February is the classic time when we remember the country’s earliest leadership due to George Washington’s birthday on the 22nd. Today, it’s normative to dismiss figures in history because we think ourselves wiser and better. It’s what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. If we’re not careful, we can fall into this trap of arrogance and not realize the tides of change that made America were orchestrated by principled, God-fearing people.
10 Christian “Founding Fathers” of the United States
How can we continue to instruct our congregations to see God’s good providence through history, and, more specifically, through the short history of the United States? Is it even important? I think it is. Hebrews 11 and 12 dip back into history to celebrate a faithful group of people, and verse 12:1 spurs us on with the picture of a great cloud of witnesses. We can easily assemble a great number of the faithful when we reflect on America’s history. Below are 10 founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence and who did so much more in response to the call of the Gospel upon their lives.
Benjamin Rush (1745-1813)
“The Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life… The 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.”
“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. I rely exclusively upon it. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!”
Points of interest: From Pennsylvania, Surgeon General of the Continental Army, helped found five colleges, began the Sunday School movement, started the first American Bible society, published the first American chemistry textbook. When John Adams and Thomas Jefferson would not talk to one another later in life, Rush brought them together. He was opposed to slavery and worked alongside notable black leaders Absalom Jones and Richard Allan during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. He and his wife Julia Stockton had 13 children, 9 of whom survived their first year.
John Jay (1745-1829)
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
“It certainly is very desirable that a pacific disposition should prevail among all nations. [and] The most effectual way of producing it, is by extending the prevalence and influence of the gospel.”
Points of interest: From New York, served as the first Chief Justice of the United States, author of the Jay Treaty which attempted to normalize trade with Britain in 1795, opposed slavery, governor of New York for six years, president of the American Bible Society, author of several Federalist Papers alongside Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. He and his wife Sarah Livingston had six children.
Samuel Adams (1722-1803)
“The name of the Lord (says the Scripture) is a strong tower; thither the righteous flee and are safe [Proverbs 18:10]. Let us secure His favor and He will lead us through the journey of this life and at length receive us to a better.”
“Principally, and first of all, I resign my soul to the Almighty Being who gave it, and my body I commit to the dust, relying on the merits of Jesus Christ for the pardon of my sins.”
Points of interest: From Massachusetts, early revolutionary in the struggle leading up to the Declaration of Independence opposing the taxes Britain tried to enforce on the colonists, leader in the Boston Tea Party, helped to orchestrate the Continental Congress and Jefferson called him “the man of the revolution”, Governor of Massachusetts. He married Elizabeth Checkley and they had six children, two of whom survived into adulthood. When she died in 1757, he married Elizabeth Wells. They had no children.
Richard Stockton (1730-1781)
“I… subscribe to the entire belief of the great and leading doctrines of the Christian religion, such as the being of God; the universal defection and depravity of human nature; the Divinity of the person and the completeness of the redemption purchased by the blessed Savior; the necessity of the operations of the Divine Spirit; of Divine faith accompanied with an habitual virtuous life; and the universality of the Divine Providence.”
“[I] exhort and charge [my children] that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, that the way of life held up in the Christian system is calculated for the most complete happiness that can be enjoyed in this mortal state, [and] that all occasions of vice and immorality is injurious either immediately or consequentially – even in this life.”
Points of interest: From New Jersey, served as a lawyer who personally presented to King George III the grievances of the Stamp Act, donated land to form Princeton University and served as a trustee for 26 years, was captured by the British early in the conflict of 1776 and never took a pardon from the king in exchange for loyalty to the crown. He and his wife Annis Boudinot Stockton, a notable poet, had six children.
Noah Webster (1758-1843)
“[T]he Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children under a free government ought to be instructed. No truth is more evident than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”
Points of interest: From Connecticut, known as the father of American scholarship and education, editor of the Federalist Papers, author of the Copyright Act, published spelling books for schools, began compiling “An American Dictionary of the English Language”, in 1807, a project that took him 26 years to complete, helped found Amherst College, opposed slavery. He and his wife Rebecca Greenleaf had eight children, five who survived into adulthood.
Roger Sherman (1721-1793)
“I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are a revelation from God, and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.”
“I believe a visible church to be a congregation of those who make a credible profession of their faith in Christ, and obedience to Him, joined by the bond of the covenant.”
Points of interest: From Connecticut, the only person to sign all four important founding documents from the Declaration to the Constitution, served as a lawyer and the first mayor of New Haven, introduced the cent as coinage. He and his wife Elizabeth Hartwell had seven children. When she died, he married Rebekah Prescott. They had eight children, six of whom survived into adulthood.
Charles Carroll (1737-1832)
“On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation and on His merits, not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts.”
“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”
Points of interest: From Maryland, the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, helped draft the Maryland Constitution, first US Senator from Maryland, helped establish the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in retirement. He married Molly Darnall. They had seven children, three of whom survived into adulthood.
George Mason (1725-1792)
“My soul I resign into the hands of my Almighty Creator, whose tender mercies are all over His works, who hateth nothing that He hath made, and to the justice and wisdom of whose dispensations I willingly and cheerfully submit, humbly hoping from His unbounded mercy and benevolence, through the merits of my blessed Savior, a remission of my sins.”
“As much as I value a union of all the states, I would not admit the southern states into the union, unless they agreed to the discontinuance of this disgraceful [slave] trade, because it would bring weakness and not strength to the union.”
Points of interest: From Virginia, adamantly opposed the United States Constitution fearing its overreach, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights which became the basis of the United States Bill of Rights which made him able to, “cheerfully put my Hand & Heart to the new Government”, author of Virginia’s Constitution. He and his wife Anne Eilbeck had nine children.
Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791)
“Have Mercy therefore on us, LORD
And all our Hearts incline,
With Diligence and Care to keep
Those righteous Laws of thine.”
“Bless’d is he, who fears the LORD,
And does his Laws obey,
Great his Seed shall be on Earth,
His Race shall not decay.
Crown’d with Wealth his House shall be,
To Mercy still inclin’d;
Though in Trouble, he shall shine,
The Blessing of Mankind.”
Points of interest: From Pennsylvania, designed the first official American Flag, played the harpsichord and was a poet, composed several songs and hymns and is considered America’s First Composer, served as a church director and choir leader, served as a judge of the United States District Court. He and his wife Ann Borden had five children.
Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.”
“This book [The Bible] is worth all the books that ever were printed, and it has been my misfortune that I never found time to read it with the proper attention and feeling till lately. I trust in the mercy of heaven that it is not too late.”
Points of interest: From Virginia, worked as a criminal attorney and known for his brilliant oratory skills, feared the Constitution’s overreach and helped spirit along the adoption of the Bill of Rights, served as the first governor of Virginia (and also the sixth), he was fearful of both the spread of atheism and deism toward the end of his life. He and his wife Sarah Shelton had six children. After her death, he married Dorothea Dandridge and they had 11 children.
In my preparation for this article, I ran across so many other founding fathers who were faithful, several of whom I left out due to their notoriety already. These include George Washington who helped establish the parish church I attend, The Falls Church Anglican, John Adams who seems steeped in faith enough to say, “I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world”, and Alexander Hamilton who said, “I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a sinner. I look to Him for mercy; pray for me.”
No matter where you turn, there are Christians who helped secure a Republic that stands as, “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We should spend time teaching our congregations about the American leaders who helped cause the United States to happen in and with the good providence of the Father. We should be specific too. These founding fathers were not leaders loose with their faith and principles. They held tightly to who was making them, namely salvation through Jesus Christ alone, because they knew without any shadow of turning that it was their only hope for glory, and, more temporary, the only hope for America.
Oh Lord, may revival come to this arrogant, lost, country of ours, and may it begin in our congregations.