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.

GOVERNMENT COMES BY GOD’S AUTHORITY

March 14th, 2010

When John Hancock was Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, he attended, the Election Day Sermon, a practice in those days for all elected officials to hear the Word of God. Preached by the Reverend Daniel Foster, A.M., Pastor of the Church of New Braintree, Samuel Adams, Lieutenant Governor along with the Council, Senate and House of Representatives were also in attendance. This sermon was preached on May 26, 1790.

The sermon carefully outlines that civil government and its officials are under the authority of God. It details step by step with scriptures on how it is that men’s government comes by the power and authority of God. Excerpts of the sermon are presented here, but it should be read in its entirety. Please refer to the Endnotes for the entire sermon.

“By Me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth”

Proverbs 8:16

In compliance with the laudable example of our pious Ancestors, on such joyful anniversary occasions as this day presents us with we have assembled in the House of God, to offer our devout praises to him for what he has done for them, and for us, their children; to seek his direction and blessing upon our Political Fathers here present, in the discharge of the important trust reposed in them, and his smiles on this confederate rising Republic.

This book was penned by King Solomon, a man famed for wisdom and understanding throughout all the East.

That being who has an easy access to the human mind, appeared to him in Gibeon, in a vision of the night; and God said, ask what I shall give thee? And his request, “give therefore thy servant an understanding heart,” was so acceptable, that God gave him wisdom above all that were before him in Jerusalem; for the people soon perceived “that the wisdom of God was in him to do judgment.”

In these Proverbs of the wise man, we have the comprehensive duties we owe to God, and the world, made plain and easy, and enforced with the most powerful motives. By folly, the Preacher would be understood to mean vice and wickedness and by wisdom, grace and Christ.

In the text, the person speaking is doubtless Jesus Christ, who by the Apostle, is called “the wisdom of God, and the power of God.” “By me Princes rule, and Nobles, even all the Judges of the earth:” That is, by my Providence and appointment, they are advanced to rule and govern; and their government is merciful and righteous, happy and prosperous, by my council and assistance.

Ever since the apostasy; the blessed God, has pursued an uniform plan of grace, and government with the church, and the world. The merciful design of which, is to reduce to order, peace and happiness, his intelligent offspring. To prosecute this design, he has sent into the world the “PRINCE Of PEACE,” and given him a commission for acts of ministry and grace, magistracy and government.

The intervention of the new covenant, and the advent of Jesus its Mediator, gave birth to order and subordination in Heaven, and upon Earth.

In Heaven there are thrones, dominions, principalities and powers, angels and arch-angels; and upon earth, princes, nobles, and judges and Christ is Head over them all.

The text leads us to speak of civil government, as ordained of God, in the hands of the mediator; of civil rulers, as holding their commission and authority under Christ; of their duty and dignity as his Ministers, and of the duty and privilege of the people under their administration.

I. That civil government is ordained of God in the hands of the Mediator, the Absolute necessity of order and government, for the existence and happiness of society, pleads its divine original: For without it, the affairs of mankind would fall into the utmost confusion and disorder. …“Yet have I set my King upon my holy Hill of Zion.” and “The government shall be upon his shoulders.” …The kingdom of Christ, where he rules by his word and spirit, is his Church, a spiritual kingdom. But his commission extends to the Utmost ends of the earth. …“For the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, is to break in pieces all other kingdoms, and fill the earth.” …His kingdom will outlive all other kingdoms, and swallow them up; for he must reign till he hath “put down all rule and all authority and power.” …This implies that rule and authority among men, or which is the same thing, civil government, is a divine appointment, and that it is put into the hands of the Mediator to rule and govern the world. For when the great and important ends for which he received his mediatorial kingdom, shall be accomplished, he will put down both ministry and magistracy.

II. That civil rulers hold their commission and authority under Christ.

…Christianity enforces the law of nature; and has confirmed the several constitutions of states and kingdoms, and called our obedience to the higher powers, as the gospel finds them. …The Magistrate then, called to office by the voice of the people, and solemnly sworn, becomes an ordinance of God, and receives his authority from him, “by whom Princes rule, and Nobles, even all the Judges of the earth.”

III. We come to speak of the duty and dignity of civil rulers, as the ministers of Christ.

1st. It is their duty to uphold the kingdom of Christ, which consists in “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” …Religion is, and ever has been, considered the glory of a people; as it insures the favor and protection of Heaven. …Under this dispensation, the gospel and its ordinances, are our glory and defense. And as magistrates are honored by Christ, and act under his banner, they should be careful to be his glory, and support his religion in the world. …Religion dignifies and enables the mind, refines and purifies the heart … fits men to act worthily their part on the stage of life, and shines with a peculiar luster in the Christian magistrate. …The seat of the magistrate is called the throne of God; “and he was caught up unto God, and into his throne.” As they have the image of God upon them as his Ministers, and act by his authority, it should be their care to have the image of God within them as men.

2d. It is the duty of Christian rulers, to preserve and secure to the people, their liberties and properties. …The end and design of civil government is to secure the happiness of the whole community. For this, rulers are appointed; “he is the Minister of God to thee for good.” …The liberties of mankind have ever been held dear, for they are given are by God and nature. “With a great sum, obtained I this freedom,” says the chief Captain to Paul, who relied, “but I was born free.” This has been and still is the voice of Americans; and our attention to the voice, which is from Heaven, has brought us into possession of the liberties and privileges, we this day enjoy.

3d. The Christian ruler will hear the complaints, and redress the grievances of the people he governs.

4th. We come as proposed, to speak of the duty and privilege of the people under the administration of Christian rulers. And 1st, it is their duty to pray for them. …We are divinely bound to pray “for all in authority,” that government might be equal and righteous, and that we might “lead a peaceable and quiet life, in all Godliness and honesty.” It is the blessing of God, that makes government steady and effectual, and gives peace and quietness to the Commonwealth; and God will be sought unto, for such an inestimable blessing.

2d. It is the duty of the people, to support their rulers.

3d. We infer That Christ will vindicate the sacred rights of his government, in the utter destruction of all that oppose his reign.

But it is time that I close the subject with particular attention to the important political characters that compose so great a part of this respectable assembly.

And His Excellency the Governor and Commander in Chief of this Commonwealth, claims our first attention.

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR EXCELLENCY,

We rejoice to find, venerable sir, that you are again, by the suffrages of a free and independent State, called to fill the first seat of government. You are the man on whom the eyes of this Israel are set, that you should rule over us.

…Your Excellency will please to remember, that your authority comes from Christ, though by the mediation of the people; whose religion you will imbibe in your heart, and support in your government, that the people may take knowledge of you, that you have been with Him, by whom you rule.

AMEN

Endnotes:

Election Day Sermon, The Reverend Daniel Foster, A.M.; http://goo.gl/DjJ5

Election Day Sermon, The Reverend Daniel Foster, A.M. in modern English; http://goo.gl/3UXU

WILLIAM PENN _ FOUNDER OF PENNSYLVANIA – PART 2

March 4th, 2010

Penn became convinced that religious toleration couldn’t be achieved in

William Penn in later years

England. He went to the King and asked for a charter enabling him to establish an American colony. Perhaps the idea seemed like an easy way to get rid of troublesome Quakers. On March 4, 1681, Charles II signed a charter for territory west of the Delaware River and north of Maryland, approximately the present size of Pennsylvania, where about a thousand Germans, Dutch and Indians lived without any particular government. The King proposed the name “Pennsylvania” which meant “Forests of Penn”–honoring Penn’s late father, the Admiral. Penn would be proprietor, owning all the land, accountable directly to the King. According to traditional accounts, Penn agreed to cancel the debt of £16,000 which the government owed the Admiral for back pay, but there aren’t any documents about such a deal. At the beginning of each year, Penn had to give the King two beaver skins and a fifth of any gold and silver mined within the territory.
Penn sailed to America on the ship Welcome and arrived November 8, 1682. With assembled Friends, he founded Philadelphia–he chose the name, which means “city of brotherly love” in Greek. He approved the site between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. He envisioned a 10,000 acre city, but his more sober-minded Friends thought that was overly optimistic. They accepted a 1,200-acre plan. Penn named major streets including Broad, Chestnut, Pine, and Spruce.

Penn was most concerned about developing a legal basis for a free society. In his First Frame of Government, which Penn and initial land purchasers had adopted on April 25, 1682, he expressed ideals anticipating the Declaration of Independence: “Men being born with a title to perfect freedom and uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature … no one can be put out of his estate and subjected to the political view of another, without his consent.”

Penn provided that there would be a governor–initially, himself–whose powers were limited. He would work with a Council (72 members) which proposed legislation and a General Assembly (up to 500 members) which either approved or defeated it. Each year, about a third of members would be elected for three-year terms. As governor, Penn would retain a veto over proposed legislation.

His First Frame of Government provided for secure private property, virtually unlimited free enterprise, a free press, trial by jury and, of course, religious toleration. Whereas the English penal code specified the death penalty for some 200 offenses, Penn reserved it for just two–murder and treason. As a Quaker, Penn encouraged women to get an education and speak out as men did. He called Pennsylvania his “Holy Experiment.”

Penn insisted on low taxes. A 1683 law established a low tax on cider and liquor, a low tariff on imports and on exported hides and furs. To help promote settlement, Penn suspended all taxes for a year. When the time came to re-impose taxes he encountered fierce resistance and had to put it off.

Penn’s First Frame of Government was the first constitution to provide for peaceful change through amendments. A proposed amendment required the consent of the governor and 85 percent of the elected representatives. Benevolent though Penn was, people in Pennsylvania were disgruntled about his executive power as proprietor and governor. People pressed to make the limitations more specific and to provide stronger assurances about the prerogatives of the legislature. The constitution was amended several times. The version adopted on October 28, 1701 endured for three-quarters of a century and then became the basis for Pennsylvania’s state constitution, adopted in 1776.

Collecting rent due Penn as proprietor was always a headache. He never earned enough from the colonies to offset the costs of administration which he paid out of his personal capital. Toward the end of his life, he complained that Pennsylvania was a net loss, costing him some £30,000.

Penn achieved peaceful relations with the Indians–Susquehannocks, Shawnees, and Leni-Lenape. Indians respected his courage, because he ventured among them without guards or personal weapons. He was a superior sprinter who could out-run Indian braves, and this helped win him respect. He took the trouble to learn Indian dialects, so he could conduct negotiations without interpreters. From the very beginning, he acquired Indian land through peaceful, voluntary exchange. Reportedly, Penn concluded a “Great Treaty” with the Indians at Shackamaxon, near what is now the Kensington district of Philadelphia. Voltaire hailed this as “the only treaty between those people [Indians and Christians] that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed.” His peaceful policies prevailed for about 70 years, which has to be some kind of record in American history.

Defending Pennsylvania

Penn faced tough challenges defending Pennsylvania back in England. There was a lot at stake, because Pennsylvania had become the best hope for persecuted people in England, France, and Germany. Charles II tried to establish an intolerant absolutism modeled after that of the French King Louis XIV. Concerned that Pennsylvania’s charter might be revoked, Penn turned on his diplomatic charm.
Behind the scenes, Penn worked as a remarkable diplomat for religious toleration. Every day, as many as 200 petitioners waited outside Holland House, his London lodgings, hoping for an audience and help. He intervened personally with the King to save scores of Quakers from a death sentence. He got Society of Friends founder George Fox out of jail. He helped convince the King to proclaim the Acts of Indulgence which released more than a thousand Quakers–many had been imprisoned for over a dozen years.

Penn’s fortunes collapsed after a son was born to James II in 1688. A Catholic succession was assured. The English rebelled and welcomed the Dutch King William of Orange as William III, who overthrew the Stuarts without having to fire a shot. Suddenly, Penn’s Stuart connections were a terrible liability. He was arrested for treason. The government seized his estates. Though he was cleared by November 1690, he was marked as a traitor again. He became a fugitive for four years, hiding amidst London’s squalid slums. His friend John Locke helped restore his good name in time to see his wife, Guli, die on February 23, 1694. She was 48.

Harsh experience had taken its toll on Penn. As biographer Hans Fantel put it, “he was getting sallow and paunchy. The years of hiding, with their enforced inactivity, had robbed him of his former physical strength and grace. His stance was now slightly bent, and his enduring grief over the death of Guli had cast an air of listless abstraction over his face. “ His spirits revived two years later when he married 30-year-old Hannah Callowhill, the plain and practical daughter of a Bristol linen draper.

But he faced serious problems because of his sloppy business practices. Apparently, he couldn’t be bothered with administrative details, and his business manager, fellow Quaker Philip Ford, embezzled substantial sums from Penn’s estates. Worse, Penn signed papers without reading them . One of the papers turned out to be a deed transferring Pennsylvania to Ford who demanded rent exceeding Penn’s ability to pay. After Ford’s death in 1702, his wife, Bridget, had Penn thrown in debtor’s prison, but her cruelty backfired. It was unthinkable to have such a person govern a major colony, and in 1708 the Lord Chancellor ruled that “the equity of redemption still remained in William Penn and his heirs.”

In October 1712, Penn suffered a stroke while writing a letter about the future of Pennsylvania. Four months later, he suffered a second stroke.

While he had difficulty speaking and writing, he spent time catching up with his children whom he had missed during his missionary travels. He died on July 30, 1718. He was buried at Jordans, next to Guli.

Long before his death, Pennsylvania ceased to be a spiritual place dominated by Quakers. Penn’s policy of religious toleration and peace–no military conscription–attracted all kinds of war-weary European immigrants. There were English, Irish, and Germans, Catholics, Jews, and an assortment of Protestant sects including Dunkers, Huguenots, Lutherans, Mennonites, Moravians, Pietists, and Schwenkfelders. Liberty brought so many immigrants that by the American Revolution Pennsylvania had grown to some 300,000 people and became one of the largest colonies. Pennsylvania was America’s first great melting pot.

Philadelphia was America’s largest city with almost 18,000 people. It was a major commercial center–sometimes more than a hundred trading ships anchored there during a single day. People in Philadelphia could enjoy any of the goods available in England. Merchant companies, shipyards, and banks flourished. Philadelphia thrived as an entrepôt between Europe and the American frontier.

With an atmosphere of liberty, Philadelphia emerged as an intellectual center. Between 1740 and 1776, Philadelphia presses issued an estimated 11,000 works including pamphlets, almanacs, and books. In 1776, there were seven newspapers reflecting a wide range of opinions. No wonder Penn’s “city of brotherly love” became the most sacred site for American liberty, where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and delegates drafted the Constitution.

By creating Pennsylvania, Penn set an enormously important example for liberty. He showed that people who are courageous enough, persistent enough, and resourceful enough can live free. He went beyond the natural right theories of his friend John Locke and showed how a free society would actually work. He showed how individuals of different races and religions can live together peacefully when they mind their own business. He affirmed the resilient optimism of free people.

Source: http://www.ushistory.org/penn/bio.htm; Independence Hall Association, Philadelphia, PA., edited.

THE HAND OF GOD IN AMERICAN HISTORY

February 1st, 2010

Our Christian history pertains to God and his Divine Providence. The founding of America clearly demonstrates providential history, God’s care and guidance of his people and the formation of a nation. The earliest writings show us that the founders of our nation clearly understood their total reliance on God. One of the most powerful and clear statements of God’s hand in American history was preached by the Reverend S.W. Foljambe in an Election Day sermon. He was the Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Malden, Massachusetts, a church founded in 1803. [1]

The Election Day sermon was an important institution in colonial New England. The sermon was not usually, it must be stressed, an attempt to influence the outcome of elections. Instead, it was a reflection on the relationship between government and God, between the polity and Divine Authority. In New England, it was a reminder that the colonial governments were supposed to be expressions of the covenant between God and His people. [2]

Reverend S.W. Foljambe’s Election Day sermon of January 5, 1876, was delivered to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. After the sermon, Mr. Foque of Malden, a Representative, was appointed to present the thanks of the House to the Rev. S. W. Foljambe, of Malden, and to request a copy of the election sermon for publication, with the manuscript of said sermon, and recommending the adoption of an Order providing that 2,000 copies be printed. It was reduced to 1,000 and printed (this was a yearly practice). [3]

Reverend Foljambe’s sermon is very long and it is recommended that you refer to the footnote reference to read a copy online. Here are some brief excerpts to give you the general idea of content:

“When St. Paul stood before that famous court of which the poets and orators of Greece tell such proud things, he proclaimed to them the God they knew not, filling up the inscription to the unknown God with the name of Jehovah. He tells them more of God in a few minutes, than Plato had done in all his life. He brings the matter closely home to them, and makes them feel as if in contact with God; not with an ideal merely, but with a living, personal Being, whose providence is directed at once to the individual interests of men, and the highest interest of nations.
‘Seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him’ (Acts 17:25-27)
Such is the divine basis of that institution which we call the State, and such the ultimate religious end of its existence. Not in force, nor in any mutual compact, nor yet in the family, does the State have its origin. The family and the State may seem to be more intimately related, but they are in fact totally distinct from each other. The State cannot be the natural product of the family, for it is animated by another kind of spirit. The family is the sphere of affection and custom, the State is the sphere of justice; the family is the product of nature, but is evolved under the action and control of Providence, and the tendency of its history, both as to its limitations and powers, is to lead it to God, who exerises that providence, and is the source of that spirit of justice which is its root and life.

The more thoroughly a nation deals with its history, the decidedly will it recognize and own an overruling Providence therein, and the more religious a nation it will become; while the more superficially it deals with its history, seeing only secondary causes and human agencies, the more irreligious will it be. If the history of any nation is the development of the latent possibilioties existing in its special nature, it is also the record of Divine Providence furnishing place and scope for that development, creating its opportunities and guiding its progress. History is not a string of striking episodes, with no other connection but that of time. It is rather the working out of a mighty system, by means of regularly defined principles as old as creation, and as infallible as divine wisdom. With this truth in view, we approach our chosen theme, –
The Hand of God in American History.” [4]

That is the Introduction to a powerful, concise account of God’s hand in our nation’s history. It will be worth your time to read the entire sermon slowly and carefully. It is practically a complete historical education of our early days.

Photo: Massachusetts State Capitol Building, 1798

[1] Directory of the City of Malden, Page 155, C.W. Calkins & Company Printers, 1882
[2] Election Preaching, Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., Acton Institute Blog, November 2008, Page 4
[3] Journal of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1876, Page 233.
[4] “The Hand of God in American History,” A Sermon Delivered Before The Executive and Legislative Departments of the Government of Massachusetts at the Annual Election, Wednesday, January 5, 1876, by Rev. S.W. Foljambe; http://tiny.cc/XObOX; also, The Christian History of the American Revolution, Verna M. Hall, Foundation for American Christian Education, 1976, Page 46