American Independence - God's Loving Gift to the World:
Thursday, we celebrate one more Fourth of July, known as Independence Day to our Founders. While our first document, the Mayflower Compact, states the true reason for coming to America ("Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and the Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first colony in the northern Part of Virginia..."), over the years, tinkering with our true history (revisionism) has sadly left us with a void about what really happened, why it happened and who was behind it.
First and foremost, we have been taught that "taxation without representation" was the main reason we separated from Great Britain, yet out of the actual 27 reasons given in the Declaration of Independence, that was but number 17, not even in the top half. We never hear the numerous grievances against judicial activism or moral and religious issues the Founders had with Britain.
The King had vetoed the charter for America's first missionary society in 1762 along with other religious suppression, including not allowing Americans to print an English language Bible.
Twenty-four of the 56 signers of the Declaration had divinity degrees. Samuel Adams and Charles Carroll cited religious freedom as their reason for revolting. Our most important reasons for the separation are mostly ignored today, unknown to most and definitely left out of history books when, in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, secular-minded writers such as Chas and Mary Beard, W.E. Woodward and Fairfax Downey began penning American history works with economics as the only important issue in our founding.
Since "taxation without representation," number 17 on the list of separation issues, was the only one to do with the economy, that is the only one we now hear about. How very sad we have ignored the other 26, some more important, issues.
The result - God has been rendered invisible in American history, his absence now construed as a mandate for secularism. Texts now even push that our founding produced the first intentionally secular government in history when nothing could be further from the truth. A reading of the Declaration acknowledges God in four separate clauses. But, like God, the Declaration itself has also been thrown out, many today saying it was not remotely connected with the Constitution. In fact, it is joined at the hip with the Constitution and should people actually read it, they would see that very obvious fact.
Similarly, men such as John Hancock and John Adams are given credit as the source of our independence, even though John Adams himself declared Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew and Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper were two of the individuals "most conspicuous," the most "ardent, and influential" in the "awakening and revival of American principles and feelings" that led to American independence.
God and His servants who played the biggest part in our founding and freedom have not only been relegated to the bottom of the list, but in large part their contribution has disappeared altogether. I will address that further below.
One more issue on the list was the moral issue of slavery. When several American colonies moved toward abolishing it, in 1774, the King vetoed their anti-slavery laws and continued slavery in America. In response to the King's action, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush (a doctor and very important figure in our founding) promptly founded the first abolition society. Ending slavery was a significant motivation for many in the north but could only be achieved by separating from Britain. Once they did separate, six of the 13 colonies immediately began abolishing slavery.
Many today continually refer to us and our slave-owner beliefs and have no clue about the truth, that we, from being Christians, were opposed to Britain's slavery that in turn, was put on us. Also lost is the fact that few actually owned slaves, some inherited them and many, because of law, were unable to free their slaves, as was the case with George Washington, who did so at his death, leaving ample money and provisions for his freed slaves.
I should note here also, simply because this truth has also been lost to revisionism - not all blacks were slaves. Five thousand black Americans fought in the fledgling Continental Army. One black American, Peter Salem, was a hero in the Battle of Bunker Hill, saving many lives, and was honored before General Washington.
Black American Pastor Lemuel Haynes fought in several major revolutionary battles, ardently admired George Washington and often preached on GW's birthday about him. Pastor Haynes was ordained by a mainstream Christian denomination, the Congregationalists, in 1785 to pastor an all-white Connecticut church and was awarded an honorary Master's Degree at Middlebury college in 1804.
James Armistead, better known, was a courageous spy at Yorktown whose service shortened the war. Oliver Cromwell and Prince Whipple served directly under General Washington. Jordan Freeman was a soldier so gallant, a monument was erected for his heroic service at the Battle of Groton Heights. Short shrift has been made of these brave Americans and many like them who happened to have been born black but were free in America prior to the Revolutionary War and who fought side by side with their white brothers and who absolutely should be in our history books.
Speaking of those left out of newer history books, the Revolutionary War's true history would not be complete without writing about the pastors and their great contribution.
Behind the pulpit, they exhorted the people and provided Biblical guidance through numerous topical sermons, election sermons and artillery sermons (a discourse on the application of Biblical principles to the military). Often, following Sunday church, the men and their guns lined up outside the churches and practiced marching, shooting, etc.
From the front of the pulpits, the clergy directed the troops as military leaders and officers. One such man was Rev. John Peter Muhlenberg, one of my favorites. On Jan 21, 1776, Muhlenberg preached to his Virginia congregation concerning the crisis facing America, recounting how America had been founded in pursuit of religious and civil liberties they were now in danger of losing. Sound familiar? There is nothing new under the sun.
Rev Muhlenberg concluded with these words:
"In the language of Holy Writ (Ecclesiastes 3) there is a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away." Then in a loud voice he concluded, quoting from verse 8. "There is a time to fight - and that time has now come!" He then ended with the benediction, deliberately disrobed in front of the congregation, revealing the uniform of a military officer beneath his clerical robes.
Descending from the pulpit, he marched to the church back door, ordering the drums to beat for recruits. Three hundred men joined him, becoming the Eighth Virginia Regiment. Muhlenberg went on to become a Major-General, one of the highest-ranking officers in the American Revolution. Rev. John Craighead said "he fought and preached alternately."
He was not alone. Rev. Dr. Cooper was captain of a military company, Rev. John Blair Smith, president of Hampden-Sidney College (Princeton), was captain of a company supporting retreating Americans after the Cowpens battle, Rev. James Hall commanded a company armed against Cornwallis, Rev. Wm. Graham rallied his neighbors to dispute the passage of Rockfish Gap with Tarleton and his Britain dragoons, and Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green was an orderly sergeant, as was Dr. Moses Hodge.
While the Minutemen are still mentioned in history, it is usually left out that their leader was Rev. Jonas Clark, and that most of the Minutemen were deacons in his church. And Rev. James Calwell was the key leader of the military forces in New Jersey.
In fact, so prominent were the clergy in the struggle, the British called them the "Black Regiment" due to the black clerical robes they wore. Separation of church and state? Hardly!
In their first of two books on our Founding, "The Light and the Glory - Did God Have A Plan for America?" Peter Marshall and David Manuel speak of our Christian founding. The Puritans set the direction of our nation, but in the last century have been portrayed as blue-nosed killjoys in tall black hats, sin-obsessed, witch hunting bigots whose main occupation was to prevent each other from having any fun and whose sole virtue lay in their furniture. And I don't even like their type furniture. Prior to this portrayal, nary a word can be found against them, in fact the contrary is spoken about.
So Marshall and Manuel went on a search of what happened between the Puritan beginning and the American Revolution and, finding the Puritans possessed of remarkable spiritual wisdom and discernment, they also found them to be warm and human and not anything like they are now portrayed. But they also took sin seriously - unlike most of us, Christians included, do today. They knew the success or failure of God's New Israel hung on their willingness to deal strongly with sin, something we do not at all do today.
The late Perry Miller, a Puritan historian, writes of Puritanism and their unblinking willingness to look at their own natures and their own worst sides, making them realists and producing some of their greatest leaders, such as John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker and Cotton Mather. To see their own corruption laid bare made them more forgiving of others worst natures. Puritan's law book was the Bible, but they were far more anxious to see a sinner come to repentance than mete out a punishment.
What Marshall and Manuel found was that God had indeed prepared America years earlier for the American Revolution. Like lightning bolts coming down, the first bolt hit Northampton, Mass., a little town with a very staid, dry Puritan theologian named Jonathan Edwards. Edwards became what he referred to as savingly converted, five or six more were added and soon lightning bolts were hitting Deerfield and Hatfield and West Springfield and Long Meadow and Enfield and Westfield and on and on. God brought His saving blessings combined with His Word and His Spirit, and a great sunburst of light hit far and wide.
A 19-year-old English lad named George Whitefield was one that it fell on. Whitefield at first did everything he could to be perfect for God. He learned soon enough, God didn't need his perfection, He simply needed him. So Whitefield gave up and simply told God "I thirst." By 21, Whitefield was preaching all over England but knew God was leading him to a new colony in America. Meanwhile, another man, John Wesley had become disillusioned and returned to England, only to fall under the great sunburst of light himself.
The "revival" started by Whitefield continued in England, cutting across all class distinctions, Whitefield even being invited to address royalty, discovered half accepted the blessing of forgiveness offered by Christ, the others were outraged at being considered sinners. So Whitefield, back in England for a time, preached in the open air, first to coal miners who were considered the lowest of the low, some acting more like animals then men. God put a love in Whitefield for them and the word did not come back void for the miners black cheeks were streaked with tears. By his last meeting, he preached to 23,000 and to more people altogether than any other person on earth had done.
But Whitefield's calling was back to America, where he dared pray his preaching would help create one nation under God - thirteen scattered colonies united with one another ... and free. Lightning was already falling in America and thus began the Great Awakening preceeding the American Revolution. It was with the Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, every denomination. And it amazingly fell on the Indians, its conductor being a missionary named David Brainerd who rode and prayed and preached to so many Indian villages, he died of TB at only 29, driving himself to do the work God called him to do.
Many preachers performed yeoman's service within their own denominations and geographic locales, but it was Whitefield God had called to tie it all together. Proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible, Whitefield's preaching cast spells over his audiences. And each time he preached, Whitefield took a donation for an orphanage in Georgia.
Oddly, Ben Franklin, who was not struck by the lightning of God's word did actually witness the scientific observation of lightning in real life and did also become a best friend to Whitefield. Whitefield endlessly rode and preached, once preaching 100 times in six weeks, covering two thousand miles in five months on horseback. And then asking forgiveness for being slothful.
While Whitefield and others did not understand the magnitude of what was happening, the Holy Spirit was quickening the same message in people's hearts - in Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Quakers, Moravians - all accepting the same Christ in the same way. Whitefield was the first man to cut across denominational barriers.
This basic truth, that we are all guilty of sin and need a savior no matter our denomination, was the major foundation stone of God's new nation and which, by 1776 would be declared self-evident; that in the eyes of their Creator, all men were of equal value. By the sovereign act of Almighty God and the obedience of a few dedicated men the Body of Christ was forming in America.
Through this Great Awakening, we began to become aware of ourselves as a nation with a national identity as a people chosen by God for a specific purpose: to be not just "a city upon a hill." But a veritable citadel of Light in a darkened world. Thus I say, American Independence was God's gift, not just to Americans but to the entire world.
Between 1736 and 1770, Whitefield preached more than 18,000 sermons. In 1770, his health broken, his breathing labored by asthma, he drove himself as never before.
He reached Boston on his last visit, five months after British troops had fired on a mob of civilians, killing five in what we would later know as the Boston Massacre. He then made it to New Hampshire where they begged of him a sermon. Complying, he could barely breathe and turning towards heaven he said "Lord Jesus, I am weary in Thy work, but not of it ... let me go and speak for Thee once more in the fields and seal Thy truth and come home and die!"
God granted his request. At first whispering, rambling, he stopped to wait for "the gracious assistance of God. For He will, I am certain, assist me once more to speak His name."
According to one there, Whitefield's inner fire was rekindled and he spoke with tremendous power for one hour. He ended with "I go! I go to rest prepared. My sun has arisen and by the aid of heaven has given light to many. It is now about to set ... No, It is about to rise to the zenith of immortal glory ... soon I will be in a world where time, age, pain and sorrow are unknown."
In great pain, the next morning he arose to catch his last look at the rays of sun over the bay below, knowing his dream was coming true. A new day was breaking across America, a nation now, not just a bunch of scattered colonies with various denominations but one nation under God that would soon fight the British and win and be a beacon to millions, all searching for something whether it was food or freedom or a better future.
American independence was indeed, an amazing gift from God to the entire world.
Sources: The Light and the Glory - Did God have a plan for America?/Peter Marshall and David Manuel
Yankee Doodle Went to Church, the Righteous Revolution of 1776- James L. Adams
The Book That Made America/How the Bible Formed Our Nation - Jerry Newcombe
The American Saga/Compiled by Hugh Graham
Original Intent - The Courts, the Constitution and Religion - David Barton
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