Tonight I had intended to remind you how rich you are and to warn you about the dangers of our consumer culture. That is a message we need to hear, and you may hear it sometime next year, but that is not what everyone is thinking about, so it is not what we are not going to talk about tonight.
Instead, with some trepidation, I want to offer some preliminary thoughts on the extraordinary events of December 19, culminating in the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton by the United States House of Representatives.
There are plenty of things I will not talk about. I will not discuss the relative merits of impeachment, censure, and resignation. I will not clarify the relationship between public and private morality in elected office. I will not make any judgments about whether or not the rule of law has been upheld or defied.
By and large, those are political questions. I have opinions about them, but as a minister of the gospel, I keep those opinions to myself. They do not belong in the pulpit, especially since they are matters about which Christians legitimately may differ.
There are two things I want to point out, however. One is the folly of committing small sins. Sin is foolish to commit for many reasons, but especially because it so destructive. It destroys both ourselves and others, often in ways we do not expect and cannot imagine.
Our President has confessed—and I believe both political parties agree about this—that he is a sinner. At first, it was a very small sin. Remember how it all began, on a day when it was quiet around the White House. The government was shut down and the employees had gone home, but the interns were still around. It seemed innocent enough at the time. Just a little playful banter in
the hallway with a young woman.
When it comes to sin, however, one thing leads to another. Lust leads to adultery, which leads to deception, which might lead to almost anything. We find ourselves in a situation which no one wants and which no one intended, least of all the President himself.
This whole sordid chapter in American history is a parable on the folly of sin. It illustrates this moral principle from the Old Testament: You may be sure that your sin will find you out (Num. 32:23).
So be warned. Your own idleness, lust, and little deceptions are equally fatal. Every sin is like the flower of a small dandelion. However pretty it seems when it first pops up from the ground, it contains within itself the seeds of a hundred other weeds. Even sins which seem trivial at the time have destructive potency, not only in this life, but also in the judgment to come.
The other thing I want to point out is the folly of trusting in human government. Whatever your opinion about what the House of Representatives did yesterday, I doubt you were very impressed with the capacity of human beings to govern themselves. Very little genuine communication took place. Our nation’s leaders seemed to be talking past each other rather than to each other. Many of the arguments—on both sides, by my reckoning—were shallow and unconvincing.
In light of all this, I was intrigued by President Clinton’s reference to Scripture yesterday. In the speech he gave after his impeachment, he referred to his desire to be a “Repairer of the Breach.” This phrase comes from the prophet Isaiah, and Mr. Clinton has mentioned it many times during his presidency:
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings (Isa. 58:12).
In this passage Isaiah is concerned about the state of his nation, and especially the dilapidated condition of its moral fabric. Listen to what he said about politics as usual in those days, and consider how little has changed.
Isaiah told his people to do away “with the pointing finger and malicious talk” (58:9b). He said:
Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil (59:3b-4).
So justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us.
We look for light, but all is darkness;
for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.
Like the blind we grope along the wall,
feeling our way like men without eyes (vv. 9-10a).
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter (vv. 14).
It all sounds very familiar. And what did God think of it all? The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice (vv. 15b). Matters were so desperate that he had to take them into his own hands.
He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm worked salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him (v. 16).
There are times when human government becomes so chaotic and corrupt that only God himself can repair the breach. When we find merely human government wanting, we may be sad, or angry, but we should not be surprised.
Isaiah’s prophecy about God stepping in to save human beings from themselves is about the Messiah. Remember his promise: For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall rest upon his shoulders (9:6a).
That promise is a reminder that the meaning of Christmas partly has to do with good government. Human beings need to be governed. If they are to be governed rightly, they must be governed with honesty, integrity, fidelity, and justice. Frankly, for that reason, there are times when the government which rests on Christ’s shoulders is the only one I want to be a part of.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org