It has been said by those who choose to revise history that our Founders were not Christians. At best they will concede that they might have been Deists, but under no circumstances were they traditional Christians.
While it’s true that some of our Founders were hard or soft Deists, our first president was definitely a faith-filled man in the traditional sense of the word, and stated so publically many, many times. In fact, the George Washington you’ll hear about on Off the Grid Radio this week is quite unlike the man you’ve heard about through years of indoctrination in the public school system and secular society.
Off The Grid Radio
Released: August 19, 2011
Bill: Welcome everybody, this is Bill Heid. I’ll be your host today for Off the Grid News. We’ve got a very special guest today – Dr. Peter Lillback. Dr. Lillback is president of Westminster Theological Seminary as well as president of Providence Forum, a non-profit corporation whose mission is to re-instill and promote Judeo-Christian world view within our culture and to advance the faith, ethics, and moral values consistent with the spirit of our nation’s founding. That’s a little bit about what we want to talk about today. I think today we live in a world that is bereft of leadership and when we look at a man like George Washington, I get goose bumps just thinking about it, because George Washington was probably one of the best leaders that walked on this planet. Dr. Lillback, welcome to the show today.
Dr. Lillback: Bill, what a privilege. It’s great to think of all the folks that are listening today. Thank you for your great work.
Bill: You betcha. Thank you. First, let’s talk a little bit – I want to talk about Washington as a leader because as I said there doesn’t seem to be much leadership in the world today. With respect to that, just to give you some context, to comment – I think the mantra today, Dr. Lillback, is “words not deeds.” I think with respect to Washington, how does that flow into what he believed, how did his character get formed? Because he was 180 degrees from that.
Dr. Lillback: Exactly right. If you were to ask him “what is your motto, Mr. Washington?” He would say “deeds, not words.” It’s exactly the opposite. He knew that words were cheap, that people could say just about anything they wanted. In fact, words could be twisted and turned around and that was even one of the warnings that he gave to the early congress. He said “the words on the Constitution can become a wall of parchment, a wall of words that can easily be set aside by lusting-for-power politicians and a lazy electorate.” His motto as a leader goes back to his coat of arms that actually says “the deed is proven by the action.” He was a man who was raised with the principle that you demonstrate what you believe by what you do. People will look at that and they will begin to understand what your real conflictions and commitments are. One of the things that he said to his officers was “the higher a rank that a man holds in the army, the more powerful his example becomes in how he lives.” Because he knows that actions speak louder than words. Washington was a soft-spoken, almost non-speaking person at many points, and almost never spoke about himself. He let his life speak for him. That’s the kind of leadership he wanted. The other thing that made him extraordinary is that when he did lead, and by his actions, he often asked himself this question – we can find it in his writings at different times – “what is the good of the great whole?” Not just “what’s good for me,” not “what’s good for my party or my constituents or my state or my particular support group,” but “am I acting in such a way that I’m consciously thinking about all of my army or the entire United States or the group that I am representing – that all of them are taken into consideration?” He was actually opposed to parties – that was one of the things he said – “I hope that we could have this focus on leadership.” That’s why, interestingly, he was elected twice to office as the President of the United States unanimously. We know that will never happen again. But he was so committed to seeking the good of the entire people that he had served that they all said “he’s the kind of man that we want.” Well, that won’t happen again. But his actions spoke for the good of the people. That, I think, is the principle that’s so hard to see today.
Bill: He had, as you said, such a great concept of the one and the many. He was able to balance his own needs out against the needs of the greater good. Let’s dig in a little bit. A lot of people think that Washington – there’s still that old, and I know I was brought up in high school with Paul Boller’s work – maybe you can comment about how that work that was written in the ‘60s eventually filtered – I was born in ’58 so by the time I got in high school a lot of that had filtered into the textbooks so that was the prevailing zeitgeist about Washington. Let’s talk a little bit about what formed him. Why did he have such a balance? I think we need to get to the foundational principles of which he believed. A lot of people, like Boller, would insist that he was a deist. You’ve done such remarkable work with “Sacred Fire” that I have to have you go through and talk about deism versus Christianity, definitionally first and then speak to Washington’s beliefs – his inner core beliefs that he held.
Dr. Lillback: Great. As you’ve said, as America and the progressive age and thereafter, be it determined to move beyond its foundational values – both in terms of the Constitution and also in terms of the world view and scriptures that informed that world view, the need for a different kind of Washington became more and more important. You can’t revise America entirely from Washington because our capitol is named after him, after all. We needed to make him a secular man instead of whoever he really was and that was Paul Boller’s work. The easiest way to accomplish that was to pick up on a viable world view stream that existed in Washington’s day called deism. When we define deism, we recognize that it’s just the Latin word for God – Deus – and the ‘ism’ meaning the belief structure built on it. But it has come to be used in a special way, differentiated from theism – that’s the Greek word for God – theus and ‘ism’ the belief structure that follows. The nomenclature basically falls in this way: deism holds to an impersonal, non-involved, remote creator whereas theism argues that there is a creative order of all things in God who has also spoken to us, engaged the world and is still active in history. Deism says we’re abandoned by the creator, theism says we are still cared for by the creator. I’ve tried to make a distinction in deism in terms of what I call hard deism and soft deism. We can define deism with maybe these five tenets – they’re my own definitions so they can be critiqued, but for my purposes this works well. Number one, Deism in its hard form rejects providence, there is no action of God in history – no governance. When you look at the “Age of Reason” by Thomas Paine, one of the classic hard deists, he says “providence is just one of the Christian mythologies – there is no providence.” Secondly, not only does it reject providence but then it’s going to reject the usefulness of prayer. Why in the world would you bother to pray if the God – whoever he is or what he is – that created the universe doesn’t care anymore? He’s wound it up and he’s letting it run out on its own. He’s the absentee landlord. The blind clock maker that has no interest in this world. If that’s who he is, then prayer is utterly useless – why bother to pray? Thirdly, why bother to have clergymen? Clergymen are just a waste of energy because you have people trying to help us to know God, to worship God, to hear from God – all of that’s impossible in a deist structure. The clergy become a waste of time. The really hard deists in France, in the French Revolution, used phrases like “our kind of vision for the future will finally come. When the last royal figure is strangled on the entrails of the last priest.” My goodness, that would make for quite a movie scene, wouldn’t it in our x-rated world? But what they’re saying is it’s useless. Then fourthly, we obviously need to recognize that Jesus Christ cannot be God in flesh. The incarnation is absurd, impossible, could not have happened. There may well have been a historical Jesus but he was just at best a spiritually enlightened educator. He is not God. Finally, what do we do with the bible? The bible’s just a book of myths and fairy tales – legends that have been collected through the past that have come down to us. Maybe we find some moral lessons in them but we certainly don’t find the word of God there, because God hasn’t spoken. The bible is just a collection of myths, filled with contradictions, warring views and unable to be followed except for any other kind of entertainment that we might find from the ancient world. That’s hard deism. The question that we have to ask is, is that what Washington held? But before we do that, let’s talk quickly about what soft deism might make. When I use the word soft deism, I’m actually thinking of what we could call Unitarianism – a kind of world view that says “yes, there is a God, there is a creator. We kind of look like deists but we’re not exactly deists.” While they reject the deity of Christ – they’re Unitarians after all, there’s only one God – they reject the bible as the word of God. They’re rationalistic, enlightenment type thinkers who “our reason determines what we believe about God.” They are not quite prepared to say “God can’t get involved in history. Maybe he can.” They’re willing to say that God might actually hear our prayers and therefore prayer has value. So clergymen that can help us to make sense of this kind of a world can actually help us. So we can see there are soft deists that we would call Unitarians. A good example of that among our founders, I believe, would be Thomas Jefferson, who in his writings will identify himself clearly as a Unitarian. He will attack the trustworthiness of the bible. He will affirm Jesus’ ethics but not his miracles. He will celebrate some of his teaching but he will not affirm his deity. But he would go to church. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson worships Sundays – of all places – in the Supreme Court chambers where the church actually sometimes met on Sundays. He composed a prayer and actually had some clergymen that he would listen to preach and was not opposed to them. We see that distinction. Now, with that background, we have to ask the question “is this George Washington?”
Bill: Dr. Lillback – that’s a good spot for us to break. We’re going to break for a little bit of a commercial moment here and then let’s come right back and start talking about the next segment of deism and who was and who wasn’t. We’ll be right back after this commercial break.[0:11:42 – 0:15:57 break]
Bill: We are back. Today we’re talking to Dr. Peter Lillback. We’re talking about a different paradigm when it comes to George Washington and the history of our founders. We’ve been discussing whether Washington is a deist or whether he was a Christian. Dr. Lillback, do you want to pick up again from where you left off?
Dr. Lillback: Yes. As we were talking, we made the distinction between a hard deist and a soft deist and the principles of these five issues which are: do we believe in providence? Does someone believe in the value of prayer? What about the clergy – are they significant? Is Jesus Christ God? Is the bible a divine revelation? Deists reject all of those; soft deists affirm the last two but reject the first three. Let’s put it this way, there’s five principles – if you remember that great scene in the OJ Simpson trial – now, we don’t all like OJ Simpson, I understand that, but you remember that defense attorney who says, with the glove in his hand, “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” right?
Bill: Oh, sure. Yes.
Dr. Lillback: OK, well we’ve got a deist glove here – five fingers – can we put it on Washington’s statesmanly hand? I’m going to say it doesn’t fit. I’m going to demonstrate it with the hard, cold empirical data that nobody can refute. That’s what’s wonderful – I can say to you “you cannot find him guilty of deism by the definition I’ve given” and it’s going to be hard to deny the definition I’ve given because that comes right out of their own teaching and writing. 1) Did he believe that providence is ludicrous? Of course not. over 270 times, Washington appeals to providence – not referring to Providence, Rhode Island, let me assure you – this is the doctrine of idea of providence or providential. It comes up in public and private, personal, business and military and you name it, it’s there. This is his most important teaching.
Bill: Did he even think you could be a good patriot and not believe in the concept of providence?
Dr. Lillback: He said “that man is more than wicked who does not believe. He is worse than an infidel.” The word infidel actually was a synonym for deists in Washington’s day, who could not see God’s providence on behalf of the American cause. After all, our Declaration of Independence concludes with the words “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence.” This was the Americana doctrine as America took on the battle with the world’s strongest army and navy and military force in history – the kingdom of England. So of course, providence was precious to him. I’d love to talk about it but if you go to Chapter 29 of “Sacred Fire” I actually go through and say – I give you an exhaustive and maybe exhausting summary of Washington’s use of that idea. He actually calls himself in one place “a preacher of providence” – that’s Washington. So that doesn’t fit. Secondly, what about prayer? Believe it or not, there are over 100 written prayers in Washington’s writings. They go from a sentence long to a long paragraph. They’re not by speech writers. He actually says “I now make it my prayer for you that,” and he then describes his prayer. They are sometimes very practical for daily bread and other times they’re spiritual and even talking about eternal life and the blessings of the country. So he believed in prayer.
Bill: Those prayers are very compact too, sometimes, weren’t they?
Dr. Lillback: They were very tight …
Bill: He could fit a lot of things into a paragraph.
Dr. Lillback: One of the things about Washington’s writings is that he wrote with that – he was self-taught but he was learning English self-taught in a time when classical English was still appreciated. His vocabulary is intense and precise and sometimes it is over the heads of the average American. Imagine this, a guy who had a very poor education who writes and we can’t understand him – not because he doesn’t write well, we don’t know what he’s talking about because we’ve had such poor educations ourselves. It’s like the “Federalist Papers” written to persuade farmers to support the Constitution – today academics can’t understand it because we’ve so dumbed down our education. The point is, you go further, what about this other issue of the clergy? They’re over 100 clergymen that were friends of Washington that stayed in his home or that he wrote to personally. In fact, he even had letters that he wrote thanking them for sermons they had written and talking about how he agreed or encouraged the circulation. Washington was a sermon collector of all things. That was one of my most exciting discoveries when I came across his collected sermons that he had in his library. I saw them in the Boston Athenaeum – I was utterly stunned because there are four or five volumes of sermons – all from different preachers – that he had bound together. Many of these he not only clearly had read but he had also corresponded with various people about. One of those sermons he agreed with was actually a sermon against deism, of all things.
Bill: Sure. Wouldn’t he read those sermons to his family on Sundays, Dr. Lillback, as well?
Dr. Lillback: We do. We have records from family members that indicated that it was his custom in the afternoon to read sermons to his wife and that the family would gather before they went to church and he would read a chapter from the bible to them before they went to worship. These sermons were very important. That sounds strange to us today but it was one of the most important means of communication in a world where there was no television, no radio, no fax machine, irregular newspapers, because sermons not only had spiritual, uplifting character but they also often celebrated major historical events and described them and put them in the context of a Christian world view interpretation. Sermons were very important and they were part of Washington’s life. He was not anti-clerical. More interestingly, and the last two points – maybe you’ve proven he could be a soft deist, but I want to show you now that Washington won’t let us be able to put him into the glove of a deist in any way at all because what did he think about Jesus Christ? Some scholars said “he never used the name of Jesus Christ.” The truth is, I’ve found at least two places where he wrote the name of Christ. Secondly, if the logic was consistent, and it would go like this – Washington never wrote the name of Christ so therefore he can’t be a Christian. Let’s test that. The woman who was most identified with overt Christianity in her day was a lady named Martha Washington – George Washington’s wife. She always went to communion, she always was reading her bible, she was very committed to Christian things. I’ve gone through her correspondence and guess what? I cannot find the name of Jesus Christ once in her letters. That raises a very different interpretation. If a most Christian woman never uses the name of Christ and Washington does at least twice, he must be more of a Christian than she is. Maybe that’s a non-sequitur but what it raises is what was this culture like? Washington being from, if you will, the British aristocracy in America, practiced the custom of keeping the holy name of Christ only for worship and he did not bring it as Evangelicals and many reformed people do into common parlance. It was a holy name. But we can prove that Washington said the name of Jesus Christ thousands of times because he was regular in the “Book of Common Prayer” usage on daily use and on worship Sundays. Those prayers say the name of Jesus Christ again and again, and the witnesses of his worshipping said it was his custom to stand when prayer occurred and when the name of Jesus Christ was said he would bow his head. He reverenced the name of Christ and spoke it thousands of times but he never brought it into the common daily activity. In fact, he describes Jesus as the “divine author of our blessed religion.” He calls him divine. He calls him the author of his religion as well as the 13 governors of the states he’s writing to at the end of the Revolutionary War. In fact, it’s interesting that he not only served in a Christian church where he had to take vows to faith in Jesus Christ, he did something that Thomas Jefferson never did – he served as a godparent in baptism on some eight or nine occasions. We can find in Jefferson’s writings he says “I’m sorry, I cannot serve as a godparent for your child because I cannot take the oaths required to the Trinitarian faith being a Unitarian.”
Bill: So people said to Jefferson, “would you sponsor my child? Would you stand up?” And he, I guess maybe honestly, would say “no, given what I believe I can’t do it.” But when Washington was asked, a different response.
Dr. Lillback: He did it on at least eight or nine occasions. In that day, to be a sponsor in baptism, it was the practice to take the Apostles’ Creed line by line and put it to the sponsor of baptism. It would say “do you believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth?” and the response was “yes, I so believe.” When it came to “do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, born of the Virgin Mary …” all the way through his crucifixion/resurrection and each line he would say “yes, I so believe.” Washington did that publicly on eight or nine occasions.
Bill: So he was a doctrinal – not only a Christian in the sense that we’re talking about but an Anglican doctrinally responsible Christian. He knew what he believed. He could articulate what he believed about the faith.
Dr. Lillback: The prayer book that was in use at that time, that came from the 1600s all the way up through the Revolutionary War, until it was altered to make it an American Episcopalian prayer book, actually included the Athanasian Creed regularly to be used in various services. I estimate on a conservative reading he must have at least 50 or 60 times in his life publicly read the Athanasian Creed. I challenge anybody to go and read that and ask yourself, do you believe it? It is powerful about the Trinity and about the full deity of Jesus Christ as being absolutely necessary for one’s salvation.
Bill: Is that prayer book available, Dr. Lillback? The old 1662 prayer book?
Dr. Lillback: I am not sure that it’s available in a published version today. I’ve seen it online and I have also been able to get a copy of it through used book stores. That’s what I used in my research.
Bill: What would someone enter into a search engine to find that prayer book?
Dr. Lillback: I think you would go back and look for the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, published – I think it was in the 1650s, about that time. It was in use and it had been altered periodically to be updated so that you would have the current royal family. The one that I have actually has George III’s name in it, if I remember correctly. It’d have been the kind of prayer book that Washington would have been using as he grew up. Those are available from rare bookstores and I think they’re available online. You can study all of what I’ve just said and you’ll find it quite remarkable. Washington was raised in a context where he took oaths to these historic Christian Trinitarian Christological doctrines to serve as a vestryman and a warden. He said them in the prayer book and when he wrote to the governors he affirmed that “the divine author of the blessed religion of Christianity was his own and unless we imitated him we could never be a happy nation.” He said “we must follow Christ in his peace, his humility and his love. If we don’t, we’ll never have a country that’s going to succeed.” That’s pretty extraordinary.
Bill: let’s go over that a little bit again, before we move on. I want to take a quick commercial break, one more time. Then I’ll come back and talk about we’re entering into hard times right now. It’s something we talk about on this show. We want to be a happy nation again. All we have to do is follow this advice. I promise our listeners, if we follow this advice as a nation, we can become a happy nation again. We’ll talk about that on the other side of the break.[0:28:38 – 0:32:55 break]
Bill: And we are back. It’s Bill Heid talking with Dr. Peter Lillback today. We’re talking about the other side – what makes a happy nation? I know you had mentioned, Dr. Lillback, one of Washington’s statements about a happy nation. I can’t remember it all – I remember some of it – it says “we’ll never be a happy nation unless we do justice, love mercy, and imitate the divine author.” I know there’s probably more to that. This is important stuff. It seems like today we’re dancing around the periphery. In other words, if you watch the news, it’s all about peripheral things and none of the things it’s going to take to solve our nation’s troubles are ever mentioned. Yet Washington knew – he went to the heart of things so quickly.
Dr. Lillback: That’s well said, Bill. I think what we are hearing now in this letter that Washington actually signed 13 times – it went to every one of the governors of the now independent states at the end of the Revolutionary War. He’s giving, if you will, his exit advice to the new leaders. He’s saying “here’s what you’ve got to do.” He starts off by saying “I now make it my earnest prayer.” It’s a wonderful prayer that he gives. He says, as most of us know from Micah 6:8, there’s that extraordinary statement that says “he has showed you, O man, what the Lord requires of you. But to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That’s a great statement and I think that formula is the classic formula – the Old Testament – people of God finding their happiness in God’s rule in history. Washington takes those three points and he puts it this way “that you must do justice, you must love mercy …” Then, he changes the line that says “and walk humbly with your God.” He says “you must imitate the divine author of our blessed religion.” In other words, what he does is he takes the verse that all the biblically literate people of America would have known and he puts it in a Christo-centric form – Christ-centered – it’s what we teach students to do at Westminster, to see Christ in all the bible. He does it right there. He says “listen, if you’re going to walk humbly with God, the way you do that is you look at Jesus Christ and you walk with him.” The things that a nation has to do if it’s going to be happy – and nobody wants a miserable nation – you’re going to have to, first of all, recognize his commitment to charity. That is his commitment to love. To love God and to love our neighbor. You’re going to have to recognize his humility – it wasn’t all about yourself as a citizen, it’s about your serving the greater good. Remember one of Washington’s principles is the good of the great whole. You must be humble and participate seeking what’s best for everybody. Then he also says that we must be committed to that specific temper of mind, that commitment to a just peace, that we are not committed to causing fighting and fractiousness and warfare but we’re trying to find a community where we’re actually brining value – where orderliness is coupled with love, Christ characterness of peace and humility. He said “there’s no way we’ll be a happy nation unless we do that.” Now, along with that, remember we talking about the tenets of deism. We might say “how do we learn to follow Christ in this way?” Washington makes that pretty clear too. He says, as he’s writing to these men “that we have all of these great blessings that we’ve had in America. We have fruitful fields, we have harbors, we have education. We have all kinds of good things that we have.” But he says “above all, America has the benign light of revelation.” What’s he mean with that, benign – that means the really good things that come from having a word from God. He recognized that he was not a deist, that America was not a deist nation. They didn’t believe that God had wound up the world and disappeared and left it to its own devices. But he’d revealed himself, he disclosed himself, that he revealed himself through the scriptures so that when we look at the word of God and we find the truth of Christ and we learn to model his leadership attributes, this is how we have the best of goodness and we have the happiness that God has for us. It’s interesting that as Washington was getting ready to assume his presidency, as the Constitution had now been written, he is now unanimously elected – he sits down and writes a 60 page letter for congress. For some reason, he decided not to send it. I wish he had sent it but he didn’t. But here’s what he says in that letter – it’s written with his own hand – he says “the blessed religion revealed in the word of God.” My goodness. What a statement that is. He’s speaking about the bible. “The blessed religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal monument.” The word of God is eternal. “It reminds us forever what human beings can do in their depravity.” My goodness, he’s sounding like a Presbyterian now – a reformed Christian. “The blessed religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal monument to show what human beings can do in their depravity to corrupt the best of institutions.” He’s appealing to the biblical story of how the very law court of Israel established by God with his word was corrupted when they crucified Christ and condemned him unjustly to death. He says “that can happen to our Constitution.” He says “I pretend to know futurity. I don’t have the ability to see the future but it will not be the first time in this transient state of human existence when something that was intended to be a blessing will be turned into a curse. This might happen with our Constitution where these great blessings that we are intending for our people through the lust for power of wicked politicians and the supineness or laziness of the electorate will turn this great document into a wall of words or just a mound of parchment.”
Bill: I’ve got to stop you. I’ve got to stop you again because that’s something worth meditating on. Lust for power among politicians coupled with a lazy electorate. Look around us, right? Did he hit it, again?
Dr. Lillback: What Washington is telling us in these two extraordinary statements – that we must find our model in the transcendent values of Christ and we must learn from the teaching of Scripture that tells us if God is giving us something good we will corrupt it unless we are involved in the process. We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We have to be involved. Human depravity being what it is – he didn’t quote Lord Acton for Lord Acton hadn’t been born yet, but basically what he was saying is “power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” The Constitution that limited power, that gave checks and balances, will constantly have the eroding effect of lustful politicians who want more and more power for themselves and they’re going to get away with it. The republic is based only on words and people have to make sure that those limits are intact.
Bill: When we argue about the Constitution today, if the electorate – if the politicians don’t have the same belief about metaphysics and ethics that the founders had, it’s basically a nonsensical – it’s like an Orwellian nightmare. You’re arguing over a piece of paper. You’re not arguing over the principal issue.
Dr. Lillback: That’s well said. I think there’s a great example here for us. Some of your listeners may know a man by the name of J Gresham Machen who was the founder of Westminster Seminary in 1929. He wrote a book in the early 1920s called “Christianity and Liberalism.” Basically what he said is, Christianity and Liberalism are alike in that they use the same vocabulary, but they’re absolutely different because they have two different belief systems. One is a Christian religion and the other is a non-Christian religion using the same words. Can I say the same reality is facing us today in America? We have a constitutional government where all the people are using constitutional vocabulary but they mean two different things. One is American constitutionalism and the other is liberalism that is denying those very principles. They’re saying the people are not smart enough to understand the Constitution. We’ve outgrown the limits of the Constitution. We are evolving into something better. It needs to be trans-national in character instead of being national sovereignty in its base. The principles of who we are and the kind of government that we have requires that words have meanings – that words have limitations and that we must see to it that our politicians are held accountable to those and not get away with their weaselly liberalism of redefining words to their own ends.
Bill: I was going to say, our good friends at Media Matters will say – your friend and my friend and Glenn Beck’s friend, and I’ve actually seen this written before – “there wasn’t even airplanes then.” Somehow that’s supposed to make sense and because there wasn’t airplanes we’re going to throw everything out about the formation of our country, because there wasn’t airplanes.
Dr. Lillback: Let’s test it this way. When major league baseball was invented there weren’t cell phones so let’s throw it out.
Bill: [laughs] No more baseball.
Dr. Lillback: That logic is irrational. When carrots began to be put in salad, there wasn’t an automobile, so let’s don’t eat carrots anymore. That is the most foolish, nonsensical, illogical argumentation. Bu the fact that it carries weight shows that people understand nothing about the transcendent nature of truth and justice and goodness. We’ve been so dumbed down that all we can think about are technology, as though that is ultimate reality. That’s nothing. That is an expression of our skills at manipulating material. When we talk about the Constitution, we are talking about justice. We’re talking about following order that preserves justice. We’re talking about foundational moral values about not stealing property, about making sure that people are free, about making sure that human nature that is corrupting and corruptible and corrupted does not distort the great gifts of freedom that we have and to bear licentiousness. We are not capable of thinking those thoughts because we have been thought to think illogically and we’ve lost the principles that our founders put in place. That’s why it’s so important that people off the grid with a different paradigm go back to values because at the end the day will come when even a child can say “the emperor has no clothes.” They’ll be able to say “there is no constitution in that government.” Even a child will be able to see it because that will be the truth because the truth ultimately is what will set us free.
Bill: I was going to mention too – you touched on something briefly there – there’s a transcendent appeal that happened both in the English Civil War as well as ours. They would carry placards that said “appeal to heaven.” In other words, they weren’t appealing inside this closed system to other humans. Their appeal, even in the foundation of our country, was it not – it was an appeal to heaven. Even Jefferson used that language, whether he wanted to admit what he was doing or not, he used that language in the Declaration.
Dr. Lillback: There’s no question about it. This actually is the political theory of John Locke, a very self-conscious Christian. He wrote with Christian world view concepts in many ways in his writings. He basically said that “a king and his subjects have a covenantal relationship. When that relationship is violated by the king, the people have the right to pursue their unalienable rights – given not by the king but by God – by actually resisting the king and defending themselves.” That was shortened down to a simple line by Samuel Adams, one of our great founders, and those that followed him with the language “an appeal to heaven.” In fact, we find that right in the Declaration of Independence. It says “for the rectitude of our intentions, we appeal to the supreme judge of the world.” It’s one of the most overlooked divine references in the Declaration – there are four. That one that is appealed to, in the historic context – the supreme judge of the world – if you asked most of the men “who is the supreme judge of the world according to the bible?” They would say “it’s Jesus Christ at the end of history.” That is probably a oblique reference to Christ’s ultimate judgment of history as the King of kings and Lord of lords. The point is, we have a duty to demonstrate that we are not just in rebellion. We are not just anarchists. We are not just troublemakers or rioters or looters or plunderers. We’re not the barbarians at the gate. What we are, are principled people that have been blessed with unalienable rights by God because all men are created equal under his power and we are appealing to him for the proper purpose to stop the tyranny that had been perpetrated against us by one who’s no longer fit to be called a king of a free people. The whole Declaration of Independence concludes with some 30 or so examples of the tyranny of the king of England that had breached this proper relationship between a king and his subjects. That appeal to heaven was an appeal to a transcendent truth claim. That’s what secularists ultimately want to take from us. They’re taking away from us not only the education that we need to understand the gifts of our freedom, but the ability to get over their legal declarations that this is true “because we said so.” It’s called the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of power. The great American experiment said “we don’t believe that our leaders have enough power and wisdom to judge us, that we must always have the ability to appeal to a transcendent truth of right and power and justice” that comes from what Washington called “the word of God” or “the divine author of our blessed religion.” These transcendent principles have given us, if you will, the ability as the Constitution says, to be amended. One of the great examples of that was when they finally came to grips with their indifference about slavery and said “it’s a moral evil and we have to change this. We can no longer countenance it constitutionally or relationally.” There are many damages that came to the world because of slavery and its undoing but it is an example of trying to rectify something that was wrong by appealing to something that is right that’s transcendent.
Bill: That’s a good point. And continuing to make that appeal as if we’re not done yet. We’re going to continue to make that appeal. We’re going to continue to make this document better and better. We’re going to take a short break. We’re talking today with Dr. Peter Lillback about George Washington. Dr. Lillback is the author of “Sacred Fire.” We’ll be right back after this message.[0:48:52 – 0:53:10 break]
Bill: We are back again. It’s Bill Heid. Today we’re talking about the kind of leadership that can restore our nation. We find a wonderful example in George Washington. Dr. Lillback’s been talking about that. I’ve got a couple of other questions that I wanted to ask you. If you could, tell the story about Mrs. Hamilton and how that’s recounted, because a lot of people say he never took communion. It’s one thing after another you have to check off. But that story does more than check another thing off the list, when he took communion. It’s a personal story and I found that really powerful.
Dr. Lillback: That’s great. Let’s try to put this story in context. It’s the day of Washington’s inauguration as the President of the United States under the Constitution. Extraordinary moment. The man who would not become king at the end of the Revolutionary War is called by his people to become president, having actually presided at the Constitutional Convention trying to create a document that would really live out its first three words – “we the people, do establish and ordain this constitution …” Here we are with this moment, he’s taking his oath of office. At that time he had his hand upon the bible that was opened to Genesis 49 – the story of Jacob blessing his children. Here’s the father of his country seeking to bless his nation. He takes the oath of office, he says “so help me God.” He kisses the bible following a traditional Anglican model of taking an oath. He gives his inaugural address – the first third of it is nothing less than a sermon on God’s providence in history. In there, he calls on America to receive the sacred fire – the sacred fire of liberty that’s been entrusted into the hands of the American people in this new republican form of government. That’s where I got the title for my book, from those great words that he gives. At the end of this extraordinary moment, he walks a few blocks down the street to what was once an Anglican chapel, now is an Episcopal chapel because the war is over. Washington, who never took communion in an Anglican setting from the beginning of the revolution now is going to have a worship service in the Episcopal tradition – no longer the Church of England – but in the same form but now a church in the United States. At the end, according to the personal eyewitness testimony that was recorded by her family through the generations, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton said “I had the privilege today to kneel and take the Eucharist with the newly inaugurated President of the United States of America.” I think that’s an extraordinary moment because here was someone that had known Washington, by her own testimony, as a young girl – General Schuyler’s daughter – at Valley Forge. That’s where she met the man that would become her husband, a military officer – Alexander Hamilton, who’s on the $10 bill to this day. Mrs. Alexander Hamilton is now viewing the man who has now taken power, who had fought against the British, who had renounced the king – which no Anglican could do and be in good communion with the church because to be an Anglican you had to pray for the king of England. You can go to Christ Church Philadelphia and periodically they’ll have the Anglican prayer book where it was lined out by the then rector Jacob Duche saying “no longer do we pray for the king of ours because he’s not our king.” They put in handwritten prayers for the honorable continental congress. Washington was one who was fighting for those very realities in church and state. Now he had taken communion. People have often argued “he couldn’t have been a Christian, he never took communion.” The evidence doesn’t show that. In the Revolutionary War, in Morristown, New Jersey, you’ll find that to this day the church commemorates Washington taking communion there with a stained glass window and part of their direct story, right from their early pastor to this day, when Washington came and said “may I commune with you?” He didn’t go to an Anglican church, he went to a Presbyterian church. Most of his officers were Presbyterians and he felt comfortable with them as a low church Anglican/Episcopalian. In fact, during the Yellow Fever epidemic that killed thousands of people in Philadelphia and the government had to flee the city lest they perish like so many did. The mayor of Philadelphia died of Yellow Fever. He ended up going to a distant city – today, interestingly, part of Philadelphia called Germantown. While he was there in Germantown, he not only set up a temporary Oval Office but he actually was in a German Reform pastor’s study as he did his business. They allowed him to have a study to work. According to that church’s tradition they said “while Washington was there he partook of communion with the Reformed church.” What we find then, as the war is over and the government has reestablished the legitimacy of the English church tradition – and that took an act of congress and they did it – it took an act of the English Parliament and they did it. The Episcopal Church is established and Washington communes with his patriotic friend, a bishop in New York City who had fought and stood for the patriotic effort, which shows us that Washington was not against Christianity. He was not against communing but actually was very concerned that he would be honorable because he understood that the Eucharist was about communing with those fellow believers with whom you stood. He had broken covenant with the king, who was the head of the English church, because he had become a tyrant. That had been resolved as the newly elected president now coming as a private citizen but also as the president of the country – he was willing to commune, which shows that he was not against Christianity or that he feared the public role of religion in the life of a public leader. He recognized that it was one of his freedoms and that he modeled for us, for everyone thereafter.
Bill: Almost a necessity from his perspective.
Dr. Lillback: If you still think his words are relevant, that we must imitate the divine author of our blessed religion, and if you still think that Washington was right when he said that we must learn from the blessed religion revealed in the word of God about how we can corrupt in our depravity the best of human institutions, then we can recognize why he would say we need to be under the teaching of the word of God, because we all need to have that reforming power of grace and scripture to lead. He understood that that should be part of the American experience but he was also very careful, and we can see this in 20-plus personally written letters to different religious groups that he wanted to preserve their rights of conscience and religious liberty. He did not want to impose a religious worship on anyone but he wanted to make sure that the religious life that was necessary for the country were preserved. In fact, as he left office, his final words in his farewell address were “religion and morality are indispensable supports for our political prosperity.” He didn’t say “we need to have a separation between church and state.” He said “there’s a floor that separates the constitution from religion and it needs that floor held up by two pillars – the pillars of religion and morality,” because he had a logic that our founders held. If you want to have a republic then you need to have a constitution. A constitution alone can define a republic. It doesn’t come into being except by an agreed covenantal federal or covenantal government. But to have a constitution you have to have people who are willing to obey words on a paper. You need to have moral people, educated people that can understand the principle. Freedom, republic, morality – but how do you get morality? He says “whatever may be allowed to the peculiar structures of certain kind of thinkers, experience shows us that you cannot have national morality without religion.” In other words, to have moral people you need to have religious institutions that will teach and nurture and encourage the moral principles of what Washington will call in some places the Decalogue and other places what he will call the eternal rules of law and order – the moral principles of the Ten Commandments. He said “without these being taught, we’re not going to have religion and morality supporting our constitution which alone will give us a republic which will give us the freedom that we all really want to have.” He says “not just the mere politician but every man must recognize that these principles are necessary if we are going to have this kind of freedom. Therefore, true patriotism requires that we see religion and morality are part of our country, to maintain the fabric of constitutional ordered liberty.” Without this – to use what Washington said elsewhere – we cannot be a happy nation.
Bill: Here’s a guy that emphasized his whole life faithful obedience. He always emphasized deeds to a greater extent than words. He fought with his life for both civil as well as religious liberty. He took some hits, Dr. Lillback. I know we could do a whole show on some of the trials that he went through – his own troops that deserted him, people were calling for him to withdraw as being a general during the war. He just took some hits and yet he did not give in because he was a faithful steward. I want to get you to comment on that and I want to get you to comment on how this faithful steward, this Cincinattus, this wonderful man – how he died.
Dr. Lillback: As we think about Washington, I like to say he’s one of the greatest figures in human history for the two things he did not do. He didn’t give up at Valley Forge when everybody thought he should. And he fought to the end to the victory and when everybody saw the victory was his he did not become king when everybody tried to make him king. Where did he get those moral principles? From following the divine author of our blessed religion and also by following the word of God and its revelation. He found the character that made him a man of faith. It’s that principled trust in providence and in moral and religious training that was part of his life that brought him to the end of his life on his deathbed. As Washington was now a private citizen, having stepped down even though others tried to have him serve a third term – he said “no, two is enough, I’m going home.” He always wanted to get to his farm but he never could get there. His favorite bible verse is “the vine and fig tree.” He said “I want to get to my own vine and fig tree, where every man can sit and none will be afraid.” He applied that to Mt. Vernon and he applied it to the United States. He applied it to the Jews and the religious asylum that they would have in America. He wanted to get home and rest there. As he reflected, he realized that there was a big hiatus of morality in his life and it had to do with slavery. As he began to prepare for death, he had a dream. His wife actually talks about that dream, it troubled him so much. I think it was a dream about his own death. He actually wrote two wills – one will I think was written assuming that he died before Martha and the other one was written assuming that he died after Martha. On his deathbed, coming down with a very sudden illness where his throat had swollen, he was unable to swallow and breathe and barely able to croak out a word. He told her to burn one of the wills and in that will, of course, it freed all the slaves that he had, when she died, and it provided for them. He didn’t want to die knowing that he was owning slaves because he’s recognized that it was wrong and he wanted to right that moral crime that was still part of the southern culture. He wanted to end it and he did that in his will. As he’s on his deathbed – it’s interesting, his close friends come to see him. They had hoped they could help him, give different treatments, but they decided to bleed him. They bled him so many times that certainly helped speed his death because medical knowledge was so limited. One of them had learned about a tracheotomy, where you open a person’s throat by putting a hole in their neck so they can breathe if it’s clogged. But this had never been done in the new world and they were afraid to experiment on such an important person. They said “we need to try it but we can’t do it on Washington. He’s our president.” Washington, unable to speak, passes away. But as he passes away, there are a few things that he says, one of which is that he brings in his personal assistant that helped him for years and he emphasizes “three days before I’m buried.” Why is that? You can go back into some of the sermons that he had read, there was actually a teaching that a movement in New England had emphasized “don’t bury people too fast because we’ve discovered spontaneous recovery of life in a second or first day of someone being pronounced dead.” In the very imprecise day of medicine at that time, they were burying people that actually woke up out of comas. Washington said “make sure I’m dead three days before you put me in my tomb,” so he’s thinking very practically. The other thing that’s interesting, as you can imagine the scene, we’re told by his family that seated next to him was Martha. As she had always done, she had her open bible and was reading and praying next to her husband who clearly was dying. The doctors were there present. Finally, when he’s hearing that he’s close to dying, his words that he’s able to speak out are very simple, “’tis well,” and he dies. Why are those words important? They’re important because they’re the words that Christians often sing in a song that captures this “It is Well of My Soul.” I think it’s Horatio Spafford who wrote that song, having heard that his family had perished on the high seas and he’d lost all of his possessions. He said “it is well of my soul.” It is the kind of words that a person says when they’ve lived their whole life believing in divine providence. He’s come to the end of his life. He said earlier “I am ready to die.” And he says, lastly, “it is well.” He was not afraid. People note that there were no clergymen that were invited to his bedside. Washington, being a low churchman, didn’t think you had to have a preacher present to pray. His wife was there praying with an open bible and the person who was there that was his closest friend throughout life was the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian, Dr. Craik. He had been with him all the way through the war. He had been with him fox hunting years before. He had been with him surveying out in the frontier when the great Indian prophecy occurred, he had seen that. He was a man of faith who was with him right to the end. He was surrounded by faith. When the family finally had the chance to build the new tomb that Washington asked for in his will, they built that new burial place which you can go today at Mt. Vernon. If you look carefully on the back, they put up a bible verse that comes from John 11 that says “Jesus is the resurrection and the life.” They were in that great Christian tradition believing that one who dies well in the gospel “’tis well” is one who will rise up on the great resurrection day by the gospel of the Lord. The Christian faith was at work and all of that. People tried to turn that into some kind of unbelief but actually it’s part of a very understated, quiet, personal testimony of living in providence, of one who realized that it’s well with his soul as he passed into eternity.
Bill: Well, Dr. Lillback, we have run out of time and I couldn’t think of a better way to end it than end it just the way you have. I wanted to say a personal thank you for doing the heavy lifting, the hard work for bringing somebody back – for taking one of our people back from his being seized, so we thank you for today and we thank you for taking him back – for bringing Washington back to us. He is one of ours and we can never forget that. We just want to say thank you today for being with us and thanks for your hard work.
Dr. Lillback: It’s a great pleasure. If we’ve whetted anyone’s interest, I hope they’ll contact us at the Providence Forum. You can find us online. You can get “Sacred Fire” easily through Amazon or through our office. We have educational materials we’re putting together that will give you a faith and freedom tour of Philadelphia in its founding era. We want to educate people. We want to offer a different paradigm, we surely do – one that re-celebrates the wonderful faith of our founders that gave us so many of the values that we’ve enjoyed and that so many are trying to strip from us today. So thank you, Bill, for the privilege of sharing these things with so many listeners.
Bill: Thank you again, Dr. Lillback. We do thank you again for spending an hour with us today, or maybe a little more than an hour. We’ll be back again next week with another episode of Off the Grid Radio. Thanks for your time.[0:71:32]