Last Wednesday, we celebrated the 4th of July. That great day of BBQ’s, fireworks and the commemoration of our national freedom and independence. Because of the holiday, I took time to read some sermons that men preached early in our national history. Let me share some of the quotations, that struck me most:
“…I think we have reason to conclude, that the cause of this American continent, against the measures of a cruel, bloody, and vindictive ministry, is the cause of God. We are contending for the rights of mankind, for the welfare of millions now living, and for the happiness of millions yet unborn.”
These are the words Abraham Keteltas preached in 1777 at Newbury-Port in his sermon entitled God Arising and Pleading His People’s Cause. He goes on to say,
“If it is the indisputed duty of mankind, to do good to all as they have opportunity, especially to those who are of the houshold of faith, if they are bound by the commandment of the supreme law-giver, to love their neighbor as themselves, and do to others as they would that others should do unto them; then the war carried on against us, is unjust and unwarrantable, and our cause is not only righteous, but most important: It is God’s own cause: It is the grand cause of the whole human race, and what can be more interesting and glorious. If the principles on which the present civil war is carried on by the American colonies, against the British arms, were universally adopted and practiced upon by mankind, they would turn a vale of tears, into a paradise of God: whereas opposite principles, and a conduct, founded upon them, has filled the world with blood and slaughter, with rapine and violence, with cruelty and injustice, with wretchedness, poverty, horror, desolation, and despair: We cannot therefore doubt, that the cause of liberty, united with that of truth & righteousness, is the cause of God…”
Keteltas’ sermon is not unlike many political sermons preached in the churches of the American Colonies from 1730 onward.
Samuel Cooper on the first day of the new government’s inauguration, October 25, 1780 dared to draw a line between the form of government instituted in the Hebrew nation and that which was being established in the United States. He proclaimed,
“The form of government originally established in the Hebrew nation by a charter from heaven, was that of a free republic, over which God himself, in peculiar favour to that people, was pleased to preside.
Samuel Dunbar (1760) in his sermon, “The Presence of God with His People” argued that a people who are intimately connected to God will be subject to all the blessings of divinity, while a people who depart from God will be in danger of his wrath and anger. He then transferred this argument to the fledgling colonies to serve as a warning to the English monarch.
Why all this history and these quotations from the past? For two reasons: firstly, because at a time of celebrating Independence, it behooves us to reflect on true freedom and salvation; secondly because mankind has a nasty habit of looking for their freedom and salvation in all the wrong places. I hope that some of those quotations and their repeatedly tying salvation, hope and a good future to better government and greater liberty has made you uncomfortable.
I say that not because I think poorly of my American citizenship; on the contrary, I am greatly pleased to be a citizen of the United States of America. I am a patriot of true constitutionalism, limited government, and the freedom for people to bring their faith into the public square and lobby for sound moral government founded upon natural and biblical law. Rather, I hope you are uncomfortable with the melding of salvation and politics. We live in a nation that is increasingly politicizing religion and both sides of the aisle are using the rhetoric of faith to lobby you, the citizen, to cast a vote for the salvation of the nation. Am I wrong? 4 years ago, our president campaigned with the slogan, “Change we can believe in” but that isn’t what most people remember, the slogan was better described as “A message of hope.”
Voters were being asked to elect hope, to cast a ballot for “salvation” from war and the financial crisis. And the nation believed that the then Senator Obama was going to be our savior, even his wife, Michelle Obama declared to the press that her husband could fix the “broken souls of Americans”. As people we must not be duped and cajoled into thinking that salvation for our nation nor our souls comes from any government or political entity. Sure these things may make life more or less enjoyable, but they do not fix our broken souls, nor do they give us true freedom.
But that isn’t the only place people look to for the saving of the world. Knowledge and education have long been touted as the solutions to our problems. If we educate the impoverished in the 2/3 world, then they will quit having children and population control will be achieved and food security established and salvation will occur. If we only educated people better then all this racism and hatred would end in our world and so we set off to indoctrinate tolerance into our schools and to give people enough knowledge to defeat intolerance and exclusivism, and so we have created relativism at the expense of truth. This has long been the tactic of the extreme right and left, Adolf Hitler declared, “This new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing.”
Unfortnately, Knowledge itself cannot save. To believe otherwise is to fall into the trap of the eastern religions who posit that higher knowledge liberates the soul. And yet we continue to look towards reforming education in our world as one more thing that can save the planet. Science is an unholy extension of this whole corrupt paradigm. The belief that we can learn enough to control the natural world, or at least mitigate any of our environmental sins. I often hear and read things like, “Given enough time we will cure the natural ills of the world, reverse aging and death, solve pollution and energy problems. Just wait and see, Science can save us.”
Now the above three salvation schemes (Politics, education, science) all fall under the general heading of secularism, and most of us at Hope in Christ Church aren’t so easily duped into the false promises of the secular state. But among many Christians there are some other equally sinister salvation schemes at work. First there are the saints that many who call themselves Christians pray to. Our world is full of Catholics and Orthodox Christians, nearly 20% of the world population, who pray to God and various saints. These saints are supposedly endowed with special powers to protect their adherents, bring blessings and control the future.
Now most of us in the protestant camp aren’t so easily fooled into praying to saints, but there are some odd currents afoot in the evangelical world – instead of saints, many pray/talk to their guardian angels, or become followers of certain TV personalities – Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, and the like thinking that if their churches just became like these men’s churches then salvation would come for the congregation.
In the CRC, we are guilty of looking to our pastors as savior figures; they will solve our shrinking masses. They will become our evangelists, they will be our leaders, though we will always determine whether we like the vision or not, and blame the pastor when the fruit doesn’t come. Though we don’t call them saviors, isn’t that our hope when we get rid of an old pastor and call a new one?
And in our own lives, don’t we often look to self-help books, psychology, doctors, therapists, medicines, self-discipline and things like that to make us holy and save us from hardship? Don’t we compare our own actions to those of others in order to feel “better” about ourselves. Don’t we berate ourselves when we sin and feel guilty and say, “next time I will try harder” or “Next time I will call someone” or “Next time I will pray about it.” Don’t all of these things, from the secular to the religious declare loudly that we are looking for salvation in any place other than Jesus, or at least in addition to Jesus?
I am here to declare today, [each item to be clicked for appearing] “Salvation is not the same thing as political independence.” Salvation is not the accumulation of knowledge, nor the application of science to the problems of humanity. Salvation is not praying to saints, nor is salvation Jesus plus our works, the works of others or any combination of anything listed above or anything not listed. Salvation is not Jesus plus something.
On the contrary, , [each item to be clicked for appearing] Salvation is Jesus plus nothing. Salvation is dependence upon Jesus. Salvation is Jesus’ work on your behalf. Salvation is a free gift, not based upon any human action. Salvation is the belief that Jesus is a perfect savior and that those who have faith in him have everything they need for living in this life and dying in order to enter into the next life (HC30).
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to “take Mary home as your wife” and to “name [the baby] Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:20-21), he wasn’t telling Joseph that Jesus might save people if they did the right things. He wasn’t telling him that Jesus would be one among many possible saviors. He wasn’t declaring that salvation was going to be something that you got in addition to Jesus. He was declaring, “Jesus will save his people from their sins.” There was no government on earth that was going to bring about the salvation of people. Only Jesus was going to do that.
This salvation was going to be efficacious and dependable for all whom Jesus called his own. And who are Jesus’ own people? In answer to the question our Lord posed about who his mother, brother and sister was, he declared: whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3:35) and God’s will is that we believe in the Lord Jesus and so be saved (Acts 16:31). God’s will is that all who are placed into Jesus’ fold will not be lost. (John 6:39) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
Jesus’ people are those who hear his voice and follow. As he says, (John 10:27) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. To these who trust in the work of Jesus, who believe in his sacrifice and are willing to cast themselves upon his finished work, the angel of the Lord was very clear – Jesus will save them from their sins – completely, totally, unilaterally.
It is no wonder that Jesus’ saving grace, his wonderful work, his name “the Lord saves” is also paralleled by another name, “Immanuel” or God with us (Mt 1:23). For truly if God is with us, is there any other thing we need to add to our salvation to make it complete? If God is with us, can we be lacking in any good thing? On the contrary, because God is with us, God himself will intervene in our lives and redeem us from the wages of sin (Romans 6:23 is death), the guilt of sin (John 15:24 is hatred of God), the law of sin (Rom 7:25 is to sin more) and the power of sin (1Cor 15:56 the Law). These are thing no government, no science text or discovery and no amount of education can accomplish. They are gifts, we receive from the hand of God.
In Christ there is no longer any grip that sin has upon the believer. Sin has been made powerless and exposed to public spectacle: (Col. 2:15) And having disarmed the powers and authorities, [Jesus] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross and it is because of this that salvation is not to be sought nor found in any other name.
People of God, rejoice and believe, you have a perfect savior, with perfect blood, perfect love, and a perfect family. Simply believe that Jesus is our, your, Savior and in him is found true freedom – freedom from sin and the freedom to love. Amen!
- Where do people look for salvation? HC 30
- i. Governments
- ii. Knowledge
- iii. Science
- iv. Saints, Heroes
- v. Self – psychology, works
- Salvation is not independence and earthly freedom
- Salvation is dependence upon Jesus
- God’s intervention in human lives (Mt 1:20-21)
- Jesus our savior, Jesus God with us (Mk 3:35, Acts 16:31, Jn 6:39, 10:27, Mt 1:23, Col 2:15)
 Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 1. Chapter: 19: Abraham Keteltas, GOD ARISING AND PLEADING HIS PEOPLE’S CAUSE (Emphasis added by me)
Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/816/69274 on 2012-04-09
 The sermon goes on to declare “Liberty is the grand fountain, under God, of every temporal blessing, and what is infinitely more important, it is favorable to the propagation of unadulterated christianity. Liberty is the parent of truth, justice, virtue, patriotism, benevolence, and every generous and noble purpose of the soul. Under the influence of liberty, the arts and sciences, trade, commerce, and husbandry flourish and the wilderness blossoms like the rose…”
 Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 1. Chapter: 28: Samuel Wales, THE DANGERS OF OUR NATIONAL PROSPERITY; AND THE WAY TO AVOID THEM
Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/816/69305/1669339 on 2012-04-09
Samuel Wales in 1785 seemed to be declaring that salvation and the governmental freedom of the United States of America were somehow intertwined. Listen,
“At some periods victory and success were so greatly in favour of our enemies, and our own affairs were, in many respects, so exceedingly embarrassed, that the stoutest hearts were almost ready to fail. At some seasons there seemed to be no way left but to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. This salvation we sought of him; nor did we seek in vain. His own arm brought salvation. By a series of the most visible interpositions of his providence, he has made wars to cease thro’ the land, and blest us with all that our hearts desired.”
 Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 1. Chapter: 21: Samuel Cooper, A SERMON ON THE DAY OF THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION
Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/816/69278 on 2012-04-09
“…It consisted of three parts; a chief magistrate who was called judge or leader, such as Joshua and others, a council of seventy chosen men, and the general assemblies of the people…To mention all the passages in sacred writ which prove that the Hebrew government, tho’ a theocracy, was yet as to the outward part of it, a free republic, and that the sovereignty resided in the people, would be to recite a large part of it’s history.”
 Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805, 2 vols, Foreword by Ellis Sandoz (2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). Vol. 1. Chapter: 7: Samuel Dunbar, THE PRESENCE OF GOD WITH HIS PEOPLE
Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/816/69233 on 2012-04-09