How Happy Is The Birthday?
We, The People Of The United States
The year was 1787; the place, the city of Philadelphia; the purpose, men had gathered to amend the Articles of Confederation which were loosely holding the thirteen infant states together. But instead of Articles of Confederation, out of that convention came the Constitution of the United States of America.
That summer, 200 years ago, the founding fathers could have little known the far-reaching and amazing significance of the document they were forging –
a document that has guided the nation for 200 years,
a document that has given its citizens the framework for greater opportunity, freedom and affluence than any nation in history,
a document of such magnitude that it sets the standard for democracy and says to the other nations of the world by its simplistic greatness, Come emulate me if you can.
This document, like a great sermon, was not so much prepared as it was given birth to. Men had to travail to bring forth life.
When the founding fathers met on May 25th, 1787, they had formidable obstacles in their path. History records that on a number of occasions the convention almost broke up. There were what appeared to be irreconcilable differences. Somehow they persevered, as compromise after compromise was hammered out, and eventually the Constitution was completed. But that was not the end. The travail was not yet finished. There was more labor to come.
Once the representatives returned home, they found that many of the state legislatures were reluctant to ratify the Constitution. Nine of the original thirteen states were required to ratify the document before it would become law. There was the very real possibility that the Constitution would be stillborn – that ratification would not be achieved.
In New York, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of newspaper articles to convince New Yorkers of the worth of the Constitution. These articles were gathered together and became known as the Federalist Papers. In other states, delegates pleaded for ratification among their constituencies.
In time, travail resulted in birth when, on the 17th day of September in the year of our Lord 1787, by a unanimous consent of the delegates present representing twelve states, the Constitution was ratified.
In length, the Constitution is a short document. In terms of impact on a nation and the world, perhaps no document is its equal.
Seven brilliantly conceived articles combine to make up the Constitution and guide America. The first three articles define the legislative (Congress), executive (President and Vice President) and judicial (federal courts) branches of government with an intricate system of checks and balances of power.
Article Four deals with the individual states, the federal government and their interrelationship. Article Five sets forth the method required for amending the Constitution.
The sixth article deals with public debt, the supremacy of the Constitution and the oath of office.
The final article relates to the ratification of the Constitution itself. It is that simple and that profound.
These men produced a truly amazing document demonstrating a foresight that is hard to comprehend. Some historians have called the Constitution “the greatest political work ever wrought by the hand of man.” Although God’s name is not mentioned except in the dating of the Constitution, one cannot help but believe that divine presence was guiding just men that fateful summer 200 years ago.
I, The Sovereign God Of The Universe
Another document was forged almost 3,300 years before the Constitution – not by the hands of men but by the finger of God – not in the city of Philadelphia but in the desert of Sinai – written not on parchment but in tablets of stone – not hammered out in debate but authoritatively given by the Sovereign of the universe – and of such magnitude that it was attested and mediated by angels (Gal. 3:19; Acts 7:53).
Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai, and he carried those tablets down the mountain and gave them to the nation Israel. They were a code by which the young nation was called to live. The Constitution that men forged had seven resolutions; the Law God gave had ten commandments. The Constitution of men called for executive, legislative and judicial branches. The Law of God would eventually give rise to prophets, priests and kings. The prophet would proclaim God’s truth. The priest would represent men before God with a sacrifice for sin. The king would rule over the people as God’s vice-regent.
The Bible says that “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). Righteousness, properly understood, is rightness and rightness is conformity to a standard. The standard of rightness that results in righteousness is God himself. The Ten Commandments are a reflection of that righteousness.
Whereas the Constitution has guided America for 200 years, the Ten Commandments have been the backbone of civilized peoples for 3,500 years. When nations and individuals seek to honor the principles of the Ten Commandments, there is enlightenment and blessing. When God’s Law is spurned, there is darkness and cursing. The first four commandments deal with man’s relationship with God; the last six, man’s relationship to his fellow man (Ex. 20:1-17). Once Jesus was asked by men who were trying to discredit Him because He condemned their sin, “which is the great commandment in the law?” (Mt. 22:36). These religious leaders had in mind not simply the Ten Commandments but what Judaism perceived to be 613 laws which God had given throughout the entire Old Testament. Great debate raged in the first century over this very issue. Jesus responded to their question by saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt. 22:37-40). Jesus was summarizing. He said, Love God – love man. The rest of the Law was all detail.
The Constitution Of Men And The Law Of God – Both Have An Innate Weakness
That statement may seem surprising, but it is correct. In the case of the Constitution of the United States, an immediate problem can be detected. It is a problem of immense, obvious and unconquering dimensions. Notwithstanding the greatness of the Constitution, there is a fatal flaw. The flaw is not in the content of the Constitution but in the character of man.
The Constitution may have established a magnificent form of democratic government – an executive branch to initiate and implement, but America’s history is characterized by unequal presidencies – a few great presidents, some of average ability and more than a few weak and vacillating. Every four years brings the uncertainties of another election: Who will be the next president, and what direction will the nation take? Nineteen eighty-eight may itself be a watershed year of immense significance. Will a conservative be elected to the presidency? Will he be strong? Will he continue President Reagan’s policies? Or will a liberal be elected? If so, will he reverse the present direction of the nation? And would such a wrenching reversal bring polarization and chaos? No one knows. It is one of the uncertainties of the system.
The Constitution also established a legislative branch of government to pass laws and balance the office of president. However, Congress sometimes acts unwisely and indecisively, frequently self-servingly and occasionally unethically. Unfortunately, in the minds of some congressmen, reelection is more important than righteousness; expediency, more important than morality. Witness the spectacle of a presidential appointment to the Supreme Court of a man whose integrity is unassailable and professional credentials impeccable. Liberal opposition comes solely on the basis of political leanings – a clear violation of the intent of the Constitution.
The Constitution established a judicial branch of government – federal courts to dispense justice. These men in authority will give an account to God for outlawing prayer and the teaching of creation in our schools while legalizing humanism and evolution. They will give an account to God for legalizing the taking of life through abortion. They will give an account to God for decisions that give support to pornography and homosexuality – the latter, an abomination in the sight of God that will certainly receive the just rewards of His righteous wrath. One can almost hear the condemning accusation of King Solomon against modern-day justice when he speaks of the “perverting of justice and righteousness” (Eccl. 5:8).
Presidents, congressmen, judges – all are vital links in implementing the Constitution. Therein lies the problem, not in the document, but in man. He is the fly in the ointment – the flaw in the law.
But what of God’s Law? Here again, men are faced with the same problem. The Law required man to love God with his entire being – heart, soul and mind. He simply cannot do it. The Law required man to love his neighbor as he loves himself, but man simply will never do that. The very thought is foreign to him. Built right into the core of man’s sinful nature is a self- centeredness that will not permit it.
The New Testament, speaking of man’s relationship to the Law, makes this point: “the law. . . was weak through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3) . Here then is the fatal flaw: The Law commands, but it does not empower. It tells me what a holy God requires, but it does not give me enablement. The Law leaves me frustrated because I cannot live up to God’s demands. The Law is weak through the flesh. The problem is not with the content of the Law but with man.
Why then did God give the Law? To reveal my sin to me. The great Apostle Paul argues, “I had not known sin but by the law; for I had not known coveting, except the law had said, Thou shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7).
Why then did God give the Law? “It was added because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19) – to slow men down on the fast track of sin – to post red lights, speed limits, “one way” and “no parking” signs – to make men more sensitive to the reality that they were transgressing against God’s holy character and would not be held guiltless.
Why then did God give the Law? “Wherefore, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). One of the primary purposes of the Law was to reveal to men that they could not keep the Law and, thereby, prepare men for appropriating God’s provision for sin, a provision that came not by keeping the Law but by faith in the redemptive work of Christ through Calvary.
The Constitution of the United States is a brilliant document. It is a set of laws that has guided our nation for 200 years. But laws are only as good as the people who are called upon to keep them. They offer no permanent solution or enduring hope. The moral and spiritual fiber in America is rapidly deteriorating – in government, in religion, in business – decay is evidenced on every hand. Some will take issue with that – they see the world through rose-colored glasses. Such people are upbeat, positive and optimistic. In this instance they are also wrong. On September 17th, America will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Constitution. Paraders will march. Trumpeters will trumpet. Fireworks will ascend upward to light up the sky. Politicians will make political speeches. Historians will take their moment on stage to philosophize. The public will party. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television will have a field day reporting and editorializing. But no one will speak of sin and wickedness. No one will dare to say that we are a depraved materialistic nation. The prophet of God will not be asked to speak, and thus the voice of God will not be heard. On the Constitution’s 200th birthday, America will celebrate and say, I am rich and have become wealthy and have need of nothing. She will not know that she is miserable, poor, blind and naked (Rev. 3:17). What a contrast to the wholesome and faithful attitude of the Prophet Habakkuk who wrote long ago, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no food; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:17-18). Oh, what would it be if the citizens of this great land truly humbled themselves, fell on their faces, confessed their sin and called out to God in genuine repentance? God’s grace and mercy would flow in unbridled measure. Such cannot be reasonably assumed. The cup of iniquity is too full. Judgment is coming. It is not likely that America has 200 more years, or 100, or 50. We are running out of time. Laws, even good ones, will not stem the tide. They are weak through the flesh. Only God’s grace can provide for a perfect and permanent solution. That grace is offered through Christ. He alone is the still point in a turning world.