By John J. Blanchard
August 4, 2012
Good morning, brethren. We hear a lot today about the decline of the United States and the West in general. It is a very hot topic. You often hear commentators, politicians, business leaders, economists, academics, and pundits say we are faced with the decline of the United States. Indeed it is like the decline of the West and the rise of everyone else. It has been put that way as well. It is because there are so many obvious problems that seem to be intractable.
There are problems with stubbornly high unemployment, and it is going up higher. It edged up higher yesterday according to the statistics in the states, but it is also getting quite high in Europe. We see that there are economic problems and economic crises around the world. In the United States we have a crime problem that only seems to be containable by swollen prisons. We have more Americans in prison or on parole than any other nation in history has ever had.
We hear people talking about poor education, the health care problem, and on and on it goes. There are all of these issues. Because they realize there are these problems, you have these same people posing solutions. They come up with many and varied solutions, however usually very narrow according to one’s expertise, philosophy, or ideas. You will hear we need more dollars for education. Put more money in our youth, and the future will be better. Or put more money into retraining for those who cannot find work. Give more dollars to the unemployed. Stretch out the unemployment benefits, and increase the benefits. Give more dollars to fight crime. Build more prisons if necessary.
Give more dollars for health care. We need universal health care. That’s the problem. Give more dollars for stimulus to stimulate the economy, so we can have more people working and have more money floating around. Of course, let’s have more dollars for tax cuts. Give people tax cuts the one side says, and the other side says raise taxes. It’s all about money, either to cut the debt or to stimulate growth, so we can reduce the debt. It seems as if everybody thinks money is going to solve all of these problems and that money is the answer to whatever problem we face.
All the troubles can be debated in one way or another and different solutions offered up, but right along with them there is another topic that is often spoken of. That topic is American exceptionalism. American exceptionalism is that we have such a great country and such a marvelous people that the world should follow our example and our way of life. We hear them at the same time talking about freedom, democracy, and Western values. Really now is that an example for everyone else to follow? We just went through a whole pile of problems that the United Statesand the West are facing. Why would the rest of the world want to follow our example into those problems?
Brethren, exceptional people use freedom in exceptional ways. I want to go through a few quotes from the founding fathers and famous people who observed the American experiment years ago and see what they had to say about what made America great. What made us different? What made us a wonderful people?
My first quote is often attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote a book in the 1830s about the United States. “America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” We can see that he felt that American exceptionalism stemmed from wanting to do right. It stemmed from wanting to do what was good.
Some other quotes I would like to read for you are from Francis Grund who wrote a book in 1825 titled Americans in Their Moral, Social, and Political Relations. He was a German baron who moved to America, and he said this: “No government could be established on the same principle as that of the United States, with a different code of morals.” He said in his book Americans in Their Moral, Social, and Political Relations that no government could exist without a moral people. The fact that these Americans are so moral makes it work. He said a different code of morals would make it impossible to have that form of government.
Ben Franklin said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” That was a very prescient statement by Ben Franklin. “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”
Patrick Henry said, “Bad men cannot make good citizens.” “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue…” Patrick Henry knew you cannot have a good government if you have bad people. It is impossible.
George Washington said, “Virtue and morality is a necessary spring of popular government.” Without virtue and morality you cannot have a popular government, in other words, a government you could vote in by the people because you get what you deserve. You get the fruits of the kind of people that you are.
The point I am making is that American exceptionalism was a result of the adherence to the Judeo-Christian work ethic and moral values. That is the root of our greatness. The adherence to the Judeo-Christian work ethic and moral values is the core of what made us great. Our core national values are what made us great.
There is a powerful force out there undermining our core values. It is a force that is rotting us from inside out. It is a force that jeopardizes our future and the future of our children. It is a force impervious to money and to financial solutions. Financial solutions just don’t get it with this real problem. As a matter of fact, money is part of the problem.
I want to turn to the first Scripture in I Timothy chapter 6, verse 9: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
I would say that this list of problems that we just read are many sorrows, and we are being pierced by them because too many have a love of money. They put money above doing the right thing, and you see that on the news constantly.
This dark force that is against our core values and against what really made Americaexceptional and great has a name. It is called moral relativism. The New American Heritage Dictionary defines relativism this way: the theory that value judgments as of truth, beauty, or morality have no validity but are valid only for the persons or groups holding them. Let me read that again. Relativism: the theory that value judgments as of truth, beauty, or morality have no validity but are valid only for the persons or groups holding them. I am telling you today that this is the root cause of our societal and cultural problems.
The unifying ideals that made us great—the Judeo-Christian work ethic and values—are now held in equal or less value than any other ideas or values out there. In other words, they have been reduced to the common denominator that exists throughout the world. There is no special standard. There is no such thing as having to strive to be better morally or in our work ethics. This is what is undermining the greatness of America and the Western world.
FOUR FOUNDING VIRTUES
Charles Murray in his recent book, Coming Apart, says that there are four founding virtues that were completely accepted as essential by our early Americans, and not just the founding fathers but throughout the country. He lists them this way: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion. To repeat those: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion. Industriousness used to be called simply industry.
Now today I want to discuss the last one and make it the first of four sermons dealing with these four major fundamental values. We are going to start with religion because I believe it is the point of reference, and it is the foundation for the other three to be built upon. The Bible is the founding fathers’ reference point for their values. This is where they came from. They came from the study of the Good Book. They took the oath of office by swearing upon the Good Book, and they often quoted from it. They were not ashamed of the Bible. Religion really is the foundation of industry, honesty, and marriage.
THE VIRTUE OF RELIGION
The founding fathers had their human frailties. We often hear people point out what was wrong with the founding fathers. They like to pick them apart now that they are long gone and dead. They understood we have frailties, and we don’t understand everything. But we want to make ourselves better and our nation better. That was part of who they were. To strive to be better was the fiber of who they were.
They had ways of, you might say, in modern terminology, a litmus test, but it wasn’t what you think. Even though they believed in the Bible and they believed in the Judeo-Christian work ethic and values, they did not argue over which day was the Christian Sabbath, what doctrines we should hold as a nation, what were the prophecies of the Bible and what is the correct view of prophecy. They knew that they did not understand all of that stuff and that they would have to make allowances for each other’s differences. They knew they would have to be tolerant on those issues.
One person might believe, like John Adams, that Jesus Christ was not divine. Another person would say, yes, He was. The point was they did not argue about it. They did not argue about prophecies regarding the end of the age or which day was the Sabbath. Some kept Sunday and some kept Saturday. This was pointless to them. But they knew there were certain core values in the Bible that everyone could agree on: industry, honesty, fidelity, and the Good Book itself. They had the wisdom to recognize those things. They said here are the areas that we definitely agree to, and that is what made these values universally accepted throughout theUnited States. That is what made us great. The fact that we could all agree on these very basic values is what made us great.
WISDOM FROM THE BIBLE
Wisdom they understood came from the word of God, and they were absolutely correct. Let’s look at some Scriptures about wisdom. Turn, if you would, to the Book of Proverbs which often speaks about wisdom. We will start at the beginning of Proverbs in Proverbs chapter 1, beginning in verse 1: “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion—a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
This was something that was universally accepted by the founding fathers and by the vast majority of Americans. You had to have wisdom. You had to believe in justice, judgment, and equity. You had to be prudent. You had to gain in knowledge and understanding.
Turn to Proverbs chapter 2. We are going to read the entire chapter because it basically deals with wisdom. Read Proverbs 2:1-22.
WISDOM AT THE FORK OF EVERY DECISION
Our founding fathers, and Americans in general, could see that wisdom is at the fork of every major decision in life, just like this chapter says. You can choose this path, or you can choose that path. You can take the path of righteousness, hard work, equity, justice, fairness, prudence, and fidelity to marriage and family, or you can choose another way that leads to death, destruction, and misery. That was common knowledge. That was understood. The founding fathers wanted us to have a nation in which we could strive to be as good as we could possibly be. They sought wisdom in the word of God.
Turn to Proverbs chapter 9, beginning in verse 7: “He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you will bear it alone.”
They knew foolishness, scoffing, disdain for the law, and disdain for this moral code would lead to one’s own demise and destruction. If one did the opposite and sought wisdom and instruction and listened to correction, he would grow. They understood there was a connection to education to gain wisdom, and they used the Bible as that foundation.
You can say education is part of the solution, but it does not cost dollars to teach wisdom. You don’t just throw money at education. You don’t just give children computers and think they need all this technology to be competitive with the world. You have to teach them to have moral fiber. You have to teach them about the Judeo-Christian work ethic and values, because this is where American exceptionalism and the ways of the West have prospered. But the love of money and moral relativism have undermined this.
Let’s turn to I Corinthians for a couple of New Testament Scriptures about wisdom. I Corinthians chapter 1, beginning in verse 17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?”
I think those words are appropriate to today. Listen to all the pundits, the politicians, and the academics espouse these various views and throw money at various problems. God would say this is the world’s way, and it is foolish. You need the wisdom of God and the Bible.
Continuing in I Corinthians 1, verse 21: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
Americans by and large and the founding fathers believed in these principles. It was something that was understood by the founding fathers. It was understood by Americans in general, and it was accepted. It was a truism.
Reading in I Corinthians chapter 2, beginning in verse 6: “However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”
Moral values and work ethic are spiritual concepts. These are not physical. It’s not put your money in the bank, invest in this, or throw money at that. It is actually part of a person’s character.
Continuing in verse 14 of I Corinthians 2: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For ‘who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”
In other words, the mind of Christ can guide. It can direct. We are not here to argue whether the founding fathers had the Holy Spirit or didn’t have the Holy Spirit. We do know they were Christians and that they tried to listen to the word of God. They listened to what the Spirit of God moved them to believe, and then they lived it. That I believe happens throughout history. If someone is willing to read the word of God, pay attention, and try to follow the wisdom that is in there, the Spirit of God will bless. It will bless in ways that are fantastic. But if you go against that and if you believe in this idea of moral relativism and that every other value is of equal weight to the Christian or the Judeo-Christian ethic, you are going to fall prey to the problems that exist around the world.
Also some believe that money is above honesty and integrity, and it is above the things that are right. Their love of money clouds one’s vision. If these things occur, they will have no wisdom. They will act in selfish ways and greedy ways which will also bring down the nation and the society.
These are the problems that we are facing. Moral relativism combined with the love of money is terribly destructive. It destroys the trust of even good people in the institutions that made the country great. That is where we are today. People don’t trust other people. They don’t trust the government. They don’t trust the banks. They don’t trust Wall Street. It is because moral relativism combined with the love of money has literally made the whole thing untrustworthy.
DO NOT THROW MONEY AT PROBLEMS
You cannot throw money at that problem and fix it. It is fixed for free by teaching moral values and hard work to the young and by raising them to grow up to believe that is what pays. Hard work, honesty, marriage, and fidelity are what is truly required to be a successful person. You don’t measure people by the amount of money or the amount of stuff they have. You measure them by their character.
This is something that we understood in the old days. We understood it right up until, I would say, World War II. Then after World War II these values started to wane, and these other problems came and reared their ugly heads without, it seems, any solution. People used to band together and help each other. That was the solution to getting through the Depression. Supporting right values was the way of getting through World War II. Defending freedom was the way to get through the Revolutionary War and have our own country where we could live this way. These are the things that made it possible to come through all those heartaches and all those troubles that we had over the years.
Now we are faced with seemingly intractable problems, and they are not as big as world wars. They are not as big as the Great Depression. They are not like a civil war. Yet we are struggling to come up with the solutions because it requires people of moral fiber. The solution requires people of good character and people with morals. These people do not believe in moral relativism, but actually have a way of life that they feel is essential, and enough of us agree to it that we can get along.
God’s wisdom is at odds with the wisdom of the world. It is not one that requires money. That is what the Bible says. It does not require money. It requires proper biblical understanding and education and an adherence to the Judeo-Christian work ethic and values.
The wisdom of the world undermines the wisdom of God in these two ways: the love of money and moral relativism, but it is a force based on a couple of things. It is based on “isms,” dogma, and might making right. That is the lust for power you might say. Or it is “our way is better than your way,” and you must listen to our way even if it is totally against the Judeo-Christian way of life. That undermines the truth of God and the wisdom of God.
The insidiousness of moral relativism is something that so quietly happens over a long period of time that people do not even understand it has happened. I can remember back as a young person in grade school that they started talking about relativism. I didn’t even know what it was, but I remember it getting mentioned in class. There were different things posited that you had to think about, and what would you do in this situation or that situation. It was just the beginning of undermining something that was accepted to be absolutely true, and that was these four foundational characteristics that made us a moral people.
When it started undermining the young, it started bearing fruit when they got a little older. Then that generation taught even more relativism to the next generation, until finally two or three generations later, people don’t know which end is up anymore. It is very insidious. You might want to go back and listen to or request the sermon Becoming Inured to the Point of Our Own Detriment (July 7, 2012). It is a sermon we did last month.
Moral relativism results in societal breakdown and an ungovernable people. This is what happens when you look on the news and you see riots in Greece and people who do not want to take personal responsibility for their lives. They do not want to work hard, but they want to live on the dole or not pay their taxes. They want to have a black market economy. You find out when people can no longer receive the benefits that they want from the government that they start to riot. They start to break down as a society. That is just what our founding fathers understood from the beginning. It takes a moral people to have a free society. Otherwise you must have a tyrant or somebody take over as master, like Benjamin Franklin said.
Let’s go to Isaiah chapter 5 where it spells it out very clearly there. This is where we have ended up with moral relativism. Isaiah chapter 5, beginning in verse 18: “Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as if with a cart rope; that say, ‘Let Him make speed and hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, that we may know it.’ Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!”
It is spelled out very clearly there in just a few verses. Woe to those who mix everything up and who use moral relativism to muddy the waters, so that no one knows what is right or wrong. No one knows what makes us truly great as a people. No one understands anymore what made us exceptional. What made us exceptional is so simple. It is the wisdom of the Bible. As I keep saying, it is the Judeo-Christian work ethic and values—those things that were accepted throughout the nation and by our founding fathers. It’s what led us to be a great people because people would then do what they knew was right. The vast majority of Americans wanted to do what was right.
I looked at some of the statistics for crime back in the early days. Crime was almost nonexistent in the United States back then. There was crime, but very little. There were very few prisons. Our nation willingly wanted to do the right thing. By and large we had a people who wanted to follow the rules, take care of themselves, and not rely on the government or handouts. But they wanted to really push themselves to become better people.
There was a case for those times when life got too hard to help each other out. We had to help each other and to accept a helping hand, and that is part of being humble. But by and large, people wanted to do what it took to be successful in their own right.
A CHANCE TO DEVELOP CHARACTER
Fortunately, God has a plan to deliver us from the mess that we are in. He can teach us how to reverse the tide of moral relativism. He can do that if we are willing to listen to His word, pay attention, and take responsibility for our lives. We are all going to have to make some choices here soon, because the Millennium is just around the corner. God wants us to learn of His ways and apply them prior to the Millennium. He wants an innumerable multitude called from around the world who will accept the biblical wisdom and live by it.
Christ came to guide us toward freedom, and He wants us to use it wisely because He wants us to develop character. Choice is very important for character. When you have a cruel master over you who forces you to do what they think is right, that is not obedience. That is not going to grow character. But when you have a situation like we have in theUnited Statesand in the vast majority of the Western world where a person can choose to do what is right or to do what is wrong, it is a personal selection. Now you have the chance to grow character.
Here we are at a point in time where wisdom is at the fork in the road, and it seems as if the nation is divided between this way or that way, God’s way or some other way, moral relativism or some absolutes. If you are at that road in your life, I strongly suggest that you choose God’s way. As a nation, when more and more choose God’s way, everything is going to work itself out. All it takes is a majority of the people to agree to these Godly principles of the Bible, and everything is going to work out. We understand that God is going to be the winner in the end, so it will work out. The sooner we get with God’s program the better.
It is up to the individual to take responsibility for themselves and for their actions and to base them upon the wisdom of the Bible, for the Bible is to be our guide.