Righteousness Exalts a Nation
Study Guide, July 5, 2020
Pastor Clay Olsen
Let’s take a patriotic song poll. So out of these five favorite patriotic songs: 1. My Country, Tis of Thee, 2. America, the Beautiful, 3. Battle Hymn of the Republic, 4. The Star Spangled Banner, and 5. God Bless America, which is your favorite? Let’s do a show of hands….#1, #2, #3, #4, or #5?
Each of these are great songs with great messages. So what we thought we’d do today is to take a closer look into the message of one of those great songs that was written from on top of a mountain…Pikes Peak. How many of you have traveled up to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado? It’s an amazing sight and experience. Did you know they even have a Pikes Peak marathon? Yeah, and the runners have friends along the route handing them gloves and hats and shirts as they get closer to the top, since it gets colder. And then on the way down they toss them aside. I guess after the race you can get a lot of free clothes that way.
But an English teacher from Wellesley College was on vacation in 1893. And from the vantage point of 14,000 feet, Katherine Lee Bates, wrote this: “It was there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under the ample skies, that the opening lines of this text formed themselves in my mind.” Actually, she wrote ‘America, the Beautiful’ as a poem, without the intention of it becoming a song. In fact, it didn’t become a song until 25 years later. But it was a special blessing when it came out because America was in the difficult days of World War I at the time, and the song was a great inspiration for people.1
But open your hymnbooks and let’s take a deeper look at the message of this beloved song. It’s number 572. And we won’t have time to get through it all, but you’ll see just how inspired Miss Bates really was…Biblically inspired we should say.
Actually, this song has at least 8 verses that have been found, but one of the interesting things about the song is that each verse begins with a praise and ends with a prayer. And that’s only fitting when you think about the abundance of God’s grace in our lives, and in the history of our country. God’s bounty and blessing should inspire our praise for our God and our prayers to our God…especially prayers that we would be a blessing to God in our service for Him. That’s really the key to God blessing America anyway…it’s for America to bless God.
And in connection with that, you know what I keep hearing in my head? Do you remember when the people around Jesus were looking to Him with, “Lord, would You do this”, and, “Lord, would You do that for them? And He paused and said to them: “Why do you call me Lord, but do not do the things I say?” Jesus is to be ‘Lord’ of all, right?…‘Lord’ of all the things in life and in our lives. Jesus is Lord, and He expects to be recognized as such and respected as such. He even expects that from nations. Do you remember in that Psalm to the nations where God says this: Ps 2:10-12- “Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! NASU Wow! God is not talking to clergymen here, but to civil servants in national and state governments, and to employers in businesses, and to citizens on the streets, and to everyone in every nation. And we’ll get into that a bit more in a moment.
But notice what the song points out about one of the things that God’s grace is intended to create… “God shed His grace on thee, And crown thy good with brotherhood, From sea to shining sea.” How about that? One of the reasons God grants His ‘common grace’ to a nation is to create a ‘common brotherhood’ within a nation. It’s important to realize that nations, like people, also have a destiny to fulfill, not only within that nation, but to other nations. America was blessed in order to be a blessing to others. And we can celebrate the fact that, in many ways, America has been a blessing to our world over and over. What other country has given humanitarian aid before, during, and after to the people of a country while going to war with that country’s government and military. Just think of some of the wars America was called into, where our country gave massive contributions to rebuild and assist the very countries that were fighting against us. Remember, we need to give credit to our country where credit is due, as in all of the true attempts that have been made in our country to ‘crown thy good with brotherhood’, and all the attempts that have been made to pass on God’s common grace to others. Remember, the role of government is to promote civil righteousness, which leads to civility among the people, in how they treat one another and deal with one another. And that leads us to another inspiring thing in the song, but it may also be a surprising thing. Let’s read the second verse.
Surprised? ‘Thy liberty in law?’ Isn’t that a surprising place to find liberty? What do you think many people would say that ‘liberty’ is anyway? Many people would say that liberty is the right to be free. Well, not really, because liberty is not the right to be free; no, liberty is the freedom to do what is right.
Next question: Who determines what is right? As you probably recall, many of our Founding Fathers also practiced Law. And no young man in the colonies became a lawyer without be well read in William Blackstone’s ‘Commentaries on Law.’ Now, here is the key to what Miss Bates was referring to by saying that liberty was found in law. Blackstone’s Law Commentaries defined ‘law’ as ‘The Will of God.’ That’s right. Law is the Will of God. Check this out: Blackstone wrote: “God, when He created man, and endued him with free will to conduct himself in all parts of life, God laid down certain immutable laws; whereby that free will is regulated and restrained…and, being infinite in wisdom, He has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice. These are the immutable laws, to which the Creator Himself, in all His dispensations, conforms.” When you would ask a Colonial Lawyer, ‘What is law?’ He would say, “Law is the Will of God. Law is the revelation of the teachings of the Redeemer.” No wonder so many Colonial Ministers were also Lawyers…because they were dealing with the same set of laws…divine Law!
And notice this as well, America’s foundation was built upon this understanding that America’s laws must be a reflection of the laws of God. Again, Blackstone identified God as the source of law. He wrote: “Man must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being…. This will of his maker is called ‘the law of nature’. Blackstone went on to express the primacy of God’s law: This law of nature, being dictated by God Himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.” And let me read you just a bit more, because it’s really amazing. So “In addition to the law of nature, Blackstone identified “the revealed or divine law,” defined as those specific legal rules and principles found in the Bible.’ He concluded, “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” Not surprisingly, it is reported that the Bible was Blackstone’s “constant companion” while he wrote the Commentaries.’ 2
This was the common understanding of law and government in America when America was founded. This is the common understanding that framed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. But our Founders warned future generations about departing from the laws of mankind’s Creator by reminding us that mankind’s reasoning, because of the Fall of man, has been corrupted due to his sin nature. That’s why man is not sufficient for the establishment of laws to govern mankind. The only laws that are sufficient to govern mankind are the divine laws found in the Scriptures.
Oh, how we need the voices of Blackstone and the Founders in America again. You cannot separate laws for life from the Law-Giver and the Creator of all life…because whenever you do, you lose something…it’s called ‘Liberty and Justice for all’.
Let me just read the last part of verse 3 in Miss Bate’s song. Do you know what’s more important than success in a nation? Righteousness! For what exalts a nation, what is the strength of a nation…even more, what God expects of a nation is righteousness. Prov 14:34- “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.” NASU
Now, this Scripture is not referring to ‘Salvation righteousness’, but to ‘Civil righteousness’. And it’s important to understand that God has commissioned the Church to proclaim ‘Salvation righteousness’ to all nations and all people, and has commissioned Government to promote ‘Civil righteousness’ to its nation and its people. Salvation righteousness is how an unconverted person can become saved…can become born again into God’s eternal family. Remember, Christ’s forgiveness and His very own righteousness is His gift that He gives to all who give their life to Christ in repentance and receive Him in faith. And we pray that each of you have received this eternal gift of Christ’s eternal life. If not, don’t put it off. Give your life to Christ in repentance and receive Christ’s life by faith, while it’s still called ‘Today’. Remember, you don’t have tomorrow…you only have today. So make sure of your Salvation today.
But now, and this is where many people get confused, for even though an unconverted person is not saved, they can still be civil. Mark it down: Even the unconverted has the God given ability to practice civility. Every person still needs a Savior, but God still expects every person to be civil. In fact, it’s when sinners seek to practice civility that they discover how much they need a Savior. When sinners seek to practice civil righteousness they become sensitive to their failings and their faults, and realize that they are unrighteous before God, and they become more and more aware of their need to be forgiven and saved and given Salvation righteousness…the gift of Christ’s righteousness and life. That’s how God uses even this cultural commission to draw sinners to respond to the Great commission and look to Christ to become saved.
But again, even though an unconverted person has not been saved by the conversion grace of God, they can still be a civil person because of the common grace of God…the common grace of God, and the inner law of God, that God has written, has imprinted upon the hearts of all people. God expects civil righteousness of all people on Earth. Remember His command in Psalm 2 to all the rulers of Earth? “Do homage to the Son!” Do homage to the Son of God! Do homage to the Redeemer of mankind. Do homage to the Teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. And ‘doing homage’ to God is to fear and to respect and to submit to the laws of God. That is what God expects of every government, every court, every institution…it’s what God expects of every nation on Earth. And that is what is known as ‘Civil righteousness’. And when a government and its people do homage to the Creator, that is also when their nation is ‘exalted’. That is when their nation is built up. That is when their nation experiences the kind of peace and order where people can be civil towards one another, and respectful and considerate and helpful to one another. And here is the major thing that civil righteousness does: It sets the stage for the Church to do its work of carrying out its commission to proclaim Salvation righteousness to all people.
That’s why the Apostle Paul said: 1 Tim 2:1-7- “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men — the testimony given in its proper time.” NIV
Make special note of this Brothers and Sisters, because it explains why we don’t give up praying for and trying to help our country become more and more civil towards one another. Again, it’s because God uses ‘civil righteousness’ in a nation to create a cultural atmosphere for the church to do its work of sharing the gospel of ‘salvation righteousness’ to all people in every nation. And that’s why we as both citizens of Earth and citizens of Heaven work and pray for both!
- Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories, pp 34.35
- Douglas H. Cook, Sir William Blackstone; A Life and Legacy Set Apart for God’s Work, regentparents.regent.edu