Elias Boudinot, The Age of Revelation (1801)

[Justice Rehnquist, in his dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), listed Elias Boudinot (1740-1821) as one of the Christian founding fathers whose views contributed to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Boudinot is one example proving the authenticity of America's Christian heritage. He set out his Christian viewpoint in The Age of Revelation (excerpted below), which was a pamphlet, written as a letter to his daughter in 1795, to uphold Christian beliefs and to refute Thomas Paine's pamphlet (The Age of Reason) which advocated "the religion of nature" and sought to discredit the accuracy and infallibility of the Bible. (Boudinot, in contrast, upheld the Bible's accuracy.) At the time Boudinot wrote this pamphlet, he was the Director of the United States Mint.

    Earlier, in 1782, Boudinot was a member of the third (final) committee to design the Great Seal of the United States (especially the Coat of Arms portion). This committee turned the task of designing the United States Coat of Arms over to attorney William Barton, an expert in heraldry, upon whose knowledge the committee depended. It was Barton (under the supervision of Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress) who decided that the design of the United States Coat of Arms would consist of seven silver (white) pales (vertical stripes) alternating with six red pales, capped on the top with a solid blue chief. This design (with a basic change of metal background--silver instead of gold) vertically duplicated the Coat of Arms (four gold pales alternating with three red pales, capped on the top with a blue and white chief) of a Boudinot family friend, American Colonial Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757), a third-generation American. The Boudinot mansion was across the street from Governor Belcher's mansion in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and Elias' brother, Elisha Boudinot, married Catherine ("Kate") Smith, the daughter of Governor Belcher's good friend William Peartree Smith.

    Remember that the era of Boudinot's childhood, the time period in which he was raised, was Governor Jonathan Belcher's generation. That generation informed Boudinot and doubtless formed many of his views. Colonial America was the context in which Boudinot grew up, as did many of his "founding father" contemporaries, such as James Madison (also discussed in Rehnquist's dissent), who was educated at Princeton College (founded by Governor Jonathan Belcher) and studied in the Princeton library whose main collection of books was formerly Governor Belcher's own library. As noted in Rehnquist's dissent, James Madison deserved much of the credit for the ideas expressed in the First Amendment's Establishment Clause (prohibiting establishment of religion) and Free Exercise Clause (requiring government to allow the free exercise of religion). These same ideas were foreshadowed by William Cooper's election day sermon of 1740, preached during the Massachusetts-New Hampshire administration of Governor Jonathan Belcher, at the governor's request. Incidentally, 1740 was the year that saw the birth of Elias Boudinot.

    Consider this Boudinot statement: "There is no other instance (than that of the Mosaic code) of a body of laws being produced at once, and remaining without addition afterwards...." American society (including its early laws) were based primarily on Christianity, which in turn was based on the Mosaic code (the Ten Commandments). That was the view of many Early Americans, including founders like Elias Boudinot, who certainly would know their own generation better than we would.

For further reading:

"November Thanksgiving Thursday"

U. S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist's dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985)


Introduction by Belcher Foundation. Copyright 2001 by Belcher Foundation. All rights reserved.


"When we cease from importance as the citizens of this world, our real importance begins to be felt and understood."

                          -- Hunter's Sacred Bio. 2d vol. 24, as quoted by Elias Boudinot, 1795


The Age of Revelation or the Age of Reason Shown to be An Age of Infidelity.

By Elias Boudinot, L.L.D.,

The Director of the Mint of the United States

Philadelphia: Hugh Maxwell for Asbury Dickens, 1801






* * * * *

    The whole tribe of unbelievers, object to the system of the gospel; that, although there are mysteries in it, above the comprehension of human reason, yet it requireth, and that indispensably, the firm and unwavering faith of its professors; it being of its fundamental principles, that without faith, you cannot please God.

    This is a certain fact, and not only reasonable in itself, but consistent with the nature of the subject.

* * * * *

... if such a person were to tell you, of a fact that had come to his knowledge, of which you could have no other evide[nce] and you were to give full credit to it, then you would do honour to the veracity, and revere the character of the informant. So it is with revealed religion. God, in his infinite wisdom, has given us sufficient evidence, that the revelation of the gospel is from him. This is the subject of rational enquiry, and of conviction, from the conclusive nature of the evidence: but when that fact is established, you are bound, as a rational creature, to show your full confidence in his unchangeable veracity, and infinite wisdom, by firmly believing the great truths so revealed; although he has wisely kept from your knowledge, some things which may be mysterious in their nature. In this, his design, amongst others, may be, that thereby the pride of the human heart might be subdued; the human will brought to submit to the will of God; the character of Jehovah magnified and honored; and his unstained veracity perfectly confided in, and trusted to, while at the same time, the amiable humility of the Christian character, is promoted in the firm believer of his word.

    These objectors find it difficult to submit to the faith of the gospel, because many things are above their reason; while they continually exercise the same principle in temporal things, which are subject, in one respect or another, to the like predication, in almost every action of their lives. .....[N]o want of understanding principles or consequences, are opposed or sufficient to prevent their unfeigned faith in their fellow men; but in revealed religion, nothing is to be believed, even on the veracity of God himself, if they cannot fully comprehend and understand, every principle and mode of the truth, proffered as an object of their faith.

* * * * *

    If they travel by land, they will mount the horse, recommended by its owner; or enter a public carriage provided for passengers, without doubting of their safety in the one case, or examining the workmanship and construction of either carriage or harness, in the other. They trust to the care of the master and driver, and implicitly commit themselves to their knowledge and good conduct.

* * * * *

    Does any person refuse to swallow his victuals, before he fully understands the method of digestion, or the manner in which the food will turn to his nourishment?

* * * * *

Will any man refuse to listen to the voice of his friend, because,...he cannot comprehend how the motion of the air, can convey articulate sounds to his ears; or how any sounds, however formed, can produce ideas in his soul,.... . In short, innumerable important facts, the causes of which, with their modes of operation, we cannot comprehend, being perfectly mysterious and unaccountable, are yet firmly believed; and, in the course of life, acted upon by us.

* * * * *

    All then that revealed religion asks of men, is, that they would act in like manner, with regard to her requisitions--instead of rejecting all belief, till they fully understand every mystery of revealed religion, (and which is as applicable to natural religion) let their first inquiry be, is this the word of God, or not? If they find rational evidence, to prove that it is so, (which will most certainly be the case with every ingenuous mind), let them treat her great principles and doctrines, as they do the revelation of God in the natural world, and they will assuredly find additional and conclusive evidence arising from experience, and their faith will soon become to them the sustenance of the things hoped for, from the promises of the Gospel, and the evidence of the things there revealed as unseen. In submitting to the great mysteries of the Gospel, we believe, because God has said it--here then we rely on the divine veracity alone, and show our confidence in, and pay due honor to, his character and attributes; which is the life and soul of true faith.  But how does the unbeliever better himself, by the denial of all revelation, and flying to his religion of nature? Is there not as strong faith required here, as in revealed religion? How does he know that there is a God, who regards the affairs of men, or concerns himself with their well being? He tells you that he firmly believes that there is an eternal almighty first cause, and that this is fully proved by all the works of creation and Providence around him. But why does he believe it? Certainly, by a strong faith in the declarations and assertions of those on whose sleeve he pins his faith, and on arguments drawn principally from that revelation he affects to despise.

* * * * *

    If the Son of God has appeared in this our world, and has proved his mission by miracles and prophecies;....* * * ...and that in proof of doctrines the most pure, moral, religious and benevolent;....do they not demand, at least, as much respect, as men pay every day to their fellow creatures, whom they know to be fallible and imperfect;... . In fine, is there any propriety in these objections to the firm faith of the gospel; while men so universally exercise a greater degree of faith, towards each other every day, in the common business of life? Let reason and conscience judge.

    When I first took up this treatise [Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason], I considered it as one of those vicious and absurd publications, filled with ignorant declamation and ridiculous representations of simple facts, the reading of which, with attention, would be an undue waste of time; but afterwards, finding it often the subject of conversation, in all ranks of society; and knowing the author to be generally plausible in his language, and very artful in turning the clearest truths into ridicule, I determined to read it, with an honest design of impartially examining into its real merits.

    I confess, that I was much mortified to find, the whole force of this vain man's genius and art, pointed at the youth of America, and her unlearned citizens, (for I have no doubt, but that it was originally intended for them) in hopes of raising a skeptical temper and disposition in their minds, well knowing that this was the best inlet to infidelity, and the most effectual way of serving its cause, thereby sapping the foundations of our holy religion in their minds.

    To Christians, who are well instructed in the Gospel of the Son of God, such expedients rather add confirmation to their faith. They were forewarned near two thousand years ago, of these things, by their great Lord and Master; 'that when the time should come, they might remember, that he had told them of them.' They indeed rest in this strong confidence, 'that when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels in flaming fire, he will take vengeance on them, who know not God, and who obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ....'

* * * * *

    I chose to confine myself to the leading and essential facts of the Gospel, which are contradicted, or attempted to be turned into ridicule, by this writer [Thomas Paine]. I have endeavored to detect his falsehoods and misrepresentations, and to show his extreme ignorance of the divine scriptures, which he makes the subject of his animadversions--not knowing that 'they are the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth.'*(1)

    It is by their instructions, in the language of the elegant Hunter, the true Christian learns 'what is the commanding object in the eye in eternal Providence, the salvation of a lost world, by Jesus Christ. Do you adopt the same object? Cleave unto it; keep it continually in view; all things else are vain and worthless; for they are passing quickly away. Our interest in, and hold of the world, is diminishing every hour. Our consequence, as candidates for immortal bliss, as heirs of glory, is rising in proportion. When we cease from importance as the citizens of this world, our real importance begins to be felt and understood. I recommend no sullen distance from your fellow-creatures, nor peevish discontent. Live in the world. Associate with mankind. Enjoy the portion which God allotteth to you. But use the world, [so] as not to abuse it. While you are cumbered about many things, never forget, that one thing is needful, and choose that good part, which shall not be taken from you.'(2)

* * * * *

    For near half a century, have I anxiously and critically studied that invaluable treasure [the Bible]; and I still scarcely ever take it up, that I do not find something new--that I do not receive some valuable addition to my stock of knowledge; or perceive some instructive fact, never observed before. In short, were you to ask me to recommend the most valuable book in the world, I should fix on the Bible as the most instructive, both to the wise and ignorant. Were you to ask me for one, affording the most rational and pleasing entertainment to the inquiring mind, I should repeat, it is the Bible: and should you renew the inquiry, for the best philosophy, or the most interesting history, I should still urge you to look into your Bible. I would make it, in short, the Alpha and Omega of knowledge; and be assured, that it is for want of understanding the scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, that so little value is set upon them by the world at large. The time, however, is not far off, when they will command a very different reception, among the sons of men.

    One thing I beg you would attend to, as a guard against the designs of infidels, to wit, that the Gospel revelation is a complete system of salvation, suited to our fallen nature, and should be taken altogether. Be cautious, then, how you ever hearken to objections leveled against detached principles, separated from the system, which are too often made use of, with success, by those who wish to weaken the force of revelation upon the mind of its professors, and by slow, if not imperceptible advances, to sap the foundation of their hope. It is not unusual to hear the punishment of sin, stated as incompatible with the perfections and attributes of Almighty God: that he cannot delight in the sufferings of the creatures that he has made, as he has no passions to gratify, and he delighteth not in cruelty--but the gospel reveals the great Jehovah, as the governor of all ranks of being in the universe. That it is necessary to keep all intelligences in the love of order, and obedience to his righteous laws. That the breach of them, necessarily reduces a separation from him, who is the fountain and source of all happiness and enjoyment; and of course, necessarily induces misery in the extreme. This becomes a warning to all intelligences, to avoid the evil of sin; and therefore it is for the good of the whole, and founded in benevolence to beings in general, that the obstinate and unbelieving sinner is perished. But if the advocates for infidelity, can once weaken your faith, by the disbelief of future punishment, he finds you then ready for a new attack, by the denial of some other detached principle, till thus by degrees, your faith is undermined and destroyed before you are aware of it.

    For you I have written. To you I commit this labor of my old age... .

                                        AN AFFECTIONATE PARENT.

Rosehill, December, 1795.

[Quotes from the] PREFACE

* * * * *

The boldness of impiety is often mistaken for knowledge, founded on an independent spirit, and thereby saps the necessary defense of a simple innocence and unsuspecting modesty.

* * * * *

    It is no new thing, for the enemies of truth and godliness, thus to descend to the meanest arts, in order to accomplish the horrid purpose of ruining the souls of men.

* * * * *

    The miraculous facts of revelation,...would have led every serious mind to believe, that human wisdom could not have devised the plan of the Gospel; and that the prudent and cautious mind, however darkened by the doubts and objections of men of the world, would at least have waited with some degree of patience, till the understanding should be farther opened, by the fulfillment, or failure, of the facts foretold, or taking place before, and preparatory to, the second coming of Christ. That awful and important period is approaching. The express declarations of Omniscience, as contended by the friends of prophecy, are fast fulfilling. In the meantime, as has been observed by an able writer, 'let critics and learned men of all kinds, have full liberty to examine the sacred books... . Sobriety of mind, humility and piety, are requisite in the pursuit of knowledge of every kind, and much more in that which is sacred.'* (Hartley.)

* * * * *

....a strong argument in favor of the Mosaic and Christian systems. There is no other instance (than of the Mosaic code) of a body of laws being produced at once, and remaining without addition afterwards.... .

* * * * *

    The doctrines, and whole system of the Gospel, breathe also a quite different spirit, from those changes and accommodations to human passions, which have been always calculated to answer the end of merely temporal governments: its language has ever been, 'if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of this book, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.'* (Luke, 11-32.)

* * * * *

[The following is in a footnote;]

    * The radical corruption of human nature, is one of those truths, which their very plainness renders it the less easy to support by formal proofs. If a person be unmoved by the decisive arguments which press upon him every moment, at every turn, you can scarcely know in what manner to address him on the subject. --- Let any one look diligently into their own minds, and they will be convinced, that the continual indisposition to righteousness, and proneness to transgression, which they will discover there, can be ascribed to no other cause. Let them behold what passes in the world around them, and they will be satisfied, that the prevailing wickedness of mankind, can be traced to no other source. They will perceive, that in this, as in every other instance, reason and experience united in bearing testimony to the truth of the word of God. ---- Gisbourne's Familiar Survey of the Christian Religion--14.

* * * * *

    In the religion of the Gospel, the Spirit of God has been promised by Jesus Christ, to lead his people into all truth; but it is the diligent, the active, the persevering and sincere inquirer, who is encouraged to depend upon this heavenly gift; and therefore the apostle exhorts his fellow Christians 'to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God,' saith he, 'who worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.'

    Nothing short of consummate vanity, or the grossest ignorance, therefore, could lead to the unfounded conclusion, 'that the way to God,' in our author's [Paine's] sense, 'is open to every man alike.'

    The author of the Age of Reason, having thus introduced himself to the attention of his readers, and, as he supposed, pave the way to a skeptical temper of mind, proceeds to his objections to the leading facts of revealed religion.

* * * * *

[Referring to first-century Christianity:]

To be a Christian at that time, was to be an example of well-tried virtue--of true wisdom and consummate fortitude; for he surely deserves the name of a great and good man, who serves God, and is a friend to mankind; and receives the most ungrateful returns from the world; and endures them with a calm and composed mind; who dares to look scorn, infamy and death in the face. Whoever stands forth unmoved, and patiently bears to be derided as a fool and an idiot....---to be reviled as an...enemy to all righteousness...---He who can pass through these trials, is a conqueror indeed; and what the world calls courage, scarce deserves that name when compared to this behavior.* (Discourse on the trials of the Christian religion, 118.)

* * * * *

    It ought not to be omitted here, that the whole plan of the Gospel, as delivered by these historians [the Apostles], is far superior, to the natural abilities, of men so ignorant and unlettered, as were the planners and preachers of it--at the same time, they boldly declare, that every real professor shall experience in himself such powerful effects from a conformity to its doctrines and precepts, as that they should become incontrovertible evidence to him, that God is their author. This has been verified in the lives and conduct of thousands, and thousands in every age of the church.

* * * * *

    If you look through their [the Apostles'] whole history, every part of it bears the mark of truth and credibility. They urge in all their teachings, the strictest attention to truth, and threaten the severest displeasure of Almighty God against falsehood, dissimulation and hypocrisy.

    While they declare in plain but sublime language, the dignity and glory of their master's [Jesus'] real character, they do not attempt to cover his actual state of humility, in not even having a place to lay his head. And though they claim for themselves the rank of ambassadors to the Son of God, and the representatives of a King and Sovereign, they fail not to record their own shameful misconduct, and the many mistakes and failures they had been guilty of, during their misapprehension of his true character; having been deceived with the rest of the nation, in looking to their Messiah as a temporal Prince and Savior.

    Add to this, that most of the great leading facts they relate, are confirmed by profane [pagan] historians of good character, though known enemies to the Christian name; and then let it be asked, who can point out even equal human authority for any ancient history, with which the world is acquainted.

* * * * *

    The Gospel is the only test of all the theory and allowed practices of the Christian church; and whenever that is swerved from in either, its emphatical language is, 'Remember, therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works, or else I will come quickly, and remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.'

* * * * *

I am contented with knowing, that the Scriptures are the word of the ever-living God; and that therein he has revealed to me, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit, in whose name I was baptized, bear record in Heaven; and that these three are the one infinite and eternal God... .

* * * * *

What have reason and philosophy done for near two thousand years, but confirm the glorious doctrine of the cross of Christ and multiply the followers of the once despised Nazarene. A nation in our day [France during the French Revolution] has made the attempt to try, what our author [Paine] calls, reason and philosophy, will do without religion; and let me ask what has been the issue?

* * * * *

....accumulated miseries and distresses,...[are enough] to convince an astonished world what would be their portion, if once they should be given up by God to believe a lie, and to cast off all fear and reverence of his sacred majesty. They seem to be set forth as full evidence to all mankind, of the truth of that prophetic declaration, that in the latter day 'false teachers should come among them, who privily should bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction; and many should follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth should be evil spoken of---that they should despise government---be presumptuous, self-willed; not afraid to speak evil of dignities---...who while they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption.'* (2d Pet. chap. ii. 1st to 20th ver.)

* * * * *


1. Romans. 1---16.

2. Hunt. Sacred Biog. 2d vol. 24.


Home - Policy Analysis - Christian Law Library - Christian History Library

Historical Biographies - Belcher Bulletin - Publications - Belcher History Center

About Governor Jonathan Belcher - About the Belcher Foundation - Copyright/Disclaimer - Site Index