During the War of Independence, he expressed the conviction that the “favor of divine providence” was essential for victory.
He related, “We can but little hope of the blessings of heaven on our arms, if we insult it by our impiety and folly.”
On September 13, 1777, after praising his troops, he commented that with “another appeal to heaven” they would win again.
He encouraged days of fasting and prayer, saying it would “incline the Lord, and Giver of Victory, to prosper our arms.”
When he heard swearing and profanity was increasing in the ranks on May 2, 1778, he required chaplains to hold services at 11:00 a.m. and address the matter in their messages.
Writing in the third person, he expressed his desire for the conduct of his troops: “The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian solider ...”
On July 9, 1776, he issued an order authorizing chaplains in the Continental Army making it clear that attendance at services was most desirable.
He said it “will reflect great credit on the army in general, tend to improve morale, and at the same time, to increase the happiness of the soldiers.”
He once stated his highest goal for his troops was “to (the) distinguished character of a Patriot, (it) should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of a Christian.”
When outmanned and outgunned, he remarked, “Providence has heretofore saved us in a remarkable manner and on this we must principally rely.”
The Continental Congress appeared to agree with him by reminding the citizens in 1779, “Without arms, ammunition, discipline, revenue, government or ally ... with a ‘staff and sling’ only, dared in the name of the Lord of Hosts to engage a giant adversary.”
Though many victories were ascribed to divine Providence, they also considered God played a role in some defeats because of bad conduct. Some of their defeats we ascribed not to bad soldiering, but immorality.
Today, if “an act of God” is said to consequence from immorality, critics of the concept cry out.
As President Washington opined in his farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.
“In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens.”
Two words in this statement stand out: “happiness” and “duties.” The clear implication is that certain duties well fulfilled results in happiness. Those duties are defined as “Religion” and “Morality.”
That marches in lockstep with the old adage that conduct has consequences. The conclusion of the equation is good conduct equals good consequences. What a simple formula.
Those who dare try it find it works.
Though America was not founded as a Christian nation, many of our early documents use religious language and espouse Christian principles. They were written as to a Christian audience. Some critics may deny that, but a reading of them verifies it.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church.