Our Founders have been of late repackaged and slandered for the political purposes of left wing Marxist historians who are trying desperately to undo their good work. These “historians” want to clear the way for a new generation of benevolent tyrants who will generously replace the flawed freedom we have with a new enlightened, government-sanctioned, restricted combination of oppression, high taxes and capricious freedoms that will finally establish an equal level of misery among all of us loyal subjects.
Were our founders secularists? Were they deists? Or did they possess a genuine heart-felt Christian faith informed by a thorough knowledge of the Bible? One thing is true about them: they were just like us in that they were not a monolithic group who all believed the same things and shared the same doctrines, much less applied the scriptures in a uniform way. They struggled with sin, with doubt, with the ignorance common to the culture of their day, and with each other, yet, in almost all cases, a core of Christian doctrine and morals is evident in their actions and writings.
Let’s examine the Christian faith and perspective of our founders and set the record straight:
Was George Washington just a deist? Based on what we have seen so far in this series, I hope the answer is a resounding “No!” Consider these points:
Tragically, George lost his father when he was only 11, and his mother worked hard to raise him as a committed Christian. She admonished him before he left home as a young soldier: “Remember that God is our only sure trust. To Him I commend you.” She added: “My son, neglect not the duty of secret prayer.”
As a young soldier, Washington kept a journal (1752), the very first entry, called “Sunday Morning,” reads as follows: “Almighty God, and most merciful Father, who didst command the children of Israel to offer a daily sacrifice to Thee, that thereby they might glorify and praise Thee for Thy protection both night and day … I beseech Thee, my sins, remove them from Thy presence, as far as the east is from the west, and accept of me for the merits of Thy Son Jesus Christ….”
Another entry from this journal, in his own handwriting, reads: “I have sinned against heaven and before Thee in thought, word, and deed. I have contemned Thy majesty and holy laws. I have likewise sinned by omitting what I ought to have done and committing what I ought not. I have rebelled against the light, despising Thy mercies and judgment, and broken my vows and promise. I have neglected the better things. My iniquities are multiplied and my sins are very great. I confess them, O Lord, with shame and sorrow, detestation and loathing and desire to be vile in my own eyes as I have rendered myself vile in Thine. I humbly beseech Thee to be merciful to me in the free pardon of my sins for the sake of Thy dear Son and only Savior Jesus Christ who came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Thou gavest Thy Son to die for me.”
Regarding church attendance during the years they lived at Mount Vernon, George and Martha Washington worshiped at Christ Church in Alexandria and Pohick Church, which Washington had taken a part in establishing, in Truro Parish. The Washington family maintained pews in both churches, however, attendance at either church required a roughly one and a half to two hour trip by horseback or coach, each way. George Washington typically attended church services one Sunday per month prior to the Revolution.
During church services, Washington was described as “attentive” and “respectful.” He generally stood “as was then the custom… during the devotional parts of the service,” while his wife followed the training of her youth and knelt.
While President, the Washingtons attended church more regularly. Washington acknowledged that his attendance “on public worship” was “prompted by a high sense of duty” and his subsequent gratitude for “the liberal and interesting discourses which have been delivered.” The Washington family’s more frequent church attendance might also be attributable to a more mundane reason, such as the better roads and shorter distance needed to travel to church in the cities of New York and Philadelphia. As president, Washington attended first Saint Paul’s Church and later Trinity Church in New York, and both Saint Peter’s Church and Christ Church in Philadelphia.
According to two of Mrs. Washington’s grandchildren, who were raised by the Washingtons, making visits and receiving visitors were generally prohibited by the family on Sundays during Washington’s presidency. Washington would often read aloud sermons “and other sacred writings” to his family on that day.
According to those close to him at Mt. Vernon, he would get up at 4 a.m., spend an hour in his library, kneeling before a chair, a candle on a stand next to it, with an open Bible on the seat. Then again at 9 or 10 p.m., he would retire to the library for another hour of the same. He spent at least two hours a day in prayer and Bible study. Martha Washington regularly retired to her room between 9 and 10 o’clock in the morning “for an hour of meditation reading & prayer and that hour no one was ever allowed to interfere with.”
So, George Washington was an active member of two Bible-preaching churches near his home, attended church in New York and Philadelphia while President, and demonstrated daily his Christian faith. He also kept a prayer journal during his public years filled with acknowledgments of God’s hand of Providence in the founding of America. He also commanded his troops not to gamble or curse, and he was caught praying privately in the woods around Valley Forge.
In his public addresses, he admonished Americans never to neglect the Christian faith nor forget its place as the foundation of our nation.
- “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
- “The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”
- To the Indians: “You do well to wish to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do everything they can to assist you in this wise intention.”
Let’s look at the faith of some of our other Founding Fathers and Mothers:
Sam Adams was known as the “last of the Puritans.” By writing dozens of newspaper articles denouncing British oppression, organizing protests and boycotts, and serving as a member of the Massachusetts General Court from 1765 to 1774 and the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1781, Adams strove to persuade his countrymen to break with Britain and worked to achieve victory on the battlefield. He is also believed to have had an important role in the Boston Tea Party.
Sam Adams grew up in a Christian home where his father was a wealthy, prominent merchant and deacon of the church.
Samuel Adams was at Harvard College when the Great Awakening swept over the country and Harvard became ‘a new Creature ‘ filled with devout young men who had experienced the ‘New Birth’. As a result of revival in his heart, Samuel Adams burned with zeal to rid New England of the corrupt and dead Anglican Church and to return to the passion and discipline of the Puritan forefathers of the 1600’s.
In “The Rights of the Colonists,” which he wrote in 1772, he wrote, “The right to freedom being the gift of the Almighty…The rights of the colonists as Christians…may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutions of The Great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.”
In his Last Will and Testament, he wrote: “Principally, and first of all, I resign my soul to the Almighty Being who gave it, and my body I commit to the dust, relying on the merits of Jesus Christ for the pardon of my sins.”
Patrick Henry was another firebrand whose passionate speeches and writings persuaded his countrymen to pursue independence. After the Revolution was won and the government was being established, it was Patrick Henry who insisted that a “Bill of Rights” be added to the Constitution. Any idea why? Because of Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”!
Patrick Henry was a boy when George Whitefield came to his hometown of Hanover, Virginia. His parents, being very religious, likely went to hear him preach. A celebrity of this magnitude must have been the talk of the Henry family for many years. After Whitefield, Samuel Davies was recognized as the leader of the revivalist movement in Virginia. His mother later joined Samuel Davies’ congregation, taking with her, her eleven year old son. She went to hear Samuel Davies even though her brother-in-law was a preacher! Each week, on the return trip from church, Mrs. Henry would make Patrick repeat the text and substance of the sermon. Henry, in later life after having heard the best political speakers in the colonies, always stated that Davies was the greatest orator that he had ever heard.
Patrick Henry is a testament to the power of godly women to influence the men of the home. He was born into a family with one brother and seven sisters – and he was the father of seven daughters himself, so women were a huge influence in his life. Patrick Henry’s wife Sarah passed away from sever post-partum depression in 1775 just three weeks prior to his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.
His younger sister Elizabeth had the same patriotic zeal and gift for eloquence that he possessed. She was energized by her faith and it was the basis for all she did. In 1808, nine years after the death of Patrick, Elizabeth entertained then presidential candidate James Madison in her home.
After entering the house, she firmly placed her hands upon Madison’s head and pressed him to his knees. She joined beside him and “with all her force and zeal, she prayed for him as the prospective head of the nation.”
Keeping mind that Mr. Madison experienced first-hand the force with which her brother, Patrick Henry spoke, it is a powerful testimony to Elizabeth when he later said, “I have heard all the first orators of America, but I never heard any eloquence as great as that prayer of Mrs. Russell on that occasion of my visit to her.”
Raised to be an active member of the Episcopal Church, she remained so until May of 1788 when she attended a Methodist Conference in Holston and heard Great Awakening-style preaching. She said to Rev. Thomas Ware, the minister who preached, “I thought I was a Christian; but sir I am not a Christian, I am the veriest sinner on earth.”
Both she and her husband, General Russell, experienced a dramatic conversion and attached themselves to the Methodist Church. Bishop Francis Asbury, who attended the conference, would become a regular guest in the Russell home whenever he passed through the area.
On his deathbed, Patrick Henry was reported to have said: “Doctor, I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die…. I am … much consoled by reflecting that the religion of Christ has, from its first appearance in the world, been attacked in vain by all the wits, philosophers, and wise ones, aided by every power of man, and its triumphs have been complete.”
John Adams was a boy of 5 – 8 years when the Great Awakening was in its heyday. Many years after the revolution, he gave credit to the Great Awakening as the source of motivation behind the war. Adams was a devout Christian. He was raised in a Christian home and remained confident in his faith and moral in his walk with God until the end.
- “Suppose a nation in some distant Region should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God … What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.”
- “The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful Assembly of young Gentlemen could Unite, and these Principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general Principles? I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United…I will avow, that I then believe, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System.”
- “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.
Ben Franklin was brought up in a Christian home, taught from the Bible, attended church regularly, and was indoctrinated in the Calvinist religion. He loved the hymns of Issacs Watts; his favorite author was John Bunyan of Pilgrims Progress. As a young child he expected to enter the ministry. Cotton Mather was a frequent preacher at the Congregational Church that the Franklins attended, and young Franklin absorbed much of Mather’s Calvinist theology. During his late teens and early twenties Franklin began to move away from Puritan doctrine because of exposure to Enlightenment thinking. Franklin eventually moved to Philadelphia and became a printer.
It was Franklin’s printing business that was impacted by the Great Awakening and the Great Awakening impacted by his printing business. Seeking an advantage over other Philadelphia printers, Franklin saw the printing of Whitefield’s sermons as an excellent source of income and prestige.
Franklin and Whitefield, at first simply business partners, eventually became close friends and corresponded throughout their lives. Mutual admiration and deep respect characterized their relationship. Shortly after the Great Awakening, Franklin described Whitefield as, “a good man and I love him.”
Whitefield had more than just a commercial impact in Franklin’s life. Franklin writes in his autobiography of the first time he heard George Whitefield.
“I happened … to attend one of his [Whitefield’s] sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. … I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five pistoles in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften, and concluded to give the coppers. Another stroke of his oratory made me ashamed of that, and determined me to give the silver; and he finished so admirably that I emptied my pocket wholly into the collector’s dish, gold and all.”
Whether or not he was born again, we cannot know, but he certainly knew his Bible, recognized the existence of God and believed that God was actively orchestrating His will in the affairs of men.