The Man with Two Countries -- By: John A. Witmer

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 133:532 (Oct 1976)
Article: The Man with Two Countries
Author: John A. Witmer

The Man with Two Countries

John A. Witmer

[John A. Witmer, Librarian and Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Philip Nolan is the hero of Edward Everett Hale’s classic American short story, “The Man without a Country.” According to the story, Nolan was an eager young officer in the Western army under Aaron Burr in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Burr was plotting a rebellion against the United States to set up a separate government west of the Appalachians. The youthful members of his staff, including Nolan, were duped into becoming unwitting partners in the plot. It was discovered, of course, and all those implicated were court-martialed. Still convinced Burr was a hero instead of a traitor, Nolan impetuously told the court he never wanted to see the flag of the United States again. He lived to regret that rash vow and to become a fervent patriot, but the verdict of the court was that his wish be carried out. For the rest of his life he was shunted from one naval vessel to another, never to set foot on American soil and never to see the Stars and Stripes—truly the man without a country.

Hale told his story so artfully that many people thought it was true, that there really was a Philip Nolan who was sailing the seven seas as the man without a country. Their sympathies aroused, many wrote to Washington demanding Nolan’s pardon. But the story was fiction, not fact.

The subject of this discussion, however, is not fiction, but fact. In addition it is somewhat the reverse of Hale’s story about Philip Nolan, because it is the record of the man with two countries. Each Christian is this man with two countries, because the child of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ at the same time is a citizen of the kingdom of God and a citizen of an earthly nation and

government. The Christian holds citizenship in two lands—one temporal and physical, the other eternal and spiritual. Many of the problems the Christian faces grow out of the interrelationships and the conflicts of priority between these two citizenships. In this Bicentennial year of the United States it is appropriate to consider what the Bible teaches about the man with two countries—the Christian citizen.

The scriptural witness to the heavenly citizenship of the Christian builds on a number of passages. First in importance is Philippians 3:20, where Paul reminds the Philippian Christians, “For our conversation is in heaven.” The Greek word πολίτευμα, translated “conversation,” is an unusual word; this noun form occurs only here in ...

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