Editors Note: The following sermon was delivered by Tim Martin on behalf of Covenant Community Church.† Preached before the civil magistrate at Virginia City Montana on Sunday, November 2nd, in the Year of our Lord, two-thousand and two.†† The public was invited via advertising and an editorial piece in the local newspaper. We also personally invited each candidate for office from the local, county and state office level by mail.†The County Commissioners acting on advice from the County Attorney attempted to cancel this event. After all were provided with many pages of court decisions on the subject, they retracted on their position.
First Modern Election Sermon in Madison County
Preached before the civil magistrate at Virginia City Montana on Sunday, November 2nd, 2002
by Timothy Paul Martin
"Understanding all of Godís Promises"
Welcome officeholders, candidates, citizens and inhabitants to the first Election Sermon in Madison County, Montana, and the second Election Sermon in SW Montana. Let me begin this afternoon by explaining a little about Election Sermons in our Nationís history, and what we hope to accomplish by holding modern election sermons now. We are gathered here today to participate in something that is new to us. Perhaps many of you, before learning of todayís event, had never heard of the idea of an Election Sermon. The fact that very few people in our day have even heard of an "election sermon" is proof that we, as Americans, have forgotten a lot of our own countryís history and heritage. The event we have gathered for today is new to us, but it is by no means new. Election Sermons are recorded from as far back as the mid-1600's and continued throughout the 1700's in the American colonies. They were an active part of the political discourse after the War for Independence and ratification of the US Constitution. They were generally held in the legislative chambers, where the business of government took place. These sermons were given by ministers of the Gospel who more or less understood the proper relationship between their Christian Faith and the role of good government. Sometimes these sermons were printed and distributed among the citizenry of the colony or state. And they always stimulated discussion about the proper roles and function of good government.
The idea behind the Election Sermons is that legislators, judges, governors and citizens need godly wisdom to fulfill their duties before God and man. The Lord Jesus Christ brought the duties before God and man together in his famous summary of Godís Law. He said, "Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." So, government and civic duty in which we all participate is a holy calling, for how we treat our fellow man is always related to how we love our God.
Election Sermons bring Godís wisdom before the magistrates to light the way for just and godly government. In earlier times, they brought Godís Word to inform the society and rulers of the best way to protect and defend the sacred rights of the people. The preachers who presented them in the past did not limit themselves to "religious" language, as if that was an entirely separate topic from government, but strove to demonstrate how the gospel of Jesus Christ had the most profound impact on such fundamental things as the God-given rights of men, the nature and ends of government, the proper response to tyranny and injustice, and the duty to obey and uphold godly government. In the end, the Election Sermons were delivered so that justice, godliness, and true security might grow across the land. And it is in the spirit of those ideas that we hold this event, today.
What is amazing about the earlier days and people of the Election Sermons is that they were no strangers to crises. They were a people who braved the crossing of a great ocean to escape the tyranny of their homelands. They risked their lives on the open frontiers. They dealt with hardship, diseases, starvation, the elements and even dangerous Indians. They formed colonial governments. Established hospitals and universities. They lived through the French and Indian War, struggled through the War for Independence and finally developed a new form of Government with the U.S. Constitution. They lived in dangerous and uncertain times. After all that has happened in American History since then, we find ourselves in similar shoes, today. We have it easy compared to them, but we really do face our own uncertainties. Since our last Election Sermon two years ago, many crises have come upon us as Americans and as Montanans. Our land has been attacked and our financial security has wilted. Our naive notions of invulnerability have been proven false by any standard. We are a people that face an uncertain future with the real possibility of war and difficult times ahead. These are apt days to seek out Godís wisdom that can lead us in the days to come. There is wisdom here for our officers, candidates and citizens. (Read Joshua 46)
Today Iíll bring to you the ancient wisdom of a great leader of Godís people, Joshua. I want to speak about Godís promises. We live in a world where many promises are not taken seriously. During election time many promises are given. Some are fulfilled honorably and others are broken. In our text today we read about the promises of God that are never broken. My sermon text comes from Joshua chapter 23. Turn with me there and listen to Godís word.
Before Joshua dies he wants to give the people some parting advice and encouragement to the people to remain faithful to God. He assembled all the elders, leaders and judges and officials of the people - kind of like what we have tried here, today. He reminded them of the many things God had done for them. God had fulfilled all his promises to the nation of Israel concerning the promised land. He had made Israel strong and defeated all of their enemies.
Now, if you think carefully about that chapter, you should be able to see some parallels to us in our day. God has done great things for this country we live in. God has blessed us with prosperity and strength. We have been blessed economically. He has made us a military powerhouse. From the early days of this nation, our God has fought for us. Today, we are the worldís only superpower, and no other country in the world wants to fight us. Yet, what does Joshua say? "V. 6-8, 11. Be very careful to love your God and to obey all that is written in Godís Law. Do not serve their gods nor bow down to them. This is my message to all who are gathered here. Citizens, Officeholders and Candidates remember this as you engage your duties in the future.
The stark naked truth is there are many idols and false gods in our land. People look to a number of things for their salvation rather than trusting in God for his salvation. On top the list is government. People bow down and worship big government in our day and clamor for it to provide all things from cradle to grave. We want government aid for the poor. We want government aid for the rich. We want government to provide schooling for children. We want government to aid for college. We want government aid for daycare. We want government aid for insurance. Government aid for business and economic development. Government aid for farmers. Government aid for healthcare. Government aid for prescription drugs. Government guaranteed retirement. The list goes on and on. Government has become our god and savior so that we no longer need to rely on Godís blessing and provision. It is past time that we as a people recognize the error of our ways. Government is good and instituted by God to promote Godís justice, but we have gone far beyond that in our day. Government has become our god, and itís time for us as citizens and officers and candidates to stop worshiping at its altar.
Another idol in our land is wealth. We have sold our soul and all our morals in exchange for the almighty dollar. Nowhere is this more clear than in our politics. There is an old saying that an election is nothing more than the advance auction sale of stolen goods. That saying would be humorous if it werenít so true in our day. Legislators, donít steal from one to give to another because Godís word outlaws all forms of theft. When you steal from some citizens to give to others you are not loving your neighbor, nor are you serving God. Redistributing wealth through socialistic programs goes far beyond the godly function of government and it always involves stealing. You have to steal from the taxpayers by force of law so that you can give benefits to others. The legalized plunder that goes on in our system reflects the worship of wealth. And the problem is not primarily with our elected officials, though they carry it out. It happens because the citizens call for it to happen. We want the benefits of someone elseís wealth, so we call our elected officials to get it for us. We have brought legal plunder to new heights because now when we do it, we actually feel like we have done a public service. We have taken a system with a godly heritage and turned it into a whorehouse because we have turned from the Lord God and served false gods. Citizens, as you look over the issues and candidates before you, think about justice, godliness, righteousness and true liberty. Vote for those who understand what it means be godly leaders. Do not use your vote to pickpocket your neighborís wallet.
There are other false gods among us. We worship security, education, status and power. The more we worship these and the more we try to gain them by our own wisdom, the more elusive they become. The more we ask security from the government, the less secure we will become. The more effort we exert for government schools to save us from our problems, the worse the government schools get. Have you ever noticed how that works? If you want security, serve God and He will protect you. If you want education, honor God and he will lead you into all true wisdom. But I digress. If I were to get into each of those things we would be here all day. But it is more important to re-center our focus on Godís promises. Here is the rock that does not move. Our North Pole from which we gain our bearings.
Those who believe the Bible understand that God has many promises. We are fond of teaching how our God is a God of love and mercy and blessing. And He truly is. The history of our country cannot be understood apart from the reality of Godís promise of blessing. He has poured out his mercy upon us. He has shown His love for us. For all this we should rejoice. But the wisdom of Joshua doesnít stop there, as it does too often, today, when people think of what God does. Notice what Joshua says beginning in v. 12. God not only gives promises to bless, He also gives promises to curse those who reject Him and worship other gods. Our God reigns and therefore, it is no accident that we find ourselves where we are today. Could it be that God has sent the Muslim terrorists upon us because we have kindled Godís anger against us? Could it be that Iraq and our other enemies across the world remain a snare to us because we have bowed down to foreign gods? Maybe God has sent the economic gremlins among us as whips on our backs in fulfillment of His promises? That may not be a popular thing to say, but I ask you, is it the truth?
As we enter this election we need to learn from Joshuaís wisdom. We need to take a deep look at ourselves and ask if we have angered God by the policies and laws we have enacted. We need citizens who hold fast to the Lord and vote in conformity to his holy law. We need legislators that function on moral foundations which do not change with every public opinion poll. And we need judges who are content to dispense righteous justice rather than making arbitrary law. We as a people have received many blessings from the promise of God. But do we realize that God holds out other promises, too?
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. Some of you might be a little bewildered at all this. You might think to yourself that this passage certainly canít apply to us who live in modern America. After all, we live in a pluralistic nation that accepts all faiths. You canít apply Joshuaís advice to Godís people, the Israelites, to us in the same way! Well, hereís my answer. We do accept all faiths in this country. That is the benefit of a country with a heritage like ours, but we donít bow down to all faiths in this country. Donít believe me? Take out your money. It doesnít matter if itís a penny, a quarter, dollar bill or hundred dollar bill. What does it say? "IN GOD WE TRUST." Our money formally declares our trust in God. Or consider this. Just a few months ago one of our courts declared a certain phrase in the pledge of allegiance as unconstitutional. Of course, Americans were indignant that a liberal court would remove the words "UNDER GOD" from the pledge. But do you remember the reaction across our land? Congress hastily passed a resolution supporting the phrase. Many people were indignant that a court would do such a thing. But do you know what the significance of that phrase really is. Whether you like the pledge of allegiance or donít the fact is those who recited it make a claim from our own mouths that we are "one nation, under God." We have claimed to be under God and God takes us at our words. Or what about all those signs you see around town, "GOD BLESS AMERICA." Do we really want him to do that? God has promised to bless faithfulness if we hold fast to the Lord our God, but we need to realize something. God has more promises than mere blessings, and if we ask him to bless us we are also asking God to do something else if we act unrighteously. As we come to this election, remember that.
Joshua concludes his wisdom to the people in Joshua 24:14. There he lays it all before the people. "Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
This is the choice set before us during this election. Citizens, officers and candidates, this is the choice set before you as you begin to execute your duties. To have no other gods before you beside the LORD is the way of blessing even amid trials and difficulties. To bow down to worship and serve the gods of our age is the way of Godís curse. These are the choices we face as individual voters, as candidates and office-holders, and as judges. It is not too late to throw away the false gods who are among us. God will extend his grace if we Repent and turn from evil. But first, we must choose to serve the Lord. We must choose as individuals. We must choose as families. We must choose as churches that we will not endorse the false state religion so prevalent among us. We must choose as Montanans and as Americans that the way into true blessing is through faithfulness to God and his law. If we hold fast to God he will protect and uphold us. He will lead us into better life than we have known in the past. But if we turn from His ways his anger will burn against us. Like the people so many years ago, we stand at the crossroads and we must choose the way to go. May God give us grace to choose wisely.
In closing today I would like to quote from an Election Sermon delivered in Massachusetts in 1740 by William Cooper titled "THE HONORS OF CHRIST DEMANDED OF THE MAGISTRATE." It is as relevant today as it was the day it was given. Speaking before the governor of Massachusetts, Governor Jonathon Belcher, and the assembled legislature he said this.
"Wisdom is a very requisite qualification in rulers. Without this they will make but a poor figure, and both their persons and authority fall into contempt. Now, to serve the LORD, Behold! This is wisdom. When rulers do this, they engross all the rules of policy into one. For, this is the way to have the presence of Christ with them in their administration, to direct their counsels, and succeed their endeavors for the public good, without which their own policy and power will be in vain, the wisest schemes be baffled, and the most promising enterprises defeated."
Cooper had it right over 260 years ago. I hope and pray we can follow his lead and discover Godís promises to be a blessing to us and to our children to come. May we praise the Lord God who gives all good gifts. -Amen.
Preached before the civil magistrate at Virginia City Montana on Sunday, November 2nd, in the Year of our Lord, two-thousand and two, by Timothy Paul Martin, elder Covenant Community Church, Whitehall, Montana (406) 287-2146