Thursday, March 08, 2007

"National Sins" and Personal Responsibility

The Humiliation of Sin—John Newton (1725 – 1807)

The following is drawn from an article from the Karios Journal:

After England had been humiliated in the success of the American revolution they were encouraged by Admiral Nelson’s naval victories against the French. Politicans love to evoke God for their good fortune and it is difficult to know exactly what motivated the King, George III, to issue a proclamation of prayer and praise. What is clear however from history is that John Newton used the occasion to call the nation to repent. His sermon title on Dec. 19, 1797 was “Motives to Humiliation and Praise.” (Interesting title for the Christmas season don't you think?)

Newton knew what repentance was. He had been a slave trader and was responsible for thousands of West Africans being killed on the high seas and the survivors enslaved in the West Indies. His conversion was a miracle of the grace of Christ, and the inspiration behind the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” When he wrote and sang, “saved a wretch like me,” he meant it.

The text for his sermon addressed ancient Israel, yet Newton knew the lesson applied as well to his own people. His words excerpted below however could equally be addressed to our nation at the beginning of the 21st century. Newton's meditatio on the “national sins” of Israel led him to reflect on "national sins" of his own nation and the hardness of heart. It is impossible to read his words written in 1797 and not think of their application to our own country in our day. They are a fair mirror of our own situation.

How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger; I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man, the Holy One in the midst of thee . . . Hosea 11:8-9 (KJV)

Hear then the voice of John Newton the pastor:
Have we not been equally distinguished from the nations around us, by spiritual and temporal blessings, and by our gross misimprovement of them? We are assembled this day to join in public thanksgivings for public mercies, but we have great cause for public humiliation likewise. We have much reason to rejoice in the goodness of the Lord; but we have reason to temper our joy with trembling, when we compare the state of things around us, with that of Ephraim and Judah in the days of the prophet Hosea . . .

Let us consider sin as the procuring cause of all our troubles. Let us recognize his hand in them, and confess that, in all the distress he has brought upon us, he has not dealt with us as our iniquities deserve . . .1

In this sense, I fear the sins of Great Britain [the USA] are of a deeper dye than those of any nation in Europe; because they are committed against greater advantages and privileges than any other people have enjoyed. May not the Lord appeal to ourselves, as to Israel of old, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done?”. . .2

There are likewise sins so generally prevalent, so familiar and habitual in every rank of life, that they may properly be called national; because, either by their nature or their frequency, they mark and distinguish our public morals . . .3

The contempt of the Gospel of Christ will, I fear, be found a national sin, with the exception of the comparatively few who cordially embrace it . . . This Gospel is shunned and dreaded like a pestilence, and the strongest exertions are made to prevent its entrance, or to expel it, if possible. The ministers who preach faithfully, are stigmatized and misrepresented . . .4

Are not the words of John Newton equally true of us as individuals and a nation? Shouldn't we also give great praise to God and shouldn't we "temper our joy with trembling" when we think of how great our privilege is and how paltry our labors are in this country for the advance of the gospel and spread of His glory?

Go and see the movie Amazing Grace, not for its acting or action, not for its production values and special effects but for the impact of a life lived wholly for God. Let it inspire you to become a part of history's greatest. Who is greatest in history, truly?

Those who live for the glory of God. Be one of those.

1 John Newton, The Works of the Rev. John Newton, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1988), 279.
2 Ibid., 280.
3 Ibid., 284.
4 Ibid., 287.

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