Recently we have all witnessed the state funeral of an outstanding U.S. president, Ronald Reagan. It was moving to see the leaders in the United States and around the world pay homage to him.
I was impacted by his accomplishments and sayings, especially since so many of them were based on biblical principles.
He had a deep respect for the Bible and once said, "Of the many influences that have shaped the United States into a distinctive nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible."
On solving the world's problems, he stated: "Within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems men face."
On the Ten Commandments, he humorously remarked: "I have wondered at times what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress."
On God and morality, he reflected: "Without God, there is no virtue, because there's no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we're mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under. I'm convinced more than ever that man finds liberation only when he binds himself to God and commits himself to his fellow man. Our liberty springs from and depends upon an abiding faith in God."
On humility he said, "There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit."
On abortion he observed: "I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born."
Reagan's Central Theme: The Shining City Upon a Hill
But it was the central theme of his presidency that most caught my attention, "The shining city upon a hill." He mentioned: "Standing on the tiny deck of the Arabella in 1630 off the Massachusetts coast, John Winthrop said, 'We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.'"
"Well," President Reagan added, "we have not dealt falsely with our God, even if He is temporarily suspended from the classroom."
As his presidency came to an end, he mused: "The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.
"I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.
"And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.
"We've done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger, we made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all."
Where did the theme of the shining city upon the hill originally come from? It didn't come from Ronald Reagan or from John Winthrop.
It actually came from the Bible, and specifically, from Jesus Christ Himself. It was He who said in the Sermon on the Mount, "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden...Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:14).
So you see, Christ was not speaking of America as the city on the hill, but about His Church and the Spirit-filled brethren who let their spiritual lights shine upon the world.
Yes, Ronald Reagan was a fine president who clearly enunciated his beliefs and convictions. His optimism was infectious, and many were willing to follow his vision of a strong, decent, productive and freedom-loving America.
He even recognized God's hand in all of this. He once said, "I believe this blessed land was set apart in a very special way, a country created by men and women who came here not in the search of gold, but in search of God. They would be free people, living under the law with faith in their Maker and their future. I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land."
Yet as wonderful as Reagan's America was, it was still a physical and carnal kingdom. America is not even a truly God-based system that takes into account all of His holy laws. As a result, it is rapidly deteriorating morally and spiritually. Thanks to God's promise to Abraham, the United States has retained some biblical truths and has prospered. But those of us who live in this blessed land must remember it is still a physical and political entity that is flawed and not the true solution to the world's evils.
Why Empires Collapse
Do some doubt the decline of the United States and its inability to solve the world's problems? We should recall historian Edward Gibbon's five reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire and see how similar these are to the situation we now see in the United States. They were:
First: A rapid increase of divorce, with the undermining of the sanctity of the home, which was the basis of society.
Second: Higher and higher taxes and the spending of money for bread and celebrations.
Third: The mad craze for pleasure, with sports becoming every year more exciting and more brutal.
Fourth: The building of gigantic armaments, when the real enemy was within—in the decadence of the people.
Fifth: The decay of religion—faith fading into mere form, losing touch with life and becoming impotent to guide it.
Yes, the handwriting is on the wall for those willing to see it.
Our Idealism and Excitement
So, how about our city on the hill? Do we in the Church have young people armed with spiritual idealism, as Ronald Reagan was able to muster with his physical ideals? Do we still have young people willing to learn and to get excited about God's vision for us?
I fondly remember my idealism, born 33 years ago at the age of 17. It was due to a church youth who was so excited about his beliefs that he infused me with them. Certainly Herbert Armstrong had that vision and also filled us with it. I am still excited to talk about my faith and am proud of it. I still feel like a spiritual warrior who continues to fight the spiritual evils that are all around us.
So, are we still excited about proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God, as Ronald Reagan was excited about the revolution he enacted? We should remember the world is not getting any better morally or spiritually. Many of the signs of the end times are around us—although some still remain absent—and we need to be getting the truth out about it.
In this regard, even President Reagan recognized he was witnessing some of the end-time conditions. He once told evangelist Jerry Falwell, "Jerry, we are heading very fast for Armageddon now. I turn back to your prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if we are the generation that is going to see that come about. I don't know if you have noted any of those prophecies lately, but, believe me, they describe the times we are going through. There were times in the past when we thought the end of the world was coming, but never anything like this...Maybe it's later than we think."
Do we still want to share the good news and reveal how much is false about traditional Christianity? Do we still want to teach how many blessings would come by honoring all of God's commandments and getting rid of so much religious error? What about the need to reveal to a deceived world what sin truly is? How about explaining what overcoming truly is, and helping to take the veil of deception from the world's eyes, as revealed in Isaiah 25:7, 42:6-7 and Acts 26:17-18?
Yes, the true shining city is still upon the hill, beckoning us to be a part of that idealism and to help spread that shining light of God's truth. We need our young people to see and embrace that vision of being part of that city upon the hill and shining its wonderful truths to the world.
President Reagan will be known as a very fine and courageous president who didn't just go along with the crowd. He valiantly stood up for his biblical convictions that had been mostly taught by his mother. He believed in God, the Bible, decency, courage, individual freedoms and love of country. As a result, he strove to leave the nation and the world in better shape than it was.
Yes, the United States has played an important part in history—mostly for good. But we must remember that when Christ comes back, His Kingdom will be based on the principles of the biblical city on the hill as taught by Christ to His Church—the spiritual Mount Zion.
So, why is it so important to be part of God's Church and work today? I received a note from Howard Davis, producer of the Tomorrow TV program that spells it out: "Our object is to proclaim the gospel with credibility. Not with man's wisdom, but with the logic of God. However, only God will do the calling into the Church. And the only reason God will call people into the Church is to bring them in to help in His work."
We have an important a job to do, so we all need to be more involved. We need to become excited by our calling, do our part and back what God is doing though all of us. This means always keeping that vision alive and standing in the gap!
As God said in Ezekiel 22:30, "So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found no one."
Yes, Ronald Reagan stood in the gap in a moment of history and was quite successful, curbing many of the evils in the nation and in the world in his day. But God is still looking for those men and women who will stand in the spiritual gap and let their spiritual lights of truth shine forth. It seems there are still too few people, especially among the youth, who want to become part of that true shining city on the hill. Let's encourage them to catch the vision and help us stand in the gap! UN