[July 4 1880, sermon of Rev. Henry Frost Wadsworth, pastor of First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY]
Yea happy is that people whose God is the Lord.
The psalmist was accustomed to trace genuine prosperity to its true and only source, whether relating to individuals or nations. He found from experience that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning.
That the great mistake the world has and is making consists in seeking happiness and the elements necessary to success from unauthorized sources – for in the text it is declared that the possession of happiness, can be traced only to divine sources.
Since it is said that that people only is happy whose God is the Lord. But what is meant by this expression or where may it be truly said that the God of any people is the Lord, the answer is when they believe, worship and obey the Lord, as the only true God, and that, according to his revealed will.
The Lord was the God of the Israelites, when they complied with the dispensation under which they lived and he is our God when we cordially believe and comply with the gospel. When we do so, the text pronounces us happy and plainly implies we cannot be happy on any other condition or any condition differing from this.
Thus a belief in Christianity by the inhabitants of a country is indispensable to their prosperity. For, if, that people only is happy or prosperous whose God is the Lord, and if to believe and comply with Christianity is necessary to have the Lord or God, it follows, that a belief in Christianity by the citizens of a country is essential to their political prosperity.
For political prosperity requires the practice of virtue and strict morality. And this cannot be so well secured by any other means as by a belief in Christianity itself. And among the false theories that governments have embraced and supposed necessary to secure permanent prosperity is the belief they should possess a large tract of territory. If there national domain extends from sea to sea and embraces a variety of climate they imagine they are in possession of one of the chief prerequisites to a long and successful career.
But the history of nations teach us the painful lesson that such have mistaken the source of true and lasting greatness. A nation may extend over so large a territory as to become unmanageable and thus fall to pieces by her own weight and except ???? together by Christian principles.
Other nations have followed have fallen into an error by conceiving that a nations happiness and greatness depends upon the fertility of the soil and the variety of her products. But both history and observation teaches us the fallacy of such a doctrine. The republic of Rome was once almost boundless as to territory possessing a great variety of soil adapted to the cultivation of the choicest fruit and grain but her renown as a nation has long since passed away and she is numbered with the great things which were but are not.
These things alluded to may promote, other things equal, a nations prosperity but they do not furnish the necessary element to a nations success.
Others again suppose that nations happiness and greatness may depend on the extent of her commerce or on the size, disciple, and courage of her army and navy. But there have been many nations since the flood whose renown built upon such perishable materials has had but a brief and uncertain career, whose sun early set in darkness and which this day would have been unknown or entirely forgotten from history.
So that some thing more is necessary to secure permanent renown, happiness, and prosperity than those things already named. And the thing wanted so secure permanent success to a nation is named in the text. It is, a moral and religious element. And required an inspired penman to bring it to the knowledge of the nations. It is not the product of human genius or greatness, but it originated in the divine mind.
Yea happy is that people whose God is the Lord. The prosperity of a nation is made to depend as to what or whom is its depend. For it is evident from the phraseology of the text that a nation may have other gods than the Lord. And, whenever that is the case, they need not expect prosperity. The Lord was the God of Israel, so long as they complied with the divine requirement or obeyed his laws and no longer
And he is our God so long as and no longer than we cordially believe in and adopt and comply with the instruction of our Lord and his apostles. The moment we cease to do so our government will cease to have the protection of God, and as a result of that abandonment we shall be dismembers and our noble flag will trail in the dust. This has been the fate of all the nations of the earth who have ignored Christianity and have embraced idolatry or rank infidelity. The days of all such nations form the beginning of the world have been numbered. They have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.
Look for instance at the condition of Spain and Portugal, Mexico, and most of the South American States. They have virtually abandoned Christianity and God has forsaken them. What ignorance and degradation abound there. And what deeds of darkness and cruelty also. Thus the prosperity of any government depends upon an avowed and public recognition of the Supreme Ruler of of the universe on whom all creatures depend and to whom all are accountable for the social, political, and religious blessings and privileges which they enjoy.
And again in order that our God may be the Lord it is proper that we have more or less knowledge of divine perfections such as omniscience, mercy and love. We cannot worship and obey an ???? being or an imaginary one. An attempt of that kind will fail. It will at best be only nominal rather than real – hypocritical rather than sincere. And this true knowledge of God indispensable to a proper worship of Him cannot be derived from the natural or physical world. For all the nations of the earth whose only knowledge of God was derived from his work are said to be without hope and without God in the world or without any true knowledge of him. Although the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handy-work, still multitudes of educated heathen with natures open volume before them have failed to derive therefrom a just and true knowledge of their creator. They have been idolaters. Nor have they been able to obtain a true knowledge of God from the natural operation of their minds or from their own conscience. But the chief source of a knowledge of God is derived from his world.
And this is one reason why the Bible should be in every family. That all may understand and practice its teachings. For if, we have incorrect view of God then we worship and adore only an imaginary being. And with this speculative and superficial knowledge of him we shall be unable to discover his glory and beauty, not be impressed with a sense of his holiness, greatness and goodness. Neither have our hearts drawn toward him as the object of supreme preference. As well expect that a mirror will be filled with love because a beautiful countenance looks into it, as tat the soul of man will be filled with love to God without a corresponding and realizing sense of his moral beauty and glory. For this reason every encouragement should be given to the study of the word of God that a true knowledge of him may be obtained by all of the inhabitants of this and other lands. And any apposition to such a course whether it emanates from infidelity, sectarianism, or indifference should be looked upon with grave suspicion.
There has been nothing which has contributed so largely in the establishment of freedom in this or any other land as that knowledge of the Scriptures of the old and new testament. Since we are taught by them what our duties are to God and to one another. It is especially from the new testament Scriptures that we are taught the fundamental truth that all men are born free and equal. That one mans rights are to be respect and protected as well as another. Unless having forfeited his privileges by crime. The scriptures tell us that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. That we must do unto others as we would have others do unto us. Whatsoever you would have men do unto you, do ye even so them. For this is the law and the prophets or this is what they teach. In all cases where these fundamental truths are adopted individual rights will be respected. Just will be done and oppression in any or every form will cease. It cannot be tolerated either by public sentiment or civil law. And a general jubilee if this were the case would be held all over the world in view of emancipated rights. In this lies the sovereign remedy against wrong doing in our own or other lands. Under practical influence of divine truth national feuds animosities and strife would come to an end.
For it is not only necessary that a nation should have a knowledge of God but love and serve. And say “who is a god like unto thee – Thy name alone is excellent and thy glory exalted above the heavens.” The more God is loved and trusted, the greater will be our prosperity as a nation as a community and may I not add as a church.
We need always to have our heart permeated by his spirit that our zeal may be manifested in upholding what is right and in suppressing what is wrong. The psalmist, one of the greatest statesmen of the age in which he lived, under the influence of inspiration addresses the nations of the earth in the striking and forcible language of the text. Happy is that people whose God is the Lord. That this only can secure to a nation permanent happiness and prosperity.
For he has declared he will withhold no good thing from them that love him. What encouragement such a promise presents and how literally has it been fulfilled in the history of such nations and individuals as have acted in accordance thereto.
The Israelites, so long as they obeyed God, greatly prospered. They were blessed with abundance. But as soon as they ignored the divine claims to their confidence, obedience, and supreme love and neglected his ordinances, they were visited by severe and protracted judgments. They were defeated in battle – taken captives and most of their leaders were slain. Their government overthrown and in many instances famine and pestilence followed in the train of war. As before stated, so long as they were loyal to God they prospered. God was with them in their battles and counsels and gave them success. His banner was over them. He threw around them his arm of protection. They were his chosen people. He was their defender. Their strong tower from which it is made evident that a nation need not entertain apprehension so long as they please God. And they will please God. And they will please him, so long as they keep his commandments and observe his ordinances. But the instant they cease to do so, they are condemned and exposed to divine displeasure. Let us then remember the admonition of the text – Happy is that [people whose God is the Lord.]