Broken Compass

My friend asked upon reading my Facebook intro (Something to do the day after)to my last blog, “What do Christians do now that the president is still the president?!”  I assume she was asking, “What has changed that has so many people bummed out.”  On the surface, nothing.  But the election revealed, in black and white clarity, America’s moral compass is broken.  

Proverbs 13:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”  What would our founding fathers say about legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and same-sex marriage in some states?  What would they say about mandating people pay for abortions?  What would they say about religion, holiness, and morality as it effects the nation?

Let me introduce you to John Witherspoon.  Witherspoon was a Presbyterian minister, President of Princeton College, a New Jersey delegate to the Continential Congress, and signer of the Declaration of Independence.  The following is an excerpt from a sermon called The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men.  Preached in Princeton in 1776, Witherspoon offers some great wisdom for us in connceting our faith and our national character.  There is some real practical advice and truth offered here to anyone who would “turn from our wicked ways and seek God’s face.”  Here’s John…

“Suffer me to recommend to you an attention to the public interest of religion, or in other words, zeal for the glory of God and the good of others. I have already endeavored to exhort sinners to repentance; what I have here in view is to point out to you the concern which every good man ought to take in the national character and manners, and the means which he ought to use for promoting public virtue, and bearing down impiety and vice. This is a matter of the utmost moment, and which ought to be well understood, both in its nature and principles. Nothing is more certain than that a general profligacy and corruption of manners make a people ripe for destruction. A good form of government may hold the rotten materials together for some time, but beyond a certain pitch, even the best constitution will be ineffectual, and slavery must ensue. On the other hand, when the manners of a nation are pure, when true religion and internal principles maintain their vigour, the attempts of the most powerful enemies to oppress them are commonly baffled and disappointed. This will be found equally certain, whether we consider the great principles of God’s moral government, or the operation and influence of natural causes.

What follows from this? That he is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country. Do not suppose, my brethren, that I mean to recommend a furious and angry zeal for the circumstantials of religion, or the contentions of one sect with another about their peculiar distinctions. I do not wish you to oppose any body’s religion, but every body’s wickedness. Perhaps there are few surer marks of the reality of religion, than when a man feels himself more joined in spirit to a true holy person of a different denomination, than to an irregular liver of his own. It is therefore your duty in this important and critical season to exert yourselves, every one in his proper sphere, to stem the tide of prevailing vice, to promote the knowledge of God, the reverence of his name and worship, and obedience to his laws.

Perhaps you will ask, what it is that you are called to do for this purpose farther than your own personal duty? I answer this itself when taken in its proper extent is not a little. The nature and obligation of visible religion is, I am afraid, little understood and less attended to.

Many from a real or pretended fear of the imputation of hypocrisy, banish from their conversation and carriage every appearance of respect and submission to the living God. What a weakness and meanness of spirit does it discover, for a man to be ashamed in the presence of his fellow sinners, to profess that reverence to almighty God which he inwardly feels: The truth is, he makes himself truly liable to the accusation which he means to avoid. It is as genuine and perhaps a more culpable hypocrisy to appear to have less religion than you really have, than to appear to have more. This false shame is a more extensive evil than is commonly apprehended. We contribute constantly, though insensibly, to form each others character and manners; and therefore, the usefulness of a strictly holy and conscientious deportment is not confined to the possessor, but spreads its happy influence to all that are within its reach. I need scarcely add, that in proportion as men are distinguished by understanding, literature, age, rank, office, wealth, or any other circumstance, their example will be useful on the one hand, or pernicious on the other.

But I cannot content myself with barely recommending a silent example. There is a dignity in virtue which is entitled to authority, and ought to claim it. In many cases it is the duty of a good man, by open reproof and opposition, to wage war with profaneness. There is a scripture precept delivered in very singular terms, to which I beg your attention; “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart, but shalt in any wise rebuke him, and not suffer sin upon him.” How prone are many to represent reproof as flowing from ill nature and surliness of temper? The spirit of God, on the contrary, considers it as the effect of inward hatred, or want of genuine love, to forbear reproof, when it is necessary or may be useful. I am sensible there may in some cases be a restraint from prudence, agreeably to that caution of our Saviour, “Cast not your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rent you.” Of this every man must judge as well as he can for himself; but certainly, either by open reproof, or expressive silence, or speedy departure from such society, we ought to guard against being partakers of other men’s sins.”

You can find the whole sermon here.  I’d love to hear your reaction to Witherspoon, so please share your thoughts.  I’ll share some of mine in my next post.



Filed under Beliefs, Freedom, History, Holiness, Preaching, Revival

4 responses to “Broken Compass

  1. peggy harrell

    Unfortunately our vigor is weak and we seem baffled and oppressed. But we MUST exert ourselves even more in the coming times. This sermon is a powerful reminder and a call to spiritual “arms”.

  2. Betsy

    This response is not necessarily in reposne to Witherspoon, but I do plan to read your post in its entirety. This response is definitely more in line with yesterday’s post; and gives an interesting perspective on the election of Obama and possibly God’s hand in it. Over the last three years, I have been forced to assess my journey with the United Methodist Church and American Christianity in general. My own experience has been that The United Methodist Church and probably all other mainline denominations have lost their ability to convey the gospel of Christ in a clear and relevant manner to the person in the pew, much less the person on the street. I now call the gospel the “best kept secret” for those of us “in church” who have no other way to hear it and understand its impact on our lives 24/7. I recently re-read Phillip Yancy’s “What is So Amazing about Grace?” and he sepcifically dealt with The United Methodist Church becoming more about politics and less about saving souls. He also has personal knowledge of the resurgance of Christianity in China and Russia–it is the one thing the government could not truly kill. This comment in regards to China hits home and just might explain God’s hand in the election;

    “One China expert estimates that the revival in China represents the greatest numerical revival in the history of the church. In an odd way, the government hostility ultimately worked to the church’s advantage. Shut out of the power structures Chinese Christians devoted themselves to worship and evangelism, the original mission of the church, and did not much concern themselves with politics. They concentrated on changing lives, not laws. ”

    I also found this delineation of politics vs changing lives with the gospel extremely enlightening:

    “The church works best as a force of resistance, a counterbalance to the consuming power of the state. The cozier it gets with government, the more watered-down its message becomes. The gospel itself changed and devolves into civil religion…In sum, the state must always water down the absolute quality of Jesus’ commands and turn them into a form of external morality—precisely the opposite of the gospel of grace. Jacques Ellul goes so far as to say the New Testament teaches no such thing as a ‘Judeo-Christian ethic.’ It commands conversion and then this, ‘Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Read the Sermon on the Mount and try to imagine any government enacting that set of laws. A state government can shut down stores and theaters on Sunday, but it cannot compel worship. It can arrest and punish KKK murderers, but cannot cure their hatred, much less teach them love. It can pass laws making divorce more difficult but cannot force husbands to love their wives and wives their husbands. It can give subsidies to the poor but cannot force the rich to show them compassion and justice. It can ban adultery but not lust, theft, but not covetousness, cheating but not pride. It can encourage virtue but not holiness.”

    With the re-election of Obama, is the need for the gospel of Jesus Christ even greater than before?

    • I understand what Yancey is getting at and agree with what you posted. I am excited about what the Lord is doing in China. It is estimated there are more evangelical Christians in China than people in the US. I do think persecution is here for Christians and we are just beginning to see it played out with the HHS mandate. However, the church has a role in influencing state affairs. Slavery has been abolished in the western world because of Christian influence. Children are protected by law because of Christian influence. Women have rights that far exceed anything in third world nations precisely because of Christian influence. I agree the church’s role is to preach the gospel and bring transformation to individuals. But let’s not discount the role of many of those transformed individuals exercising their ability to influence what laws are passed. Especially if those laws carry with them a Judeo-Christian ethic.

      • Betsy

        “I agree the church’s role is to preach the gospel and bring transformation to individuals. But let’s not discount the role of many of those transformed individuals exercising their ability to influence what laws are passed.”

        You just said it–transformation comes from transformed individuals who then go out and influence society. The problem in America is, the church has not been transforming individuals but has become an institution trying to transform the political institution. If the church in America becomes about grounding people in the gospel and therefore transforming their lives from the inside out then America will become transformed. That is what Methodism originally did –it was individuals grounded in the gospel with an understanding as to what that meant in their lives that brought an end to slavery, not the church as an institution.

        I have spent a lot of time with John Wesley–he never once preached “go and do good works”; he preached “believe in the gospel and be transformed”. The good works were later: both as a means of grace (a way to encounter God/strengthen your spiritual muscles) and the fruit of God’s amazing grace working in individual lives.

        I snagged this yesterday from another blog I monitor:
        “While it may make us feel better to think that the church is losing ground due to assault by secular forces; it is likely that apathy and heresy are bigger threats to Christianity in America than secularism. We have got to do a better job of transmitting the faith from one generation to the next by once again offering a Christ-centered (rather than “me-centered”) faith that is theologically robust, socially relevant, and culturally engaged if we want to arrest this trend”. S. Michael Craven, The Latest Pew Survey: Christianity Losing, Secularism Winning, October 15, 2012, Batle for

        It’s a fine but very important line we are dancing around. The gospel changes individual hearts which then becomes the salt/yeast for society; political activism only changes external actions.

        There needs to be a change of heart in America. And nothing proves it more than the young woman that said as long as Obama gives her free birth control, she would elect him dictator. She needs a change of heart, a different perspective and that can not be legislated.

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