The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 2

Examining the Evidence: Do Racist and Pro-Slavery Elements Exist in the Constitution of 1787?

I do not expect to get near the worth of him; but cannot think of punishing him by transportation merely for coveting that liberty for which we have paid the price of so much blood, and have proclaimed so often to be the right, & worthy the pursuit, of every human being.
James Madison, a Founding Father and a slaveholder, in a letter to his father, obviously troubled about the institution of slavery as he explained he would have to sell the slave who had been accompanying him—

Man is either governed by his own laws—freedom—or the laws of another—slavery. Are you willing to become slaves? Will you give up your freedom, your life and your property without a single struggle? No man has a right to rule over his fellow creatures.
Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father and a non-slaveholder

Part 1 is available here.

On May 25, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention began their deliberations. Charged with crafting a governing document for the then 11-year old nation, they knew the task before them would be formidable. They met at the Pennsylvania State House, which later became known as Independence Hall. The Convention lasted from May 25 to September 17, 1787. The delegates from the states talked, shared ideas, argued, debated, compromised, and in the end were able to draft a document that, indeed, would serve as the foundation for governing a stable and free nation for more than two hundred years. The US Constitution is “the oldest written constitution still in use today.”


Much has been written about the compromises forged during those hot months in Philadelphia in 1787. Probably no issue was more contentious than slavery. In the end, the Constitution that emerged permitted it—but did it condone it? This and numerous other related questions are at the heart of this post.

Last time, we considered one of the compromises relating to slavery—the Three-Fifths Clause. This week we’ll give further consideration to this clause and will examine two others. We’ll also discuss other issues relating to slavery in the United States in the late eighteenth century and the delegates’ perspectives on the institution’s future. Fasten your seat belts! Here goes!

The Three-Fifths Clause read

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons.

(Read the clause in context here.)


To determine the number of representatives a state would have in the House of Representatives, as well as the amount of money a state would pay in taxes to the federal government, the population of that state (and of every other state) had to be determined. The Three-Fifths Clause established that this number would be derived by adding

  • the total number of free persons in a state, plus
  • the total number servants who performed their duties on a contract basis, plus
  • three-fifths of “all other persons.”

Indians, who were not taxed, were excluded entirely from the count. Nor were their number reflected in a state’s representation in the House.

The phrase “all other persons” was a reference to slaves. The fact that the Three-Fifths Clause mentions other classes of people specifically—free individuals, bondservants, and Indians—and does not explicitly mention slaves “proves the reluctance of the Founders to include slavery in the Constitution.” More on this a bit later.

Delegates from the South wanted to include slaves in their states’ population counts to strengthen their influence in the House of Representatives, but delegates from the North wanted slaves not to be counted at all, to minimize Southern states’ influence in the House. The two sides compromised; each state’s population number included three-fifths of its slaves.


Slaves in 17th-century Virginia working the tobacco crop


The delegates to the Constitutional Convention addressed other issues related to slavery as well. Near the end of the Convention, the Framers dealt with the issue of fugitive slaves, although, again, they avoided using the word “slave” or “slaves” in the resulting provision. States that permitted slavery

wanted other states to return escaped slaves. The Articles of Confederation had not guaranteed this. But when Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance [on July 13 of 1787], it [included] a clause promising that slaves who escaped to the Northwest Territories would be returned to their owners. The delegates placed a similar fugitive slave clause in the Constitution. This was part of a deal with New England states. In exchange for the fugitive slave clause, the New England states got concessions on shipping and trade.


The clause read:

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

(Read the clause in context here.)

The Heritage Foundation’s Matthew Spalding explains,

In Dred Scott v. Sandford [decided on March 6, 1957], Chief Justice Roger B. Taney attempted to use this clause, along with the so-called Slave Trade Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 1), as evidence that slaves were not citizens but were to be considered property according to the Constitution. By this clause, Taney argued, “the States pledge themselves to each other to maintain the right of property of the master, by delivering up to him any slave who may have escaped from his service.”

The more generally accepted interpretation, however, is that this clause did not speak to the issue of citizenship at all, but was a necessary accommodation to existing slavery interests in particular states, required for the sake of establishing the Constitution…. This point is underscored by the fact that, although slavery was abolished by constitutional amendment (see the Thirteenth Amendment), not one word of the original text had to be amended or deleted.


Delegates also dealt with the slave trade. Earlier in their deliberations—even before hammering out the Fugitive Slave Clause—the Framers had agreed “that Congress would not be able to prohibit the importation of slaves before 1808,” but that it could levy taxes on such importation. Article I, section 9 carried this provision. Here is the wording.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

(Read the clause in context here.)

You may remember that this 20-year reprieve for the slave trade was mentioned in this quote at the end of last week’s article1: “Sadly, the new nation’s founding document sanctioned slavery: at the insistence of Southern states, the Constitution specifically prohibited Congress from passing any laws that abolished or restricted the slave trade until 1808.”2  Actually, it wasn’t entirely true that Congress had no way to restrict the trade, since the Slave Trade Clause permitted Congress to tax “such Importation” in the amount of up to “ten dollars for each Person.” Taxation certainly can be considered a form of restriction.


Still, putting this point aside for the moment, we are prompted to ask, Does the Constitution’s slave trade provision, as well as the other clauses addressing slavery, really indicate that “the new nation’s founding document sanctioned” it?

Did the Framers of the Constitution and the document they produced really sanction slavery?

It isn’t hard to find articles on the Internet that make the case that they did. Here is a small sampling of quotes.

Despite these perspectives, as we said last week, the fact that slavery continued in America for many years beyond the ratification of the Constitution may not tell the whole story. To find out more, we need to reach beyond a surface understanding of what happened in Philadelphia in 1787.


The founders were born into a world where slavery was a part of the fabric of life. The evil of slavery came to America nearly 200 years before the Founders lived, so they cannot be held responsible for introducing it to America. While some of the Founders indeed were slaveholders, not all were, and many—even some of those who owned slaves—were troubled by the injustices of the institution. (Consider the James Madison quote cited at the top.) In fact, a majority opposed it: “It is clear that all but a tiny few of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention morally disapproved of slavery.”3 Some expressed their opposition in more than words; John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin lent their support to the growing effort to end the practice.

John Jay became the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He observed that before the American Revolution and the establishment of a stable government for the independent states, very little had been done to pry the institution of slavery from American life.


John Jay

It’s significant that in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson included this grievance against King George III.

He [the King] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

This item was replaced in the final draft of the Declaration: “Decades later Jefferson blamed the removal of the passage on delegates from South Carolina and Georgia and Northern delegates who represented merchants who were at the time actively involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Still, it reflects a perspective on slavery that was quite evident among numerous delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

Many would call some of the Founders hypocrites for owning slaves, and they might even call all of them hypocrites for upholding the ideals of equality and liberty for everyone without working harder to eliminate the glaring evil around them. While I recognize the tension between belief and practice, I also believe we need to appreciate the Framers’ opposition to slavery in a world where the institution was a part of the normal course of life.

Prying away an institution from the fabric of society and getting rid of it is a process, not an overnight event. The same can be said of certain personal bad habits, as well.

Prying away an institution from the fabric of society and getting rid of it is a process, not an overnight event. (The same can be said of certain bad personal habits, as well.) Moreover, while eliminating slavery and the slave trade was a concern at the Constitutional Convention, it wasn’t the core purpose for which the delegates had gathered. We need to appreciate their efforts to at least forge a Constitution that, on balance, would not hinder anti-slavery efforts—one that even could pave the way for slavery’s demise.


It’s true that the Constitution of 1787 did not immediately terminate slavery in the United States, and it even allowed it to continue for the time being—but did it did not endorse slavery, either. For one thing, “not a word of the Constitution would have to be changed if the states continued to emancipate the slaves on their own.”4

There’s even more evidence along these lines. Let’s take a look. The evidence falls into several different categories, some of which we’ve already discussed. 

(Read the clause in context here.)

Consider these points:

First, any state genuinely interested in increasing its influence in the House of Representatives and in the electoral college could bolster it because of the Three-Fifths Clause. States that freed their slaves would increase their political strength; former slaves—individuals who now were free—would be fully counted.

Second, progressives can write and talk forever about how the Three-Fifths Clause strengthened the South’s representation in the House of Representatives and how it thus enhanced its ability to preserve slavery. One writer says outright, “The three-fifths compromise increased the South’s representation in Congress and the Electoral College.” (Go here for another example).

Here’s the problem. Their point is valid only if the representation afforded the South by the Three-Fifths Clause is contrasted to what the slave states’ influence would have been had slaves not been numbered in population counts at all, as delegates from the North had wished. The Three-Fifths Compromise saddled the states in the South with a weaker presence in the House of Representatives than they wanted. Gary DeMar writes,

If none of the slaves had been included in the population count for representation, as Northern delegates wanted, the slave states would have had only 41 percent of the seats in the House. If all the slaves had been included, as the pro-slave states wanted, the slave states would have had 50 percent of the seats. By agreeing to count slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes, the slaveholding states ended up with a minority voting position—47 percent.

For another balanced assessment, go here.

Third, While the phrase “all other Persons” refers to slaves, it is noteworthy that their race is not mentioned. Free blacks—“and there were many, North as well as South”—were considered to be, and were numbered as, “free Persons.” Michael Sabo writes,

Nowhere does the Declaration or the Constitution, for that matter, classify human beings according to the color of their skin.

Far from the principle of equality being a product of racism, it actually struck at the heart of slavery. By making equality the defining principle of the nation, the Founders hoped to put slavery on the course of its ultimate extinction.

While some of the Founders held slaves, they knew that blacks were human beings.

In a rough draft of the Declaration, Jefferson charged King George III with waging “cruel war against human nature itself” by keeping “open a market where men should be bought & sold.” [Earlier we cited the larger quote of which these phrases are a part.] By calling slaves men, Jefferson clearly recognized their humanity.

Not only did the Founders think that blacks were human beings, but they also acknowledged the wrongness of slavery in principle.

The Constitution—and, for that matter, the Declaration of Independence—are not racist documents.

Fourth, the three-fifths formula was not pulled out of thin air. Here’s the background.

It was derived from a mechanism adopted in 1783 to apportion requisitions (the national government’s only revenue source under the Articles of Confederation) among the states. That rule was intended to provide rough equality between the North and the South, and when the idea first appeared at the Convention, no one suggested that another fraction would be more appropriate. 

(Read the clause in context here.)


Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty—The Fugitive Slaves, painted about 1862

People need to know the background of the final draft of this provision. The clause ensured

the return upon claim of any “Person held to Service or Labour” in one state who had escaped to another state. At the last minute, the phrase “Person legally held to Service or Labour in one state” was amended to read “Person held to Service or Labour in one state, under the Laws thereof.” This revision emphasized that slaves were held according to the laws of individual states and, as the historian Don Fehrenbacher has noted, “made it impossible to infer from the passage that the Constitution itself legally sanctioned slavery.” Indeed, none of these clauses recognized slavery as having any legitimacy from the point of view of federal law.

The wording of the Fugitive Slave Clause was carefully crafted to make it clear that slaveholding states—not the federal government—authorized slavery.

(Read the clause in context here.)

Consider these points.

First, however terrible the 20-year reprieve for the slave trade was, it had a benefit; it established a date when Congress could act to end it. You may know that the Federalist Papers were written by several of America’s Founders to promote the ratification of the Constitution. In Federalist #38 James Madison defended this stipulation with these words: “Is the importation of slaves permitted by the new Constitution for twenty years? By the old [the Articles of Confederation], it is permitted forever.”

Matthew Spalding writes, “Although protection of the slave trade was a major concession demanded by pro-slavery delegates, the final clause was only a temporary exemption from a recognized federal power for the existing states.” Furthermore, while it was true that the provision did not require Congress to pass legislation eliminating the slave trade in 1808 but permitted it to do so, on March 2, 1807, Congress did just that, and President Thomas Jefferson signed it into law. The act took effect on January 1, 1808.

Second, while the constitutional restriction prohibited Congress from eliminating the slave trade for a 20-year period, individual states were free to put an end to the trade, and many already had.

Third, we should note that the final version of this guideline “limits the Congressional prohibition to the existing States thus inviting the future restriction of slavery in the territories. In this regard, it is important to note that the Confederation Congress restricted slavery in the Northwest Territories in exchange for the return of fugitive slaves. The delegates adopt this Ordinance solution as part of Article IV.” This provision read, “The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.” See Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 in context.


Consider these points.

First, it is noteworthy

that the words “slave” and “slavery” were kept out of the Constitution. Madison recorded in his notes that the delegates “thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.” This seemingly minor distinction of insisting on the use of the word “person” rather than “property” was not a euphemism to hide the hypocrisy of slavery but was of the utmost importance. Madison explained this in Federalist No. 54:


But we must deny the fact, that slaves are considered merely as property, and in no respect whatever as persons. The true state of the case is, that they partake of both these qualities: being considered by our laws, in some respects, as persons, and in other respects as property. In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another—the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others—the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property.

Second, it is disingenuous to claim the delegates to the Convention didn’t explicitly mention slaves or slavery in the Constitution because they were trying to preserve the practice. It is equally disingenuous to call this approach “damage control,” as one writer has.

One effect of the refusal of the delegates to explicitly mention slaves was that the Constitution referred to them as “persons,” not even as Negroes or blacks. An essay from the Heritage Foundation about the Three-Fifths Clause observes, “Even though slaves were property under the laws of the Southern states, the Constitution itself acknowledged that they were persons. In addition, by tying both representation and direct taxation to apportionment, the Framers removed any sectional benefit, and thus any proslavery taint, from the special counting rule.”


It is unrealistic to assume that the Southern states would have joined the Union if delegates from Northern states had had refused to compromise and had demanded a total end to slavery in the new nation. Thus, demanding an end to slavery in the year that produced the Declaration would have put an end to the Revolution, and demanding an end to it in the year that gave rise to the Constitution would have derailed efforts to establish a unified nation. It likely would have thwarted efforts to form a nation at all. When the delegates to the Convention adjourned in September, they had reached a consensus on most of the pressing concerns. Despite their differences, they had managed to work together to complete the task they’d gathered to accomplish. No one got everything he wanted, but everyone, on occasion, got something.5 “The framers were highly focused only on Republic building, acting on the assumption that the Union was the highest good, and that ultimately all problems, including slavery, would be resolved if they could keep the country together long enough.”6


Remember too that the delegates, who now had spent months meeting at what we now know as Independence Hall, were well aware that their deliberations were only the first step in a long, difficult process. If they succeeded in offering a proposal to the states, the new nation might be established, but if the train didn’t even leave the station, so to speak, the United States of America was certain to splinter and die.

What would have been the prospects for ending slavery in the South then?

This question is among those we will consider next week.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Part 3 is available here.


1Go here for the entire quote in context.

2The editors of Time, The Making of America, (New York: Time, Inc., 2005), 83.

3William Bennett, America, the Last Best Hope: Volume 1: From the Age of Discovery to a World at War, (Nashville: Nelson, 2006), 123.


5Most of the unquoted statements in this paragraph comprise a paraphrase of statements in Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror, (New York: Sentinel, 2004), 116.


Websites in this article have been cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.

The Importance of Getting History Right, Part 1

Defog Your Rearview Mirror

Understanding the Historical Context Is Essential to Understanding the Historical Event, and Understanding the Event Is Essential to Rightly Interpreting the Present and Navigating the Future

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”
Aldous Huxley Collected Essays

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
George Orwell

On Monday, May 14, 1804, a group of more than thirty volunteers who became known as the Corps of Discovery departed in three boats from Camp Dubois in Indiana Territory for St. Charles, Missouri. There they would join Captain Meriwether Lewis, the leader of the expedition of which they had agreed to be a part. Second-in-command was Second Lieutenant William Clark.


Meriwether Lewis and William Clark

On May 21, the group headed west by following the Missouri River. Their mission was to explore the vast area of land the United States had acquired through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. This investment is considered one of President Thomas Jefferson’s greatest accomplishments.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition ended 28 months after it began—on September 23, 1806, when the men returned to St. Louis. From that city, Lewis, Clark, and their companions had journeyed up the Missouri River, “across the Rocky Mountains, and down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean.” When travel on the water was too dangerous, the explorers carried their boats on land. Sacajawea, a Native American woman they met on their journey, helped them by serving as a guide. During the expedition, the explorers and observers recorded their findings. They kept journals, drew maps, and collected samples of various plants, all of which helped to make the effort a resounding success. Having walked, hiked, ridden horses, and rowed boats, the pioneers traveled about 8,000 miles. The painting at the top was painted by by Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926) and is titled Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition is all the more fascinating because it really happened. Yet suppose I told you that after they’d collected several unusual plant samples, Lewis and Clark sent them back to President Jefferson by Federal Express. Ridiculous? Absolutely! Even so, such an idea is no less ridiculous than some modern interpretations of past events that fail to consider the contexts of those events—the social and cultural climates of the times. It’s too bad the ridiculous nature of many modern interpretations usually is subtle, almost to the point of being undetectable. Were it more blatant, fewer people would be duped.

Many modern interpretations of historical events are just as ridiculous as the suggestion that Lewis and Clark were able, on their expedition, to send plant samples back to President Jefferson by Federal Express.

Quite often, as sloppy historians interpret the past through the lens of modern perspectives on everything from medicine to the economy to social status, they also make a multitude of unwarranted and often condescending judgments. H. L. Mencken, a writer known for his own brand of sensationalism, once said that a historian is “an unsuccessful novelist.” Unfortunately, he was all too accurate. Note as well the quotes showcased at the top of this article. As much as I disagree with Carl Sagan on a host of issues, he was absolutely right about being bamboozled. We need to realize people are bamboozled by sloppy and agenda-driven historians as well as politicians.

When studying history, follow these important guidelines: Learn all you can, not just about what happened, but also about what led up to it. Seek to understand the thinking of the times. Do not blame the people of a past era for not knowing pertinent information we know today, especially information they had no way to learn. Remember that we have hindsight, and they did not. Some even possessed a lot more foresight than we tend to believe. Look beyond surface meanings and consider implications and repercussions. Consider the worldview perspectives of historical subjects. Don’t just observe what people did, but also what they didn’t do. If we will seek to do these things, the lessons we derive from history’s vaults will be far more accurate than they otherwise would.

When studying history, learn all you can, not just about what happened, but also about what led up to it. Seek to understand the thinking of the times. Do not blame the people of a past era for not knowing pertinent information we know today, especially information they had no way to learn. Remember that we have hindsight, and they did not. Some even possessed a lot more foresight than we tend to believe. Look beyond surface meanings and consider implications and repercussions. Consider the worldview perspectives of historical subjects. Don’t just observe what people did, but also what they didn’t do.

In this post and the next (and possibly other posts as well) I want to consider the issue of slavery in the United States—specifically the approach the architects of the US Constitution took in dealing with this divisive and sensitive issue. I do this in part because of the recent escalation of racial tensions and incidents of violence in our country. Did our Founders intend to perpetuate slavery based on race, or did they in fact set the stage for it eventually to be eradicated? Is the Constitution a racist document, or does it reflect the Declaration’s core principles that “all men [persons, human beings] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

Obviously, slavery continued in America for many years after the Constitution took effect, but this fact alone may not tell the entire story. A great deal is at stake here. The belief that the Framers of the Constitution wanted slavery to continue forever understandably will make it harder for blacks to trust governmental authorities, including police. Yet, if we dig deeper and come to understand many of the relevant historical details, we just might discover truths that can help ease some of today’s racial tensions and conflicts.

We alluded to the issues of slavery and its relationship to the Constitution in a previous post but did not have opportunity to explore it in any significant detail. Perhaps no provision in the Constitution as it was originally drafted is more misunderstood than the “Three-Fifths Clause,” which resulted from the “Three-Fifths Compromise.” While it is technically correct to say the Constitution originally authorized counting each slave as three-fifths of a person, this leaves the erroneous impression that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and the Founders of America believed that a slave was less than a human being.

I first want to debunk the myth that the Constitution’s Three-Fifths Cause, in and of itself, is clear evidence that the Constitution’s Framers considered a black man or woman as less than a person. Then we’ll examine the Three-Fifths Clause in some detail, as well as the context in which it was adopted. I believe you’ll find our historical discoveries extremely enlightening. They will bolster your faith in the founding of our country, and in the Constitution as well.

Here’s a portion of what we said earlier about the dawn of the US government under the Constitution (not all original citations have been included here).

After the American Revolution, the thirteen states rejoiced over their independence, but they still were thirteen individual states, each of which, in many ways, acted as an individual country. Previously the war against Great Britain had united these Virginians, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, Marylanders, and the residents of the other states, but now other matters confronted the new nation. How could the states work together? Could they establish a central government that would acknowledge states’ sovereignty, yet unify the states to address the issues that would confront them all?

An attempt was made in the Articles of Confederation. This document was drafted under the authority of the Second Continental Congress, which appointed a committee to begin the work on July 12, 1776. In the latter part of 1777, a document was sent to the states for ratification. All the states had approved it in the early part of 1781. The states now had a new central government, but it wasn’t long before problems arose. The national government was too weak. It had no executive authority and no judiciary. Too high a hurdle had been established for the passage of laws. Furthermore, the states had their own monetary systems, so understandably, buying and selling across state lines became difficult. Without free trade between the states, the national economy was severely hindered.…

Accordingly, the states were asked to send their representatives to Philadelphia in May of 1787. This meeting become the Constitutional Convention. Delegates soon realized they shouldn’t try to fix the Articles of Confederation but needed to replace it altogether. The Convention met from May 25 to September 17, 1787.

According to Article VII of the proposed Constitution, the document would become binding on all thirteen states after it had been ratified by nine. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify on Saturday, June 21, 1788. The remaining states followed, but after New Hampshire’s decisive vote it was “agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789.” Thus, the last two states to ratify, North Carolina and Rhode Island, did so after the Constitution already had taken effect. On November 21, 1789, North Carolina officially embraced the Constitution, and on May 29, 1790, by just two votes, Rhode Island joined the rest of the original colonies, making it unanimous.


Signing of the Constitution by Thomas P. Rossiter (1818-1871)

When the Constitution was being drafted in 1787, however, ratification of the thirteenth of thirteen states was three years and a great many debates away. As they hammered out the details, delegates crafted a Constitution that differed from the Articles of Confederation in a large number of ways. One of these related to the legislative body. Some delegates, principally those from small states, felt each state should have an equal share of lawmakers. Others, mainly those from the larger states, believed that representation in the legislative body should reflect each state’s population. The Articles of Confederation had set up just one legislative body, but the new Constitution established two—the Senate and the House of Representatives. This arrangement affirmed both perspectives. In the Senate, each state, regardless of size, would have two Senators. In the House, the number of representatives from each state would be determined by that state’s population. Thus, in the House, the larger states would have more representatives than the smaller ones. For a bill to become law, it would have to pass both houses of Congress. This truly was was a brilliant approach.

Having agreed to this model, the delegates then had to adopt a formula for determining the number of representatives each state would have in the House. Delegates resolved that each state would get one Representative for every 30,000 people. Even though only men could vote, women and children were counted along with them. But how should slaves be counted? Gary DeMar writes, “The Northern states did not want to count slaves. The Southern states hoped to include slaves in the population statistics in order to acquire additional representation in Congress to advance their political [pro-slavery] position.” In the end, it was agreed that in slave states, a Representative would be added for every 50,000 slaves rather than 30,000. In mathematical terms, this effectively meant that that every five slaves would count as three persons for representation purposes, so each individual slave would be counted as three-fifths of a person. This same count also was used to determine amounts states would pay in taxes as well.

As insensitive and as cruel as this may sound in our day, this was not at all about the worth of a slave as a person. Had the Southern states gotten what they wanted, every slave would have been counted as one individual. This would have resulted in a stronger pro-slavery contingent in the House. Had the Northern states gotten their way, no slaves would have been counted at all, and the anti-slavery position in the House of Representatives would have been strengthened to the greatest degree possible. Neither side prevailed. A compromise was reached.

The Three-Fifths Clause read,

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.


So, contrary to first impressions, the pro-slavery position was to count slaves as full individuals, and the abolitionist position was to not count them at all! Again, the decision to number slaves in the manner described in the Three-Fifths Clause had absolutely nothing to do with the worth of a slave as a person, but with taxation and with representation of slave states in the House of Representatives.

The pro-slavery position was to count slaves as full individuals, and the abolitionist position was to not count them at all! The Three-Fifths Clause had absolutely nothing to do with the worth of a slave as a person, but with taxation and with representation of slave states in the House of Representatives.

Overcoming the impression one gets when he or she hears that the Constitution authorized counting each slave as three-fifths of a person is difficult enough, but even many of the sources that acknowledge the Three-Fifths Clause was about counting slaves for representative and taxation purposes don’t explain what this actually meant in practical terms (as we have here). Moreover, the sources often go on to condemn, either directly or by implication, the Founders for refusing to draw a line in the sand to end slavery altogether. Consider this description of the Three-Fifths Compromise in “The Making of America: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of a Nation.”


The Southern states insisted that their slave populations would be counted when assigning seats in the House of Representatives, even though no one seriously considered giving the right to vote to anyone other than white men. This resulted in the “Three-Fifths Compromise,” in which 60% of a state’s slave population would be added to its free population when assigning seats in the House. Sadly, the new nation’s founding document sanctioned slavery: at the insistence of Southern states, the Constitution specifically prohibited Congress from passing any laws that abolished or restricted the slave trade until 1808.1

This makes it sound as if the Southern states got everything they wanted, but, in fact (as we already have said), they did not. Next week, we’ll learn even more about slavery and the Constitution at the founding of America. Among other things, we’ll consider why the anti-slavery delegates at the Constitutional Convention didn’t give their pro-slavery counterparts an ultimatum.

I venture to say that anyone who gives our discussion a fair hearing will find it enlightening and eye-opening. Stay tuned.

Part 2 is available here.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.


1The editors of Time, The Making of America, (New York: Time, Inc., 2005), 83.

Websites in this article have been cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.




A Formula for Social Chaos: Torching the Natural Barriers Between the Sexes

A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never remembers her age.
Robert Frost

I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.
Stanley Baldwin

Women were created from the rib of man to be beside him, not from his head to top him, nor from his feet to be trampled by him, but from under his arm to be protected by him, near to his heart to be loved by him.
Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testament—

I love the book of Proverbs. The second to last chapter—the 30th—showcases the wisdom of Agur. This is a powerful and insightful series of sayings. Tucked away in this set of 33 verses is this gem, a prayer that makes a great deal of sense. Obviously it was prayed by a man who wanted to honor God more than he wanted to acquire wealth.

7 Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God (Prov. 30:7-9).

Echoing Solomon’s earlier warnings to his son about the woman who would entice him sexually (see chapter 5; 6:20-35; chapter 7), 30:20 cautions,

This is the way of an adulterous woman:
She eats and wipes her mouth
and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’

The concluding verses of Proverbs 30 (vv. 32-33) present a much needed warning against pride.

32 If you play the fool and exalt yourself,
or if you plan evil,
clap your hand over your mouth!
33 For as churning cream produces butter,
and as twisting the nose produces blood,
so stirring up anger produces strife.

My favorite saying in the chapter, though, comes from verses 18-19:

18 There are three things that are too amazing for me,
four that I do not understand:
19 the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a snake on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a young woman.”

Obviously no one can trace the path of an eagle through the air, the way a snake has moved across rock, or the specific route a ship has traveled on an ocean. The sky, rock, and sea do not offer evidence of these journeys. Similarly, “the way of a man with a young woman” is mysterious and special. Inherent in these verses is a treasure trove of implied truths about men, women, and relationships between a man and a woman. Here are a few of these truths.

  1. God created both men and women in His image, as free moral agents.
  2. Each person is a unique individual.
  3. Especially in male-female relationships, every person should be treated with dignity and respect. No one should be violated.
  4. Men and women are equal in value.
  5. Men and women are different.
  6. Men and women complement each other.
  7. Men and women are mysteries to each other. Just when one thinks he or she has figured the other out, that person learns such is not the case. Here might be a good place to briefly describe how this natural curiosity might bypass a boy and set the stage for same-sex attraction. Go here for a very brief summary.
  8. In the natural order of a male-female relationship, generally speaking, the man initiates and the woman responds. This does not mean that a woman never initiates or that a man never responds, but we’re speaking here in general terms.
  9. The reality reflected in item 8 notwithstanding, the way of a man with a young woman isn’t the only mystery; the way of a woman with a man is a mystery as well. This is especially true of the way of a wife with her husband!
  10. A man and a woman were meant to be together, and marriage—the lifelong commitment between him and her—is the proper context for them to experience the greatest degree of satisfaction and fulfillment in their relationship.
  11. Marriage as an institution uniting one man and one woman for life should be honored by all.

These last two points are not meant to disparage single adults or imply that they are less than persons within themselves. Even so, it was on the cusp of the first wedding that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18).  Probably to make Adam aware that no creature God already had made was suitable for him, the Lord let Adam examine and name each one. The first man found no living being that could complement him and help him adequately. Therefore, God caused him to sleep deeply, and while he was sleeping, formed a woman from one of Adam’s ribs. Adam was pleased and said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (Gen. 2:23). Then Scripture says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:24-25).

For centuries, stable societies have honored these and other qualities evident in men and women, and they’ve respected these and other inherent dynamics in male-female relationships. Marriage was affirmed and families were supported in local communities and in nations. Children were seen as assets and avenues for making the world better and the future brighter, so sacrifice for them and investment in them was an expected part of family life. Not all was perfect, but at least government was not trying overtly to thwart what was clearly evident in nature itself.

This is no longer the case in America. It is clear that the Obama administration is wielding its authority to run roughshod over the realities of the sexes, realities that, as we have said, were for many years widely accepted and respected in this country. Unless these efforts are thwarted, the damage will be akin to the destructive power of a wildfire.

In his July newsletter to Family Talk supporters, Dr. James Dobson addresses one aspect of the Obama administration’s assault on sexual normalcy—the push for bathroom policies that open the doors of restrooms both sexes. We’ve addressed this issue in numerous earlier posts, but here I want to zero in on the apparent end game of this effort. Dr. Dobson writes,


Obama, acting like a king, is wielding dictatorial powers never envisioned in the law. He is determined to change the way males and females relate to one another, and worse, how children perceive themselves.…

Barack Obama…is a tyrant in many ways. How dare he assault centuries of modesty and moral beliefs! By what authority does he tell parents and school officials what to teach children under their care? Christian parents, does this outrageous order violate something deep within your sense of propriety? The President has already maneuvered the courts to undermine a 5,000-year-old definition of marriage, after experiencing his infamous epiphany. Now he is determined to change Western civilization forever. He becomes more reckless and defiant as his second term comes to an end. Never has an American president been so absorbed with the use and abuse of power, and unfortunately, he still has seven months to go. What’s next?

I grew up respecting the authority and dignity of the nation’s presidents. Each of them was tasked to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to protect our rights as citizens. That is what I was taught. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Harris, described for us the three branches of government, and how each division has the authority to restrain the other two according to a principle known as “checks and balances.” It made America unique among nations. But, with the complete refusal of the U.S. Congress to restrain the presidency or to curtail a runaway judiciary that is itself drunk with power, “we the people” are victimized by those who steal our freedom. Our Founding Fathers would be shocked to learn how the safeguards on our freedom have been abandoned.


My friend, Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council recently said he often is asked, “Why is the Obama administration trying to mainstream ‘transgenderism’ and force schools to accommodate students who want to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of the opposite sex?” Tony’s answer gets to the heart of the motive: “It’s all part of a radical movement trying to destroy the fact that God created man and woman—and somehow people can choose what gender they want to be. The ultimate goal is to break down all sexual inhibition and morality—a goal that would result in social chaos.”

The effort to mainstream “transgenderism” is part of a radical movement trying to destroy the fact that God created man and woman—and somehow people can choose what gender they want to be. The ultimate goal is to break down all sexual inhibition and morality—a goal that would result in social chaos.
—Tony Perkins—

We must not miss the weight of Tony Perkins’s insight. While some might be tempted to disbelieve the Obama administration really is working toward this goal, it is difficult to conclude otherwise, given its actions in recent months.

The administration’s efforts to tear down the barriers between the sexes reached a fever pitch with the Pentagon’s announcement on June 30 that transgenders now will be allowed to serve openly in the military. We cannot dismiss the near certainty that now that the ban is lifted, the US military will fund sex change therapy and even surgery for people with gender dysphoria. This will be the case despite evidence that such surgery is counterproductive and even harmful to the individual involved. In the military, of course, many others will be affected as well, and we see no evidence that their viewpoints will be respected. An official has acknowledged that since some military personnel will be experiencing this kind of transition, bathrooms, showers, barracks, and locker rooms will be places where “mixed genitalia” are present.

Thus, not only does this policy use the military as a vehicle to accomplish agendas it never was intended to take on, it also works to destroy the core purpose of the military itself. Defense expert Elaine Donneley said,


For the Department of Defense to focus on a tiny, tiny, minority and disregard the concerns of the majority of people in the armed forces is more than irresponsible. The secretary of defense is instituting a policy that will encourage indiscipline and sexual tension and a range of problems that have nothing to do with strengthening the Armed Forces. There’s no excuse for it.

Here’s how former Lt. General Jerry Boykin begins the article in which he responds to the policy.


The announcement by Defense Secretary Ash Carter that the ban on transgenders in the military has been lifted is simply one of the greatest examples of how there is no focus on military readiness in this administration.

The US military has been at war for fifteen years and has experienced fatigue and frustration due in part to a lack of attention to their needs by the Congress as well as the Commander-in-Chief. Operating with no clear strategy to win, our military is beginning to question why they are even fighting. At a time when leaders in Congress and the White House should be moving heaven and earth to enhance readiness and providing a strategic plan for success on the battle field, the focus has shifted to social experiments with the concomitant training and education that accompanies these new programs.

Secretary Carter made no coherent case for how this will enhance the readiness of our armed forces to perform their single mission: to fight and win the nation’s wars. This will result in a distraction for commanders at all levels as they spend precious time implementing this policy.

I encourage you to read General Boykin’s entire article here. As bad as all this is, there’s even more. The new policy is poised obliterate religious liberty in the armed services. Suppose a doctor or nurse working for the military has religious objections to participating in sex change therapy or surgeries. A Pentagon official was asked about this and “replied that it’s the responsibility of [a] medical professional to serve military persons.”

Ron Crews, who is the executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, responded, “It’s an understatement to say that this raises serious religious liberty concerns. The Department of Defense must ensure a service member is not forced to violate his or her conscience and that doctors and nurses who hold to a biblical view of human sexuality can serve in today’s military.” Crews also said, “Americans need to know the extreme implications of this policy. Do we want our sons and daughters to be forced to share showers and sleeping spaces in a ‘mixed genitalia’ environment with no recourse for objections of conscience?”

Tony Perkins’s observation about the administration’s push for transgender bathroom policies comes readily to mind. What could be a more effective formula for social chaos than this campaign for gender confusion in the armed forces? The military, after all, is a place where a soldier doesn’t have any say at all. He has to follow orders. She has to do her duty. Even with guidelines to preserve order, these policies will do their destructive work in breaking down the effectiveness of our national defense. Moreover, typically, social policy in the military eventually becomes public policy throughout the country.

We need to understand that Barak Obama, and Hillary Clinton as well, are both disciples of activist Saul Alinsky.



President Barack Obama is photographed during a presidential portrait sitting for an official photo in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)



Alinsky said, “The organizer dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community.” He also said, “Radicals must be resilient, adaptable to shifting political circumstances, and sensitive enough to the process of action and reaction to avoid being trapped by their own tactics and forced to travel a road not of their choosing. In short, radicals must have a degree of control over the flow of events.” We see these elements in the Obama administration’s disruption and manipulation of laws and customs that have, for over two centuries, fostered stability in America. It is noteworthy that Alinsky dedicated his signature work, Rules for Radicals, to Satan himself.


Writing at Red State, Donald Ayotte reviewed Rules for Radicals. He warns “every conservative or constitution minded person” to become familiar with the tactics and strategies of Alinsky’s followers. “Buy and read this book. Your adversaries have memorized it and are using the principles within tis covers to destroy our great republic. Make no mistake, the Progressive Liberals or Radicals’ goal is to tear down the republic and shred the Constitution. The problem is, they have nothing to replace it with; they are only bent on destruction.”

How, then, should we respond to the challenges we currently are facing? I believe that Dr. Dobson’s letter offers keen insight along these lines. Regarding the push to enshrine into public policy the “right” of biological men to enter women’s restrooms, Dr. Dobson writes this.

If you are a married man with any gumption, surely you will defend your wife’s privacy and security in restroom facilities. Would you remain passive after knowing that a strange-looking man, dressed like a woman, has been peering over toilet cubicles to watch your wife in a private moment? What should be done to the pervert who was using mirrors to watch women and girls in their stalls? If you are a dad, I pray you will protect your little girls from men who walk in unannounced, unzip their pants and urinate in front of them. Where is today’s manhood? God help us!…

What is the solution to deliberate attempts to foster gender confusion and to destroy distinctions between the sexes? Not coincidentally, it largely will involve the constructive assertion of true male leadership. If the country can see this, then it will be given a golden opportunity and incentive to reject gender confusion and to affirm sex roles that align with authentic masculinity and genuine femininity. That will be liberating, indeed! Of course, women as well as men must be involved in this effort, but men, especially husbands and fathers, must step up to the plate to protect women and children—their wives, their sons, and their daughters—from the devastation that sexual anarchy surely will bring.

What is the solution to deliberate attempts to foster gender confusion and to destroy distinctions between the sexes? Not coincidentally, it largely will involve the constructive assertion of true male leadership.

Dobson continues (hyperlink has been added for clarity),

Clearly, there are serious implications here for mothers and fathers [as well]. I urge you to protect your boys and girls from those who are espousing these views. Shield them from gender feminism and from those who would confuse their sexuality. They will be under increasing political pressure in years to come.

It is also important for us as adults to understand our own sexual identities. If we don’t know who we are, our kids will be doubly confused about who they are. Any uncertainty, any ambiguity in that assignment must be seen as damaging not only to our sons and daughters but also to the long-term stability of society itself.

Finally, I urge you to base your teachings about sexuality on the Scriptures, which tell us, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Jesus, who was the first Jewish leader to give dignity and status to women, said, “Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’” and, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5). That is the divine plan. It leaves no doubt that the Creator made not one sex but two, each beautifully crafted to “fit with” and meet the needs of the other. Any effort to teach children differently is certain to produce turmoil in the soul of a child.

We must fight to protect our homes and families from politically correct politicians who would create new entitlements that take away our liberties. There is no time to lose. Our children hang in the balance.

As I wrote in Word Foundations two weeks ago, I “believe there needs to be a massive movement of the people to return our republic to its founding principles…much like we saw in the Civil Rights movement.” Please read this post if you haven’t already, and review again if you have.

There needs to be a massive movement of the people to return our republic to its founding principles…much like we saw in the Civil Rights movement.

Only as we speak out and stand unyieldingly for the principles upon which this country was founded will we return as a nation to embrace those principles once again. While the road before us will be difficult and while the task before us may seem impossible, our God specializes in genuine miracles. With God, all things are possible—even bringing a nation back to a posture of respect for the natural mystery of “the way of a man with a young woman” (Prov. 30:18-19).

May God honor us by using us to make this miracle happen, and may we honor Him by dedicating ourselves and our resources to this noble cause. The future of our country is at stake.


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations in this article are from the New International Version. THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Websites and videos in this article have been cited for information purposes only. No citation should be construed as an endorsement.




Igniting Reform

Seven Sermons that Inform, Challenge, and Warn the Church and the Culture

There are many inappropriate and unloving ways to uphold the truth, but there never can be a loving way to distort it.
—“Clarity Needed,”

When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Pastors must be on the front lines of the effort to restore America to its founding principles.
—”Misinformed and Misled, Part 8,”

A condensed version of this article is available here.

When I was growing up in the 60s, one of my favorite television shows was Lost in Space.


It must have been no surprise to my parents when I asked for a toy Lost in Space Robot for Christmas. Here is a video highlighting the features of this really cool toy.

That same Christmas, my younger sister was given a sweater that turned out to be a size or two larger than she needed. Piggy-backing on my excitement over receiving the robot, my sister wandered through the house with her arms flailing. “Warning! Warning! Too big! Too big!” she cried.

The Lost in Space Robot, of course, is known for issuing warnings.

What would Lost in Space have been like were it not for the Robot and his warnings? I’m glad we didn’t ever know!

While Lost in Space showcased warnings that had great entertainment value, some warnings are dead serious—as is the responsibility Christians have to convey certain warnings clearly and in a timely manner. Last week I affirmed that as believers, “we have been rightly concerned about the need to express love and compassion to those who disagree with us.” Then I lamented, “Yet I fear we have let this concern overshadow our responsibility to speak prophetically.”

It is this need for Christians to speak prophetically that I will endeavor to address today. The need is real at both the individual and corporate levels, but for reform to be ignited, pastors will need to provide the initial spark in their pulpits. As we said last week, “we now need a host of spokesmen who will uphold God-ordained marriage!” If you are a pastor, I want to encourage you to remain faithful to the truth of God’s Word. This includes encouraging your people to love others and meet needs in Jesus’ name, but it also includes equipping them to discern truth from error and training them to effectively make the case for marriage as a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. This will include warning the church and the culture about the ominous direction our nation currently is headed.

A God-Given Duty

The classic text highlighting the responsibility of God’s spokesperson to issue warnings is Ezekiel 33:1-9.

33:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, 3 and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.

7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.”

While this passage is specific to Ezekiel’s responsibility to warn those in the path of judgment, it also reflects the duty all believers have to sound the alarm and convey urgent messages from God. This calling has a rich history in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Consider these men whom God appointed to warn the people of their generation.

God’s Spokesmen Warned Their Contemporaries

Noah. Hebrews 11:7 tells us, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” We read this verse and we’re tempted to cringe, aren’t we? The culture has so drilled into our minds that we must not judge—and we most certainly must never condemn—that we feel a bit uncomfortable with this statement about Noah. While it’s true that Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” He didn’t mean for His followers to make no judgments at all. Discernment is essential. Jesus actually was telling believers not to be hypocritically judgmental.

The word translated condemned means just that—to condemn, but it also means to make others’ sins evident and conspicuous by one’s own righteous example. In Hebrews 11:7, this latter definition applies. We must never think this means Noah was arrogant, or condescending, or prideful about his righteousness or about the wickedness prevalent among his contemporaries. On the contrary, I believe he grieved for them and encouraged them to repent. In 2 Peter 2:5, Peter referred to Noah as a “herald of righteousness.” Obviously Noah proclaimed righteousness through his pure life and by building the ark in obedience to God, but he surely also must have encouraged those around him to join him on the ark before God’s judgment fell. Sadly, however, only “a few, that is, eight persons [just Noah and his family], were brought safely through water” because they took refuge in the ark (1 Pet. 3:20).

Moses. God used Moses to warn Pharaoh repeatedly about divine judgment. He also used Moses to warn the Hebrews of the coming death angel and to encourage them to run to safety by placing blood on the sides and tops of the doorways of their homes according to God’s instructions. Hebrews 11:27-28 says of Moses, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.”

Jonah. We learn from the Old Testament book that bear’s Jonah’s name, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:1-2). Jonah actually wanted God to condemn the Ninevites, but the Lord went out of His way to show Jonah that he needed to be an agent of divine mercy and grace (see vv. 3-17). How did God want Jonah to be such an agent? By warning the Ninevites of God’s coming judgment! After his experience inside the fish’s belly (see chapter 2), God instructed Jonah once more to preach to Nineveh (see 3:1-2). At last, he obeyed. Jonah 3:4-10 reads in part,

4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.…10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

You’d think Jonah would have been pleased with such an overwhelming response to his preaching, but he hadn’t yet learned just how deep and how wide God’s love and grace really were. God put Jonah back in the classroom. While the Lord earlier had used an animal to teach Jonah, this time He used a plant. The plant offered Jonah much needed shade at first, but then it withered and died, and Jonah was baking in the sun. When Jonah complained about the demise of the plant, God said to him, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11).

Despite Jonah’s imperfections, God used this reluctant prophet to urge the Ninevites to repent of their sins and thereby experience God’s mercy and grace.

John the Baptist. John prepared the way for the Messiah’s arrival by warning the people to repent and to change their way of living. He

went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall become straight,
and the rough places shall become level ways,
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

7 He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:3-14).

Let us not forget that John also warned Herod, telling him, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). He paid for that action with his life, but he didn’t fail to declare the truth, even to a king.

Peter. At Pentecost, a mere seven weeks after Jesus rose from the dead, Peter preached the good news of salvation to the people in Jerusalem. His message included warnings. You can read Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:14-36. After the people heard the fisherman-turned-evangelist preach,

37 they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (vv. 37-41).

Yes, Peter warned his hearers of God’s coming judgment and encouraged them to receive divine forgiveness for their sins. In fact, here’s how the translators of the New International Version rendered Acts 2:40: “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’”

Paul. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote, Christ “we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).

Warnings Are an Essential Part of Effective Evangelism

We must understand that the good news about Jesus Christ is as wonderful as it is because the bad news about sin is as terrible as it is. If people don’t understand how hopeless their situations are without Christ, they surely cannot comprehend how precious and priceless God’s gift of salvation really is. In fact, it’s so valuable it could only be secured by the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.

Accordingly, warnings aren’t just appropriate. They are necessary. They’re even more necessary in our day, because, looking over the landscape of sermons preached in recent decades, we see that these messages have been bereft of biblical warnings.

Please read last week’s post to learn even more about why divine warnings about marriage are so urgent today. We could summarize this by saying that if America is traveling to destruction by taking the road of redefining marriage (something it clearly is doing), then warnings against distorting and manipulating marriage need to be issued. Certainly this isn’t the only perilous path America is on, but it is one path about which the church has not sufficiently warned the country.

If America is traveling to destruction by taking the road of redefining marriage, then warnings against distorting and manipulating marriage need to be issued. Certainly this isn’t the only perilous path America is on, but it is one path about which the church has not sufficiently warned the country.

As a pastor, you can help the church regain its prophetic voice by making sure you do not neglect your duty to warn God’s people and the culture at large. But what should you preach?

For over a year, I’ve been writing articles and posting them at Many of these have been Bible studies that a preacher can easily adapt and use for a morning or evening sermon. I’m highlighting seven such posts here. I encourage you to consider using them in your preaching ministry in the coming weeks and months. Along with the seven, I’m also highlighting four additional posts that provide important background information. While thoroughly consistent with biblical truth, these four posts aren’t Bible studies. Even so, you may find ways to convey the information to your people, as it will enhance their understanding of the times in which they live and how they need to conduct themselves in them.

Background information

Sermon and Bible Study Material

  • Discernment Needed—Christians cannot be effectively equipped to warn others if they don’t heed the divine warnings God gives in the Bible. This study showcases numerous warnings against falling prey to the lies of the world. Make sure you and the members of your church aren’t deceived.
  • Clarity Needed—If you read, study, or preach just one of these messages, this is the one I hope you will choose. God-ordained marriage is a picture that helps people understand why Christ died—so for the sake of effective evangelism alone, we must protect natural marriage.

If you read or preach just one of these messages, please choose “Clarity Needed.” God-ordained marriage is a picture that helps people understand why Christ died—so for the sake of effective evangelism alone, we must protect natural marriage.

  • Esse quam videriEsse quam videri is a Latin phrase that means “to be rather than to seem.” This article explores the ominous nature of a lie and the deadly destination to which it leads. How do we combat lies? We must counter them with the truth!
  • Compassion’s Mandate—Christians are told on nearly every front that refusing to accept and celebrate homosexuality and same-sex marriage is bigoted and hateful. Not so! Would a doctor who knows his patient has a deadly disease be compassionate to withhold that information? Of course not. Compassion’s mandate is to declare the truth in love.
  • The Supreme Court…Isn’t: Six Things the Bible Tells Us About the State—Christians need to know what the Bible teaches about government and governmental authority. This Bible study explores these teachings. Such authority is delegated by God and can be misused and abused. When government acts outside it’s God-given authority, believers have a duty to hold it accountable.
  • Reflections on Repentance—Repentance is seen everywhere as confining, restrictive, and burdensome. Of all people, we as believers know that on the other side of repentance is true freedom. As we present the truth to our family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, we need to pray that God would open their eyes to see how refusing to repent means staying in bondage, and how repenting opens up a fresh, new world of liberty.
  • Keep Cultivating and Don’t Lose Heart—Declaring the truth in this culture is risky. This Bible study encourages believers to remember the eternal value of the principles they stand for over against the temporal nature of those things they are tempted to hold with a tight grip. Presenting the truth may require sacrifice, but God will bless with things far more valuable. Never give up!

Keep in mind that all of these posts were written in 2015, and many were written before the Supreme Court issued its marriage ruling. Adaptations still can easily be made. Be aware too that some internet links no longer are valid, but the material in each article still is.

I pray that this post will find its way into many pastors’ studies and many Bible study leaders’ homes. Please use this material to warn God’s people and the culture at large about the perils of the direction in which America is headed.

The writer of Hebrews issued this command and this warning to his readers—including you and me: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4). If we would honor marriage, we will never withhold the truth about it from a culture that is confused and misinformed. Nor will we fail to warn people.

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
Hebrews 13:4

Realistically, the initial sparks that will ignite reform in our country will most likely be generated by pastors. Pastor, will you fulfill your duty?


Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations in this article are from the English Standard Version (ESV). The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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