Getting Right Back to Where America Started From
Now that the call for a supposed “common world culture” has been issued in some quarters (embracing not only a common world economy, but also a one world legal order as well as a “common religious viewpoint” that masks a loss of distinctiveness between religions)–now is the time for all true Christians to band together to assert and defend the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the Christian worldview. America needs to get right back to where it started from: standing up for the things that are right: the right principles found in God’s Holy Word. For, contrary to the assertion that there is a “common thread” running through all the world’s religions somehow binding them all together or that all religions have bits and pieces of so-called “partial truth” in them: in reality there is a constant clash of worldviews between Christianity and other religions (including the religion of secularism). Other religions (and the cultures they inspire and inform) are built on an autonomous (fallible, sinful man-as-the-ultimate-authority) worldview that is totally opposite to the Christian worldview (the world and life view which holds that all mankind is totally dependent upon God, their Creator, for all life, knowledge, and everything else). In contrast to other religions’ assumption that mankind can be his own “savior” and somehow save himself, the Christian worldview is that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life. Jesus, as God’s Son, is the only light Who can enlighten the world about all truth–including law and the Divine morality that underlies all truly just law in human society.
Furthermore: Contrary to what some people say, people’s lives are not determined by unknown forces. Rather, the truth is: that all things in history, including in people’s lives, are determined by God (who is a Personal Being, not a “force”). The true God is a personal God. Though God may be unacknowledged by some, yet He is personally known by many. All people are created in God’s image; that’s why they are persons–because He is a Person (a Personal Being). People have intelligence, personality, emotions, moral discernment (conscience or the moral sense)–all the attributes of a person–because God gives them these qualities, created after his likeness as a Personal Being. The true, Biblical view of God sets Christianity apart from other religions that don’t really know God as He truly is. These other religions incorrectly view God as a “force” or “forces,” and incorrectly view the universe as being controlled by impersonal forces (i.e., chance); that really is the impersonal, atheistic (and when deifying the universe itself, pantheistic) world and life view that stands in stark contrast to the Christian worldview. Between the two views, there is an eternal and unalterable antithesis.
The Way of Life that Can Never Submit to Synthesis:
The Uniqueness and Distinctiveness of the Christian Worldview
Whether we realize it or not, Christians are engaged in a culture war in this world, and our lifetimes are tours of duty. How we perform our service and fulfill our potential reveals whether or not we are worthy members of God’s group of agents who fight for His values, and thus uphold the Christian worldview. It’s people who have lived throughout time who form this group–linked by the common glue of allegiance to Jesus, their Chief or Leader–one with His purpose and will: the task of fighting evil in the world (including the sin within their own hearts). For the most important part of this group is its Commander-in-Chief. (For God is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the universe.) Everything the group does, everything it stands for, revolves around Him. Living such a life is tough but exciting, for what can be more important or wonderful than having the same will and purpose as our Creator, and sharing His joy: a wonderful sense of comradery with Him, that we share the same goal, that we share His dream.
Members of His group who are the “great ones” are those who truly obey Christ’s commandments their whole life long, and teach others to do the same–those who make the kingdom of God and His righteousness, their highest goal. Yet, they are the way they are only because they entirely submit their whole selves to God’s will and His thought pattern. There are two lives–that of the Creator and that of the human creation–but the two should be of one mind: the creature’s deepest wish is to share the thoughts and goals of his or her Creator. Such re-created people should give total commitment: all or nothing. And it is their very willingness to submit to God in humble dependence that is their honor and glory. (The greatest faith is to think, in the midst of calamity: “Though [God] slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).) Such re-created people are nothing unusual in themselves–just sinful human beings. And if their thoughts start to deviate from God’s thoughts, then they start to lose the protection His knowledge gives them. But when they turn to Him, God picks them up again, and they continue living their total commitment to Him that lasts their whole life long.
Here is what a Christian should strive for: to be a good member of God’s group of people. Such a person wants to live life according to God’s principles expressed in His written Word, as He constantly looks at him or her and always observes that person’s thoughts and actions.
One can’t want anything higher than to be a member of God’s group: that is the highest goal in life. It is the job of a Christian to portray God’s view of things, and to live out that view in his or her own life. Everything else must be subordinated to that.
Of course, the only person who ever lived a life of total devotion to God’s principles is Jesus Himself.
But we can try. The glory is in the trying–and to keep on trying as we press ever onward toward that perfect goal.
For the concept of God’s group of people is not just another religion: the true Christian doesn’t think of it that way. There are all the other religions in the world, and there is His group: two distinct categories.
Christianity’s moral principles, expressed throughout the whole Bible, are what Jesus Christ lived and died to affirm, and they are the principles He wants His people to affirm, as well, with their whole lives, throughout their lives. He died upholding God’s law in order to save His people from the penalty of breaking its precepts, by taking the curse of the moral law upon Himself instead. He expects His people to show their love for Him by following God’s commandments (the moral law) through the empowerment provided by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Constantly, there is The Question: What matters most in life? There are two choices: God’s way or one’s own way, and only the first choice is the way to truth and eternal life. For true life is knowing God, and knowing Him truly.
Between the Christian worldview–built on God’s transcendent morality, expressed in His written Word–and the worldview of autonomous (self-dependent) man, as expressed in various formats, throughout various religions and secular philosophies–there can be no compromise. For the two worldviews are in constant conflict: there is an inevitable clash and opposition inherent in the basic assumptions–the building blocks–of the worldviews themselves that make synthesis and resolution impossible to achieve or for the true Christian to accept.
Here is the one instance where the Hegelian dialectic (thesis opposed by antithesis will result in synthesis: a blending, compromise, or resolution between the thesis and antithesis, the so-called “partial truths” or antithetical views) cannot occur. For, of all the various religions and philosophies, Christianity alone is unique and distinct. It is no common religion, and it cannot be compromised. Because it is the whole truth–not just so-called “partial truth,” but because it itself is the whole truth defining all of reality–it cannot be negated or made subject to resolution. Indeed, Christianity is superior to Hegelian philosophy, because Christianity has the whole truth, and Hegelianism does not and never can. It is Christianity that is the higher level philosophy–indeed, the highest level of thought possible. Because “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10), and God-given wisdom is so much higher than any human thought, therefore even the least member of God’s group of people possesses more actual knowledge of the truth than any Hegelian (or Kantian, or any other secularist philosopher, for that matter). For Christianity alone is absolute, total truth about reality. True Christianity is not capable of being negated (for something can’t be negated if it already possesses the whole truth). Christianity is literally unable to submit to synthesis (and indeed, has no need for it).
No Common Religion
The Christian life is built on total dependence upon God (who is a Personal Being, not an impersonal “force”), and that dependence includes a commitment to His principles expressed in His infallible written Word (the Holy Bible). And His pure, perfect thoughts are not like sinful, fallible human thoughts, just as His perfect knowledge surpasses (is transcendent of) all mere human knowledge and experience; indeed, people have to implicitly accept His “ground rules” about the way His created universe works before they can have any knowledge at all: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the LORD. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Becoming a Christian is like signing a contract with one’s Creator: an agreement that in return for Jesus assuming the penalty for one’s sin record, one “signs up” to be a member of His group, dedicated to His interests and goals. His Holy Spirit has to renew and remake a person (to rebuild him or her thoroughly, from the ground up, spiritually speaking) in order for such a person to live such a new, regenerated way of life; it does not come “naturally.” It’s a contract that lasts a person’s whole life long: first the record of his or her life on earth, and then, his or her enjoyment of eternal life in the moral perfection of God’s presence, when the person’s whole self (nature and personality, as well as–at the time of the resurrection–the physical body) will be totally regenerated in complete perfection. Such “kingdom of God” principles should begin on earth: in the light of God’s holy and pure presence, the Christian should have the attitude that there should be no disconnection between the way he thinks and acts on earth and the way he will think and act in Heaven. There should be no discrepancy, no discontinuity, between the two states of existence. Ideally, the Christian in Heaven reflecting back on his or her life on earth shouldn’t have to conclude, “Oh, I should have done things this way–the way things are done up here.” After all, Jesus did pray, in the Lord’s model prayer: “‘Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10). And God’s will is a reflection of His perfect character. He is totally consistent; He never goes against His own character. That is why His moral law is eternal, unchanging and consistent, as well as being universal in scope.
Getting Right Back to Where America Started From:
Educating about the Things that Are Right
The Biblical moral law is built into the Constitution of the United States. The notion of human supremacy (manifested in the political realm by the legal philosophy of legal positivism) goes against what God says in His Word about the transcendent nature of His own supremacy (ultimate authority); therefore, during the founding era of Puritan America, the Coopers–both father William (1694-1743) and son Samuel (1725-1783)–were against the notion of ultimate human supremacy, as well. (See particularly: William Cooper, The Honours of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740), preached near the conclusion of Governor Jonathan Belcher’s administrations of the twin colonies of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, which at that time were governed by one governor.)
Dr. Samuel Cooper, D.D. (1725-1783), was his father’s successor as pastor of the Brattle Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts. Samuel was a noted patriot who promoted the American Revolution and in so doing, educated the American people about “the things that are right.” His father’s friend, Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) (who openly favored the rule of a Christian civilization, and practiced Christian “good ruler” principles throughout his own gubernatorial administrations), enthusiastically approved of him.
On January 8 (his birthday) in 1751, Governor Belcher (then governor of New Jersey), wrote the following to his “very good friend” Col. Brattle to tell him, among other things, about his visit with Samuel Cooper and Samuel’s brother, sons of the governor’s good friend William Cooper:
“For according to the royal Psalmist I am this day through the patience and mercy of God entering the last year of human life. God grant that constant serious thought of this may quicken me to double diligence in working out my own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God which worketh in me to will and to do of his good pleasure. Our Saviour says the Son of Man cometh at an hour when you think not. May I then by the aids of divine grace live in full obedience to that awful command Be ye therefore ready also. Amen. [*****]
“It is with much gratitude that I own your recommendation of the two Coopers whose excellent father was my hearty friend. I perfectly agree in all your sentiment of these worthy young gentlemen whose company and conversation (though the time was but short) has fixed in me a permanent esteem for them. The Reverend Mr. Cooper preached to a pretty numerous assembly at Amboy, to his honour and universal applause. Although you mention them in a handsome manner, yet I don’t think you have reached their characters and merit. They are real ornaments to their country. Please to give them my kindest respects, for I wish their prosperity in soul and body. It was my misfortune to be from home, when they came into this government that I could not entertain them so well as perhaps I might have done at my own little cottage, yet as any respect I could show them was hearty they’ll excuse me while they remember The desire of a man is his kindness.” Dating the January 8, 1751 letter from Burlington, New Jersey, the governor then gave the letter “To the care of Mr. Burr” (who was Aaron Burr, President of Princeton College and another close friend of the governor), covered to the governor’s son-in-law Byfield Lyde, for delivery to Col. Brattle.
The governor’s assessment of Samuel’s outstanding abilities indeed proved to be correct. About 30 years after this, in 1780, Dr. Samuel Cooper preached a commentary on Christian constitutionalism in America, in honor of the Massachusetts state constitution. His discourse restated the basis for the Christian foundation of Early America: the state’s (and hence the nation’s) obligation to follow God’s Law, the principles of which formed the background for the constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Samuel’s father, William Cooper, in his classic sermon The Honours of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740), had earlier explained that American law and society were obligated to follow Biblical law in all its political and legal dealings. Note especially Dr. Samuel Cooper’s allusion to Joshua’s ancient monument in honor of God’s law and sovereignty–a monument, in other words, to acknowledge the sovereignty of God–and reflect on the comparison between that and modern-day Ten Commandments monuments that honor and acknowledge the same. Note also that Samuel’s discourse was preached in the presence of his friend Governor John Hancock, first signer of the Declaration of Independence–and reflect upon what this implies: the implication being, of course, that Hancock, as well as other founders, probably viewed monuments of the Decalogue and other acknowledgments of God’s sovereignty to be unexceptional, certainly accepted. (Moses, Israel, and God’s law were specifically mentioned in Dr. Cooper’s discourse.)
Dr. Cooper also invoked the necessity of public Christianity for the maintenance of republican society and its freedom. Freedom is dependent upon the principles of Christianity (which are the principles of Biblical law) being implemented and manifested in a polity. Free consent in a republican government flourishes where the Christian worldview is encouraged and promoted, and vice versa. Note that Dr. Cooper’s sermon was preached at the beginning of Massachusetts’ statehood. It provides further evidence that the founders of America modeled the United States after the ancient republic of Israel. (In that regard, read also: Samuel Langdon, The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States (1788).)
Note also Cooper’s citation of Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government (1698), written to refute Robert Filmer’s defense of the divine right of kings. Sidney died in 1683, a year after Governor Belcher’s birth, and the governor’s personal library (which he later donated to Princeton College) included Sidney’s work, which was written from a Christian perspective.
Note also that the British Parliament’s famous claim during the American Revolution (“A RIGHT TO BIND THEM [THE AMERICAN COLONIES] IN ALL CASES WHATSOEVER”) was essentially a claim of human supremacy over Divine sovereignty–since such binding was asserted to occur regardless of whether the cause was right or wrong from God’s perspective. This arrogant claim equates to modern legal positivism, which asserts the same claim of human supremacy. Besides Parliamentary supremacy, the claim of human supremacy was frequently expressed, in Cooper’s time, using a political term of art, the so-called “divine right of kings”–which in practice, meant that the king acted like he himself was the ultimate authority, even above God Himself; it was this view that the American Revolutionaries fought against. Therefore, human supremacy can express itself in any one or all of the three branches of government: executive, legislative, or judicial, based on the flawed philosophy of legal positivism.
Beginning in the 1920's-1930's and extending into the early 21st-century judicial realm, such positivism further expanded into a worse, sociology-based philosophy called legal realism, which dared to assert that it is routine or unexceptional for judges to make the law to be whatever they want it to be–regardless of moral right and wrong. In other words, so-called legal “realists” thought that judges should make law! Legal realism was a prominent feature of the “New Deal” lawyers’ philosophy–for instance, the “New Deal” federal appellate judge Jerome Frank thought that what was called the “law” could be determined by an individual judge’s personal characteristics, biases, background, and experiences. Really, such so-called “realism” is nothing more than legal relativism–with each judge making up the law to be whatever he (or particular interest groups, or his political backers) want the “law” to be at the time. Denying absolute morality, legal “realists” (with another example being the theorist Karl Llewellyn) held to an “evolving” view of the law, in which the law was deemed to be subject to change with the ever-changing social times. The even more radical (i.e., socialistic) legal philosophy of critical legal studies that emerged in the late 20th century held law to be little more than a form of politics, supposedly driven by class warfare. Unfortunately, these liberal, leftist legal theories now influence 21st-century jurisprudence and are attempting to displace the Biblical principles upon which the United States of America originally was based–the Biblical principles that form the implicit, inherent moral law philosophy that is still incorporated into the Constitution of the United States. However, such leftist attempts to subvert Biblical morality ultimately will fail–for they fail to account for the fact that all knowledge–including law and morality–is ultimately defined and determined by God’s definitions–by His knowledge. At least, by necessarily working within the parameters God has set in the universe (in any and all fields of knowledge such as law, history, science, economics, linguistics, etc.), at least to the minimal extent that they must do so by the sheer necessity of living in the universe the way it is, secularists “unknowingly” are drawing upon God’s knowledge about the way the universe works (the way He designed for it to work). (Secularists don’t admit this to themselves, however.) Whenever secularists try to rebel or to stray from God’s parameters, then their efforts inevitably collapse and fail by their very naivity and potentiality for non-success–indeed, in the final analysis, by the impossibility of them ever permanently succeeding. For only God’s plan will succeed according to His timetable: He writes the “plot line” of the story of history, and determines all the facts, the action, and the active agents in it. Whatever goes contrary to His own plan–any rebellion from God’s way of doing things–will ultimately fail. Therefore, America’s people should ensure that they do not rebel from the things that are right; the United States (and the world) needs to get back to the right things, the ways of God.
Freedom and the American Example
Here’s a lesson the United Nations and certain international bodies should learn: The true international rule of law is based on moral right, not might. And the right given by God is the free duty to act under God’s sovereignty–to act within the bounds of His moral constraints. Actually, that is true, life-giving freedom: to act in accordance with the design of our Creator, to act in concert with His plan for the universe and to act in harmony with His plan for our lives, His purpose for our own creation. For His ultimate plans and goals are all good–just like the moral law reflecting His own perfect character. As a mirror reflects a person’s face, so does the Biblical moral law reflect the moral perfection of God.
So, the true basis for law–whether national, international, or transnational–is not achieved by bowing to the pressures of political expediency, or by importing secularist theories of society. True civil law is not an international court opinion declaring a moral action to be immoral simply because such action offends the political or economic interests of ruler(s) or nation(s) that are not acting in accordance with God’s moral law.
The American revolutionaries stressed the Biblical doctrine of natural rights–in opposition to secular, relativistic, social utilitarian notions of “rights” (which translate to shifting social definitions). Biblical law definitions are the true basis for global human rights.
These are principles that people all over the world–in places like the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and North America–can turn to when they search for global security. These principles are universal in scope only because they are the gift of humanity’s Creator. These principles recognize the personhood of all peoples and values all human life. This is the pro-life position.
Biblical principles affirm individual equality before the law (the impartiality of justice) and the glory of morality. Equality does not mean forced social equality–as in economic redistribution of wealth; such a socialistic concept goes against Biblical principles (see, e.g., Leviticus 19:13, 15: “‘You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. [...] ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor’”; Proverbs 3:27-33, including Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due [...]”; Proverbs 12:14: “[...] And the recompense of a man’s hands will be rendered to him”; Proverbs 13:4, 11,22; 23:10; Malachi 3:5).
All just human laws are re-enactments of God’s Law–and that applies also to the Federal and state constitutions. Thus, the principles of justice in the United States Constitution are an embodiment of God’s Law. The Constitution already embodies these. So, government can reaffirm moral law principles and definitions through actions like correct legislation and correct judicial opinions, and this is constitutional. As was noted by William Henry Seward (1801-1872), who became President Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, and who delivered his “Higher Law” speech before the United States Senate on March 11, 1850, to advocate admitting California into the Union as a free state: Anything ignoring the Divine law calls for political measures to reaffirm the Godly principles of the U.S. Constitution. The people’s duty is to discern the Divine will, and to do it. That is the United States’ national (and universal) mandate. And it is so because such is the mandate for any Christian nation.
Conservative jurisprudence (when in accordance with the Constitution’s true moral law spirit), seeks to go back to the Constitution’s inherent Biblical principles. Thus it is the Biblical moral law that defines the true “living Constitution.” (The Constitution is not “dead,” but rather is filled with the moral law principles that define true life.) What liberal, left-wing judicial activists–e.g., legal realists and “crits” (critical legal studies proponents)–call the “living” Constitution is really the evolving or changing Constitution they try to make the Constitution out to be, or try to mold it into–but they are changing it unconstitutionally so as to dump or discard the Constitution’s own inherent moral law principles (which cannot be done legitimately, because to do so is to go against the Constitution itself).
The failure of the socialistic French Revolution in the late 18th century–the bloody, secularist revolution responsible for producing barren, socialistic “Old Europe”–leaves the American exemplar as the one revolution that succeeded because it was based on the right moral principles. America’s fight for independence, historically, has been the revolution based on unalienable rights, based on belief in mankind’s Creator, the Giver of those rights. Upon that basis alone, will the American example ever renew itself again throughout history.
Historically, the United States has prospered because its human-posited laws and civil rule were based on God’s eternal values that are universal in scope and application. Unfortunately, some regions of the world turned away from those values (e.g., Germany during the National Socialist period of the 1930's; and 21st-century France, which adopted secularism and socialism flowing from 18th-century Enlightenment doctrines). It would be a very wrong and very bad idea for the United States to imitate their example and to follow their lead down the ever-darkening primrose path of socialism. It would be a bad idea indeed for the United States to ever submit its citizens to the jurisdiction of international courts, international law, and the United Nations.
True Transnationalism Is God’s Universal Law
A very bad idea is the notion that United States law should be subservient or subordinated to a so-called “transnational law” superseding national sovereignty by importing case law or legal principles from other nations in order to render politically popular legal decisions. An asserted source for such legal activism crossing national boundaries is so-called “international law,” which is not really “law” at all, but rather treaties and political agreements based upon a voluntary consensus of nations. Other than the lack of a written constitution, a big reason why transnationalism is not a good idea, ethically as well as legally, is that nations (acting through their human representatives) may agree on anything under the sun–regardless of whether it is morally right or wrong according to God’s Biblical standard. Under such a system, there would be nothing to restrain the godless whims of a world dictator (or dictatorial coalition of a few nations) should enough nations voluntarily agree to go along with such tyrannical laws and actions. As a (perhaps related) aside: a new constitutional convention proposed for the purpose of framing a new United States Constitution is not a good idea, either–for any Constitution ratified by the states in the current amoral state of America’s secularist society may turn out to be a godless Constitution instead of the godly one the U.S. has currently.
Actually, the moral law principles that form the basis for true transnational law are permanent in their nature–literally principles for all places and all times, because they are the principles of the eternal, immutable (unchanging), perfect and transcendent God. True transnational law is universal law: God’s moral law for the universe. Since His moral law principles are truly universal in the highest sense possible, people and nations should not interpret these ethical principles in different, various, and often contradictory ways. International law should not be based solely upon international consent–whatever nations can agree upon, no matter how morally right or wrong that agreement is. All international agreements, even ones upon which the participating nations are in agreement, have to themselves conform to the Higher Law, the law of God.
Therefore, a national or international consensus based on God’s Biblical Law–and founded on that universal basis alone–constitutes the true transnational law that all nations voluntarily should follow. Biblical moral and legal principles are the “honors of Christ” that are “demanded of the magistrate” (the civil ruler), as Dr. Samuel Cooper’s father, William Cooper, so eloquently stated in 1740, during America’s founding era. It is these right principles that the United States needs to get back to, right now.
The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Civil Ruler
“Surely no one can doubt whether the foundation of civil government is laid in Divine institution [....]”: with these bold words, William Cooper’s election day discourse stated the basis for Christian America. The discourse was publicly delivered in front of his good friend Governor Jonathan Belcher (who agreed with its message) and the two branches of the Massachusetts legislature (the Council and House of Representatives) on May 28, 1740–the day for the election of the Massachusetts councilors. William Cooper (1694-1743) was the associate pastor of the Brattle Street Church–the other pastor being Dr. Benjamin Colman (1673-1747), who had delivered the election sermon Government the Pillar of the Earth at the beginning of Belcher’s governorship in 1730. Both sermons were written by good friends of Governor Belcher, and both represented his own public policy, also: that a good ruler is the Christian ruler.
Since, taken together, these two sermons span a period of ten years, they show that Governor Belcher encouraged Christianity at the beginning of his governorship, and he still promoted Christianity near the end of his governorship in 1741. Note that William Cooper’s discourse was printed by the government printer at the request of the Massachusetts legislature! Certainly, government encouraged Christianity there!
Notable in William Cooper’s sermon–in a section advocating religious freedom–was the phrase “the free exercise of his holy religion.” The concept of free exercise of religion showed up later in the “Free Exercise” clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. So the religious freedom Cooper and Belcher both advocated was the free exercise of religion–the right later written into the United States Constitution’s First Amendment. Furthermore, William Cooper did not view the government promotion of Christianity as establishment of religion; to the contrary, he thought “Christian magistrates must employ their power for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.” His view of establishment of religion was this: “[...] nor may he [the civil ruler] extend his power to force articles of faith or modes of worship on the consciences of men [....]” In other words, the government couldn’t force worship. But Cooper strongly disapproved of the notion that freedom of religion meant freedom from religion: “Yet we must not run into the other extreme and say that the magistrate has nothing to do in matters of religion,” he said. This was also the viewpoint incorporated into the Constitution of the United States.
Cooper even said that civil rulers should encourage Christianity and that they should publicly proclaim the name of Christ, in public prayers or otherwise: “As they rule by Christ, so they are obliged to rule for Christ, and therefore to protect and encourage the practice of his holy religion [....]” “They should openly profess the religion of Christ, publicly espouse his cause, and zealously promote it as far as ever their authority and influence should reach [....]” (This was a perfect description of Governor Belcher’s gubernatorial administrations, for this was what he did.) In Cooper’s view, government shouldn’t even be neutral when it came to promoting Christian principles: “There is a war carried on in this world, between the rightful king and the usurping god of it–between Christ and Satan–and whoever stands neuter [neutral], magistrates, who are Christ’s officers, must not. If they do, they are traitors to his crown and government [....]” Accordingly, Cooper called for public prayer in all Massachusetts courts.
The following quotes, excerpted from his sermon, further demonstrate the real founding principles of Christian America:
“[...] Government is from God as the Author of nature.”
“The Bible, therefore, which is the great statute book of Heaven, must be consulted by the rulers of a people, and they must frame their administration by the general laws there laid down.”
“True indeed, the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, nor may he extend his power to force articles of faith or modes of worship on the consciences of men–for conscience is except from every jurisdiction but Christ’s. Yet we must not run into the other extreme and say that the magistrate has nothing to do in matters of religion.”
“As they [civil rulers] rule by Christ, so they are obliged to rule for Him, and therefore to protect and encourage the practice of his holy religion [....]”
“They [civil rulers] should openly profess the religion of Christ, publicly espouse his cause, and zealously promote it as far as ever their authority and influence will reach, and should strenuously set themselves against every thing that is opposite to his interest [....]”
“Whatever the ‘wise men after the flesh’ may think, the rules of religion steadily pursued by those entrusted with the public affairs of a people, will be found to conduce more to the true ends of government, than all the maxims of carnal policy.”
“What we have spoken of the Divine institutions of government, you all understand to be meant of government itself, and not of any particular form or model of it–for one is no more appointed by God than another, but every people are left to judge for themselves, to frame such a Constitution as may best answer the ends of government for them, and to alter and change that, too, at discretion, and by common consent.”
“We have been saying, GOD has in kindness to men appointed that they should be governed by men; yet, he has been too good and kind to leave them to be governed by men according to their arbitrary will and pleasure. The end of government is the public peace and safety; when therefore this is neglected, and the ordinance of government only made an engine of tyranny and oppression; when the Constitution is subverted, the liberties and properties of the people invaded, their religion and laws made a sacrifice to the superstition, ambition, or covetousness of the prince that is over them; [...] every man is under higher and earlier engagements to the community in general than he is to the supreme magistrate [the highest civil ruler].”
“They [civil rulers] must not [...] persecute His [Christ’s] saints, silence his ministers, hinder the free exercise of his holy religion, or do anything that may obstruct the work of the Gospel [....]”
“The rules of obedience laid down in the Gospel oblige none to submit to unlawful impositions.”
“And though GOD has not prescribed any one form of government in Scripture, yet he has therein given general rules to be observed by all that are in government. The civil magistrate’s commission is thus limited by the great Monarch of the world: ‘He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God’ (2 Samuel 23:3).”
“And that they [civil rulers] may not be unmindful of the duties of their station, he [God] has appointed another order of men to be their faithful and humble monitors: I mean, the ministers of religion. For ministers are as truly the magistrates’ teachers, as magistrates are their governors. And as we must put our people ‘in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates’ (Titus 3:1), so we must put magistrates in mind to be subject to the Lord Jesus Christ and use their power in a subserviency to the interests of his kingdom.”
“Christian magistrates must employ their power for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.”
“And it is our great pleasure and happiness this day that we can address our Governor in Chief [Jonathan Belcher] as one who has openly chosen the LORD to serve him [....] Suffer me then, SIR, to remind you, that you publicly devoted yourself to the service of the exalted Son of GOD when you had just entered the world in superior outward circumstances and advantages, and it was great pleasure to your own and your father’s friends, and the friends of religion, then to observe it, from the hopes it gave them that Christ and his people here would afterwards have much service from you, by the will of GOD [....]”
“The honor of Christ and his interest are very much concerned in Your Excellency’s conduct and administration. Religion is not in such a state at this day, but it needs the example of the greatest among us to render it more reputable and honorable. But while Your Excellency [Governor Belcher] is seen to pay a solemn regard to the day of GOD, to attend with reverence and devotion upon his public worship, and to live in the practice of those private and public virtues which adorn the Christian character, this will go far to prevent its falling into further contempt and neglect.”
“And here, I think we should be ungrateful to GOD and Your Excellency if we did not acknowledge the countenance and encouragement which the religion of the country has received, under Your Excellency’s administration, from your example and authority both.”
“[E]xample and authority both”–the exercise of this, for the promotion of God’s interests, is what is needed from the civil rulers of all nations, and especially in the United States, which was openly founded as a Christian nation, with a shining Puritan background. “[E]xample and authority both”–this is what is required of Christian rulers in particular. Christian public servants should pattern their lives after Christ’s perfect example, and should exemplify Christ’s character in the exercise of their public authority. Certainly, they should be allowed to do this, without fear of reprisal or of losing their jobs–for they are following the Higher Law that is superior to all human laws, from which all civil political authority actually derives its validity. God, as Governor of the universe, providentially determines who shall rule, where and when; therefore all political and legal power is ultimately derived from him, and is beholden to him. It is God who gives the authority to the people to rule themselves; they (or any single individual of them) cannot decide to become tyrants and dictators based on their own collective whim. Socialistic collectivism (Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s idea of the “general will”) just will not work, based on past world history, and that is no surprise, for morally, it should not work if it is not based on God’s transcendent moral law that is above mere human codes of conduct. That is why the socialism radiating out from the political and cultural currents set in motion by the French Revolution of the late 18th century has not led to a prosperous or Biblically moral Old Europe. The French Revolution–unlike the American Revolution–was secularist even to an atheistic level, ironically combined with the liberals’ love of paganism (think of the “Goddess of Reason” enshrined as the French Revolution’s “deity”). The American Revolution was not the French Revolution; the two revolutions were based on two very different–indeed, opposing and clashing–foundations. The American Revolution was based on God’s perfect law of liberty found in the Bible, whereas the French Revolution was based on exactly the opposite: pagan, God-denying secularism that spawned socialism and its even more radical offspring, communism. Let us endeavor to make sure that socialism and communism do not infect the United States in the 21st century!
The American Revolution Was Not the French Revolution; the Foundation for the Former was Christian America: the Princeton Legacy of Belcher and Burr, as Carried Forward by Ashbel Green
Governor Belcher’s close friend, President Aaron Burr of Princeton College (January 4, 1716-September 24, 1757), gave crucial encouragement and support to Jacob Green (1722-1790)–father of a noted future Princeton College president, Ashbel Green (1762-1848) (who acknowledged Governor Belcher to be the founder of Princeton College, incidentally). Jacob Green himself named Jonathan Dickinson and Aaron Burr as two “‘that I had a high opinion of,’” and one biographer said of Green: “Some months previous to his ordination, he fell into deep spiritual darkness, and had, at one time, nearly determined to abandon the ministry, from a conscious unfitness to pursue it; but a conversation with Mr. Burr relieved him, in a good degree, of his apprehensions, and encouraged him to persevere in the work which he had undertaken.” During the course of the formation of his “religious opinions,” Green studied some of the works of Jonathan Edwards and a work by Dr. Isaac Watts (1674-1748), another good friend of Belcher, Edwards, and Colman. (William Buell Sprague, D.D., Annals of the American Pulpit; Or Commemorative Notices of Distinguished American Clergymen of Various Denominations, from the Early Settlement of the Country to the Close of the Year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-five (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1859), Vol. 3: Presbyterian, pages 137-138.)
On March 31, 1730, Dr. Watts, upon the occasion of Jonathan Belcher’s voyage home after being selected by the King of England to be the governor of Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire, wrote a poem in his honor that was printed in Watts’ book Poems, Chiefly of the Lyric Kind; the poem’s concluding verse was the following: “Go, BELCHER, go: Assume thy glorious Sway: Faction expires, and BOSTON longs to obey. Beneath thy Rule may Truth and Virtue spread; Divine Religion raise aloft her head, And deal her Blessings round. Let India hear That JESUS reigns, and her wild tribes prepare For Heavenly Joys. Thy Power shall rule by Love; so reigns our JESUS in his Realm, above. Illustrious Pattern! Let Him fix thine Eye, And guide thy Hand. HE from the Worlds on high Came once an Envoy and returned a King: The Sons of Light in Throngs their Homage bring; While Glory, Life and Joy beneath his Scepter Spring.” Dr. Watts, who perhaps is best known for his famous hymn (now a Christmas carol), “Joy to the World,” assisted Dr. Benjamin Colman (1673-1747) in co-sponsoring the publication of one of Jonathan Edwards’ earliest works, his Faithful Narrative of the Great Awakening in Northampton, Massachusetts (1735-1737)–one of the key events initiating the Great Awakening in 18th-century America. It is interesting to note that the time period of the Great Awakening (1730's to 1750's)–which generally began in New England with Jonathan Edwards’ Northampton awakening and then spread through the Middle and Southern colonies–coincided with the time period of Governor Belcher’s administrations (1730-1741 in Massachusetts Bay and New Hampshire, 1746-1757 in New Jersey). As was indicated by leaders of the Great Awakening such as George Whitefield (1714-1770) and Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), Governor Belcher contributed significantly to the success of this great restoration of Christian faith and to the promotion of Christianity in America. Both Whitefield and Edwards were interested in the promotion of Princeton College, also, and in 1754, that college gave a Master’s degree to Whitefield when he was in New Jersey visiting Governor Belcher. Jonathan Edwards unfortunately died in 1758 soon after succeeding his son-in-law Aaron Burr as Princeton’s President.
One mid-19th century history of Elizabeth (formerly Elizabethtown), New Jersey, described the interlocking relationships and many interconnections between Belcher; Whitefield; Whitefield’s friend, helper, and associate Gilbert Tennent; Edwards, Burr, and the founding of Princeton College:
“GOV. JONATHAN BELCHER. At the close of the year 1751, Gov. Belcher became a resident of this town. He had been appointed Governor of New Jersey, [...] to succeed Gov. Morris. He arrived, in the Scarboro’ man of war, at New York, Aug. 8, 1747, [...] in the 66th year of his age [....] He was the son of Andrew Belcher, (a Boston merchant, and a gentleman of great wealth), and graduated at Harvard College in 1699 [....] He married, at Piscataway, N.H., Jan. 4, 1705/6, ‘[...] Mary Partridge, daughter of [the Quaker] L[t]. Gov. Wm. Partridge.’ He became, at an early day, an active member of the church, and ever, through life, honored his profession. He spent six years abroad, was admitted to court, and was treated with great respect by the best society. On his return, he engaged in merchandise. He visited England again, in 1729; and, Nov. 29, was appointed Governor of Mass. and New Hampshire. He returned in Aug. 1730, and continued in office until 1741, when he was superseded. On the occasion of the visit of Whitefield to Boston in 1741, he openly and warmly espoused the cause of that eminent preacher, and became his personal friend and correspondent. He went abroad again, in 1744, to vindicate himself, at Court, from the aspersions of his opposers, reinstated himself in the royal favor, and returned as Governor of N. Jersey.
“He published his commission at Perth Amboy, Aug. 10, 1747, met the Legislature, at Burlington, Aug. 20, and soon after became a resident of that place [....] While he was delighted with the air, soil, and situation, he was much tried with the moral and religious state of the people. He described it, as ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ but the people had no relish for virtue and true religion; ‘they pay little regard to the Sabbath,’ [....] He occasionally went to the Quaker meeting and Episcopal worship, ‘and at other times officiated as priest in his own house.’ Having a coach and four, he proposed to drive down (20 miles) to Philadelphia, and spend ‘the Lord’s Day often there, with his friend Mr. Tennent;’–Rev. Gilbert Tennent, with whom he became acquainted, in 1741, at Boston, and who, at this time, was pastor of a Presb. church in Philadelphia.
“His wife had died before he went abroad [....]; and, while in England, he became acquainted with a [Quaker] lady [Mary Louisa Emilia Teale] to whom he offered himself in marriage. She came over to this country, about Sept. 1, 1748, and was married to him on the 8th, at Philadelphia. [*****]
“Finding that Burlington air did not agree with him, he made arrangements to remove to this town [Elizabethtown, in the fall of 1751]. [****] The removal of the seat of government to this town was deemed an event of too much consequence not to be appropriately noticed. A respectful Address was prepared by the Corporation, and presented to the Governor on his arrival, Nov. 1, 1751, signed by John Stites, John Radley, Stephen Crane, John Chandler, Samuel Woodruff, Robert Ogden, Thomas Clark, John Halsted. [******]
“[...] [W]hile he [Governor Belcher] lived, it was his delight to extend the benefits of his large-hearted hospitality as widely as possible. None, however, were so welcome to his home as the pious and godly. A sincere and devout Christian himself, he gathered about him, and welcomed to his board mostly such as were of like sympathies with himself. The passing missionary, the traveling preacher, the pious visitor, were sure of a hearty reception at his comfortable home. The incomparable Whitefield writes, to Lady Huntington, from ‘Elizabeth-Town (New-Jersey), Sept. 30, 1754,’ —
“‘I am now at Governor Belcher’s, who sends your Ladyship the most cordial respects. His outward man [...] [ages], but his inward man seems to be renewed day by day. I think he ripens for heaven apace. (To another correspondent, he says, —) I write this from Governor Belcher’s, who is indeed singularly good, and whose latter end greatly increases as to spirituals. Oh that this may be my happy lot!’
“President Edwards, also, describing a journey that he took, in September, 1752, into New Jersey, says, —
“‘I had considerable opportunity to converse with Governour Belcher; and was several times at his house at Elizabethtown. He labours under many of the infirmities of age, but savours much of a spirit of religion, and seems very desirous of doing all the good he can, while he lives.’
“From his first coming into the province, he proved himself the staunch friend of education and religion. To the infant College of New Jersey [i.e., Princeton College], he not only gave a new Charter with enlarged privileges, but used the whole weight of his personal and official influence in behalf of its endowment and permanent establishment. After his removal to this town, at the request ‘of a great number of’ the members of the First Presbyterian Congregation, a Charter of Incorporation was granted them, by the Governor, August 22, 1753, appointing Stephen Crane, Cornelius Hatfield, Jonathan Dayton, Isaac Woodruff, Matthias Baldwin, Moses Ogden, and Benjamin Winans, the first Trustees of the Congregation, with power ‘to erect and repair Public Buildings for the Worship of God and the Use of the Ministry, and School-Houses & Alms-Houses, & Suitably to Support the Ministry & the Poor of their Church: and to do & perform, other Acts of Piety & Charity;’ a boon, which was so long and persist[ent]ly denied, by the Royal Governors, to the First Presbyterian Congregation of the City of New York. [*****]
“During the excitement and alarm consequent on Braddock’s defeat, July 9, 1755, and the consternation created by the Indian outrages on the western borders of New Jersey, Gov. Belcher did all in his power to rouse the province to defence of their habitations. [*****]
“Governor Belcher did not long survive [...] [the onset of the French and Indian War]. He departed this life, at his home in this town, on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 1757, in the 76th year of his age. As Mr. Kettletas, the youthful minister of the congregation had not yet been ordained, [...] President Burr was called upon to preach the Governor’s funeral sermon. A vast congregation assembled in the Presbyterian Church, on Lord’s Day, Sept. 4, when Mr. Burr (just 20 days before his own decease) preached from Dan. xii: 13, — ‘But go thou thy way till the end be, for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.’ The discourse was published, with the Title, — ‘A Servant of God dismissed from Labor to Rest.’ He spake of him [... thus]: —
“‘The Scholar, the accomplished Gentleman, and the true Christian, were seldom ever more happily united, than in him. His unshaken Integrity and Uprightness, in all his Conduct, his Zeal for Justice, and Care to have it equally distributed, have rendered him the Admiration of the present as they will of future Generations. The Prospect of worldly Interest, earnest Solicitations of Friends, or Fear of Loss, seem to have had no Influence to move him from what appeared to be his Duty ... No Man was ever more thoroughly Proof against all Kinds of Corruption and Bribery ... His distinguished and unaffected Piety, spread a Glory over all his other Endowments, and rendered him a peculiar Blessing to the World ... By his sacred Regard to the Lord’s Day, his steady and conscientious Attendance on all the publick Ordinances of his House; he has left a noble Example, worthy of the Imitation of all Rulers in a Christian Land ... This Practice he continued even when his great Weakness of Body, and growing Infirmities would have been thought by every Body a sufficient Excuse for his Absence ... In his declining Days, he seemed to ripen fast for the heavenly State; had his Conversation much in Heaven, and would frequently speak of the Things of another World, as Things that were quite familiar to him ...’ [*****]
“His decease created a great chasm in the town, followed as it was by the removal, also, of the seat of government. He was universally lamented, as his administration had been eminently successful, and his personal character had commanded unbounded respect.” (Edwin F. Hatfield, D.D., History of Elizabeth, New Jersey; Including the Early History of Union County (New York: Carlton & Lanahan, 1868), pages 377-384.)
The young “Mr. Kettletas” referred to was Abraham Keteltas, who 20 years later became a distinguished patriot preacher during the American Revolution, author of God Arising and Pleading His People’s Cause; Or the American War in Favor of Liberty, Against the Measures and Arms of Great Britain, Shown to Be the Cause of God (1777). Keteltas “[w]as born in the city of New York, December 26, 1732, and graduated at Yale in 1752. [***] He was probably licensed by New York Presbytery, and was installed at Elizabethtown, September 14, 1757. His stay was short, having left before September 29, 1760. [*****] Being familiar with the three languages then spoken in the province [of New York], and an eloquent speaker, he often preached for the Dutch and French churches as well as the Presbyterian.” (Richard Webster, A History of the Presbyterian Church in America, From Its Origin Until the Year 1760. With Biographical Sketches of Its Early Ministers (Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson, 1857), page 673.) Keteltas’ 1777 Revolutionary sermon directly stated that the “rule” of the “universal righteousness” for which America stood was the “moral law, or the ten commandments.” His wife, incidentally, was a cousin of William Peartree Smith (1723-1801), one of the best friends of Governor Belcher, William Livingston, and Aaron Burr.
As for Jacob Green, another American Revolutionary patriot (who studied for the ministry under Burr’s guidance): “He was an earnest advocate for American Independence. He even published a pamphlet to show its reasonableness and necessity, at a period when such an opinion was very extensively branded as a political heresy. He was elected [...] a member of the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, which set aside the Royal government of that Province, and formed the present constitution of the State; and he was Chairman of the committee which drafted the constitution. He published a series of able articles in a newspaper, designed to put his fellow citizens on their guard against the disastrous results of the paper currency, with which the country was then inundated. These essays were republished in many of the newspapers of the day; and the plan which they prescribed for the redemption of the ‘Continental currency,’ was very nearly the same which Congress ultimately adopted. When the British troops overran the State of New Jersey, in the autumn of 1776 and the beginning of 1777, it was thought that his prominence as a Whig peculiarly exposed him to hostile incursions and depredations; but he remained at his post nearly the whole time, and suffered no injury, and no material inconvenience.” (Sprague, Vol. 3, pages 138-139).
In 1798, years after the founding of the United States, when this nation was a young republic and the French Revolution was raising its ugly head in France–even threatening to infect the United States with its secular (so-called “Enlightenment” philosophy)–Jacob’s son, Ashbel Green, D.D., Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, wrote a noted sermon warning of the danger and misfortune that befalls any nation that departs from the Biblical principles of its universal Ruler, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief Who is God Almighty. In that sermon, titled Obedience to the Laws of God, the Sure and Indispensable Defence of Nations. A Discourse, Delivered in the Second Presbyterian Church, in the City of Philadelphia, May 9th, 1798, Being the Day Appointed by the President of the United States, To be observed as a Season for Solemn Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer (Philadelphia: John Ormrod, ), Dr. Green wrote the following on pages 5-7:
“II. CHRON: xv. Ch. 2d. verse. — ‘Hear ye me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin, the Lord is with you while ye be with him. And if ye seek him he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.’
“The proclamation of the Chief Magistrate of the nation which calls us to the service of this day, states, as the special reason of the call, that it is ‘a season of difficulty and danger’ to our common country. That such is the fact, no one in this assembly will pretend to deny. Not an individual who seriously contemplates our national situation, can forbear to confess, that, on every hand, dangers threaten and difficulties beset us. To any one who should suggest a sure, practicable and easy plan, for maintaining our honour and preserving our civil and religious rights, it would be acknowledged that every ear should listen with attention, and every heart offer a tribute of thanks. My brethren, — a prophet of Jehovah offers you this very plan in the words of my text. The sacred herald proclaims it to you this hour, as really as he did to the favourite people of heaven in ancient times: — As really as he then said—‘Hear ye me Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin,’ he now says—‘Hear ye me, rulers and people of America! — The Lord is with you while ye be with him — If ye seek him he will be found of you.’ This, I affirm, is a sure plan for national defence and prosperity: ‘For if GOD be for us who can be against us!’ — What wisdom can contend with omniscience? what power can resist omnipotence? ‘Associate yourselves O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear all ye of far countries; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces: gird yourselves and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together and it shall come to nought; speak the word and it shall not stand; for GOD is with us.’ Nay, more—the plan of the prophet is not only effectual, but it is the only one that can be effectual. The same veracity which gives the comfortable assurance, on one condition, connects with it an awful alternative on another. ‘If ye forsake GOD he will forsake you.’ — If, forgetful of your dependence on Jehovah, ye violate his laws and contemn his ordinances, his protection and favour will be taken from you, and then cometh confusion and every evil work. Left to yourselves, you will speedily become the prey of your enemies or work out your own destruction. Vain will be all your devices, feeble all your prowess and unavailing all your exertions. ‘For there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.’ — His hand will find you out, and with just displeasure will seal your final ruin.
“Thus have I given what I take to be the true import of the text, and with that direct application to our own circumstances, which I hope may engage our serious attention to it — That the statement you have heard is just, I shall endeavour to prove, in establishing the following proposition, in which it is comprised,–namely,– The nation that adheres to the laws of GOD shall be protected and prospered by him, but the nation that forsakes and disregards those laws he will destroy.”
Then, on pages 15-18, Dr. Green remarked:
“Here, however, it may be observed, without cavil, that no nation ever fully conforms to the rule which has been specified as marking the line of duty; and it may be asked–what is that measure of conformity, which will secure the benefits of the promise? To answer this enquiry with precision and as it relates to particular cases GOD alone is competent. ‘He giveth not account of any of his matters.’ In some instances his mercy may forbear with nations after considerable defection, and in others his justice may take speedy vengeance. While the guilty are never punished till they deserve it, equity is not violated in waiting longer for the reformation of some than of others. This exercise of sovereignty, this limited variety in his dispensations, is seen in all the administrations of the Deity. The most wise and important purposes are answered by it. Presumption is restrained, on the one hand, and despondence or despair is prevented, on the other. The entire freedom of human action is, also, preserved by this order. The mind of man is left to that full exercise of judgment and choice, and that natural operation of desire and prosperity, which render him most completely accountable for his actions. From this cause it will come to pass that the method in which nations are treated will appear somewhat irregular. The virtuous, in some cases, will appear to suffer, and the vicious to be triumphant. A semblance of contradiction will hence arise to the doctrine I inculcate. Yet, as will be shown more fully in its place, it is only the semblance, and not the substance of opposition, that will thus be produced. A criterion of judging sufficiently exact, and most highly important, will still be left us. It will still remain a perspicuous and interesting truth, that when a nation is characteristically pious it will be ultimately protected, and that when it becomes characteristically impious it will be fast hastening to destruction; and that in proportion as it approaches to the one or the other of these extremes it has reason to hope or to fear. To explain my meaning, here, with reference to a Christian nation, I would say, that — When the rulers of a Christian country recommend Christianity by their practice and example: When they discover a reverence for it by faithfully enacting and executing laws for the suppression of vice and immorality: When, without infringing on the rights of conscience, they encourage true piety, by countenancing those who profess, practice and teach it: When, on suitable occasions, and in public acts, the Being and Providence of GOD, and our accountableness to him, are recognised, and the honour which is due to his Son is rendered: When the moral laws of GOD, relative to man, as well as to himself, are truly regarded, by those whose station gives influence and fashion to their conduct, and renders it in a sort the representation and expression of national sentiment on the subject of morals: And when, in addition to this, the great principles of piety and morality already recited, are so generally and effectually taught and inculcated on the people at large, as really to influence the public mind, and in some good degree to form the popular opinions and habits: – this I would say was a performance of duty, – this would secure to a Christian nation the benefits of the divine promise. But when, among those who preside over the people, the very being, attributes, and providence of GOD are denied, or when there is a studied omission of every idea that refers to his government, or to our dependence on him: When, through a hatred of Christianity, it is disavowed, despised, laughed at, and in the most contemptuous manner trampled under foot; or when through pusillanimity or impious policy, a country conceals its attachment to the religion of Jesus; or when the profession of attachment is only a thin veil of hypocrisy: When the leading men of a nation flagrantly and shamelessly violate every moral law: And when the people at large love to have it so, and are rapidly assimilating to the same corrupt standard; then they subject themselves to the divine denunciation, and are treading on the brink of destruction.”
Sadly, this is the state of the United States of America today, in the 21st century! Secularism is ruining the country.
Ashbel Green’s words hearkened back to, and echoed, the earlier words written by his father’s mentor and friend, President Aaron Burr of Princeton College, at the conclusion of Governor Belcher’s funeral sermon, A Servant of God, in 1757, during the midst of the French and Indian War:
“Allow me therefore to say at such a season as this, that it greatly concerns us all in public places of power and trust, of the civil and sacred order, to exert ourselves in bringing about a thorough reformation of those evils which are the procuring cause of our present miseries; and to animate all around us, to a vigorous defense of our bleeding country. The displeasure of Heaven hath been in numerous instances testified against us, and we have many ways felt the rebukes of an angry God. We may pretend to find the cause of these calamities in the weakness of one, cowardice of another, and treachery of a third; but the hand of God is overlooked. He is openly and publicly affronted; his name prophaned in the most atheistical manner; his laws violated, his authority despised, the glorious Gospel of Christ slighted, and all the loud calls of his Word and Providence disregarded. Such kind of vices and debaucheries become fashionable and common among us, as not only enkindle the anger of Heaven, but sap the very foundation of civil society. At such a time, we should diligently exert ourselves for a general public reformation. If men of influence and authority would appear in so good a cause, what blessed effects might it have!” (Aaron Burr, A Servant of God (New York: Hugh Gaine, 1757; reprinted, Boston: Edes and Gill, 1758; quotations are from the 1758 reprint, pages 22-23.)
Earlier in the sermon (on pages 17-21), Burr had rejoiced that Governor Jonathan Belcher had been such a man:
“And if we should now view him in the religious, as we have in the civil life, he will shine with more distinguishing brightness. True religion is the more amiable and excellent in persons of high station, not only because it so rare, but because their examples have a commanding influence, and the world around them are engaged to follow their steps. When the graces of the Christian life, are connected with the luster of earthly dignity and power, they constitute a most lively character, and such persons become ornaments and blessings to the age in which they live.
“This was eminently the case with our worthy departed friend; his distinguishing and unaffected piety spread a glory over all his other endowments, and rendered him a peculiar [i.e., special] blessing to the world. It was evident his religion was not a mere nominal, formal thing, which he received from tradition, or professed in bare conformity to the country where he lived; but real and genuine, such as commanded his heart, and governed his life. He had such clear views of the glorious majesty and holiness of God; the strictness and purity of the Divine Law [....] [*****]
“Though he was very far from having any thing affected or ostentatious in his religion, yet he was not ashamed to profess and practice it, in the open view of a corrupt and degenerate age, when religion has been treated with great contempt, and a person who had any real regard to it, would hazard his reputation; but he resolutely maintained a sacred regard to our holy religion, in the midst of all the insults and scoffs from infidelity on the one hand, and the allurements of the fashionable vices of the times, on the other. [***] It gave him sensible joy when ever he heard the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom was advanced [....] [H]is letters to his Christian friends breathed the same excellent and pious spirit. [****] We have reason to bless God, who has continued him so long, and lengthened out his usefulness to a good old age; that he has made him so great an ornament and blessing to church and state; and crowned even the close of his days, with the honor of doing good, and being serviceable in the world. Yet all who have the welfare of their country, the cause of virtue, and the interest of religion at heart, can’t but be deeply affected at the departure of so great and good a man. May God sanctify this mournful dispensation to the Province in general! And especially may all who are more nearly concerned, have grace to make a right improvement of such a grievous stroke.”
One of Governor Belcher’s “letters to his Christian friends”–to Aaron Burr himself, in fact (who was then at Newark, New Jersey)–was a letter dated March 21, 1748 from the governor’s home in Burlington, New Jersey, near the beginning of his governorship of the New Jersey colony, concerning the governor’s granting of a charter to his “adopted daughter,” Princeton College (the 1748 charter under which Princeton University still operates): “You cannot be more thoughtful and solicitous for the growth and prosperity of my adopted daughter our future alma mater than I am. In order to the perfecting the charter you know it will be necessary that I go to Philadelphia and which I intend soon. You say a commencement is designed the 3 Wednesday of May next so I will try to get the charter to you before that time. I much approve of a wise frugality at the solemnity you mention more especially in our infant days for I think the too common extravagances and debauchery at such times can be no honour to what may laudably pride itself being called a seminary of religion and learning. So soon as the charter can be completed a meeting of the trustees will be very proper and necessary. No obstacles will discourage me from pursuing this noble design. [***] I cannot write positively of my being at Newark–not knowing what advice I may have by the ships expected from England–but God sparing my life and nothing extraordinary preventing I will endeavour to have that pleasure.
“I am much obliged for your kind wishes in my administration in which I assure you I have no views or aims but to promote the king’s honour and interest in the happiness and welfare of his province of Nova Caesarea or New Jersey and to be accepted of the multitude of my brethren—while I am seeking the wealth of this people and speaking peace to their seed will be a great favour of God and the joy of my declining life. Amen. I wish you may run a long race in life with health and ease and be a growing prop and an ornament to religion and learning (while I must be soon sleeping in the dust) and may you at the end of time receive from your Lord and Master that crown of life which he has promised to give all those that are faithful unto death. This I say is and shall be the prayer of — Reverend Sir, Your Assured Friend and Humble Servant, [J.B.]”
Alas, “a long race in life with health and ease” was what Aaron Burr did not have. Governor Belcher would have been grief-stricken to have known that the man to whom he wished a long life, whom he viewed as his protégé, himself gave his life to perform the honor of chronicling the governor’s accomplishments. Just days after the governor was “sleeping in the dust,” his friend Aaron Burr joined him in the sleep of death, Burr’s health (which never had been strong) finally overtaxed by the combination of grief due to the death of his friend the governor, and the exertion required to write and deliver the governor’s funeral sermon. Governor Belcher died on August 31, and Aaron Burr died a premature death on September 24, when he was only in his early 40's. The governor had personally selected Burr to be Princeton College’s first president under the Belcher charter, and Burr was chosen for that position upon Belcher’s recommendation. It was also due to the governor’s insistence that the college (originally called the College of New Jersey) was moved to the town of Princeton, New Jersey–hence its name, Princeton College, and later, Princeton University.
Dr. Ashbel Green stated later, in his Discourses in the College of New Jersey: [...] Including a Historical Sketch of the College [....] (Philadelphia and New York: E. Littell and R. Norris Henry, 1822), p. 264): “The first entry, in the first volume of the minutes of the Trustees of the College of New Jersey, is a copy of the Charter. The next entry is the subjoined extract, which will show that Governor Belcher was regarded as the founder of the college, and that the trustees entertained a very grateful sense of his services and liberality of that occasion.” Those trustees included Ashbel’s maternal grandfather, the noted minister John Pierson of Woodbridge, New Jersey (who was himself the son of Yale College’s first President, Abraham Pierson); Ebenezer Pemberton, another noted minister and friend of Belcher, Dickinson, Burr, Colman, and other members of their “good cheer” Christian group; William Peartree Smith, good friend of Belcher and Burr; David Cowell (1704-1760), another of Aaron Burr’s many friends, and of course, Aaron Burr himself.
One early biographical dictionary (James Hardie [c. 1760-1826], The New Universal Biographical Dictionary, and American Remembrancer of Departed Merit: Containing Complete and Impartial Accounts of the Lives and Writings of the Most Eminent Persons in Every Age and Nation, but More Especially of Those who have signalized themselves in America. In Four Volumes. (New York: Johnson & Stryker, 1801), 1:401-408), gave this account of Aaron Burr’s accomplishments and of his friendship with Governor Belcher:
“BURR, (AARON) President of New Jersey College, was a native of Fairfield, Connecticut, in which colony, his forefathers, who were persons of great respectability, had been settled for several preceding generations. He was born in the year [...] , and after having finished the grammatical education necessary to prepare him for the university, was sent to Yale College at New Haven, to complete his studies. At this seminary, he early displayed that suavity of manners and superiority of talents, for which he afterwards became so remarkably conspicuous, and received the Dean’s premium; an honorary reward, which is there conferred upon their best scholars, in consequence of a legacy of Dean Barclay [George Berkeley [1685-1753], philosopher, Dean of Derry and Bishop of Cloyne], which he had bequeathed, to be appropriated in that manner.
“After having received his degree, he [Aaron Burr] devoted himself to the study of theology, being no less prompted to qualify himself for the Gospel ministry, by the wishes of his parents, than by his own inclination; and if we consider the brilliancy of his natural parts [i.e., his intellect]; the vast extent of his literary acquirements, for to no one science was his superiority confined; and above all, the integrity of his morals, no man could with more propriety, have presented himself as a candidate for that sacred and truly important office.
“[***] In speaking of his pulpit eloquence, [his friend] Mr. [afterwards Governor of New Jersey, William] Livingston [1723-1790] says, ‘In the pulpit he shone with superior luster. He was fluent, copious, sublime, and persuasive. The momentous truths and awful mysteries of religion so strongly possessed his mind, that he spoke from the heart, which is the only way of speaking to it. His language was intelligible to the meanest capacity [i.e., the lowest intellect]: and above the censure of the greatest genius. He was neither destitute of the ornaments of style, nor so captivated with the flowers of rhetoric, as to sacrifice to them the fruits of improvement. More solicitous to penetrate the heart, than to amuse the head, he aimed at perspicuity: and instead of subtle speculations and metaphysical distinctions, inculcated the luminous and uncontroverted truths of revelation.’ To this, we shall add the testimony of a venerable and aged divine of this city, who hath informed us, that whether he considered the manner or the matter of Mr. Burr’s preaching, he had met with his equal seldom, his superior never. He likewise mentioned another trait in Mr. Burr’s character, which we conceive to be one of the most important, which can distinguish a Christian minister, and which shone in him with peculiar luster. He was a ‘peace maker.’ His flock [was] influenced no less by the force of his example, than by his precepts, [and] were eminently remarkable for their love of peace. From the weakness of human nature, it would, however, unfortunately happen, that differences would sometimes arise. On these occasions, it was the care of their worthy pastor, that their animosity should not take deep root. He, therefore, immediately applied himself to heal the breach; and so great was his ardour, that a complete reconciliation was effected, before it could be generally known, that the parties were at variance. Thus it might be said of his congregation, as of the first Christians; ‘Behold how they love one another.’
“But we now come to a period in Mr. Burr’s life where he was called to act a more distinguished part in the service of both church and state. [...] [T]he college of New Jersey [...] [was] under the care of the Rev. Mr. [Jonathan] Dickinson [1688-1747], who was pastor of the presbyterian church in [...] [Elizabethtown, New Jersey]. [...] [T]he students were few in number; and there had as yet been no commencement, when that gentleman died. Upon this occasion, it was a favourite object with the trustees to select a person to fill the president’s chair, whose talents and reputation were such, as to raise the credit of this new seminary: and the eyes of all were immediately turned towards Mr. Burr, as the man best calculated for that important office. He was accordingly unanimously elected, and the result fully evinced the wisdom of their choice. From Elizabethtown, the college was then moved to Newark, where it continued till the spring of 1757, when a spacious building having been erected at Princeton for the reception of the students, it was transferred to that village, as to its final and permanent seat; whilst Mr. Burr, during all that time, performed with unexampled assiduity and success, the double duty of pastor of his congregation, and president of this seminary of learning.
“He had scarcely entered upon his new office, when the expectations, which had been formed of his activity and usefulness, began to be realized. [***] With Mr. Belcher, who was then Governor, he had long been in habits of the strictest intimacy and friendship. By his means therefore, he was soon enabled to accomplish his wishes [regarding the granting of a valid charter] [...] so early as the year 1747, from which period, the college may with great propriety, date its celebrity [actually, its founding].
“‘With what dignity and reputation,’ says Mr. Livingston, ‘did he sustain the office of president! Sensible how important to the public, and through the whole thread of our existence, is the early culture of the human mind, he considered himself with the painter of old, “as designing for eternity.” He had the most engaging method of instruction; nor inferior to the extent of his capacity, was his facility in communicating. No man had a happier talent of expressing his sentiments; or calling latent truth from her dark and profound recesses. No man was more capable of opening the mental soil, to the kindly rays of science; or improving its fertility, with the gentle dews of exposition and comment.’
“‘Nor did he neglect any opportunity of imbuing the minds of his pupils, with the seeds of religion and virtue, at the same time that he enriched them with the treasures of learning. Hence he perpetually raised their thoughts to the invisible things of God, from the visible wonders of his power; from the beautiful and stupendous fabric of the world, to the infinite all-governing architect; and from the scattered rays, to the immense ocean of light. With the same ease, he secured the obedience and the love of the students. He had the art of leading the will by invisible chains; and making reason no less prevalent than authority: hence he could punish an offence not only without the resentment, but even with the approbation of the delinquent.[’]
“But however valuable Mr. Burr’s industry and qualifications were as a teacher, he likewise, in other respects, eminently contributed to promote the best interests of the seminary, over which he so worthily presided.
“The trustees were at a loss for money, not only for the purchase of a library and a philosophical apparatus, but even for erecting a building for the accommodation of the students, who were now very fast increasing in numbers. Their situation was difficult and perplexing; nor had they any hope of assistance, except from the contributions of the inhabitants. In this emergency, Mr. Burr cheerfully undertook to solicit donations; and, as he was universally known and beloved throughout the province of New Jersey and the neighbouring colonies, no one could have embarked in that business with greater probability of success. He accordingly exerted himself with a zeal, peculiar to himself, and every where met with that encouragement, which the design so fully deserved. [***] A place was at last fixed on at Princeton, for the site of the new building, and the superintendence of the work solely committed to him; who although his residence was still at Elizabethtown, was frequent in his excursions to Princeton, and by his presence greatly accelerated the progress of the work, which was finished by the spring of 1757, when, as we have already observed, the college was finally removed thither.
“But his useful life, was now drawing towards a close. In the fall of 1757, he had gone to Philadelphia upon some business, and on his return, was just alighting from his horse at his own door, when he received the melancholy news of the death of his friend Governor Belcher, with an invitation to attend the funeral, and to preach a sermon upon the occasion. Having performed that mournful duty, he was in a few days seized with a [...] fever, which was supposed to have been occasioned partly by his incessant fatigue, and partly by his concern for the loss of his friend; and to this he fell a victim after a short illness, in September 1757, in the [...] [41st] year of his age.
“Governor Livingston, in speaking of his assiduity and usefulness thus expresses himself, ‘Though a person of a slender and delicate make, to encounter fatigue, he had a heart of steel: and for the dispatch of business, the most amazing talents joined to a constancy of mind, that insured success in spite of every obstacle. As long as an enterprize appeared not absolutely impossible, he knew no discouragement; but in proportion to its difficulty, augmented his diligence: and by an insuperable fortitude, frequently accomplished what his friends and acquaintances conceived utterly impracticable. To his unparalleled assiduity, next to the divine blessing, is doubtless to be ascribed the present flourishing state of the College of New Jersey; which from a mere private undertaking, is in a few years become the joy of its friends, and the admiration and envy of its enemies.
“‘He was life and activity itself; and though cut off in the bloom and vigour of his years, attained, with respect to his public utility, the remotest period of old age. His every year was replete with good works; and whilst others could here and there boast a shining action, like a scattered star in the vast expanse of heaven, his life, like the Milky Way, was one continued universal glow.’
“‘For public spirit, and the love of country, none ever surpassed this reverend patriot. Amidst all the cares of his academical and pastoral functions, he thought and studied for the common weal. He had a high sense of liberty; and detested despotic power as the bane of human happiness.
“‘Few were more perfect in the art of rendering themselves agreeable in company, than he. It was in these social moments, when frequently the human mind lies all open and unguarded, that he blended improvement with delight; and happily tempered the serious with the [...] [cheerful]. His knowledge of men, unfolded to him all the avenues to the heart, which he could variously affect with wonderful dexterity. In him every thing was agreeable, because every thing was natural: and he had the secret to be intimately familiar, without degrading the dignity of his function. In a word, his open, benevolent and undissembling heart, inspired all around him with innocent cheerfulness, and made every one who knew him, court his engaging society.
“‘But his piety eclipsed all his other accomplishments. What he preached in the pulpit, he lived out of it. His life and example were a comment on his sermons; and, by his engaging deportment, he rendered the amiable character of a Christian still more attractive and lovely. Though steady to his own principles, he was perfectly free from bigotry. He prized religion as an inestimable jewel, whose real value was neither enhanced nor diminished by the casket in which it was deposited. Hence he loved and revered the sincere and exemplary of every communion; and particularly cultivated a strict correspondence with several of the greatest ornaments of the church established in England; who, in their turn, treated him with the highest affection and respect.
“‘We shall conclude this portrait of Mr. Burr, in the words of Governor Livingston: ‘Whether we consider him in private or public view, he is still equally striking, equally distinguished; and, without exaggerated expression, something surpassing the ordinary bounds of human nature.’”
Livingston’s eulogy to Burr, A Funeral Elogium, on the Reverend Mr. Aaron Burr, Late President of the College of New Jersey (New York: Hugh Gaine, 1757) also (on page 22) pictured the two friends, Governor Jonathan Belcher and President Aaron Burr, meeting in Heaven: “But, who is HE! that with superior fondness, congratulates thy arrival on the coast of bliss! ‘Tis that BEST OF FRIENDS,* who left thee only time to perform his obsequies; and pay thy last–last duty to his memory before ye were to meet[,] never–never more to be parted. (* His Excellency the late Governor BELCHER, whose funeral sermon he preached but a few days before his own death.)”
Another account of Burr’s life (including his efforts to assist the Great Awakening work of George Whitefield (1714-1770), another close friend of Governor Belcher and a friend also of Benjamin Colman and William Cooper), was given in the biographical sketch of President Aaron Burr by Richard Webster in A History of the Presbyterian Church in America, From Its Origin Until the Year 1760. With Biographical Sketches of Its Early Ministers (Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson, 1857) (pages 448-449, 451-452):
“[Quoting Burr’s mentor (who was also Governor Belcher’s friend), Jonathan Dickinson, in Christian History:] ‘There was a remarkable revival there [in Newark, New Jersey] in the autumn of 1739: in March, the whole town in general was brought under an uncommon concern about their eternal interests; and under some sermons the congregation appeared universally affected. In February, 1741, there was another effusion of the Holy Spirit, principally upon the young. When Whitefield preached at Newark, it was nearly dark, and he could not see the effect produced; but at night, at worship in Burr’s house, some young men, studying with him, were greatly affected.’ Whitefield speaks of him as a young minister, ‘who, I trust, will come fairly out for God.’ [*****]
“The College of New Jersey [i.e., Princeton College] was, on the death of [Jonathan] Dickinson, removed in 1747 to Newark, and Burr was placed at the head. He accompanied Whitefield through New England in 1752, and visited [Jonathan] Edwards. Having seen his daughter Esther, he wrote expressing his desire that, as he was unable to go to her, she would come to him. Her mother accompanied her to New York, where they were married June 29, 1752.
“In 1755, his pastoral relation was dissolved, as it was thought best to establish the college in Princeton [New Jersey]. Much urgency had been used to prevail on him to go to Great Britain in its behalf, but his marriage prompted him to decline. It grieved him to see the students banded in parties, and exhibiting much alienation of feeling: there was in a degree a reconciliation effected in the winter of 1757, and it was followed by a gracious revival. The hand of God was visibly displayed in February, 1757; ‘much old experience’ had taught Burr to place little reliance on relations of experience. The students carefully observed his cautions about giving way to irregular heats, and silenced the gainsayers. [Samuel] Finley wrote to [Samuel] Davies an account of the good work, who said, ‘It was the most joyful news I ever heard. It began with the son of a considerable gentleman in New York, and was general before the President knew of it.’ ‘The President,’ said Gilbert Tennent, ‘never shone in my eyes as he does now. His good judgment and humility, his zeal and integrity, greatly endeared him to me.’ [Elihu] Spencer had seen nothing more evidently like a work of God, even in the Great Revival. The first Tuesday in April was observed as a day of fasting and prayer. In the summer there were some backslidings; ‘but,’ said Burr, ‘certainly a glorious work is going on.’
“In the summer, being in a low state of health, he made a rapid and exhausting visit, in a very hot, sultry season, to his father-in-law [Jonathan Edwards] at Stockbridge [Massachusetts]. He soon returned to Princeton, and went immediately to Elizabethtown [New Jersey], and, on the 19th of August, made an attempt to procure the legal exemption of the students from military duty. He mourned with a friend, (probably Caleb Smith [1723-1762], of Orange, who had just lost his wife [who was Martha, the youngest daughter of Smith and Burr’s mentor, Jonathan Dickinson];) and on the 21st, being much indisposed, he preached an extemporaneous sermon at a funeral in his successor’s (Rev. John Brainerd’s) family at Newark. From Princeton he went to Philadelphia on business of the college, and on his return learned that Governor Belcher had died on the 31st. He prepared the sermon for his funeral [...] [and] rode to Elizabethtown, and, on the 4th, preached, being in a state of extreme languor and exhaustion. His languor of countenance was noticed, but especially the failure of his harmonious delivery. Returning home next day, he sunk under [...] [the effects of a] fever, and died Sept. 24, 1757. The Rev. Caleb Smith [who himself would die in 1762, at the age of 38] preached his funeral sermon [...] [titled Diligence in the Work of God, and, Activity During Life. A Sermon, Occasioned by the Much-Lamented Death of the Reverend Mr. Aaron Burr, A.M. President of the College of New Jersey, who died September 24, 1757, in the Forty-Third Year of his Age. Delivered in Nassau Hall, at a Meeting of the Trustees of the College, Dec. 15, 1757; And, published by Their Desire (New York, Hugh Gaine, 1758).]
“[Samuel] Davies heard him preach a valedictory sermon, Sept. 23, 1753, to the graduating class. ‘His subject was, “And now, my son, the Lord be with thee, and prosper thee.” I was amazed to see how readily good sense and accurate language flowed from him extempore. The sermon was very affecting to me, and might have been so to the students.’ ‘Sept. 24. — My drooping spirits were exhilarated by free conversation with him.’ [****]
“[Samuel] Davies wrote to [Princeton College trustee David] Cowell, Feb. 20, 1758, ‘Mr. Burr! My heart fails me at the sound of the dear [...] name. What an illustrious triumvirate have the college, the church, and the world lost by the death of Governor Belcher, Mr. Burr, and Mr. [James] Davenport. I was the more affected at the President’s death, as a life so much less important than his was spared when in extreme danger about the time of his illness. [***] As the death of these good men was undoubtedly gain to them, may we not modestly conjecture that it will also prove an advantage to the world, though we are apt to lament them as lost? I cannot conceive of heaven as a state of mere enjoyment without action, or indolent supine adoration and praise. The happiness of vigorous immortals must consist, one would think, in proper exercise suitable to the benevolence of their hearts and the extent of their powers. May we not suppose, then, that such devout and benevolent souls as these, when released from the confinement of mortality, and the low labour of the present life, are not only advanced to superior degrees of happiness, but placed in a higher sphere of usefulness, employed as ministers of Providence not to this or that particular church, college, or colony, but to a more extensive charge, and perhaps to a more important class of beings. And if, when they cease to be useful men, they commence angels, i.e. ministering spirits, we may congratulate them and the world upon this more extensive beneficence, instead of lamenting them as lost to all usefulness.’”
Incidentally, regarding Elihu Spencer, D.D. (1721-1784) (referred to above), who studied under, and assisted the missionary efforts of, John Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards in Massachusetts, and who succeeded Jonathan Dickinson as pastor of the Presybterian Church in Elizabethtown, New Jersey: according to William Buell Spague (Annals of the American Pulpit, 3:166): “While there [in Elizabethtown], in 1753, he [Spencer] was invited by Governor Belcher to become the Chaplain of the New Jersey regiment, employed in the war then waging with the French and Indians [....] It was during his residence at Elizabethtown that his character for piety and public spirit prompted the Trustees of the College of New Jersey, then temporarily placed at Newark, to elect him one of the Corporate Guardians of that Institution. This occurred in 1752; and he held this honourable office as long as he lived.” Spencer (who corresponded with Dr. Ezra Stiles) also became a noted patriot during the American Revolution:
“When the Revolutionary struggle came on, it found Mr. Spencer diligently engaged in his pastoral duties at Trenton [New Jersey]. He not only took the course which almost all the Presbyterian ministers in the United States did, decisively in favour of the claims of the Colonies; but, with his constitutional zeal and energy, he became warmly and conspicuously engaged on the patriotic side. This led to another call which was made upon him in 1775, again to visit North Carolina. [***] The Provincial Congress of that Colony, having reason to believe that the population of several important settlements within their limits, were, partly from ignorance and partly from prejudice in favour of the British government, unfriendly to the cause of Independence, conceived the plan of employing the influence and patriotic eloquence of the same gentlemen, who had before so ably served them on an evangelical mission. The request was made. It was accepted. Dr. McWhorter accompanied Mr. Spencer, and very valuable services to the cause of Independence were supposed to have been rendered in that part of the Southern country. [*****] It has been justly remarked by a respectable minister of the Gospel, who had well considered his history, ‘We cannot hesitate to place far above the ordinary grade, a man whom such men as David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards, the elder, loved and strongly recommended; who was deemed worthy to succeed in their pastoral labours such ministers as Jonathan Dickinson and John Rodgers; whom two Governors [Governor Belcher of New Jersey and Governor De Lancey of New York] [...] successively appointed to Chaplaincies of a trying and arduous character; [...] and whom an enlightened Provincial Congress deemed the fittest instrument they could find, for accomplishing a most important and delicate patriotic service.’” (Sprague, 3:167-169.) Here again, is another example of a friend of Governor Belcher, who not only was a man of God, but who also went on to become an American patriot.
An outstanding example of this, of course, was the future American patriot William Livingston, who so eloquently eulogized their common friend, Aaron Burr, and pictured Burr meeting Belcher in Heaven. Livingston’s main claim to literary fame was as the primary co-author of The Independent Reflector, Or Weekly Essays on Sundry Important Subjects, More particularly adapted to the Province of New York (1752-1753), which advocated civil and religious liberty prior to the onset of the American Revolution. Prior to that, Governor Belcher praised one of his earlier works, a poem titled Philosophic Solitude, or the Choice of a Rural Life (1747), and recommended the poem as a work of literary quality almost comparable to that found in England.
Regarding Belcher and Livingston’s mutual friend, Aaron Burr: still another biographical sketch of Burr said, regarding his last sermon celebrating the life of Governor Belcher (A Servant of God): “This was preached but a few days before his own death, and his exertions in a very feeble state of health to honor the memory of a highly respected friend, it is thought, accelerated that event.” The same biography, after noting Burr’s “high esteem for the character” of Whitefield, went on to describe Burr’s stellar personal qualities, as well as Burr’s presidency of Princeton College, including the prudent measures to which Governor Belcher had alluded: “The flourishing state of the college of New Jersey was much owing to his [Burr’s] great and assiduous exertion. It was in a great degree owing to his influence with the legislature and to his intimacy and friendship with Governor Belcher, that the charter was enlarged in 1746. The first class was graduated in 1748, the first year of his presidency. [***]
“Few were more perfect in the art of rendering themselves agreeable in company. He knew the avenues to the human heart, and he possessed the rare power of pleasing without betraying a design to please. As he was free from ostentation and parade, no one would have suspected his learning unless his subject required him to display it, and then every one was surprised that a person so well acquainted with books should yet possess such ease in conversation and such freedom of behavior. He inspired all around him with cheerfulness. His arms were open to good men of every denomination. A sweetness of temper, obliging courtesy and mildness of manners joined to an engaging candor of sentiment spread a glory over his reputation, and endeared his person to all his acquaintance. Though steady to his own principles he was free from all bigotry. [*****] Having a clear and harmonious voice, which was capable of expressing the various passions, and taking a deep interest in his subjects, he could not fail to reach the heart. His invention was exhaustless, and his elocution was equal to his ideas. He was not one of those preachers, who soothe their hearers with a delusive hope of safety, who substitute morality in the place of holiness, and yield the important doctrines of the gospel through fear of displeasing the more reputable sinners. He insisted upon the great and universal duty of repentance, as all were guilty and condemned by the divine law. He never wished to administer consolation, till the heart was renewed and consecrated unto God. When he saw the soul humbled, he then dwelt upon the riches of redeeming mercy, and expatiated upon the glories of him, who was God manifest in the flesh. It was his endeavor to alarm the thoughtless, to fix upon the conscience a sense of sin, to revive the disconsolate, to animate the penitent, to reclaim the relapsing, to confirm the irresolute, and to establish the faithful. He wished to restore to man the beautiful image of God disfigured by the apostasy. His life and example were a comment on his sermons, and by his engaging deportment he rendered the amiable character of a Christian still more attractive and lovely.
“He was distinguished for his public spirit. Amidst his other cares he studied, and planned, and toiled for the good of his country. He had a high sense of English liberty and detested despotic power as the bane of human happiness. He considered the heresy of Arius as not more fatal to the purity of the gospel, than the positions of Filmer were to the dignity of man and the repose of states. [*****]
“He presided over the college with dignity and reputation. He had the most engaging method of instruction and a singular talent in communicating his sentiments. While he stripped learning of its mysteries, and presented the most intricate subjects in the clearest light, and thus enriched his pupils with the treasures of learning, he wished also to implant in their minds the seeds of virtue and religion. He took indefatigable pains in regard to their religious instruction, and with zeal, solicitude, and parental affection pressed upon them the care of their souls, and with melting tenderness urged the importance of their becoming the true disciples of the holy Jesus. In some instances his pious exertions were attended with success. In the government of the college he exhibited the greatest impartiality and wisdom. Though in judgment and temper inclined to mild measures, when these failed, he would resort to a necessary severity, and no connections could prevent the equal distribution of justice. In no college were the students more narrowly inspected and prudently guarded, or vice of every kind more effectually searched out, and discountenanced and suppressed. He secured with the same ease the obedience and love of his pupils. [*****]
“[***] He was unfluctuating in principle and ardent in devotion, raising his heart continually to the Father of mercies in adoration and praise. He kept his eye fixed upon the high destiny of man, and lived a spiritual life. [***] At the approach of death that gospel, which he had preached to others, and which discloses a crucified Redeemer, gave him support. He was patient and resigned, and was cheered with the liveliest hope. The king of terrors was disarmed of his sting. [****] Mr. Burr published a valuable treatise, which displays his talent in controversial theology, entitled, the supreme deity of our Lord Jesus Christ maintained in a letter to the dedicator of Mr. Emyln’s inquiry; reprinted at Boston in 1791. He published also a fast sermon on account of the encroachments of the French and their designs against the British colonies in America, delivered at Newark January 1, 1755; the watchman’s answer to the question, what of the night? a sermon before the synod of New York, convened at Newark September 30, 1756; a funeral sermon at the interment of Governor Belcher, September 4, 1757. This was preached but a few days before his own death, and his exertions in a very feeble state of health to honor the memory of a highly respected friend, it is thought, accelerated that event. ” (William Allen, An American Biographical and Historical Dictionary [....] (Cambridge, MA: William Hilliard, 1809), pages 137-140).
And it was that history that made early Princeton College great! That was the history that is the real key to Princeton’s founding. If only it would be, that in the 21st century, Princeton University–and the nation in which it is located, and the world which it educates–would return to its founding principles!
With the assistance of Governor Belcher, President Aaron Burr programmed the early curriculum of Princeton College: that’s why it produced noted American Revolutionary patriots and founding fathers!
And one American Revolutionary patriot who had studied for the ministry under Aaron Burr’s guidance was Jacob Green. Jacob’s son, Ashbel Green, who himself became President of Princeton College in 1812, wrote the following about his father’s early life: “My father was the Rev. Jacob Green, who was a native of the town of Malden, in the state of Massachusetts. He was a graduate of the College or University of Cambridge [i.e., Harvard College], near Boston, in New England; and was engaged by the celebrated evangelist, the Rev. George Whitefield, to be a member of his Orphan House Academy, in the state of Georgia. He accompanied Mr. Whitefield in his journey to the South as far as Elizabethtown in New Jersey. There Mr. Whitefield heard such discouraging accounts in regard to his Orphan House, that he told my father that he feared he should not be able to fulfil his engagements to him relative to salary; and he put it at the option of my father, either to take the risk of the success of the Orphan House enterprise, or to receive an indemnity for his expenses and losses till that time, and to stop where he then was. After consulting with Mr. Dickinson and Mr. Burr, (both of whom were afterwards presidents of the College of New Jersey,) who strongly advised him to abandon his Georgia expedition, and to study divinity, and be licensed to preach the gospel, my father chose the latter alternative proposed by Mr. Whitefield; studied divinity under the direction of Mr. Burr; was soon called to settle in the Presbyterian congregation of Hanover; was the pastor of that congregation for forty-five years; and died and was buried there in the month of May, 1790.” (Ashbel Green, The Life of Ashbel Green, V.D.M., edited by Joseph H. Jones at the author’s request (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1849), pages 18-19.)
That was the Christian history undergirding America’s young republic in the year 1798! The French Revolution’s socialistic philosophy threatened the United States’ founding principles then–and Ashbel Green, heir of the legacy of early Princeton College, called citizens to return to those principles of Christian America–to the world Christian civilization–before it was too late:
“Let us now
“II. Attend to the proof of this assertion; or to the proof, rather, of the general position–That righteous nations will be protected and prospered, and that impious nations will be destroyed.
“The remark scarcely needs to be made, that I am not here to maintain that GOD will either protect a righteous, or destroy a wicked nation, by any miraculous exertion of his power, or in any other way than by the use of those means, and the operation of those causes, which under the guidance of his providence are naturally calculated, and best adapted to produce such an effect. No, my brethren–When nations, in the early stages of the world, could not be fully instructed by experience in the principles of the divine government, because time for this experience had not yet been afforded; and that the most impressive proofs of the very truth which the text asserts might be furnished to all future times, GOD did, indeed, work miracles of salvation for the people who feared and served him, and miracles of destruction on those who departed from his laws. But as these examples are now furnished, and held up to our view as sure indications of what we are to expect from the same source of justice from which they flowed, and as abundant experience has shown what is the settled order of the divine dispensation, miracle is not to be expected, because it is not necessary. There have been some instances, indeed, in every age, both of the deliverance and destruction of nations, in which the divine interference has appeared but little short of miraculous. Such events, however, are not to be reckoned on, though they may sometimes occur. In general, if GOD intend to preserve a nation, he will either dispose others to be at peace with it, or he will stir up its inhabitants to a rational, vigorous and united exertion of their strength and means, to defend themselves; and these he will bless and crown with success. If he forsake a nation he will leave it to infatuated measures, to divided counsels, to supineness, to discord, treachery, and treason; or he will counteract its efforts, and thus effectually accomplish his designs of vengeance. Peace, health, and plenty, will be blessings flowing from his favour; sword, pestilence, and famine, will be the messengers of his wrath. Sometimes his hand will be invisible, and sometimes conspicuously displayed; but in either case its operations will be sure and irresistible whether to defend or to destroy.
“In establishing the point before us, the proof on which I propose principally to rely is of the historical kind. The principles of human nature and of society do indeed offer strong and conclusive evidence of the same truth, and these will be occasionally taken to our aid in answering objections to our doctrine. But these principles have been so often and so clearly explained and applied to this subject, that nothing seems capable of being added to what must already be familiar to you; and as the conclusions deduced from them have, notwithstanding, been lately denied by a daring spirit of innovation and infidelity, I think it most proper, in every view, to treat the subject historically and to show that the theory we maintain is incontrovertibly supported by fact. In pursuing this design we assume it as a principle that the plan of Providence, or the divine government, is uniform in its execution, so that what hath happened in all time past, may be expected to happen in all time to come. Atheists and infidels may, indeed, deny that the course of human affairs is under the direction or providence of GOD; but even they cannot, with a shadow of truth or candour, deny the fact, that nations have actually stood or fallen by the test in question, nor can they easily resist the belief that the future will resemble the past.
“To the faithful page of history then let the impartial appeal be made. Let the Heathen, the Jewish, and the Christian nations pass in review before you, and you will find their prosperity or their adversity, meted to them by the measure we have examined. What was it that produced the most ancient and the most awful desolation and extinction of nations that the history of the world records? The sacred volume will inform you — ‘GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually — And the LORD said I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth, both man and beast–for the earth was filled with violence: And GOD looked upon the earth and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth: And GOD said unto Noah — The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them, and behold I will destroy them with the earth.’ Let every believer in revelation mark the cause which inspiration here assigns, for bringing the waters of a flood on the world of the ungodly: — Let him mark and remember that it was for general corruption and impiety; and let this be in his mind, the attestation of unerring truth, that, at least, in one, and that the most conspicuous of all instances, the Deity forsook and destroyed the nations–even all the nations of the earth–because they had forsaken him. Let it also be remembered, that this happened in the infancy of the world, for the express purpose that it might be a warning to every succeeding generation of men; and that no reason can be assigned why the Deity should not be as much displeased with impiety now as then, nor why he should not punish the people who are guilty of it; though, for wise reasons, he may not use a miraculous but an ordinary method of chastisement.
“But examples of the same import multiply upon us in perusing the sacred records. Why was it that ‘the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven, and overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground?’ It was ‘because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah was great, and because their sin was grievous’—Because nameless deeds of wickedness were perpetrated there, and ten righteous persons could not be found, as ‘the salt of the earth’ to qualify its corruption, and to extinguish the fire of heaven. What was the cause of the destruction of the Canaanitish nations, whom the Lord drove out before the children of Israel? Was it the mere arbitrary pleasure of Jehovah to destroy them, that he might make room for the settlement of his chosen people? Such is the favourite but false representation of infidels. Hear the account of Scripture, and observe, that it is held up as a warning to the Israelites themselves; ‘Defile not yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations are defiled that I cast out before you. And the land is defiled; therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants. Ye shall, therefore, keep my statutes and my judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations; neither any of your own nation, nor any stranger that sojourneth with you: For all these abominations have the men of the land done which were before you, and the land is defiled.’ Why was it, that the awful ‘voice from heaven’ said to the proud King of Babylon, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar to thee it is spoken — the kingdom is departed from thee; and they shall drive thee from men and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field!’ It was that he might ‘know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will: — And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing and he doth according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him—what dost thou?’ Why was it that, to the son and successor of this haughty monarch, the appalling, unconnected, self moved hand, came forth, and wrote on the wall of his palace — ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin — GOD hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it; thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting: Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians?’ It was because he had not ‘humbled his heart’ in the contemplation of his father’s doom. ‘But had lifted up himself against the Lord of Heaven’ — had profaned the vessels of his sanctuary — ‘and the GOD in whose hand his breath was and whose were all his ways he had not glorified’ — Therefore ‘in that night was Belshazzar the King of the Chaldeans slain, and Darius the Median took his kingdom.’
“These instances–so pointed and powerful that the aid of enforcement would but encumber them–demonstrating the truth on which I insist, are found in holy scripture; but observe that they all relate to Heathen nations, to nations that had no special revelation–had nothing but those great principles of religion and morality which the light of nature or the report of tradition taught, to guide them in the path of duty: And for the violation of these you have heard their destiny.
“But if leaving the testimony of sacred, we resort to that of prophane history itself, we shall find the same account. We shall find that when a nation of the heathen world regarded, in any tolerable degree, (for not one regarded in a high degree), the principles of religious and moral duty [...], then they were most prosperous, and that when they wholly departed from these, then they were speedily destroyed. If the limits to which I am confined did not forbid it, the task would not be difficult to evince, beyond all contradiction, from the most authentic accounts of these nations, that religion and morality, mistaken and imperfect as they were among pagans, were still their strength and security, and that a disregard to these always preceded their dissolution. The truth of this representation is recognized (it may be, some hundreds of times) by their own writers. The fact was so evident and notorious that it forced itself on observation, precluded denial, passed at length into one of those settled maxims of which there is neither doubt nor controversy, mingled itself with all their public instructions, and was regarded as essential in all their political institutions. [*****]
“In regard to the Hebrew nation, no man that has read his Bible can be ignorant, that it stood or fell by the rule that has been given. Its whole history, indeed, is, and was intended to be, little else than the history of the truth of the doctrine which I now maintain. When the people ‘served the Lord GOD of their fathers, with a perfect heart and with a willing mind:’ — When they ‘did justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with their GOD,’ then they had rest; or if their enemies attempted to injure them, ‘one man chased a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight.’ On the contrary, when they forgot the Lord and walked after the imagination of their own evil heart, then they experienced every sore and destructive calamity; till at length they were completely removed out of their own land, subjected to a most humiliating captivity and bondage, while their country was ravaged and rendered desolate for the space of seventy years. The text is but a single instance, among passages innumerable, in which the general truths here stated were brought in the most striking manner to their remembrance. Read with attention the 26th chap. of the book of Leviticus, and you will there, find specified at large, the promises and the threatenings which the whole of their subsequent history demonstrates to have been strictly fulfilled. [*****]
“If, turning from the Heathen and the Jews, we fix on the history of Christian countries, we shall find it still confirming the fact asserted, that when they have conformed to those principles of religious and moral duty which constitute the rule of their obedience to GOD, they have been protected and prospered, and when they have thrown aside a regard to these, they have been blasted and cut off.
“It was not till more than three centuries after the birth of our blessed Lord, that any state professed a national attachment to the religion which he taught. During this whole period, however, the light of that religion in all its purity, was diffused over many countries, and rendered them, in a degree, responsible for a conformity to it; the consequences of refusing to be guided and influenced by it were awful indeed. The whole region of Asia-minor and of ancient Greece, where the most flourishing Christian churches were planted by St. Paul, have long since experienced the fulfilment of the threatenings which the beloved apostle was commissioned to denounce. Not only have the inhabitants of that region been deprived of the gospel which they abused, but, under the Mahomedan power, they have sunk into the most gloomy political bondage; – slavery and wretchedness have been brooding over them for more than a thousand years.
“A similar fate was reserved for the Roman empire. Long had its impieties and prostrate morals been portending its fall. But when the bloody and relentless persecutions of the followers of Jesus were added to its other crimes, the vengeance of heaven could no longer be delayed. A celebrated historian (Gibbon — see his history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, vol. 1, at the end.) of this period, whose prejudice would not suffer him to learn from it the truth of the Christian system, intimates that there is reason to believe, that in one space of about fifteen years, ‘war, pestilence and famine, consumed the moiety of the human species.’ Under Constantine the Great the Roman empire became Christian; and then again her political power and internal happiness had a short revival. But in the revolution of a few years the corruptions of Christianity debased and degraded the worship of GOD, rent and divided and dishonoured his church, and admitted of licentiousness in principle, and immorality in practice. Then desolation entered like a flood. An inundation of barbarians broke in upon the empire, rased it to the foundations, massacred its inhabitants, swept away every monument of grandeur, every achievement of art, every comfort of life; so that this period has obtained, descriptively, the appellation of the dark ages, and furnishes but scanty documents for its own history. To such a length, indeed, did barbarism and ignorance proceed, that for several centuries there was scarcely a term in the languages of Europe by which literature or learning could be expressed. (See Robertson’s preliminary discussion to his history of Charles the V.) [*****] At length a glorious reformation began to dawn on the benighted and miserable nations. And then–let it be distinctly observed–then began, also, an amelioration of their political state. To this reformation, beyond all question, as the fundamental and most efficient cause, has been owing the literary improvement, the civil happiness, and the general superiority of Europe over all the other people of the earth. Its influence, was by no means confined to those nations that were active in promoting it, but was greatly extended to those that contended against it. Power, tyranny and superstition, were obliged to relax their demands, and to assume a milder tone, to prevent the extension of that which they equally hated and feared.
“We see, then, that the general aspect of the Christian history confirms our position in the fullest manner. To descend to particulars, is forbidden by the limits to which I am confined. Let me, only, call your attention, for a moment, to the origin of that happy state of society which our own country has experienced, ever since our forefathers formed political establishments in it. Can any one deny that those establishments owe their excellence to the fervent piety and pure morals of their original founders? It is impossible to deny it. To Christianity, in its genuine spirit, we have certainly been indebted for those civil institutions and those excellent social dispositions and habits, which have rendered our country the envy of the world, which we cannot change but to an infinite disadvantage, and which, if we are careful to maintain them, will be our everlasting glory and defence. Our defence they have certainly been in time past. (It requires the exercise of pity and of patience to hear an ignorant self-conceited infidel–as is often the case–endeavouring to cast contempt on the original establishments of this country because they were not free from some imperfections, which were rather the errors and absurdities of the age, than of the particular men or society, where they appeared. How might we crimson with blushes, if our pious ancestors had exhibited such scenes in their political institutions, as infidelity is now unfolding?) From the first settlement of these States till the present hour, the signal care of heaven, in preserving us from all machinations of our enemies, has been such as to confound unbelief itself, and to furnish a most comfortable illustration of the truth I inculcate. Often, very often, both in early and latter times, has the safety and salvation of our country been dependent on circumstances which no human means could manage or control, on events which no human power could produce, and on discoveries which no human wisdom could make. In all these cases, when standing on the brink of destruction, the good providence of GOD has interposed and saved us; so that it would seem as if it were only necessary that we should be in imminent danger, in order to see a wonderful interposition of the divine hand to deliver us from destruction — GOD of his mercy grant that the impieties which now prevail, may not change his dispensations toward us!
“If it be demanded, after all, whether history will not demonstrate that some nations distinguished for religion, have not suffered by the attacks of others, and whether some that have been distinguished for irreligion, have not been prospered? — the demand may be met without the least disadvantage to my argument. As a reply to the whole it would, I think, be sufficient to remind you of the remark already made, that, as in all the other divine dispensations, so in this, it is to be expected that there will be some appearances which seem to be exceptions to a general rule, which we must resolve into the sovereignty of GOD–or into our imperfect views and knowledge of his designs; and that such appearances ought by no means to weaken the influence of the general rule, or to diminish our care to walk agreeably to it. But though this might be a sufficient answer to the inquiry, and though there may be some real need for it, in a few cases that might possibly be specified in regard to this subject; yet I am persuaded that there is much less occasion for such remarks on this subject, than on almost any other, where the ways of GOD are concerned. In answer to the first part of the demand, let it be observed that the conformity of nations to the standard which ensures protection is often very imperfect, while yet the fear of GOD and obedience to his laws are considerably regarded. In these circumstances the Deity may, and commonly does, afflict to a certain degree, with a view to reform and not to destroy. If reformation take place, the correction is withdrawn, and his favour returns. This is precisely the statement of the text, where we are assured that if a nation seek the Lord he will be found of them. But if reformation do not take place, chastisement will continue and increase, till, at length, the people who prove incorrigible will be finally destroyed. This accounts for the appearance —. It shows that the divine blessing is not only conferred on obedience but is proportioned to it. But my recollection does not serve me for a single instance, in which a nation, however small, that could make any plausible pretension to religious and moral purity, was ever totally destroyed. On the contrary, a number of the small states of Europe have been almost miraculously preserved, when contending for real liberty and religion, against the most powerful and impetuous nations of the earth. Different, I know, has been the effect of the struggles of some of those nations, lately, to preserve their very existence. They have been carried away like dust before the whirlwind. But what has been the cause? Examine it well, and you will find the doctrine I inculcate very powerfully supported by the result. You will find that the punishment inflicted on these nations, has been most wonderfully proportioned to the measure of their previous and notorious hypocrises, impieties and immoralities.
“But it is time to turn to the opposite part of this enquiry, and attempt to answer what many will esteem a more formidable objection, namely–that impious and immoral nations have sometimes been blessed and prospered. It may even be supposed, that this point has already been yielded in a measure, when it was suggested, that the conquerors of the earth have frequently been distinguished by a disregard to every thing sacred. Such a conclusion however, does not follow with justice, from the premises whence it is drawn. Why may not GOD, for the purposes of chastising those whom ultimately he intends to save, confer success on the unlawful enterprizes of wicked nations as he does on those of wicked individuals, and yet, in both cases, be only preparing the way for the final and more awful ruin of the transgressors? That he may do this is not only possible but in some instances certain. There cannot be two grosser errors than to believe, that military success is always a mark of the divine approbation, and that conquest or extended dominion always secures happiness and prosperity to a conquering nation. As to the first, which is a favourite idea with some, that military success is a proof of the divine approbation, I would beg of those who cherish the delusion, to consider where it will lead them. It will lead them unavoidably to maintain, that Alexander and Caesar, that Goths and Vandals, that Turks and Tartars, have been the most distinguished favourites of heaven, for in military success none have been equal to these. No, my brethren, military success is, by itself, no proof of the divine patronage. GOD may, as already intimated, use a nation as the rod of his anger to chastise the guilty, and then he may break and burn it, and make its destruction a useful warning to every beholder. We are assured by scripture, that he did so with the Assyrian empire of old — Nay, he hath done it in every age, and it is his usual method of procedure. Military success, in war merely defensive, may be evidence of the divine favour; but in every other case, if we judge from experience, the presumption is against the victor. Neither is conquest and dominion a proof that the conquering nation is truly prosperous. A few of its distinguished chiefs may acquire fame and wealth, while the mass of its inhabitants are wretched in the extreme. The fact commonly happens thus — It happens thus remarkably, at present, with that nation of Europe, that is subduing others, and threatening us. Is it really prosperous? Are its citizens happy? Have they, while they have been ravaging and subduing other kingdoms, possessed true national felicity among themselves? No, assuredly–Fear and anxiety, convulsion and terror, massacre and blood, the destruction of arts, of property, of all domestic enjoyment, of all religious, moral, and social principles, of all that renders existence not a curse, has reigned in the midst of them, with infernal triumph. It is even true, that among all the nations that they have conquered, rendered tributary, pillaged, partitioned, bartered and trafficked away, not one has suffered more than themselves. The volcano which has poured desolation in burning torrents on every circumjacent region, has still glowed most intensely at the center of its force, and there, in its own bowels and crater, with the most rapid and energetic fury, it has tortured, transmuted and consumed, every useful material, which heaven, nature, art or accident, has offered to its touch. The scene with this nation is yet unclosed; and I grant the conclusion, that its fate will subvert the doctrine of my text completely, if its catastrophe be not an illustrious display of the divine indignation: For in the most shocking and avowed atheism, in the most marked contempt of all the dictates of religion, both natural and revealed, it has exhibited a specimen, which, as far as my knowledge extends, has never been witnessed before since the creation of the world. But that it is ultimately doomed to peculiar judgments, I have, for myself, no more doubt than of the truth of GOD–no more question than of my own existence. And I should feel that I acted as a traitor to my sacred trust, if, when the successes of this nation are held up (and thus they have been) as a contradiction to the Word of life, and when they stand particularly opposed to the truth which, from that Word, I am, this day, called to maintain, I should hesitate to make this avowal, and to make it publicly.
“Perhaps some will now be ready to remark, that the prosperity which it must be confessed, accompanies a national observance of the divine laws is owing to the natural influence which religious and moral observances have to produce this desirable effect. Be it so; this influence I do not deny, but maintain. But remember, that this natural connection between piety and prosperity, vice and ruin, is still the appointment of GOD, and even, on this plan, is as much his order as if it had been made for every particular case, in which its effects are felt. Scripture and experience, however, do, I think, concur in teaching, that beside this natural connection, GOD does often and especially interfere by his providence, both to preserve and bless those who obey him, and to destroy those who reject and despise his laws. [*****]
“It will be remembered, then, that the concession has already been made and repeated, that righteous nations may experience partial and temporary sufferings, and that those of an opposite character may obtain some temporary, or rather apparent advantages. This will be a call for the faith and patience of pious men, who may suffer in the general calamity, and may teach them to look forward to that better world ‘where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest.’
“But in reality, the doctrine which teaches that men are not to look for rewards or punishments in this life, though true and important when judiciously applied to individuals, is often mistaken even in [application] to them, and when applied to nations and considered as a general principle, is not true at all. It is only in this world that communities as such have an existence or character. In the world to come the whole of our race will appear as individuals, and not as communities. If any retribution, then, be awarded to nations as nations, it must be in the present state, and not in that which is to come. But it appears to be of the highest importance in the moral government of GOD, that national character should be the subject both of his favour and of his frowns; and this, consequently must be experienced in the present state. It accordingly does take place in fact, and is generally to be expected.
“It should also be considered, that the established connection between virtue and prosperity, vice and ruin, which has already been noticed, is much closer, and more powerful, in relation to communities than to individuals; and draws after it a present retribution as an unavoidable consequence. It is, indeed, the general tendency of virtue to produce happiness, and of vice, to beget misery, in every individual who practises the one or the other. But in a vicious society, a virtuous man will suffer in many ways from his unavoidable connection with wicked associates. In a virtuous society, on the contrary, a vicious man has many enjoyments, and derives many advantages, merely from the circumstance, that the mass of the community are not like himself. They form, as it were, a barrier around him, and their goodness is the food on which his vices live and prey. But when the greater part of the individuals of a community come to possess this character, that is, when a nation as such becomes abandoned to vice, there is no longer any suitable tie by which it can be holden together and every salutary source from which safety and happiness can proceed is dried up. Without religion there can be no obligation of an oath, no sufficient sanction to a promise, and consequently no rational and solid ground of confidence–no operative and universal motive to truth, fidelity, and integrity, either in the intercourse and transactions of individuals with each other, or in their engagements to the public. Without morality all regard to the happiness and claims of others, to public and private justice, to parental authority, to filial duty, to conjugal fidelity, to temperance, chastity, sympathy, charity and humanity, is wholly destroyed, or left to rest on the airy principle of honour, or the dangerous foundation of personal inclination. Man becomes a selfish sensual brute. And when the component parts of a nation are of this description it is impossible that they should remain united, except by the most powerful compulsion. Civil liberty cannot exist at all in such a community. Society must either be dissolved entirely, or it must assume a state and form which is a greater evil than dissolution itself.
“On the other hand, where religious and moral principles, in their vigour and purity, pervade the great body of individuals in a state, every social tie is strengthened, every part of the community draws toward the good of the whole, society is easily governed, because it requires but little governing, civil liberty may be extensively enjoyed, and all the happiness of the social state will be fully realized. So intimately is religion and morality connected by a natural bond, or rather by the divine constitution, with the safety and prosperity of nations. [...] And it will be manifest to every one who pursues the clue here given, that just in proportion as the religious and moral system of a nation is pure in that proportion will it naturally tend to promote the public safety and happiness; and consequently that the Christian system, as the purest of all, is the best of all–the best of all, for communities, as well as for individuals–‘having the promise of the life which now is, as well as of that which is to come.’
“But the conclusion which I am here particularly concerned to form, and I think it may now be formed with advantage, is — That nations do receive a retribution in the present world according to their several characters: — That this cannot be otherwise if they are ever treated as nations, and that the divine constitution unavoidably produces this effect.
“On the whole, then, the doctrine which I proposed to demonstrate has been shown to be supported by facts, and to be sanctioned by the soundest principles of reason — It has been proved to be true; and how, and why, it is true, has been explained.
“A few important deductions from what you have heard will now conclude the discourse.
“I. We may learn from what has been said, how totally devoid of truth is that darling principle of modern unbelievers, that a nation may be as happy without religion as with it.
“This is a mere Atheistical hypothesis and speculation, not only unsupported by any experience, but in direct hostility, as we have seen, with the experience of all nations, in all ages of the world. It is one of the most daring, extravagant, and unaccountable chimeras, that ever entered the head even of a metaphysical infidel; and nothing but the most inveterate hatred to GOD and his laws could ever have given it birth. Yet it has been, and with many who are not destitute of influence, I fear it still is, a tenet for which they have a peculiar fondness. They endeavour to give it currency by professing to separate religion from morality, and to be advocates for discarding the former, and warm contenders for retaining the latter. But that morals can exist without religion, is as destitute of proof and probability, as the whole position is without this qualification. No nation has ever yet existed where this phenomenon of morals without religion has made its appearance; and there is no reason to believe that it is even possible from the very nature and structure of the human mind. Our late venerable President therefore, in his farewell address–well knowing how earnestly some were labouring to inculcate this horrid doctrine–did with great propriety warn us not to admit the idea that ‘morals can be separated from religion.’ The very truth is, infidels first endeavour to exclude religion from the state, that then they may give the name of morality to any set of principles they may choose to adopt, and that thus, in the end, they may fully accomplish their wishes by getting rid of both. Be warned, my brethren, by what you have this day heard, be warned, that without religion and morality, harmoniously united, we are an undone people; without these our civil liberty and social happiness cannot possibly be preserved. Let us esteem these our principal and most essential defence at the present hour and let us be thankful to GOD that he has given us a chief magistrate who, in looking to the defence of the country, has seen this important truth in its just light–has seen that we must implore and obtain the favour of GOD, or all other means will be ineffectual. Let each of us be deeply convinced of this as a practical truth: And therefore I add—
“2dly, That viewing the religious and moral state of our country in connection with this subject, we may see how urgent is the call for humiliation, fasting and prayer, for which this day has been expressly set apart.
“If GOD deals with nations according to their relative light and advantages, and where he has given much, will always require the more–and such we have seen really to be the case–verily, my brethren, this is a truth of most solemn import to the people of America at this time. Our advantages, in point of religious and moral information, have been second to those of no people upon earth; and our circumstances for carrying this information into practice are, I believe, superior to those which any other nation now enjoys. Has our improvement then, been, in any measure answerable to our privileges? Is our moral and religious state, at present, such, in any degree, as our circumstances demand? Every serious and candid mind, penetrated with grief, will answer, no! It is a most melancholy fact, that we have greatly forgotten, and departed from the Lord GOD of our fathers. Of the arm that has so often and remarkably defended us in the hour of distress,–that so lately and marvelously prospered us when we contended for our independence–we have been unmindful. We have returned base ingratitude for the favours of heaven, which we have experienced as a nation. Those civil and religious privileges which GOD from the first bestowed upon us, and which he has all along continued to us, we have abused in the service of sin. There has certainly been a loss, and not an increase of piety and morality, in our country, since our late revolution. Infidelity does most awfully abound among all descriptions of people from the highest to the lowest. Profaneness of every description, most lamentably prevails. The ordinances of GOD’s day and house are neglected, deserted, and despised. His word is openly ridiculed and his Son treated as an impostor. A dissoluteness of manners and morals, like a deadly leprosy, is fast spreading itself among the people at large, and far beyond any former example.
“In these circumstances we are threatened with a war from the most powerful, the most active, and the most insidious nation upon earth. A nation which has already proved a scourge to many others and which appears to be permitted by GOD to effect its designs for the express purpose of chastising this guilty age–this age of infidel reason. What is the language of this situation? It undoubtedly is — ‘GOD hath come forth against you for your iniquities–your conduct toward him is changed for the worse, tremble lest his toward you should change likewise. Turn unto him speedily, lest his anger consume you.’ Yes, my brethren, let our opinion be what it may of second causes, manifest it is, that the Deity hath a controversy with us. — For some time past he hath given us intimation of his displeasure, but now he hath, as it were, set himself in array against us. Let us then truly humble ourselves before him. Let us ‘repent in dust and ashes’ in his presence this day. Let us mourn our land defiling iniquities. Let this be to us a day of humiliation, not merely in name, but in deed and in truth. Let us ‘rent our heart and not our garment:’ — let us, in very truth, plead with him, in secret and in public, ‘to turn us from our sins and to turn his anger from us.’ Let us entreat for this, as sensible that we are pleading for our very existence. Let us pray that GOD would pour out his holy and blessed Spirit upon the people, to convince them effectually of sin; and to turn them effectually to himself. Let us pray that he would bless the rulers of our land, and make them examples of real religion and sound morals: — That he would dispose them all, instead of countenancing and encouraging vice and infidelity by their practice and profession, to set themselves against it, as that which will destroy both them and those they govern, if it proceed much farther. Let us resolve in GOD’s name and strength, to act as well as to pray. Let those who have power be conjured to use it for him from whom all power is derived and to whom they must solemnly account for the manner in which they employ it. Let each of us, in our proper places and stations, be earnest, resolute and persevering, in promoting the work of reformation. Let us each reform himself, and endeavor to set an example, purer than heretofore, of true religion, and of the discharge of every moral, social, and relative duty. Believe it, my hearers, the serious hour is come. Reformation or severe chastisement is just before us. But if we will turn unto the Lord in the manner recommended, and will, at the same time, ‘play the man for the people and cities of our GOD,’ by unanimity and strenuous exertion in the cause of our country, we have nothing to fear. GOD will be ‘found of us’ if we ‘shall seek him’ — This is the assurance of the text — It encourages repentance and reformation, by the kindest and most gracious promise. If we, in very deed, put our trust in him, and act, as those who do so, let the world rise in arms against us, still we shall be safe. As therefore we love our country, our souls or our GOD–as we regard the happiness of time or of eternity–let us be on the Lord’s side that he may be on ours.
“3dly, Finally — Let us be thankful for the past experience we have had of the divine mercies. Hitherto we have been preserved in peace, while most other nations have been at war; and though we have not been without correction, yet light, indeed, hath been its strokes in comparison with our sins. Countless and peculiar favours are still continued to us–domestic happiness and enjoyment, health and comparative plenty–the means of knowledge and information–a spirit of growing concord, and above all, the precious gospel of the Redeemer, and the sweet and heavenly hope that it inspires. These mercies, preserved to us when we have so little deserved them, should swell our hearts with the humblest and liveliest gratitude. And let this gratitude be expressed, in leading us truly to our heavenly Father; and again I repeat it, we shall be safe in this world and happy in that which is to come.” (Ashbel Green, Obedience to the Laws of God, the Sure and Indispensable Defence of Nations, pages 18-51.)
God’s Law of Liberty versus the Tyranny of Socialism
Not surprisingly, Dr. Green’s prediction of a disastrous future for that nation of infidelity–Revolutionary France–proved over time, to be correct. For not only was France’s Revolution followed by the reign of a tyrant, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), French emperor from 1804-1815, but also that revolution marked the flowering of secularism and the beginning of its associate, socialism, in not only French, but also European, history. The secularist revolution begun in France spilled over into Germany to influence Karl Marx (1818-1883), a German who imbibed French secularism in Paris in 1843, co-authored the Communist Manifesto in 1848, and formulated Marxism–an atheistic, materialistic philosophy that provided the foundation for Russian Communism. Pagan secularism made the formation of Nazi Germany possible, as well. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) had a fascination for paganism and the occult, and he deeply disliked genuine Christianity. With these successive waves of atheist-based, secularist philosophies pounding Europe over the course of a couple of centuries, Europe slid into misery, tyranny, genocide, and world war, on a massive scale not seen before in human history. Eventually, Europe became morally sterile–and biologically infertile, as well, as abortions and low birth rates crashed the numbers of these nations’ future populations. Truly, as Ashbel Green said, a nation that forgets God is doomed to a mortal hell–and only adherence to God’s principles can bring it back.
Once, in the late 1790's, the United States was tempted to follow the secularist path of the French Revolution. But it ultimately did not do so: in the early 19th century, the American people remembered their God; Christian awakening occurred again (a key leader in this awakening effort was Jonathan Edwards’ grandson, Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), who also had criticized the French Revolution severely during the late 1790's), and the country’s culture and political life was renewed. The United States then prospered and later went on to become a world superpower. Today, in the early 21st century, the people of the United States, and the United States government, need to do the same again.
Americans need to reject the tyranny of socialism, and the “European way” of God-denying secularism. We need to acknowledge the Almighty in life as well as words; we need to return to the true liberty made possible only by following God’s law.
Cf: Aaron Burr, The Watchman’s Answer to the Question, What of the Night (1756)
See also: Elias Boudinot, The Age of Revelation (1801)
Timothy Dwight, The True Means of Establishing Public Happiness (1795)
Jonathan Edwards (II) (1745-1801), The Necessity of the Belief of Christianity by the Citizens of the State, in order to our Political Prosperity (1794) (excerpted in the essay Stand Up for Christian Freedom)
Dr. Samuel Cooper, A Sermon [...] on the Commencement of the Constitution (1780)
Abraham Keteltas, God Arising and Pleading His People’s Cause; Or the American War in Favor of Liberty, Against the Measures and Arms of Great Britain, Shown to Be the Cause of God (1777)
John Barnard, The Throne Established by Righteousness (1734)
Acknowledging the Almighty
Conscience and the Law of Life
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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