A Nation Whose God Is the Lord 6/28/98

Psalm 33:12
Page 822 Come Alive Bible

Jesus Christ warned the people of His day regarding their hard and unrepentant hearts: “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing fruits of it” (Matthew 21:43).

America has enjoyed the signature blessings of the Lord. God has blessed America. America has born the fruits of the kingdom at times. A great gleaning needs to be done in our society to gather and groom those spiritual qualities inherent in our emergence as a nation.

When the virtues of our young nation are mentioned there are those who seek to deny a Christian influence in our emergence. Some then seek to discredit those of us who espouse such from a historical perspective by saying we want to make America a theocracy governed by Old Testament rules. God Himself doesn’t want that. Those rules were not even intended for modern Israel. They were the civil laws of the young fledgling nation of Israel.

Not even Theo wants America to be a theocracy.

There are persons intent on changing public policy who contend that America was not founded by Christians on Christian principles. A study of the lives of the signers of the Declaration of Independence speaks of their values.

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration 27 had degrees from seminaries.

Reverend John Witherspoon over saw the printing of the Bible by Congress in 1782.

Charles Thompson, Secretary of Congress, was responsible for the first translation of the Bible in America and published the Thompson Bible.

Benjamin Rush founded the first Bible Society in America, the Philadelphia Bible Society.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were responsible for starting 121 Bible Societies in eight years.

Francis Hawkins was responsible for printing the first hymn book in America.

John Adams and Benjamin Rush sat next to each other during the drafting of the Declaration in which 56 men proposed to overthrow the most powerful nation on earth. Rush leaned over and asked Adams, “John do you think we can really win this conflict?” Adams replied, “Yes, if we repent of our sins and rely on God.”

Rush later said he wrote that in his diary so he could teach others it was possible to be Godly and in politics, that those two were not incompatible.

John Adams, who was one of those who signed the Declaration and the peace treaty with England, wrote a letter in 1813 in which he said, “The principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the principles of Christianity. I will now avow that I did believe and now believe that those principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the general attributes and characteristics of God.”

That is what history from the period recorded before modern day revisionists with an agenda began to misrepresent it. Primary sources from the day support the concept that our founding fathers work was an outgrowth of their beliefs in God. Modern day persons trying to bash God want to refute history in their efforts.

Thomas Jefferson has long been considered an iconoclast among our early presidents in matters of religion. Jefferson wrote most of the Declaration of Independence. Some evidence from his early public life indicates he was not a Christian though on occasion he declared he was. His deeds do attest that he subscribed to Christian ethics. While Governor of Virginia he called for days of fasting and prayer. He helped found Bible societies and fund missionaries to Native Americans. Jefferson had a broad understanding of the Bible and quoted it frequently. In starting the University of Virginia he invited the various denominations to establish their seminaries around the University so students could choose their denomination. He thought of it as good to have a non-denominational school.

In the Jefferson Memorial in Washington there are four quotes considered by historians to be his most important statements. Three of the four are God centered.

One of those statements closely parallels our text which says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people He has chosen as His own inheritance” (Psalm 33:12).

One quote from Jefferson found in the Jefferson Memorial states: “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

Let’s first review some court decisions from the modern era as a backdrop before considering what the founding fathers had in mind.

Encel v. Vitale, June 25, 1962 was the first case to separate religious principles from public education. In this case removing prayer from schools there was no legal precedent ro history cited. No reference was made to the Constitution. Seven members of the Supreme Court making this ruling had no background on court benches. They were all politicians appointed by politicians.

This marked a new direction in the legal system in America. It was to be no longer constitutional law.

Most persons have never heard the prayer that resulted in this legal action. It was: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee and beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers, and our Country.”

In these 22 words God is acknowledged one time. He is acknowledged four times in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution is dated “in the year of our Lord.”

Abington v. Schempp was the cause resulting in the prohibition against Bible reading. Without any Constitutional basis it was said doing so could be “psychologically harmful.”

Stone v. Gramm, 1980, the court removed the Ten Commandments from schools even though they said it was a “passive” display, meaning someone would have to stop on their own will to read them.

James Madison, chief architect of the Constitution, said, “We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments.” That’s what he thought of the Commandments.

In Jefferson’s letter to the Banbury Baptist he asserted Christian principles were never to be separated from government.

This is an era in which every Christian who is a citizen of this great republic should rededicate self to the God who has granted us such liberties.

Four times in the Declaration of Independence God is acknowledged and reliance on Him referenced. Jefferson started by referring to God as “our Creator.” He goes on to refer to the “Supreme Judge of the Universe.” Mention is made to the “laws of nature and natures God” and speaks of “divine providence.”

Confusion regarding his beliefs related to separation of church and state have arisen from a statement in one of his letters. His response to an appeal from the Danbury Baptist Association that no one denomination be made a national religion has caused this. In his famous response he used the phrase referring to a “wall of separation between Church and State.” What did he mean by that metaphor? The question is “what did he mean,” not what do modern thinkers interpret it to mean?

First, consider why the Baptist wrote Mr. Jefferson. Europeans had fled to these shores seeking freedom of religion. They had come from countries with state churches such as England, France, Holland, and the Netherlands. Others had come from countries that were church states, such as, Italy. In these countries denominations that were not the state supported denomination were discriminated against and often persecuted. Some of this had come over into certain colonies. In those colonies with state churches other denominations were discriminated against and adherents persecuted.

William Penn, the Quaker who founded Pennsylvania, was the first to afford asylum to persons of all faiths.

The Baptist noted that the Constitution did nothing to prevent the government from establishing a national church. This prompted them to write Mr. Jefferson in an attempt to insure the government would not establish a national, or state church.

In his letter of response, in order to insure them there would be no national church, he asserted a “wall of separation” has been established that will prevent the government from doing so. That is all it meant. His conduct thereafter bears this out.

His letter to the Baptists was written on Friday, January 1, 1802. Two days later he attended the first church service in the House of Representatives on Sunday, January 3, 1802. Note: “in the House of Representatives.” He continued to do so for seven years. Church services were held during this time in the House with the Speakers chair as the pulpit, in the Supreme Court Building, the War Office, and at the Treasury Building. Sunday School was also conducted.

Jefferson was a tactful politician. His words and actions were coordinated to fit together like hand and glove in order to convey his policy to the citizens. By attending these services he was attempting to signal to the electorate his support of non-state supported religion. In his view the government could not be a party to imposing a uniform religious exercise or observance. It could on the other hand support as being in the public good voluntary, non-discriminatory religious activities, including church services. As proof of this he put at the disposal of the citizens public property, public facilities, and including public personnel, including the president himself.

Are you ready for this? The Marine Corps Band even played for these services in uniform. Vice President Aaron Burr attended regularly.

Jefferson’s personal financial records reveal he contributed to nine local churches. He was a principal subscriber to the building fund of Christ Church in Washington. His liberality benefitted several church building programs.

To insure there would be no “national religion” established, James Madison introduced the First Amendment to the Constitution. As introduced on June 8, 1789, it directed that no “national religion be established.” To insure that no “national” or “state” religion be established the word “national” was dropped and the amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”

Later Madison wrote his “Detachment Memoranda” after his second term as president. Therein he wrote: “the constitution of the US forbids everything like an establishment of religion.” Then he corrected himself by inserting a caret, “a national” in front of religion. To Madison and his colleagues the establishment clause meant Congress could not pick one denomination and promote it to the status of an official national religion supported by taxes and with coercive authority. It granted to Congress no power to legislate on religious matters.

Obviously Madison and his colleagues believed the Constitution did allow Congress to support religion in a non-discriminatory and non-coercive way for he like Jefferson and their colleagues did precisely that. They attended worship, appointed chaplains, published Bibles and issued Thanksgiving proclamations, wrote in the Northwest Ordinance, “Religion, Morality and knowledge [were] necessary to good government and the happiness of Mankind.”

To them the separation issue involved not endorsing one denomination over another. It gave freedom to all.

Jefferson’s opinion regarding religion obviously evolved as he matured. The statements that seem to be contradictory are indeed. This is explained by them being made at different stages of his life.

In a letter to Benjamin Rush, dated April 21, 1803 he wrote, “I am a Christian.” “I am a real Christian,”

He wrote Charles Thomson in 1816, I am “a disciple of the doctrine of Jesus.” This phase of his life appears to have started in the mid-1790’s. Beginning at this time and continuing through his presidency he immersed himself in biblical scholarship. In compiling his writings of the Scripture he consulted texts in English, Greek, French, and Latin. His passion for privacy kept him from sharing these works with anyone during his lifetime.

His thought progress brought him into closer agreement with his colleagues with which he had argued in earlier years. He was now ready to concede religion fosters morality and, consequently, had a role to play in a free society. In 1801 he wrote, “The Christian religion brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent instructor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty.”

Later he informed a Presbyterian minister that “Reading, reflection and time have convinced me that the interest of society requires the observance of those moral precepts…” Still later he confessed to agreeing with his former opponents that “a future state of retribution for the evil as well as for the good done while here” was a crucial concept for the promotion of public morality.

Facts contained herein have been extracted from a scholarly work by James H. Hutson, Chief of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building Manuscript Division, with a forward by Jaroslav Pelikan of Yale University, entitled, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic. This well footnoted work is for sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office.