The following is the transcript from the May 15, 2016 service at Little Brown Church, Nashua, Iowa in conjunction with the Civil War Re-enactment at the Old Bradford Pioneer Village Museum.
Original Sermon by: Rev. George Foster Pierce (1811–1884) was an American bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South elected in 1854. Download his Bio here
Link to the original sermon: http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/biblconv/biblconv.html
"That he might make thee known, that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live."-- Deuteronomy, viii: 3.We have assembled under very peculiar circumstances. As a people, we are in the midst of revolution. Our secession from the old Federal Union, and the inauguration of a new Confederacy, have not only dissolved the political ties which connected us with the Northern States, but have broken up our religious societies, our benevolent institutions, and thrown us upon new organizations to meet our responsibilities as a Christian people to the world around us.
It has seemed to me appropriate, therefore, to waive, in the discussion of the subject chosen, the special views and individual applications which the words would justify and even demand under ordinary circumstances, and to content myself in a brief discourse upon a few leading ideas, as they apply to society and the State.
The chapter opens with the implied doctrine that the test of true allegiance to God, and the security of a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, is in universal obedience to the divine commandments.
But God, who knows the latent propensity of evil in our nature, may often address us as he did the children of Israel, when they vowed to do all that he had commanded.
To prove them, to know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commandments or not, He humbled them, suffered them to hunger and thirst, led them through a variety of difficult circumstances, and favored them with much miraculous deliverance. They were thwarted and they were indulged, disappointed in their expectations and surprised by their mercies, punished for their sins that they might be admonished, and pardoned that they might be encouraged.
But they were slow to learn the lessons of Providence. Distrust, murmuring, ingratitude, disobedience, marked their history. Failing in the fundamental principle of submission and reference to God, they sought out many inventions. They sought to live by bread alone, to prosper without virtue, to fight without divine warrant, and to conquer without celestial aid.
To conserve a nation, that word of the Lord so often announced in the Bible, "THE LORD REIGNETH," must be recognized, acknowledged, practically believed; incorporated in the Constitution, confessed by the chief magistrate, re-echoed by subordinate rulers, pervading the legislation of the country, presiding over public opinion, it will be a safe-guard in revolution, a guide in peace, a lighthouse, beaming light and hope upon the future.
Our republican fathers wisely separated the Church from the State; their degenerate successors madly separated the State from Heaven. It has been the fashion to theorize and decide on politics, as if Christianity were not a superior, supreme law, and as though God had abandoned his book and his rights to the chances of a doubtful contest. Statesmanship has become an earthly science, a philosophy without religion, and a system of expediency without a conscience.
Men may philosophize, speculate, declaim, but God will reign. He never abdicates or dies. His glory He will not give to another. We are not our own, but men under authority. In morals we have no rights of legislation. We have a Master in heaven. His title to reverence is indisputable; His claim to homage and obedience inalienable. We must render to God the things which are God's.
If we would be a Christian nation, what the law commands or allows must never contravene the directives of Heaven. Nations have a sort of collective unity, and between rulers and people there is a reciprocal responsibility, and if there be encouragement in evil, each is amenable for the guilt of the other.
If the executive, or legislative, or judicial department bring the law or policy of the country into conflict with the revealed economy of God, the people should protest, vindicate the divine right, exhaust the remedies in their power, and, if they cannot reform, at least fix the burden where it belongs.
If the people grow corrupt—disrespectful of God, and claim the natural right to do moral wrong, then the government must set itself to honor God, by becoming a terror to them that do evil. Rulers must not bear the sword in vain, if they would fear God and live by his word.
The Church, too, must cease to shrink before the insincere speech of those godless demagogues, who, when the good seek to form public opinion against vice, and to bring law into harmony with the Bible, preach liberty of conscience, all the more loudly because they have long since ceased to have any conscience or rule of life, save selfish indulgence. Her testimony against evil must be clear, intrepid, meek but firm, patient but unwearied.
I am glad that our young Republic acknowledges God in her Constitution and calls on Him to witness the correctness of her aims and objects. I am glad that our President, Jefferson Davis, in several official acts, has sought to turn the eyes of the people to the Lord their God; and that, in his inaugural, he concludes with an earnest appeal to God, and a thrilling declaration of his own abiding trust in the justice and mercy of the Lord Almighty.
O, my countrymen, let us reverence the Lord of Sabbath, and let us remember that our country is to be preserved and perpetuated, not by science, wealth, patriotism, population, armies or navies, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.
Another word of the Lord, by which society is to be improved and the nation exalted to healthy, happy life, is His statute on the religious training of the young. On this subject, for a series of years, the policy of the country has been wrong and growing worse. The testimony of the Church has been timid, wavering and inconsistent.
The primal cause of well nigh all the evils which afflict society, is to be found in defective family discipline, example and instruction, and in a nearly total disregard of the injunctions of the Bible.
How natural and beautiful the Divine plan for transmitting truth! Every parent a historian and preacher; every habitation a temple; every path a school-house; every bed a pious retreat, where age sinks to rest with the language of piety on its lips, and youth is hushed to sleep by the music of love in the words of heaven.
It is due to the subject, and appropriate to the occasion, to say that the whole education of the country should be Christian. During the formative period of life, it is obviously the will of God, and to the interest of society, that the rising generation should be taught the knowledge of God, the mind developed in the light of the Bible, and the heart guarded from the contagion of bad example, and trained under a system decidedly evangelical.
Science and religion should be united in indissoluble wedlock. The sanctities of the parental roof and the memories of pious instruction should be perpetuated in the schoolhouse, the academy, the college. The interests at stake are too precious to be jeopardized by any omissions, or lapses, or intervals of neglect.
The infidel policy of leaving the youthful mind unbiased and free is unsound in principle and impracticable in practice. It is a stratagem of the enemy of souls. My brethren, if we would live by the word of the Lord, we must no longer compromise our duty to God and the country, by diluting our systems of education to suit carnal taste and worldly wisdom.
We must prepare for the future. The conflict for dominion between light and darkness is progressing--the crisis is at hand. We must come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty. The young should be enlisted as conscripts of the Kingdom. Catechisms, Sunday schools, family religion, pastoral care, religious education, should all be levied upon, pressed into service, if we would save the landmarks of morality from the inundations of vice, and draw over the nation the shield of Omnipotence.
This history of the past, as well as the suggestions of the text, constrains me to add one more illustration of the general truth I have been expounding.
In the political creed of this country, a man's morals, his relations to God, have scarcely been thought of in his elevation to office. Party, party-service, order in rotation, have often determined the candidate, and, even though he was the practitioner of notorious vices, the newspaper people, disregarding Providence, rallies the strength of the party to his support.
It is to be remembered, therefore, that the people must share in the judgments which the sins of rulers provoke. When these proud transgressors challenge the Divine Being by their reckless impiety, the retribution is often sudden and overwhelming.
We are beginning a new career. God help us to avoid the errors of the past, and, throwing off the shackles of parties, conventions and platforms, to abide by the word of the Lord. Let us have a Christian nation in fact as well as in name that God may be as a wall of fire round about this young Confederacy, and a glory in the midst of her.
There is one other departure from the word of the Lord, common to the policy of the country, adopted and pursued by well nigh all, which demands and deserves rebuke. I mean the greed of gain, the deification of money. The subject is too large for discussion now, but a word to the wise will not be amiss.
The history of the world confirms the testimony of the Bible as to the moral dangers of accumulated treasure. Opulence has always been one of the most active causes of individual degeneracy and of national corruption.
Under the influence of its subtle poison,
Moral principle decays;
Patriotism puts off its nobility and works for hire;
Bribery corrupts the judgment seat, and
Justice is blinded by gifts;
Benevolence suppresses its generous impulses, and counts its contributions by fractions;
Religion, forgetting the example of its Author and the charity of its mission, pleads poverty, and chafes at every opportunity for work or distribution;
The world counts gain as godliness, prosperity as virtue, fraud as talent; and money, MONEY, MONEY, is the god of the land, with every house for a temple, every field for an altar, and every man for a worshipper. Such is the suicidal tendency of unsanctified wealth, that the greater the prosperity of a people the shorter the duration of their reign.
We need reform.
The shocks and vibrations of war's terrible batteries were necessary to shake the drowsy, stagnant atmosphere, to change the currents of thought, to break down the dominion of old ideas, and set us free from the selfish policy of the past. To this end, God has "stirred up our nest," pushed us out from our resting places, unhinged the whole machinery of life, and called us to deprivation, sacrifice and peril. Oh, that this bitter discipline, this fiery ordeal, may prepare us for a liberty, better regulated, and a religion more spiritual, active and useful.
Hear now "the conclusion of the whole matter." The sum of this teaching is, that man liveth not by bread only, not by natural means, not by human philosophy, not by expediency, by compromising their opinions to suit the current fashion; but if we would be good, prosperous, useful, happy, safe, we must live by every word of God.
My brethren, we are not mere life-time creatures, born to graze over the world like the beasts of the field, or to flit about in gaiety and song like the birds of the air; but subjects of discipline, spirits on probation, where great deeds are to be done, heroic sacrifices to be made, the distresses of others to be relieved, and our generation to be served by the will of God.
The earth we inhabit is not a mere physical frame-work, but a theatre of religion, of devotion to Christ and service to man. Breathe, digestion, growth, sumptuous fare, titles, names, rank, power-- these are not life, but semblances, mockeries, all. No, no; life is a blessing of grace, the gift of God, capable of high achievement and noble destiny.
While the wavering minds of an unbelieving world toss restlessly upon a sea of doubt, let us hold fast by the oracles of God, the sure word of prophecy and promise.
Our country is in trouble. War is upon us. We can, however, consult and pray, renew our expression of faith and love, strengthen the bonds of unity, and make ready for the future.
It is a time for preparation. May God speed the holy work and hasten the day when the Bible shall be the creed of every people, the text-book of every statesman, the constitution of every nation, the joy and excellence of all the earth.