OUR FOREFATHERS’ COVENANTS
March 13, 2020
Have you ever seen the series on television that PBS did several years ago, titled: The Adams Chronicles? It recounts the activites of the Adams family, their faith in God, the trials and tribulations they went through, and the remarkable successes they experienced during their years before serving in politics, and the years that followed.
One of the most remarkable men in our nation's history was John Adams, who served as Vice-President during the eight years of George Washington's presidency, and four years as President immediately succeeding Washington.
Born in 1735 in what has since been named Quincy, Massachusetts, he was more of a journalist and historian than a politician with a penchant for keeping and writing events in enormous detail. Adams' fellow-signer of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton, later dubbed him as "The Atlas of American Independence." The descendant of Henry Adams who fled from England in 1636 to escape religious persecution and served under the watch of John Winthrop in Winthrop's Massachusetts Bay Colony, he had a spiritual heritage rivaling any early American you could want to name.
At age 20, having graduated from Harvard, he began the study of Law, being admitted to the Massachusetts Bar three years later. Watching James Otis argue the legality of the Writs of Assistance before the superior court inspired John Adams to become a fervent supporter of the cause of the American Colonies.
At age 29, he married Abigail Smith, the daughter of a Congregational minister. John and Abigail Adams began what was to become one of the first leadership dynasties in this nation. Their second-born child, John Quincy Adams, also became President of the United States, the sixth president to serve this nation.
John Adams' cousin, Samuel Adams, was far more the outspoken and articulate of leaders than was John. It was Samuel Adams' leadership and organization that led to the famous Boston Tea Party.
Thought by some historians to be a "Biblical Unitarian" (one who rejects Calvinism and Predestination and struggles with the concept of the Trinity), and by others to be a Congregationalist, John Adams was nonetheless outspoken as a believer, and unlike his predecessor, George Washington, was far more inclined to quote Scripture and incorporate faith into the public dialogue. He once referred to himself as "a church going animal."
Charles Francis Adams, his grandson and son of John Quincy Adams, catalogued the works of John Adams and his writings, publishing John Adams' carefully detailed notes and recollections of events for posterity. He also catalogued many of his grandfather's statements declaring his position on matters of faith and government.
Here are just a few:
"It is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue."
"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
"The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shalt not covet," and "Thou shalt not steal," were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free."
He was wary of the temptation among religious zealots to wage "holy wars," and yet shared a firm conviction with his fellow nation-builders that a faith in God was the force for guiding people and essential to public life and society. As a representative in the Continental Congress, he publicly despised the arguments of those who condoned slavery as a "Biblical right."
Inheriting generations of his family's distrust of state-sponsored religion, (John Adams was fourth in succession from Henry Adams who fled the persecution of Puritans in England) Adams feared government's involvement in religion, considering it a corrupting force against any true faith in God. In his travels to England and France -- first on behalf of the Continental Congress, and subsequently President George Washington -- he observed that "Ministers who were paid by the state and paid by the government didn't pay any attention to their parishes. They didn't care about their parishioners. They could have, they sold their parishes. They sold their jobs and brought in a hireling to do it and they wandered off to live somewhere else and they didn't need to pay attention to their parishioners because the parishioners weren't paying them. The state was paying them."
His suspicion and distrust of state-sponsored religion did not in any way mean, however, that he felt as a leader in this nation that he was somehow engaging the government in the sponsoring of religion with his expressions of faith. By the same token, Adams considered -- as previously noted -- that "it is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand."
On April 12, 1798, with the nation facing a serious economic and political crisis (The French Revolution was in full bloom. England and France were pirating American cargo ships in the Atlantic in an undeclared war on America with Americans being seized and executed, and critically-needed goods and supplies being blockaded.) John Adams called the nation to prayer and fasting and thanksgiving. The following proclamation speaks for itself.
By the President of the United States of America
"AS the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity are a loud call to repentance and reformation; and as the United States of America are at present placed in a hazardous and afflictive situation, by the unfriendly disposition, conduct and demands of a foreign power, evinced by repeated refusals to receive our messengers of reconciliation and peace, by depredations on our commerce, and the infliction of injuries on very many of our fellow citizens, while engaged in their lawful business on the seas: —Under these considerations it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country, demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants.
I HAVE therefore thought it fit to recommend, that Wednesday, the 9th day of May next be observed throughout the United States, as a day of Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer; That the citizens of these states, abstaining on that day from their customary worldly occupations, offer their devout addresses to the Father of Mercies, agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming: That all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before GOD the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation; beseeching him, at the same time, of his infinite Grace, through the Redeemer of the world, freely to remit all our offences, and to incline us, by his holy spirit, to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction; That it be made the subject of particular and earnest supplication, that our country may be protected from all the dangers which threaten it; that our civil and religious privileges may be preserved inviolate, and perpetuated to the latest generations; that our public councils and magistrates may be especially enlightened and directed at this critical period; that the American people may be united in those bonds of amity and mutual confidence, and inspired with that vigor and fortitude by which they have in times past been so highly distinguished, and by which they have obtained such invaluable advantages: That the health of the inhabitants of our land may be preserved, and their agriculture, commerce, fisheries, arts and manufactures be blessed and prospered: That the principles of genuine piety and sound morality may influence the minds and govern the lives of every description of our citizens; and that the blessings of peace, freedom, and pure religion, may be speedily extended to all the nations of the earth.
And finally I recommend, that on the said day; the duties of humiliation and prayer be accompanied by fervent Thanksgiving to the Bestower of Every Good Gift, not only for having hitherto protected and preserved the people of these United States in the independent enjoyment of their religious and civil freedom, but also for having prospered them in a wonderful progress of population, and for conferring on them many and great favours conducive to the happiness and prosperity of a nation."
Given under my hand and seal of the United States of America, at Philadelphia, this twenty-third day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-eight, and of the Independence of the said States the twenty-second.
By the President,
TIMOTHY PICKERING, Secretary of State
Did it work to call the nation to prayer?
Although it cost Adams the support of the Federalists and a very narrow defeat for re-election in 1800 (the Federalists objected to any kind of peace treaty with France and England), the English backed off, a peace treaty was signed with France, and American shipping resumed across the Atlantic without hindrance. With church leaders joining in unity before the Lord, and Americans in every state and territory on their knees before God, America's peace, safety and prosperity were assured.
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.
We will continue this next week. Have a good weekend, folks. See you next Friday!
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Blessings on you!
Regner A. Capener
RIVER WORSHIP CENTER
Temple, Texas 76502
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