Friday, April 9, 2010

America's Godly Heritage by David Barton

Silas Deane, also a member of that Congress, declared that it was “a prayer . . . worth riding one hundred mile to hear” 3 (i.e., that it was worth spending three days on horseback to arrive in time for that prayer), and that as a result of that prayer, “even Quakers shed tears.” 4 Additionally, the Congress read from four chapters in the Bible that morning, and as John Adams reported to his wife, Abigail, one particular chapter especially impacted the group:

I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on the morning. . . . I must beg you to read that Psalm. . . . [Read] the 35th Psalm to [your friends]. Read it to your father. 5 (Numerous other delegates also commented on that profound time of prayer and Bible study. 6 )

After meeting the first year in Carpenters’ Hall, the Continental Congress then moved to Independence Hall, which served as its home for the next several years. From the Continental Congress came many of our famous Founding Fathers, great national leaders, military generals, and U. S. Presidents. In fact, America’s first four Presidents all served in Congress in Independence Hall.

An interesting anecdote involving one of those four occurred in 1777. John Adams of Massachusetts, who went on to become America’s second president, became close friends with Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia while serving in Congress, and both signed the Declaration of Independence. Dr. Rush, known as the “Father of American Medicine,” had been appointed by Congress as the Surgeon General of the Continental Army, and in 1777, he traveled to the different battlefield hospitals, helping the wounded and monitoring the medical conditions before returning to Congress.

At that point in the American Revolution, things were not going particularly well: America was losing many more battles than it was winning. With such a bleak prospect of success, Dr. Rush leaned over to John Adams and candidly asked if he thought that America could actually win the Revolution. Adams’ answer was clear and unequivocal.

He confidently replied:

Yes! – if we fear God and repent of our sins! 7 This account, unknown to most Americans today, was characteristic of the tone so often manifested within Independence Hall. In fact, during the American Revolution the Continental Congress issued fifteen separate prayer proclamations calling the nation to times of prayer and fasting, or prayer and thanksgiving (depending on the circumstances at that time); 8 those proclamations were characterized by overtly Christian language.

In 1787, Independence Hall served as home to the body that eventually produced the U. S. Constitution. Yet, few today know that virtually every one of the fifty-five Founding Fathers who framed the Constitution were members of orthodox Christian churches 9 and that many were outspoken evangelicals.

Many assume that the term “evangelicals” is a modern descriptor, but such is not the case. Webster’s original 1828 dictionary defined “evangelical” as “consonant to the doctrines and precepts of the gospel published by Christ and His apostles; sound in the doctrines of the gospel; orthodox.” Modern definitions have changed little, currently meaning “belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament . . . and that stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ.” Therefore, whether using the old or the new definition, numbers of the Founding Fathers do indeed conform to the appellation “evangelical.”

Similarly, few today know that of the fifty six Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration in Independence Hall in 1776, over half had received degrees from schools that today would be considered seminaries or Bible schools. 11 In fact, it was signers of the Declaration of Independence who started the Sunday School movement as well as several Bible societies and missionary societies. They were also responsible for penning numerous religious works and publishing many famous Bibles, including one by signer John Witherspoon in 1791, 12 another by Charles Thomson in 1808 13 (Thomson and John Hancock were the only two individuals to sign the Declaration on July 4, 1776; on August 2, the others signed the famous copy so familiar today), and one by Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1812. 14 In fact, a famous 1782 Bible directly connected to Independence Hall is an important part of America’s Godly heritage.

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