Thomas Jefferson & Religion

In Philadelphia on a hot summer day in 1776 five men met in a stuffy room over a stable plagued by horseflies. What they wrote was published July 2, but dated July 4. Fifty-six signatures were affixed later. That document is revered as our Declaration of Independence. With those signatures the channel of history now had a new tributary.

Reflect on one of those five men, Thomas Jefferson. I have an old volume entitled “Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United Sates,” first published in 1864. This was before revisionist historians began to rewrite and misrepresent events about Jefferson and his day. Many have been led to believe he was hostile to Christianity.

He believed that God was very involved in the proclamation written above that stable and that He had much to do with the nation resulting. In his first message as President he said, “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 a gift of God? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

This summary of Jefferson appeared in the “National Magazine” as noted in the 1864 volume herein referenced. “Never were a man’s religious sentiments more grossly misrepresented than Jefferson’s. He was not an atheist. He believed in God the Creator of all things, in his overruling providence, infinite wisdom, goodness, justice, and mercy. He believed that God hears and answers prayer, and that human trust in Him is never misplaced nor disregarded. He believed in a future sate of rewards and punishments. He believed in the Bible precepts and moralities. No man in Washington ever gave so much to build so many churches as Jefferson. He never wrote, for public eye, one word against Christianity.”

Records show he attended church regularly always carrying with him his prayer book. He joined in the responses and prayers of the congregation. He ordered Bibles to be used as textbooks in the public schools of Washington.

His design for the University of Virginia contained a seminary. He invited all denominations to build seminaries around the University so all could have the literary advantages of the school.

As we celebrate our Declaration of Independence reflect on these Jefferson’s words of dependence from his first message as President.

“I shall need the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their counsels, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do shall result in your good….”