OUR FOREFATHERS’ COVENANTS
March 20, 2020
Let me share with you today about one of the most prolific of our founding fathers. In the weeks to come, you will see how much this man was involved in the founding of this nation, and the part he played in the First Great Awakening – a phenomenal move of God that spanned the colonies and influenced so many of our early leaders.
One of the founding fathers of this nation was man whose name is far less known than that of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams or Benjamin Franklin: Roger Sherman. Nevertheless, his influence and direct involvement in the affairs that led to our nation's Declaration of Independence and Constitution ranked as high, if not higher, than those names with which we are more familiar.
Roger Sherman is the only American founding father to place his signature upon all of the great founding documents of our great country; as well as aiding in the drafting of each of these documents; the Articles of Association in 1774; the Declaration of Independence in 1776; the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and the United States Constitution in 1788.
To quote Aaron Baldwin, "He was a man who risked everything that he had to form the new and independent government. He was father of fifteen (15), and his commitment to cause of democracy kept his family on the very brink of financial ruin during those forming decades.
"Roger Sherman’s father died when he was just a young man of twenty, and the responsibility for his siblings and mother passed to him. He worked as a cobbler, surveyor, merchant and he was accepted to the Bar of Litchfield in 1754, and represented New Milford in the General Assembly the following year. He was appointed justice of the peace, and then four years later a justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut. By the age of forty, he had become a successful landowner and businessman, while also integrating himself into the social and political fabric of the New England region. He was then appointed commissary to the Connecticut Troops at the start of the Revolutionary War; this was experience that he later put to great use when he was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774. Sherman was a very active and much respected Delegate to the Congress. He served and numerous committees, including the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. He served all through the war for Independence. As active as he was in Congress, he simultaneously fulfilled his other offices."
Among Sherman's other offices included that of Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Treasurer of (and active contributor to) The Collegiate School which became Yale University, Author of several books and articles on Faith and Righteousness (including A Short Sermon on the Duty of Self-Examination Preparatory to Receiving the Lord's Supper), fellow-member of "The Sons of Liberty" and a group some tagged as being "religiously radical" known as "New Lights."
Deeply involved in the "Great Awakening," his mentor and close personal friend was the Rev. Timothy Cutler. Cutler's daughter, Rebecca, had married William Sherman -- Roger's father -- but died only months later. William then married Methetable Sweetman Wellington, Roger's mother. The ties between the Cutler and Sherman families lasted their entire lifetimes.
Writers of the period known as "The Great Awakening" defined it as such because of a growing realization among Christians, and particularly leaders, of the need for Divine Authority as clearly and visibly operational within the body of Christ. More and more pastors, church leaders, and even bishops, began to realize that "Redemption" and "Salvation" must be personally experienced and manifested in truly changed lives.
Roger Sherman's close friend and spiritual mentor, Timothy Cutler, David Browne, Samuel Johnson and a group of four other ministers resigned their posts within the Congregational Church, believing that their church organization had watered down the divinity and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. The resignation of these seven ministers from their posts at The Collegiate School (Yale) the day following commencement exercises and graduation in 1722 is considered to be the beginning of "The Great Awakening." Though The Collegiate School had been established as a means to teach and expand the Gospel of Jesus Christ as seen through Puritan ethics, doctrine and practices, Cutler and his associates believed that they were being used to propagate a "watered-down Gospel."
Sherman believed, as did his friends, and expressed to them that "there is only one living and true God - - - That the scriptures of the old and new testaments are a revelation from God and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him."
During one of his 138 addresses (according to James Madison's personal notes) to the Continental Congress, he admonished his fellow delegates thusly, "Let us live no more to ourselves, but to Him who loved us, and gave Himself to die for us," instructing them that their labor to create a national government for America should be a sacred act to, and on behalf of, the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was Roger Sherman who proposed what came to be called "The Great Compromise" (some called it "The Sherman Compromise.") The essence of his proposal was that Congress should be divided and apportioned into two houses: The House of Representatives, ”the proportion of suffrage ...... should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants": and the Senate "and that in the second branch each state should have one vote."
Although the Constitution was later amended or compromised so that Senators were elected by a direct vote of the people rather than appointed as representatives of their individual state governments, the current makeup of the U.S. Congress is -- for the most part -- the result of Roger Sherman's work.
His proposal (and "Great Compromise") came during the Constitutional Convention on June 28, 1787 when, following near fatal failure of the delegates to arrive at a workable agreement for the creation of a Federal Government, Benjamin Franklin suggested that Congress should stop and pray. He further proposed and moved that Congress should never begin any session without first praying and asking the Lord for divine guidance. Roger Sherman quickly seconded the motion. That motion, and second, became standard operating procedure for Congress -- a practice which has continued unabated to this day.
Despite his speech impediment and handicap (he stuttered noticeably, and was not regarded as a brilliant orator), he was able to articulate his thoughts and purposes in writing to the degree that many of his peers considered Sherman far and away the most persuasive of all who argued. Thomas Jefferson had extremely high regard for Roger Sherman and once introduced him, saying, "That is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life."
It was in February, 1776 that Sherman, along with John Adams and George Wythe of Virginia, served on the committee responsible to create instructions for the embassy headed for Canada. The instructions directed:
"You are further to declare that we hold sacred the rights of conscience, and may promise to the whole people, solemnly in our name, the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion. And ... that all civil rights and the right to hold office were to be extended to persons of any Christian denomination."
Not long after George Washington was elected the new nation's first President, Roger Sherman convinced Washington that he should declare a national Thanksgiving Day holiday. Washington later wrote (and it is recorded in the Journals of Congress), "Mr. Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving, on any signal event, not only as a laudable one in itself, but as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ: for instance, the solemn thanksgivings and rejoicings which took place in the time of Solomon, after the building of the temple, was a case in point. This example, he thought, worthy of Christian imitation on the present occasion."
In 1788, Roger Sherman was asked to use his expertise -- both in knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in his knowledge of Scripture -- in the revising of the Creed of White Haven Congregational Church. Without hesitation, he picked up a pen and began to write in his own handwriting the following, the first statement of which he often repeated to others:
"I believe that there is one only living and true God,
existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in
substance equal in power and glory.
"That the scriptures of the old and new testaments are a revelation from God, and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
"That God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, so as thereby he is not the author or approver of sin.
"That he creates all things, and preserves and governs all creatures and all their actions, in a manner perfectly consistent with the freedom of will in moral agents, and the usefulness of means.
"That he made man at first perfectly holy, that the first man sinned, and as he was the public head of his posterity, they all became sinners in consequence of his first transgression, are wholly indisposed to that which is good and inclined to evil, and on account of sin are liable to all the miseries of this life, to death, and to the pains of hell forever.
"I believe that God having elected some of mankind to eternal life, did send his own Son to become man, die in the room and stead of sinners and thus to lay a foundation for the offer of pardon and salvation to all mankind, so as all may be saved who are willing to accept the gospel offer: also by his special grace and spirit, to regenerate, sanctify and enable to persevere in holiness, all who shall be saved; and to procure in consequence of their repentance and faith in himself their justification by virtue of his atonement as the only meritorious cause.
"I believe a visible church to be a congregation of those who make a credible profession of their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, joined by the bond of the covenant....
"I believe that the souls of believers are at their death made perfectly holy, and immediately taken to glory: that at the end of this world there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a final judgment of all mankind, when the righteous shall be publicly acquitted by Christ the Judge and admitted to everlasting life and glory, and the wicked be sentenced to everlasting punishment."
Roger Sherman was an American Revolutionary, a Patriot, a politician, a jurist, and most of all, an active voice in the body of Christ: one who did all he could to spur a national faith in Jesus Christ, irrespective of religious denomination or background.
His endeavors, coupled with those of his fellow founding fathers, make crystal clear the fact that America was not founded for any other purpose than to provide a place on earth where Christianity would flourish, where the Gospel would have total and unabated freedom: a nation clearly divinely established and under God's supreme rule.
I'd like to deviate a bit in our discussion today concerning the American Covenant and talk about two gentlemen, neither of whom served in any political office -- to the best of my knowledge -- and yet greatly influenced the coming together of our founding fathers for the purpose of forming a new nation. Their names were Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield.
Most folks -- if they've ever heard the names of these men -- would never in a million years associate them with politics or the formation of our United States Constitution; and indeed, they had no actual part in the discussions that took place between the major figures we normally know as the framers of our Constitution. Yet their influence was felt, and their labors inspired our founding fathers more than we perhaps can even imagine.
We’ve just talked about Roger Sherman, and the part he personally played -- not only in instituting Biblical principles, along with the fundamentals of the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- in writing, in arguing, in signing into being the four principal documents that formed this nation as a Constitutional Republic.
One of those men who greatly influenced Roger Sherman was a preacher by the name of Jonathan Edwards. Born October 5, 1703, Edwards came from a family and generations of ministers who taught holiness and relationship with Jesus Christ. His mother, also the daughter of a family of ministers (the former Esther Stoddard) was noted for her unusual sensitivities to the Holy Spirit, even exhibiting the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (along with speaking in other tongues) more than two centuries before the Azusa Street Revival.
Have to leave it there for today. This is a most remarkable story and one we will pick up with next week.
In case you are missing out on real fellowship in an environment of Ekklesia, our Sunday worship gatherings are available by conference call – usually at about 10:30AM Pacific. That conference number is (712) 770-4160, and the access code is 308640#. We are now making these gatherings available on video usingZOOM. If you wish to participate by video on ZOOM, our login ID is 835-926-513. If you miss the live voice-onlycall, you can dial (712) 770-4169, enter the same access code and listen in later. The video call, of course, is not recorded – not yet, anyway.
Blessings on you!
Regner A. Capener
RIVER WORSHIP CENTER
Temple, Texas 76502
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