A transcript of the sermon preached by the Rt. Rev. Dr David Samuel at the 125th Anniversary Service of the Protestant Truth Society. The service was held in Kensit Evangelical Church, Finchley, North London, on Saturday 24 May 2014.
May I say first of all it is a great privilege to be asked to preach on this particular occasion, the 125th anniversary of the Protestant Truth Society. We thank God for all that it has done, for its faithful witness to the gospel and the word of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the years, and we pray for its future, that that may be glorious too, and that God’s blessing may rest upon the officers and the members of the Society in the years to come. We pray that it may be truly a force for good and for righteousness in our nation, as it has been in the past.
With that in mind I have chosen today for our text, Proverbs chapter 14 verse 34, ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.’
Now it is true that the British people have enjoyed an exalted position in the world throughout the recent centuries; and this is surprising when we think of how small our nation is, the British Isles in comparison with the other countries of the world and the continents of Europe and Asia. So what can it be attributable to? What is it that has caused our nation to have such force and to bear such witness to the other nations throughout that time? To some degree it is attributable to the nature and character of our nation itself. There is something very remarkable based on the natural endowment of our race with characteristics and virtues given it by God in its original state. But there is something intrepid, persevering, adventurous, about the British people and when we formed a United Kingdom, bringing together the different parts of our nation, the Anglo-Saxons, the Celts and so on, we became complementary and a formidable force in the world at large. And I hope that that union which has existed so long will not be broken up now; I know there are stirrings in certain places to assert independence in one part of the nation or another and I think it would be a vast mistake, and we should remain as we are, a United Kingdom. But if we stop there and attribute what we are solely to our natural characteristics, we would be mistaken. We would be quite wrong. The element above all else which has fashioned us is the Protestant Reformed religion, and we should never forget that. That must be foremost in our thinking and our acting as a people, as a nation. It has given us a strong, intrepid, and persevering character. Protestantism has made us a force for good in the world at large, both at home and abroad.
However, we are now at a crossroads. The influence of that faith on the churches of our nation has been waning for some time. The distinctive tenets of Protestantism have been undermined and misunderstood and misrepresented. First, by Anglo-Catholics who infiltrated the Established Church of this land and then, following upon their heels quite hard, by the ecumenical movement which tried to make us all one, regardless of the distinctive doctrinal positions that we hold – indeed, regardless of the truth. And finally, of course, the other detrimental influence upon our nation in recent years has been secularism itself. Our society is largely now a secular society. The Protestant Reformed religion is still constitutionally the religion of this land, but people have been working hard to divorce our nation from the truth of God, from the Bible. The Anglo-Catholic movement, of which John Henry Newman was a leading light of course, grew up in the 19th century. It was a deliberate attempt by Newman and his followers and others to re-establish the teaching of the Church of Rome in the national Church of this land, and to re-unite it eventually with the papacy. Mr John Kensit saw what was happening and understood its drift and its significance, and he engaged, initially single-handed, in a national campaign to expose the dangers of re-uniting with the Church of Rome. It was while he was speaking at a meeting in the open air in Liverpool that he was attacked and suffered a mortal injury, and died shortly afterwards. His witness and self-sacrifice will be remembered now and in the years to come by all who wish to see Bible teaching maintained in the churches of our land.
The principles and doctrines of the Protestant Reformed religion are absolutely vital to our well-being as a nation in every sense, materially, morally, and spiritually. In the words of Proverbs 29:18, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ By vision, it means the revelation of God and his truth. The Bible is full of instruction for individuals and nations if they will heed its message. It is for want of that knowledge that we are going astray and have gone astray today. Yet it is a knowledge of a certain basic and elementary kind, morally and spiritually. It is a sort of truism which our text elaborates, something which ought to be self-evident and true for every person, ‘righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people’. It is true of life generally that here are certain things which are beneficial to us and other things which are detrimental to our well-being. The same is true in the moral and spiritual realm, and it is important that people should wake up to that truth today. That is the truth that we need to understand today as a people, ‘righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people’. Righteousness makes us honourable in the eyes of God and in the eyes of other people and nations. Sin makes us contemptible and brings ruin and shame and dishonour upon the people who deliberately practise it. But still there are those who do not seem to understand this basic and elementary truth, and indeed shut their ears to it and will not hear it.
Well, first of all what is this righteousness of which the wise man of Israel speaks in the Book of Proverbs? Righteousness, the Bible tells us, is an attribute of God’s character and nature. He alone, God Almighty, is absolutely righteous. He does not conform to any rule or form or standard; he is the standard itself. God is the righteous judge. He is holy and true and perfect and upright and merciful and just; that is the very nature of his character of which we read in the Scriptures of God. And so at Mount Sinai, God gave his law, his Ten Commandments, to his chosen people, Israel, the declaration of his holy and righteous will for them and for all people. It was given to the people of Israel only in that form and not to the world at large. ‘He hath not dealt so with any other nation, neither have the heathen knowledge of his laws’ (Psa. 147:20). This was the unique revelation that God communicated to his people of Israel in the wilderness. Of course, God’s Word, his commandments, are written in our hearts and in our consciences but because of the Fall into sin, because of our disobedience, that inward witness of conscience is marred, and is not clear, but it is set forth with great clarity and power in the Ten Commandments of God which we have written in the holy Scriptures.
Well, this was the way that God intended at the beginning that we all, members of the human race, should live. God said to the nation of Israel that if they kept his law, they would be lifted up above the other nations of the earth. ‘See,’ he says, ‘I have set before thee this day life and good and death and evil. Choose life that thou and thy seed may live.’ That was the choice that God set before the people of Israel. He revealed to them his law, his will, and he commanded them to live according to it.
The way of righteousness has been made known to us by God Almighty himself. And the same in a sense is true of us as a people as it was true of the people of Israel: we have this great blessing from God and we have enjoyed many blessings in our land over the centuries. We can think particularly of our deliverance in two World Wars.
God blessed our nation by giving us the Protestant Reformed religion – our deliverance from the yoke of the papacy, that terrible corruption of religion that emanated from Rome over the whole continent of Europe. God was very gracious to us as a small island race. He gave us at the Reformation an open Bible. He gave us the light, the spiritual light, of his Word to guide us. An incomparable blessing was bestowed upon our nation at that time by the Bible and its translation into the vulgar tongue. His Spirit performed a great work, a mighty work of reformation in the national church of this land. He gave us not only the law, the Ten Commandments, but he gave us the pure gospel of Christ, too. That gospel declares that a man is justified not by works, but by grace, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to those who believe. We have no righteousness of our own; we cannot stand before God who is the holy Judge, but if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, his righteousness is imputed or counted to us so that we can stand before him as perfectly righteous. That is the great gospel of our God and his grace which came to us through the Reformation because the Bible was then translated into the common language of the people. It established righteousness amongst us as a nation so that we could say with the Psalmist ‘He hath not dealt so with any other nation, neither hath the heathen knowledge of his laws’ (Psa. 147:20).
The Bible, first of all at the Reformation, was established as the supreme rule of faith and practice. Our nation was known at one time as ‘the people of the Book and that book the Bible’. And that was a wonderful thing indeed that we were so characterized and recognized by others. As the monarch is crowned in Westminster Abbey, these words are read out when the Holy Bible is given to him or to her:
Our gracious King or Queen, to keep your majesty ever mindful of the law and the gospel of God as a rule for the whole of life and government of Christian princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom; here is the royal law; these are the lively oracles of God.
What a wonderful thing, that at an important, pivotal event in our life, this is the thing that is uppermost, this is the thing that is put before the people, here is the royal law of God, delivered to our monarch in the form of the holy Scriptures, the Bible.
The origin of this practice, it is said, goes back to the boy king, Edward VI. Edward was one day in Westminster Abbey (he succeeded his father you remember, Henry VIII, at the age of nine) and he entered Westminster Abbey for his coronation and he saw three swords, emblematical of the kingdoms of England, France and Ireland, which were united under the English crown. And he said to his courtiers, ‘There is one sword missing’ and they enquired what that sword would be, and he replied ‘The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’ He went on to say,
This book, the Bible, is the sword of the Spirit and is to be preferred before these swords, (representing the nations). Without that sword of the Bible we are nothing, we can do nothing, we have no power. From that we are what we are today. He that rules without it is not to be called God’s minister or king. Under that we ought to live, to fight, to govern the people and to perform all our affairs. From that alone we obtain all power, grace and virtue and salvation and whatsoever we have of divine strength.
There can be no righteousness in a nation where the word of God is neglected, where it is overlaid with tradition and with superstition, as is the case in the Roman Catholic Church and in Roman Catholic countries. No righteousness in parliament without the word of God. No righteousness without the word of God in the media, in the broadcasting agencies and the press. No righteousness in our culture, in our institutions of learning, in our schools and universities. No righteousness in the nation in any of its departments without the word of God. For ‘righteousness exalteth a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.’ No righteousness in our homes or families, and we see them breaking up today as a consequence of the neglect of the holy Bible the Scriptures. Queen Victoria was once asked by a visiting chief from one of her colonies: ‘Your Majesty, what is your greatest possession?’ Well, she might have said ‘India’, the jewel in the imperial crown, but she didn’t, she said ‘The Bible’. The Bible, she said, is our greatest possession. Oh if we could say that today, that our statesmen would say that today.
It was said of Britain after the War that it had lost an empire and not discovered a role in the world. But it had not lost its greatest possession; although it had lost dominions and colonies, it had not lost its greatest possession. And now things sadly are very different and we are in great danger indeed as a consequence. The greatness of a nation, as with an individual, is determined not by its material possessions but by its soul. You may know that Isaac Watts was a very small, diminutive man, and on one occasion he was slighted for his smallness of stature and instantly he replied,
Were I so tall to reach the pole or grasp the ocean in my span,
I must be measured by my soul; the mind’s the measure of the man.
How important that is, how right and how true it is. At the beginning of the 18th century in this country, before the Evangelical Awakening took place under Wesley and Whitefield, this country was sunk in spiritual darkness and moral decline. But then into that situation of degradation, sin and misery, there came the Evangelical Awakening, the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The nation was transformed and transfigured. Why? Because ‘righteousness exalteth a nation but sin is a reproach to any people’.
People cannot see that today, they have been blinded to it by our secular society and by the teaching that they get as a consequence. But our only salvation, our only hope in the present darkness of this time, is the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The teaching of the Bible must be at the heart of any national recovery today. Tell that to our Prime Minister. Tell it to the members of Parliament. They would probably laugh at you but it is true, it is fundamentally true, there is no way out, no deliverance from our predicament, other than a spiritual awakening under the power of the Scriptures of God.
And then secondly, there must be this also. The gospel of God’s free grace which is summed up in the expression ‘Justification by grace through faith alone’, which was of course the watchword of the Reformation in Europe and in this country. ‘Justification by grace through faith alone.’ What does that mean? What it means is that we are put right with God and we are brought into a right relationship with God by his Son, Jesus Christ, through faith in him and through his one perfect sacrifice for sins upon the cross. Where man is justified by faith, it is as if he had never sinned, the slate is wiped perfectly clean. He is counted righteous before a Holy God. What a wonderful thing that is. He can stand before a Holy God because the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ justifies him and that alone by faith. What a wonderful thing it is, then, that from this fount flows the gospel of Christian liberty.
The Christian man is a new man born again in Jesus Christ, freed from the chains of the past. ‘Old things have passed away and behold all things have become new.’ These are the blessings that are granted to those who believe. These are the blessings that all who believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ enjoy. They are right with God, they are freed from their sins and they are brought into a new and proper relationship with God. It all springs from belief and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. These are the seeds of greatness which are able to exalt a nation. It is only this gospel which can set men free from the chain of their offences. People are bound hand and foot, they are not free – they may think they are, they think that they live in a free country, but they are not – they are bound by the chains of their offences and their sins, and the only way we can become a free people is to believe in the gracious gospel of God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Righteousness exalts a nation’, it lifts them up. ‘Sin is a reproach to any people.’ Paul wrote to the church at Rome, in these memorable words: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.’ Why? because ‘it is the power of God unto salvation’.
The gospel has power to lift men, to deliver them from their sins; the gospel has power to elevate them. What we lack today as a people is not material things; we have more material things than are good for us. We are probably too well-off for our own good. We are so low and weak because we lack spiritual power which alone can lift us to God.
We lack the power of faith and grace and righteousness, and that brings me to the last part of my text. ‘But sin is a reproach to any people.’ Sin is defined in Scripture as the transgression of the commandments, the breaking of God’s law. That is the very nature and the essence of sin – disregard and contempt for God’s law and truth. Such conduct brings shame and disgrace and reproach upon a people whether it be an individual or whether it be a nation. It diminishes people, it makes them miserable.
The archetypal sin, of course, was the transgression of our first parents in the Garden of Eden. God set man and woman in the garden in the beginning and he gave them one commandment which was very clear and plain, ‘Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die’ (Gen. 2:16, 17). Satan represented this as an arbitrary restriction upon the freedom of Adam and Eve, something which would deprive them of their right to act as they chose, and they bought it. He said they must be free, free to do their own thing, and they could not be happy until they were free in that way. But they found to their cost that that was not true. Breaking God’s commandment brought shame and misery and dishonour and reproach upon them. Instead of being enlightened and exalted as they thought they would be, according to the promise of Satan, they were cast out into misery and destruction. ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.’
That fundamental truth is being writ large in our society and our nation today, in public life and in private life. What has been filling the pages of the newspapers in recent times? I’ll tell you: corruption in Parliament – corruption in Parliament amongst our members of Parliament, almost every member of Parliament fiddling their expenses. Some have tried to make light of this but you cannot. It is a shame, it is a reproach, it is a blot upon our public life, and it has not been expunged. But Parliament is only symptomatic of the state of our nation generally, morally and spiritually. Disregard and contempt for God’s word and commandments are rife in our nation today, socially and in the media and everywhere else. We have come to the point where good is called evil and evil is called good. Judgment and truth are perverted, consciences are seared as with a hot iron, and men and women are past feeling, morally and spiritually. ‘Sin is a reproach to any people.’ Yes, even when they cannot see it for themselves. Jesus wept, you remember, over Jerusalem, saying, ‘If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes.’ There are certain conditions which make people feel they are well and all right, when they are not. They are very sick but they do not know it; they cannot discern the symptoms. Such is the nature of sin; people think that everything is all right, that the condition of the church is fine, and the condition of the nation. That, you remember, was the state of the people in Laodicea. What does the Apostle John say in writing about the church in Laodicea? He says of them, ‘Thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.’ They could not understand themselves and they didn’t know truly their own condition.
Oh that the veil could be taken away from people’s eyes, from their consciences, from their minds and their hearts today! Oh that people could see themselves as they really are in the sight of God! It is only a work of the Holy Spirit which can do this in conjunction with the Word of God. Jesus said, of the promise of the Holy Spirit, ‘He will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.’ Well, it is a work of the Holy Spirit to do this, but we must be faithful in our day and generation and we must hold fast the word of life, the word of Scripture, and hold it forth to the people, and pray that the Holy Spirit will come down in power and open the eyes of men’s understanding that they may see and understand themselves as they are, as they truly are in the sight of God. Which brings me back to my text: ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.’ AMEN.
Taken with permission from Protestant Truth, Volume 20, Number 5 (September-October 2014).
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