George Washington: Was He a Christian? 7/5/98

Matthew 7:20, 21
Page 1419 Come Alive Bible

JESUS CHRIST was a masterful teacher. He desired to communicate those great truths of eternity in such a simple, elemental manner that any one of us could understand them. As he taught on the mountainside he instructed the learned, the wise, the elderly and the mature. He communicated to the children and to the young people and he related facts so that they could make application of them.

Can you imagine there on the mountainside as he was instructing the masses of persons, that perhaps even he gestured toward them, and bent to pick a single blossom and said, “Consider the lily – it toils not, neither doth it spin, yet Solomon in all of his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” And watch just then as the birds moved overhead….”Your heavenly Father cares for you as He does for them.”

And then he said, “Not everyone that sayeth unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And then he went further in greater depth and said, “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them I will liken unto a wise man that built his house upon a rock, and the rains came and descended upon it and the winds blew and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.”

Jesus Christ gave insights that are still worthy of our observation today, for the depth of the inclusion of truths therein would take all of our lives to just begin to probe the superficial depths of such statements as these.

He used characters, he used objects to teach lessons. So on this special season of the year, let’s use a personality to evaluate the most important issue that any individual ever confronts, that is, the matter of personal salvation.

Faith of our fathers. What was the faith of the founding fathers of the great nation we are blessed to call The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave today? Consider if you will, by way of illustration, one of the most dramatic personalities in the young life of America. He was our first President, George Washington.

Let’s look at his life, some of the things involved in it. Let’s take from his own lips and from his own pen certain statements that he made to see if we can extract from those truths whether or not he was a child of God, born again.

The Washington Monument rises 555 feet and 5 inches above the mall in Washington D.C. I pays tribute to the memory of the nation’s first president, George Washington.

He was reared near Fredericksburg by a pious dad and Godly mother. In addition tot he Bible the book from which they tutored him most often was “Contemplations, Moral, and Divine,” by Matthew Hale. It is a volume giving spiritual and moral enlightenment.

He was a leader of exceptional capacity and that capacity showed itself in so many ways. In his youth, as a young man at age ll, his dad died. He was the oldest child in the family and it became his responsibility to assume the role of the head of the house. That involved him leading his family in their daily time of prayer together and their devotions around the meal table.

Parents, have you assumed that responsibility? Is there in your home that involvement around God’s Word, that involvement in prayer around the table on which His bounty has been made available?

In his young years the family attended church in Fredericksburg. After marriage, while living at Mt. Vernon he attended Pohick Church. Pastor Lee Massey spoke of his faithful regularity and how his presence and reverence was an inspiration to all. His Secretary, Judge Harrison, noted his consistency in worship even during the war. When possible he would leave the camp to attend worship in a nearby community.

After the war when he returned to Mt. Vernon they attended Christ Church in Alexandria.

One vital lesson taught him by his mother paid dividends all through his life. It was this: “My son neglect not the duty of secret prayer.”

At age 15 he made a vital decision through prayer. He wanted to join the navy. His mother’s influence was important in the decision. He wrote her: “My dearest mother, I did strongly desire to go, but could not endure to be on board a ship and knowing you were unhappy.” Such regard for one’s mother is admirable. All of us should be glad about that decision for the navy he wanted to join was the British Navy.

His conscientiousness in “the duty of secret prayer” was manifest at Valley Forge in 1777. His officers notices he frequently retreated into a dense grove of trees. They determined he did so to pray. While there praying for his ill equipped and out manned army he was disrupted by noise in the camp. He soon learned it was the South Carolina Militia arriving. The First Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina had voted to give their building fund money to help equip the militia. Their arrival was an anser to prayer.

As a youth he memorized over 100 rules of conduct taught him by a minister. Here are a few examples:
Speak not when you should hold your peace.

Always submit your judgements to others with modesty.

Let your conversations be without malice and envy.

When you speak of God or His attributes let it be seriously.

Let your recreation be manful, not sinful.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

By the age of 15 he was working as a professional surveyor far beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. The wilderness had a strong appeal to him and hardened him for a demanding life physically.

At age 21 he was a major in the Colonial Army. He fought in the French and Indian War. His bravery made him a living legend. In one battle he had two horses shot out from under him. His hat and coat were riddled with bullet holes.

In 1775 when the first shots were fired between the Redcoats and Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, the Second Continental Congress unanimously elected him Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.

Ephesians 2:8-9 instructs us, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Mr. Washington had much about which to boast and we today do well to take great pride in much of that which gives us legitimate reason for gratitude for the character and capacity that he manifested as President of this great land, and prior to that, as a leader and a general of our country.

For he was an individual who gave to his troops an order that they were to attend “divine service” every Lord’s Day. He believed in it and he gave such a command to his troops. He also issued a statement that there could be no swearing or profanity used by his troops. Such leadership and such example as this is admirable and certainly is worthy of emulation by every American today, for we are warned in God’s Word “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” As we see The Day approaching, all the more that regularity in worship becomes God’s children. Regularity in worship is a testimony to devotion to Him. Profanity and swearing have no place on the lips or in the lives of God’s children, and if there are those struggling with such today, you would do well to ask for His help in placing a sentinel at your heart’s door lest there escape therefrom a thought that would prompt the utterance of that which is swearing or profane.

Mr. Washington was a man who showed great courage when he prevailed upon the Congress to establish the chaplaincy for our Armed Services, and he it was who first issued a proclamation in 1777 that there should be set aside a day of thanksgiving and praise to God.

A lifestyle of thanksgiving and praise is becoming to God’s children, but how much thanksgiving does He hear from you? How much praise arises from you? How often do you romance God? Or is your prayer stale and antiseptic or simply a supplication, making your “want list” known to Him?

“Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice,” says the penman of Philippians. Rejoice! Then an attitude and spirit of joy and rejoicing is evidence of the domicile of the Lord in the life of the believer, for it is legitimately said, “Joy is the banner that flies over the capitol of the heart when the King is in residence there.” When the Lord Christ is in residence in your heart you respond as Mr. Washington urged the nation to do: “in prayer and thanksgiving, rejoicing in His goodness.”

His prayer life, established in his youth, was something that punctuated George Washington’s life all through his life. For this reason, many years later we can read of the prayer that first issued from his lips and later from his pen as he prayed, “Almighty God, we lift our earnest prayer to Thee that Thou wouldst keep the United States in Thy protective grace.”

I’m so thankful that General Washington prayed such a prayer as that, that he let the Lord know that was his desire, that He would, in His grace, keep the United States. We the citizens of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave do well to pray it frequently that He would, in His grace, purge and keep America as only He can, for “it is not by might, but it is by His Spirit” that the soul of the individual is kept and that is true of the nation likewise.

Mr. Washington concluded that prayer with this expression: “Grant our supplications, I beseech Thee, through the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Prayer was a prominent part of his life all through his career. Is it indigenous to your lifestyle? Is your life one that incorporates prayer as a daily involvement? Are you a person prone to talk to the Lord regularly in prayer and to let Him know of your gratitude for His goodness and to ask Him to supply the needs that are existent in your life?

Of course there is that well-known tradition related to George Washington and the cherry tree. It’s been told and retold so many ways one couldn’t help but wonder what really happened, and was there a cherry tree at all and did it get cut down?

George Washington had scarcely been buried when right down the road living at Woodbridge was a minister by the name of Mason Weems who wrote a book about the life of George Washington. It went into 70 printings. But it wasn’t until the fifth printing of this book entitled “The Life and Magnificent Actions of George Washington” that the story about the cherry tree occurred, for there was a lady who lived near the senior Washington family that brought the story to Rev. Weems after George’s death, and after all, the truth is now known from that ancient chronicle, George didn’t cut down the cherry tree. But little George did skin the bark off all the way around it and that’s just as good as chopping one down in the first place, because that would surely lead to death of the tree, and George did express that truthfulness, “Father, I cannot tell a lie.” He confessed and that kind of truthfulness followed his presidency, for what revolution do you know of in the history of mankind like unto the American Revolution that was led by a general who was victorious in battle and on the field of conquest and then came back to be the leader of that country who freely and willingly relinquished the power and the authority of government. Tito? Castro? Mao? Lenin? Stalin? Kruschev? Mussolini? Hitler? All clung, or cling, to power with selfish greed and tenacity, but the benevolent bigness of a young life grew into adulthood and he gladly laid down the sword of battle, went back to Mount Vernon and took up the plow for the fields of fertile soil in that country.

A great leader he was. He had much over which he could boast, but it is by grace ye are saved, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any person should boast. And if today you are mistakenly seeking to earn, merit or deserve God’s favor, learn from the scriptures which say, “Not everyone which sayeth unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father, which is in heaven.”

George Washington’s works were admirable and certain deserving of our consideration, for as a young child his parents trained him up in the way he should go and that should be the diligent devotion and the absolute commitment of every Christian parent. For that reason, as an adult general when his troops had to move into Canada, he said to that army, “With prudence, policy and a genuine Christian spirit, we can look with compassion upon their error and not insult them.” Such was the nature of Mr. Washington. Even in war, even on an imposing army to have the benevolent attitude and gratitude for them. Seeing the error, divorcing it in his own thinking from the person, not wanting to insult the person and yet wanting to correct the error. The same needs to be true in the life of God’s children today – prudence, policy and a genuine Christian spirit.

There was a contemporary of Mr. Washington – Thomas Jefferson – a man of note, a man with a very fluent pen who produced many of the vital documents of our country and saw a number of them amended to correct certain things that certainly would not be in keeping with the Word of God.

Mr. Jefferson, unfortunately, at one stage in his life became known as a rationalist. That is, he believed man had matured to the point where he no longer needed God, but could, with his own reason, resolve the issues of life. A Rationalist.

This so moved and so impressed George Washington that in his second farewell address he spoke to the issue and he said, “Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to progressive government, religion and morality are indispensable supporters.” He continued, “Reason and experience lead us to conclude that political principle cannot exist apart from religious principle.”

What happened in America just a few years ago? One young man involved in an experience that lives in infamy, called Watergate, Jeb MacGruder, said, “Somewhere between my moral values and my personal power I lost my integrity.” Exactly what Mr. Washington said could not exist occurred in the life of our country and consequented in one of the most cataclysmic occurrences our government has experienced, for a segment and a period in American history, when there was an effort to exist apart from religious principles. In the life of an individual and in the life of a society there has to be that stability that comes as a result of religious principle predicated upon and rooted in the Word of God.

That’s true in the life of a person and it is true in the life of a country. There must be reason and experience to teach us that it is God’s Word that must form the foundation of our ethics and our morality.

George Washington, as a man of leadership in our country, afforded us much of our heritage for which we can be thankful. For him advocating and encouraging the citizens of a young country to engage in prayer and thanksgiving, we can thank him.

We today need to take God’s Word at its face value and praise Him at all times. We can do it in one of several ways. We can discount every thought that comes to our mind and praise God through clenched teeth, or we can realize that we should, and do, have reason to praise God, but not have the spirit with which to do it and to cower into a position of weakness; or we can go full speed ahead, driven by blind bitterness; or we can pray, “Lord God, my heart is broken, my spirit is contrite; this is about to kill me. Though circumstances are grievous, I praise You, I thank You, that You, who have promised, are faithful and I claim and cling to Your promises as a drowning individual clings to a life preserver; I am reliant upon your Word, I am dependent upon Your spirit to sustain me.” With that kind of an attitude, all persons at all times can and should praise Him and offer thanks unto Him.

The willingness of the individual to rely upon Him in all circumstances was illustrated by Mr. Washington. On occasion, he wrote an acquaintance by the name of Joseph Reed and in that letter he said, “I have scarcely emerged from one difficulty until I am plunged into another. How it will end, God in His great goodness will determine. I am thankful for His divine protection.”

Is that the way you feel? When difficulties come, when adversities arise? Is that the spirit you manifest? Is that the inclination of your heart?

Washington was dependent upon God for his temporal blessings and well he might have been, for historians record that in one day’s activities on the battlefield, when Mr. Washington was leading his out-manned, out-trained and out-equipped troops against the British, so furious was the battle and so rigorous was his activity that he actually ripped the buttons from his coat and it flung open and waved in the breeze as he engaged in battle. That night, when he removed that coat, there were in it 19 different bullet holes, the battle had been so furious, the calls had been so close, and Mr. Washington said, “I don’t know how it will end, but the great God in His goodness will determine. I will thank Him for His divine protection.”

God in His mercy has spared your life more often than you might be prone to admit. God in His grace and in His goodness has let His spirit overshadow you. By His mercy He has protected and provided for you. Do you acknowledge it?

Mr. Washington was dependent upon the Lord God for temporal blessings and he was willing to acknowledge and to thank God for those temporal blessings.

Modern-day historians have dug deep and have tried to find those things that would discredit him and mar his life. They have done much to put a blight on the image of President and General Washington. They tried extensively to do so as they have to all our founding fathers, but the life of George Washington was one not given to ceremonial religion, but to practical faith, for you see, as an infant, he was christened according to the rites of the English Church. He was reared in that church. The Episcopal churches and the Presbyterian churches both take great pride in some of his identity with them, particularly the Episcopalians, but it is not identity with a denomination that determines salvation.

There are many of our friends in Christ who are Episcopalians and Presbyterians and various other denominations who have been, by God’s grace, born again. They are genuinely children of the King. But just as there are some Baptists who are saved and some Baptists who are not, so there are some in every denomination who are and who are not, thus validating and substantiating the reality that it is not a denomination that saves one. So the mere fact that Washington was identified with a denomination says nothing of his salvation. The fact that you are a Baptist does not mean that you are going to heaven. If you are a Baptist because you’ve received Christ as your personal Savior, asking Him in the process to cleanse you, to control you, to keep you, if you’ve submitted to Him as Savior and you are seeking to serve Him out of a heart of gratitude as a consequence of it, you, regardless of what denomination you are in, are a child of the King.

But how about Mr. Washington? Was there a time, a moment, an occasion when he received Christ as His Savior?

A few years ago, my wife’s grandfather died at the age of 97. He was a Baptist preacher, George Knight by name, in Louisiana. He had very, very few possessions, and those items of a religious nature were given to us. Recently I was going through some of those old papers and I found an old newspaper published in Denton, Arkansas, the title of which was “The Baptist and Commoner.” In it an intriguing first person account of an individual who was related to a Baptist preacher by the name of John Gano. Mr. Gano was the first pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York City. He was also a chaplain in George Washington’s army. Mr. Gano’s first person account is as follows:

“After General Washington had personally received Christ as his Savior, he came to me and he said, ‘I’ve been listening to you preach, Gano, and I have been investigating the scriptures and I am persuaded that immersion is the baptism spoken of in God’s Word; therefore, I command at your hand baptism.” And Mr. Gano states that there were 42 persons gathered at the creek bank that day: Judges Beall, of Corsicana, Virginia; Weaver of Savannah, Missouri among the 42 witnesses, as pastor Gano and General Washington walked into the creek and there, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, he was immersed to evidence his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as his personal Savior.

Perhaps you’ve read that many places, but I’ve never seen it any other place, but the reality is, according to that minister, George Washington received Jesus Christ personally as his Savior. That’s the only reason that one of these days you may be blessed to walk the streets of gold and see the General, the President, as a happy, proud child of the King.

John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, at the death of George Washington, said of him, “He was a sincere believer in the Christian faith and a truly devout man.”

Can that be said of you? Is that statement relevant and practical and applicable in your life currently? “Sincere believer in the Christian faith and a truly devout person.”

It happened on a day when George Washington, with all of his goodness and all of his goods, came to a conclusion, a resolute persuasion, “There’s one thing needed in my life and that thing is the Person, Jesus Christ,” and in faith he receptively responded to the Lordship of Jesus Himself.

One of these days you’re going to be spoken of as a memory. One of these days you’re going to be a personality of history. Will there then be the earthly record of you, individually, having received Jesus Christ. Not giving lip service and merely parroting, “Lord, Lord” but submitting to Him as your Lord, relating to Him, openly demonstrating that.

General Washington was a man of great dignity, of great reserve and modesty and yet he, through the investigation of the scriptures came to the conclusion that immersion was the baptism spoken of in the Word of God and that it was right in the sight of God and in the presence of witnesses to bear witness of faith in Christ as Savior, and he boldly, openly took that stand.