Jefferson County 2nd† Election Sermon
Preached before the civil magistrate at Boulder, Montana
Sunday, November 3rd, 2002 by Arthur (Bo) Stuart
"For we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard"
Thank you for coming this afternoon to Jefferson Countyís 2nd Election Day Sermon. For those of you that are unfamiliar with exactly what an Election Day Sermon is, in colonial days it was a sermon preached on the morning of the general election of the colony or township. The purpose of this sermon was to instruct and admonish the people on how to conduct themselves as citizens and as civil magistrates. These sermons addressed the true nature and legitimate functions of civil government and the qualifications of those fit for leadership. This tradition goes back some 360 years in this country, but obviously has fallen into disuse as evidenced by the fact that I have to stand here and explain our own history to us. One of the interesting things about these sermons was that they were ordered by the legislatures of each colony.
It is a grand but forgotten part of our history as a nation, and it is tempting to start early in the morning and go late into the evening to make up for lost time. Much is wrong, much needs to be corrected, and so the question arises, what shall I speak on given I have you only once every other year. It is tempting to jump right to Romans 13, I Peter 2, Titus 3, and Acts 4 to lay the foundations for civil authorities, the duties we have as citizens to those civil authorities, and when we have the duty of civil disobedience. It is interesting during an election year to ask the question of those campaigning, "What is the role of government in society?" The question, which is a fundamental one that needs to be answered by everyone running for office, is more often than not met with blank stares followed by some feeble attempt at mumbling an answer with vague misquotes from our constitution about the form of government rather than the role of government in society. But our founding forefathers had no problem with this question because they were steeped in the Biblical foundations of government. This is what fueled the war for independence; they understood the tyranny of King George and the English Parliament because they understood the role of government in society.
So it is tempting to lay that foundation, but I would like instead to set the cornerstone for that foundation and discuss two concepts as briefly as possible that need to be understood before you can understand the role of government in society. Those two concepts are Godís sovereignty and Godís covenant relationship with His people. You might ask why even attempt in a short period of time to discuss two very complex theological concepts, which even the church has a hard time understanding let alone politicians? The answer is simple. You as civil magistrates do not act as if either of these is true. You do not behave in such a way as to acknowledge that God is either sovereign or that He operates within a covenantal context with His people and with governments. This is evident in the laws you enact, the judgments you make, and the responses you have to local, state and national crises and events. You do not believe that God is sovereign nor do you believe that He wants to have a covenantal relationship with His people. This in turn sets up a tension, an antithesis, between you and the people of God where there should be no tension, no antithesis. The main role of government in society is to punish those that do evil and to praise those that do good. The people of God should not be the enemy of the state. Societies are strong that have a Christian foundation. Hospitals are started (Brother Van and the Deaconess Hospitals), education flourishes as well as the arts, and there is peace and tranquility. Now much indeed is wrong with the Church today, and repentance begins with the household of God, but we get to preach to them 52 times a year, and we only get you once every other year.
Letís quickly go to the doctrine of Godís sovereignty, and see why this is foundational to proper governing by the civil magistrates, and look at the implications of minimizing or ignoring it.
The Bible teaches the exhaustive sovereignty of God, and it does so in countless places. Ephesians 1:11 "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His will"; Colossians 1:16 "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist."
The Westminster Confession puts it succinctly this way, "God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second cause taken away, but rather established".
But we must go further than definitions; we must make the connection between easy assumptions and hard consequences. Most Christians do not have a problem acknowledging Godís control over physical creation. He has the hairs numbered on our heads, and not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the Father. What we (and the politicians) do have a problem with is the consequences of saying this. When we take it to its logical conclusion, He is either sovereign or He is not, He is either the God of everything or he is the god of nothing. We have problems with this because on the surface it appears that God is the grand puppeteer and we are His puppets and therefore God must be the author of sin. But that is not how scriptures speak of Godís sovereignty. Genesis 50:20 "But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive". Acts 2:23 "Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death". God does what He does, by His decree, and for His glory.
Why mention this you may ask? Again, you do not behave as if it is true. When calamity befalls the city, is it not the hand of the Lord that has done it? Our forefathers understood this,but we have forgotten it. Whenever there was calamity such as drought or hail or attacks, they would call for prayer and fasting. They saw it as the hand of God because He is the God of everything. He is sovereign.
Today we have a small God, one that is perhaps "loving" but impotent to protect us. Many object and say how could a "loving" God use wicked men to bring the world trade towers down? This is the same question that Habakkuk asked. Habakkuk was commissioned to pronounce the Lordís intention to punish Judah by the coming deportation into Babylon. He prophesied just before Nebuchadnezzar first invaded Judah. Habakkuk asked two questions. Why did God permit the increasing evil in Judah to go unpunished (answer - Heís not going to), and how could a holy God justify using the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the Jews, to punish the Jews? The answer to the second question is that they were not less wicked (they were greedy usurers, extortionists, squanderers, they built cities with the blood and sweat of those less fortunate, they were idolaters and lived lascivious lives), and that they were to be silent before Him, and that they were to live by faith. The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth be silent before Him. The Apostle Paul put it this way; "but indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ĎWhy have you made me like this?í Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?"
He is not impotent; He is able to protect us just as He is able to show His hand of wrath towards us. Keep silent and live by faith. Not faith in faith itself, but live by faith in Him, the thrice holy righteous God. "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" God can send the devourer, and He has, but we stand around perplexed and cry out, "How could this happen to us, to our state, to our country?" But He says, "Return to Me and I will return to you, and I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field, and all nations will call you blessed for you will be a delightful land."
Godís Covenantal Relationship with Us
His relationship to us as a nation and as a state is covenantal in nature with attendant blessings and curses. It is no mistake that our civil servants are sworn in with their hand on the Bible and invoke the name of the triune God when doing so. You not only attest to your relationship with the people you serve but you attest to your relationship with a triune thrice holy God. You serve a God that can hold back the devourer with the slightest of breaths or unleash him with gale force winds. "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselvesÖ"
This brings us to my second and final point, and that is, God deals with His people within a covenantal framework. A covenant is a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses. It is a union and communion with a thrice holy God, and this communion has promises attached, promises of blessings for walking in obedience, and there are promises of curses for walking in disobedience. The oft repeated phrase we see throughout the Bible that depicts the covenant is "I will be your God and you will be
So why do I mention this to you, civil magistrates to be? Well, again, you do not behave in such a way as to acknowledge the fact that He has a covenantal relationship with His people or that you, as civil magistrates, within your sphere of sovereignty, have a fundamental covenantal relationship with God and with the people you serve. You no longer hold these truths to be self evident. You have no idea what it means to form a more perfect union (covenantal language if I ever did hear it), to establish justice, to insure domestic tranquility, to provide for the common defense, to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessing of liberty. Why do I say that? Because you are constantly passing laws and making judgments that prohibit or restrict the covenantal relationship God wants with His people. I will be your God and you will be my people. What He wants is the sacrifice of praise from His people. He wants His fame to be spread. He wants the world to look on His people and react much the same way Rahab the harlot reacted. "For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red seaÖour hearts melted, neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.
How is it that we prohibit that, you ask? Much in every way. You silence His name from being spoken at every chance you get. You want His name confined to the four walls of a church building and confined to one hour one day a week. Let me step on some toes here. I could not find a single politician this year that did not fully support the public school system. When asked to prioritize constituent needs in order of importance for state funding, the majority of politicians ranked K-12 education programs either 1st or 2nd. I fully understand that politicians do not get elected by bashing public education - yet this is the place where the name of Christ is most restricted in our society. The very place where the name of Christ should be first and foremost on our lips is in the nurturing of our children. We should be teaching them to praise God for His wondrous works in creation and redemption. His name should be mentioned in literature, in biology, in chemistry, in mathematics, in social studies, for He is the word incarnate, the logos, the God of creation, the God of the atom, the God of order. He is the God of the calculus (Newton understood this), and He is the God of history. Yet His name cannot be mentioned in the state schools.
The schools and the state have spread their cloak of antichrist over the students and then wonder, after they have trained generation after generation of Janissaries, (Janissaries were those children captured by the Ottoman Turks, and then trained to slaughter the parents from which they came) why things are deteriorating so badly in our schools and nation. The debate has falsely been centered on the supposed separation of church and state, but that is a red herring, a straw man argument. The battle line is really between the covenant and the suppression and restriction of the expression of that covenantal relationship God wants with His people. While I gave the schools as a prime example of that battle, you could apply the same to health and human services which is ranked 2nd in terms of priority by those running for office. This is an area where families and churches have shirked their duties, and the state has stepped in and set itself up as the savior state. Hence the name of the state is praised and not the name of Christ.
Well, what should we do? How should we then live? Repentance begins with the household of God. Much work is needed here, but we are just starting to see some faint evidences of covenant renewal in the churches. While repentance begins in the household of God, this does not exempt you as civil magistrates from securing the "blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity", but you must understand where these blessings come from. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning". These blessings of liberty come to us from a sovereign God who deals with us as individuals, or as families, or as churches, or as governments, in a covenantal context in which there are attendant blessings and curses predicated upon obedience to His word. It is the grand IF/ THEN of the Bible. "IF My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, THEN I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and heal their land". "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you," James tells us. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, AND HE WILL LIFT YOU UP."
Preached before the civil magistrate at Boulder Montana on Sunday, November 3rd, in the Year of our Lord, two-thousand and two, by Arthur (Bo) Stuart, elder Covenant Community Church Whitehall, Montana† (406) 287-2146