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“The Things of the Spirit Come First”

The speech foresaw the future and correctly identified the core issue, but fell short of explaining what to do about it. We need a new declaration!

Tuvalu. Svalbard and Jan Mayen. Comoros.

Even serious geography students might be baffled trying to pinpoint these locations! They mean a lot to us, however, because they represent the homes of subscribers of Discern and visitors to its parent website, Life, Hope & Truth.

Our readers come from virtually every country and territory on earth (North Korea and Western Sahara being notable exceptions). By the way, Tuvalu is a tiny Polynesian island; Svalbard and Jan Mayen, an archipelago and remote island in the Arctic Ocean; and Comoros, an island country in the Indian Ocean.

Because of our global reach, we strive to transcend the diversity of the world’s politics, ideologies and cultures. In other words, although based in the United States, we try not to be America-centric, but address issues common to all humanity.

“Unless we cling to that”

Nevertheless, the majority of our audience is from the U.S., and for better or worse, this nation does cast a huge shadow of influence over the entire world. So whether you are a U.S. citizen or a distant observer, it’s wise to watch this part of the world.

We at Discern monitor in particular the moral, philosophical and cultural path on which this nation is traveling, and our worry level is climbing. The root cause is one of those issues common to all humanity.

As the U.S. celebrates its 243rd birthday on July 4, it’s a good time to revisit a speech given 93 years ago on July 5, 1926, by President Calvin Coolidge. Historians generally regard Coolidge as an unremarkable president, but his words that day were remarkably prescient.

“We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things,” he told the crowd in Philadelphia commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. But he then warned, “The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. … We must not sink into a pagan materialism.”

It was a speech extraordinary in vision but, unfortunately, weak in elaboration. It’s hard to talk about things of the spirit without talking about God, but Coolidge shied from that. He referred to God only obliquely when praising the founding fathers who “came under the influence of a great spiritual development.” In fact, it was their Declaration to which we owed our wealth, he said.

A “Declaration of Dependence”

Contrast that with another presidential speech given some decades earlier. Abraham Lincoln was hardly one to shy away. When proclaiming a national day of fasting in 1863, he boldly wrote, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. … But we have forgotten God.

“We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

He urged the nation’s citizens “to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

Would any world leader speak like this today? Would any nation heed such a call? I fear not. But no matter where on earth we are, in nations great or small, these are the important things of the spirit we urgently need to address.

The entire world has walked independently of God for too long. We need today a new declaration, a “Declaration of Dependence,” the kind Lincoln spoke of: “It is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God.”

May we begin walking down that path!

Clyde Kilough


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Discern Article Series

Christ Versus Christianity
Walk as He Walked
Christianity in Progress
Wonders of God's Creation