The righteousness of many people grew out of that book. And our nation became an exalted nation due in no small part to the teachings of that holy book.
Let me ask you, in conclusion, to look at just one set of people. Let me ask you to consider some Lutherans who lived before and during the Revolution. Let me ask you to go back now to those quiet old cemeteries in Pennsylvania and New York.
There you will find the grave of Jonas Bronck, son of a Danish Lutheran minister from the Faroe Islands. Bronck came to New Amsterdam less than twenty years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Today the Borough of the Bronx in New York City bears his name. Bronck wrote to a friend, “The invisible hand of the Almighty Father surely guided me to this beautiful country, a land covered with virgin forest and unlimited opportunities. It is a veritable paradise and needs but the industrious hand of man to make it the first and most beautiful region in all the world.”66 Among Bronck’s books were Luther’s German Bible; Luther’s commentary on the Psalms, and an eight-volume work on Luther’s Catechism.
A Swede, Jøran Kyn, came to America in 1643. Many of his descendants fought in Washington’s army. Don’t be surprised that the spelling of the name is changed on many of their tombstones. The Keens were Lutherans for at least ten generations. One of them, Reynold Keen, was one of 15 aldermen of Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.
Another Keen descendant, Miss Sarah Austin, was a member of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Philadelphia. While Betsy Ross made the first American flag according to the design approved by Congress, it was Sarah Austin (later Mrs. John Barry) and the ladies of Gloria Dei who made the first official American flag to receive the salute of a foreign government. This Lutheran-made flag flew from the mast of John Paul Jones’ “Ranger.” Today you can see this “Lutheran” flag at the National Museum in Washington. Mrs. Barry lived until 1831. She is buried in Philadelphia.
Charles Springer, a Swede and a Lutheran, was sold into slavery in England. A planter in Virginia bought him. Springer worked for 5 years to payoff his debt for passage, food and clothing, and finally earned his freedom. He became a school teacher and on Sundays read from a book of Luther’s sermons to a group of Philadelphia Swedes. He closed a letter back to Sweden with the words, “We do not believe that God will forsake us, although we are in a strange and heathen land, far away from our own dear fatherland,” but not before he had asked in that letter for two ministers, some Bibles, Lutheran sermon books and catechisms! This former slave was friendly to Indians around Wilmington, Delaware, and loved to teach them the Christian religion. Today he lies buried in the churchyard of the old Christian Lutheran Church, Wilmington.
Maybe you have never heard of Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg. Perhaps you have heard of his illustrious father, the Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. But Frederick became a Lutheran minister like his father in 1770. This Lutheran man was present at the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, was elected to the Continental Congress, and, after independence, was Speaker of the House in the first and third Congresses. He is buried at Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Justus Falckner was a memorable Lutheran. A minister, he was born in Germany and came to America in 1700. His parish extended from New York City up the Hudson to Albany, into Long Island, and westward up the Mohawk Valley! A most able preacher, he could deliver a sermon in Dutch, German or English. The parish records he kept are of great interest. Beside each entry of a baptism or marriage, he wrote a little original prayer. After the name of one baby is this:
“Lord, Merciful God, who regardest not the person of men, but in every nation he that feareth Thee and doeth right is accepted before Thee; let this child be clothed with the white garment of innocence and righteousness, and so remain; through Christ, the Redeemer and Savior of all men. Amen.”
You will find a hymn that Falckner wrote in his student days in THE LUTHERAN HYMNAL, 472.
General Washington once dismissed all of his personal bodyguards. He suspected some in the detachment of being traitors. To replace them, he called up 14 officers and 53 men, all Germans, most of them Lutheran, and all from the German counties of Berks and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Twelve of those men formed the General’s honor escort when he returned to Mount Vernon at the end of the war.
One of those dependable German Lutherans was Peter Hartman. He was called “the Angel of Valley Forge.” In the, bitter winter of 1777, when Washington and his men were suffering for lack of food and clothing, Major Hartman went out to collect supplies with his own farm teams and delivered them to the camp! Hartman was a member of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Pikeland, Pennsylvania.
Under the trees in Trinity Lutheran churchyard, Reading, Pennsylvania, is the dust of a man who spent his life giving bodily comfort to others. He is Dr. Bodo Otto, surgeon, who came to America from Germany at the age of 46 with his wife and 4-year-old son. Twenty-one years later, at age 67, he offered his services and those of his two sons, now both doctors, to the government. The three Ottos staffed the camp hospital at Valley Forge. Forced to evacuate after the Battle of Brandywine, the Doctors Otto relocated their field hospital in the facilities of their own church, Trinity at Reading, and continued to aid the wounded. Is it hard to imagine the works of mercy that must have been done by members of that congregation?
Then there was the army’s chief baker, the colorful Christopher Ludwig. Born in Giessen, Germany, the son of a baker, he went to sea as a young man and plied the trade his father had taught him. Eventually he opened a bakery in Philadelphia and prospered beyond his dreams. Rich and respected, he was appointed the army’s head baker by Congress in 1777. His predecessors had been grafters who had lined their pockets by defrauding the government. Baker Ludwig was asked to furnish to the army 100 pounds of bread for every 100 pounds of flour. But Ludwig knew his trade — and became known as “Washington’s honest friend.” He replied, “No, Christopher Ludwig does not wish to become rich by war. He has enough. Out of one hundred pounds of flour one gets one hundred thirty-five pounds of bread, and so many will I give.” He died at age 81, left generous bequests to his congregation, and was buried in the Lutheran cemetery at Germantown, Pennsylvania. Blessed be the memory of that honest Christian baker!
And finally, let me tell you of John Stauch, born of German parents in York County, Pennsylvania, 1762. When he was a boy, those parents taught John the Bible, prayers and hymns. After he married he took his wife and settled in the woods 160 miles west of Hagerstown, Maryland. Neighbors were few in that rustic setting, but the few there were soon found that John knew his Bible. They looked upon him as if he were a minister, and he began marrying, baptizing and burying. After six years in the woods he went to Philadelphia, was examined in his knowledge of the Bible, and received a license to preach. Later he was ordained and became a circuit-rider to the log cabins and settlements of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio. John Stauch preached in houses and barns, sometimes every day for four or five weeks!
At the age of 81, old John Stauch, preacher of the Christ he had first known from his parents, wrote in his autobiography:
“I have lived on God’s beautiful earth eighty-one years. More than fifty years of my life have been spent in preaching the gospel. To do this I have traveled more than 100,000 miles (on foot and on horseback), and preached in five different states. I have tried to preach more than 10,000 times, confirmed in all 1,516 persons, and baptized more than double that many. Married 481 couples and attended nearly as many funerals. In all my life God caused all things to work together for my good.”
These are some of the people whose righteousness has exalted our nation. They lie buried today in scattered old Lutheran cemeteries.
Many Americans have been upright and good citizens without being Christians. Without Christ, of course, they will not be saved. But their civic righteousness, too, has exalted our nation. Yet we have seen how no citizens contribute more to the exaltation of a land than believers in Jesus Christ, the faithful readers and hearers of God’s holy Word, whose life’s desire is to serve their Savior,
That Frenchman was right about our Christian founders. They swung their axes—and they built a nation! They read newspapers by candlelight—and did business with the world! But above all, they carried with them their Bibles, taught the Bible’s truths to their children—and were a blessing in the midst of the land!
To God the Holy Ghost be the glory!
May Father, Son and Spirit continue to look in mercy upon our beloved nation and give us many more such people!
1 Howell, Clinton T., ed., NELSON’S PATRIOTIC SCRAPBOOK, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1974, 45.
2 CONCORDIA TRIGLOTTA, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, 127, par. 23.
3 Gibbon, Edward, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, New York: The Co-operative Publication Society, no date, Vol. 1, 105. Gibbon’s six volumes on Rome are from a larger set entitled WORLD’S BEST HISTORIES.
4 Luther, Martin, LUTHER’S WORKS (Am. Ed.), Philadelphia/St. Louis: Fortress Press/Concordia Publishing House, Vol. 44, 93.
5 Vol. 45, 62–3.
6 Ibid., 368.
7 Vol. 13, 157–8.
8 Vol. 46, 239.
9 Feucht, Oscar E., HELPING FAMILIES THROUGH THE CHURCH, St. Louis: CPH, 1957, 36.
10 Vol. 45,44.
11 De Tocqueville, Alexis, DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA, New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, no date, Vol. 1, 231–2.
12 Sorokin, Pitirim A., “The Case Against Sex Freedom,” THIS WEEK MAGAZINE, 1954, Jan. 3, 16.
13 Landers, Ann, “If You Had It To Do Over Again-Would You Have Children?,” GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, 1976, June, 223.
14 Ibid.. 216.
15 Ibid., 216.
16 Blumenfeld, Samuel L., THE RETREAT FROM MOTHERHOOD, New Rochelle, N.Y,: Arlington House, 1975, 118.
17 Vol. 45, 39.
18 Ibid., 103.
19 Hunt, George L., ed., CALVINISM AND THE POLITICAL ORDER, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965, 33.
20 Ibid., 125.
21 Bente, F., in CONCORDIA TRIGLOTTA, op. cit., (Historical Introductions) 94-5.
22 Gibbon, op, cit., 104.
23 Ibid., 349–50.
24 Hunt, op. cit., 126.
25 Vol. 46, 237.
26 Hunt, op. cit., 150.
27 Vol. 46, 254.
28 Moores, Charles W., LINCOLN: ADDRESSES AND LETTERS, New York: American Book Co., 1914, 56.
29 Vol. 44, 97.
30 Ibid., 182.
31 Vol. 45, 48.
32 CONCORDIA TRIGLOITA, op. cit., 157.
33 Vol. 45, 350.
34 Vol. 44, 65–6.
35 Vol. 45, 90–1.
36 Ibid., 91–2.
37 Vol. 44,41.
38 Lillegard, George, FROM EDEN TO EGYPT, Milwaukee: Northwestern Pub. House, 1956, 221.
39 Hefley, James C., AMERICA: ONE NATION UNDER GOD, Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1975, 79.
40 Hunt, op. cit., 151.
41 Vol. 45, 94.
42 Ibid., 95.
43 Ibid., 89.
44 Ibid., 47.
45 Ibid., 46.
46 Ibid., 46.
47 Vol. 44, 85.
48 Letourneau, Robert G., MOVER OF MEN AND MOUNTAINS, Englewood Cliffs, N.J,: Prentice-Hall, 1960, 160–1
49 Vol. 44, 98.
50 Letourneau, op. cit., 135.
51 Vol. 44, 98.
52 Miller, John C., ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1943, 33.
53 Ibid., 206.
54 Ibid., 206.
55 Ibid., 206.
56 Ibid., 206.
57 Ibid., 229.
58 Ibid., 400.
59 Ibid., 442.
60 Ibid., 47
61 Ibid., 411.
62 Hunt, op. cit., 98.
63 Ibid., 100.
64 Ibid., 101.
65 De Tocqueville, op. cit., 307–8.
66 Nothstein, Ira Oliver, LUTHERAN MAKERS OF AMERICA, Philadelphia: United Lutheran Publication House, 1930, 14–15. (Information for this and all following sketches is from this volume.)