A July 4th Homily

The Foreign Policy Research Institute rolls out this piece by Walter McDougall every year on the nation’s “High Holy Day” and it is worthy of repeated consideration. Here is the introduction:

The spiritual qualities of public rhetoric in American politics, courtrooms, churches, schools, and patriotic fetes used to be so pervasive, familiar, and unobjectionable that we citizens just took it for granted (until the advent of litigious atheists). Our national motto is “In God We Trust.” Our Pledge says we’re a nation “under God.” Our Congress and Supreme Court pray at the start of sessions. Presidents of all parties and persuasions have made ritual supplications that the United States might be blessed with divine protection. The last stanza of “America” begins “Our father’s God to thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing” and ends by naming “great God,” not George III, “our King.” The last stanza of the “Star Spangled Banner” asks our “heaven rescued land” to “praise the Power that has made and preserved us a Nation.” “America the Beautiful” asks that “God shed His grace on thee.”

Most Americans, even today, would likely agree with Boston Puritans John Winthrop, John Adams, and Jonathan Mayhew, Princeton Presbyterian Jonathan Witherspoon and his disciple James Madison, Virginian Anglican (and Freemason) George Washington, and Deists Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin that Americans are “called unto liberty” (a phrase from Paul’s epistle to the Galatians)—that we are a new chosen people and ours a new promised land, and that our mission is to bestow liberty on all mankind, by example if not exertion. To be sure, the majority of Americans always found it easy to identify the God who watches over America with the God of their Protestant theology. But thanks to the free exercise of religion—the “lustre of our country” ensured by the First Amendment—religious minorities have been free to embrace the American Creed with equal or greater fervor.

Thus did Bishop John Carroll, founder of the American Catholic Church, “sing canticles of praise to the Lord” for granting his flock “country now become our own and taking us into her protection.” Thus did Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin liken Americans to the Children of Israel being led through the Sinai: “God Bless America, land that I love, stand beside her and guide her through the night with a light from above.” When Americans of all sects or no sect gather in civil ceremonies to praise their freedom, honor its Author, and rededicate themselves to their nation’s deals, they do not merely prove themselves a religious people, they prove the United States of America is itself a sort of religion, a civil religion, or as G. K. Chesterton put it in 1922, “a nation with the soul of a church.”


20 thoughts on “A July 4th Homily

  1. Good read. McDougall’s “Freedom Just Around the Corner” and “Throes of Democracy” are both entertaining and certainly different than anything I would have expected from a member of an Ivy League history prof. When I had an elective course back in the 1970’s, the prof made an off hand remark that Herman Melville might well have written The Great American Novel, but if he did it was not Moby Dick, but The Confidence Man. Imagine my shock 40 years later to open Freedom Just Around The Corner and find that McDougall draws on The Confidence Man in building his organizing theme.


  2. McMark, I’m sure vd, t would agree with Pastor Philips:

    While Americans today are roasting hot dogs and setting off fireworks, few will be thinking deeply about the significance of the event we remember, the issuing of The Declaration of Independence by our courageous Founding Fathers. Christians should realize, however, that the ideas enshrined in the founding of our nation and in the Declaration are biblical ideas that are just as important today. Reformed Christians, especially, should see in the language of our Founders the ideas of covenant theology that are essential for us to recover and defend today. With this in mind, let me offer three reasons why the Fourth of July is really a Presbyterian holiday.

    1. Because the Declaration of Independence declares the sovereignty of God as the chief and final authority. This was the point of the famous words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Our Founding Fathers thus declared that God’s laws constrain the actions of secular governments. The authors of the Declaration based their argument for inalienable rights on natural law, but they expressed substantially the biblical doctrine that is expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “God the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good” (XXIII.1). On the Fourth of July, therefore, Americans celebrate the Presbyterian principle that God’s law rules over the laws and affairs of men.

    2. Because the Declaration was drafted and signed by covenant representatives of the people. It is little appreciated today that the American system of government, both in the Continental Congress that issued the Declaration of Independence and in the U. S. Constitution, is essentially Presbyterian. That is, it draws from the covenant theology of the Bible to provide federal delegates to act on behalf of the people. Just as Presbyterian elders govern together as the Session of the church, so did the Continental Congress declare independence on behalf of the colonies. The Declaration was published by elected representatives who, as they put it, exercised “their just powers from the consent of the governed,” against a tyrannical executive ruler. So also today, it is the role of a strong U. S. Congress to reign in the authority of the President and the Executive Branch of our government.

    The Founding Fathers were greatly influenced by the historically important book written by the Scottish Presbyterian Samuel Rutherford, titled, Lex Rex. This book surveyed the form of government seen in the Bible in arguing that people should governed by representatives organized in a hierarchy of lesser and greater ruling bodies. Just as the people of Israel were organized into families, clans, tribes, and the nation, so also Americans are governed by cities/towns, counties, states, and the federal government. In this covenantal system of representative government, differing authority is assigned to each level and the people are defended from the tyranny of higher governments by the power of the local governments. This was, in fact, the biblical rationale for America’s War of Independence. The colonies’ rebellion against a tyrannical king was justly conducted under the authority of lesser magistrates who were fulfilling their biblical duty to protect the rights of the people. The Fourth of July reminds Americans, therefore, of our need for strong local and state governments, along with strong families and churches, to protect the people from the tyranny of the national executive.

    3. Because it declares the right and duty of godly people to reject and oppose ungodly tyranny imposed from above. The Declaration of Independence was an act of rebellion by courageous public servants who risked their lives and fortunes for the sake of liberty and justice. The Declaration stated: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends [i.e. life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” Here is a vital principle that Christians need to recall today, that no national government or tyrannical leader should be granted the right to rule our consciences in opposition to the Word of God.

    This principle or just rebellion has highlighted many of the great eras of Presbyterian history. It was a refusal to follow King Charles I’s unbiblical demands on the church that led the Puritan Parliament to launch the English Civil War (1642-1646). It was the Scottish Covenanters’ rejection of the claims of Charles II to rule as king over the church that led to The Killing Time of the 1680’s, during which so many Covenanters were slain rather than yield to spiritual tyranny of the king and resulting in so many Presbyterians immigrating to the American colonies, especially in the Carolinas and Middle Atlantic states. The Founding Fathers were consciously following the spiritual precedent of Presbyterian dissenters who demanded the liberty of conscience and were willing to fight for it. Along these lines, the Fourth of July reminds Christians that we must never accept the demands of secular governments to violate the Word of God, whether or not the Supreme Court upholds our religious liberty, and that we must employ the authority of the church and the lesser magistrates to throw off any future yokes of tyranny.

    May God’s people today remember the heritage passed down by our valiant Founding Fathers and may you enjoy a happy Presbyterian Fourth of July!

    So if a Presbyterian pastor and a lapsed Roman Catholic game show winner agree about the history of the American creation, does that mean they must be right?


  3. As an American presbyterian layman made (in some measure) to sit under the obedience boys’ gesticulations, it is frustrating to see the absence of any acknowledgement, let alone resolution, of interpretive questions for assertions grounded in a comparison of the Declaration with the Confession.

    What was the spectrum of beliefs among the signers of the Declaration? Was it primarily Presbyterian or Deistic? How meaningful of a reference is a single, passing mention of a Creator in a document listing a country’s abuses? How comparable are two documents when one was written over theological differences with the CoE and Rome, and the other justifies rebelling against a colonial legal arrangement and representation with the mother country? Each assertion raises at least as many questions, and the article offers no substantiation or explanation as to why the 4th must be “really a Presbyterian holiday” assuming this list of mildly interesting facts is all true.

    I suppose it’s not all bad; it’s at least as useful historically as the best creation science is scientifically. The bigger problem is when this happens in the pulpit, where there’s no tabbed browser and it’s too late to get crayons.


  4. I am waiting for those who make an idol of the American military to recognize the “religious liberty” of some of us to not pay taxes for that military.

    John Howard Yoder—“Christians cannot measure whether we should revolt against the nation-state, as if a certain nations could fall short on the status of being nations, and therefore need to be revolted against. Nor can we measure by this yardstick whether a nation-state has been ordained by God, because all nation-states have been predestined by God. All the powers that be are subject to the sovereignty of God, and Christians are to be subject to them all.

    It is not by accident that the imperative of verse 13:1 is not literally one of “obedience”. The Greek language has good words to denote “obedience”. What the text calls for, however, is subordination. The Christian who refuses to worship Caesar but who is put to death by Caesar, is being subordinate even though he is not obeying.

    The motives of this subordination are found not in fear or in calculations of how best to survive, but “in the mercies of God” (12:1) or in “conscience” (13:5). If the reason of our subordination is not God’s having legitimated the wrath of the state (or delegating the wrath to the state), what is our reason? Further attention to the motif of subordination as it is urged upon the slave ( I Peter 2:13) or upon family members (Col 3:18), shows the reason to be that Jesus Christ himself accepted subordination and humiliation (Phil 2:5).

    The willingness to suffer is then not merely a test of our patience or a dead space of waiting for Jesus to return. Willingness to suffer instead of killing is an imitation of God’s victorious patience with the rebellious powers of his creation.

    Yoder, Politics, p 213


  5. God in State Constitutions.

    The common, and all too wrong civics teaching in public, and way too many Christian schools, is that the U.S. was founded by mainly Deists, and that a so-called “Wall of Separation” was created in the Federal Constitution to ensure there was no religious involvement in Government.
    Fact of the matter is, that all original Thirteen States has theological requirements for elected officers, therefore giving real meaning to those “So help me God” prayers that sworn officers make when taking office.

    Also, it places said officers under both government and church discipline, if they violate their oath! Quite a far cry from today’s polity, and it tells us just how important a role the Church played in supplying able politicians.

    Now, here are the Theological clauses in those Constitutions.
    Source: The Avalon Project, Yale Law School

    1.0 Constitution of Delaware; 1776
    ART. 22. Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall take the following oath, or affirmation, if conscientiously scrupulous of taking an oath, to wit:
    ” I, A B. will bear true allegiance to the Delaware State, submit to its constitution and laws, and do no act wittingly whereby the freedom thereof may be prejudiced.”
    And also make and subscribe the following declaration, to wit:
    ” I, A B. do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”

    2.0 Constitution of New Hampshire; 1784

    VI. As morality and piety, rightly grounded on evangelical principles, will give the best and greatest security to government, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to due subjection; and as the knowledge of these, is most likely to be propagated through a society by the institution of the public worship of the DEITY, and of public instruction in morality and religion; therefore, to promote those important purposes, the people of this state have a right to impower, and do hereby fully impower the legislature to authorize from time to time, the several towns, parishes, bodies corporate, or religious societies within this state, to make adequate provision at their own expence, for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality:
    Provided notwithstanding, That the several towns, parishes, bodies-corporate, or religious societies, shall at all times have the exclusive right of electing their own public teachers, and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance. And no portion of any one particular religious sect or denomination, shall ever be compelled to pay towards the support of the teacher or teachers of another persuasion, sect or denomination.

    3.0 Constitution of New Jersey; 1776
    XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects.

    4.0 Constitution of Pennsylvania – September 28, 1776
    SECT. 10… .
    And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:
    I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration

    5.0 Constitution of North Carolina : December 18, 1776
    XXXII.(5) That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State

    6.0 Constitution of Vermont – July 8, 1777
    Section IX
    And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz.
    ” I ____ do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Diverse, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the protestant religion.”

    7.0 Constitution of Vermont – July 4, 1786
    Ch.2 XII. And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz. You do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good, and punisher of the wicked. And you do acknowledge the scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration; and own and profess the Protestant religion.

    8.0 Constitution of Maryland – November 11, 1776
    XXXV. That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this State, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this Convention or the Legislature of this State, and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion.

    9.0 Constitution of South Carolina – March 19, 1778
    Article XXXVIII. That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State. That all denominations of Christian Protestants in this State, demeaning themselves peaceably and faithfully, shall enjoy equal religious and civil privileges… .
    1st. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.
    2d. That God is publicly to be worshipped.
    3d. That the Christian religion is the true religion
    4th. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice.
    5th. That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth.

    10.0 Massachusetts 1780
    Art. II. It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession or sentiments, provided he doth not disturb the public peace or obstruct others in their religious worship.
    Art. III. As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of the public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, To promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.
    And the people of this commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subject an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend.

    11.0 New York 1777
    Quotation from the Dec. Ind. In text.
    “We therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in general Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as free and independent States they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

    12.0 North Carolina
    XXXII. That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State

    13.0 Virginia 1776

    SEC. 16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

    14.0 Connecticut 1639 (1639-1818)

    Fundamental Orders of 1639
    For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth:
    1. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that there shall be yearly two General Assemblies or Courts, the one the second Thursday in April, the other the second Thursday in September following; the first shall be called the Court of Election, wherein shall be yearly chosen from time to time, so many Magistrates and other public Officers as shall be found requisite: Whereof one to be chosen Governor for the year ensuing and until another be chosen, and no other Magistrate to be chosen for more than one year: provided always there be six chosen besides the Governor, which being chosen and sworn according to an Oath recorded for that purpose, shall have the power to administer justice according to the Laws here established, and for want thereof, according to the Rule of the Word of God; which choice shall be made by all that are admitted freemen and have taken the Oath of Fidelity, and do cohabit within this Jurisdiction having been admitted Inhabitants by the major part of the Town wherein they live or the major part of such as shall be then present.


  6. “Russell, are these clauses still on the books? If not, then what do these constitutions prove?”

    An excellent question… . No, these all-important clauses have been systematically removed, contrary to the Founders’ express design. These first constitutions prove the theological / legal theory under which they designed civil government. We know this as absolute fact, since their generation deliberately put them there. And as references I will cite later on show, if removed, would cause immense harm to civil polity.

    As any mechanic or technician will tell you, any machine, such as a car or PC to operate correctly, must be in its designed condition to do so. If it has failed, the service person needs to consult with a service manual to determine just what system deviation from design has occurred in order to return operation to normal.

    And so it is, with the machinery of government, so well crafted in the original State Constitutions, and Federal Constitution of 1787, and now in a failing state.

    Just over twenty years ago, while visiting Laurence Vail, a retired OPC pastor, he brought forth to our discussion the rapidly deteriorating social conditions of the U.S., and likened it to a “cut flower” which still had all its attributes visible, but was doomed to collapse and die since it had been severed from its life-giving roots. The analogy he used to illustrate the similar consequence of the U.S. being cut off from its theological roots, stating that “America was founded as a Bible-Based culture, if we do not return to it, we are finished”.

    He then explained how this occurred, by the practice of several generations of textbook writers to mis-write American history by not using original source materials still freely available in any Ivy League library, and now, the Internet. The result was to “secularize” American History in greater degrees, as succeeding numbers of textbook writers just followed past editions, and further compounded the errors.

    Just a few months later, I came across a massive collection of books and pamphlets in a New England bookstore, and I found just what Pastor Vail told me about…Original Source Documents. Later on, I visited Princeton Seminary’s Luce Library, and held in my hand, books authored and autographed by Signer Benjamin Rush and President of the U.S. (under the Articles of Confederation) Elias Boudinot, and manuscript sermons by Revolutionary figure William Tennent, Jr. Can’t get more “Original Source” than that. Rush and Boudinot’s works are freely available via internet search, and quite informative to our question.

    Now, let’s look at a few quotes from the store of literary treasure I found:

    By J.K. [John Kendrick] Converse, 1833.
    About the Author:
    John Kendrick Converse, (b. 1801-d. 1880). Studied at Dartmouth, transferred to Hampden-Sydney College in his senior year and graduated. In 1829 he entered Princeton Seminary and completed nearly 3 years of study. Converse accepted the pastoral call to the ministry before graduation, being ordained by the Windsor Congregational Association at Hartford, Vt.

    “This is a fact well established from the sources of proof to which I have referred. It is a truth, then, never to be forgotten, that our fathers and our national and state legislators, have designedly retained a connexion between our civil institutions and Christianity does bear an important relation to all our civil institutions. If you ask what that relation is; I answer; it is the same relation, which the foundation bears to the edifice built thereon: Christianity is the basis; our laws, our social system, our very opinions and morals are the superstructure. If you destroy this foundation, the beautiful fabric reared by our fathers’ toil and cemented with their blood, will tumble in awful ruin to the ground. They considered the Christian religion as unquestionably the true religion; that it ought to be free and in no way subject to governmental control.

    The contrary doctrine, viz. that Christianity is to receive no regard or countenance from the laws of the land, is false in fact, and ruinous in its consequences. It tends to destroy that, which, as I have shown, is the foundation of every other valued interest.
    The man who propagates this doctrine is an enemy to his county.”

    Note the last line…”Enemy to his country.”

    2. Governor Southard’s Political Discourse at Princeton, 1837
    About the Author…
    Samuel Lewis Southard, A.M., LL.D.*
    B.A. Princeton, 1804
    A.M. Princeton, 1807
    LL.D. University of Pennsylvania, 1832,
    M.A P.S. ( Member, American Philosophical Society)

    Boards Served:

    Trustee, Princeton College, 1822-1842
    Trustee, Princeton Seminary,1822-1842
    Vice President, Board of Trustees, Princeton Seminary,1832-1840
    President, Board of Trustees, Princeton Seminary,1840-1842

    New Jersey Government Offices:

    Member, New Jersey, Assembly, 1815
    Judge, New Jersey Supreme Court, 1815-1820
    Attorney General of New Jersey, 1829-33
    Governor, New Jersey, 1832-33

    U.S. Government Offices:

    U.S. Secretary of the Navy, 1823-29
    Acting U.S. Secretary of Treasury and War, 1825
    U.S. Senator, from New Jersey, 1821-1823 & 1833-1842
    President, U.S. Senate, 1841-42

    Here is what this highly accomplished Government servant said about Biblical Studies to soon to be grads, and potential politicians:

    “I desire to address, not my elder but my you younger brothers; and to make to them a few suggestions upon a subject of abiding interest in their future career—the importance of the study of the Bible, in forming the character of literary and scientific men, of scholars of every guide and every occupation—suggestions, which I hope, will not be inappropriate to the first literary exercise, in this edifice, which has been reared from its ashes, for the worship of the Author of that Book.” Pg. 7
    “May not the study of the Bible be made serviceable in enlarging the circle of your knowledge?—strengthening your powers?—giving you safe principles of action? and fitting you successfully to serve the society in which your lot may be cast! Let us endeavor to find an answer to these questions: What is the Bible? It purports to be a communication from the all-knowing and eternal Mind of the universe. A record of our race—of our creation—powers—capacities and destiny.” Pg. 8

    3. Finally, from the highest of legal scholars… .




    Appointed By Madison to the U.S. Supreme Court, Dane Prof of Law, Harvard, and author of Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833, which served as a major law school text for nearly a century.

    “I may add, too, that if the student of the law entertains but a just reverence for its precepts, it will teach him to build his reputation upon the soundest morals, the deepest principles, and the most exalted purity of life and character. One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is, that Christianity is a part of the common law, from which it seeks the sanction of its rights, and by which it endeavours to regulate its doctrines. And, notwithstanding the specious objection of one of our distinguished statesmen, the boast is as true as it is beautiful.

    There never has been a period, in which the common law did not recognise Christianity as lying at its foundations.

    For many ages it was almost exclusively administered by those, who held its ecclesiastical dignities. It now repudiates every act done in violation of its duties of perfect obligation. It pronounces illegal every contract offensive to its morals.

    “With us, indeed, who form a part of the Christian community of nations, the law of nature has a higher sanction as it stands supported and illustrated by revelation. Christianity, while with many minds it acquires authority from its coincidences with the law of nature, as deduced from reason, has added strength and dignity to the latter by its positive declarations. It goes farther. It unfolds our duties with far more clearness and perfection than had been known before its promulgation; and has given a commanding force to those of imperfect obligation.”

    Thanks for affording me this space, which is quite enough for a blog. I do suggest that if anyone finds that the cited texts are quite different from what they were taught, I can assure you that after reading several hundred similar works, the same presupposition hold true throughout, therefore are representative of political philosophy under which this country operated in its first hundred years of Independence.


  7. Russell,

    Practically, what does all this matter in 2014? In general, the living refuse to be governed by the dead.

    What is the standing of Roman Catholics and Jews under the framework that you cite?


  8. What did a “Christian Founding” do to keep the PCUSA from going south in the 1920s? If a “Christian Founding” couldn’t keep once faithful churches from going bad, how do we think it’s going to somehow preserve “Christian Civil Society”?

    Each generation has to renegotiate and/or renew these tenets on its own.


  9. The Constantinian trick is to dismiss the example of Jesus Christ as unique and therefore unsuitable for our imitation. The Niebuhrs and O’Donovan, along with other Constantinians, dismiss the imitation of Jesus as done by “perfectionists” who deny the deity of Christ. Since Jesus Christ is God, they instruct us, his lack of patriotism is not a model for orthodox persons who believe in the two natures of Christ.

    In other words, “the church” is not at liberty to ‘withdraw from its mission” of using power to transform “the world” Thus O’Donovan’s over-realized eschatology insists that “the world must now recognize the church and acknowledge its mission….”



  10. Timothy George—“Christians have been among the staunchest supporters of religious liberty. Today, as never before, we are called to join with each other, and indeed with all persons of goodwill, to seek the renewal of religious freedom in our culture. Just expressing our opinion is not enough. ”


    As Rick P explains, “be involved”= “duty to participate in the political process”.

    And there is a difference between “earthly glory” and “God’s blessings”?

    Rick P insists that we must not”fail to be grateful” for those who killed for us, even if we did not ask them to do so —and this includes those who sacrificed not themselves but killed others and made them the sacrifice

    Because we are in “sort of an exile”, but not really….


  11. “Russell, you don’t mean that the founders were opposed to states changing their laws, do you?”

    Of course Federal and State Constitutions could be changed, usually by the Amendment process incorporated into the respective documents.

    What is the dire concern here, is that, as I cited above, the Founders designed our Republican form of government on the principles of Law based in Christian presuppositions.

    They were clear, that any “rage for innovation” that removed said presupposition would have fatal consequences for the Republic. It was for them a non-negotiable change. It was the issue then, and is the pressing issue now.

    Take any law library, and physically remove all laws from the statute books regarding respect for civil officers, perjury, stealing, murder or harming a person, (sourced in the related Commandments) and what do you have? A virtually empty law library. This is what happened in Post-Christian Europe, with both Communism and Fascism the horrifying result. Contrary to, as Justice Story tells us, “is that Christianity is a part of the common law, from which it seeks the sanction of its rights, and by which it endeavors to regulate its doctrines.”

    Story’s Commentaries served as law school texts until about the 1930’s.

    It also might pay to read Justice David Brewer’s 1905 book “The United States: A Christian Nation”, which came from his ruling on a related SSSC case. Same ideas in effect.

    Now, if our Republic, which requires the citizens to be personally self-governing, with the structure of Christianity as their guide (Washington noted this in his Farewell Address !),
    suffers its loss in future generations, what is to be expected? Chaos. And if we scrap the study of history, as Eric Charter alludes, you have a people totally cut off from the very foundations of their nation, and ripe for subversion by any well orchestrated intriguers, who have one aim, to create an all powerful government free from the restraints of “thou shalt not murder.”

    As someone who had family in Eastern Europe post Russian Revolution I can personally vouch for how this works in atheistic governments, as “First, they shut you up, then, they take your property, then, they take your people, and you cannot say a thing”. And so, in Russia alone, 60 million citizens were systematically murdered by their own government, with Christians of any type deliberately targeted for elimination. The exact opposite of a government that is tasked to do, as Justice Story summarizes: “Protect your life, liberty and property”.

    And it follows, that if the study of history is useless, then close all the seminaries, as their main textbook is at a minimum 2000 years old. And cease the study of all those great theologians from the Reformed and Old Princeton Presbyterian traditions, notably Alexander, Miller, Hodge and Machen, who, besides their skills in theology, were very well acquainted with the subject of our discussion.

    Before we recklessly abandon the lifeboat of history, full with its lessons of blessings, or curses written in letters of blood by countless generations worth of experience, perhaps a little observation from Russia, and the unspeakable horror unleashed on that people (Including mine) may prove worthwhile:

    ‘More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

    Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

    Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, The Templeon Address. 1983.


  12. Russell, meanwhile you have thrown the history of Europe prior to 1780 under the bus (and American exceptionalism as well). Ever since Constantine if not David, the biblical model of gubmint was monarchy (which still prevails in “Protestant” countries like the UK and NL). So a republic was much more of a Roman convention than a biblical model.


  13. Charles Hodge had a different opinion on whether Monarchy is the Biblically required form of civil government. From his 1851 “Civil Government”, Princeton Review, January, 1851.

    “The principle is that the authority of rulers is divine, and not human, in its origin. They exercise the power which belongs to them of divine right. The reader, we trust, will not confound this doctrine with the old doctrine of “the divine right of kings?’ The two things are as different as day and night. We are not for reviving a defunct theory of civil government; a theory which perished, at least among Anglo Saxons, at the expulsion of James II from the throne of England. That monarch took it with him into exile, and it lies entombed with the last of the Stuarts.”

    “The Bible does not prescribe any one form of government; it does not determine who shall be depositories of civil power; and it clearly recognises the right of revolution. In asserting, therefore, the divine right of rulers, we are not asserting any doctrine repudiated by our forefathers, or inconsistent with civil liberty in its widest rational extent.

    Such, as we understand it, is the true nature of civil government.” pp. 16-17.


  14. Hart’s quote is not a statement of what he thinks is biblically prescribed as legitimate government, i.e. monarchy. Only that the most obvious/blatant form of secular govt. (as it appeared to many generations of Christians) that finds support–such as it is–in the pages of Scripture is monarchical.

    I think the gist is that *any* form of govt. can be tyrannical. Any *form* of government can be defended by an appeal to Scripture, which is essentially Calvin’s stance (who could theoretically defend a Christian despot acting ruthlessly). And it’s possible that a certain form of govt. is “better” under one set of conditions than another, or more generally suitable to a Christian populace–which only begs the question, whether that form is maintainable or desirable (in the strict sense) when the faithful salting of a population falls below a given %.

    The problem with our modern Christian-theoretical defenders of this Republic as some kind of idealized humanly ruled state–some of whom go so far as to hallow the very manmade documents of the 18th Cent. that gave it shape–is that they cannot help but denigrate, as chronologically impaired, the benighted past. Like people under the Old Testament, whose enlightenment only comes when the New arrives; the necessary view of these theorists is that until the Declaration of Independence, govts. (even those substantially manned by Christians) were groping in their relative blindness.

    That’s dangerous nonsense which needs to be scuttled. Because, among its other pernicious evils, it leads to MISSIONARY ZEAL to export the “truth as it is in Washington,” an appalling social gospel energized by gunpowder.


  15. “The problem with our modern Christian-theoretical defenders of this Republic as some kind of idealized humanly ruled state–some of whom go so far as to hallow the very manmade documents of the 18th Cent. that gave it shape–is that they cannot help but denigrate, as chronologically impaired, the benighted past. ”

    Perhaps we should take a look at that “Benighted Past”, and what was placed in the heads of those who ran things.

    Rarely will ignorant people pursue a chimera when their very life is at stake. Our Presbyterian forbearers paid a heavy price, since “Cousin America ran away with a Presbyterian Parson”.
    But they persevered, and with victory, the groundwork was laid for “American Exceptionalism” as originally intended. The tragic failure of “not remembering to remember” by the rising generations, and its consequent disrespect for the Christian leaders work they inherited, began in earnest about 1900 and compounded error upon error, till today, where the framework now is in control by too many people who are openly hostile to the original concept.

    Selected readings from:

    Vol. II JOHN MACLEAN 1877

    Below, are some quotes that illuminate the close tie of Presbyterian run Princeton College’s Reformed Theological training for both servants of the Church and….the State.

    Might pay to read the whole book, as it details the immense number of Government Officers that were trained by Dr. Witherspoon, with James Madison leading the list, and hundreds thereafter.
    The Westminster Shorter Catechism often was a required reading for those politicians in training.

    “But there is a far more important object to be attained by a college founded for the purpose for which ours was established than the acquisition of a great name or the bringing together of a vast number of students from all parts of the land; and that is the faithful training of them in the fear and knowledge of God, in the hope and with the expectation that our churches may through them in part be supplied with a pious and learned ministry and with an intelligent and godly laity. The State is best served when the Church is kept pure and free from all scandal.” Pg. 18

    “To the friends of religion, then, we look, to enable us to erect a bulwark against the assaults of impiety, and in defence of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.” Pg. 37 a.

    “For to all the friends of science, wherever edu¬cated, all her interests we know must be dear. In whatever sect or in whatever region science prospers, men of science always rejoice.” Pg. 37 b.

    “At that time the noble structure erected by their predecessors as a nursery for SCIENCE and PIETY….;” Pg. 63.

    “Under your auspices [ President Ashbel Green] the College……while it has sent forth a number of students not exceeded in former times, calculated to give stability to its reputation, and a ledge for the continuance and growth of its usefulness to the Church and State.” Pg. 196.

    “For we all propose one end, the only worthy end of any college, to train up patriots and Christians; men that shall serve with a true heart their country and their God.”Pg. 372.

    “The mention of the name of Professor Henry, [of the Smithsonian Institution] who was detained from the entertainment by indisposition, produced a universal burst of appreciation from the assemblage.

    “Ninth Regular Toast—Popular Education. May it be universal, and every-where bear the stamp of the Bible ! the only basis of social order, of rational freedom, and true happiness.” Pg. 375.

    “We commit Nassau Hall, its interests and its reputation, to your guardian care, with the earnest injunction, and in the confident hope, that those powers will be exercised and those duties performed by you in such manner as shall most eminently conduce to the diffusion of knowledge, the promotion of virtue, the honor of our country, and the glory of God.” Pg. 409 a.

    Dr. Carnahan to Dr. Maclean: “Your own experience and observation have taught you that to train the minds and to form the intellectual and moral habits of youth who are to be the future ministers of the gospel, the physicians, the legislators, the judges, the executive officers of our State and National Governments, is no small and insignificant undertaking, When I call to mind how much the happiness or misery of parents and friends, how much the success or failure of the free institutions of our country, how much the purity or corruption of our holy religion, in a word, how much the temporal and eternal well-being of thousands yet unborn depends on the bias given to the minds of young men during their training in College, Pg. 409 b.


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