Shelby G. Floyd
Note: I proclaimed this sermon forty three years ago when I was thirty nine year old. And today I affirm these bedrock truths as strongly as then! Wake up America, and endorse our founding principles before it is too late!
In view of the transformation of the American culture, it is proper to ask, “Will God continue to bless America?” Whatever has made America great in the past and the present will make America great in the future. We love to sing the prayer song, “God Bless America.” Truly that song expresses our fondest hopes and desires that God will continue to bless America in the future like he has in the past. I am quick to tell you that I am proud to be an American. I am grateful to God that I was born in this country and that I have citizenship in this great nation. I don’t think that it is contradictory to be proud to be an American and to be a Christian at the same time. I wouldn’t equate Christianity with Americanism. I believe that a person can be a Christian and live in another country and not be an American. But on the other hand, I don’t think it is wrong to be proud to be an American and also to be a Christian. I believe that you can be both.
GOD BLESS AMERICA
I think all of us love the words of that song, “God bless America.” It is a prayer song.
“God bless America, land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
Throughout the night, with a light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God bless America,
My home sweet home.”
We can sing that and we can pray that and I think it is right for us to do that. God wants us to be proud of our country. He wants us to pray for our leaders and he doesn’t think that it’s wrong for us to participate in those things that will help keep America on the road to greatness and God’s providence.
Today I am discussing with you the subject—what makes a nation great? We know that the annals of history are littered with the dust of nations that have risen, have become great, have declined and ultimately they have fallen. There is a reason why they became great; there are causes for their downfall and decline. Today we’re discussing what makes a nation great in the sight of God. As I said a while ago, whatever has made our nation great in the past will make our nation great in the future. We can’t deny that America, even today, is a great nation in the roll call of nations. What’s made this nation great? Let’s try to find out.
You know someone has penned these words describing what makes a nation strong and what makes a nation great. I think they are appropriate right now:
I know three things must always be
To keep a nation strong and free.
One is the hearthstone bright and dear
With busy, happy loved ones near.
One is a ready heart and hand
To love and serve and keep the land.
One is a worn and beaten way
To where the people go to pray.
So long as these are kept alive
Nation and people will survive.
God keep them always everywhere,
The hearth, the flag, the place of prayer.
What makes a nation great? A nation is great when that nation depends upon God and trusts in God for its greatness and guidance. You know in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was God’s people. God raised up rulers, first judges and then kings. Some of the kings were great, some of them were not. During the time that these kings depended upon God the nation of Israel was great. When its rulers didn’t depend upon God, the kingdom declined and ultimately divided and was taken into captivity. I believe those kings that depended upon God should be able to tell us something today as citizens of America and to our rulers of this great nation.
WHY NATIONS FALL
What makes a nation great? When a nation remembers God and his word that nation can be great! What will cause a nation to decline and fall? David was perhaps one of the greatest kings of Israel and yet David said in one of his Psalms, “the wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations that forget God” (Psalms 9:17). So if a nation forgets God, it cannot be or long remain a great nation. Also, David said in Psalms 9:20 “put them in fear, oh Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men.” When a nation gets to the point that it feels like it is God instead of just men made by God, created in God’s image, that nation cannot long remain a great nation. Sometimes people are lifted up with pride and they think they are God instead of men made in the image of God and under the government of God. So David prayed that men might realize themselves to be but mere men and not to be lifted up with pride.
In Psalms 22:28 David said, “for the kingdom is the Lord’s and he is governor among the nations.” You know, our rulers must recognize that they are rulers under a supreme ruler and that is God. God is the governor of all nations and they are only rulers subject to the ruler of the universe. Then in Psalms 33:12, the Royal Bard of Israel sang a song and part of the words are these, “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord and the people whom he has chosen for his own inheritance.” What makes a nation great? When it doesn’t forget God; when that nation realizes that it is simply men; when that nation has God for its Lord; and when that nation is made up of people whom the Lord has chosen for his own inheritance. That’s what makes a nation great.
What makes a nation fall? Whatever has caused nations to fall in the past, will cause nations to fall today and in the future. There have been 21 civilizations in the annals of history and only three of them have survived. So there is no ironclad guarantee that our nation will continue in its greatness and that 100 years from today our posterity will be celebrating another birthday unless our nation continues in the principles and the ideals that have made it great in the past.
Sin Destroys Nations
Why do nations fall? Let me first give you the answer to that question by the sacred historians of the Bible. The first thing that will cause a nation to fall is sin. Solomon succeeded David to the throne of Israel and the kingdom of Israel reached its zenith of glory and greatness under the rule of Solomon. Solomon prayed that God might give him wisdom to rule over his people, the nation of Israel. God gave him that wisdom and in addition he gave him wealth and riches and glory and honor. Solomon said in Proverbs 14: 34, “righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” When people do what is right in the sight of God and they adhere to his commandments and his word, it will cause a nation to be exalted and lifted up to glory, but when a nation of people are sinners and rebellious against God’s will, it will cause that nation to be debased; it will cause that nation to decline. Sin, then will cause the downfall of the nation.
In the second place, the sacred historians teach us that when we allow the foundations of a country to be destroyed, there is not much that the righteous can do. In Psalms 11:3, David said, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” That is still a good question. The foundations of our country such as the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, honesty, integrity, industry, godliness, all of those foundations are being eroded today by sensualism, pleasure, materialism, godless atheism, and many other ways that men are trying to destroy these foundations. We, as God’s people, have a great influence in a nation like this for righteousness and for good and we must do what we can, not only as citizens in the kingdom of God, but as citizens of this nation, to keep these foundations from being destroyed. We are “the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its savor, where with shall it be salted?” God’s people must not stand by and allow these foundations to be destroyed. If they are destroyed, what can the righteous do?
Removing the Ancient Landmarks
Then there is another thing that will cause a nation to fall and that’s to allow the landmarks to be removed. In Proverbs 22:28, Solomon said, “remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” Back in ancient times they didn’t have surveyors, nor did they have fences. So to mark off a person’s property, they would simply erect a large stone mark as a landmark for the property. But there were evil and sinful people in that time that would remove the landmark; they would steal and cheat and it was a very bad thing for someone to remove a landmark that had been established by the forefathers. Our forefathers have established great landmarks for our nation and you and I know that there are people today who are removing those landmarks. A nation cannot long survive if its ancient landmarks are removed, which were set up by the forefathers. So we cannot allow these landmarks to be removed.
Nations Destroy Themselves
In the next place, the sacred historians teach us that a nation will fall when it destroys itself. Hosea was one of God’s prophets that he sent out to warn the people that they were going to fall if they continued in their apostasy. Hosea cried out in the plaintiff words, “Oh, Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help” (Hosea 13: 9). Along this line, we need to remember the words of the great historian, Will Durant, who said, “No great nation has ever been overcome until it has destroyed itself.” Its enemies without cannot overcome America, but its enemies from within can overcome it. We can destroy ourselves and then the enemy can simply take this nation without firing a shot.
What makes a nation great? What causes a nation to fall? One of the great nations in past history was the nation of Rome. We read about the nation of Rome in the Bible. Paul visited Rome and established many brethren in that city. He imparted spiritual gifts to them and he wrote a letter to them, one of the great letters of the Bible. Rome was one of the greatest nations in its glory, in its landmass, in all history. It continued until 476 A.D., therefore, it was much older than our own country, and yet Rome fell. What caused the fall of Rome? It was a great nation and yet it declined and it fell. Edward Gibbon wrote the great history called, The Rise And Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. In that book he listed five contributing reasons or causes for the fall of the Roman Empire. I want to list them for you and ask the question, could the same thing be true of this country today?
Cause No. 1, was the rapid increase of divorce with the undermining of the sanctity of the home, which is the basis of society.
Cause No. 2, was higher and higher taxes with the spending of public funds for bread and celebrations.
Cause No. 3, was the mad craze for pleasure with sports becoming every year more exciting and more brutal.
Cause No. 4, was the building of gigantic armaments when the enemy was from within, the decadence of the people.
Cause No. 5, was the decay of religion with faith fading into mere form and losing touch with life and becoming impotent to guide it.
Now you will notice that those five reasons that he has mentioned for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire deal, No. 1 with the home and morality; No. 2, with pleasure; and No. 3, with religion; and No. 4, with the erosion of the tax base for pleasure, bread and welfare. So there are about four areas that brought the downfall the Roman Empire: morality, pleasure, religion, high taxes, and the decadence of the people.
There was another man that has been identified as Professor Kittler. He lived in Scotland; he taught in the University of Edinburgh; he had studied the history of nations. And whether he is the author of this, I do not know for sure, but he has been credited with giving these nine steps in the history of civilizations. I do know that civilizations in the past have gone through the cycle of these nine steps. America may be going through the same steps in its history:
THE CYCLE FROM SLAVERY TO FREEDOM TO SLAVERY
Step 1, from chains of slavery a people rises to spiritual faith.
Step 2, from spiritual faith they generate courage.
Step 3, from courage they forge liberty.
Step 4, from liberty comes abundance.
Step 5, from abundance arises selfishness.
Step 6, from selfishness it is an easy progression to complacency.
Step 7, from complacency the next move is to apathy.
Step 8, from apathy a people degenerate to dependency.
Step 9, from dependency there is only one logical and one inevitable move back to bondage once more.
That is the very cycle that many nations have followed in times past. You know, a moment ago we listed those five causes for the downfall of the Roman Empire. On January 10, 1961 in the congressional record, one of our Congressmen had recorded in that periodical six goals of the Communist Party for America. They were taken from the book called, The Naked Communist written by Cleon Skusin. He was able to write these things down from over sixteen years of working with the FBI. They were called “Current Communist Goals.” I want to mention those goals and see if they do not involve some of the very areas of the downfall of the Roman Empire.
GOALS OF THE FORMER COMMUNIST PARTY
Goal 1: Eliminate all laws governing obscenity by calling them censorship and violation of free speech and free press.
Goal 2: Breakdown cultural standards of morality by promoting pornography and obscenity in books, magazines, motion pictures, radio and television.
Goal 3: Present homosexuality, degeneracy, and promiscuity as normal, natural and healthy.
Goal 4: Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with social religion. Discredit the Bible and emphasize the need for intellectual maturity, which does not need a religious crutch.
Goal 5: Eliminate prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the ground it violates the principal of separation of church and state.
Goal 6: Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce.
You will notice those six goals of the former Communist Party for our nation of America involves morality. It involves the home. It involves the school. It involves our great institution of the press and freedom of speech. So it involves the same areas that Gibbons said brought downfall of the Roman Empire. Do I need to tell you that these goals have been achieved, especially in the last 10 years at an alarming rate? Ten years ago we would not hear filthy language, cursing and obscenity on the radio and television and our motion pictures, but now we do. A few years ago we wouldn’t have seen on our television programs and on our movie screens the degeneracy and immorality that we are witnessing today. Today on the soapbox operas, the movie screens, the television sets, the radio, the picture is being presented of the home being broken down—free love, easy divorce, and promiscuity. All of these things are being glorified as the new way of life. Satan is behind all of this. And if he can bring the downfall of our people, he can bring the nation down. We must realize that a nation falls easier from within than from without.
WHAT WILL CAUSE A CITY TO FALL?
What makes a nation great? What makes a nation fall? The same thing that brings down cities brings down a nation. You doubtless remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Old Testament (Genesis 18, 19)? They were so wicked and evil; their morals were so low, that God said that he was going to destroy them from the face of the earth. Abraham went to that city and tried to get out Lot, his nephew and his family. Abraham appeals to God, and said, “God, if I can just find 50 righteous souls, will you not destroy this city?” God said, “I will not destroy it, if you can find 50.” Abraham cannot find 50! He said, “Will you protect it for 40?” God said, “Yes,” but he couldn’t find 40. Then he says for 30, 20, but he couldn’t even find 20. He made one last appeal to God. He said, “If I can find 10, will you not destroy it for the sake of 10?” And God said, “I will not destroy it for the sake of 10.” But Abraham couldn’t even find 10 righteous souls.
I believe that the difference between Sodom and Gomorrah and America is that there are more than 10 righteous souls in this city of Indianapolis and many, many times that many in this great country. Righteous people are what will keep this nation great. When it comes to the point that there will not be many righteous people in America, America will fall. A city will fall. Look at some of our major cities. In many of them the people have degenerated in their morality to the point that many people are moving out like rats off of a sinking ship. If a city can fall then the same thing can happen to the whole country.
STATEMENTS FROM THE EARLY PATRIOTS
What makes a country great? What makes a nation fall? I want to give you just a few statements from our early patriots and our great statesmen who founded this country.
• First, George Washington said in his first in inaugural address of April the 30th, 1789, “His divine blessing on which the success of this government must depend.” He recognized the success of America and its government must depend upon God and his blessings.
• Secondly, Benjamin Franklin, the great statesman, scientists and philosopher, convened the first floundering constitutional convention in these words, “I have lived a long time, sir, and the longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that in empire can rise without his aid.” Benjamin Franklin was simply saying that America couldn’t become a great nation without God’s help and God’s aid.
• Daniel Webster the great statesman, lawyer and orator of our early history, said, “if we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering, but if we and our posterity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and our glory in profound obscurity.”
• The French historian Belluzzo once asked James Russell Lowell how long he thought the American republic would last. James Russell Lowell replied in these words, “so long as the ideas of the founding fathers continue to be dominant.” And yet we know that there are people and movements in our country who are trying to rewrite the Constitution and do away the ideas of our founding Fathers.
• Abraham Lincoln, in his famous Gettysburg address, had these words, “that this nation, under God, shall not perish from the earth.” As long as our nation recognizes God and recognizes that it is under God, perhaps she will not perish from the earth.
• Grover Cleveland, on March the fourth, 1885, when he was the newly inaugurated president, said, “and let us not trust the human effort alone, but humbly acknowledging the power and goodness of almighty God who presides over the destiny of nations and has at all times been revealed in our country’s history. Let us invoke his aid and blessing upon our labors.”
• Theodore Roosevelt warned our country in these words, “the things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, safety first instead duty first, love of soft living and get rich quick theory of life.” That warning needs to be taken seriously by our nation today!
ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE
In 1805 to 1859, there was a man by the name of Alexis DeTocqueville. He was a Frenchman, and he visited America, he traveled throughout our land, and then went back home and wrote what he thought made America the great nation that he found it to be. He said,
“I sought for America’s greatness and the genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers and it is not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields and boundless forest and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her rich mines and her vast world commerce and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public school system and her institutions of learning and it was not there. I sought for the greatness and genius of America and her democratic congress and her matchless constitution and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great, because America is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Those are the words of Alexis DeTocqueville, the great historian who visited America.
What makes God bless a nation? A nation is blessed by God when it lives in Liberty and yet Liberty is not an end or goal in itself. Our forefathers came over to America looking for the freedom to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience; freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness. But they did not conceive of liberty as the freedom to do just anything you want to do—the freedom to trample on the rights and happiness of other people. No, that was not the nature of the freedom our forefathers sought in the early days of America and should not be our conception of freedom today.
THE NEW COLOSSUS
Many people have noticed the Statue of Liberty as they have come to America to find freedom and opportunity. Emma Lazarus wrote these words called, “The New Colossus,” and they are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore,
Send these the homeless, the tempest tossed to me.
I will lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
Thousands of people have entered through the New York harbor and found the door of opportunity, the land of freedom, and what kind of freedom was it? It was not the freedom to do just anything you want to, but the freedom to do right, the freedom to worship God, the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness. May it always be!
Our founding fathers recognized that liberty could be used for evil as well as for good and that liberty only gave a man the opportunity to pursue the good, but also would give the people the opportunity to pursue the evil. So, when they wrote the Constitution, their idea was that liberty was the freedom to worship God and to pursue happiness and material blessings, but that this liberty did not give people the right to trample the rights of other people.
Recently we’ve had a man come to America from Russia. His name is Alexander Solzhenitsyn. When he came over to this country, he recognized that a lot of people were not using their freedom for the right thing. Here’s what he said about freedom,
“Freedom is a gift of conditional, not intrinsic, worth, only as a means by which we attain another and a higher goal. If freedom is an end within itself, then we’re losing sight of the nature of true freedom. Freedom only gives us the liberty to achieve even higher goals and those goals must be to serve God and to serve our fellow man as well as ourselves.”
When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution, he recognized that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness would be an individual thing and that all men were only created equal in the sense that they would have this individual liberty and freedom to pursue these higher goals, not that everybody would pursue those goals. And even today we do not find everybody pursuing those goals. Some use their freedom to achieve higher goals in life. Some use their freedom to pursue lower goals in life. It actually depends upon us.
What will make our country great? Not only having inscribed upon our coins, “in God we trust,” but we must have “in God we trust” stamped upon our hearts. What will make our country great? Not only when we pledge allegiance to the flag, but we pledge allegiance to God as a nation, one nation under God, indivisible, with peace and liberty for all. What will make a nation great?
WHAT MAKES NATIONS GREAT?
I can tell you something that will not make a nation great. If commerce will make a nation great, ancient Tyre would not have fallen. If political organization and regimentation would make a nation great and keep it from falling, ancient Rome would never have fallen. If military power alone would keep a nation great and keep it from falling, Germany would have not fallen, nor Japan. If religious ceremony and rituals would keep a nation great, Israel would never have fallen, but she fell, nevertheless. If treachery would keep a nation great and keep it from falling, Japan would never have bowed her proud head in defeat. Those things in and of themselves will not keep a nation great in the eyes of God. What will then make a nation great?
Alexander Blackburn has written these words:
Not serried ranks with flags unfurled,
Not armored ships that gird the world.
Not hoarded wealth or busy wells,
Not cattle on a thousand hills.
Not sages’ wise nor school nor laws,
Not boasted deeds in freedom’s cause.
All these may be and yet the state,
In the eye of God, be far from great.
That land is great which knows the Lord,
Whose songs are guided by his word.
Where justice rules twixt man and man,
Where love controls an ardent plan.
Where breathing in his native air,
Each soul finds joy in praise and prayer.
Thus may our country good and great,
Be God’s delight, man’s best estate.
Those words expressed the sentiment of my heart to you today. A nation can be great when people become Christians, the children of God. If you’re not a child of God, you ought to be, not only for your own soul’s salvation, but also so you can lend strength to our great nation. But I appeal to you primarily, because you need to be a child of God, to have your sins forgiven and have the hope of eternal life. In the Old Testament, the Bible says,
“If my people which are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Will you seek the Lord, turn your face against evil, believe in Jesus Christ as the divine son of God, confess your faith, and be baptized for the remission of sins even this very day? *
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon July 4, 1976, on the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, at the Garfield Heights Church of Christ, 2842 Shelby Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. The principles are as true today as they were then. Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2006, 2015 2019 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
– Thomas Jefferson
I AM THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
I am the flag of the United States of America. My name is Old Glory.
I fly atop the world’s tallest buildings.
I stand watch in America’s halls of justice. I fly majestically over
Institutions of learning.
I stand guard with power in the world.
Look up at me and see me.
I stand for peace, honor, truth and justice. I stand for freedom.
I am confident.
I am arrogant.
I am proud.
When I am flown with my fellow banners, my head is a little higher,
My colors a little truer.
I bow to no one!
I am recognized all over the world.
I am adored—I am saluted.
I am loved—I am revered.
I am respected—and I am feared.
I have fought in every battle of every war for more then 200 years.
I was flown at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, Shiloh and Appamatox.
I was there at San Juan Hill, the trenches of France, in the Argonne
Forest, Anzio, Rome and the beaches of Normandy, Guam.
Okinawa, Korea and KheSan, Saigon, Vietnam, I was there.
I led my troops,
I was dirty, battle worn and tired, but my soldiers cheered me.
And I was proud.
I have been burned, torn and trampled on the streets of countries I have
helped set free. It does not hurt, for I am invincible.
I have been soiled upon, burned, torn and trampled on the streets of my
And when it’s by those whom I’ve served in battle—it hurts.
But I shall overcome—for I am strong.
I have slipped the bonds of Earth and stood watch over the uncharted
frontiers of space from my vantage point on the moon.
I have borne silent witness to all of America’s finest hours.
But my finest hours are yet to come.
When I am torn into strips and used as bandages for my wounded comrades
On the battlefield, When I am flown at half-mast to honor my soldier,
Or when I lie in the trembling arms of a grieving parent
At the grave of their fallen son or daughter, I am proud.
MY NAME IS OLD GLORY
LONG MAY I WAVE.
DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN:
LONG MAY I WAVE
MAY I FLY PROUDLY FOR ANOTHER TWO HUNDRED YEARS.