"The scholar, the accomplished gentleman, and the true Christian, were seldom ever more happily and thoroughly united, than in him...."
--- President Aaron Burr of Princeton College, speaking
of Governor Jonathan Belcher, 1757
Throughout history, it has been a challenge for public servants (elected and appointed officials, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and other leaders in government service) to consistently practice Christ's values and live up to Jesus' standards in a fallen world filled with evil. Today, it is even harder than ever to remain a Christian in deeds as well as words when much of the world seems to follow a different drummer, rather than the lifestyle of Jesus Christ.
One true Christian who served faithfully in high public office throughout much of his life, for a period of about twenty-two years total, was Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757).
Jonathan Belcher was the colonial governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire from 1730-1741, and governor of New Jersey from 1746 until the year of his death, 1757. In addition to serving these terms of office, Governor Belcher also founded the college now known as Princeton University. His goal was to promote knowledge of both good government and Christianity.
Jonathan Belcher had a definite view of government that was shared by many of his contemporaries and indeed, by Christians of all ages. Governor Belcher's views of government also provide an insight into the mind of Early America. His philosophy of government was: That a "good ruler" must serve as the father of his people and care for their welfare as much as a father cares for the well-being of his own child. This, of course, meant practicing Jesus' principle that we treat other people just as we would like to be treated ourselves.
A compassionate man, Jonathan Belcher often helped and befriended the powerless in his governments. He was a "terror to evil doers", but to those who lived righteously, he was a firm and faithful friend. These qualities of the governor were extolled in the very first biography ever written about him by his friend Aaron Burr, Sr. (1715/16-1757), then president of the Princeton college.
Jonathan Belcher remained honest throughout his two tenures as governor and indeed, throughout his entire life. He highly valued truth and morality. He also valued fairness, justice for all (regardless of social status), and impartiality. Numerous instances abound in his still-extant letters of him urging other government officials to practice fairness in a certain case, or fairness in general. For instance, he favored changing the inheritance laws of that day so that women, as well as men, could inherit property--a viewpoint that was rare in his time. When he was governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, he prevented a lieutenant governor from illegally flogging some harassed colonists in violation of their civil rights. By discouraging this ruthless action, Governor Belcher protected the persecuted common people and championed their right to personal safety and freedom.
When Jonathan Belcher was governor of New Jersey, he opposed that colony's rich aristocrats who tried to wrest property away from the common people through the use of an "elite" Board of Proprietors that initiated lawsuits and circumvented jury verdicts in favor of the landed gentry. Prior to the coming of Jonathan Belcher as governor, a series of land title disputes resulted in land riots when the common people were ejected from property to which they, as well as the proprietors, had a disputed title. Though Governor Belcher was not in favor of the riots, he sympathized with the common people; he disapproved of the proprietors' attempts to trample on the people's civil liberties, and he tried to resolve the dispute through the use of legal means. Furthermore, Governor Belcher was in favor of religious liberty for all, regardless of denomination--including Quakers (who were often discriminated against by others). In these instances, Governor Belcher's viewpoints foreshadowed the rallying cry of the American Revolution for liberty and equality. In that sense, Jonathan Belcher was a true American patriot.
He was a patriot in another sense, also, when he diligently supported the American militia not only in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but also during the French and Indian War of the 1750's. This was the last major war before the American Revolution. Governor Belcher urged governors of other colonies to pay their soldiers' salaries fully and promptly, and to give them their back pay. A strong supporter of the local American militia, Jonathan Belcher was one of those who wanted the American colonies to unite against their common foe. In that, also, Governor Belcher's call anticipated the uniting of the American colonies during the American Revolution.
Unlike most royal colonial governors, Jonathan Belcher was not British: He was American. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a third-generation descendant of an early settler of the Massachusetts colony (Andrew Belcher), Jonathan Belcher was American through and through.
Despite all his accomplishments, Governor Belcher remained a humble man who was fully aware of the frailty of his own humanity. He didn't glorify himself--only Christ. In that sense, he was a faithful Christian hero.
It is good for us to have
heroes, to know that down through time, there have been other Christians who
have lived through the same troubles that we are living through, and that in our
trials and struggles, we are not alone. Of course we have Jesus Christ, our
leader, always with us, and it is comforting to know that joined with Him are
other humans like ourselves, flawed and yet faithful, who have enlisted in His
cause and have fought on His side throughout history. We feel less lonely as
Christians, when we realize that we are part of a vast group of crimefighters
who fight sin, and that we are not the only ones in this group. There have been
other faithful Christian servants in the past, present, and future that we can
look to, not to idolize, but to view as friends and future heavenly companions.
As long as such people remain on the earth, remembrance of Christian heroes such
as Governor Jonathan Belcher can serve to inspire and remind us that if he could
remain faithful to Christ while serving as a public official, we can, too.
Jonathan Belcher would be happy to know that his legacy is serving its purpose
if that was accomplished--if his example inspired even one other person to
remain true to Jesus' values and principles, despite adverse circumstances. Of
such people, Jonathan Belcher would have been proud to call them friends.
For further information about Governor Jonathan Belcher, see the materials listed in the About Governor Jonathan Belcher page.
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