The Enemy Within

volume 18, number 40, October 3, 2019

Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord.‘” -Jeremiah 17:5

On the afternoon of July 14, 1789 ,French King Louis XVI returned to Versailles after a day of hunting. He received a note from one of his aides, saying that an unruly mob had stormed the Bastille, an ancient prison which to many in France was symbolic of the monarchy’s oppression and abuse of power. The shocked king said, “This is a revolt.” To which his aide said, “No, Sire. It is a revolution.”[1]  

France is a classic example of a prosperous nation falling from within. The corruption and favored status of the Roman Catholic Church and the cushy lifestyle of the aristocracy, coupled with high taxation brought down the economy and then the nation as a whole. Due to extravagance by the nobility and French support of the Americans in our revolutionary war, France had a serious debt problem. In order to erase the debt, taxes were raised, not on the nobility or the church, but on the average person, many of whom were very poor. Later Jacques Necker was appointed as the Director of Finance and he refused to raise taxes but secretly borrowed large sums of money from foreign governments at very high interest rates to cover France’s deficit. Just prior to July, 1789, one half of France’s economy was service on their national debt. So the middle class and poor were squeezed even more. The “Age of Reason”, led by Voltaire and Rousseau, had been fomenting rebellion for some time. Finally, the people had had enough and brought a godless, bloody revolution. By the Reign of Terror in 1793, 1794, in order to root out counter-revolutionaries, the French state arrested 300,000 men and women and put 40,000 to death by the Guillotine. 

Actually this paradigm of falling from within is quite predictable. We see it happen throughout history. Polybius wrote of it centuries ago.

When a commonwealth, after warding off many great dangers, has arrived at a high pitch of prosperity and undisputed power, it is evident that, by the lengthened continuance of great wealth within it, the manner of life of its citizens will become more extravagant, and that the rivalry for office, and in other spheres of activity, will become fiercer than it ought to be. And as this state of things goes on more and more, the desire of office and the shame of losing reputation, as well as the ostentation and extravagance of living, will prove the beginning of a deterioration. 

And of this change the people will be credited with being the authors, when they become convinced that they are being cheated by some from avarice, and are puffed up with flattery by others from love of office. For when that comes about, in anger, they will refuse to obey any longer, or to be content with having equal powers with their leaders, but will demand to have all or far the greatest themselves. 

And when that comes to pass the constitution will receive a new name, which sounds better than any other in the world, liberty or democracy, but in fact, it will become that worst of all governments, mob-rule.[2]

Prosperity always eventually leads to hubris.[3] Hubris leads to folly and folly eventually leads to self-inflicted judgment. This phenomenon is self-evident. A salesman who lands a big deal is tempted to kick back, enjoy the fruit of his work, become conceited at his wealth and accomplishments, and coast for a while. He becomes presumptuous. He is self-confident. “I’ve got this,” is his favorite expression. The same is true with any sports team which wins a championship. It is very difficult to repeat that level of effort and performance the next year, or to keep it going for many years. Prosperity tends to make all of us soft. We lose diligence and vigilance. We begin to think that all we have to do is just “show up.” This is also true of every nation which has ever existed.
Nations rise, nations plateau, and nations decline; and the process is highly predictable. Think for a moment of Polyibus’ observations in light of our country at this present time.

—Due to our great wealth we become more extravagant. 
—Fierce rivalry ensues for political office and positions of prominence.
—We develop an all consuming desire to obtain office or status as well as great shame in losing it. 
—Ostentation and extravagant displays of wealth are the norm.
—All of these lead to the beginning of societal deterioration.
—This deterioration intensifies when the common man realizes he is being cheated by the avarice of others.
—The societal deterioration grows through politicians promising the moon to their constituents. 
—From there the common man becomes angry and refuses to obey the authorities and demands the same or greater power from the authorities.
—From there it becomes a quick trip to mob-rule.

Do you see any similarities to our situation in the United States? Yeah, I thought so.

When, not If, we fall it will not come directly from foreign invasion but from within. By “within” I mean two things – from within ourselves, our own sin, and from within the boundaries of our nation. We have trusted in man, making the “flesh” our strength – our intellect, our technology, our science, our military might, our economy and the money it provides. This in turn, as Jeremiah warned the nation of Judah, will bring God’s curse and subsequent wrath upon our nation. This is certain. This is inevitable. This does not mean, however, that we give up and run wholesale into worldliness, licentiousness, and debauchery. On the contrary. God’s people who seek Him earnestly in prayer, who repent and live godly lives, can thwart, mitigate, and significantly arrest the putrefaction of our society and thus postpone indefinitely the sure and certain judgment which will come upon our nation. We must pray. We must evangelize. We must build up the saints in the most holy faith. There is no alternative.

1  The Story of Civilization, Part X, Rousseau and Revolution, page 963, Will and Ariel Durant.
2 Polybius, Histories 1:6, cited in A Free People’s Suicide, Os Guinness, pages 80,81.
3 Hubris is a Greek word meaning excessive pride or self-confidence. In Greek tragedy it refers to excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis. 

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