In continuing to look at how the Founders viewed Christianity and its involvement in the development of the style of government we have enjoyed for 237 years we will continue to see that they believed that the Christian principles were the most important to learn and live by.
Benjamin Rush- Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Surgeon General of the Continental Army, Ratifier of the U.S. Constitution, ‘Father of American Medicine’, Treasurer of the U.S. Mint, and ‘Father of Public Schools’ Under the Constitution.
Rush believed that the Christian principles were the best for every area of one’s life:
“The Gospel of Jesus Christ prescribes the wisest rules for just conduct in every situation of life. Happy they who are enabled to obey them in all situations! . . . My only hope of salvation is in the infinite transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross. Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins [Acts 22:16]. I rely exclusively upon it. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly! [Revelation 22:20]” 1
Rush believed that the Constitution was a gift from God:
“I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as satisfied that it is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament.” 2
When it came to believing that one must be held to certain principles that were unchanging he pointed to the Bible:
“By renouncing the Bible, philosophers swing from their moorings upon all moral subjects… It is the only correct map of the human heart that ever has been published.” 3
Rush believed that all knowledge could be obtained through understanding the Bible. Psa 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever. “[T]he greatest discoveries in science have been made by Christian philosophers and . . . there is the most knowledge in those countries where there is the most Christianity.” 4
He believed that the Bible should be the main book for teaching in school:
“[T]he only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government is the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by means of the Bible.” 5
“The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effective means of limiting Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools.” 6
“The Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life… [T]he Bible… should be read in our schools in preference to all other books because it contains the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public happiness.” 7
Thomas Jefferson – Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Diplomat, Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, third President of the United States. There has been a lot of questions about Jefferson’s Christian faith. His own words will clarify his beliefs, I believe, beyond any doubt. He stated where the principles of moral living were to be found:
“The practice of morality being necessary for the well being of society, He [God] has taken care to impress its precepts so indelibly on our hearts that they shall not be effaced by the subtleties of our brain. We all agree in the obligation of the moral principles of Jesus and nowhere will they be found delivered in greater purity than in His discourses.” 8
He even refuted those that said he was not a Christian:
“I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all others.” 9
William Samuel Johnson – Judge, Member of the Continental Congress, Signer of the Constitution, Framer of the Bill of Rights, President of Columbia College, and U.S. Senator.
Being a member of the group of men that framed the Bill of Rights and knowing what today’s courts have declared constitutional and un-constitutional concerning the comingling of Christianity and government/schools, let’s see what he has to say at a graduation ceremony at Columbia College. I will include virtually the entire text of his speech because you will see that the content is not just a fleeting mention of God but an in-depth discussion:
“You this day. . . . have, by the favor of Providence and the attention of friends, received a public education, the purpose whereof hath been to qualify you the better to serve your Creator and your country. You have this day invited this audience to witness the progress you have made. . . . Thus you assume the character of scholars, of men, and of citizens. . . . Go, then, . . . and exercise them with diligence, fidelity, and zeal. . . . Your first great duties, you are sensible, are those you owe to Heaven, to your Creator and Redeemer. Let these be ever present to your minds, and exemplified in your lives and conduct. Imprint deep upon your minds the principles of piety towards God, and a reverence and fear of His holy name. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and its [practice] is everlasting [happiness] . . . . Reflect deeply and often upon [your] relations [with God]. Remember that it is in God you live and move and have your being, – that, in the language of David, He is about your bed and about your path and spieth out all your ways – that there is not a thought in your hearts, nor a word upon your tongues, but lo! He knoweth them altogether, and that He will one day call you to a strict account for all your conduct in this mortal life. Remember, too, that you are the redeemed of the Lord, that you are bought with a price, even the inestimable price of the precious blood of the Son of God. Adore Jehovah, therefore, as your God and your Judge. Love, fear, and serve Him as your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Acquaint yourselves with Him in His word and holy ordinances. . . . [G]o forth into the world firmly resolved neither to be allured by its vanities nor contaminated by its vices, but to run with patience and perseverance, with firmness and [cheerfulness], the glorious career of religion, honor, and virtue. . . . Finally, . . . in the elegant and expressive language are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” – and do them, and the God of peace shall be with you, to whose most gracious protection I now commend you, humbly imploring Almighty Goodness that He will be your guardian and your guide, your protector and the rock of your defense, your Savior and your God.” 10
James McHenry – Revolutionary Officer, Signer of the Constitution, Ratifier of the Constitution, Secretary of War under George Washington and John Adams.
McHenry was a believer in putting a Bible in the hands of every man, woman and child in America knowing that the principles found within its covers would keep man on the straight and narrow:
“[P]ublic utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures. Without the Bible, in vain do we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions.” 11
“Bibles are strong protections. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses and at the same time enjoy quiet conscience.” 12
So far, we have seen that the Founders would disagree with today’s courts on the comingling of Christianity with our government and our public schools. They all believed that it was imperative to instill the principles into their children at the earliest of ages as to ensure the proper development of that child. We could use that philosophy today.
- Benjamin Rush, The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush, George W. Corner, editor (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1948), pp. 165-166.
2. Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (Princeton, New Jersey: American Philosophical Society, 1951), Vol. I, p. 475, to Elias Boudinot on July 9, 1788.
3. Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), Vol. II, p. 936, to John Adams, January 23, 1807.
4. Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical (Philadelphia: Thomas and William Bradford, 1806), p. 84, Thoughts upon Female Education.”
5. Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical (Philadelphia: Thomas & Samuel F. Bradford, 1798), p. 112, “A Defence of the Use of the Bible as a School Book.”
6. Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), Vol. I, p. 521, to Jeremy Belknap on July 13, 1789.
- Benjamin Rush, Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical (Philadelphia: Thomas & Samuel F. Bradford, 1798), pp. 94, 100, “A Defence of the Use of the Bible as a School Book.”
- Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Alberty Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XII, p. 315, to James Fishback, September 27, 1809.
9. Thomas Jefferson, Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, editor (Boston: Grey & Bowen, 1830), Vol. III, p. 506, to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803.
- E. Edwards Beardsley, Life and Times of William Samuel Johnson (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1886), pp. 141-145.
- Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, 1810-1920 (Maryland Bible Society, 1921), p. 14.12. Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundrex and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, 1810-1920 (Maryland Bible Society, 1921), p. 14.