It is impossible not to be sensible that we are acting for all mankind; that circumstances denied to others, but indulged to us, have imposed on us the duty of proving what is the degree of freedom and self-government in which a society may venture to leave its individual members. (Quote from Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestly, 1802, as printed in The Great Experiment by Os Guinness.)
We are acting for all mankind. We have a duty to prove how much freedom and self-government a society may give its citizens. This is not a chance provided to just any nation, but to the one only that has been so indulged by circumstances, greatly providential and beneficial circumstances.
I have meant to spend time with Isaiah, the great prophet from the Old Testament, who by the many revelations he received from the Lord, was greatly indulged himself by God. I came across this passage early in Isaiah Chapter 2:
2Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the LORD's house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
3Many people shall come and say,
"Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths."
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
And rebuke many people;
They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
And their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war anymore.
You may read this as a literal Mountain, or as a description of a Holy Temple. Metaphorically, it’s clear that the Lord’s House in this day of prophesy will stand pre-eminent, and with power it is established visibly to the Nations. Teaching of the Word, instruction in the Law will be sought out. Surely this describes a time near the end, when God’s Law is spread throughout the world, and all nations begin to turn towards His authority, under His judgment.
Unlike any time we live on now, Peace will reign. Judgment will be executed, but not in anger nor with the violence of war. Their implements of war and destruction will be redirected and made new in renewal and regeneration. “Neither shall they learn war anymore.”
But without diminishing at all the rightful intent of this scripture, I was struck by a different image, perhaps one not quite so far off from today.
Could this not also describe Freedom and Democracy, as they unleash their power in this world so long consumed by religious hatreds and violence of oppression?
Now, I know that The Kingdom of God is no kingdom of this earth, not in a political or strictly administrative sense. But it need not be seen as that perfect state of the world following Jesus’ second coming, either.
As reported by Mark, Jesus began His earthly ministry in Galilee saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus also predicted that this Kingdom would grow from a tiny mustard seed to full grown tree. (Mark 4:30-32)
It has always seemed to me that passages like these in Mark and elsewhere strongly suggest that the Kingdom of God began on Earth with Jesus, and has grown ever since. In Mark, Jesus also likens the Kingdom to how a man scatters seed on the ground, and once spread, God’s creation takes care of itself in miraculous growth.
In Mark 9:1, Jesus goes so far as to promise that some of His disciples would not “taste death” until they “see the Kingdom of God present with power.” And again later in Mark 14:25, Jesus states that He will no longer drink wine, “until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”
Jesus’ earthly ministry, His death on the cross, by grace the witness and testament of the disciples, all set in motion under God’s hand and providence a movement of His purpose on the Earth that continues to this day.
America’s Founders, raised as first fruits of Puritan faithfulness, but nurtured in this New World of energy and possibility, took God’s word seriously, and saw a momentous turn in human events that allowed for the sudden possibility of Liberty and Freedom.
As a country, we have spread what I believe was a divinely inspired commitment to making a go of this new thing, this Great Experiment in Faith and Freedom. I don’t think it’s an accident of history that America has been the Last Best Hope of Earth to those of the generations of Lincoln, FDR and Churchill, and again today in our Global War on Terror.
I do not think the U.S. has all the answers, I know we make mistakes, and I believe we need to recommit ourselves to traditional values and rediscover our history. But we still embrace the legacy of our birth as we try to plant seeds for others!
We had a Prayer Breakfast that included a kind of Memorial Day service, and at that time the band played as we sang America the Beautiful, by Katharine Lee Bates. I meditated on the lyrics, here are a portion, courtesy of Scout Songs
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!
I am somewhat ashamed to admit, that when I was growing up, I found patriotic songs and patriotism itself embarrassing, or even ridiculous. Recent revelations have reawakened some memories of those times, but among our chief regrets as a nation might be that we cheapened and devalued our own legacy of Freedom.
This began with a government blinded by ambition, led by a man beset by weaknesses all too human, but all too dangerous given free expression in political action. Fueled by sycophants and wayward ideologues, this led to an abasement of authority so severe, that many in our educated elites still can’t overcome the cynical prejudices today that this history creates.
But we may yet choose to walk in His paths, to harken back to Isaiah, and dust off the legacy of our history and reclaim the mantel of our destiny:
We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people – the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. God has predestined, mankind expects, great things from our race; and great things we feel in our souls. The rest of the nations must soon be in our rear. We are the pioneers of the world; the advance guard, sent on through the wilderness of untried things, to break a new path in the New World that is ours. (Quote from Herman Melville, White-Jacket, 1849, as contained in The Great Experiment by Os Guinness.)