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.

FIRST NEW ENGLAND HISTORY

October 5th, 2011

We have read about the signing of the Mayflower Compact. One can imagine that it was crowded in that small ship when they gathered with wives and children to watch the 41 men sign the Mayflower Compact. It was a profound moment and a model of self-government and was the beginning of our country as a Christian nation. God and his law were guiding the basic and simple principles in the Compact.

The New England's Memorial_1669 Edition

To get a first-hand history, we are going to rely on a book written by Nathaniel Morton. The book, The New England’s Memorial, along with William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation comprise of a comprehensive history of the Plymouth Colony.

From December 1645 until his death, Morton was annually elected Secretary of Plymouth Colony, and most of the colony records are in his handwriting. His careful maintenance of the records enabled him [to] compile New England’s Memorial, considered the first comprehensive history of the colony, published at Cambridge in 1669 – and widely considered the first book of history published in the United States. Much of Memorial was based on the history of the colony written by Morton’s uncle, Gov. Bradford, a manuscript that was lost for many years following the American Revolutionary War, when it was likely appropriated by an English soldier. It later turned up in the library of the Bishop of London in 1855, and was returned to Massachusetts.

Morton also wrote First Beginnings and After Progress of the Church of Christ at Plymouth, in New England. Annually since 1961, The Wall Street Journal publishes an excerpt from Morton’s history of Plymouth Colony as an op-ed the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day.

Morton was also the first to record the list of signers of the Mayflower Compact in his work of 1669. The document itself was lost.

Nathaniel Morton was born in England in 1613 and immigrated to Plymouth with his father on the ship Ann in 1623. After his father’s premature death, Nathaniel was taken into the household of his Uncle William Bradford, then governor of Plymouth.

Morton married Lydia Cooper (1615-23 Sep 1673) on 25 Dec 1635. They had nine children: Remember, Mercy, Hannah, Eleazer, Lydia, Nathaniel, a stillborn daughter, Elizabeth and Joanna. After the death of Lydia, Nathaniel married Anne Pritchard (ca. 1624-26 Dec 1691). Remember Morton, daughter of Nathaniel Morton, married Abraham Jackson of Plymouth, another initial proprietor of the colony. Their descendant Lydia Jackson became the second wife of philosopher, poet and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.1

Many scholars consider the Bradford history the better-written volume of the two, and some even classify Morton’s book as an abridgment of his uncle’s work.2

For the early years he drew directly on his uncle’s book, transcribing large portions of it. Until the discovery of the Fulham manuscript, Morton’s book was the best source for Bradford’s text. The part which was concerned with the years following Bradford was written by Morton himself, and is meagre and disappointing, but Johnson and he were long the standard historians for the average New Englander. They may be considered the last of the early group, and in their manner and purposes they looked forward to the second group, men who were either born in America or who arrived after the American ideals were well enough formed to master the newcomers.3

Nathaniel Morton, in his Dedication to the Right Worshipful, Thomas Prince, Esq., Governor of the Jurisdiction of New Plymouth; with The Worshipful, The Magistrates, his assistants in the said government; wrote “N.M. wisheth Peace and Prosperity in this life, and Eternal Happiness in that which to come.” He stated the reason of writing was “…to commemorize to future generations the memorable passages of God’s providence to us and our predecessors in the beginning of this plantation …”4

Morton states the Plymouth colony came about by God’s will; “I have made bold to present your Worships with, and to publish to the world, something of the very first beginnings of the great actions of God in New England, begun at New Plimoth”5 He ties God’s will with the founding of Plymouth and New England; “I should gladly have spoken more particularly of the neighboring united colonies, whose ends and aims in their transplanting of themselves and families, were the same with ours, viz.., the glory of God, the propagation of the gospel, and enlargement of his Majesty’s dominions;” Morton closes his dedication statement by sealing that he not only sees God’s will directing them, but the foundation of Plymouth and other colonies is a ‘City on the Hill’, a divine manifest destiny of our new country; “Your good acceptance whereof, shall ever oblige me to answerable returning of gratitude, and administer to me further cause of thankfulness, that God hath given me an habitation under your just and prudent administrations; and wish for a succession of such as may be skillful to lead our Israel in this their peregrination; and when God shall take you hence, to receive the crown of your labors and travels.”5

Nathaniel Morton addresses the readers as “Christian Reader” and states “Grace and Peace be multiplied; with profit by this following narration.”  The spirit of this world absolutely rejects God. To say that we are a Christian nation nearly stirs up hatred. Yet, we see Nathaniel Morton clearly declaring in his history [for future generations] it was God’s Will.  His letter to the Christian Reader clarifies the godly foundation of our country. This is from the original 1669 book:

Gentle Reader,

I have for some length of time looked upon it as a duty incumbent, especially on the immediate successors of those that have had so large experience of those many memorable and signal demonstrations of God’s goodness, viz. The first beginners of this plantation in New-England, to commit to writing his gracious dispensations on that behalf; having so many inducements thereunto, not only otherwise, but so plentifully in the sacred Scriptures, that so, what we have seen, and what our fathers have told us, we may not hide from our children, shewing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord. Psal. 78. 3, 4. That especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen, may remember his marvellous works (Psal. 105. 5, 6.) in the beginning and progress of the planting of New-England, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth; how that God brought a vine into this w^ilderness; that he cast out the heathen and planted it; and he also made room for it, and he caused it to take deep root, and it filled the land; so that it hath sent forth it’s boughs to the sea, and it’s branches to the river. Psal. 80. 8, 9. And not only 30, but also that He hath guided his people by his strength to his holy habitation, and planted them in the mountain of his inheritance, (Exod. 15. 13.) in respect of precious gospel-enjoyments. So that we may not only look back to former experiences of God’s goodness to our predecessors,”* (though many years before) and so have our faith strengthened in the mercies of God for our times; that so the Church being one numerical body, might not only even for the time he spake with us in our forefathers, (Hos. 12. 4.) by many gracious manifestations of his glorious attributes, Wisdom, Goodness, and Truth, improved for their good, but also rejoyce in present enjoyments of both outward and spirituall mercies, as fruits of their prayers, tears, travels and labours; that as especially God may have the glory of all, unto whom it is most due; so also some rays of glory may reach the names of those blessed saints that were the main instruments of the beginning of this happy enterprize.

So then, gentle Reader, thou mayest take notice, that the main ends of publishing this small history, IS, that God may have his due praise, his servants the mstrumcnts have their names embalmed, and the present and future ages may have the fruit and benefit of God’s great work in the relation of the first planting of New-England. Which ends, if attained, will be great cause of rcjoycing to the publisher thereof, if Psal. G6. C. God give him life and opportunity to take notice thereof.

The method I have observed, is (as I could) in some measure answerable to the ends aforenamed, in inserting some acknowledgement of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and truth upon special occasions, with allusion to the Scriptures; and also taking notice of some special instruments, and such main and special particulars as were pej’spicuouslj remarkable, in way of commendation in them, so far as my intelligence would reach; and especially in a faithful commemorizing, and declaration of God’s wonderful works for, by, and to his people, in preparing a place for them by driving out the heathen before them; bringing them through a sea of troubles; preserving and protecting them from, and in those dangers that attended them in their low estate, when they were strangers in the land; and making this howling wilderness a chamber of rest, safety, and pleasantness, whiles the storms of his displeasure have not only tossed, but endangered the overwhelming of great states and kingdoms, and hath now made it to us a fruitful land, sowed it with the seed of man and beast; but especially in giving us so long a peace, together with the Gospel of peace, and so great a freedom in our civil and religious enjoyments; and also in giving us hopes that we may be instruments in his hands, not only of enlarging of our prince’s dominions, but to enlarge the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, in the conversion of the poor blind natives.

And now, courteous Reader, that I may not hold thee too long in the porch, I only crave of thee to read this following discourse with a single eye, and with the same ends as I had in penning it. Let not the smallness of our beginnings, nor weakness of instruments, make the thing seem little, or the work despicable, but on the contrary, let the greater praise be rendered unto God, who hath effected great things by small means. Let not the harshness of my style, prejudice thy taste or appetite to the dish I present thee with. Accept it as freely as I give it. Carp not at what thou dost not approve, but use it as a remembrance of the Lord’s goodness, to engage to true thankfulness and obedience; so it may be a help to thee in thy journey through the wilderness of this world, to that eternal rest which is only to be found in the heavenly Canaan, which is the earnest desire of

Thy Christian friend,

Nathaniel Morton.6

1  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Morton

2 IBID, footnote

3 The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I; II. The Historians, 1607-1783, 9. Nathaniel Morton; http://www.bartleby.com/225/0209.html

4 Nathaniel Morton, Epistle Dedicatory, The New England’s Memorial, p1 (Cambridge: Printed by S.G. and M.J. for John Usher of Boston, 1669)

5 IBID, p2, 3

6 Nathaniel Morton, Christian Reader, The New England’s Memorial, p1 (Cambridge: Printed by S.G. and M.J. for John Usher of Boston, 1669)

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

THE SETTLERS OF NEW YORK, NEW JERSEY, PENNSYLVANIA, ETC.

November 13th, 2010

Map of early settlements in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey

“The spirit of the age was present when the foundations of New York were laid. Every great European event affected the fortunes of America. Did a State prosper—it sought an increase of wealth by plantations in the West. Was a sect persecuted—it escaped to the New World. The Reformation, followed by collisions between English Dissenters and the Anglican Hierarchy, colonized New England. The Reformation, emancipating the United Provinces, led to European settlements on the Hudson. The Netherlands divide with England the glory of having planted the first colonies in the United States; they also divide the glory of having set the example of perfect freedom. If England gave our fathers the idea of popular representation, Holland originated for them the principle of federal union.”*

In the year 1609 the long conflict of Holland with Spain was suspended at the suggestion of Philip III, a confession on the part of Spain that she could no longer hope to successfully contest the supremacy of Holland, and a practical establishment of the independence of the United Netherlands. In the very same year that Holland took her position among the nations as a free, self-governing republic, Henry Hudson appeared at Manhattan Island and took possession of the region from the capes of Delaware to Canada, which he styled New Netherlands. The first occupancy was trading stations by the merchants of Amsterdam, who quickly perceived its admirable adaptation as a center for trade and commerce. First, the New Netherlands Company, in 1614, then the West India Company, in 1621, held the situation, the latter purchasing the island of the Indians. The West India Company appointed its governors, and public affairs were conducted by Dutch men on Dutch principles.

Through trade was the prime object with the first settlers at Manhattan, colonization soon became the ruling motive. Bold and enterprising were the first colonists, and intent upon the acquisition of wealth, but, having been educated in the National Dutch Church, they were much attached to it, and adopted early measures to establish religious worship in their home. Although the Dutch came to Manhattan in troublous times, they were not fugitives from persecution, as were the Huguenots, or from Protestant persecution, as were the Puritans. They belonged to the ruling party in the mother country, and brought with them the established Church order and the Calvinistic creed. These “contra-remonstrants” brought the Heidelberg Catechism stamped with the seal of orthodoxy by the Synod of Dort. A wise policy guided the West India Company in supplying their trading-posts and colonies with the means of religion and education at a very early date.

The earliest settlers in New Jersey were from New York. English Puritans from the eastern end of Long Island, at an early period, settled at Elizabethtown; and others from Connecticut soon followed. Later a considerable number of Scotch and Irish emigrants—all Protestants and most of them Presbyterian—settled in the central portions. English Quakers settled in West Jersey. Among them all the Puritan type decidedly predominated.

Delaware was claimed by the Dutch, in right of discovery, who made an unsuccessful attempt to settle it; but subsequently it fell into the hands of Gustavus Adolphus, the eminent Swedish prince and benefactor, and an eager promoter of colonization. Falling on the plains of Lutzen, his minister, Oxenstein, carried out his plans, and Delaware was settled with Lutheran Swedes. Though the colony was subsequently subdued by the Dutch from New York the Swedes are supposed to have constituted a large part of the substratum of the population. Quakers, New Englander, Scotch and Irish Presbyterians were subsequently added. (1)

1) Christianity in the United States, Daniel Dorchester, D.D., © 2009 American Vision Press, Powder Springs, GA; originally published by Phillips & Hunt, New York, 1888; Page 30-32

THE FOUNDERS OF THE SOUTHERN COLONIES

November 4th, 2010

Widely different in character were the early colonists of the Southern from those of the Northern States. It has been said, if New England may be regarded as colonized by the Anglo-Saxon race, with its simple manners, more equal institutions, and love of liberty, the South was colonized by men very Norman in blood, aristocratic in feeling and spirit, and with superior dignity of demeanor and elegance of manners.

The Virginia Colony was a Christian colony in intent and in fact. The charger required the maintenance of religious worship; boroughs were erected into parishes, with glebes and other provisions for the clergy. The assembly and the governor were urged to civilize the natives and bring them under the influence of the Gospel, and Indian children were educated. The Proprietaries of North and South Carolina were not wanting in high professions of zeal for the propagation of the Gospel, but it was left for later settlers to practically illustrate the purpose. Varied in origin, the number of those interested in promoting religious ends soon increased. “The good Oglethrope, one of the finest specimens of a Christian gentleman of the cavalier school,” let over a mixed people to settle upon the banks of the Savannah – poor debtors from English prisons, with godly Moravians from Germany, and brave Highlanders from Scotland.(1)

(1) Christianity in the United States, Daniel Dorchester, D.D., © 2009 American Vision Press, Powder Springs, GA; originally published by Phillips & Hunt, New York, 1888; Page 30

DANIEL BOONE, A BELIEVER

November 2nd, 2010

Today is Daniel Boone’s birthday (1734-1820). In spite of modern interpretation of his life as portrayed in a television series and writings, he was raised as a Quaker (although his family

Daniel Boone(2)

was expelled for a marriage of one son to a non-Quaker) and firmly believed in the Lord.

On October 17, 1816, Daniel Boone wrote to his sister-in-law Sarah Boone: “The religion I have is to love and fear God, believe in Jesus Christ, do all the good to my neighbor and myself that I can, do as little harm as I can help, and trust on God’s mercy for the rest.”

Although there is little history to indicate how his Christian life was expressed, we do know all his children were baptized. He was a true patriot and fought in war and served as a legislator.

Daniel Boone served with George Washington in 1755 during the French and Indian War. In 1765, Daniel Boone explored Florida. Virginia Governor Patrick Henry sent Daniel Boone to survey Kentucky and in 1775, the Pennsylvania Company had him erect a fort on the Kentucky River, which he named Boonesboro.

In 1778, during the Revolution, Daniel Boone went to Blue Licks to get salt for his settlement but was captured by Shawnee Indians and taken to Detroit. He learned of British plans to incited Indians to attack his settlement, so he escaped and ran nearly 400 miles in 5 days to warn Boonseboro.

Daniel Boone became a Major in the militia and served in Virginia’s legislature. He bought land in Kentucky but lost it due to poorly prepared titles. Boone left Kentucky in 1799 and bought land from Spain in Missouri, west of the Mississippi River.

Boone then lost this land in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. An act of Congress gave him back his land just six years before his death, which was SEPTEMBER 26, 1820.(1)

(1) Daniel Boone: I Believe in Jesus Christ, American Minute with Bill Federer, September 26, 2010

(2) 1820 painting by Chester Harding  is the only portrait of Daniel Boone made from life

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN’S RELIGIOUS BELIEFS

October 29th, 2010

Benjamin Franklin

You will find a mixed bag of beliefs when it comes to Benjamin Franklin and his religion. He believed in God and His supremacy. Although he grew up under Calvinist teaching, he later came under the influence of British Deistic thought and he eventually became a prominent Deist, but rejected the more radical Deism. Yet, mixed in with his Deist belief was Calvinistic doctrine. One could say that Franklin became a new and prudent Deist.
Benjamin Franklin’s character demonstrates that from early youth he became independent in thought and actions. Enrolled in the Boston Latin School at the age of eight his father had to withdraw him after the first year. The Boston Latin School was well known for many of the famous Puritan divines, a future Franklin apparently did not want to follow. One author stated that while a youth he was reported not as pious or faithful, but as “skeptical, puckish . . . irreverent.”(1) He went to another school but soon educated himself from the age 10 and on.
Many would argue that because Franklin was a known Deist, our country could not have a Christian foundation. That argument ultimately denies the sovereignty of God to work through all of His creation. It also is an argument that clearly objects to and denies the true God of Christianity. They may say ‘not so;’ why then do they protest so much against Christianity? Benjamin Franklin held a firm belief and faith in God. He also believed in Divine intervention and God’s sovereignty. Although he did not conform to the traditional Christian faith, he embraced a firm and unmovable faith in God and His works in the founding of America. Read what he spoke when after four to five weeks the Constitutional Convention was stalled:

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when 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 G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and 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 proofs 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 they labor 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 be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter 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.”(2)

Franklin’s belief in God was firm. He was fully convicted of His existence and sovereignty and he firmly believed that without the blessings and guidance of God they would not succeed. One can imagine that Franklin, who broke with traditional Christianity, is the one to stand before the Convention delegates and rebuke them for not seeking God’s guidance. The irony of it is humorous. God’s providence truly does work through all of humanity. That day the Constitutional Convention moved on and brought forth the foundation of America.
Franklin wrote a paper in 1732 entitled On the Providence of God in the Government of the World. He proceeds to “. . . go about to prove this first Principle, the Existence of a Deity and that he is the Creator of the Universe. . .”. He continues to make two more points of God giving life, sustenance, and His sovereignty over all of creation. After completing these arguments, Franklin then establishes his theme on the providence of God in the government of the world. He directly states that God “sometimes interferes by His particular providence and sets aside the effects which would otherwise have been produced by . . . causes.”(3)  He did not quote scripture, but many of his statements were built on specific scriptures he learned in his youth.
When Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, there was a picture of the Day of Judgment by his bedside. There is no question that Benjamin Franklin not only played a critical role in the founding of our country, he boldly declared that the United States of America was formed through the sovereignty of God.
1 Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003), page 10
2 The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, Reported by James Madison, a delegate from the state of Virginia. Ed. by Gaillard Hund and James Brown Scott, Oxford University Press, 1920.
3 Benjamin Franklin, “On the Providence of God in the Government of the World”, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, eds. Leonard W. Labaree, et al. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959-), 1:264; or online at http://www.franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp Volume 1: 1706-34
Bibliography: The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, David L. Holmes, © David L. Holmes 2006; Published by Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, NY; The Religious Views of Benjamin Franklin, Chapter 5, Pages 53-57.

THE FOUNDERS OF NEW ENGLAND

October 27th, 2010

New England Colonies (2)

Within twenty years from the planting of the Plymouth Colony all the other chief colonies in New England were founded, their governments organized, and the Atlantic coasts, from the Kennebec River almost to the Hudson, was marked by various settlements. Such were the founders of New England. They were iconoclasts, reformers, in church and State, men of strong religious convictions. To them the bible was everything; the source of religious principles, the basis of civil law, the supreme authority in matters of common life. Numbering many men of great learning who had been educated at the English university, they gave great prominence to classical education, and established schools, seminaries and colleges. They were men of self-denying, abstemious and industrious habits. Far in advance of their times in respect to integrity of conscience, they were nevertheless very defective in their views of toleration; but they were eminently religious, with high conceptions of the duty of living for God and advancing his kingdom in the world. “In coming to this new continent they were influenced by a double hope: the enlargement of Christ’s kingdom by the conversion of heathen tribes, and the founding of an empire of their own children in which his religion should gloriously prevail.”

The fathers of New England were no mean men. John Cotton, John Wilson, Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepherd, Governor Winthrop, Dunstan and Chauncy, associates or correspondents of Milton, Bunyan, Lightfoot, Selden, Baxter, etc., are names which can never be obscured in history. They have left a deep and lasting impress upon New England.(1)

1. Christianity in the United States, Daniel Dorchester, D.D., © 2009 American Vision Press, Powder Springs, GA; originally published by Phillips & Hunt, New York, 1888; Page 29

2. New England Colonies map, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior

U.S. CHAPLAINS BRIEF HISTORY

September 14th, 2010

Ministers of the Gospel have always played an important role in history. Of particular interest is chaplains in the United States. Although the separation of church and state is widely debated and lawsuits have been initiated to block the Christian witness and presence, Chaplains still have an influence in the United States House of Representatives and Senate and our Armed Forces. Here is a brief look at some of that history.

Samuel Provoost, Bishop, Episcopal Church USA and first elected Chaplain of Congress

On July 29, 1775, the Continental Congress established the military chaplaincy. Chaplains were paid $20 per month, and provided “forage for one horse.” Gen George Washington issued this order at Valley Forge on May 2, 1778: “The Commander-in-Chief directs that divine services be performed every Sunday at eleven o’clock in each bridge which has chaplains…While we are duly performing the duty of good soldiers, we are not to be inattentive to the highest duties of religion.” Worship for soldiers was voluntary and chaplains of all faiths cooperated with each other, being sympathetic to the beliefs of others.

The history of the military chaplaincy reaches back to the beginning days of the United States. When Colonial forces went to war, they took with them one of the local ministers. Usually he was one of the younger clergy and more physically able. “This was an age when religion played a much more important role in the lives of Americans. For the Colonist, the minister was a powerful figure of authority within the community, and usually the best educated. Not even a minor military operation was planned or carried out without making sure that a minister was available to counsel and motivate the colonial fighting men”. [1] By the start of the Revolutionary War, the Military Chaplaincy stood upon 150 years of service to the American fighting men and women.

During the Civil War, military chaplains were held in high regard and there was an increased emphasis on professionalism. Some interesting facts of the chaplain’s influence with Confederate Army soldiers and officers are found in these facts: 150,000 Confederate soldiers rededicated or were baptized during the war; Eighty percent of college students in the South after the war found their religious faith while in the Confederate Army; Thirteen former Confederate chaplains were consecrated as bishops by 1892; and Twelve former Confederate chaplains became presidents of major colleges. [2]

Civil War Chaplains

One the more interesting events of the Civil Way was the election of a Union female chaplain. Mrs. Ella E. Gibson Hobart was elected as the Chaplain of the 1st Wisconsin Regiment of Heavy Artillery. She served in this position for a number of months in 1864, until Secretary of War Stanton refused to recognize her status because of her sex. The Civil War also saw some other firsts: It was the advent of the first Jewish Chaplains, and the first Black and Indian Chaplains. Another milestone in the war was the service of Unaguskie, the son of a Cherokee Chief and a Christian, who was the Chaplain of the Cherokee Battalion raised in North Carolina by the Confederate Army. [3]

When the Senate first convened in New York City on April 6, 1789, one of its first orders of business was to appoint a committee to recommend a candidate for chaplain. On April 25, the Senate elected the Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, Episcopal Bishop of New York, as its first chaplain. Since that time, the Senate has been served by chaplains of various religious denominations, including Episcopalians (19), Methodists (17), Presbyterians (14), Baptists (6), Unitarians (2), Congregationalists (1), Lutherans (1), Roman Catholic (1), and Seventh-day Adventist (1). The Senate has also appointed guest chaplains representative of all the world’s major religious faiths. In addition to opening the Senate each day in prayer, the current Senate chaplain’s duties include spiritual care and counseling for senators, their families, and their staffs — a combined constituency of over 6,000 people — and discussion sessions, prayer meetings, and a weekly Senators’ Prayer Breakfast. [3]

The former Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-West Virgina) addressed the Senate on June 5th, 1980 on “1789-1989: Addresses on the History of the United States Senate” giving an interesting history that is worth reading. You may read his address here: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/resources/pdf/Chaplain.pdf

The same history is true for the United States House of Representatives. The election of the Rev. William Linn as Chaplain of the House on May 1, 1789, continued the tradition established by the Continental Congresses of each day’s proceedings opening with a prayer by a chaplain. The early chaplains alternated duties with their Senate counterparts on a weekly basis. The two conducted Sunday services for the Washington community in the House Chamber every other week. Since the election of Rev. Linn in 1789, the House has been served by chaplains of various religious denominations, including Baptist (7), Christian (1), Congregationalist (2), Disciples of Christ (1), Episcopalian (4), Lutheran (1), Methodist (16), Presbyterian (15), Roman Catholic (1), Unitarian (2), and Universalist (1). In addition to opening proceedings with prayer, the Chaplain provides pastoral counseling to the House community, coordinates the scheduling of guest chaplains, and arranges memorial services for the House and its staff. In the past, Chaplains have performed marriage and funeral ceremonies for House members.[5]

[1] The Military Chaplain, Vol LXXII, Number 5
[2] The National Civil War Museum, The Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA; http://chaplainmuseum.org/religion.html
[3] Lighthouse Ministries,Civil War Chaplains; http://www.ourchurch.com/view/?pageID=156779
[4] United States Senate, Senate Chaplains: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Senate_Chaplain.htm
[5] History of the Chaplaincy, United States House of Representatives: http://chaplain.house.gov/chaplaincy/history.html

Photo: http://www.old-picture.com/civil-war/Chaplains-Civil-War.htm

The Importance of Christianity

July 8th, 2010

The following is an article by Dr. Peter Lillback entitled “This Fourth of July, Remember the Importance of Christianity” posted at Townhall.com on July 4, 2010

Myths have always surrounded George Washington. As we celebrate our nation’s birthday, it’s time to dispel the most dangerous – that he was not a Christian.

Since the 200th anniversary of his birth in 1932, the consensus of historians has been that Washington was a Deist – someone who believes in a remote and impersonal God who plays no role in human affairs.

In recent years, several books have been published, often referring to Washington as more “a man of honor than … a man of religion” or not a Christian “if one defines ‘Christian’ as the evangelicals do.”

Many of the leaders of the Revolutionary War were Deists, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, author of “The Age of Reason.” But calling Washington one of them – that’s just sloppy scholarship. I challenge these historians to produce one verifiable statement from Washington’s writings that shows he was a Deist.

Scholars today, by and large, consider all the research to have been done on Washington’s faith. They think that there is nothing new to discover, and that the conclusion already reached, that Washington was not a Christian, is unimpeachable. The fact is that these secular scholars simply read their own unbelief into Washington to draw the desired conclusion.

Discovering the truth was made more difficult by Washington’s introspective nature. He didn’t like talking about himself. His personal faith was more often expressed in actions, according to his motto, “deeds, not words.”

But a careful examination of his thoughts, words and deeds shows that he was a devout 18th-century Anglican – what today would be called an Episcopalian.

Washington never claimed to be a Deist and never used the word Deist or Deism, and yet he does refer to himself as a Christian, using such phrases as “on my honor and the faith of a Christian.”
Washington believed in a God who was active in history, calling his faith the “blessed religion revealed in the Word of God,” speaking of Christ as the “Divine Author of our blessed religion,” and continually referring to the role of Divine Providence in the affairs of men.

Washington read sermons to his family. His writing was thick with Biblical allusions. He composed more than 100 prayers in his own hand – Deists don’t believe that God answers prayers.
In Washington’s writings, he used the word “God” at least 146 times, “divine” at least 95 times, “heaven” at least 133 times and “providence” at least 270 times.

His first act as president was a prayer. When he finished his oath of office at his first inaugural, he added the words, “So help me God,” and bent down to kiss the Bible. Then he led the crowd across the street to a chapel for a two-hour service. Alexander Hamilton’s wife said she was at Washington’s side when he took communion that day.

In his General Orders to the troops at Valley Forge, Washington wrote, “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.”

On Sept. 28, 1789, he wrote to the Rev. Samuel Langdon: “The man must be bad indeed who can look upon the events of the American Revolution without feeling the warmest gratitude towards the great Author of the Universe whose divine interposition was so frequently manifested in our behalf. And it is my earnest prayer that we may so conduct ourselves as to merit a continuance of those blessings with which we have hitherto been favored.”

Where a nation starts determines where it ends. If our Founding Father was a Deist, we should certainly be secularists today.

But if our Founding Father was committed to a Christian worldview, Christianity today is not an interloper in the public square but rather has a legitimate role in addressing the secular assault against the historic values and beliefs of America.

End Notes:

DIVERSE CURRENTS IN COLONIAL CHRISTIANITY

June 7th, 2010

The separation of Church and state, secularism and Statism are not new. In fact, early Colonial Christianity, strengthened by the Puritans and responsible for establishing a Christian foundation in our country, came under attack by false doctrines that started to infiltrate the orthodox Christian theology and faith. Beginning in Europe and spread to the colonies, these beliefs had a significant impact in changing the headway the Puritans had made. In the larger scope of  our country’s early days, it remains evident that God was acknowledged as the Supreme Being and Provider. The founding fathers said and wrote as much and relied on these truths to establish this country. Divine Providence ruled in the end.

The following excerpts from “Diverse Currents,” Chapter 8 of Christianity in the United States by Daniel Dorchester [American Vision Press, Powder Springs, Georgia, 2009; originally published by Philips & Hunt, 1888] provides us with a glimpse of how these diverse currents began and the course it took. These excerpts cannot and do not capture the full story. If you are interested in learning more, check our endnotes for the web site and contact information for American Vision Press. [1]

DIVERSE CURRENTS

An inspection of the religious life of the colonial era reveals new currents of theological sentiment, silently but steadily setting in, at various points, against the long accepted theories. In the subsequent periods they will appear as more active assailing forces, openly antagonizing the old beliefs and seriously engaging the attention of the world.

Section 1. – The Inception of American Skepticism

As early as the middle of the seventeenth century symptoms of this great revolt appeared, in the English mind, in the gradual unfolding of the principle that the natural consciousness of the Divine existence and man’s conscience are all the materials necessary for the construction of a perfect religion, and that Christianity is of no value except as containing germs of this natural religion. In the course of the following century these sentiments obtained a formal recognition under the name of English deism, accompanied often with a denial of the historic verity of the Christian records and a denunciation of the Christian system as priestcraft. The history of English deism covers a period of about one hundred and seventy-five years (1625-1800) [2]  from Herbert to Gibbon, embracing groups of essayists, poets and novelists distinguished for splendid talents and extensive acquisitions. A large portion of the English mind was tainted with these ideas, and a serious deterioration in faith and morals became apparent.

Introduction into America


The celebrated French and Indian war, extending through a period of nine years (1754-1763), afforded an opportunity for their inculcation. During this war American citizens were brought into deistical sentiments. “Most of their American companions had never heard the divine origin of the Scriptures questioned, and their minds were, of course, unprovided with answers even to the most common objections. To such objections as were actually made was added the force of authority. The British officers were from the mother country—a phase of high import—until after the commencement of the Revolution. They came from a country renowned for arts and arms, and regarded by the people of New England as the birth-place of science and wisdom.

The period of intervening between the French war and the Revolution was characterized by a perceptible relaxation of morals, and it is certain that religion suffered serious decline.

The Unitarian departure had its inception in the introduction of the famous “halfway covenant,” which was adopted in the infancy of the colonies, only forty-two years after the landing of the Pilgrims. This measure was a politico-religious expedient resorted to for the purpose of relieving themselves from embarrassments growing out of an extreme and impracticable application of Christianity to the relations of the Church and the civil power.

It has been already observed that the early churches of New England held very strictly to the necessity of saving faith and spiritual regeneration as conditions of membership. And their religion was not a dreamy speculation, or a mere sentiment, or an abstraction, but it was carried out in concrete forms in the practical details of life. Religion was the stock upon which every things must be rejected. Hence we find the State growing out of the Church. Under their regimen no person could hold public office, or vote in elections, or enjoy any of the ordinary privileges of citizenship, who was not a member of the Church.

In 1633, Rev. John Cotton preached a sermon in Boston, entitled, “A Discourse About Civil Government, in a New Plantation, whose Design is Religion.” Its object was “to prove the expediency and necessity of intrusting free burgesses, who are members of churches, gathered amongst them according to Christ, with the power of choosing from among themselves magistrates and men to whom the managing of all public and civil affairs of importance is to be committed.” This was in accordance with the general usage of the New England colonies. [3]

Religious ideas were carried into everything they did. The recluses of the Middle Ages had removed religion from practical life, into caves and cloisters, but the Puritans reversed the order and carried it into the most common affairs. Thus actuated, they made the franchise of the Commonwealth dependent upon church membership, and the latter upon a genuine religious experience. A solemn form, too, was observed in the relation of religious experience before the Church, and inquiries were made into the previous conviction for sin and the radical character of the change. Thus were the membership of the Church and the franchise of the State hedged in with impressive and uncompromising religious ideas and usages. [4]

[1] Editor’s note to article
[2] Herbert died 1648; Hobbes, 1679; The Earl of Shaftesbury, 1713; Toland, 1722; Mandeville, 1733; Collins, 1729; Woolston, 1733; Morgan, 1743; Tindal, 1733; Chubb, 1747; Bolingbroke, 1751; Hume, 1776; Gibbon, 1794
[3] The Ecclesiastical History of New England, By Joseph B. Felt. Vol. l, pg. 169
[4] Endnote: These excerpts are taken from “Diverse Currents,” Chapter 8 of Christianity in the United States by Daniel Dorchester [American Vision Press, Powder Springs, Georgia, 2009; originally published by Philips & Hunt, 1888]. For further information, visit their web site at www.americanvision.org or telephone 1-800-628-9460