Who Bears God’s Standard Now, By Which America Was Born?
Do not, any one of you, suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evil doer or one taking charge of the things of others. But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God in that name. (1 Peter 4:15-16)
Once chosen, it is still not uncommon to hear the nominee of a political party referred to as its standard bearer. That title hearkens back to the battlefields of old, when the banner or ensign of one’s King or cause was used to mark the place from whence the forces on one side and the other began their advance into the fray. It also represented the point beyond which no combatant would retreat, unless commanded to do so; and where, in consequence, all would take their stand, come victory or death.
Though in our politics the field on which the battle lines are drawn has no such geography, it is still the case that political parties purport to stand upon a platform that is supposed to articulate their cause, a platform the one they nominate for election is supposed to represent. But in the days when battles were still fought by troops arrayed in serried ranks advancing against one another, the first American patriots foreshadowed the role of such written platforms. They took their stand upon the premises set forth in the Declaration of Independence.
When the Framers of the U.S. Constitution deliberated its provisions, they took those premises as the touchstone of the common principles of right and justice they should apply. When passions ran high, those principles, laid out with good reasoning, were used to contain their ill effects; to keep them from sweeping away the prospect that the American people would successfully maintain “among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”
As the source of their entitlement, God was the sovereign whose will they acknowledged as their standard of right. George Washington had been the nation’s revered standard bearer in its battle for Independence. He was therefore chosen as the one who would uphold its standard for the constitutional government they instituted to secure, in peace, the right and rights for which they fought.
Though flawed as any man, Washington had shown that he exemplified the qualities of mind, character and courage, without which Americans would surely have failed to sustain their self-government. He was the man who would have been their King, had their view of government been so disposed. But he was chief among those who championed a republican form of government, meant to safeguard peace, order and prosperity by a due dependence on the people.
For many decades Washington’s witness in favor of republican self-government for the American people swayed the mind of the nation. His example had the kind of credibility the law allows to testimony plainly contrary to the selfish interest of the witness. Washington was seen to do sincerely what Julius Caesar had done for show. He eschewed the rulership that might have been his. He did so in order to inaugurate an experiment meant to vindicate humanity’s God-endowed capacity for self-government.
He chose to be the first standard bearer for a people disposed, on the whole, to receive with good will God’s superintendence of their nature. And in that guise he gave an example that set limits upon the endless appetite for power that has contributed to the death of liberty for so many nations inspired, since the United States was founded, by the example of the American people. Tragically many of them
were bereft of the outstanding characters whose sincere love of God and human right curbed the temptation to resurrect the tyranny of oligarchic power Americans had successfully overturned.
For more than a century and a half his example governed the appetite for power that inevitably besets people in a position to abuse it. It did so without need of any law. The Supreme Law of the land now provides for the limitation of power Washington self-imposed. But the public spirited character of true self-government, which he exemplified, is besieged from within. Its ramparts are betrayed, its bulwarks battered down or crumbling from neglect. What standard bearer now puts into action the reverence for God’s intention for humanity Washington’s self-limitation exemplified?
There is no limit to the term of power the present elitist powers now envisage. In respect of human affairs, their ambition has escaped the leash of reason. They have cut it off at its root, which is in God. They have severed it in the name of empirical science. But without its lineage from God, that name of science is meaningless as a source of just authority over human life and conduct. As Lady Macbeth avows (Macbeth, Act I, Sc. 7), it lets “‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I Would’ like the poor cat in the adage”. It offers no basis for authority but in the wicked will that dares to reach for power as the only “ornament of life”, even if that means abandoning respect for self-evident right.
The understanding that nature, including human nature, is inform by the benevolent will evinced in the very act of creation itself, is what makes it sensible to assume, a priori, that the dispositions characteristic of our nature contribute to its preservation. They represent the Creative will that, in the first place, envisages our existence. Accordingly, it prepares the rest of nature as we are capable of knowing it.
The dispositions within us that correspond to right are like the instructions by which a computer program functions as intended. If we follow the Creator’s dispositions for our nature, we realize (make real) the way of being assured for us by His understanding. By doing so we live and draw life from His being, for it is our substance and the substance of all that is.
These dispositions inform us, as it were, of the routines by which the program that corresponds to our existence informs and forms it, including of course the programming that allows for our awareness of alternatives that fall within the parameters of our existence, but which are subject to our choice (though with consequences that we do not necessarily control.) Because they run contrary to the will of our Creator, some of these choices lead us away from the path of our existence, down paths of recurrent calamity, short circuits that ultimately cut off the current of God’s will, from which we draw the sustenance of being.
Thus the Psalmist says “God knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the unrighteous shall perish.” This is not so much a statement of God’s willing intention for us, as it is a warning about the consequences of forgoing His provisions for our existence. Without them we must and will cease to be what we are. Becoming what? We cannot know.
This is the life-preserving implication of the standard of God-endowed right America’s Founders erected in the name of God, relying on the power thereof. Though wickedness besets us on every side, if we respond in the way of the wicked, our fate is certain. For by seeking to defend ourselves in their wicked way, we abandon the only standard by which we are ultimately weighed, which is the standard of God. In consequence, we will perish, and by our own choice.
So we must defend what comes to us from God in ways that correspond to the right made known in us by God. If we do otherwise, we abandon the only power in being that keeps us from extinction. For in fighting evil with evil, we inadvertently make God’s will the one we seek to overcome. Of course, in that case, by applying the same rule by which He made us in the first place, His will prevails. So, the blaring Trumpeters of the moment notwithstanding, let those who have ears to hear, hear. Then answer this—Who bears God’s standard now, the way the first American patriots did? Who rallies round the Declaration; both in the war by which, sometimes, the American people must come into and hold their own; and in the Constitution that, in war and peace, sustains their unanimity as they do so?
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