The Faith of the Founding Fathers

Last week I dealt with why America is failing. This was the beginning of a series I want to do on the principles upon which our nation was founded. Today I want to deal with what the founding fathers thought about religion, and particularly Christianity. There were about 250 people who would be considered Founding Fathers and most of their names are not known to most of us. I am only going to deal with those who are familiar to most of us.

Our text for this series is Psalms 33:12

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. (Psalms 33:12)

I also want to emphasize another verse because we live in a time when many, if not most Americans are unhappy. The context of this verse is a request for God’s blessing.

Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD. (Psalms 144:15)

The first verse is speaking of the national attitude toward God. The second deals with personal attitudes toward God. You can’t have a nation whose God is the Lord without citizens whose God is the Lord.

That said, what did the Founding Fathers think about God, Jesus Christ, and the Christian religion? Let’s start with the man who is often called the Father of our Nation.

George Washington

1st U.S. President

George Washington was, first of all, the leader of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary war, and secondly, the first Commander in Chief as President of the United States. These three quotes were to his troops.

“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
The Writings of Washington, pp. 342-343.

Our first President understood the importance of being good citizens and good soldiers, but he also understood that this was not possible without Christian character.

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

As Christians, we are to do everything to the glory of God. We are even to bring glory to God in little things like eating and drinking.

You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.

The Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick

This quote tells us that Washington understood Psalm 144:15. To be truly happy, one must have God as his Lord.

The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.

The Writings of Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick

Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. (2 Timothy 2:3-4)

It was Washington’s hope that every one of His troops, both officers and enlisted, live and act as becomes a Christian soldier. It was only in this manner that our rights and liberties could be ensured.

John Adams

2nd U.S. President and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

“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.”

Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, Vol. III, p. 9.

John Adams understood the answer to the question asked to Jesus by a lawyer.

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40)

Any society that makes these two commandments the guide for its laws and precepts will be a blessed nation. Adams call this kind of society a paradise. America, until after WWII, and especially after the 1960s, came very close to being this kind of society. Many of the precepts of the founders’ sill endure. This is why so many want to come to America.

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

John Adams in an October 13, 1789 address to the military.

Many in our nation believe that man is basically good. Adams understood that this is not so. Man’s heart is anything but good because it is corrupted by sin.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Something must control the passions or society will be totally corrupt and evil. The founders understood that, if we were to have freedom, that something had to be Christian precepts.

Socialism is the idea that all will work for the benefit of the community. It assumes that everyone will put more into the pot than he takes out. It can only work where the liberties of the people are suppressed because man is basically selfish.

The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God...”

-Adams wrote this on June 28, 1813, excerpt from a letter to Thomas Jefferson.

Adams believed that the principles of Christianity were eternal and unchangeable, and the blessings of God would be on those who followed them.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

Thomas Jefferson

3rd U.S. President, Drafter, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever…”
Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, p. 237.

Jefferson feared the wrath of God if we departed from God’s precepts. I fear we have reached to point which he feared would come.

Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it. (Jeremiah 6:19)

“I am a real Christian – that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.”
The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, p. 385.

Many try to tell us that Jefferson was not a Christian. I let his words speak for themselves.

John Hancock

1st Signer of the Declaration of Independence

“Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. … Continue steadfast and, with a proper sense of your dependence on God, nobly defend those rights which heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us.”
History of the United States of America, Vol. II, p. 229.

Our nation was founded upon the fact that God has given us certain rights and liberties. Hancock understood the importance of this.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

Benjamin Franklin

Signer of the Declaration of Independence and Unites States Constitution

“Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshipped.

Franklin is another of the founders that is accused of not believing that God had anything to do with the founding of this nation. His words tell us that this is a lie of those who wish to separate us from our Christian heritage.

Samuel Adams

Signer of the Declaration of Independence and Father of the American Revolution

“And as it is our duty to extend our wishes to the happiness of the great family of man, I conceive that we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world that the rod of tyrants may be broken to pieces, and the oppressed made free again; that wars may cease in all the earth, and that the confusions that are and have been among nations may be overruled by promoting and speedily bringing on that holy and happy period when the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and all people everywhere willingly bow to the sceptre of Him who is Prince of Peace.”
–As Governor of Massachusetts, Proclamation of a Day of Fast, March 20, 1797.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The name of the Lord (says the Scripture) is a strong tower; thither the righteous flee and are safe [Proverbs 18:10]. Let us secure His favor and He will lead us through the journey of this life and at length receive us to a better.

Letters of Delegates to Congress: August 16, 1776-December 31, 1776,

The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

James Madison

4th U.S. President

“A watchful eye must be kept on ourselves lest while we are building ideal monuments of Renown and Bliss here we neglect to have our names enrolled in the Annals of Heaven.”
–Written to William Bradford on November 9, 1772

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion or against temporal enjoyments, even the most rational and manly, than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and [who] are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ; and I wish you may give in your evidence in this way.

The Papers of James Madison, William T. Hutchinson,

Great men who support liberty must also be fervent advocates in the cause of Christ.

And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts. I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed. And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes. (Psalms 119:45-48)

John Quincy Adams

6th U.S. President

“The hope of a Christian is inseparable from his faith. Whoever believes in the divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures must hope that the religion of Jesus shall prevail throughout the earth. Never since the foundation of the world have the prospects of mankind been more encouraging to that hope than they appear to be at the present time. And may the associated distribution of the Bible proceed and prosper till the Lord shall have made ‘bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God’ (Isaiah 52:10).”
Life of John Quincy Adams, p. 248.

The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:10)

The mighty and holy arm of Jehovah is manifest in His Word. It must go into all the world.

The Declaration of Independence laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity.”

This makes it clear that the Declaration of Independence was based upon Christian precepts.

An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837

Patrick Henry

Ratifier of the U.S. Constitution

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”

The Trumpet Voice of Freedom: Patrick Henry of Virginia, p. iii.

The freedoms we enjoy in America come from our being founded upon Christian principles.

“The Bible … is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.”

Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, p. 402.

This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.

Will of Patrick Henry, attested November 20, 1798.

John Jay

1st Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and President of the American Bible Society

“By conveying the Bible to people thus circumstanced, we certainly do them a most interesting kindness. We thereby enable them to learn that man was originally created and placed in a state of happiness, but, becoming disobedient, was subjected to the degradation and evils which he and his posterity have since experienced.

“The Bible will also inform them that our gracious Creator has provided for us a Redeemer, in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; that this Redeemer has made atonement ‘for the sins of the whole world,’ and thereby reconciling the Divine justice with the Divine mercy has opened a way for our redemption and salvation; and that these inestimable benefits are of the free gift and grace of God, not of our deserving, nor in our power to deserve.”
In God We Trust—The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, p. 379.

“In forming and settling my belief relative to the doctrines of Christianity, I adopted no articles from creeds but such only as, on careful examination, I found to be confirmed by the Bible.”
American Statesman Series, p. 360.

Congress, U. S. House Judiciary Committee, 1854

Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle… In this age, there can be no substitute for Christianity… That was the religion of the founders of the republic and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants.

None of those I have quoted were Baptist. All of them belonged to mainline Protestant churches. All of them believed these things even though they were contrary to the doctrines of their churches. Next week we will look at what influenced them to disagree with their churches.

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