Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

DRIVEN TO HIS KNEES

April 12th, 2010

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was “A man of profound and intense religious feeling,” his White House secretaries Hay and Nicolay wrote in their monumental Lincoln biography. In fact, Abraham Lincoln is considered the last of the Founding Fathers and one of the greatest public religious figures in American history. The Bible “is the best gift God has given to man,” he once said; “But for it we could not know right from wrong.” Lincoln was devout–intensely devout–with a difference. [1]

“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for that day.” [2]

[1] A Religious Idea Called “America,” by David Gelernter, Yale University; American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research Bradley Lecture, March 2006
[2] Lincoln Observed: The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks edited by Michael Burlingame (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 210.

GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IN OUR NATION

March 18th, 2010

The Federalist Papers Vol I

The Federalist Papers were written and published during the years 1787 and 1788 in several New York State newspapers to persuade New York voters to ratify the proposed constitution.

In total, the Federalist Papers consist of 85 essays outlining how this new government would operate and why this type of government was the best choice for the United States of America. All of the essays were signed “PUBLIUS” and the actual authors of some are under dispute, but the general consensus is that Alexander Hamilton wrote 52, James Madison wrote 28, and John Jay contributed the remaining five.

The Federalist Papers remain today as an excellent reference for anyone who wants to understand the U.S. Constitution. [1]

In essence, these papers reveal a depth of understanding human nature, its depravity and contentions and the necessity to find unity to bring about a Constitution for our new country. These series of essays explained and defended the Constitution.

Paper Number 20 was titled as a continuation of Paper Number 15, “The Insufficiency of the Present to Preserve the Union”, was written by Hamiliton. Paper Number 20 was written by Madison with Hamilton. At one point, like taking a deep breath, they expressed the difficulties of getting agreement on the Constitution. Then, they wrote this:

“Let us pause, my fellow-citizens, for one moment over this melancholy and monitory lesson of history; and with the tear that drops for the calamities brought on mankind by their adverse opinions and selfish passions, let our gratitude mingle an ejaculation to Heaven for the propitious concord which has distinguished the consultations for our political happiness.”

Later, in Paper Number 37, titled “Concerning the Difficulties of the Convention in Devising a Proper Form of Government”, Madison says this:

“It is imposible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.” [2]

In the great battle of secularists attempting to tear apart the argument of our being a Christian nation, they often attack the very beliefs of the founding fathers and others. They point out that they were mostly Freemasons and Deists. Unfortunately, due to their own ignorance and lack of understanding spiritual matters, they do not see or recognize that God’s sovereignty rules over men. The one common thread among many of our founding fathers is they, regardless of their personal belief system, did recognize and aknowledge God and His sovereignty over men.

The Federalists Papers explains the complexities of a constitutional government, its political structure and principles based on the inherent rights of man. We highly recommend you read these to learn more. See Footnote 2 below.

[1] http://www.foundingfathers.info/federalistpapers/
[2] As quoted in The Federalists Papers, edited by Clinton Rossitrer with an Introduction and Notes by Charles R. Kesler; Signet Classic, New American Library, 2003 [Based on the original McLean edition of 1788]

DAY OF FASTING & PRAYER DECLARED

March 7th, 2010

The King punished the colonists for the Boston Tea Party. He passed the Boston Port Act, MARCH 7, 1774, effectively closing the harbor to all commerce, intentionally ruining their economy.

"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor", lithograph depicting the Boston Tea Party, 1846, Nathaniel Currier

Surrounding towns rallied by sending food. William Prescott, who later commanded at Bunker Hill, wrote: “Providence has placed you where you must stand the first shock…If we submit to these regulations, all is gone…” William Prescott continued: “Our forefathers passed the vast Atlantic, spent their blood and treasure, that they might enjoy their liberties, both civil and religious, and transmit them to their posterity…Now if we should give them up, can our children rise up and call us blessed?”

Upon hearing of the Boston Port Act, Thomas Jefferson led the Virginia House of Burgesses, May 24, 1774, to proclaim a Day of Fasting & Prayer, stating:

“This House, being deeply impressed with apprehension…from the hostile invasion of the city of Boston in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts Bay, whose commerce and harbor are, on the first day of June next, to be stopped by an armed force, deem it highly necessary that the said first day of June be set apart, by the members of this House, as a Day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, devoutly to implore the Divine interposition, for averting the heavy calamity which threatens destruction to our civil rights.”

The King appointed Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, was so upset by this Day of Fasting & Prayer resolution that two days later he dissolved Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Virginia’s colonial leaders went down the street and gathered in Raleigh Tavern, where they decided to form a Continental Congress, which two years later would vote for independence from the King.

Endnotes:

FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS OPENING PRAYER

March 2nd, 2010

The Reverend Jacob Duché opened the September 7th, 1774 first Continental Congress in Philadelphia with prayer. Here is the story about a prayer that stirred the Founding Fathers.

The first American Congress (Continental Congress) was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. Called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts (also known as Intolerable Acts by the Colonial Americans) by the British Parliament, the Congress was attended by 56 members appointed by the legislatures of twelve of the Thirteen Colonies, the exception being the Province of Georgia, which did not send delegates. At the time, Georgia was the newest and smallest province and declined to send a delegation because it was seeking help from London in pacifying its smoldering Indian frontier. [1]

Delegates met in secret. Benjamin Franklin had proposed such a meeting a year earlier, but after the Port of Boston was closed the momentum for such a meeting grew rapidly. The goal of the Congress was to resolve the differences between England and the colonies.

The Congress opened in prayer led by the Reverend Jacob Duché, a local minister from nearby Christ Church. Many of the Founding Fathers worshipped there and seven signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in Christ’s Church cemetery. Reverend Jacob Duché (1737-98) was born in Pennsylvania, a descendant of Huguenots who immigrated to America with William Penn.

"The First Prayer in Congress" by T.H. Matteson 1848

Reverend Duché opened the second session on September 7th, 1774 with prayer. It was not a perfunctory prayer, but one that was a time of profound prayer. Opening the session he read the 35th Psalm, and then broke into extemporaneous prayer.

First Prayer of the Continental Congress, 1774

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.

Amen.

Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m. [2]

The prayer had a profound effect on the delegates, as recounted by John Adams to his wife. Dr. Duché followed the psalm with ten minutes of spontaneous prayer asking God to support the American cause. Adams stated, “[Rev] Duche, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into extemporaneous prayer filled which filled     the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer. . . .with such fervor, such ardor, earnestness and pathos, and in a language so elegant and sublime for America [and] for the Congress. . . .It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here.” He went on to say, “I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on the morning. . . .I must beg you to read that Psalm. . . [Read] the 35th Psalm to [your friends]. Read it to your father.” One other delegate said he was “worth riding 100 miles to hear.”

On July 4, 1776, Jacob Duché met with his Vestry to make a momentous decision. Just two days after the Continental Congress voted to “dissolve the connection” with Great Britain in what became known as the Declaration of Independence, the decision at hand was whether or not to pray for the royal family in the upcoming Sunday service. In the politically charged world of Philadelphia, the act of excluding prayers for King George was fraught with partisan labeling: are you a loyalist Tory or a rebel? The vestry decided “for the peace and well-being of the churches, to omit the said petitions.” To this day, you can visit Christ Church and see the 1776 Prayer Book where the prayer has an ink line literally crossing out those prayers for the King. [4]

[1] Ferling, John. (2003). A Leap in the Dark. Oxford University Press. p. 112

[2] http://chaplain.house.gov/archive/continental.html

[3] John Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, letter of September 16, 1774; Charles Francis Adams, Editor, Charles C. Little & James Brown 1841

[4] Why Remembering Matters sermon, The Rev. Walter Smedley, IV, The Church of the Holy Cross, Dunn Loring, Virginia, Sunday, July 2, 2006

End Note: The painting is “The First Prayer in Congress” by T.H. Matteson and was completed 74 years after the Congress was held, in the year 1848. It does not picture all of the 56 delegates (36 are in the painting) and the backdrop of the room was as it was in Carpenter Hall (next to Independence Hall) in the year 1848, not in 1774.

DAYS OF PRAYER AND FASTING

February 22nd, 2010

Throughout history, civil governments have consecrated special days to prayer and the public worship of God. This national custom has a Divine origin and sanction. The Hebrew commonwealth had three great annual religious festivals, besides days of special prayer and worship.

The Puritans established Thanksgiving and fast days in the earliest days of their colonies. These were considered instructive and an important part of their Christian history. The custom extended to the other American colonists under the English government. The fathers of the republic, in the earliest period of the Revolution adopted the custom of consecrating, by acts of legislation, days of thanksgiving and prayer for special religious worship. [1]

We will look at some of these holidays and the proclamations in upcoming articles on our Christian heritage.

[1] Compiled from The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Benjamin F. Morris, American Vision Press

CONNECTICUT FOUNDED ON WORD OF GOD

January 24th, 2010

Part 1

The settlers established many communities in Connecticut with most being Christian migrations from Massachusetts. Following the Jamestown and Plymouth Colonies, Connecticut became the third to receive a Charter. Prior to the Charter, several communities had established constitutions based on the word of God.

Thomas Hooker (1586–1647) founded the Colony of Connecticut after dissenting with Puritan leaders in Massachusetts. He was a prominent Puritan religious and colonial leader, an ordained minister and was a great speaker and a leader of universal Christian suffrage. Hooker also had a role in creating the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut”, one of the world’s first written constitutions. [1]

Before Hooker settled in Connecticut, there were other very important settlements. Adriaen Black, A Dutch navigator, was the first European to explore the Connecticut region when he sailed up the Connecticut River in 1614. In 1633, when English colonists from Massachusetts Bay Colony became interested in the fertile Connecticut Valley, the Dutch tried to protect their claims by building a fort near what is now Hartford on land purchased from the Pequot Indians. Undaunted, the English responded by settling at Windsor in 1633, Wethersfield in 1634, Hartford in 1635, and New Haven in 1638. They also founded additional communities along Island Sound. [2]

The first organization of civil society and government was made, in 1639, at Quinipiack, now the beautiful city of New Haven. The emigrants, men of distinguished piety and ability, met in a large barn, on the 4th of June, 1639, and in a very formal and solemn manner, proceeded to lay the foundations of their civil and religious polity. [3]

Rev. John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton, a wealthy merchant from London, led a company of emigrants, mostly from Massachusetts, and pitched their tents on the northern shore of Long Island Sound. Here under a great oak Davenport expounded the Scriptures, saying that the people, like the Son of Man, were led forth into the wilderness to be tempted; and here they set up their government with the Mosaic law as their code adapted to the conditions, and with the closest union of Church and State. [4]

The Reverend John Davenport and Teophilus Eaton were the founders of New Haven. George Bancroft says in his historical account that, “After a day of fasting and prayer, they rested their first frame of government on a simple plantation covenant, that ‘all of them would be ordered by the rules which the Scriptures held forth to them.’” [5] Here is further historical proof of how our founders believed that the word of God had to be the foundation to our law and fundamental government.

We see that the government was instituted by the church. Mr. Davenport (who was a Pastor) introduced the subject of establishing the government from the words of Solomon, “Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” A committee of seven was formed that included Davenport and Eaton. They were known as “the seven pillars.” Essentially, once they had completed their work, New Haven made the Bible its governing law and order of government.

The FUNDAMENTAL ORDERS OF 1639 became the constitutional document establishing government in Connecticut. The preamble reads as follows:

“For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth:” [6]

The new General Court, established under this constitution, ordered “That God’s word should be the only rule for ordering the affairs of government in this commonwealth.” [7] Theophilus Eaton was elected Governor and held the position for 20 years. Mr. Davenport became the colony’s pastor.

[1] History of the United States of America, Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904
[2] America’s Christian History, Gary DeMar, American Vision, Inc., 1993, 1995
[3] The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Benjamin F. Morris, American Vision, Inc., Page 88
[4] History of the United States of America, Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904
[5] History of the Colonization of the United States, George Bancroft, Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1841
[6] Fundamental Orders of 1639, The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library online at: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/order.asp
[7] The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Benjamin F. Morris, American Vision, Inc., Page 90

THE PLYMOUTH PLANTATION

January 19th, 2010

[Reading THE MAYFLOWER COMPACT (January 19th, 2010) blog before this story will help understand the events leading to the foundation of the Plymouth Colony]

A new era in history began on December 22, 1620 at Plymouth, Massachusetts. The pilgrims landed and their very first act was to kneel down and offer their thanksgiving to God, and by a solemn act of prayer, and in the name and for the sake of Christ, to take possession of the continent. By doing this, they repeated the Christian consecration which Columbus, more than a century before, had given to the New World, and so twice in the most formal and solemn manner it was devoted to Christ and Christian civilization. [1]

The Plymouth Plantation was to influence the direction of this nation in ways that many today do not realize. The day the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock has been canonized in American history. The Christian seed planted that day has birthed great fruit, blessed this nation and enriched the world. It speaks of the greatness of God and body of believers that were faithful in living according to God’s word.

A popular woman poet wrote a poem on the Pilgrims that ended with these words:

Turn ye to Plymouth’s beach, – and on that rock
Kneel in their foot-prints, and renew the vow
They breathed to God.
[2]

The Plymouth Plantation was first a religious society, secondly an economic enterprise, and, last, a political commonwealth governed by biblical standards. The religious convictions of the Pilgrims were clearly expressed in the drafting of the Mayflower Compact, “. . . for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian Faith.” [3].

John Carver was the first Governor of Plymouth. He was key in the foundation of the settlement. In 1617 he became an agent representing the pilgrims in securing a charter and funding to establish a New World colony. He chartered the Mayflower and joined colonists that set sail from Plymouth, England in September, 1620. He in fact personally helped finance the expedition.

Unfortunately, although Carver survived the first winter where half the colony died, he only lived another year before his death. He was eulogized as being a pious, humble man who cared for the sick, labored to feed the hungry and “being one alsoe of a Considerable estate spent the Maine prte of it in this enterprise.” [4]

William Bradford became Governor after Carvers death in 1621 and became the Colony’s historian. He chronicles the history as they related up to the landing and completes the history of the settlement up to 1650. Bradford demonstrated the Pilgrims were motivated by evangelism:

“Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some ways towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great work.” [5]

By the Pilgrim’s own words and the Governor’s historical record, the foundation of our nation, first and foremost, is as a Christian society.

[1] The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, Benjamin F. Morris, American Vision, Inc., 2007, Page 66
[2] The Pilgrims, Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney (1791-1865); The American Commonplace Book of Poetry, George B. Cheever, Hooker & Agnew, 1841, Page 48-51
[3] America’s Christian History, Gary DeMar, American Vision, Inc., 1993, 1995
[4] Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647, by William Bradford, edited by Samuel Eliot Morison (New York: 1991); Mourt’s Relation (Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth), from journals of pilgrims William Bradford and Edward Winslow, edited by Jordan D. Fiore (1985: Plymouth)
[5] Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608-1650, rendered in Modern English by Harold Paget, E. P. Dutton & Company, 1909, 1920

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN TELLS THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION GOD GOVERNS

January 8th, 2010

Below is a speech recorded by James Madison and purported to have been made by Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention on June 28, 1787:

“The small progress we have made after four or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other—our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.”

Source: Congressman J. Randy Forbes, 4th District of Virginia
Founder and Co-Chairman of Members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus

http://www.house.gov/forbes/prayer/prayerincongress.htm

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