On a Nation Such as This
“Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD,
and shall I not avenge myself
on a nation such as this?
“An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?” 
February 21, 1781, was declared a day of fasting across England.  In response to the proclamation issued on that day, the Baptist divine, John Newton, preached a sermon entitled, “The Guilt and Danger of Such a Nation as This,”  from the text of JEREMIAH 5:29. Fearing the judgement of God, Newton warned his hearers to repent before it was too late.
The sermon Newton preached was pointed and pertinent, quite unlike many of the sermons that are delivered in this day. Here are some excerpts from that message. “The form of the question will not permit us to confine the application to Israel or Judah. The words are not, ‘On this nation particularly,’ but ‘On such a nation as this.’ The Lord, the Governor of the earth, has provided, in the history of one nation, a lesson of instruction and warning to every nation under the sun; and the nearer the state and spirit of any people resemble the state and character of Judah when Jeremiah prophesied among them, the more reason they have to tremble under the apprehension of the same or similar judgments. We likewise are a highly favoured people, and have long enjoyed privileges which excite the admiration and envy of surrounding nations: and we are a sinful, ungrateful people; so that when we compare the blessing and mercies we have received from the Lord, with our conduct towards him, it is to be feared we are no less concerned with the question in my text than Israel was of old.” 
“Though the occasion will require me to take some notice of our public affairs, I mean not to amuse you with what is usually called a political discourse. The Bible is my system of politics. There I read, that the Lord reigns; that he doth what he pleaseth in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; that no wisdom, understanding, counsel, or power, can prevail without his blessing; that as righteousness exalteth a nation, so sin is the reproach, and will even totally be the ruin of any people… I hope we are now met, not to accuse others, but to confess our sins; not to justify ourselves, but to plead for mercy.” 
“The sin of a nation is properly the aggregate or sum-total of all the sins committed by every individual residing in that nation. But those may be emphatically called ‘national sins’ which, by their notoriety, frequency or circumstances, contribute to mark the character or spirit of one nation as distinct from another. It is to be hoped that some species of sins amongst us are not yet become national.” 
“Communities, as such, in their collective capacity, are visited and judged in the present life. And, in this respect, the Scripture considers nations as individuals; each having an infancy, growth, maturity and declension. Every succeeding generation accumulates the stock of national sin, and there is a measure of iniquity which determines the period of kingdoms. Till this measure is filled up, the patience of God waits for them, but then patience gives way to vengeance… When God is exceedingly displeased with a people, it is not necessary, in order to their punishment, that he should bury them alive by an earthquake, or destroy them by lightning. If he only leave them to themselves, withdraw his blessing from their counsels, and his restraint from their passions, their ruin follows of course, according to the necessary order and connection of causes and effects…” 
“But, O that we may rather, with one consent, search and try our ways, and turn to the Lord from whom we have so greatly revolted. To us, indeed, belong shame and confusion of face; but to the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against him.” 
Though such a message may be unanticipated in this day, it is nevertheless needed. Newton’s words are aimed as surely as us as ever they were at the English population in the Eighteenth Century. We have sinned against God, and the sins of which he warned have become the national sins of our own day. Perhaps it is that God has already withdrawn His blessing from the counsels of our leaders, withdrawn His restrain from our passions; if so, then ruin must of necessity follow, just as we are warned throughout the Word of God. I suggest it is time that we set aside a day of fasting and prayer, a time to confess our sin and seek again the blessing of heaven. I question whether such a course will be embraced by the nation since the leaders appear set against even acknowledgement of the Faith in this day. Nevertheless, the voice of the prophet needs to be raised again against the evil of the day, warning the nation of the consequences of wickedness. Surely, the Lord God is gracious; and just as certainly, He must hold to account a nation such as this because He is righteous and holy.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FAITH TO A NATION — Modern culture stresses living for the now. Even concern for the immediate future is often shoved aside in our mad dash to seize the moment. It is a strange observation that even such reasonable preparation for life as insurance to provide for family in the event of catastrophic illness or even death, is frequently neglected until it is too late. Saving for a rainy day has become an anachronism in this day.
Growing out of this prevalent worldview is a sense that faith, and especially the Faith, is optional at best, and perhaps even unnecessary. If you are heavy-hearted or if you have an immediate emotional need, then the Faith is always there to comfort; otherwise, it must not intrude into our hurried and hectic lives. In the intensity of the demands of daily life, the Faith is not deemed necessary by the majority of our contemporaries; in fact, the demands of the Faith may be a cumbrance that threatens to intrude into our busy lives.
Whilst nations exhibit moral or ethical standards that are acceptable to the populace, it is important for us to remember that the standards of a nation are the sum of what the people practise. A nation that is noted for godliness reveals a populace that esteems righteousness. A nation that is violent and volatile is a nation composed of unpredictable or mercurial people. Hence, they are untrustworthy. The character of a nation is determined by what the people embrace as core values.
There is a great deal of talk from corporations and from national institutions of their “core values.” I am somewhat amused by this modern phenomenon of investing energies to define “core values.” Even churches and denominations have gotten into the act, and on most church web sites you can read the core values of the congregation, just as you can read the core values for denominations. These are supposed to be guiding principles.
I am amused by this effort precisely because Christians should live out their righteousness; there should be no effort to define who we are. If Christ is among us, and if He rules over our assemblies, then are we not sensitive to the leadership and teaching of His Spirit? If we who occupy the sacred desk were actually to declare the Word of the Lord, our people would know the will of the Lord. As it is, too many of us who are called pastor are more concerned with doing whatever is necessary to make people feel good about themselves, confirming them in their wickedness, than we are with honouring the Lord. Thus, the perfect and immutable standard of God’s holiness is exchanged for the ephemeral standard of transient feelings. And the churches wither as they cease providing moral certainty. And the people live as they wish rather than as they should. And the nation declines in moral and ethical certitude.
We don’t need to define our core values! We need to live our core values! And when we live out our core values, we will turn again to the True and Living God. Throughout the Word are numerous statements of God’s felicitous blessing upon those who honour Him. Consider just a few of those statements of God’s blessing on a nation. And though most speak specifically of Israel, the context indicates that the divine principle applies to any nation that is righteous and that seeks His glory. Note first a prayer and statement that follows from the petition.
“May our sons in their youth
be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars
cut for the structure of a palace;
may our granaries be full,
providing all kinds of produce;
may our sheep bring forth thousands
and ten thousands in our fields;
may our cattle be heavy with young,
suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!
Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!
Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!”
Next is a statement that establishes the principle that God blesses the one who looks to Him; and as He blesses the individual, so He blesses the nation if the peoples serve Him and honour Him.
“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God.”
Of course, whenever one speaks of God’s blessing on a country, it is necessary to remember the words of the Psalmist. In fact, this benediction should grace the mind of every Canadian and hang in the office of every parliamentarian, legislator, councillor and reeve who occupies office on behalf of the citizens of our nation.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”
If you will remember but a portion of the divine promise, let it be that initial promise pronounced by the Holy One: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD.” The nation whose God is the LORD is blessed, happy, richly endowed with the good things that heaven affords.
Allow me to focus your attention on what follows in that particular Psalm. I have already cited the twelfth verse from the Psalm. Let me encourage you to take note of the powerful words that follow in this Psalm in order that I may emphasise the value of the Faith to a given nation. The Psalmist has made a statement in the twelfth verse that undoubtedly refers to Israel; but with the following verses, he throws open the door of blessing to all peoples.
“The LORD looks down from heaven;
he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
and observes all their deeds.
The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.
“Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.”
The Psalmist states that national might and strength, such as we adulate, is not what maintains peace; it is the blessing of God Himself that ensures peace and assures the populace that they shall be preserved. Neither military might nor political machinations suffice to ensure peace and prosperity. Neither a strong dollar nor a vibrant economy will ensure the blessing of heaven. In fact, it is because God blesses that a nation can enjoy plenty.
There remains this statement given by Moses that speaks of this same truth.
“There is none like God, O Jeshurun,
who rides through the heavens to your help,
through the skies in his majesty.
The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
And he thrust out the enemy before you
and said, ‘Destroy.’
So Israel lived in safety,
Jacob lived alone,
in a land of grain and wine,
whose heavens drop down dew.
Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you,
a people saved by the LORD,
the shield of your help,
and the sword of your triumph!
Your enemies shall come fawning to you,
and you shall tread upon their backs.”
HOSTILITY TOWARD THE FAITH IN OUR DAY — In a previous message, I outlined mankind’s disposition to commend evil through redefining good.  On any given day, it seems there are news items exposing hostility, insipient or full-blown. I do not believe this assault against the Faith is co-ordinated by any human being; however, I do believe it is co-ordinated. I am convinced that the god of this age is set against the Son of God and those who endeavour to follow Him.
Tragically, the nations are under the sway of the evil one; consequently, the civil powers blindly assail the very Faith that has brought prosperity and peace, believing that in the process they are promoting a great good. I say it is tragic, though few among the nations would agree that the sway of his satanic majesty is tragic. So long as the opiate pleasure gives a modicum of happiness, so long as the aphrodisiac power wafts its alluring scent or so long as the accumulation of possession sedates the gnawing emptiness of the soul, people will argue that this is the best possible situation in which mankind can be.
A recent 140-page report documents rising hostility toward religious exercise.  The hostility arises from both government and secular groups. The report highlights more than 600 examples illustrating religious animosity demonstrated by judges, government bureaucrats, schools and secular groups in America. What is exposed in the United States through this compilation of assaults against the Faith could be expressed in equally shocking terms here in Canada. From ObamaCare mandates that force religious entities to pay for contraception to children being punished for uttering prayers, the report exposes growing and overt hostility.
Among the examples listed in the survey are these:
•Matthew Reynolds, valedictorian for HLV Junior-Senior High School in Victor, Iowa, was told he had to give a 'secular' speech after he wished to attribute his success to his faith in Jesus Christ during his graduation speech.
• A federal judge threatened “incarceration” to a high school valedictorian unless she removed references to Jesus from her graduation speech.
•A cross was removed from a veterans' memorial in San Diego, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that the memorial was unconstitutional.
•Dr. Frank Turek, a Cisco employee, was fired for expressing his views on traditional marriage in his book, even though he never voiced his religious opinions at work.
•Samantha Schulz, 8, was barred from singing “Kum Ba Yah” at a Boys and Girls Club in Port Charlotte, Fla., because the song included the words “Oh, Lord.”
•Catherina Lorena Cenzon-DeCarlo, a nurse at Manhattan's Mount Sinai Hospital, was forced to participate in a late-term abortion against her religious convictions, and was threatened with job termination and loss of license.
•City officials prohibited senior citizens from praying over their meals, listening to religious messages or singing gospel songs at a senior activities center.
•A public school official physically lifted an elementary school student from his seat and reprimanded him in front of his classmates for praying over his lunch.
•Following U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ policies, a federal government official sought to censor a pastor’s prayer, eliminating references to Jesus, during a Memorial Day ceremony honoring veterans at a national cemetery.
•Public school officials prohibited students from handing out gifts because they contained religious messages.
•A public school official prevented a student from handing out flyers inviting her classmates to an event at her church.
•A public university’s law school banned a Christian organization because it required its officers to adhere to a statement of faith that the university disagreed with.
•The U.S. Department of Justice argued before the Supreme Court that the federal government can tell churches and synagogues which pastors and rabbis it can hire and fire.
•The State of Texas sought to approve and regulate what religious seminaries can teach.
•Through the Affordable Healthcare Act (“ObamaCare”), the federal government is forcing religious organizations to provide insurance for birth control and abortion inducing drugs in direct violation of their religious beliefs.
•The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs banned the mention of God from veterans’ funerals, overriding the wishes of the deceased’s families.
•A federal judge held that prayers before a state House of Representatives could be to Allah but not to Jesus.
These are but a few of the instances named and documented in this instrument. I daresay that one need but read the daily news items to discover that such actions are not occasional, but constant in our contemporary world. Unquestionably, we are witnessing a conflict of worldviews. Tragically, in light of this open assault against the Faith, Christians largely have remained silent, perhaps cowed by the argument that the law is opposed to them.
Much of the hostility is predicated upon the specious and fallacious concept of “separation of church and state.” Many citizens, ignorant of the founding documents of their nation and equally ignorant of history, imagine that the Faith must be confined to specific times and kept out of sight lest some infidel should be threatened by the knowledge that there is a God. What is worse, because there is abject ignorance of God and His power, those who purport to name His Name are silenced by their obvious confusion!
I have listened to the religious movers and shakers who counsel the people not to cause trouble. “Leave it to us,” they murmur. “If something happens, we’ll take care of it.” They assure the congregants that they know what is best and the people need only to avoid irritating the wicked. Is that not the counsel that Israel had received and accepted when Jeremiah wrote:
“An appalling and horrible thing
has happened in the land:
the prophets prophesy falsely,
and the priests rule at their direction;
my people love to have it so,
but what will you do when the end comes?”
[JEREMIAH 5:30, 31]
Moreover, officious government functionaries, ignorant of both history and national founding documents just as is true for church members, have set themselves as arbiters of a new morality that precludes open expression of faith in the Unseen God. In their quest to impose this new morality they are dependent upon the diffidence of professed Christians; for surely, should believers in the True and Living God speak boldly of His grace and power these advocates for national destruction would cower and quail. The thoughtful citizen can only marvel when governments apologise to adherents of the Religion of Peace for slights that are only imagined, even as they extract tax dollars from the citizens to promote what they identify as art that blasphemes all that is holy in the Christians Faith.
God has not imposed on His people harsh and demanding responsibilities that no one can fulfil. He calls His people to be righteous, to seek Him, to warn others of judgement even as we offer life in the Son—in short, He calls us to do good. However, should we retreat into sacred enclaves once a week while living lives that are indistinguishable from the world about us the remainder of our time, we dishonour Him and by our failure to be godly condemn the world. Ultimately, we who name the Name of Christ are the ones who bear responsibility either to deliver our world from judgement, or censure this dying world through our silent acquiescence with wickedness.
Let me remind you that Christians cannot be silent; we are compelled by the knowledge of the Holy One to proclaim His mercy and His grace. We are commanded by the Risen Christ, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [MATTHEW 28:19, 20]. We are assured through the example provided by the Apostle to the Gentiles that we must tell of God’s salvation. Paul testified, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” [ACTS 20:20, 21].
A NATION SUCH AS THIS — Jeremiah was commanded to search diligently for a man who acted justly and who sought truth. Should he find such an individual, God would spare the nation. Though the people were “spiritual,” they were not godly. Thus, they had become untrustworthy, self-centred, focused only on their own gratification. They had grown insensible to the divine judgement, and they would not accept discipline [see JEREMIAH 5:1-3]. The people had begun to take for granted the blessings of God. The people were wealthy, suffused with all that was needed for comfort, and they had grown complacent. They had become expert in parsing the law to ensure that it benefitted them and their friends, even at the expense of the needy.
All these evils are noted and documented by the Prophet. Then, to top the evil that marked the nation, he spoke of the loss of spiritual vitality because the religious leaders were endeavouring to say what the people wanted to hear. When Jeremiah stated God’s censure of the nation, he did not excuse the political powers for their profligacy or the people for their perfidy; however, he held the religious leaders a major responsibility for the loss of spiritual vigour. Those who should have stood for righteousness bore a major responsibility for failure to warn the people of judgement, for failure to point them toward righteousness and for failure to declare the Word of the Living God.
Jeremiah saw something appalling and horrible, a condition so shocking and shameful that he was compelled to speak out. He names three dreadful examples that were leading to judgement: prophets that prophesied falsely; priests that ruled according to their own whims; and people that wanted it to be that way. All the other sins of the nation could be laid at the feet of the religious leaders.
Our world has changed during the past five decades; and the changes are to our shame. We invent new ways of doing evil and give new names to the wickedness in which we delight. You will recall the LORD’s lament through His prophet:
“My people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
There are consequences when we forsake the divine heritage. And when we hew out our own cisterns rather than using those which blessed our fathers, we must realise that the waters held will be polluted and contaminated.
There are no drunks today, only alcoholics. Sodomy has transmuted into an alternative lifestyle, and perversion is now identified as adult entertainment. Immorality has transmogrified into the new morality in which everyone does what is right in his own eyes; and murder of the innocent in the womb is renamed abortion. Cheating is referred to as abnormal social development—a minor condition justified because “everyone is doing it.” Sociologists and psychologists have become the high priests of the brave new world in which we now find ourselves. In this novel world, God is not mentioned in polite society and all reference to Him is expunged from school classrooms. Prayer is banished from school, from extracurricular activities and even from daily life. When did you last witness someone pray with thanksgiving for the meal they were about to eat when dining in public? It is possible to learn more about Allah and Mohammad in textbooks than it is to learn about Jesus of Nazareth and the Apostles.
Thus it is that today our world is no longer concerned about sin—we have issues, as though these minor foibles can be addressed through counselling so we feel better about ourselves. Has there been a tragedy of some major proportions? Send in the grief counsellors so that we can “move on with our lives.” We are cautious not to label any activity or attitude as sinful, lest we hurt someone’s feelings. We wouldn’t want to be judgemental; after all, tolerance is the new norm in this new society. We preachers, especially, must not be specific when we speak, nor may we identify wickedness lest we bring down upon our head the wrath of some aggrieved soul. Denominational leaders assure us that caution is the watchword.
Because of this, the words of our text surely are directed at our contemporary society.
“Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD,
and shall I not avenge myself
on a nation such as this?”
Judgement did come to Israel in the days of Jeremiah. When it came, it was terrible. The people were astonished; surely, they couldn’t suffer. They were the people of God! How could He desert them to the hand of their enemies?
When judgement at last came, the appropriate response was to confess the wickedness and to seek again the Lord. Had confession preceded judgement, perhaps the hand of God would have been stayed. How pitiful, and how needed, the cry of Jeremiah when he mourned:
“The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned!
For this our heart has become sick,
for these things our eyes have grown dim.”
[LAMENTATIONS 5:16, 17]
Had the confession come earlier, judgement would have been stayed. Would that we might confess, “Woe to us, for we have sinned.” If we do not, there remains but one conclusion, and that is to receive His punishment. Amos warned Israel, “Prepare to meet your God” [AMOS 4:12]. Just so, the Word warns us today, “Prepare to meet your God.”
There is comfort in such a message. It is not the comfort of affirmation in our sin, nor the comfort of soothing words that avoid confronting our own evil; the comfort of the message lies in the knowledge that the Lord reigns, even when we are sinful. Jeremiah confessed after judgement:
“But you, O LORD, reign forever;
your throne endures to all generations.
Why do you forget us forever,
why do you forsake us for so many days?
Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored!
Renew our days as of old—“
Just so, we are confident that God still reigns, even though His people are rebellious.
If my focus is my own comfort, the message is an affront to my dignity; it rankles and irritates the soul. If I have seated myself at the centre of my universe, than anything that threatens me as the sole judge of my actions is hurtful and outrageous. When my personal supremacy is challenged, I will react with choler, I will show disdain for the message and the messenger. However, if my focus is the glory of God, I will recognise that my silence in the presence of wickedness has permitted this present condition to fester, contaminating my life. Failure to speak against that which is evil is to give acquiescence, if only through silence. Should that be the case, I will confess my sin and seek restoration to intimacy with the Lord.
I cannot address a nation; but I do address you. If evil appears to prevail, is it because we have been silent? If wickedness appears to be in ascendency, we have sought to avoid conflict and thus permitted it to grow unchallenged. We who are the people of God must confess that we have sinned through our silence. I suggest that it would be good to set aside a time to reflect upon our wicked silence and upon God’s mercies. I would suggest that it is time for us to declare a fast, a day of solemn contemplation of our sinfulness, a day to confess the sins of the nation and to seek God’s forgiveness. It is time to pray for mercy for leaders—national, provincial and community—asking that God direct their hearts to do what is right and to turn from evil. I commend setting aside a day to reflect on God’s mercies, and that this day be given over to seeking the face of God.
We cite the words of God spoken to Solomon, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” [2 CHRONICLES 7:14]. Do we believe them? Who knows where repentance may lead? Who knows what mercies may yet be revealed to us as a people? Who knows what goodness the Lord may shower upon His people? Amen.
 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers, 2001. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 The day of fasting was most likely appointed in response to the American Revolution and the continuing hostilities with the French.
 John Newton, “The Guilt and Danger of Such a Nation as This,” in The Works of the Rev. John Newton, vol. 5 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1988)
 Ibid., 139-140
 Ibid., 140-141
 Ibid., 146
 Ibid., 154
 Ibid., 165
 See Michael Stark, “Isaiah 5:20-23: Evil as a Duty,” September 9, 2012, http://newbeginningsbaptist.ca/clientimages/42652/sermonarchieve/isaiah 05.20-23 evil as a duty.pdf
 “The Survey of Religious Hostility in America,” Family Research Council and Liberty Institute, http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF12H29.pdf, accessed 24 August, 2012