by Steven Harduk
" Proclaim liberty unto all the inhabitants thereof" is inscribed on our nation's Liberty Bell. How many people today know that those words come from the Bible (Lev. 25:10)? Few-yet much of the foundation of our land has its source in the Scriptures. Our nation and its freedom are due to men who believed they needed to establish their nation upon God's principles. Recently history books have obscured much of what our forefathers believed (the reasons for our unique government) because it is so strongly Christian in its influence. The average American knows little regarding our national and spiritual heritage. But let us briefly sample the impact of Scripture upon those responsible for the government of the United States.
George Washington, our first president, argued, "The propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained." John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, stated, "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this, it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with those of Christianity." Our second president, John Adams, explained, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." These leaders understood that our nation must be founded upon the principles and truths of the Word of God.
Of the 55 men who attended the First Constitutional Convention, how many believed in God? If you said all 55, you would be right. Three were deists but still believed in God and the principles of the Bible. Benjamin Franklin, though a deist, asserted on June 28, 1787, at the First Constitutional Convention:
"Has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illumine our understandings? In the beginning of our contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. I have lived a long time, sir, and the longer I live the more convincing proof I see of this truth that God governs in the affairs of men. 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 in the sacred writings that except the Lord build the house 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."
In 1776, Congress elected John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson to draft a document claiming national independence. Jefferson's document, the Declaration of Independence, is replete with evidences of the Christianity whose principles guided their actions. Though a deist, Jefferson was influenced by the writings of John Locke, John Adams, prevailing Calvinism, the Great Awakening of the 1740s and various Puritan writings and doctrines. He believed in the moral principles of the Gospels and that they should guide life, though he rejected the claims of Christ.
Jefferson is credited with the phrase "separation of church and state." Yet few understand the intent of his statement as he met with Danbury Baptists in 1802 to assure them that the government would not interfere by establishing a state religion and thereby persecute them. It is almost certain that Jefferson borrowed the phrase from Roger Williams.
The "Declaration" reveals Christian influence, though it rarely names God. Puritans often used the phrase "laws of nature and of nature's God," which can be traced back to monastic debates in the 1300s to refer to moral, unalterable laws of God. When Jefferson used it, he was appealing to a higher court than the English king. He was appealing to the Almighty Judge.
The term "self-evident" links directly to the Apostle Paul. From Aquinas (1225-1274) to John Locke's 1690 essay, the phrase referred to truths people know intuitively as direct from God, needing no proof! The phrase originated in Romans 1:19: "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them." The Latin phrase per se notum ("manifest in them") is "self-evident."
Even the philosophy of government "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" ultimately comes from the Scriptures. Our founding fathers believed that the Old Testament concept of covenant expressed the forfeiture of the king's right to rule through his injustice. They based this belief on passages such as 2 Kings 11:17, Romans 13:1-4 and 1 Peter 2:13. Samuel Rutherford based part of his Lex Rex on these passages, showing that no king had a divine right to reign. Civil authority-a governing and authority from the people but not mob rule-traces back to Genesis 9:6. No one is exempt from law and justice (Deut. 16:18-20); and the people are also accountable (1 Sam. 12:24, 25).
Certain beliefs were foundational among the founders of our system of government. One was a belief in Jesus Christ. Some recognize Patrick Henry for his statement, "Give me liberty, or give me death." He also said, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians; not on religions but on the gospel of Jesus Christ." When Henry made his will he wrote, "This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family; the religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed."
Alexander Hamilton-a delegate to the Congress in 1782, a New York State assemblyman and secretary of the Treasury-introduced the legislation that abolished slavery in New York. He firmly believed in Jesus Christ. One of his favorite Scriptures was John 11.
George Washington was also noted as a religious man. Some say Washington never spoke about Jesus. Yet on May 12, 1779, George Washington met with a number of Indian chiefs. While speaking to the Delaware chiefs he asserted, "You will do well to wish to learn our ways of life and above all the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are." You won't find that statement in the history books today! Washington said, "It is the first duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God; to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and to humbly implore His protection and favor and Holy fear."
John Jay was one of three who wrote The Federalist (Publias). He was chief justice of the Supreme Court of New York State and later became governor of New York. Interestingly, after he served as governor, he served several terms as president of the American Bible Society.
Our founding forefathers understood that we must believe in God. They held this conviction so firmly that in 1647 they passed the Old Deluder Satan Law. It declared that parents and teachers had to use the Bible to teach children so the children would not be deceived by false systems of government. In particular, our leaders were thinking of what was happening in Europe.
Depravity of Man:
Our forefathers believed in Christ and the Bible, but they also believed unconditionally in the depravity of man. They understood that men are sinful, wicked, and corrupt. Blackstone, the writer of the premier law commentary of the day, taught his theories on law from Romans 3. Prospective lawyers had to focus on Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."
Alexander Hamilton stated, "Take mankind in general; they are vicious." James Madison noted, "man's innate depravity must be checked." John Witherspoon declared, "There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost and religious liberty preserved entire."
These men understood that a system of government must check sinful men's tendencies. With this firm belief, they used scriptural principles to establish a republic.
Checks and Balances:
Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist #9: "Give all power to the many and they will oppress the few, give all power to the few and they will oppress the many." He knew that depraved men need a system that checks in balance the many and the few.
The single greatest source from which our founding fathers quoted was the Bible. From Isaiah 33:22 they derived the three branches of government: "For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king." John Adams, reiterating, explained, "We need to have an empire that is governed by laws and not by man."
Freedom of Speech
We cherish the Bill of Rights. Do you know its origin? James Madison of Virginia observed the Baptists who refused to pay for permission to preach the Word of God. They believed in the mandate to preach God's Word without state approval. Basing their convictions on Acts 5:29, "We ought to obey God rather than men," they went to jail rather than receive government approval. Madison observed these godly men in jail. They were not difficult men, but they went to jail because of their religious convictions.
Later a Bill of Rights for the state passed in Virginia, and eventually it became the model for the national Bill of Rights.
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