Politicians from President Eisenhower to President Ronald Reagan, including President Bill Clinton, and Secretary Hillary Clinton often quote or refer to a statement purportedly made by Alexis De Tocqueville. However, the quote is not in any of his publicized works. The quote even made in into President-elect Trump’s campaign slogan. This alleged quote states,
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . .in her fertile fields and boundless forests – and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
I am disappointed that this quote is apparently made-up. Someone might have said it, but, as far as De Tocqueville, it was likely not him. These words may be the musings of a different philosopher, they may even be oral tradition from an unrecorded De Tocqueville speech. We may never know. They may be the thoughts of a mid 20th Century minister or writer. Yet for sixty years the lines continue to echo, despite their apocryphal past. Maybe these lines persist because there is truth in them. Truth not simply for a nation, but also for the Church and for individual Christians.
- True greatness grows from goodness.
- Goodness blossoms into lasting greatness.
This lasting greatness may not be greatness in the eyes of the world. It may simply be greatness in the eyes of your neighbor, your spouse, or your children. As a child of God, your goodness and greatness should reflect the goodness of God and exemplify and expose His greatness.
Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14).
Goodness and greatness start with you and me as individuals. A congregation of God’s people becomes great when her members are good. A nation is great when her citizens are good.
Be good and be great!