The Constitution: The Remarkable Gift of Heaven
It is interesting that in our day when powerful forces are seeking to stretch the Constitution to almost unimaginable limits in order to gain more power over the people, in the Founders day it was just the opposite. As the Constitution was passed from the convention in 1787 to the states and the people for ratification, there was fear among some that the Constitution, even with all its limited, balanced, and strictly delegated authority, would destroy some of the rights of the people. Some feared it gave too much power into the hands of federal officials and that it would not protect the people enough!
The Constitution provided that as soon as nine states had ratified it, the new charter could begin operating. New Hampshire was expected to come up for a vote in June, 1788, and would be the ninth state to ratify. However, there was fierce opposition to the Constitution in that state. It was said that this new national government would rob the people of all their basic rights as citizens of New Hampshire .
In his book, The Majesty of God's Law , Dr. W. Cleon Skousen describes the incredible effort in that state to ratify the Constitution in light of these fears. He wrote:
The likelihood of defeat was so threatening that the legislature and state officials were called into a solemn assembly where they listened to one of the greatest political sermons in the history of the United States . The speaker was Reverend Samuel Langdon, and he called his talk: "The Republic of the Israelites -- An Example to the American States."
A Vote for the Constitution Is a Vote for the Bible
Taking a strong biblical -- but non-denominational -- stance, Reverend Langdon quoted Moses from his great last sermon to the children of Israel . In this final discourse Moses had declared in Deuteronomy 4:5-8, that God had given them the greatest system of law in existence. Then he went on to say:
"When first the Israelites came out from the bondage of Egypt , they were a multitude without any other order than what had been kept up, very feebly, under the ancient patriarchal authority.... Yet in the short space of about three months ... they were reduced into ... civil and military order.... Able men were chosen out of all their tribes, and made captains and rulers of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens: and these commanded them as military officers and acted as judges in matters of common controversy."
Reverend Langdon pointed out that from this point on the structure of the government of Israel began to take on many aspects which had their counterpart in the Constitution of the United States . They had a senate of seventy select men, also a general assembly where all the tribes were represented.
It was also significant that Moses installed an elaborate system of courts where the people could obtain justice or be required to repair any damage to another's property or compensate a person who had been wronged.
God's Law under a Theocracy Provided Justice and Efficiency
Reverend Langdon continued:
"A government thus settled on republican principles, required laws.... But God did not leave a people -- wholly unskilled in legislation -- to make laws for themselves. He took this important matter into his own hands, and beside the moral laws of the two tablets, which directed their conduct as individuals, gave them ... a complete code of judicial laws. . They were not numerous ... but concise and plain and easily applicable to almost every controversy which might arise between man and man, and every criminal case which might require the judgment of the court .. the judicial laws were founded on the plain immutable principles of reason, justice, and social virtue, such as are always necessary for civil society. Life and property were well guarded, and punishments were equitably adapted to the nature of every crime. In particular, murder stands foremost among capital crimes, and is defined with such precision, and so clearly distinguished from all cases of accidental and undesigned killing, that the innocent were in no danger of punishment and the guilty could not escape."
A God-centered Society Can Attain Superlative Excellence
Reverend Langdon said:
"Let us now consider the national worship which God established among this people on which their obedience to the moral law very much depended.... For unless they paid constant reverence and homage to their God, agreeable to his nature and will, they would soon break loose from all other obligations to morality.... How unexampled was this quick progress of the Israelites from abject slavery, ignorance, and almost total want of order to a national establishment perfected in all its parts far beyond all other kings and States: from a mere mob to a well regulated nation, under a government and laws far superior to what any other nation could boast."
Then Why Did They Lose it All?
Reverend Langdon felt the United States could learn an impressive lesson from this rise and fall of a great nation after being so highly favored by God. In explaining the reason the Israelites lost it all, he said:
"They never adhered in practice ... to the principles of their civil polity.... They received their law from God, but they did not keep it. They neglected their government, corrupted their religion, and grew dissolute in their morals, and in such a situation no nation under heaven can prosper."
A Prediction and a Promise to America
The same thing could apply to America . Reverend Langdon continues:
"Instead of the twelve tribes of Israel , we may substitute the thirteen States of the American union and see this application plainly offering itself, viz . That as God in the course of his kind providence hath given you an excellent constitution of government, founded on the most rational, equitable, and liberal principles by which all that liberty is secured which people can reasonably claim, and you are empowered to make righteous laws for promoting public order and good morals; and as he has moreover given you by his son Jesus Christ, who is far superior to Moses, a complete revelation of his will and perfect system of true religion, plainly delivered in the sacred writings; it will be your wisdom in the eyes of the nations, and your true interest and happiness, to conform your practice in the strictest manner to the excellent principles of your government, adhering faithfully to the doctrine and commands of the gospel and practice every public and private virtue."
Then came Reverend Langdon's promise with a warning:
"By this you will increase in numbers, wealth, and power, and obtain reputation and dignity among the nations; whereas, the contrary conduct will make you poor, distressed and contemptible."
God's Hand Clearly Manifest in American History
Reverend Langdon did not want Americans to miss the dramatic demonstration of God's influence in the events of recent years. He said:
"The God of heaven hath not indeed visibly displayed the glory of his majesty and power before our eyes, as he came down in the sight of Israel .... Nor has he written with his own finger the laws of our civil polity, but the signal interpositions of divine providence in saving us from a powerful irritated nation ... in giving us a Washington to be captain-general of our armies ... and making us twice triumphant over numerous armies ... and finally giving us peace with a large territory and acknowledged independence; all these laid together fall little short of real miracles and a heavenly charter of liberty for these United States."
God's Minister Makes His Final Plea
Reverend Langdon seems to have realized that he might never have another opportunity to say what God needed to have said to these American leaders. He therefore spoke with both courage and boldness as he opened his heart to give them the advice of a loving and deeply concerned religious leader:
"Preserve your government with the utmost attention and solicitude, for it is the remarkable gift of heaven. From year to year be careful in the choice of your representatives and all the higher powers of government.
"Fix your eyes upon men of good understanding and known honesty; men of knowledge, improved by experience; men who fear God and hate covetousness; who love truth and righteousness, and sincerely wish the public welfare.
"Beware of such as are cunning rather than wise; who prefer their own interest to everything; whose judgment is partial or fickle, and whom you would not willingly trust with your own private interests.
"When meetings are called for the choice of your rulers, do not carelessly neglect them or give your votes with indifference ... but act with serious deliberation and judgment, as in a most important matter, and let the faithful of the land serve you.
"Let not men openly irreligious and immoral become your legislators; for how can you expect good laws to be made by men who have no fear of God ... and who boldly trample on the authority of his commands?... If the legislative body is corrupt, you will soon have bad men for counselors, corrupt judges, unqualified justices, and officers in every department who will dishonor their stations...."
"Therefore be always on your guard against parties and the methods [of] unworthy men, and let distinguished merit always determine your vote. And when all places in government are filled with the best men you can find, behave yourselves as good subjects; obey the laws, [be] cheerfully subject to such taxation as the necessities of the public call for. Give tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, and honor to whom honor [is due] as the gospel commands you.
"Never give countenance to turbulent men, who wish to distinguish themselves and rise to power by forming combinations and exciting insurrections against government. For this can never be the right way to redress real grievances...."
"I call upon you also to support schools in all your towns, that the rising generation may not grow up in ignorance.... It is a debt you owe to your children and that God to whom they belong...."
"I call upon you to preserve the knowledge of God in the land and attend to the revelation written to us from heaven.
"If you neglect or renounce that religion taught and commanded in holy scriptures, think no more of freedom, peace, and happiness...."
"May the general government of these United States , when established appear to be the best which the nations have yet known, and be exalted by uncorrupted religion and morals! And may the everlasting gospel diffuse its Heavenly light and spread Righteousness, Liberty , and Peace through the whole world."
New Hampshire Casts its Critical Vote
At the very next meeting of the state legislature -- June 21, 1788 -- the people waited breathlessly to see if the sermon of Reverend Langdon had diminished the opposition.
It had, but not overwhelmingly. The vote was 57 to 46 in favor of ratification of the Constitution. A switch of six votes would have reversed the outcome. (fromThe Majesty of God's Law , pp. 451-456)
America must again decide for the Constitution - and the Bible
Do we not face the same decisions in our day? As powerful forces seem to want to separate America from the stability and firm foundation of our Constitution and from our religious heritage, it is our hope that Americans will rise up and proclaim with Reverend Langdon: "Preserve your government with the utmost attention and solicitude, for it is the remarkable gift of heaven.
Earl Taylor, Jr.