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Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone

Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone

Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010 3:05 pm

 The Messenger, February 11, 2010
Sinners on Madison Avenue

Special to The Messenger
You can visit Madison Avenue, or watch the New York Knickerbockers play in Madison Square Garden. But suppose you visited these places, named after James Madison — would you be surrounded by innocent and kind people or depraved people bent toward sin?
A protegé of the Calvinist founding father John Witherspoon, James Madison became the fourth president of the U.S.A (1809-17). He is known for being a political philosopher and is called the “Father of the Constitution.” Before he became president, he served in Congress and authored the Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10). Madison strongly believed that our republic needed a system of checks and balances to protect individual rights from the tyranny of the majority.
Why was Madison so concerned about protecting rights as he was creating our government? Why the need to divvy up power? Although not a very religious man, Madison was certainly influenced by Witherspoon’s Reformed anthropology — man in sin is totally depraved. Madison would not buy into today’s Hallmark card notion that mankind is inherently good.
Genesis 6:5 says, “God saw that every intention of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil continually.” Because men are prone to evil, men must have checks to prevent abuse.
The danger inherent in a solitary leader ruling over the people is that the leader can become a tyrant, with the people blindly following him into sin. Presbyterian church government, with its plurality of elders, is based on this principle. A plurality of elders helps to check the tendency toward evil self-centeredness that is in every heart by providing accountability and the benefits of pooled wisdom.
In the United States, our government plan is good because it starts with man as bad. Our republic was founded on the basis that no one man has the ability to be a good king or absolute authority. Good vital faith also starts with man as bad (only Jesus is righteous).
Does this have implications for Christians today? To the degree that a person is convinced of his own sinfulness, he will actually love God more as the love of God becomes that much more tangible to him. Consider how the gospels contrast Pharisees to tax collectors, priests to prostitutes. According to the Bible, who walked away from Jesus justified? Not those we would assume. In the Bible, sinners flock to Jesus, while many “good people” hate him.    
John Calvin summarized this well: “Thus, our feeling of ignorance, vanity, want, weakness, in short, depravity and corruption, reminds us, that in the Lord, and none but He, dwell the true light of wisdom, solid virtue, exuberant goodness. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves.”
Understanding sin, the Christian’s trust must not be in any political party or candidate, but in the Lord, King Jesus, overcoming the guilt and power of our sin and misery. On the cross, Jesus became the worst sinner so that His blood could purchase a kingdom of sinners accounted as God’s righteousness. Lasting kingdom work is done not by those who seek to preserve their lives by getting the right people in office and the right laws passed, but by those who lose their lives for His sake.
Law-making is not bad — it is just ineffectual for fixing us. If we had perfect laws and perfect government, these things would be powerless to affect the evil in our hearts. Government can restrain evil, but it cannot create good. The Holy Spirit must give His people new hearts and daily equip them for good works. Like James Madison, we must be certain our thinking is Biblically consistent when we consider our hopes for our government.
Editor’s note: Justin Westmoreland is campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He, his wife Meredith, and three children — Knox, Owen and Grace — attend Grace Community Church in Union City.

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