Category Archives: General
Born July 24, 1725, John Newton was the English captain of a slave trading ship who had a dramatic conversion experience. Later in life he reflected: “There are two things I’ll never forget: that I was a great sinner, and that Jesus Christ is a greater Savior!” Out of his personal experience, he wrote Amazing Grace, which is the most recognized Christian hymn in the entire world:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
The lyrics to “Amazing Grace” were written in Olney, England in late 1772 and probably used in a prayer meeting for the first time on January 1, 1773 as a sermon illustration. It was first published with other hymns in 1779, but interestingly it remained mostly unknown in England. Indeed, it was in America that the song became an integral part of the spiritual tapestry.*
What was the spark that caused this song to sweep America? Its use in the camp meetings of the Second Great Awakening, where those participating experienced dramatic conversions to which the song testifies. Amazing Grace soon became the spiritual anthem of the time. Between 1789 and 1799, four variations of Newton’s hymn were published in America by the Baptists, Dutch Reformed, and Congregationalists. The Presbyterians and Methodists included Newton’s verses in their hymnals by 1830. Now it is sung at church and secular gatherings alike and it is known all over the world.
But it is the rise of John Newton’s song to popularity during the Second Great Awakening that is yet another lost episode in American history.
Read and reflect: Read Ephesians 2 and reflect on the amazing grace of God in your life.
Prayer: Gracious God, we praise you for your amazing grace; grace that is greater than all our sin; grace that is sufficient to meet our desperate need; and grace that will lead us home, in Jesus Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: Marion Hatchett, “Amazing Grace,” The Hymnal 1982 Companion, Raymond F. Glover, ed., (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994).
Many secularists cite James Madison as a supporter of strict separation of church and state. Indeed, selected later writings of Madison, along with some from Thomas Jefferson, were used as the basis of the 1947 Supreme Court’s Everson v. Board of Education ruling that established the two-way “Wall of Separation.” Yet in the midst of the “Second War of Independence” from Great Britain, President James Madison issued a Proclamation of a National Day of Public Humiliation and Prayer on July 23, 1813:
“Whereas in times of public calamity such as that of the war brought on the United States by the injustice of a foreign government it is especially becoming that the hearts of all should be touched with the same and the eyes of all be turned to that Almighty Power in whose hands are the welfare and the destiny of nations:
“I do therefore issue this my proclamation, recommending to all who shall be piously disposed to unite their hearts and voices in addressing at one and the same time their vows and adorations to the Great Parent and Sovereign of the Universe that they assemble on the second Thursday of September next in their respective religious congregations to render Him thanks for the many blessings He has bestowed on the people of the United States…
“[T]hat He would pardon our manifold transgressions and awaken and strengthen in all the wholesome purposes of repentance… that in this season of trial and calamity… He would now be pleased…to bestow His blessings on our arms…
“Given at Washington, this 23d day of July, A.D. 1813. James Madison.”*
Rather than being an advocate for a strictly secular approach to government, President Madison pleaded with the American people to join their hearts in prayer to Almighty God for His assistance in the midst of a national crisis, and that is yet another lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Look at 2 Kings 18-19 and read how King Hezekiah called for fasting and prayer during a time of grave national threat and compare that with the Proclamation by President Madison.
Pray: Lord of Heaven’s Armies, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth.. Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of your servants. O Lord our God, I pray, save us from the hand of the enemy, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God, You alone.”
*Source Citation: James D. Richardson, ed., A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents 1789-1897, 10 vols. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, published by Authority of Congress, 1897, 1899) 1:532-533.
On July 22, 1620, the Pilgrims departed Holland for England, and from there, they departed for the New World. If you have ever been to the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, you have surely seen the majestic painting of the “Embarkation of the Pilgrims.” But did you know that this painting depicts the most ambitious church relocation project ever attempted to that point?
Closer examination of the painting reveals that Pilgrim Pastor, John Robinson, is depicted on his knees and with his eyes lifted toward heaven and hands outstretched in prayer. Beside him is Elder William Brewster, who would become their mission pastor until Pastor Robinson could come to America, which never came about because Robinson died before he could make the journey. Brewster is holding an open Geneva Bible, whose rich commentary and notes helped encourage both resistance against unrighteous governmental authority as well as the establishment of a representative form of government – two basics in the founding of America.
Pastor Robinson is praying for this first group out of his 300 member church to leave for America, commissioning them for their missionary journey. As Cotton Mather, the Great Puritan historian, puts it: After the Pilgrims “poured out their mutual petitions before God; and having wept in one another’s arms as long as the wind and the tide would permit them, they bade adieu.”*
The Pilgrims’ church relocation project, commissioned with a prayer by their pastor and a tearful farewell, is yet another lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Read Acts 20:13-38 and reflect on the moving scene with the Apostle Paul and his parting words with the church leaders from Ephesus.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for those whose calling is to pioneer and start a new work. Thank you for these Pilgrims who braved the angry ocean to begin a new church in a New World and a colony that would eventually help set the direction of a nation. Raise up such brave pioneers in our day, we pray, in Jesus Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: Cotton Mather, The Great Works of Christ in America: Magnalia Christi Americana (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 1:46-47.
Do preaching and patriotism go together? Those responsible for our independence believed they do. On July 21, 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence:
“Last Thursday… Our worthy preacher told us that he believed one of our Great Sins for which a righteous God has come out in judgment against us, was our Bigoted attachment to so wicked a Man [King George III]. May our repentance be sincere… [A]fter hearing a very Good Sermon, I went with the Multitude into Kings Street to hear the proclamation for independance read and proclamed.…
“When Col. Crafts read from the Belcona of the State House the Proclamation, great attention was given to every word. As soon as he ended, the cry from the Belcona, was God Save our American States and then 3 cheers which rended the air, the Bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and Batteries, the cannon were discharged, the platoons followed and every face appeard joyfull…. Thus ends royall Authority in this State, and all the people shall say Amen.”*
So the people of Boston first went to hear God’s word preached and then they gathered to hear the Declaration of Independence read before celebrating, and that is another lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Read Nehemiah 8 and reflect on how the people first listened to God’s word and then were encouraged to celebrate. Compare what Israel did with what the people of Boston did.
Prayer: Father, teach us that it is your word that gives light and life. Your word is foundational to any freedoms we now enjoy. May we never take part in celebrating our freedom unless it is also joined by honoring you as the Author of that freedom, in Jesus Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: L.H. Butterfield, Marc Frielander, and Mary-Jo King, eds., The Book of Abigail and John – Selected Letters of The Adams Family 1762-1784 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), 148-49.
On July 20, 1788, George Washington wrote from Mount Vernon to Jonathan Trumbull, Aide-de-camp to the General during the war and then Speaker of the House in Connecticut, regarding the framing and acceptance of the United States Constitution, which he attributed to the working of God:
“[W]e may, with a kind of pious and grateful exultation, trace the Finger of Providence through those dark and mysterious events which first induced the States to appoint a general Convention, and then led them one after another…into an adoption of the system recommended by that general Convention; thereby in all human probability laying a lasting foundation for tranquillity and happiness, when we had but too much reason to fear that confusion and misery were coming rapidly upon us. That the same Good Providence may still continue to protect us, and prevent us from dashing the cup of national felicity, just as it has been lifted to our lips, is the earnest prayer of, my dear sir, your faithful friend, &c.”*
While there was honest and sometimes heated disagreement during the Constitution’s framing and ratification process, George Washington saw the finger of God at work and earnestly prayed for His continued involvement, and that is another lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Read Luke 11:19-20 and reflect on how Jesus referred to miraculous activity as the “finger of God,” and compare that to what George Washington wrote.
Prayer: Sovereign Lord, we praise you for the way you orchestrated people and events in the beginning of our nation and especially in the crafting of our matchless Constitution. As George Washington did in his day, help us not fail to see and give thanks for your activity in our day, in Jesus Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of George Washington; being His Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, Selected and Published from the Original Manuscripts, 12 vols., (Boston: Russell, Odiorne, and Metcalf, 1835), 9:397-98.