God’s providence in American history. Christians must care about our country (John 17:16-18; Romans 9:3; 1 Tim 2:1-8)

God’s providence in American history. Christians must care about our country (John 17:16-18; Romans 9:3; 1 Tim 2:1-8)

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, July 4, 2021

Special NOTE: I know this manuscript looks long. I do not know that I will read every quote, so the sermon should be the normal length.

As most of you know President Jefferson wrote the declaration of independence. 

David McCullough, in his 2001 biography of Adams, says Jefferson offered the job to Adams, but Adams declined for several reasons. Jefferson was from Virginia, was younger and possessed, as Adams said, “a peculiar felicity of expression.”

And the Virginian wasted no time in submitting a draft to the Continental Congress.

Jefferson worked quickly, without access to his library, and produced a draft in about three weeks.

The committee presented its draft to Congress on June 28th. The Second Continental Congress actually passed the resolution for independence on July 2nd, 1776, but the wording for the declaration wasn’t officially approved until July 4th. And that, of course, is a date that would go down in American history.[1]

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams maintained a close friendship, but that friendship was eventually tested. Jefferson and Adams found themselves of differing opinions on political issues. Sound familiar? Their actual political philosophy differed. However, in their later years they began writing letters to each other and wrote to each other until their death. Do you realize they both died on the fiftieth anniversary of our country? They both died on July 4, 1826.

Michael Medved writes:

At a time when male life expectancy barely reached forty years, John Adams, the “Atlas of Independence” and the second president of the United States, had passed his ninetieth birthday with his faculties and health remarkably intact.[2]

Six hundred miles away, at the elegant hilltop plantation house he had designed for himself, Adams’s old friend (and sometime bitter rival) Thomas Jefferson also defied the actuarial tables. At eighty-three… He told his grandson that “I am like an old watch, with a pinion worn out here, and a wheel there, until I can go no longer.”[3]

Jefferson wanted to live until July 4th, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He made it to the 4th and then Medved writes:

He uttered no further comprehensible words, but he had unequivocally achieved his ardent desire: living through more than half of his cherished nation’s sacred day, finally expiring on Tuesday, the Fourth of July, at ten minutes before one o’clock in the afternoon. The celebratory bells had already begun ringing in the valley below, unaware of the loss of the local and international eminence.[4]

Also unaware, John Adams stubbornly clung to life at Peacefield. Early in the oppressively humid summer morning of Tuesday, July 4, as the first celebratory cannon began blasting in the distance, the former president arose and demanded assistance to place himself in his favorite armchair in the second-floor study, looking out the window toward the town. Reverend George Whitney arrived for a holiday visit but sadly concluded that “the old gentleman was drawing to his end. Dr. Holbrook was there and declared to us that he could not live more than through the day.” Adams’s youngest son, Thomas, dispatched an urgent letter to Washington to alert the president, his brother, that their father neared the end of his course. By midday, the weather darkened with an impending storm, and relatives and friends returned Adams to his bedchamber, watching the great man’s labored breathing. As they shifted his position to improve his comfort, the former president awoke and blinked at the familiar surroundings. Reminded it was the Fourth of July, he lifted his head from the pillow and declared in a strong, clear voice: “It is a great day. It is a good day.”

With more cannon barking out their salutes in the nearby village, afternoon thunder and lightning offered “the artillery of heaven,” as subsequent observers described the dramatic scene. Adams lay back on his bedding, silently watching and listening, with his mind clear, according to those who waited with him. Toward evening, with a gentle rain falling, he breathed his astonishing last words in an effortful gasp that was still clear enough to be understood. “Thomas Jefferson survives,” he managed. The breathing stopped shortly after six o’clock, with a resounding clap of thunder at the very moment of the great man’s passing. Witnesses insisted that at the same instant, a sudden burst of light from the declining sun pushed through the looming clouds and spilled into the upstairs room like a benediction.[5]

Today, I intend to answer the question, should we, as Christians, be proud to be an American? Should we as Christians be patriotic? Further, I wish to talk about God’s providence on American history.

What is providence?

I think of God’s sovereignty meaning that He is in control of all things. I think of providence meaning that He is using His sovereignty to orchestrate the details of life.

John Piper, defines “providence” as “purposeful sovereignty.” He writes: The word providence is built from the word provide , which has two parts: pro (Latin “forward,” “on behalf of”) and vide (Latin “to see”). So you might think that the word provide would mean “to see forward” or “to foresee.” But it doesn’t. It means “to supply what is needed”; “to give sustenance or support.” So in reference to God, the noun providence has come to mean “the act of purposefully providing for, or sustaining and governing, the world.”[6]

Ground rules:

The United States of America is not God’s chosen people. The chosen people would be the Jewish people and Israel. God’s providence just means that He has exercised His Divine will in our history. He has exercised His sovereignty. We must not deify America or our founders and we must not idolize America.

I reject Christian nationalism. By my understanding, Christian nationalism combines the church and state. Christian nationalism would say as goes the country, so goes the church. They combine the church and state. The church and the state are NOT the same. I will make the case that we do see God’s providence in American history, further we should be patriotic, but still we are Christians first and Americans second. Christianity is good for the country. I believe Christianity is good for America. We see that in our history, but the church usually does well under persecution.

Again, my focus is God’s providence in America’s history. Also, should Christians be patriotic?

  1. Let’s turn to Scripture.
    1. What does Scripture say about being patriotic? I am glad you asked.
    2. In Romans 9:3 Paul shares: For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
    3. In that passage the apostle Paul really cared that his people, the Jews would know Christ.
    4. In a direct way we can make the application that we must care that our nation knows Jesus. Indirectly, we can apply this to the idea of being patriotic.
    5. We should want the best for our country, right? Of course, we should.
    6. Romans 9 also shows that God can control nations the way He wants to. God has chosen Israel above other nations.
    7. In John 17:18 Jesus says: As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
    8. We are to be in the world but not of the world (John 17:16).
    9. Let’s turn to one more passage. Let’s turn to 1 Timothy 2:1-2: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way…
    10. That passage is telling us to pray for our leaders. Whether we like them or not we should pray for our leaders.
    11. C.S. Lewis wrote a book, The Four Loves, and he distinguishes philia, friendship; erōs, sex; agapē, the love of God; and the one that I think is relevant right here: storgē.[7]
    12. This comes from Piper: Storgē is a kind of affection. We should as Christians have an affection for our country. That is the type of love we should have for our country. When you leave our country you are likely happy to come home. This is home, we love home. When we see our country losing certain good values, that disappoints you. Some of you may feel like you cannot recognize the country that you love. But this is not a love like you have for a spouse, or a child, or for God (agape), this is an affection. This is a storgē love.
    13. Yes, in that sense we should love our country. We should support our country. We should be patriotic. We should be proud to be an American. We should care that our people, the people of our nation are saved. We should want the best for our nation. Christians should be the best citizens.
    14. We could go to other passages. Romans 13 is about being submissive to the authorities. We also see that in 1 Peter 2:12-17.
    15. But what about God’s providence in America? This is the day America celebrates Independence Day. Remember God’s providence as purposeful sovereignty. Has God shown purposeful sovereignty over America? I am a student of history and I think He has.
  2. God’s Providence in our history.
    1. I think, as I study history, God had shown great providence in our history. Remember, providence is “purposeful sovereignty.”
    2. How did we beat England, twice? I know that during the War of 1812 England was also fighting Napolean, but they could have wrapped us up later on, and they did not.
    3. Medved writes:
    4. As contemporaries on both sides of the conflict suggested, the Continental Army benefited from a series of unusual natural phenomena and a pattern of illogical but consistent good luck that in the painful summer of 1776 rescued the troops from all but certain catastrophe.
    5. On July 3, 1775, the tall Virginian George Washington arrived from the capital, Philadelphia, to take command of these courageous but undisciplined New England forces who had come together under the grand title “Continental Army.” The new top general worried over their vulnerability to British attack and, in one of his periodic bouts of self-pity, told his military aide Joseph Reed that he never would have accepted his command had he known of the perilous position in which he found himself. His only hope, Washington confided, involved the necessary intervention of a higher power.[8]
    6. God did provide weather to help us win.
    7. Washington should not have survived. He had an incident when he was 23 years old that should have killed him and then Medved writes: Washington’s successful defiance of danger became a notable feature of his leadership during his eight years of service in the Revolutionary War. The general in chief frequently and fearlessly exposed himself to enemy fire, rallying his troops on many occasions by his own incomparable example. At the Battle of Princeton in January 1777, he rode at the head of his troops on a huge white horse as they marched directly on a well-formed British line. When the Americans came within range, both sides fired, and smoke from their rifles temporarily obscured Washington, who rode forward halfway between them. His aide, Richard Fitzgerald, covered his face with his hat in order to avoid watching the inevitable death of his beloved commander. But as the air cleared and he lowered his hat, he saw men on both sides who were dead and dying while Washington, unscathed, rose in his stirrups and urged his men forward against the shattered British line. “It’s a fine fox chase, my boys!” he shouted. A year and half later, in June 1778, the Marquis de Lafayette, the aristocratic Frenchman who became an esteemed general in the Continental Army, recalled the great man at the Battle of Monmouth, where “General Washington seemed to arrest fortune with one glance….His presence stopped the retreat….His graceful bearing on horseback, his calm and deportment which still retained a trace of displeasure…were all calculated to inspire the highest degree of enthusiasm….I thought then as now that I had never beheld so superb a man.”
    8. On September 8, 1779, Washington was spared because a marksman would not shoot someone in the back.[9]
    9. I am sure you have heard the stories that Washington shook bullets out of his jacket. He had horses shot out from under him. Three years ago, I listened to an extensive 1000+ page biography of Washington and I think he was God’s man for the time. That is God’s purposeful sovereignty. That does not mean he had to be a Christian, I think he was, but God, in His purposeful sovereignty, can use whoever He wants.
    10. Chernow writes: In the end, he [Washington] had managed to foil the best professional generals that a chastened Great Britain could throw at him. As Benjamin Franklin told an English friend after the war, “An American planter was chosen by us to command our troops and continued during the whole war. This man sent home to you, one after another, five of your best generals, baffled, their heads bare of laurels, disgraced even in the opinion of their employers.”[10]
    11. Our founders were not all Christians, though most were, and all held to Judeo-Christian values. Even Jefferson, who was a deist, thought the Bible should be taught in schools.
    12. What about the second war with England? What about the war of 1812? Do we see God’s providence in that war? Years ago, I was watching a history channel documentary about our history. Do you know that after the British burned down Washington D.C. they were heading to Baltimore? Do you know what stopped them? A hurricane stopped them. How often does a hurricane hit Washington D.C.? 
    13. Some could say that these things are coincidence. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that God has been working through history.
    14. Recently I read that Churchill was visiting a friend in 1931. He was visiting a friend and he was ran over by a car. He should have died.[11] Of course there were many times when Churchill should have died, but God, in His providence, had him to help England and the United States, win the second world war.
    15. Why? Why would there be many things in which God acted to help America?
    16. We can’t really know, but I have some suggestions:
      1. We were founded on Biblical values and there is a common-grace blessing when we follow His values. Yes, we had sins in our past, but our values, by and large were Biblical.
      2. We see this in the impact of the puritans before our founding.
      3. We have many quotes from our founders. See me for the Truth Project lesson 10 which shares much about this. Our founders recognized that we needed to teach Christian values. John Adams: “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”[12]
      4. Washington’s Farewell address, Sept. 17, 1796: “…And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion… reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”[13]
      5. Benjamin Rush: “The only foundation for… a republic is to be lain in religion.” “…Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts they will be wise and happy.” (Benjamin Rush, “A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a School Book,” 1796.[14]
      6. The problem is that today the State has replaced God. The State is supposed to surrender to God’s authority. Our founders recognized the importance of a Biblical Worldview.
      7. We were founded on Judeo-Christian values, but yet still freedom of religion. People in the United States did not have to be Catholic or protestant or one national religion.
      8. We have always supported the Jewish people and later Israel (Genesis 12). Not perfectly, but our pattern has been supporting the Jewish people and Israel.
      9. Could it be that God was providentially acting in our history so that we could be available to help Europe in World War I and World War II?
      10. What would have happened if we were not available to save Europe in World War II?
      11. Could God have providentially acted in our past in order that we could help Israel in 1948?
      12. Remember these are just thoughts: we aren’t like other superpowers, we annihilate a country and help them rebuild. We have seen this in Germany, Japan, Iraq, and other places. This is not to excuse the way we conquered the Native American land. In that way we were like other nations.
      13. Lastly, do you know that most of the mission money comes from the United States? I was looking for the total, but I think I once heard around 90%.
    17. This is NOT to say that God will continue to providentially guide the United States. I don’t see our name in Revelation and if we are there we are likely connected with Babylon. I am just saying that in history I see God working through the United States.
    18. Again, yes, we should be proud to be an American. Yes, we should be patriotic. Yes, we should want the best for our country.
  3. Warning: Don’t make the country your idol. Be a Christian first.
    1. Remember though, we are Christians first.
    2. America is not the promised land. We are not the new Israel.
    3. In Phil 3:8 Paul counted all of his Jewish status as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. Jesus must be number 1.
    4. Yes, we should be proud to be an American but we must not make an idol of our country.
  4. Some applications:
    1. We must understand that God is at work.
    2. We must understand that God is at work in His providence working through nations.
    3. We must be good citizens, really caring about our people group as Paul did in Romans 9:3.
    4. We must pray for our leaders (1 Tim 2:1-8).
    5. We must not make our country an idol. We must be Christians first and then Americans.

Medved shares:

To this day, Adams and Jefferson remain the only two presidents to have expired on the same day. And only one other president had the honor of dying on the Glorious Fourth: James Monroe, fifth president of the United States, wounded veteran of the Revolutionary War, and a close colleague of both Jefferson and Adams. He succumbed to heart failure at 3:15 in the afternoon of July 4, 1831, exactly five years after the Grand Jubilee. The stunned public could only marvel at the exceedingly odd fact that three of the first four presidents to die all perished on the same deeply significant calendar date, lending further support to perceptions of providential participation in the favored nation’s development.[15]

Mark Grant, whose Macronicity blog seeks obscure, mystical numerological significance in such perplexing occurrences, carefully calculates the odds of three presidents all dying on the same national holiday and suggests that the chances against such a pattern recurring stand at approximately fifty million to one. “It would be about 75 times easier to be dealt a Royal Flush in a poker game with five cards (which we should see once every 649,740 hands),” he writes. “Many readers can easily imagine how impressed poker players would be to see a hand like that dealt just once.”[16]

America, on the other hand, has drawn just such remarkable hands again and again—giving rise to widespread suspicions of a rigged game.

If a single player wins an ongoing contest with maddening consistency, his frustrated rivals will inevitably accuse him of cheating. Our new nation’s shockingly rapid rise to world dominance counts as so illogical, so utterly unforeseen, that many mystified observers have determined that the only rational explanation involves a shameful record of American greed, ruthlessness, and immorality. Given recent themes in our educational system, every schoolchild has heard about national guilt for cruel treatment of Native Americans, brutal exploitation of African slaves, and imperialist interference with less fortunate societies around the world. According to this logic, the United States’ rise to international eminence can be explained by the rapacity of our political, business, and military leadership.

The great weakness in this understanding of American success involves its lack of context. Nearly all competing powers in the last three hundred years compiled histories regarding indigenous populations, slavery, and imperialism that count as far more problematic, and never more honorable, than the imperfect record of the United States. Yet none of these other societies, however disturbing and vile their abuses of power, managed to replicate America’s triumphs for its own population or in global affairs. In fact, some of the worst offenders in terms of slavery, exploitation, and colonialism endured the opposite trajectory achieved by the United States: for Spain, Portugal, Belgium, and the Netherlands, bloody imperialist adventures corresponded with the loss of world power status, not its attainment.[17]

So, it is July 4th. I think as Christians we should celebrate our history. We should be patriotic. Certainly, don’t celebrate the bad in our history, own that. But there has been plenty of good in American history. As Christians we should be the best citizens. We must pray for our country (1 Timothy 2:1-8). We must recognize God’s hand in our history, but see God’s providence in everyday life. God is still at work.

Prayer


[1] https://wng.org/podcasts/history-book-preserving-national-artifacts-1623038602

[2] Medved, Michael. The American Miracle (p. 2). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, pages 9-10.

[5] Ibid, pages 10-11.

[6] Piper, John. Providence (p. 32). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

[7] https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-much-patriotism-is-too-much-patriotism

[8] Medved, Michael. The American Miracle (pp. 49-50). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[9] Medved, Michael. The American Miracle (pp. 82- 83). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[10] Chernow, Ron. Washington (p. 460). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[11] Medved, Michael. God’s Hand on America (p. 203). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[12] Letter of June 2, 1776, quoted in the Wall Builder Report, Summer 1993. John Adams, “Letter to Zabdiel Adams, Philadelphia, 21 June 1776,” in The Works of John Adams—Second President of the United States, ed. Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1854), 9:401.Truth Project Lesson 10

[13] The Will of the People: Readings in American Democracy (Chicago: Great Books Foundation, 2001), 38.

[14] Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical (Philadelphia: Thomas and Samuel F. Bradford, 1798), 93.

[15] Medved, Michael. The American Miracle (p. 17). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[16] Ibid, 18.

[17] Ibid, 18.

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