“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness;
and all these things shall be added unto you”
Jesus preached to another people in another place and in another time, yet these words currently stand as the provincial motto of Newfoundland. And although plans are in motion to amend this, the motto stands as a testament to Canada’s strong, Christian heritage. Yet, as times have changed, it might be asked: is it appropriate for a kingdom of the world to promote the kingdom of God?
As there is little explanation of the statement from the current government itself this may indicate that it is, at best, a kind of perfunctory nod to the supernatural and, at worse, an blatantly hypocritical use of the scriptures. This is problematic since the same Lord who preached the kingdom of heaven said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 – emphasis mine).
Moreover, is the government of Newfoundland saying that they are the kingdom of God on earth or that its citizens, in contributing to the well-being of the province, are somehow building the kingdom of God? The first approach is blasphemous and the second ignores the other worldly component of Jesus’ word and ministry. So is there a way to keep the motto and their integrity at the same time?
First, consider that though the state is not called to preach the word of God (i.e. possess and wield the keys of the kingdom) nothing forbids it from promoting it. If something is true, as Paul says, it is worthy of our meditation (Philippians 4:8). A government influenced by and coming under the influence of the Christian religion could and arguably should, in some ways, promote that which is true (Psalm 148:11).
After all, as Newfoundland’s motto is a quotation and not an interpretation of Jesus’ words, this is an tacit endorsement of the distinction between church and state. It does not appear there is an attempt to confuse what Newfoundland is with what Jesus says because Jesus is saying it. It is possible for someone to misread the intention of the adoption or meaning of the motto, but that could also happen when someone reads the verse in scripture. Rather the text stands alone, apart from earthly governments as part of holy scripture, originating from King Jesus himself.
In some ways, the motto is most appropriate since it points one away from earthly governments, to the kingdom of God. As if to say, that what comes first or what must come first, for any man, under any kingdom of men, are God’s priorities. All political or social relationships must be subordinated to him.
For while Jesus’ words in our text are other worldly and often interpreted in a passive way, they are in no way meant to cajole or soothe men’s idolatrous inclinations. In the context of this great verse, he also said that “no man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:25).
And could it be proven from scripture that a state is forbidden from stating such? And if so, why not the individual believer? What authority would they have in adopting such a motto for themselves? Or how could the Christian minister preach this? The statement is true regardless of who quotes it.
But, some might say, how can it be quoted by a government whose citizens, as a whole, may not agree with it? In reply we should consider: how can we know every member of a church truly believe something in their Bible? Catechism? How do we know our elders actually believe everything they have promised to uphold in their vows of office? The reality is we do not. We cannot search out the motivation of the heart for that is the business of God alone. Rather we commend Christ to each one and trust that their profession is true. But the church is called to profess their faith to a dying world. And Christians who love the truth will do their best to uphold it in the public testimony of their churches. So a civil government who loves the truth can do no less and does no harm to its citizens by commending it. Their commendation would only be untrue if they claimed that all its citizens believe these things. Promoting something to others and professing something on another’s behalf are two different things.
Finally, I would like to address the challenge of pluralism. As the above article notes, we live in more inclusive times than the 17th century. In particular, Canada and the province of Newfoundland do not officially recognise any creed or religion. All faiths are tacitly acknowledged as valid, if not equal, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I recognise that this is the law of the land. Regardless, the laws of men are finite (reflective of men’s nature) and do not necessarily reflect truth. This is demonstrably verifiable in that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was only recently adopted (1982) and therefore has no intrinsic claim to truth. And, in fact, the law itself is demonstrably false on biblical grounds because God claims the earth and the universe as his, by right as Creator of all things (Psalm 24:1-2) and denounces all other pretenders (Exodus 20:3).
Moreover a law, however sacrosanct, may change in a generation or two. Jesus’ words, however, will endure though the heavens and earth pass away (Matthew 24:35). The nation of Canada and the province of Newfoundland, like all nations and kingdoms of men, are not eternal and people that do not submit to Christ will find themselves subject to his judgment (Psalm 2:10-12); all kingdoms must bow to his or perish (Daniel 2:44 cf. Revelation 11:15).
In short, it is valid, appropriate and even obligatory for the province of Newfoundland to endorse the kingdom of God, both publicly and officially. Though their current motto will not likely stand the pressures of our time, perhaps other governments may use it as an example for their own endorsements in the future.
1. The motto was adopted along with the Coat of Arms which itself dates back to 1637. http://www.tinyurl.com/ycagrz3b
2. As we see in the case of the king of Nineveh (Jonah 3:6-10), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:28-30) & Darius (Daniel 6:25-28).
3. Insofar as the adherents receive the same legal protection.