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.

THE MAYFLOWER FAREWELL LETTER

September 8th, 2011

A pastoral farewell letter to those sailing on the first Mayflower trip to America reveals how God’s Sovereignty directed the founding of America, its government and social order.

Stone carving of the Mayflower, Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth Castle, England

The reason for the Mayflower voyage and its small band of Pilgrims is so profound in its meaning that most of us are unaware of how the decisions that were made and the actions taken have chartered a course making the United States of America a Christian nation. Although our economy is in economic distress (as of this writing) and the secularization of our nation is increasing, it is the very founding principles of our country and dependence on God that may keep and deliver us.

Knowing our American Christian heritage is more critical today than ever before. This history reveals God’s Sovereignty and how He guides His people. Charles B. Galloway (1898) points out, as quoted in Christianity and the American Commonwealth, that God’s plan is the salvation of individuals  and to determine the character of our civil institutions and the course of our social progress.1

England was a country of religious intolerance in the early 17th century. Ministers of the gospel were silenced, imprisoned, or exiled2. The Pilgrims were reformers and made efforts to reform the Church of practices that did not conform to the scriptures. They were tolerated at first, but later, and under King James, they were persecuted. This led to separating themselves from the Church and organizing their own congregations. One group, led by Richard Clyfton, John Robinson, and William Brewster, made a decision to flee England and go to Holland, where religious freedom was permitted. Soon after the congregation settled in Leyden, John Robinson was publicly ordained as their new minister. Other English Separatists had already settled in Holland.3 The decision to relocate was made early in 1619, when Deacon John Carver and Robert Cushman, who had business experience, were sent to London to negotiate with the London Company. They carried with them articles of belief, written by Robinson and Brewster, as evidence of their loyalty and orthodoxy.

Only a minority of the congregation (thirty-five members), under William Bradford, sailed on the Mayflower from England to America. They were joined by sixty-six people from Southampton and London who had little or no religious motivation. The majority of the congregation remained in Leyden, and planned to make the voyage at a later date. John Robinson agreed in advance to go with the group that was in the majority, but did not make the great historic trip. Before Brewster and his group left Holland, a solemn service was held, at which Robinson chose Ezra 8:21 as his text:

“Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”4

Pastor John Robinson wrote a farewell letter to the passengers of the Mayflower. It was read before departure. This letter set the tone of godly character and addressed the establishment of government. Here is his letter:

“Loving Christian friends, I do heartily and in the Lord salute you all, as being they with whom I am present in my best affection, and most earnest longings after you, though I be constrained for a while to be bodily absent from you. I say constrained, God knowing how willingly, and much rather than otherwise, I would have born my part with you in this first brunt, were I not by strong necessity held back for the present. Make account of me in the mean while, as of a man divided in myself with great pain, and as (natural bonds set aside) having my better part with you. And though I doubt not but in your godly wisdoms, you both foresee and resolve upon that which concerns your present state and condition, both severally and jointly, yet have I thought it but my duty to add some further spur of provocation unto them, who run already, if not because you need it, yet because I owe it in love and duty. And first, as we are daily to renew our repentance with our God, especially for our sins known, and generally for our unknown trespasses, so doth the Lord call us in a singular manner upon occasions of such difficulty and danger as lies upon you, to a both more narrow search and careful reformation of your ways in his sight; least he, calling to remembrance our sins forgotten by us or unrepented of, take advantage against us, and in judgment leave us for the same to be swallowed up in one danger or other; whereas, on the contrary, sin being taken away by earnest repentance and the pardon thereof from the Lord sealed up unto a mans conscience by his spirit, great shall be his security and peace in all dangers, sweet his comforts in all distresses, with happy deliverance from all evil, whether in life or in death.

Now next after this heavenly peace with God and our own consciences, we are carefully to provide for peace with all men what in us lies, especially with our associates, and for that watchfulness must be had, that we neither at all in our selves do give, no nor easily take offense being given by others. Woe be unto the world for offenses, for though it be necessary (considering the malice of Satan and man’s corruption) that offenses come, yet woe unto the man or woman either by whom the offense cometh, says Christ (Matt. 18:7). And if offenses in the unseasonable use of things in themselves indifferent, be more to be feared than death itself, as the Apostle teaches (1 Cor. 9:15), how much more in things simply evil, in which neither honor of God nor love of man is thought worthy to be regarded. Neither yet is it sufficient that we keep ourselves by the grace of God from giving offense, except with all we be armed against the taking of them when they be given by others. For how imperfect and lame is the work of grace in that person, who wants charity to cover a multitude of offenses, as the scriptures speak. Neither are you to be exhorted to this grace only upon the common grounds of Christianity, which are, that persons ready to take offense, either want charity, to cover offenses, or wisdom duly to weigh humane frailty; or lastly, are gross, though close hypocrites, as Christ our Lord teaches (Matt. 7:1-3), as indeed in my own experience, few or none have been found which sooner give offense, then such as easily take it; neither have they ever proved sound and profitable members in societies, which have nourished this touchy humor. But besides these, there are diverse motives provoking you above others to great care and conscience this way: As first, you are many of you strangers, as to the persons, so to the infirmities one of another, and so stand in need of more watchfulness this way, least when such things fall out in men and women as you suspected not, you be inordinately affected with them; which does require at your hands much wisdom and charity for the covering and preventing of incident offenses that way. And lastly, your intended course of civil community will minister continual occasion of offense, and will be as fuel for that fire, except you diligently quench it with brotherly forbearance. And if taking of offense causelessly or easily at men’s doings be so carefully to be avoided, how much more heed is to be taken that we take not offense at God himself, which yet we certainly do so often as we do murmur at his providence in our crosses, or bear impatiently such afflictions as wherewith he pleases to visit us. Store up therefore patience against the evil day, without which we take offense at the Lord himself in his holy and just works.

Another thing there is carefully to be provided for, to wit, that with your common employments you join common affections truly bent upon the general good, avoiding as a deadly plague of your both common and special comfort all retiredness of mind for proper advantage, and all singularly affected any manner of way; let every man repress in himself and the whole body in each person, as so many rebels against the common good, all private respects of men’s selves, not sorting with the general convenience. And as men are careful not to have a new house shaken with any violence before it be well settled and the parts firmly knit, so be you, I beseech you, brethren, much more careful, that the house of God which you are, and are to be, be not shaken with unnecessary novelties or other oppositions at the first settling thereof.

Lastly, whereas you are become a body politic, using amongst yourselves civil government, and are not furnished with any persons of special eminence above the rest, to be chosen by you into office of government, let your wisdom and godliness appear, not only in choosing such persons as do entirely love and will promote the common good, but also in yielding unto them all due honor and obedience in their lawful administrations; not beholding in them the ordinariness of their persons, but God’s ordinance for your good, not being like the foolish multitude who more honor the gay coat, than either the virtuous mind of the man, or glorious ordinance of the Lord. But you know better things, and that the image of the Lord’s power and authority which the magistrate bears, is honorable, in howsoever mean persons. And this duty you both may the more willingly and ought the more conscionably to perform, because you are at least for the present to have only them for your ordinary governors, which yourselves shall make choice of for that work.

Sundry other things of importance I could put you in mind of, and of those before mentioned, in more words, but I will not so far wrong your godly minds as to think you heedless of these things, there being also diverse among you so well able to admonish both themselves and others of what concerns them. These few things therefore, and the same in few words, I do earnestly commend unto your care and conscience, joining therewith my daily incessant prayers unto the Lord, that he who hath made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all rivers of waters, and whose providence is over all his works, especially over all his dear children for good, would so guide and guard you in your ways, as inwardly by his Spirit, so outwardly by the hand of his power, as that both you and we also, for and with you, may have after matter of praising his name all the days of your and our lives. Fare you well in him in whom you trust, and in whom I rest.

An unfeigned well-willer of your happy success in this hopeful voyage,

JOHN ROBINSON.”5

Pastor Robinson emphasizes that they must live in godliness. He concludes the letter (second to last paragraph) by clearly giving instruction to forming a political body.  Again, he encourages the character of the government must also be based on godliness.

In the next blog we will re-visit the Mayflower trip and how God’s providence freed the passengers from their original charter.

1 Charles B. Galloway, Christianity and the American Commonwealth, p3 (American Vision, Inc., Powder Springs, Georgia, © 2005, All rights reserved)

2 Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History: The Untold Story, p53 (2nd ed. American Vision, Inc., Powder Springs, GA 30127, © 1993,1995, All rights reserved)

3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Robinson_%28pastor%29#Leaving_the_established_church

4 Ibid.

5 http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1526201/posts

ENDNOTE:

Reread the original blog on the Mayflower Compact here:

http://acheritagegroup.org/blog/?p=91

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.

HIRAM RHODES REVELS

February 28th, 2010

Reverend Hiram Rhodes Revels

In this blog we are going to consider Hiram Rhodes Revels, born in 1827 and died in 1901. Although he was not among our country’s founders and his time represents a much later period in our country, he is the fruit of a continuing Christian influence in our nation. Although his name is not familiar to most, he was a man of high honor, fighting for his people and this nation.

Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and was a free man of African-American and American Indian descent. In his pursuit to gain an education, he left North Carolina and first attended the Union County Quaker Seminary in Liberty, Indiana, and from 1856–57, Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He also studied at a black seminary in Ohio. Revels was ordained a minister. As a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Revels preached in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, and Maryland in the 1850s. “At times, I met with a great deal of opposition,” he later recalled. “I was imprisoned in Missouri in 1854 for preaching the gospel to Negroes, though I was never subjected to violence.” In 1845 he became a minister in Baltimore, Maryland and set up a private school.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Revels helped raise two African-American Union regiments from Maryland. He then moved to Missouri where continued recruiting of African-Americans for the Union Army. He was then selected to be Union Army Chaplain for a regiment of African-Americans from Mississippi. He, at one point, was the provost marshall at Vicksburg, where he took part in one the bloodiest and most prolonged sieges along the Mississippi River.

After the war and in 1865, Revels returned to his ministry and was assigned briefly to AME churches in Leavenworth, Kansas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1866, he was given a permanent pastorship in Natchez, Mississippi, where he settled with his wife and five daughters, continued his ministerial work, and founded schools for black children.

During Reconstruction, Revels was elected alderman in Natchez in 1868, and he was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi State Senate in 1869. As John R. Lynch reports, “so far as known he [Revels] had never voted, had never attended a political meeting, and of course, had never made a political speech. But he was a colored man, and presumed to be a Republican, and believed to be a man of ability and considerably above the average in point of intelligence.” [Lynch 1913] In January 1870, Revels presented a remarkable opening prayer in the state legislature. As Lynch says, “That prayer—one of the most impressive and eloquent prayers that had ever been delivered in the [Mississippi] Senate Chamber—made Revels a United States Senator. He made a profound impression upon all who heard him. It impressed those who heard it that Revels was not only a man of great natural ability but that he was also a man of superior attainments.”

Mississippi, being readmitted to the Union, had an open Senate seat that was last held by Jefferson Davis who had resigned to become President of the Confederate States of America. At the time, the state legislature elected US senators. Revels was elected by a vote of 81 to 15 in the Mississippi State Senate to finish the term of one of the state’s two seats in the US Senate left vacant since the Civil War. The seat had once been held by Albert G. Brown, who withdrew from the US Senate in 1861.

The election of Revels was met with opposition from Southern conservative Democrats who cited the Dred Scott Decision which was considered by many to have been a central cause of the American Civil War. They argued that no black man was a citizen before the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Because election to the Senate required nine years’ prior citizenship, opponents of Revels claimed he could not be seated, having been a citizen by law for only two years. Supporters of Revels countered by stating that the Dred Scott decision applied only to those blacks who were of pure African blood. Revels was of mixed black and white ancestry, and therefore exempt, they said, and had been a citizen all his life. This argument prevailed, and on February 25, 1870, Revels, by a vote of 48 to 8, became the first black man to be seated in the United States Senate. Revels was praised in the newspapers for his oratorical abilities. His conduct in the Senate, along with that of the other African Americans who had been seated in the House of Representatives, also prompted a white contemporary, James G. Blaine, to say, “The colored men who took their seats in both Senate and House were as a rule studious, earnest, ambitious men, whose public conduct would be honorable to any race.”

After finishing her term in the United States Senate, Revels was named President of Alcorn College, the first college for African-Americans in Mississippi. Revels remained active in his ministry. For a time, he served as editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate and taught theology at Shaw College (now Rust College), founded in 1866 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where Revels and his family made their home. Hiram Revels died on January 16, 1901, while attending a church conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

It was by prayer that Revels was elevated to the United States Senate. It was by faith that he fought for justice for his people and mercy in reconciliation with the former Confederate states. His life was an expression of self-sacrifice and dedication to the spiritual and educational advancement of African-Americans.

Compiled from these sources:
1. U.S. Senate: Art & History Home; Photo Exhibit at www.senate.gov
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Rhodes_Revels
3. On This Day, Dr. Paul E. Barkey, self-published 2009