Category Archives: Lost Episodes
On September 10, 1845, America lost one of its greatest authorities on Constitutional Law who also advocated for Christian principles being taught in schools: Joseph Story. The son of one of the Boston Tea Party “Indians,” Story was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1811 by President James Madison. Story was the youngest person ever to serve in that position and continued on the bench for 34 years, until his death.
Previously, Story had served as U.S. Representative (1808-09) and was the founder of Harvard Law School (1821-45), Joseph Story wrote seminal explanations of the Constitution, including Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833) and A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (1840).
In the 1844 case of Vidal v. Girard’s Executors, Justice Joseph Story delivered the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion:
“Christianity…is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against, to the annoyance of believers or the injury of the public….
“Why may not the Bible, and especially the New Testament, without note or comment, be read and taught as a Divine Revelation in the [school] – its general precepts expounded, its evidences explained and its glorious principles of morality inculcated?
“It may well be asked, what is there in all this, which is positively enjoined, inconsistent with the spirit or truths of the religion of Christ? Are not these truths all taught by Christianity, although it teaches much more?
“Where can the purest principles of morality be learned so clearly or so perfectly as from the New Testament?”*
Justice Joseph Story, expert on the original intent of the Constitution and First Amendment, advocated for respecting Christianity in public and teaching its precepts in schools. That is another lost episode in American history.
Read and reflect: Read Psalm 74:10-18 and reflect on how Christianity is increasingly reviled and blasphemed in our day when compared with Justice Story’s day.
Prayer: Lord of Heavenly Armies, we ask that you would give us courage to stand for you in our day. May educators realize the benefits of teaching school children your word. Thank you for the churches and communities who have lobbied for the study of the Bible as literature in elective classes, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: Vidal v. Girard’s Executors, 43 U.S. 126, 132 (1844), 198, 205-206.
Founding Father William Paterson died on September 9, 1806. Moving from Ireland as a child with strong Presbyterian roots, William Paterson began attending the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) at age 14. As a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, Paterson proposed what was termed the “New Jersey Plan” and became a signer of the United States Constitution. He later served as a U.S. Senator from 1789-90 and then as Governor of New Jersey from 1790-93.
While Governor, Paterson issued a Proclamation for a Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer on November 21, 1791, which included the following:
“Whereas it is, at all times, our duty to approach the throne of Almighty God with gratitude and praise,…that he would be pleased to continue his protection and goodness to this land and people,… to illuminate and guide our public councils, to bless our national and state governments,… to advance the interest of religion, and the knowledge and practice of virtue; and for this purpose to pour out his holy spirit on all ministers of the gospel, and to spread the saving light thereof to the most distant parts of the earth [Acts 1:8].”
During his term as Governor, Paterson was appointed by President George Washington to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1793 to1806, the year of his death.
On May 24, 1800, Justice William Paterson declared:
“Religion and morality…[are] necessary to good government, good order, and good laws, for ‘when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice’ [Proverbs 29:2].”*
Justice Paterson’s proclamation and statements echo Scripture, which is another lost episode in American history.
Read and reflect: Read Acts 1:8 and reflect of this Founder’s prayer for the ministers of the gospel to spread the message to the ends of the earth in the power of the Spirit.
Prayer: Father, we give you praise for your desire to draw people from every part of the globe to yourself through the cross of Christ. May we prove faithful in partnering with you in this mission, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: Gazette of the United States, No. 61 of Vol. III, November 26, 1791; Maeva Marcus, ed., The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 3:436. Bracketed items added.
“My dear Sir: I have heard of the death of your promising Son with great concern, and sincerely condole with you and Mrs. Knox on the melancholy occasion.
“Parental feelings are too much alive in the moment of these misfortunes to admit the consolations of religion or philosophy; but I am persuaded reason will call one or both of them to your aid as soon as the keenness of your anguish is abated.
“He that gave you now has a right to take away [Job 1:21], his ways are wise, they are inscrutable [Romans 11:33], and irresistible” [Romans 9:14-21]*
George Washington’s brief, Bible-based word of counsel about the character and nature of God to grieving friends is another lost episode in American history.
Read and reflect: Read the famous statement in Job 1:21 in the midst of his loss and reflect on what Washington said to his friend concerning the death of his son.
Prayer: Sovereign God, surely your ways are wise, inscrutable, and irresistible. Teach us to submit to your will even as Job did in his suffering and Jesus did in the garden, in His Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, 39 vols., (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1931-44), 31:360. Bracketed items added.
“In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man.
“All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it. To you I return my most sincere thanks for the very elegant copy of the great Book of God which you present.”*
Abraham Lincoln’s poignant thoughts on the Bible constitute another lost episode in American history.
Read and reflect: Read Psalm 19:7-11 and reflect on the matchless word of God with all the benefits to the reader and compare that with Lincoln’s commendation.
Prayer: Father, we praise you for your incomparable word. It is truly all that President Lincoln said it is and much more. May we spend greater time in your Book, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citation: Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 7:542.
On September 6, 1774, the First Continental Congress, meeting in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, debated the prospect of having a chaplain open their proceedings with prayer. Indeed, the felt need for prayer was made more evident by the rumor, though unfounded, that the British had begun bombarding Boston. While some devout delegates expressed concern about the diverse Christian denominations represented, Samuel Adams settled the matter when he declared:
“I am no bigot. I can hear a prayer from any man of piety and virtue, who is at the same time a friend to his country.”*
Samuel Adams swayed the opinion of Congress. The Rev. Dr. Jacob Duché, the Anglican minister of Philadelphia’s Christ Church, located just two blocks away, was commended as a worthy candidate to lead the Congress in prayer. Recorded in the Journals of the Continental Congress is their decision:
“Resolved, That the Rev. Mr. Duche’ be desired to open the Congress tomorrow morning with prayers, at the Carpenter’s Hall, at 9 o’clock.”*
Thus began the tradition of Congress opening their proceedings with Chaplain-led prayer, and that is another lost episode in American history.
Read and reflect: Read 1 Kings 22 and reflect on the government’s need to call in a “man of God” in the midst of government decision making.
Prayer: Father, thank you for government leaders in the founding of our nation who felt the need to seek out the help of spiritual leadership. May our current leaders see the same need, we pray, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
*Source Citations: George Bancroft, History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent, 10 vols., (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1858), 4:64. Worthington C. Ford, ed., The Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789, 34 vols., (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1905), 1:26.