Religious Faith: The Rock Upon Which Their Character Stood

From the beginning of the struggle to secure America’s independence, our leaders encouraged patriots to keep religious faith central in their thinking and actions. For example, signer Samuel Adams urged:

May every citizen in the army and in the country have a proper sense of the Deity upon his mind and an impression of the declaration recorded in the Bible, “Him that honoreth Me, I will honor; but he that despiseth Me shall be lightly esteemed.”


[I Samuel 2:30]

Signer John Witherspoon similarly advised:

Let therefore everyone who… offers himself as a champion in his country’s cause be persuaded to reverence the name and walk in the fearof the Prince of the kings of the Earth; and then he may with the most unshaken firmness expect the issue [God’s protection] either in victory or death.

General George Washington likewise told his troops:

The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.

He later reminded them:

While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.

In the early stages of the Revolution, the patriots lost battle after battle, but their strong faith in God would not let them despair—a point clearly illustrated by a conversation between signers Benjamin Rush and John Adams. As Rush later recounted:

Upon my return from the army to Baltimore in the winter of 1777, I sat next to John Adams in Congress, and upon my whispering to him and asking him if he thought we should succeed in our struggle with G. Britain, he answered me, “Yes — if we fear God and repent of our sins.”

With the signers’ unwavering faith in God and their “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence,” they finally saw the tide begin to turn. The change of fortune was so obvious that General Washington told General Thomas Nelson:

The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations [to God].

For the early patriots, God and Country, although two distinct entities, were inseparably joined in a mutually beneficial relationship. Perhaps Abigail Adams stated the premise most concisely when she declared:

[A] true patriot must be a religious man… [H]e who neglects his duty to his Maker may well be expected to be deficient and insincere in his duty towards the public.

Signer John Witherspoon agreed, reminding a group of patriots:

[H]e is the best friend to American liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy of God, I scruple not [do not hesitate] to call him an enemy to his country… God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.

Clearly, for most of the patriots, the rock on which their endeavors were based was religious faith.


 



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