A GODLY HERITAGE: LAND
INTERNATIONAL RP CONFERENCE
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
JULY 29, 2000
A few miles from my home in Philadelphia are the rich suburbs. We call that area the Main Line. You can drive down street after street there and see one mansion after another. I wonder, “How can there be so many of these places? Who has enough money to own them?” In Philadelphia the answer often is, “Children whose parents left them lots of money.” Their great grandparents got rich on the Pennsylvania Railroad and the heirs have taken good care of their money.
What do you think of inherited wealth? What do you think of children born to money and power which they did not work for and have done nothing to deserve? I think that inherited wealth is a wonderful thing. An inheritance from Uncle Warnock Patton and from Uncle Hugh Patton, who were Sterling, Kansas farmers, helped us buy our first home. God intends children to inherit from their parents and sometimes from their uncles and aunts. “Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers,” the Book of Proverbs observes. (Proverbs 19:14)
We all have an inheritance from God. We did not earn it and have done nothing to deserve it. What is our godly heritage? I’m sure that you think right away about the inheritance stored up for us in heaven. Jesus said, “In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) With great hope, I have read those words at many graveside services for saints who have fallen asleep in the Lord. We have “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for [us].” (I Peter 1:4) The full inheritance of the heirs of God’s Kingdom will come at the Resurrection. We patiently wait for that day.
What about now? Do we already possess an inheritance? David did. Psalm 16, verse 6. David sang, “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. I have a good heritage.” By falling lines he means the boundary lines that “fell” by lot when Israel divided Canaan. “Lines fallen to me in pleasant places” means that David’s family got fertile, well watered land. That good earth was their home and gave them food. David, of course, uses the phrase “lines fallen to me in pleasant places” as a way of describing his entire God-given inheritance. The Lord made David king over the whole land of Israel. He promised that a son of David’s would always be king. And he gave himself to be the God of David, so that David called God “the portion of my inheritance.” (Psalm 16:5) And there it is, David’s inheritance and ours: land, children, God.
The Lord gave the same inheritance to the entire human race in the beginning. He gave land, saying, “Let them have dominion over...all the earth.” (Genesis 1:26) He gave children, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) And God gave himself in a covenant. He put a sign of that covenant, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in the midst of the Garden, so that Adam and his children would always know God as their God. God gave the human race land, children, and himself.
Adam lost our inheritance because he would not accept God’s terms for owning it. At Satan’s instigation, Adam seized the one thing denied him; he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But God was generous and left Adam and his descendants a limited use of the forfeited heritage. He gave children to Eve, albeit with pain. The earth gives food, albeit with sweat and weeds. And God did not cut off all relations with mankind. Men could approach him with a sacrifice, while remembering his promises.
What about our father Abraham? Did he get the same inheritance of land, children, and God himself? Certainly!
Now the LORD said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation.... I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3)
God promised Abram: 1) the land of Canaan, 2) a great nation, and 3) to be Abram’s God who would protect him. Anyone who cursed Abram would be cursed. God fulfilled those promises. He made Abram’s descendants into a great people, the nation of Israel. He gave them the land of Canaan. And he was Israel’s God, dwelling with them in the temple in Jerusalem.
But God’s promises to Abraham were not completely fulfilled in Canaan, Israel, or the Temple. Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, is the true heir of God’s promises to Abraham, and the true heir of David. Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, has regained mankind’s original inheritance. Land. “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord,” the saints sing. (Revelation 11:15) In Christ we also inherit the land. “The meek will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Children. Christ says, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.” (Hebrews 2:13) And in Christ our children, Paul writes, are “holy.” (I Corinthians 7:14) And God. By the Covenant of Grace, Christ brings us home to him. God takes us back home like the father in Jesus’ parable took back his prodigal son who had wasted the inheritance.
In considering the inheritance of land, children, and God, we will find that God has organized the use of our inheritance with three institutions. When we think land, we think about the governments which control the land. Civil rulers will bow before Christ! When we think of children, we think family. How many children should you have, anyway, and how should you raise them? And when we think about God, we will have to consider the church, to whom belong “the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), “the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants...and the service and the promises.” (Romans 9:4) How do we meet with God on his terms in his temple?
We have a three-fold godly heritage, given to Adam, forfeited in sin, regained in Christ: land, children, God. The inheritance is unearned, it is undeserved, it is the possession of those who are in Christ by faith. The story of our godly heritage unites man and land and God in a coherent whole which contains the meaning of our lives. What else is life about but working the land, raising our children, and serving God?
Tonight we start with land and how the rulers of this world govern it. Tuesday, it will be children, and Thursday God our heritage. Land! There are ten things that you need to know about land so that you can live in it rightly.
A GODLY HERITAGE: DWELL IN THE LAND AND POSSESS IT
I. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That you need land to eat. Most of you don’t live on the land like your ancestors did. You eat food bought at supermarkets. But one thing remains a fact. You live off the land. Take away Kansas wheat fields and Japanese rice paddies and we all starve. No land, no life. Next time you pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” pray for the farmers of your land. They feed you. And thank God for the earth! Imagine if everyone moved off the land to the cities. Imagine if Kansas really did empty out? What would happen? Everyone would soon rush back to the land to plant food, or the government would force people to be farmers. I know this goes against the grain, but would all of the farmers present, please stand up? Everyone else, they feed you from the land. (Thank you, and you can sit down now.) You need to know that you eat from the land God gave to the human race.
II. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That God gave your nation its land. We’re familiar with the Bible’s teaching that God gave its land to Israel. The law and the prophets are full of references to “the land of our inheritance,” “the promised land,” and to “a land flowing with milk and honey.” God, however, is God of all the earth and he gave its land to every nation. In the Law it is written, “The Most High divided their inheritance to the nations.” (Deuteronomy 32:8) Amos the prophet preached to an Israel that mistakenly thought of itself as God’s only people. He corrected them. “’Are you not like the people of Ethiopia to Me, O children of Israel?’ says the LORD. ‘Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?’’ (Amos 9:7) In the New Testament, it is written that God “made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.” (Acts 17:26)
Canadians, please stand. God gave you your land, and not so long ago at that. Japanese, please stand. God gave you your land many centuries ago when your ancestors moved on to those islands and displaced older inhabitants. Irish, please stand. God gave Ireland to the Irish. Australians, please stand. God gave your land to you. Americans, please stand. God gave your land to you and is still bringing to your shores, as he is to Canada and Australia, ever new immigrants to join your nation. I hope that you all love your land and thank God for it. He makes you able to dwell in your land in safety, and you should care for your land. Destroy, pollute, and devastate your land, and then what will your children have? Ugliness and blight. In the land of your nation, if the Lord tarries, your children will live and serve God. You need to know that God gave your country its land. Take care of it.
III. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That your nation will have it for as long as God has appointed. No longer. Paul told the Athenians that God has given to each nation not only its land but also its “preappointed times” in the land. Even for Abram God would not hurry his timetable: Abram’s descendants did not get Canaan until the Amorites’ cup of iniquity was full. (Genesis 15:16) When a nation becomes completely evil, like Sodom with its vicious inhospitality and sexual perversion, or like the Carthaginians and Aztecs with their abominable human sacrifices, God will end its existence. Bloodshed pollutes the land. If it is not avenged, if murder is approved rather than punished, then the shed blood cries to the Lord for vengeance. Christians, you cannot give up the fight against legal killing of defenseless unborn children. Human sacrifice to thirsty idols, murderous treatment of strangers, and the wanton killing of the weak will surely shorten a nation’s stay in its land. He exiled his own people Israel from their land, leaving only a tenth alive! You need to know that God gave its land to your nation. He can take it away.
IV. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That God has given each nation its land for a purpose: “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for him and find him.” (Acts 17:27) To that end God never left himself without a witness anywhere on earth. As Paul said to the idolators in Lystra, who wanted to sacrifice to him and to Barnabas as gods after they healed a man:
“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, who in bygone generations allowed the nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He did not leave himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:15-17)
The entire fabric of nature testifies that a good God made it for man. The greatest crime of the nations is that they
“suppress the truth in unrighteousness because what may be known of God is manifest in them,for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20)
The most important thing about a people in their land is the gods they serve. Its religious faith, its “cultus” will shape its culture. If they serve idols, they will become morally corrupt. If they serve the living God, they will answer to him, for he is a jealous God. You need to know that God has given your nation its place on the earth so that your nation will seek him.
V. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That every land is governed by its nobles who lead it either toward God or away from him. In some lands the nobles cluster about a king and rule with him. In other lands an aristocracy rules. In modern liberal democracies, power rests in the hands of multiple interlocking elites: big business, news media, judges, politicians, entertainment moguls, universities, upper bureaucrats, and billion dollar foundations. King, nobles, or elites inescapably rule the land and set its spiritual direction. God addresses rulers directly in Psalm 2. “Why do the nations rage? The kings of the earth set themselves...against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast their cords away from us.” He tells them to repent and kiss the Son.
Here’s why you should pray for kings and all in authority. God calls them to repent and serve him. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (Proverbs 21:1) God blesses a land when its judges judge justly and its rulers love righteousness: when its elites, in other words, serve God in their capacity as rulers. The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches: “It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate...[who] ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace.” (XXIII:2) Even if the majority of the people serve God, unbelieving leaders will set a people on a course away from him. You need to know that the direction of your land will be set by its leaders. Leaders lead. Elites rule.
VI. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That the Evil One usurped power in many lands by luring the nations into serving idols and believing lies. From his position of usurped power, he offered to give Christ all the kingdoms of the world if he would only bow down to him. (Matthew 4:9) Pharaoh's Egypt, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, Caesar’s Rome, Hitler’s Germany, and Stalin’s Russia, all showed their allegiance to the Evil One by persecuting the saints. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, the Jews were taken to exile in Babylon, the Christians were persecuted in Rome. In every land where the Church goes, the saints find that they are quickly treated as strangers and outcasts. So it was in Japan before its military defeat in 1945. So it is today in China and the Sudan. You need to know that being a Christian will make you like Abraham and Sarah, aliens and citizens in your own land with the emphasis often on alien.
VII. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That Christ has commissioned his church to take his liberating message of salvation to every land and nation on earth, and it will succeed! Where the truth of Christ goes, the power of idols dies. It happened in ancient Rome, it happened in Saxon England, it is happening today in Thailand. Not even the gates of death prevail against the church. Instead, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. In its beginnings, every church is a scattered church, no more at home in its land than the scattered Jews were in Rome -- alien citizens. Peter therefore wrote “to the pilgrims of the Diaspora -- “diaspora” means “scattered” -- in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” (I Peter 1:1) James wrote “to the twelve tribes which are scattered (diaspored) abroad.” (James 1:1) The Kingdom is not yet. Nevertheless, though Christians began as alien citizens in the Roman Empire, the Lord meant to have Rome bow to him. Paul wrote “To the church of the Thessalonians;” he wrote “To the church of God which is at Corinth.” (I Thessalonians 1:1, I Corinthians 1:1) He wrote to every church under the name of the city where it resided, as though it belonged to that city, and the city belonged to it. The Kingdom is already.
(By the way, my favorite church name is “Second Indianapolis Reformed Presbyterian Church.” I like the “Second,” because it acknowledges that there was once a “First,” and the witness of the second is the same as the first. I like the “Indianapolis” because it makes a claim on the city. There are no New Testament churches, you’ll notice, with unearthly names like “Fellowship of the Covenanted Apostles,” or “Our Lady of Perpetual Obligation.” Back to our subject.)
The Book of Acts indicates that the Lord meant to have Rome. First, Luke notes how the Roman centurion Cornelius believed; so did Cyprus’ governor Sergius Paulus. Second, Luke loves how Roman authorities sometimes protected Paul and finally paid for his trip to Rome. No surprise. Isaiah prophesied concerning Christ, “Kings shall be your nursing fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers; they shall bow down to you.” (Isaiah 49:23) Finally, Luke ends his account with Paul in Rome itself, preaching freely, as though to say, “Rome will be Christ’s.” The Book of Acts could well be titled, “From Jerusalem to Rome.” The Diaspora Church, though treated like Israel in Egypt, will not leave Egypt. Even though it never forgets that its eternal home is in heaven, it prays for the king’s conversion and for Rome itself to turn to God, for Egypt to become Canaan. You need to know that Christ means to have your land bow to him, and it will.
VIII. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That Christ has indeed made lands and empires his own in the last two thousand years. Christendom was not a fraud and it was not a mistake, no matter what Baptist and secular historians write about it. For two hundred fifty years Rome resisted the Church, at times killing its leaders, burning its Bibles, confiscating its churches, sending its men to work as slaves in silver mines, and sometimes even killing its women and children. Finally, the Empire learned that it had to become Christian: the old idols had no more power left in them. The temples were empty. In the year 313 of the reign of our Lord, Emperor Constantine announced that he was a Christian. Immediately he ended persecution of the church, set prisoners free, and restored church property. Soon he began to alter Rome’s laws to reflect the Bible. He began making the Lord’s Day a day of rest. He passed laws protecting slaves and women. He outlawed branding criminals on their faces because man is made in the image of God. He ended crucifixions because Jesus was crucified. He called together the first ecumenical council of the church which defended the truth against the heresy of Arius. He built a new capital, Constantinople, to be a Christian city. Rome’s lands became Christian lands and its alien citizens much more at home as citizens than before: alien citizens, if you will.
What happened to Christian Rome? It soon divided into East and West. In the East it lasted for many centuries until Mehmet the Conqueror entered Constantinople in 1453. In the West the Empire disintegrated. In time a new Christian civilization emerged among the Germanic tribes that moved into Rome’s old lands. Through all of the warfare, new discoveries, and spiritual ups and downs of the millennium from Charlemagne’s coronation by the Bishop of Rome in 800 to the French Revolution in 1789, the countries of Europe called their land Christendom. They recognized the lordship of Christ over their lands. As in ancient Israel, where even the best kings failed to live up to God’s Law, so in Christendom there were evil and cruel failures alongside great faith and obedience to God. But though the Christian West was never perfect, not even close, it was genuine with blessings of truth, freedom, domestic peace, law, science, and prosperity too numerous to relate tonight. Most of us here tonight are heirs of Christendom. You need to know that Christ has converted the leaders of many lands during the past two thousand years and through them given great blessings to the lands they ruled. Our lands need such conversions today.
IX. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? That Christian lands, if unfaithful, can slip back under the apparent control of the Evil One. They can be conquered by alien powers. All of today’s Arabic Muslim lands, outside of Arabia itself, were once Christian lands. Then armies from Arabia swept over them, and the Christians in those lands, many of whom denied the full truth about Christ’s identity, were content to be ruled by Islam. Thank God that Christian Constantinople for centuries protected Christian lands behind it from the tender mercies of Mohammed's soldiers and Koranic rule, once enduring a four year siege, from 674-678. Thank God that in 732, in a battle in the south of France at Tours, Charles Martel stopped invading Muslim armies and protected the Christian lands behind them. Thank God that in 1521 Ottoman Turkish armies failed to conquer Vienna in Austria. Thank God that the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and Shinto Japan in World War II and that the United States with its allies faced down the Communist Empire in the forty year Cold War. Without those military victories given in God’s mercy, Christian lands would have all been conquered by avowed enemies of Christ.
But Christian lands can also be subverted by apostate leaders. When the elites turn against Christ, they lead their lands away from him. Christendom today is apostate. The apostasy began with the self-named “Enlightenment.” It continued with an American constitution that makes no mention of God or the Bible. It revealed its hateful nature in the Terror of the French Revolution. In its maturity Marxist atheists and Nazi atheists killed millions upon millions with war and famine and murder. What of the liberal democracies which inherited the blessings of Christendom? Its families break apart or are never formed while vile perversions raise their head with zealous glee. Smiling benignly, our governments countenance the private killing of millions of unborn children and the hurried departure of the aged. And in Europe and Japan it is happening, as it did in ancient pagan Rome: people are simply refusing to have children. In the culture of death the spirit to live is failing. Only in the United States among the industrial democracies is the birth rate at replacement level -- thanks to our large number of illegitimate births. God sits on high and laughs at those who plot to break the gentle yoke of Christ’s rule. God has begun to “dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel,” but the West is unconscious of it because it says, “Money answers everything.” (Psalm 2:9, Ecclesiastes 10:19) You need to know that if God did not spare his people Israel, he will not spare the branches grafted in to his olive tree.
X. What do you need to know about your inheritance of land? You need to know how to live as saints in your lands today. To Christians living in Japan, I say, live like the Christians in ancient Rome, even while national Shintoism again rears its ugly head. Love your land, it is God’s unrecognized heritage to all the Japanese, Christian and non Christian. Obey the laws, pay your taxes, honor your rulers and pray for them, and never agree to shut up. Never compromise with Shinto idolatry. Bear children in hope and gather weekly to serve God without fear. If God chooses to convert your rulers, then rejoice. What blessing it will be for your country. If not, then remember that you are waiting for your King to Come. To Christians living in lands that were once Christendom, in the United States and Ireland, in Canada and Australia, in Scotland and Cyprus, I say, pray Nehemiah’s prayer of repentance for your land and its people. If we must be strangers in a strange land, we accept our lot, alien citizens with the emphasis on alien. We acknowledge that the sins of the church of Jesus Christ, including a modern failure to call the nations to obey Christ, have done much to bring God’s judgment on us. We still love our lands which God has given to our peoples and will sing thankfully to God about purple mountains and fruited plains. Here we will raise our families, tell our neighbors that in Jesus alone there is salvation. We will meet weekly to remember how God has saved us and to hear how we then should live. And besides obeying the law and paying our taxes, we will remind our nations from whence they have fallen. Christendom will find that it can’t be anything else but Christian. If the West will not be Christian, it will soon be nothing. There will be no one left in the culture of death.
To review: What do you need to know about the godly heritage of land? 1. That you need it to eat. 2. That God gave your nation its land. 3. That your nation will have it for exactly as long as God has appointed. 4. That God has given each nation its land for a purpose: “so that they should seek the Lord.” 5. That every land is governed by its elites who lead it either toward God or away from him. 6. That the Evil One usurped power in many lands by luring the nations into serving idols and believing lies. 7. That Christ has commissioned his church to take his liberating message of salvation to every land and nation on earth, and it will succeed! 8. That Christ has made lands and empires his own in the last two thousand years. Christendom was not a fraud and it was not a mistake. 9. That Christian lands, if unfaithful, can slip back under the seeming control of the Evil One. They can be conquered by alien powers. They can be subverted by apostate leaders. 10. That you need to live as saints in your lands today, unafraid, “not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” (Philippians 1:28) Bear children, a godly heritage, in faith and in hope. Tuesday’s topic. And serve God your inheritance in faithfulness and love. We will talk about worshiping him on Thursday.
The Church continues to preach to the nations. Jesus Christ reigns and will claim his inheritance in the kingdoms of the world. In Israel’s last days before the Temple’s final destruction, faithful Jews took the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the despised Gentiles of the Roman Empire. They believed even while Israel turned its back on its Messiah. In the Empire’s last days faithful missionaries like Patrick took the Gospel to heathen tribes like the Irish Celts whom the civilized world despised. They believed and were saved. And in the heyday of European imperialism, faithful missionaries took the Gospel to the Asians and Africans whom the white Europeans despised. Thus the Church grows in China and Korea, in large regions of Africa and throughout the villages and cities of Latin America. More and more lands will be Christian lands. Idolatry will fail and apostasy will consume itself.
The apparent failure of Christendom reminds us, finally, that every inheritance received in this life will fade. James wrote to the rich to rejoice in their humiliation because like grass they would fade away. He told the poor brother to glory in his exaltation in Christ. (James 1:9-10) When the Church resides in a land where the rulers do not serve the Lord, let it glory in its eternal destiny which has “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away.” (I Peter 1:4) When God blesses a land with faithful rulers who bow to Christ, let the Church remember even as it finds a home in a Christian land, that when it is not esteemed, God’s blessing can pass as quickly as an Irish summer shower. And always we look for our Coming Lord, our Coming King whom we will see in all his glory. He will gather the nations from the north and south, the east and west, and all tongues and peoples will praise him with everlasting praise in the new heavens and the new earth. The meek will inherit the earth. For Christ’s is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Amen.