“Righteousness Exalteth a Nation”
It is a remarkable note in the history of the world that nations have only begun to prosper when a degree of goodness and virtue began to take hold among the people. It is also a sad commentary that nations have faltered in their progress when the level of goodness and virtue began to wane and even disappear among the people. With all of our advancements in research and learning, it is amazing that these two facts have been so ignored in our national education.
It remains an astonishing observation that in the midst of distressing problems facing America today at home and abroad, there is almost complete silence from our public officials concerning the need to strengthen and increase the level of morality and virtue in America. America’s Founders knew this was the only way to peace, prosperity, and freedom. Today’s leaders seem completely oblivious to this truth. Proposals and programs are being announced almost daily to correct certain ills in our society, but the airwaves are silent when it comes to encouraging Americans to renew their commitment to the only way to real national happiness.
During this month of September we celebrate once again the writing and signing of our Constitution – 226 years ago. It is appropriate that we review of the Founders’ experience and advice concerning the absolute necessity of maintaining a high level of morality and virtue in order to, as Madison said, “improve and perpetuate” what they gave us, for as Benjamin Franklin said:
"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."
What does it mean to be Virtuous?
Historian Gordon Wood explained the Founders’ meaning of “virtue:”
"In a Republic, however, each man must somehow be persuaded to submerge his personal wants into the greater good of the whole. This willingness of the individual to sacrifice his private interest for the good of the community -- such patriotism or love of country -- the eighteenth century termed public virtue.... The eighteenth century mind was thoroughly convinced that a popularly based government 'cannot be supported without virtue'."
Notice in this definition there is no place for government force in establishing or maintaining virtue. It becomes a matter of persuasion, mostly emanating from one’s belief in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of one’s fellowmen.
In pre-Revolutionary War years, the colonists protested against King George by agreeing to non-importation acts. This meant that those businesses which relied on imported British goods would suffer, but to the freedom-loving Americans it would be worth the personal sacrifice for a much brighter and freer future out from under the tyranny of the king of England.
Virtue is identified with morality and with the divinely-proclaimed laws of right and wrong given in the Ten Commandments. Virtue means desiring to be obedient to the Creator's mandate for "right conduct." It is closely akin to the Golden Rule. It is the essential ingredient to righteousness.
In our quest for a higher level of freedom, prosperity, and peace in America, perhaps a personal assessment is in order from time to time to see how we are doing. Only as enough Americans improve in their private virtue will we see the result that “Righteousness Exalteth a Nation.”
- Am I sincere in my desire to be honest with my fellowmen in all my dealings?
- Do I avoid the temptation to think that I am entitled to something for which I have not worked and that I have not earned?
- Am I quick to forgive others, even if I think I am right?
- Am I willing to share with others, directly and through my church, the bounties I have been blessed with, knowing that all that I have really belongs to God?
- Do I keep the Sabbath Day holy which is a requirement for a nation which claims to be “under God?”
- Do I really believe in freedom by the way I vote, keeping in mind the words of Thomas Jefferson: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
- Am I totally loyal and seek to become one with my husband or wife?
- Do I guide my children with the love of God in allowing them to become free agents and letting them experience the consequences of their decisions?
- Do I faithfully try to fulfill my role as protector and provider or as nurturer and teacher?
- Do I encourage my family to become assets and contributors to society and not liabilities?
- Do I set an example to my children by obeying the laws of the land and taking an active part in my community?
- Do I actively educate my children in the laws of God by faithfully attending church and holding regular family devotionals and councils?
- Do I actively try to keep my community free from the influences that play on the weaknesses of people, particularly young people, such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, prostitution, etc?
- Am I involved in my children’s education, knowing who is teaching them and what they are teaching?
- Am I aware of the excuses sometimes used by influential people to force some to pay or to go into debt for the comfort of others, such as arguments of “quality of life” or “inter-generational equality”?
- Do I actively seek to help and provide care through my church and other organizations for those in my community who are truly needy, realizing that nearly all welfare needs can be accomplished at the community level without involving higher levels of government?
- Am I willing to exercise public virtue in giving up some personal wants for the good of my neighbors which may create nuisances or legal entanglements.
- Have I read my state constitution and its Declaration of Rights and understand that under the Founders’ federalism concept, my state is the main bulwark against an overpowering national government?
- Do I advocate policies that will promote real freedom such as lower taxes, less regulation, and better protection of property rights?
- Do I understand the Constitutional limitations of the national government to own or control the lives, liberties, and properties within the borders of my state?
- Do I understand the prohibition of debt contained in most state constitutions and how crafty politicians scheme to circumvent such prohibitions and thus allow states and local communities to become loaded with staggering debt?
- Do I understand and defend the concept of state sovereignty within the confines of a union of states and the right of the states collectively to adjust the federal distribution of powers?
- Do I know that states have the right to recognize Almighty God as the source of our rights and liberties?
- Do I have a firm conviction, backed by historical records, that this country was founded as a result of the intervention of Providence?
- Have I studied the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution to the extent that I can defend the principles of liberty contained therein?
- Do I have a firm conviction, with the Founders, that if the United States were the proper example of righteousness to the rest of the world, that God would soften the hearts of our enemies and that He would fight our battles for us?
- Do I believe, as did the Founders, the words of God when he declared: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
- Do I believe Benjamin Franklin, who in 1747, before the French and Indian War, declared that if we as a people did everything in our power to protect ourselves and keep His commandments, that “we might then, with more propriety, humbly ask the assistance of Heaven and a blessing on our lawful endeavors?”
It was just a few years later during the French and Indian War (1755-1762), that Franklin’s wisdom was put to the test. It is only one of many stories of history and one we have told before but certainly worth retelling.
The Power of God Saves Colonists From French Destruction
From 1755 - 1762 the Americans and the British were engaged in the French and Indian War. This war centered on who owned the land west of the Ohio Valley. Had the French won this war our country would of have been entirely different, it would have consisted mostly of what was then the thirteen colonies or the present eastern seaboard. The invisible fingerprints of Providence are to be found on several occasions. Early in the war the French sent a large fleet consisting of many ships and thousands of troops down the east coast to destroy any and all seaport cities. The following is what happened in Boston when it was discovered that this force was on its way to destroy the city.
At that time Boston was without the resources to defend itself. "Mr. Adams was as faithful a Congregationalist as anyone. But he could not quite be sure of his Uncle Peter's ferocity where the old faith was concerned. If the French were coming, they were coming because, like all the nations of Europe, they coveted more than they had. Meanwhile it was good the Governor had proclaimed a Fast Day to pray for deliverance from this present peril. Everywhere men observed it, thronging to the churches.
"In Boston the Reverend Thomas Prince, from the high pulpit of the Old South Meeting-house, prayed before hundreds. The morning was clear and calm, people had walked to church through sunshine. ‘Deliver us from the enemy!' the minister implored. ‘Send thy tempest, Lord, upon the waters to the eastward! Raise Thy right hand. Scatter the ships of our tormentors and drive them hence. Sink their proud frigates beneath the power of Thy winds.'
"He had scarcely pronounced the words when the sun was gone and morning darkened. All the church was in shadow. A wind shrieked round the walls, sudden, violent, hammering at the windows with a giant hand. No man was in the steeple, afterward the sexton swore it - yet the great bell struck twice, a wild uneven sound. Thomas Prince paused in his prayer, both arms raised. 'We hear Thy voice, O Lord!' he thundered triumphantly. 'We hear it! Thy breath is upon the waters to the eastward, even upon the deep. Thy bell tolls for the death of our enemies!' He bowed his head; when he looked up, tears streamed down his face. 'Thine be the glory, Lord. Amen and amen!' 'Amen and amen!' Said Massachusetts, her hope renewed. All the Province heard of this prayer and this answering tempest. Governor Shirley sent a sloop, the Rising Sun, northward for news. The Rising Sun found the French fleet south of Chebucto (now Halifax Harbor) and got chased for her pains. But she brought news so good it was miraculous - if one could believe it. The Rangers, a body of men commanded by Captain Gorman of the Boston, had gone, the end of September, to reconnoiter. The Rangers were mostly Indians, the French took them for Canadians and talked freely. Two of the largest French frigates had sunk in a storm, they said, on the Isle of Sable. The whole fleet was nearly lost, the men very sick with scurvy or some pestilential fever. Their great admiral the Duc'd Anville, was dead.
"A week later the news was confirmed by other vessels entering Boston from the northeastward. D'Anville was indeed dead; it said he had poisoned himself in grief and despair when he saw his men dying round him. Two thousand were already buried, four thousands were sick, and not above a thousand of the land forces remained on their feet. Vice Admiral d'Estorunelle had run himself through the heart with his sword. The few remaining ships, half-manned, were limping off to the southwestward, headed it was thought for the West Indies.
"Pestilence, storm and sudden death - how directly and with what extraordinary vigor the Lord had answered New England prayers. The country fell on its knees. Pharaoh's host overwhelmed in the Red Sea was no greater miracle. A paper with d/Anville's orders had been found, instructing him to take Cape Breton Island, then proceed to Boston - 'Lay that Town in Ashes and destroy all he could upon the coast of North America; then proceed to the West Indies and distress the Islands.' Storm and pestilence - why, it was like the destruction of the Spanish Armada! Governor Shirley said so, to the Massachusetts Legislatures assembled. Never had there been so direct an interference of Providence.
"'Affavit Deus,' said Shirley, 'et dissipantur - The Lord caused the wind to blow and they were scattered.' A day of Thanksgiving and prayer was proclaimed. From every pulpit the good news rang. Hip and thigh the Lord had smitten the Philistines. There was no end to the joyful quotation: If God be for us who can be against us?"(John Adams and the American Revolution, Pages 10-12)
Oh, that we would learn from our own history. Righteousness truly doth exalt a nation!
Earl Taylor, Jr.