Category Archives: General
Born on April 17, 1741, Founding Father Samuel Chase was the son of an Anglican minister. Chase became an attorney, politician and jurist. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from Maryland. He also served as the Chief Justice of the State of Maryland (1791), and was appointed by George Washington as an Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court where he served until his death (1796-1811). A staunch Federalist, Chase was the target of impeachment by President Thomas Jefferson, but he was acquitted by the Senate.
In the case of Runkel v. Winemiller (1799), Justice Chase gave the high court’s opinion:
“Religion is of general and public concern, and on its support depend, in great measure, the peace and good order of government, the safety and happiness of the people [Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-4]. By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty. The principles of the Christian religion cannot so diffused, and its doctrines generally propagated without places of public worship, and teachers and ministers, to explain the scriptures to the people, and to enforce an observance of the precepts of religion by their preaching and living [Rom. 10:13-15]. And the pastors, teachers and ministers of every denomination of Christians are equally entitled to the protection of the law, and to the enjoyment of their religions and temporal rights.”*
Founder Samuel Chase had a life that was marked by controversy, but his Supreme Court opinion that the Christian religion is the established religion of our nation is a lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Read Rom. 10:13-15 and reflect on Paul’s assertion of the need for preachers and compare it with the ruling of Justice Case.
Prayer: Father of our Founders, we praise you for our heritage in America, where the Supreme Court proclaimed that “the Christian religion is the established religion.” Give us the courage to promote our faith by both our “preaching and living,” in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: Thomas Harris and John McHenry, ed., Maryland Reports: Being a Series of the Most Important Law Cases Argued and Determined in the General Court and Court of Appeals of the State of Maryland from May 1797 to the End of 1799 (Annapolis, MD: Jonas Green, 1818), 4:450. Bracketed items added.
On April 16, 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an open letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in response to a statement made by eight Alabama clergymen critical of King’s non-violent protest efforts and calling him an “outsider” and a troublemaker. What follows is a part of Dr. King’s brilliant reply:
“I am in Birmingham because injustice exists here. Just as the prophets of the 8th century B.C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far afield, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid [Acts 16:9].
“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds…
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights….One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’…
“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake [Dan. 3:14-18]. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.
“In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice I have heard many ministers say, ‘Those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern,’ and I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which makes a strange, unbiblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular…. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love….
“There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ [Phil. 3:20-21] called to obey God rather than man [Acts 5:29]. Small in number, they were big in commitment…. By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, and gladiatorial contests.
“Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound [1 Cor. 14:8]. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
“But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
“Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”*
Dr. King’s prophetic letter to fellow pastors and church leaders is not only a lost episode in American history, it remains a challenge to the church today.
Read and Reflect: Read Daniel 3 and reflect on the civil disobedience of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and compare that with Dr. King’s argument.
Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that righteousness and justice is the foundation of your throne. Forgive us for not joining you in the mission to advance those twin objectives. Thank you for Dr. King’s prophetic word that calls us back to that mission, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: The full text of the letter can be found here: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf.
On Saturday, April 15, 1775, John Hancock presided over the Second Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, meeting at the church in Concord. The assembly adopted a recommendation declaring a “Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer,” which included the following:
“Whereas, it hath pleased the Righteous Sovereign of the universe, in just indignation against the sins of a people long blessed with inestimable privileges, civil and religious, to suffer the plots of wicked men… that we see the New England colonies reduced to the ungrateful alternative of a tame submission… to the will of a despotic minister, or of preparing themselves speedily to defend, at the hazard of life, the unalienable rights of themselves and posterity against the avowed hostilities of their parent state, who openly threaten to wrest them from their hands, by fire and sword;
“In circumstances dark as these, it becomes us, as men and Christians, to reflect, that whilst every prudent measure should be taken to ward off the impending judgments, or prepare to act a proper part under them when they come; at the same time, all confidence must be withheld from the means we use, and reposed only on that God, who rules in the armies of heaven [Psalm 84:12], and without whose blessing, the best human councils are but foolishness [1 Cor. 3:19], and all created power vanity [Isa. 40:17].
“It is the happiness of his church, that when the powers of earth and hell combine against it [Matt. 16:18], and those who should be nursing fathers become its persecutors, then the throne of grace [Heb. 4:16] is of the easiest access, and its appeal thither is graciously invited by that Father of mercies [2 Cor. 1;3], who has assured it that when his children ask bread he will not give them a stone [Luke 11:11]:
“Therefore, in compliance with the laudable practice of the people of God in all ages, with the humble regard to the steps of Divine Providence towards this oppressed, threatened, and endangered people, and especially in obedience to the command of Heaven, that bids us to call on him in the day of trouble [Psalm 50:15],
“Resolved, That it be, and hereby is, recommended to the good people of this colony, of all denominations, that Thursday, the eleventh day of May next, be set apart as a day of public humiliation, fasting, and prayer…”*
This proclamation for a “Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” was adopted a mere four days before armed conflict broke out on the green in Lexington, launching America and Great Britain into the War for Independence, and it is another lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Read Psalm 50:15 and reflect on God’s promise to answer when we call on Him in the day of trouble.
Prayer: Father of Mercies, we are thank you for showing mercy to us when we find ourselves in distress from persecution and oppression. We are grateful that we can come before your throne of grace and find grace and help in time of need, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: William Lincoln, ed., The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, 1774-1775 (Boston: Dutton & Wentworth, 1838), 144-45.
On Good Friday, April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln agreed to go with his wife Mary Todd to Ford’s Theatre for an evening out. Rev. N.W. Miner, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Springfield Illinois, who was close to the Lincolns, recalled his conversation with Mrs. Lincoln about that fateful night of the assassination:
“Mrs. Lincoln informed me that he seemed to take no notice of what was going on in the theater from the time he entered it till the discharge of the fatal pistol. She said that the last day he lived was the happiest of his life. The very last moments of his conscious life were spent in conversation with her about his future plans and what he wanted to do when his term of office expired. He said he wanted to visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footprints of the Saviour. He was saying there was no city he so much desired to see as Jerusalem. And with the words half spoken on his tongue, the bullet of the assassin entered the brain, and the soul of the great and good President was carried by the angels to the New Jerusalem above.”*
We all know how President Abraham Lincoln was killed by John Wilkes Booth, but very few know of Lincoln’s last wish was to visit the Holy Land after his second term. That is a lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Read 1 Peter 2:21 and reflect on the sufferings of Christ and the figurative call to walk in His steps and compare that to the desire of Lincoln.
Prayer: Father, we praise you for the high calling we have to walk in the steps of Jesus. We thank you for the added joy that some have experienced of visiting the land where Jesus literally walked.
*Source Citation: J. A. Reed, “The Later Life and Religious Sentiments of Abraham Lincoln” in Scribner’s Monthly Illustrated Magazine (New York: Scribner’s and Co., 1873), 6:343.
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743. He was graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1762, was admitted to the bar in 1767, and was elected a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses (1768-79). He famously drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He also served as Governor of Virginia (1779-81), as Secretary of State under George Washington (1789-93) and as Vice-President under John Adams (1797-1801). He became the third President of the United States (1801-09), approving the Louisiana Purchase and commissioning the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1803). He became Rector of the newly formed University of Virginia (1819). In addition, he was an ambassador, an architect, educator, author and botanist.
Despite Thomas Jefferson’s famous “wall of separation between church and state” metaphor, he was supportive of public expressions of biblical truth in general and the Christian religion in particular. As a member of the Virginia Legislature, Jefferson was one of the leading voices calling for a Day of Prayer on June 1, 1774. As a member of the Second Continental Congress, Jefferson not only drafted the Declaration, with its references to God, but he also revised Ben Franklin’s proposal for the Great Seal of the United States, calling for a depiction of the children of Israel in the wilderness, being led by a pillar of cloud by day.
As Governor of Virginia in 1779, Jefferson introduced several bills in the state legislature:
• A Bill Punishing Disturbers of Religious Worship and Sabbath Breakers (10 Shilling fine).
• A Bill for Appointing Days of Public Fasting and Thanksgiving (Preachers fined 50 pounds for failure to comply – Did not pass).
• A Bill Annulling Marriages prohibited by Levitical Law and Appointing the Mode of Solemnizing Lawful Marriage (Did not pass – allowed for marriages not officiated by clergy and “Levitical Law” was inserted as shorthand for spelling out all the various prohibitions – like marrying cousins or siblings).
• He signed a Proclamation calling for a day of “Thanksgiving and Prayer” to be held on December 9, 1779.
As President, here are some of his actions:
• Jefferson urged the Commissioners of the District of Columbia to make land available for sale to Roman Catholics who wanted to erect a church building in 1801, being persuaded of “the advantages of every kind which it would promise.”
• Jefferson agreed to provide $300 to “assist the said Kaskaskia tribe in the erection of a church” and to provide “annually for seven years $100 towards the support of a Catholic Priest” in 1803.
• Jefferson directed his Secretary of War in 1803 to disperse federal funds to assist a religious school established for Cherokee Indians in Tennessee.
• Jefferson assured a Christian religious school in New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase that it would receive “the patronage of the government.”
Furthermore, the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State would be particularly troubled by President Jefferson’s statement recorded by Rev. Ethan Allen: “No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.” He was good to his word, attending church services held in the U.S. Capitol nearly every Sunday, beginning on January 3, 1802.
Jefferson’s public support for Christianity is a lost episode in American history.
Read and Reflect: Read 1 Tim. 4:12 and reflect on Paul’s admonition to Timothy to be an example in word and deed, and then compare that to Jefferson.
Prayer: Father, we thank you for Thomas Jefferson, who did not believe as we believe, but who respected our beliefs and who was an example. We pray for leaders like that in our day, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citations: Julian P. Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 2:555; 2:556; 2:556-57; 3:177-179 for the full text of the Proclamation. Letter of Thomas Jefferson to Bishop John Carroll on September 3, 1801 (Library of Congress, #19966). See the actual letter at the following web address: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/P?mtj:9:./temp/~ammem_R1ok::. As recorded in Walter Lowrie and Matthew St. Claire Clarke, eds., American State Papers, (Washington, D. C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832), 4:687.
See Dorothy C. Bass, “Gideon Blackburn’s Mission to the Cherokees,” Journal of Presbyterian History (Fall 1974), 52. Letter of Thomas Jefferson to the Nuns of the Order of St. Ursula at New Orleans on May 15, 1804, original in possession of the New Orleans Parish. James A. Hutson, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1998), 96, quoting from a handwritten history in possession of the Library of Congress, “Washington Parish, Washington City,” by Rev. Ethan Allen.