This text is a summary of what a nation can be by God and a
warning of what becomes of it when it abandons God. Holiness reigning in the
land brings it to honour. Wickedness reigning in the land brings it to shame.
Both parts of this verse are illustrated in the history of Israel. When she
followed the Lord she became great. When she forsook the Lord she became a
byword among the surrounding nations. Our text, though illustrated in the past,
has nevertheless a Divine freshness about it; and if any should ask: "Does God
speak today? Is there anything in the Scriptures particularly appropriate for
this nation?" we would have to say: "Yes, He has spoken. There is a message for
us today. The message is this: 'Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a
reproach to any people.'"
The Character of Righteousness
Let us think first of all on the character of
The root word for 'righteousness' in the original language
means 'to be right', 'to be straight'. The word also means 'to be just', 'to be
pious', 'to declare just'. In the Gospel sense it means 'to justify' and is a
legal term. Every man born into the world by natural generation has a sinful
nature and commits sinful acts. God’s justice rightly condemns us for our
lawlessness. How can we expect a holy God to do anything else? There is most
certainly a punishment that is due to us for our sin – eternal separation from
him for ever in Hell. We cannot argue against the justice of the Almighty in
this matter. However, the glory of the Gospel is this – the God Who is holy is
also loving and in His mercy He has done for us what we could not do – provide
us with an acquittal. Romans 3:25-26 tells us concerning Christ: "Whom God
hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood [the next
sentence tells us the Divine purpose in this], to declare his righteousness
for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To
declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the
justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." The Shorter Catechism sums
up the Bible’s teaching on justification thus: "Justification is an act of God’s
free grace, whereby He pardoneth all our sins and accepteth us as righteous in
His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by
faith alone." Thus faith in what Christ is and what He has done frees us from
condemnation. We are declared righteous. We can never fall under God’s
In a general sense, righteousness is anything in keeping with
the character of God, just as justification is in keeping with His character.
Not one part of God is compromised by the Gospel. He maintains His justice, for
sin is punished; but it is consistent with His nature to pardon us, because
Christ has taken our punishment upon Himself. Now, if we want to know what is
right before God we must turn to the Bible. The words of Proverbs 8:9 are
applicable to this book: "All the words of my mouth are spoken in
righteousness." This fourteenth chapter of Proverbs sets before us certain
practices which are righteous, which are in keeping with the Lord's character.
These include: building the house (verse 1), being a faithful witness (verse 5),
fearing God and departing from evil (verse 16), mercy on the poor (verse 21),
slowness to wrath (verse 29).
In short, righteousness is being what God wants us to be and
doing what God wants us to do. Only His grace can make us righteous and only His
grace can cause us to live righteously.
The Consequence of righteousness
Secondly, our text reminds us of the consequence of
righteousness: "Righteousness exalteth a nation." In other words, it lifts it
up, it raises it. Justified sinners will one day be glorified sinners and even
now, in a spiritual sense, sit 'in heavenly places'. Yet there is another lesson
here. The text shows us the secret of true national greatness, happiness, peace
and prosperity. Of course there is a need for the enactment of laws which are
Bible-based, but these in themselves cannot uproot vice, implant true virtue,
remove sin and raise the nation. Godly laws ought to be enacted, but they are
not adequate. Only by salvation can the soul be free to serve God in newness of
life, and the conscience being purged by the precious blood of Christ from dead
works, the believer is enabled to live in the way that pleases God. The end
result of an abundance of genuine conversions is the exaltation of the nation in
the highest sense.
Now it can be said that righteousness exalteth a nation in
commercial prosperity. If a country's businessmen are known to be upright in
their dealings, it is more likely they will gain respect and earn a place in the
world's markets. However, let us never confuse godly prosperity with ungodly
prosperity. The worldling would achieve prosperity at any price, and will not
have his plans regulated by God. However, godly prosperity is that which has
taken to heart Matthew 6:33: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His
righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." A note of
warning should also be sounded against the 'prosperity gospel'.
It is simply blasphemous to say that Christ died to make people
Righteousness exalteth a nation in social prosperity. When
God's way is followed, this makes joy in all strata of society. For example,
righteousness is a power for good on lawmakers and people alike. Proverbs 29:2:
"When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice."
Righteousness exalteth a nation in spiritual prosperity.
This is the most important thing. The Bible says: "Godliness is
profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is and of
that which is to come." In contrast, the worldly glory of great empires has
often been accompanied by moral degradation.
It is affirmed, then, that the best way a people can take to
support themselves is by believing the Gospel and following the laws of
righteousness and spirit of Christianity.
The Contrast to Righteousness
Thirdly, our text presents us with the contrast to
righteousness. "Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any
people." Sin is the opposite of righteousness. It is not being what God wants us
to be. It is not doing what God wants us to do. It is rebellion against God's
will revealed in the Scriptures. It is a going beyond and a falling short of His
standard. By definition, it is 'missing the mark'. Romans 3:23 tells us: "For
all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." There are certain sins
mentioned in this chapter which make for the destruction of the nation. Included
are: the despising of God (verse 2); pride (verse 3); false witness (verse 5);
anger (verse 17); despite of neighbour (verse 21); envy (verse 30); oppression
of the poor (verse 31); but that which has the worst influence is mentioned in
verse 9: it is the mocking of sin.
In verse 9 the word 'sin' is in the Hebrew asham. It is
the word for the trespass offering. The trespass offering in the old Mosaic
economy was typical of Christ's sacrifice for sinners. Isaiah says: "But he was
wounded for our transgressions." Alas, how many in our land make a mock at the
work of Christ! They say 'no' to His Saviourhood. They say 'no' to His Lordship.
They reject His death at Calvary as the only atonement for sin. They "trample
underfoot the Son of God, and count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing."
What is the end of their actions? It is the shaming of the nation, for "sin is a
reproach to any people". Some may feel a measure of shame. Many do not and
neither can they blush. When such a spirit prevails, the nation is
Let me illustrate this truth by reminding you that Rome and
Greece, famed for achievements, reached great depths of corruption. Romans
chapter one describes the heathen world in the best stages of its refinement:
"They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to
corruptible man. […] Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness … God gave
them up unto vile affections. […] They did not like to retain God in their
knowledge. […] God gave them over to a reprobate mind."
If the shame of sin was great upon the heathen, what shall we
say of those nations whose light has been greater than theirs – who have had the
Gospel? Surely the greatest reproach lies upon those who have had the greatest
light but have turned away from God!
How Britain has been blest with the Bible! How much she has
been favoured by having for so long, in the tongue of the people, the Bible –
God's own revelation – but what have the people done? The words of Pastor Joe
Wright of Kansas, though spoken of people in the United States, are so
applicable to our people: "They have ridiculed the absolute truth of God's Word
and called in pluralism. They have worshipped other gods and called it
multi-culturalism. They have endorsed perversion, and called it an alternative
lifestyle. They have exploited the poor and called it the National Lottery. They
have killed the unborn and called it choice. They have neglected child
discipline and called it the building of self-esteem. They have polluted the air
with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression."
Instead of being exalted, Britain is being dragged down to the
lowest depths. Oh! that our people would be attentive to this solemn word: "The
wicked shall be turned into Hell and all the nations that forget God."
The Commendation of Righteousness
Finally, let us think about the commendation of righteousness.
Righteousness is commended by its character and consequences and also by the
nature of that which it is opposite – sin.
Taking the text as a whole we have here an appeal to
Government. It is the responsibility of Government to introduce legislation
which will encourage practical righteousness and a living in accordance
with the Scriptures. Government responsibility is summed up in Romans 13:3
"For rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil." The chief
obligation of our rulers is to have a genuine care for true religion and to
endeavour to preserve and promote it. Alas, how miserably they have failed!
They have made it law to desecrate God's day, and by endorsing other
wickedness for the sake of popularity, have not helped to create the atmosphere
conducive to the forwarding of the truth of God. Mr Blair and the Labour
Cabinet have failed too often to realise that what is morally wrong cannot be
politically right. What a reproach they have brought on this nation! What shame!
God has a message for our government. The message is this:
'If you would maintain true authority and guide your subjects aright, then
remember this: "Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any
There is also an appeal here to churches. If government is
responsible to promote righteousness, how much more so-called organised
Christianity! Yet how few churches today seem to be preaching righteousness. In
1984 the United Reformed Church published a study guide in which it was said:
"We have no evidence as to whether or not Christ was married, and Christians
have tended to react with horror that He may have had women lovers or have been
homosexually inclined. Yet Christian belief insists on the full humanity of
Christ, which includes sexuality. If Jesus was fully human, He must have been a
fully sexual being." This kind of message will never win men to the true Christ.
Real converts are the fruit of the unadulterated Gospel of the Lord Jesus
Christ, the impeccable substitute for sinners. Those churches that will not
preach Him cannot hope to have an influence for good. The preaching of another
Jesus is sin and "sin is a reproach to any people".
Christians are the salt of the earth and holiness is their
savour. They have an awesome responsibility to this nation to live righteously.
It goes well with the people when God's children are walking with Him, for
"righteousness exalteth a nation". Right living must remain right attitudes. How
are the redeemed going to treat the present declension? Will they be indifferent
and say: 'This was predicted and there's nothing we can do about it'? Surely
repentance is needed by the people of God if this country is going to escape the
wrath of the Almighty. II Chronicles 7:14 says: "If my people, which are
called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn
from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins
and heal their land." Then shall the nation be exalted.
Verse 34 is also an appeal to sinners. Sinners must realise
that by their Christ-rejection they are not only shaming themselves, but
contributing to the downfall of the nation. Is it so that you are not content to
reap judgement upon yourself but must seen it come upon others too who, by your
example, you would encourage in careless living? Have you not yet realised that
your sin cannot deliver on the promises it makes to you and that even your
self-righteousness is counted as "filthy rags" in the slight of God? You are
lost without Christ. Your case is hopeless apart from faith in Him.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good!
Isn't it about time that you called upon Him for salvation?
Listen to this imperative and promise. Oh, may God help you to look away to
Christ and to look to Him now! This is the accepted time. This is the day of
salvation. God will hear you now if you cry to him. "For whosoever shall call
upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."