Archive for the ‘ American Character ’ Category

American Character: Patrick Henry

Nearly everyone knows the name Patrick Henry. But we are a nation of people only barely acquainted with our Founders. There is little depth to that knowledge.

Henry was a man who was motivated by his Christian faith, something some historians try to deny. As a young boy, he was taken to the revival meetings of the First Great Awakening by his mother. It was at these meetings that he learned his method of public speaking, an approach that made him the most eloquent voice of resistance to the aims of the British government.

Attendance at those meetings also helped him see how the official church of Virginia, the Church of England, was treating dissenters. Baptists were often put in jail for not getting permission from the government to preach. Henry took the side of the Baptists, saying they should have the liberty to speak without government interference.

In his first year as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, Henry authored resolutions against the Stamp Act that called this act an imposition of taxes that violated the British constitution. Those resolutions passed the House and put Virginia in the forefront of the resistance. Henry said this about the passage of his resolutions:

Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere, practise virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.

His most famous speech, of course, was the one he made in March 1775, to convince the Virginia House to prepare for the eventual clash of arms. We usually refer to it as the “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. But all too few of us have read it; therefore, we don’t know that it is filled with Biblical allusions. He says he is speaking out because it would be an act of disloyalty to God if he didn’t. He talks about being betrayed with a kiss, and how that can prove a snare to the nation. He says there is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and he is trusting in Him to guide the resistance.

Finally, in his will, Henry states, after he has disposed of all his property:

This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.

That’s the Patrick Henry too few people know. This posting, though, has just added to the number of those who know him better.

Pride Goes Before . . . What Was That Again?

I’m grateful for the example of Calvin Coolidge. Yes, you read that correctly. A man who is ridiculed by all the “right” people actually was one of the most faithful to the Constitution. And he also realized the danger of holding political power. He declined to run again for the presidency in 1928. His reason? Read this carefully and appreciate what he is saying:

It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner or later impairs their judgment. They are in grave danger of becoming careless and arrogant.

Thank you, President Coolidge, for that warning. There are a lot of people in power today who could benefit from your wisdom.

For instance, what about the attempt by the Congress to buy a fleet of jets for their leaders’ personal use? Why, it was only a mere $550 million—what’s the problem? Do we want them to fly commercial airliners like everyone else? That would reduce them to our level, which is absurd, is it not? Why shouldn’t taxpayers pay for their comfort?

Fortunately, there was enough uproar over that one that it crashed and burned.

What about a president who directly contradicts himself, even though videos prove he did say something previously? How does he think he can get away with such an obvious ploy?

The only way this type of hubris can be adequately explained is to resort once again to Coolidge’s words. He actually thinks he can get away with it because he lives in a bubble where everyone assures him of his greatness, and where he will not be held accountable for blatant lies.

I have commented previously that I believe Obama is one of the most arrogant, prideful men who has ever held the presidency. The attitude I perceive is something like this:

Now, some people may criticize my criticism by quoting Scripture: judge not that you be not judged. I take that warning seriously. When you point your finger at someone, you must be careful. But that Scripture, in context, says that the judging is wrong only if you are committing the same sin. That’s when you first concentrate on taking the log out of your own eye.

It’s not a joyful thing for me to talk about the president in this manner. I wish he could inspire confidence, but nearly everything he does is contrary to the Biblical principles I believe in ardently. And he does act as if he knows everything. That’s dangerous for him as well as for the nation, simply because pride goes before a fall. I don’t want this nation to fall. Let’s truly pray that arrogance and pride disappear from the councils of our government, and that reliance on the wisdom of the Lord will replace them.

American Character: Noah Webster

Webster: Father of Early American Education

The name “Webster” sounds familiar to most people. They think for a minute and then say, “Oh, yeah, he’s the dictionary guy, right?” Right.

But he’s more than that. Noah Webster is a prime example of someone who exhibits the character trait of diligence. A native of Connecticut  and descendant of Pilgrim governor William Bradford, Webster was raised in the Congregational church, graduated from Yale, and even was awarded a master’s degree—unusual for the time.

In 1783, he got the nation’s attention with his first book, which is now called Webster’s Blue-Back Speller. It sold millions over the next century. It went with the pioneers westward, along with the Bible, teaching new generations how to read and spell. It was Webster who created an American spelling that broke from the English tradition: music instead of musick; color rather than colour.

Webster’s Speller, along with other educational books throughout his life, earned him the title “Father of Early American Education.” His crowning achievement, though, was his monumental 1828 dictionary, the first full-fledged dictionary to be published in America. It was a production that he worked on single-handedly for approximately 20 years. When it was completed, it quickly became the standard for America.

More than that, however, Webster’s dictionary revealed his Christian faith. Although raised in the church, Christianity, for him, had been primarily an external ritual. But at age 50, during a revival in New Haven, he submitted his life to God. This conversion experience gave a new impetus to all his work from that point on. The dictionary is more than a listing of word definitions. It’s actually pretty fascinating to look at it today because many of the definitions use Scripture verses as examples of how the words should be understood, and some of the definitions include commentaries from the author that provide a Christian context. Such a thing would be unimaginable now.

Webster’s memory has been eclipsed in educational circles by the likes of Horace Mann and John Dewey, both of whom departed from the Christian worldview. This neglect needs to be rectified. That’s one reason why I made Webster the subject of my doctoral dissertation. It was eventually published as Defining Noah Webster: A Spiritual Biography. If you’re interested, you can purchase it on Amazon.com. Information about the book can be found here.

Let’s not forget America’s early Christian leaders.

American Character: George Whitefield

George Whitefield Preaching

He was a sensation. He was not even strictly an American, but a traveling evangelist from Britain. Yet America was on his heart.

When George Whitefield arrived in America in 1740, he started in Georgia and traveled up the coast, preaching in all the colonies. The result was the climax of what we call the First Great Awakening.

Whitefield’s voice boomed, and he dramatized his sermons. Thousands traced their conversion to his messages. Ben Franklin became his friend, yet never gave his life to Christ. However, he was astounded by the effects of Whitefield’s efforts. Franklin records in his autobiography:

It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if the whole world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.

Whitefield’s impact was tremendous. He returned to America many times, but his final trip was in 1770. Suffering from severe asthma, his friends warned him against overexertion. His response? “I had rather wear out than rust out.”

One account of his life tells of that final trip:

 He was importuned to preach at a place called Exeter, and though feeling very ill, he had not the heart to refuse. A friend remarked before he preached, “Sir, you are more fit to go to bed than to preach.” Whitefield replied: “True, sir,” and then prayed: “Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of thy work. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for thee once more in the fields, seal thy truth, and come home and die.” Although scarcely able to stand when he first came before the group, he preached for two hours.

Arriving at the parsonage of the First Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, he intended to go at once to bed. However, a great number of friends gathered at the parsonage and begged him for just a short message. He paused a moment on the stairs, candle in hand, and spoke to the people as they stood listening—until the candle went out. At 2 a.m., panting to breathe, he told his traveling companion, “My asthma is returning; I must have two or three days’ rest.” His last words were, “I am dying,” and at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning he died—September 30, 1770.

When Americans heard of his death, they mourned from Georgia to New Hampshire. In one sense, he was the first American figure known and respected by all.

George Whitefield was a man who wore himself out doing what he believed the Lord had called him to do. There is no greater testimony than someone who was obedient to the call of God.

American Character: Thomas Hooker

Thomas Hooker: Founder of CT

I like pointing out certain figures in Amerian history that few people can recall. It’s important to revive our collective memory. One of those individuals is Thomas Hooker.

Hooker was a Cambridge-educated Puritan who quickly developed into a very talented preacher. He took a pastorate in a town in England that was notorious for its many taverns and boisterous citizens. He is credited with restoring order to that town by his words and his presence.

His Puritanism, however, led to clashes with the Anglican hierarchy. Summoned to an ecclesiastical tribunal to answer for his views, he instead chose to remove to Holland. His reputation was such that while he was in Holland, he received an invitation to come to America to take a pulpit in the newly established colony of Massachusetts. In 1633, Hooker and dozens of his followers left for the New World.

In 1636, Hooker received permission from the Massachusetts authorities to move to a new area to find better land. He also had concerns about the Massachusetts policy of only allowing church members the vote.

He led his congregation to what is now Hartford, Connecticut, where he took the lead in establishing a civil government. He preached a sermon in which he applied Biblical principles to how a government ought to operate. Those concepts included representation and the expansion of the electorate to all who owned property, not just church members. Since taxes were taken from property owners, it was only fair to include them in the making of laws.

That sermon inspired the first American constitution, called the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. Historian Paul Johnson says it was actually the first real constitution in the world. The preamble to the Fundamental Orders states that the reason for setting up a decent and orderly government is that God’s Word requires it. Further, it says that one goal of government is to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel. It also established a principle that if the laws of the community do not cover a certain situation, the civil rulers should resort to the Word of God to find a solution.

Hooker, therefore, helped create the Biblical foundation for law and government in America. Connecticut, over time, got a reputation as a place where stability reigned. It became known as “the land of steady habits.” In times of confusion and uncertainty, that sounds pretty good.

So let’s remember Thomas Hooker, a somewhat forgotten Founding Father.

American Character: John Eliot

Another early Puritan leader was John Eliot, who developed a heart for bringing the Gospel to the natives. Critics today would say he was infringing on their native religion and flexing the muscles of cultural superiority. That’s not how Eliot saw it. What he perceived was a people worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. They needed to know the One who forgives sins and brings new life.

One account of Eliot’s life states:

Eliot became inspired with the idea of converting the Indians. His first step was to learn their dialects, which he did by the assistance of a young Indian whom he received into his home. With his aid he translated the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. John Eliot first successfully preached to the Indians in their own tongue at Newton in October 1646. At the third meeting several Indians declared themselves converted, and were soon followed by many others.

John Eliot induced the Massachusetts General Court to set aside land for their residence. The Court did so, and also directed that two clergymen be annually elected by the clergy as preachers to the Indians. As soon as the success of Eliot’s endeavors became known, the necessary funds flowed in upon him from private sources in both Old and New England. In July 1649 parliament incorporated the “ Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England,” which supported and directed the work inaugurated by John Eliot. In 1651 the Christian Indian town founded by Eliot was removed from Nonantum to Natick, where residences, a meeting-house, and a school-house were erected, and where Eliot preached, when able, once in every two weeks as long as he lived.

John Eliot’s missionary labors encouraged others to follow in his footsteps. A second town under his direction was established at Ponkapog (Stoughton) in 1654. His success was duplicated again in Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and by 1674 the unofficial census of the “praying Indians” numbered 4,000. At Eliot’s death, which occurred at Roxbury on the 21st of May 1690, the missions were at the height of their prosperity.

Eliot’s greatest feat, alongside his preaching, was to develop a written lanaguage for the Indians and to provide them with their own version of the Bible.

The New Testament was at last issued in 1661, and the Old Testament followed in 1663. The New Testament was bound with it, and thus the whole Bible was completed. To it were added a Catechism and a metrical version of the Psalms. This book was printed in 1663 at Cambridge, Mass. . . . and was the first Bible printed in America.

How many Americans know of John Eliot’s labors? Well, maybe a few more know now.

American Character: John Winthrop

John Winthrop, leader of the Puritan migration to Massachusetts, and that colony’s first governor, sometimes gets a bum rap from historians. Even one of my favorite historians, Paul Johnson, considers him too severe. A good corrective on that, however, is a fairly recent biography by Francis Bremer, John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father. Bremer shows rather conclusively, I think, that Winthrop was a man of great moderation fueled by his Christian faith.

Winthrop is known, if at all, primarily for the sermon he preached on his ship coming over to the New World. In that sermon, called “A Model of Christian Charity,” he instructs:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city on a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God.

Winthrop understood that God expects people to live up to the standards He has set. If we fail to do so, He will not help us. Christians need to maintain a consistent testimony before the watching world. If we don’t, we besmirch the reputation of the One who saved us.

During Winthrop’s first winter in Massachusetts, sickness overcame the new settlers. Many died; others were starving. Since he was one of the wealthiest of the settlers, he gave freely out of his plenty to help those who were less fortunate. One of the first settlers to die was his own son.

One might think that such an experience would sour a man on the mission. Not Winthrop. When the spring came, he wrote to his wife back in England about all the sorrows and tribulations, but stated clearly,

Yet for all these things (I praise my God) I am not discouraged, nor do I cause to repent, or despair of those good days here, which will make amends for all.

This is called faith. It is the testimony of John Winthrop.