There are some interesting stories about various places in my home state. One such place is Bath, North Carolina. Bath is the state's oldest incorporated community. Located along the eastern shores of Bath Creek and at the mouth of the Pamlico River, it's an enchanting, serene little village that's richly stepped in history.
During its hey-day, however, in the early eighteenth century, Bath was a place of culture, education and wealth. In 1743, the North Carolina Colonial Assembly almost made Bath the capitol city. A thriving seaport, Bath was a place of much merrymaking and festivities -- a place where good morals were often neglected.
It was during this time that the famous Methodist evangelist George Whitfield, who personified the Great Awakening in America, made a visit to the town. Whitfield was deeply troubled about what he called Bath's "deadly sins." In fact, he was so concerned for Bath, he visited the town on four occasions between 1747 and 1762 to preach the gospel. But his calls for repentance fell on deaf ears. On his fourth visit, even the church refused to allow him to preach.
T. Jensen Lacy in his book, Amazing North Carolina writes: "Whitfield finally gave up on converting Bath ... Just like the disciples of old, he drove his wagon to the outskirts of town, removed his shoes, shook the dirt from them, and put a curse on the town. He told onlookers that the Bible said people who couldn't get sinners to reform were to do just what he had done, and by shaking the dust of Bath from his shoes, the town would be cursed for its hardness of heart against the Word."
Whitfield declared, "I say to the village of Bath, village you shall remain, now and forever, forgotten by men and nations until such time as it pleases God to turn the light of His countenance again upon you."
Interestingly, Bath has never prospered. The village has suffered a number of setbacks throughout history. It still remains almost entirely within the same boundaries laid out by its primary founder, John Lawson. It's a sleepy little village on the North Carolina coast, largely "forgotten by men and nations."
The town of Bath, I believe, is a striking illustration of the truth that God's Spirit will not always strive with men. When faced with a clear presentation of God's offer of grace, men become responsible for what they've heard. God is longsuffering and patient, but there comes a time when persistent sin leads to the final exhaustion of His patience.
John Winthrop was the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the most part from 1630 to 1649. In a speech, Winthrop set forth the moral vision of our society. He warned the only way for us to avoid shipwreck and to provide for our posterity was to follow the counsel of the prophet Micah: "to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8). "For this end," he said, "We must be knit together in this work as one man."
Today, however, America is a deeply divided nation. Why are we so fractured? I suggest it is because we no longer have a point of reference for morality. We live in a time when every man does that which is "right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6). Dr. D. James Kennedy, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has wisely written: "You cannot run a nation without morality. You cannot have morality without religion. Without a particular religious point of reference, whose morality will we follow? It will be chaos. Why is your morality better than his, or her morality better than yours? Without a particular point of reference for morality as we have had in the past -- the Christian faith -- it will constantly be a struggle between one group over another to ultimately see whose set of values will prevail."
It's frightening to see the people of our nation so alienated from each other. Jesus said, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation" (Luke 11:17).
Our hope is still the Gospel of Christ! It has served us well for more than 350 years. Preachers need to proclaim it! Leaders need to use their power and influence to promote it! The public needs to repent and believe it!
Winthrop said if we would make the purposes of God our constant objective we would "keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." He added: "The Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as His own people and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness, and truth than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us praise and glory .... For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill. The eyes of all people shall be upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world .... We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us ..."
God forbid that America should largely become "forgotten by men and nations" -- "a story and a byword through the world" a curse upon the lips of God's choicest servants!