“We may, with a kind of grateful and pious exultation, trace the finger of Providence through those dark and mysterious events. ...”
Almost 40 years after the event John Adams wrote Thomas Jefferson that “the general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the only Principles on which that beautiful Assembly of Gentlemen could Unite. ... And what were these general Principles?
I answer, the general Principles of Christianity, in which all these Sects were United.”
Washington underscored his conviction in his Farewell Address in 1796, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
Washington was reminding his contemporaries and us that the great experiment as a republic could not survive apart from what he called the “indispensable supports.”
The contrast of what the absence of these supports is can be seen in the French Revolution which was led basically by persons with little or no faith.. Washington and the Founders were not persons devoid of religious faith, but conversely were aware of the Providence of God at work in America.
John Jay, one of the authors of the “Federalist Papers,” observed “the design of Providence” in the emergence of America.
John Adams, the second President of the United States, revered the “settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scheme and design in Providence. ...”
John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, was perhaps the first person to conceive of America as “a city upon a hill,” provided, that is, that “we shall not deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us.”
To seek divine assistance, America began with a firm reliance on Him as expressed in our Declaration of Independence. If there was a “Biblical fragrance” to America, as Tocqueville said, it was not to be a theocracy, but a republic.
James Madison taught our first duty as citizens was to worship the Ruler of the Universe, and that this worship had to be freely given and propagated by private support without government assistance.
Benjamin Rush, considered “the Father of American Psychiatry” and signer of the Declaration on Independence, argued that the religious principles “promote the happiness of society and the safety and wellbeing of civil government.”
Thomas Jefferson, a man who vacillated in his statements on faith, in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” queried, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God. Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
And now, this generation must deal with this concept so woven into the fabric of our origin as a nation.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.