If President George Washington miraculously returned to America in 2012, what do you think he would have to say to our countrymen, our presidential candidates, and President Obama himself? I don’t think most of it would be complimentary. In fact, I think he would be horrified at the direction the country has taken and at the character of her people and leaders.
Our Constitution was made for a religious and moral people. That transcendent notion of God and the belief in the supremacy of divine law is what undergirds our Constitution. Washington said that if the people of America reject that divine law, then this nation would not be able to stand.
Off The Grid Radio
Released: February 10, 2012
Bill: Welcome to Off the Grid Radio. Better ideas to bust you and your family out of today’s global control grid. Now here’s today’s show. Greetings and welcome everybody. It’s Bill Heid today. I’ve got a special guest, Dr. Peter Lillback. Dr. Lillback is the head of Providence Forum as well as the president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Dr. Lillback, welcome again to the show.
Peter: Bill, it’s a pleasure to be with you and to share with all those that love your work. So thanks so much.
Bill: And thank you again. You know, last time we were talking, my daughter Tracy, as a result of our show, created this liberty blanket and as I said to you earlier, we sent you one. She was inspired by your message. We know from Nellie Custer, one of Washington’s phrases was, “Deeds, not words,” right? So we were all doing things. We’re trying to get things done and get the word out. So she sent you one of those and we want to thank you for that inspiration.
And we also want to talk a little bit about this idea of an appeal to God and an appeal to Heaven, which Washington used, I believe, on his flag for his cruisers. But it was a notion that I think resonates with some presuppositions in Washington’s life here. And I’d like you talk a little bit about his background. And I want to kind of dredge from you, just where you think… How did he get to this notion where he thought that there was a transcendent notion of law and an appeal to God and how that undergirds what we know about our Constitution?
Peter: That’s great. Well first of all, let me begin by saying I’m so grateful for that beautiful liberty blanket. I have it prominently displayed at the Providence Forum office and I go by it and I’m grateful for the loving touches that are there, reminding us of our connection here with Off the Grid Radio. So thanks a lot.
Bill: You’re certainly welcome.
Peter: All right. In terms of the question of appeal to Heaven, let’s begin with something that is a known fact and maybe work back from that. Probably most of the listeners know that there is something called the Declaration of Independence. I don’t think I have to prove that’s existence to anybody. But surprisingly, many people don’t remember some of the leading themes and motifs of the Declaration. One of those things that it says is, “For the rectitude of our intentions, we appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world.” In other words, an appeal to God or an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world. It’s the same thing. And so the idea of an appeal to God is woven into the very fabric of the document that declared to the world that America was going to be independent. So it’s very easy to see that our founders were under that spirit.
And so, since George Washington now, was the Commander in Chief of the Army, this, if you will, was the statement of his marching orders. He was now going out to defend American independence and he was doing it, recognizing that the founders, including himself, could appeal to God Himself and say, “What we are doing is right.” What were they doing? They were breaking the bonds of government and authority with the king of England for the colonies of the United States. For the English perspective, that was rebellion. It was attacking the king’s authority. For those that were on the American side, they said, “We have gone through one step after another trying to find a basis to protect the liberties that are given to us by God, unalienable rights. And we are now standing to protect these rights that God has given us that no one can take away. And in doing it, we want the world to know that our intentions, our actions, our efforts, our appeal to God is absolutely consistent. That God Himself can look at what we’re saying and see that it’s right because we are defending what He gave to us.”
So that is the beginning, if you will, of the philosophical concept of a higher authority over an earthly king. Instead of an appeal to a king, they are appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world, who judges even the king. And right there, you can see the tension. Is this going to be, as we use the words from Samuel Rutherford, the famous Scottish puritan political scientist? His book was Lex, Rex. Law is king. The English king, if he had written a book, would have said, “Rex, Lex.” The king is law. And it’s right there at the core, that we see there’s an appeal to God to say, “What we are saying is that God is the source of law and we are appealing to His law as we stand against the tyranny, the abuse and the injustice that has been perpetrated against the colonies.” That idea is right at the core of our founders, including George Washington.
Bill: Well, you’ve got in his… Let me read a little bit, to take it a little bit further, from his inaugural. You’ve got this idea and of course, it’s in your wonderful book Sacred Fire. This is part of what he’s saying in the inaugural address: “The propitious smiles of Heaven cannot be expected on any nation that rejects the eternal laws that have been ordained by Heaven.” I kind of find that resonating well with this same concept. In other words, he is saying you try to separate these things… You know what? Let’s go back for a second. There probably was a notion, Dr. Lillback, was there, of a secular nation at that time even? Of all the nations of the world, was there a notion of a secular nation in 1775?
Peter: Well, let’s say in the western European setting, the Reformation’s principle of the authority of the scripture, the revelation of God, God the Creator. All of those would have been given parts of the worldview of Western Europe. They would not have been disputed. The idea of rejecting the notion that we are under God really begins to happen in the French Revolution, when we have radical deism. And of course that continues on with Marxism and other forms where they say, “We are God. We make the rules and power is what makes right.”
But at that time in history, there was a recognition that there was a Creator, an ultimate One to whom people had to appeal. In fact, it was not at all uncommon for nations to say, “If you do not believe in God, you cannot be viewed as a credible witness in court because you don’t believe we’re going to be held accountable when you’re under oath.” And so it took time for that idea, for an atheist, to be actually viewed as a credible testimony in court because they said, “Without that transcendent element, we think you’re willing to lie and distort the truth. We can’t trust you.” So that was the milieu, the worldview, that was operating by and large at that time.
Bill: So when the founders start to use the word tyranny, and we find the definitional quality of tyranny at that time, I think probably went back to the Greek use of that, which kind of meant someone that’s ruling without God or without this transcendent notion that you’re talking about. Is that kind of the idea of tyranny as they saw it?
Peter: Well, I think tyranny would have been defined as a desire to act without respect to the justice that is due to the person that’s under your authority. In other words, a king does not have the right to do whatever he wants just because he’s the potentate, the powerful authority of a culture. He can only act according to his authority when it’s measured by the laws of justice and the laws of right and wrong. So a king cannot kill just because he wants to kill. A king cannot steal just because he wants something. While he has authority to take life and while he has authority to take property, he must do it in a just way, in a way that recognizes the legitimate rights of a person who has life, the legitimate rights of a person who has property. And when the king says, “I don’t care about their rights, I’m just doing what I want,” that now is set aside justice and it’s just raw power.
Raw power benefitting the person in authority is tyranny. And so that idea of tyranny says that even the power of the one who may claim to be divinely appointed by God—That was the king’s view. The divine right of monarchy. “I have the right to rule because God put me in place. —Still, he was under God. In using his power, he still had to recognize there was a right and there was a wrong. Now the debate, of course, is what was justice in those cases? The idea that justice needed to be done, I think that was a firm commitment of all the perspectives that were at work.
Bill: So justice was a big issue and of course, he found the center of justice Christologically, right? He found, if he was going to go back to Malachi and talk about doing justice and mercy, he kind of ends up finding that in a New Testament version. He’s basically saying, “I find this all centered in Christ,” right?
Peter: Well, I think if we take the two passages from Washington that you have in mind, the one from this inaugural that says, “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of right and wrong ordained by Heaven,” that first statement is telling us that Washington was a firm believer that God’s favor, His smile, His blessing, His protection would not be resting on a nation that said, “I don’t care what you think is right and wrong, even if they are eternal. We can do whatever we want.” That’s the idea of eternal justice, based upon the character of God. So that passage then, is our first principle that we have to keep in mind. The law of God, we could call that the Ten Commandments, but eternal law.
Then he takes the idea of law and he does see it personified in a remarkable way, in his farewell letter to the 13 governors of the independent states. He is now the victorious general. He has won the war and he signs this letter to all 13 governors. In that letter, he concludes with a prayer where he says, “I now make it my earnest prayer that…” So it’s a remarkable substantial prayer where he asks for care for the widows, the orphans and others and he’s praying for the well being of America. And in that, he then appeals to Micah, chapter 6 in verse 8, that says, “Do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” The word do justice is obviously an appeal back to Exodus 20, the Ten Commandments. That’s where justice comes from. It’s the nature of God revealed to man.
So we’re to do justice, we’re to love mercy but then Washington does this extraordinary thing where instead of saying, “And walk humbly with your God,” he actually turns it into a New Testament, Christological statement and this is where you introduced the word Christology here. He says, “Imitate the divine Author of our blessed religion.” So you do justice, you love mercy and the way you walk humbly with your God is by imitating the divine Author of our blessed religion. And so he’s saying we’ve got to look at Christ because he is the law personified. He is the Living Word who has taken the revealed word and shown us how to live it.
And Washington specifically applies three characteristics of the divine Author of our blessed religion, Jesus Christ, to emulate. One of which is humility. Another is His principle of love. And then His commitment to a mind of peace. Humility, love and peace are the characteristics that we are to take. So what does that mean? Well, the powers of government can’t be like the arrogance of a king who says, “I am above the law. I can do what I want.” No, he’s humble. That means following the example of Christ, who submitted to the will of His Father. We are to submit ourselves to the will of Christ, to the will of God’s justice. Humility. Love. Well, what does the New Testament say? How do we fulfill the law?
If you really love your neighbor, Jesus says, you fulfilled all the law. Because the two great commandments of the law are to love your neighbor as yourself and to love God with all your heart. That is the model of Christ. That is the summary of His teaching. And so there’s the Christology here. We walk in God’s justice when we love our neighbor, when we love our God. When you love your neighbor, you give him his due. You seek justice. And then when you’re committed to peace, when you’re someone who wants to not have war, one of the ways you keep from fighting is that you make sure that someone’s property rights, that their right to life, that their liberty is not in any way unjustly abridged. You’re actually protecting them in their foundational rights to life, liberty, property and ultimately, religious liberty or the pursuit of happiness.
And in those words, Washington was giving a wonderful statement to the governors of the states, that reflect what it means to believe in those eternal rules of right that have been revealed by Heaven. They are lived out in Christ and they are lived out when we live in peace with our neighbors, when we love God and we love our neighbor and when we have that humility that doesn’t say, “I’m the king, established by God. Do whatever I tell you, no matter what.” But rather, one who says, “I must exercise my authority but always with justice under God and recognizing that I do not have an absolute right but I have a transcendent law that I, even as a monarch or as a statesman, a President, have to follow.” So indeed, there is law and there is Christology, both examples of this idea of an appeal to Heaven or an appeal to God.
Bill: I have always been amazed that Washington and his perspective there… I just want to pick your brain a little bit. Didn’t he call Cromwell “the usurper”?
Peter: He did.
Bill: And now isn’t it interesting to you, Dr. Lillback? From where I sit, it seems to me like they’re using the same appeal though. Cromwell certainly appealed to God. I think some of the flags that were carried in Cromwell’s army were very similar to that. And there was an appeal to God there. And yet, Washington found him a usurper. Do you want to comment on that a little bit? Because I see them both… They are both kind of heroes of mine. I know they’re men. I know they’re flesh. I know neither man was perfect but I see this idea of if you’re in trouble, if your nation’s in trouble, if your world’s in trouble… Our world is in trouble right now, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t want to appeal to some Hegelian saint. I want to appeal to God for justice. So I see both these men doing that and isn’t it interesting that Washington maybe didn’t see Cromwell the same way?
Peter: Well, I think you’re on to something that’s significant. First of all, Washington uses the phrase “the usurper” in regard to Cromwell as he goes back to trace his family heritage. We remember then, that the Washington family came from an estate called Wessington. Of course from that, we get derived Washington. And there is still a Wessington manor, I believe, in the United Kingdom to this day. When the people left, to come from England to the New World, they were coming as loyal subjects to the king. They were loyal to the king’s work. And on the other hand, we know that those who had settled up in New England had real problems with the king’s Church and sometimes with the king himself. And so the congregational setting was different from, if you will, the Anglican setting of Virginia. We call it the Old Dominion. I think Washington there, was reflecting the fact that he’d come from a noble family heritage, he’s the fourth generation of Washingtons in the New World and their heritage was coming to the New World in loyalty to the king and there had been a restoration of the monarchy after Oliver Cromwell.
So the way the loyalists of the king would look at him is the usurper. He is the one that took away the throne. He beheaded Charles I. He gave parliament an awful lot of authority and the king, who was struggling to get it back. There was now a new succession of monarchy. So that was his history. That was the way he looked at things. I don’t think he ever had the chance fully, to think about how much parallel there may have been between the English Civil War and the American Revolution.
But it is clear, very interestingly, that he did not see the American congress as usurpers. He saw them as people that were, in fact, defending their just rights. He did not have any problem making common cause with the Congregationalists up in New England, where this sort of strong teaching of the violation of government rights to the citizens, enabling a legitimate break of power. He didn’t put them together in a historical sense. So I think it’s fair to say that at this point, he had not integrated his historical heritage with his own personal experience.
Because the English people at that day would have called Washington, basically a usurper as well. And so basically, what we have is that he didn’t see the continuity but what he did do, and I think this is part of where we get the influence, is that John Locke, teaching at Christ College at Oxford, had been wrestling with these ideas of covenant breaking, justifying disobedience of a king because of injustice and those acts. And in that process, he was actually beginning to reflect some of the teaching that had been up in Scotland with Rutherford and others that had been at the core of the English Civil War, of course, that Cromwell had followed. But now he didn’t have to appeal to get these ideas, if you will, to the radicals. He could appeal to a very strong monarchical school of Oxford, where there was a very loyalist, political scientist Christian named John Locke.
These ideas were picked up and brought to the New World. In fact, we can find them being used by the early teaching of Samuel Adams. If I recall, he did his Latin lecture upon graduation, which was required in those days, from Harvard. He did it on John Locke’s theory of resistance to the king based upon unjust actions. So these ideas didn’t come from, if you will, the English Civil War but actually came now, from John Locke. So I think what we see is the ability to be inconsistent, in terms of the sources of ideas, by not going back, “Well, we’re just replaying Oliver Cromwell.” No, we’re actually picking up ideas from John Locke, of a school where the king is honored.
But pointing out that we have to wrestle with what are the limits of a king’s power? That that’s a legitimate question that even friends of the king will ask. So I think given that historical flow and the influence in the American setting, Washington never felt compelled to go back and ask the question, “How much are we like Oliver Cromwell or not?” But in a very real sense, ideologically there are a lot of parallels. I want to say that it’s an inconsistency in Washington’s mind but it’s a proper question to raise.
Bill: Sure, it’s an interesting one to me because I kind of see that overlay. I’m interested in his private life. He didn’t take communion for a while because he felt like he was maybe out of communion because the prayer book for an Anglican of that time required allegiance to the king, right? So there could have been a little bit of tension in his… You’re mentioning that he got along quite well with the Presbyterians and the Congregationalists and so forth. In his private life, we see him perhaps—I don’t know how much data… At least in your book there is data but there’s not a lot of data in his letters about his communion, the fact that perhaps he didn’t take communion because of this tension.
Peter: Well, here are the facts that we do know. First of all, the English church, the Anglican Church going back to Henry VIII, that was how the Reformation started, declared that the king was the head of the church. And your communing with the church meant you basically were communing with the king and his church and every worship service had a prayer that prayed for the king and his family. Now one of the radical things that happened in Philadelphia under Jacob Duche at Christ Church is that he actually scratched out the prayer book, where it offered prayers for the king and in its place had prayers for the honorable continental congress.
That was a radical move because he was basically saying, “We’re not praying for the king anymore. We’re praying for new authority. And we are still claiming to be in the Church of England.” You can see there is a tension right there. The Christ Church periodically, will take that old historic prayer book out, where Jacob Duche did that, and put it on display.
That was the experience of Washington in his own church at Pohick in Virginia, near Mt. Vernon. The pastor of his church was a very strong loyalist. He had taken a vow to the king. According to the tradition, when he was preaching, as the things began to heat up, he actually had a pillow with two loaded derringers on the pulpit, as a way of saying, “Listen. If you try to attack me for preaching in favor of the king, I will defend myself.” This pastor, pastor of George Washington, actually condemned Washington as someone who had violated his duty by siding with the American Revolution cause. And he went back to England and he rejected the king. So you can see Washington, who had been a vestryman and a church warden and whose records show that he personally bought the communion elements and things for the worship service, according to all known tradition, once the revolution started, he did not commune.
And of course, one theory is well, it’s because he became a non-believer at that point. He became a deist. I don’t think that’s what happened. I think what he said is, “I can’t even take communion in my own church. My pastor thinks I am basically a heretic by not honoring the head of the church, which is the king of England. I happen to think he’s a tyrant.” So what we have there, first of all, is an immediate struggle point in Washington’s life. How is he going to be loyal to his church when being loyal to the church means he has to be loyal to the king? So the one way he does it is that he’s willing to worship but he will no longer commune.
Further, there’s another overlay on this question and that is the Virginians, who were always very low-church people, did not regularly commune all that much. We often think of the Anglican Church as a high Anglo-Catholic church where communion is celebrated, the Eucharist, in every service. This was not the case in Virginia. In fact, it was customary for typical Virginians to commune maybe once a year. The argument, if you didn’t commune at every possible time meaning that you’re not a Christian, would mean that most Virginians then would not have been Christians in the Anglican Church and that’s a non sequitur. What we find then is that in the low-church movement, communion was not viewed as the primary expression of worship as it is in a high Anglo-Catholic church.
A further step, I think that is significant in this whole discussion, is that Washington, according to the various traditions that do in fact exist, found a way to commune in other churches. Now in a high Anglo-Catholic church that argues that only the Anglican Church is a true descendent of the apostolic age—we call that apostolic succession—they would not tolerate this. But in the Low Church, they had no problem. They recognized communion could legitimately be celebrated by other Christian churches.
So we find testimonies that Washington communed at Morristown, New Jersey, in a Presbyterian setting. The church has honored that to this day. They have stained glass windows recording the story that goes all the way back, unbroken to their pastor in the revolutionary era and they show Washington communing in a Presbyterian setting in an outdoor church service because the church had been turned into a hospital. And so they were in a depression in the earth in an apple orchard. It was wind protected and that’s where they communed and it shows Washington communing. There is a painting to that effect that was in the Presbyterian hospital in Philadelphia for many years, that now has been sent to that church as well. You can actually find both of those, the stained glass window and the painting and part of the color plates and sacred fire.
There is also a story of the Reformed Church in Philadelphia, when Washington fled the Yellow Fever epidemic. I think it was in 1795, he fled to Germantown. In that day, it was a whole day’s journey. Today, it’s just part of Philadelphia. But in that German Reform church, the oval office, if you will, the White House didn’t exist but the President’s office was actually in this reformed pastor’s study during the time of the Yellow Fever epidemic. And according to the tradition of that church, while Washington was there in Germantown, he communed with them at their worship service.
And then finally, interestingly there’s a record from the family of Mrs. Alexander Hamilton that is in existence and she tells us that upon the inauguration of President George Washington in New York City, they walked as a body to an Episcopal chapel, no longer an Anglican church. Still a descendent of the Church of England but now by actions of parliament and also of the United States congress, they permitted there to be an Episcopal church, a bishop’s church that carries on the English tradition and they allowed bishops to be ordained and put in place.
Interestingly, the Episcopal Church in England never sent anyone over to get ordained. They decided it wasn’t important for them to have a bishop. But they had a very faith friendly bishop in New York City. This particular bishop had been very much a friend of Washington and the American revolutionary cause and actually had helped to create a book of common prayer that celebrated July 4th as a holy day in America, kind of like November 5th, Guy Fawkes Day, is a holy day in the English tradition. That was removed and July 4th was put in its place as an American civil holiday for the Episcopal Church. And this is Alexander Hamilton’s record, sent and preserved to her family, said, “I knelt and communed with the newly inaugurated President today in this worship service.” Well, that’s pretty amazing. An eyewitness testimony preserved by the family, of communing. And now Washington wasn’t forced to say, “I’m loyal to the king of England.” It was now a new church in that tradition but an American church.
What is also interesting is in his diary, there is a particular passage where he says there is going to be an ordination of deacons at a church and he went to see it. In his lifetime, he had never seen an ordination because there had never been a bishop in America to ordain anyone. This was epic making for him in his church and he got to see deacons ordained because we now had an American bishop. But there happened to also be a bishop up in New England by the name of Bishop Seabury. Bishop Seabury was a high Anglo-Catholic, an apostolic successionist in the apostolic Episcopalian tradition and he had been a thorough going opponent to the American Revolution.
And the bishop in Philadelphia, Bishop White, had to, if you will, adjudicate between the bishop who was in New York City, a great American patriot and the bishop in New England, who was totally opposed to the American Revolution but was also ordained through the Scottish bishops himself. And he made the decision, although he himself had been in favor of the American Revolution, he was the one that broke the tie between the pro-Revolution and the anti-Revolution bishops in America and he said we need a united Church. He said, “I’m going to welcome Bishop Seabury into our church.” And that meant, with that action, the American prayer book was overthrown. No longer would it have a July 4th service. No longer would the ministers be called ministers. They would again be called priests. There would be an emphasis on high Anglo-Catholic [inaudible 0:30:36.0] in the church’s life.
All of this was inconsistent with the Virginian Episcopalian tradition. I think that explains why Washington, when he was in Philadelphia, having communed with the pro-revolutionary bishop on his inauguration day, communing as President with a reformed pastor in Germantown, communing with a Presbyterian minister at Morristown, New Jersey in the Revolution. He would not commune on a Sunday in Philadelphia while he did in fact, worship faithfully in his church under Bishop White. But he was still smarting, I think, with the tradition that had condemned him as basically a political heretic in the church.
And having won the Revolutionary War, having now become the President, having now communed in the new church, that the head of that new church chose to strike the celebration of July 4th as an expression of gratitude to God for providence and liberty and he basically said, “I have a hard time communing here.” And he would cover that over with the fact, “After all, the only day I have to write letters, take care of personal business, I can’t back to Mt. Vernon, is Sunday. It’s a day of rest and so I’m going home. You have the further two-hour communion service after I worship two hours and I’m going to go back and Mrs. Washington will stay but I will not.”
So having said all of that, I have painted a historically accurate depiction of church politics, what we know about the bishops, what we know about what happened in Washington’s life and we can’t read anything into that of his being anti-the Eucharist or anti-faith in Christ because there’s no evidence of that. But we can see that’s absolutely consistent with someone who said, “I am not able to be loyal to the one who’s communing and leading as a bishop when he’s undermined the very things I risked my life for, for eight long years.” While in other settings, where there’s someone who stood with him in these things, he communed and did so openly. So I think all of that is part of this idea of who is the head of the Church? What does communion mean? And how do we commune with someone personally, politically and spiritually?
Bill: And don’t you think, Dr. Lillback, this idea of honor and loyalty existed among the founders in a different way than maybe an age where existentialism has become sort of the preemptive go-to way of thinking about things, I think today that people would just jump around. But someone like Washington, who was a man on honor, he would wrestle with some things like that in a way that maybe the Republican primary folks that are on stage there wouldn’t. And I’m not condemning or saying anything about them necessarily but I’m saying the age is so different, don’t you think?
Peter: Let’s put it this way. Character really mattered. Washington, there’s a letter that passes between him and one of the governors up in New England where the man talks about how he’s willing to honor Washington in his private character but not his public character. And he is deeply hurt by that and he says, “I want you to know that my character in private and in public are deeply important to me.” And so he was a man or principle. He wrestled with issues in a way that a pragmatist would not wrestle with. He was trying to say, “What is the right thing to do?” He wanted to live up by his motto, which was, “Deeds, not words.” He was not someone that wanted to say things to make it easy and then go do whatever he could get away with. He said, “I don’t want to say very much. Just watch who I am and then you’ll know what I believe by my actions.”
And so he didn’t want to go on and say, “I’ve got a real problem with some bishop or some church or some decision.” He said, “I worship but I’m not communing.” Other places, he worshiped and he communed. He says, “You can figure it out by my actions and their hints in which to interpret them.” So living by a principled life, that’s consistent with his first inaugural address that, Bill, you quoted earlier. “The eternal rules of order, ordained by Heaven itself,” they’re rules of order. They’re eternal. They’re right and wrong from Heaven and he wanted to try to do his best to live by them.
Another great line, remembering that Washington was a surveyor, someone who was used to looking at long lines on the ground and following the straight path, he actually says, “As I survey my life, I look at the long lines that I put down and I hope that I have stayed by not turning to the right or to the left but pursuing a course that someday I’ll have to give account to in eternity.” I’m paraphrasing there but that’s basically what he’s saying. Character matters. Principle matters. I have to walk this path because I’ll have to give an account.
Bill: You were reading my mind there because I was going to ask you what your perspective on how his earlier life and shaped just what he believes but if you’re a surveyor, you’re drawing lines, are you not? This fits well with the concept of religion and with the concept of Christianity especially. You are drawing some lines.
Peter: Well, if you want to look at Washington’s life history, his training and his personality, you’ll discover that all of them revolve very carefully under what I would call the word methodical. The reason that his business records are available to this day is because he kept them down to the penny. The reason that his diaries exist is because he wrote in them almost every day, a line or two about the weather or something that’s going on. He kept records. He wrote strenuously. 37 volumes of letters have been collected and he, most cases, kept a copy of them. So that meant in a day where there was no Xerox machine or word processor, he found a way to get that letter preserved for his records and then he preserved them.
He was very careful about keeping a method. As a businessman he says, “If you want to have success, you have to have a method and follow it.” His training was one in which doing the right thing was very important and he tried to follow it methodically. He was methodical in his worship. He was methodical in his principles of life. He tried to keep them few and simple but he kept them the best that he could.
He was conscious that he was not perfect. He recognized that there were times that he failed. But as a fallen sinner like we all are, needing a Savior, a Redeemer, that was part of his church’s tradition. Prayers for forgiveness of sins were part of the prayer book. He celebrated prayers and fasting as part of the American experience in his church’s life. Still he was conscious that trying to do the right thing was important.
And of course, he was a mathematician. As a good surveyor, he was capable of doing various mathematical functions and then he drew lines and measured them precisely. And he used that idea of surveying and precision as he measured his own long life, in terms of its culmination.
So all of that suggests that Washington was a man of precision. He was careful. That actually is very encouraging to us. He didn’t play fast and loose with whatever he could get away with. That is why when it came up to the question, “Why don’t we make you king now that we’ve won the war and we have the guns?” He said, “It’s not right. I can’t do it.” “Well, why don’t you quit? Philadelphia has fallen and even the best people think we need to settle for peace before we lose it all.” He said, “I can’t do that. There’s a principle. We’re fighting. God’s on the side of justice and this is a just cause.”
These were principles that he followed that make him such an extraordinary human being because he didn’t buckle when the pressure came on him, when there was a temptation to do the wrong thing. And even when he did do the wrong thing, like slavery, he began to realize what the right path was. That’s why I honor him, at the point where our culture can most assault him. Over the length of his life, he finally, on his own, freed his slaves. It’s an extraordinary thing. It was culturally acceptable to have slaves but he knew it was wrong. And in his will, he made it in his own time and his own principle, “I’ve got to free my slaves,” and he provided for them.
Where our culture could really celebrate him. He had some wrong feeling toward a married woman, as a young officer. He wrested with those things. To his credit, he made them right and didn’t follow in, in his passions. We could have said, “Man, he should have gone for it. He could have gotten away with it.” He struggled and he talks about his unchaste passion in one of his letters. So we can say he was a man that wrestled in his heart with what was right. In fact, there’s a wonderful statement where he talks about the passion of his heart and one of the passions of his heart is to be right with the law of God. He says, “That’s what explains who I am.” It’s a wonderful personal statement that he makes. He wanted to do what was right and thank God for a leader in the founding age that set such a high example.
Bill: That was an extremely high example and it wasn’t pietistic. In other words, he’s writing a lot of these letters, not all—some that you’ve documented, you have, they’re private letters—but some of his, “Hey, there’s a right and a wrong” are very public. These aren’t his… I think his faith sort of made this idea that religious liberty and political liberty were just intertwined and that for Washington to see them sort of dissected would have been extremely difficult, don’t you think?
Peter: I do think that’s true. In fact, when the issue of a possible abuse of religious liberty was raised, he wrote a letter that said, “The Constitution that I have helped bring about, I would never have signed my name to it if I thought it would be used in any way to violate someone’s religious liberty.” He was recognizing the Constitution is the protection of liberty by a government that has enumerated powers and limited powers and checks and balances and people voting people in and out and all these things. It was important. And he said, “I expect that this will preserve religious liberty, not just civil liberty.” He thought that was part and parcel of the same thing.
One of the things, his favorite Bible verse, I love to celebrate this. Over 30 times, he will appeal to Micah 4:4 where he’ll talk about every man under his own vine and fig tree and there will be none to make them afraid. That’s a great prophetic text. You can take it as a millennial passage and actually, Washington referred to his millennial hope in a couple places, probably in a post-millennial setting would be my guess. But however you interpret his theology at that point, it was his hope that America would be a vine and fig tree for the people who had been persecuted worldwide, that it would be an asylum. These are his own words. He uses these in multiple instances.
That he wanted America to be a place where people could come and no one would try to harm them because they worshiped God in a way that was different than let’s say, the upper class or what was typically… If there was a state that had religious liberty for a particular religion and only tolerated others… He wanted there to be an asylum for everybody in America. That was his hope.
I think that application, if even specifically given to the Jewish people in America, he had recognized that the pogroms that had gone around the world against the Jewish people, he wanted that to not be present in America that they would be able to sit under their vine and fig tree. He said that the descendants of the stock of Abraham would find here, under their own vine and fig tree, a place where there will be none to make them afraid. In another letter he’ll say, “Blessed is that nation whose God is Jehovah.” He is writing to a Jewish congregation in Savannah, Georgia. And he says, “The same God who rescued the Israelites in the time of the Exodus has recently blessed America in its struggle for independence.” So he sees religious history coming from ancient Israel as something that’s very much part of American political history and then he wants to apply the liberty that they have to the Jewish people in a largely Christian culture. He says, “You have the freedom to be who you are here. You’re under your vine and fig tree and there will be none to make you afraid.”
He says in a letter where there’s Christian type of laws being put in place, he says, “I can support these as long as there is right for those who disagree on conscience, that they will not have to pay these taxes for religious purposes.” So he wants to give religious exemptions. That’s a form of religious liberty as it intersects with political liberty. So in a certain way, even before the first amendment was ever written, Washington was trying to live out that idea of respecting the diversity of religious conscience and he said, “This is going to be under our vine and fig tree in America.” So the first amendment, for Washington, is Micah 4:4. Every man under his own vine and fig tree and none to make them afraid. So that’s political and civil liberty coming side by side, part and parcel, and the same thing. Two sides to the same coin of liberty.
Bill: Let me do something that… Let me take you to a place that you don’t like to normally go. You footnote everything and you’re an academic and a scholar and all of that, Dr. Lillback. But let’s be playful a little bit for a minute and I’ll ask for forgiveness later. Let’s say George Washington has… Let’s see. Who’s left? Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul in a room and he’s going to give them a little bit of a pep talk about the direction where our country need to go. What do you think he would say them? In other words, he gathers them and then says, “Guys, here’s what you’ve got to do…” Number one, it’s obviously you’re talking about different cultures but what do you think he’d say?
Because as I watch the debates, and I’ve stopped watching them because they’re all just this peripheral hankering, but peripheral hankering wasn’t something that Washington enjoyed. He always went to the root of things. Where is the root of liberty? He found that in 2 Corinthians. He’s always looking for the root of things. I don’t hear the root of any discussion of any of our problems or any of our solutions ever pop up on any of these issues. Things that were dear to Washington like original sin and things like that and how do we get out of this? What would he say to this group of people if he had them in a room for a strategy session?
Peter: Well, let’s begin by asking one last question. Since you’re asking me to do a hypothetical, can we include President Obama in that meeting? Or do you just want it to be a Republican…?
Bill: Well, they’re on TV all the time and everyone is watching them go back and forth but yeah, sure. He could have President Obama and Joseph Biden in there as well.
Peter: Well, since we’re doing hypothetical things, I’m sure in the normal reality, President Obama would not sit down with Republican hopefuls but if George Washington were resurrected and standing somewhere in some hall in Washington, the President would be there, as well as the candidates. So we’ll put him in the same room if I can.
Peter: I think the first thing he would say is he would look at President Obama and he would say, “You know what? I never knew how long it would take but I always hoped the day would come when an African American could actually have the rights of full citizenship in the country because I freed my slaves with the vision that all men would enjoy liberty.” How about that? Ever heard that said before? First time, ever in the world. I think he would have said that.
Bill: Yes, yes.
Peter: Okay, second. I think he would say, “Is it really true, Mr. President, that you spent a lot of time studying with some man named Saul Alinsky? I never read him in my lifetime but I’ve been looking around since I’ve had this chance and he says that you get away with everything you can as long as you get your ends. That the means don’t matter, as long as you get your ends.” I think the President would look at him and say, “To whatever extent that’s influenced you, I am horrified because the means are the eternal laws, rules of Heaven, ordained by God that we must follow. If we don’t follow them, we’re going to lose the propitious smiles of Heaven. Are you following principles or are you just a peer pragmatist in your governance?”
And then I think he would look at the other partisans and he would say, “You know, I was very blessed that I was able to get elected without having an opponent for two terms. You guys are not going to ever have that privilege. You’re going to fight it out. I know it’s brutal to fight for politics. I was one who never wanted it to be partisan. I wanted people to really believe in the principles and gather together for the good of the great whole.” That was Washington’s phrase, what is good for the country. You put the country first, the general before you think about the sectional.
He would say, “I am really worried that you guys have so much of this identity politics going on. You’re always worried about your base, this person or that person. I’m worried about what is good for everybody. What is the decision that is best for our country? Are you thinking about that? And are you so worried fighting about who’s going to have power that you’ve forgotten what the goal is? Which is, you’re supposed to be blessing the nation, the country. Shame on you for fighting so whoever can have the most power. Are you doing what’s good for the country? Are you really sure you’re the best for the country? If you’re not, get out of the race. If you are good for the country then put the country’s interest first.”
I think another thing he would have said in that context as he thinks about the principle of the good of the great whole and the partisan issues; I think he would have said, “I experienced the power of divisiveness in politics in my own cabinet. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton couldn’t get along and I saw them split and it tore my heart apart. I wanted them to love our country. And I’m a pragmatist, in the sense that you’ve got to deal with reality. If you can’t work together, I guess you’ve got to go your own way. But here’s what I would ask you to do.”
I’m talking as Washington now, looking at all these contestants. “I hope you would find out what you can all agree on and that you will start laboring for what is best for the country. If the current President’s policies are not best for the country, all agree on that and try to help change it because the ultimate determinator and check and balance of the country’s well being is the Constitution that tells us that every four years, a new President is going to be called by the people. If we don’t like what’s going on, make sure that someone is elected that’s better for the country. If you can’t get elected, support the one who can, who is going to do the best. Come together and find the person that’s going to bless the country and stand with him and ask for a way to help him succeed. If it’s the wrong guy or if it’s you, Mr. President, then are you really doing what’s best for the country or what’s best for a partisan group that’s putting most money into your war chest? What’s best for the country? And then all of you, are you living by the Constitution or is the Constitution something that you are making it into whenever it’s convenient?
The Constitution was set in place by the people of this country and it needs to be followed. It can be thrown off any day if the people don’t want it anymore. But until it is overthrown by the act of the people, it must be followed. It is a sacred document that has been established by the will of the people, by good order. You cannot simply disregard it or overturn it. You must follow it. If you want to change it, change it by the means that were put in place to change it.”
And then finally, I think George Washington would say, “I reminded you that human depravity being what it is,” he would say to you, Bill, some theologians call it original sin. I call it depravity. “Depravity being what it is, politicians can over leap the Constitution as easily as a mound of parchment can be jumped over. That’s what it is. It’s just a wall of words that can be ignored if you are filled with lust for power. Stop lusting for power. Start loving the country and putting what’s best for the people ahead of your own quest for office.
And further, if you are listening in on the television audience,” This is President Washington now, talking to the people in the room and they’ve allowed television cameras in. He would say, “Are you sleeping on the job? Do you realize that if these power hungry officials, whether President of presidential hopefuls, are pursuing their office and they’re aided and abetted by people who are in a supine position,” That’s the word he uses. Supine. Their supineness and their veniality. Sadly, we don’t even know those words anymore. We’re laying down on the job and we’re so filled up with our personal interests that we’re letting powerful self-interested politicians run the country. We deserve what we get because no Constitution is eternal. It will only last as long as people stand up and keep it in place.
So he’s saying now to the people, “Go out and vote for the one who is going to do the best for the country. Don’t vote for someone because he looks good, because he’s poor or because he’s rich or because he is clever. What are the policies that will best advance the country? And you, the people, put someone in office that will bless the country by keeping the Constitution intact.” Okay, that’s hypothetical.
Peter: I feel safer to do that because I put the President in the room. Now it’s not a Republican gathering. I put the people of the country in the room. I think that’s what he would tell us and I am appealing that every one of those points, I have specific passages in Washington’s writings that I think would allow me to personify him in the way you asked me to do it.
Bill: And you’ve done a wonderful job. I would say, as we close, he would also encourage, as you say… First of all, I think I read it in your book. He would say that the kind of government that we have cannot last unless supported by religion and morality. He would say basically, “You are not a patriot unless that’s your axiomatic phrase and belief.” And I think that was part of what made him tick and he would say, “You’re not really even patriots.”
Peter: Well, I think if you look at his farewell address, which is where he actually says these things, he says, “Religion and morality are indispensable supports for our political prosperity.” He says, “The mere politician needs to take these things seriously because that’s what’s going to make us work as a country.” But everybody needs to take it seriously. He says, “Whatever we can yield to minds of peculiar structure.” That’s a nice euphemism for unbelieving deists of his day. Whatever you can say in this high, unbelieving, academic setting where some were, he said, “Religion and morality are not just indispensible supports because of some philosophical position but experience proves this to us. That if people did not have this training, if they did not have the principles of right and wrong, we’re going to fall apart. We’re going to come unglued. We’re going to throw away the Constitution. We will not succeed as a political entity.”
And here’s a good example. In Washington’s life, there was that extraordinary moment in the Pittsburg area where the Scotch-Irish folks that had been used to distilling their spirits. The Scotch brought Scotch to America, this distillery. Some think it’s good. Some think it’s bad. But they brought it and they now had decided, through the work of Alexander Hamilton and others, to recommend a law to Congress that distilled spirits would be taxed as a way of paying for the Revolutionary War. Well remember, no one likes taxes to start with and the American Revolution ultimately descended from paying for a war through the stamp tax in 1765. And so Washington now realizes that the 5,000 people that got up in arms in Pittsburg and refused to pay the taxes and resisted, was going to be one of the most telling moments in the history of his presidency. He was going to have to enforce the law, a law that was passed by representatives of the people.
The great issue of the Revolution was no taxation without representation. This was taxation with representation. It was a lawful decision passed into law under the Constitution and people were rebelling and Washington had to call an army together. He put his uniform on and he hoped that he could muster the troops to follow him into battle. It’s a really, really tense moment in time. Well, I think there were like 10,000-15,000—I forgot the numbers—soldiers that came and they marched all the way across Pennsylvania to Pittsburg because they were doing what was right. Washington was risking his neck. Would they support him? And they did. And the people in Pittsburg realized they were outmanned and outgunned and they disbursed without any bloodshed. And amnesty basically followed. Most of the distillers that didn’t give up disappeared into the hills. Many of them went to Kentucky and that explains a lot of why distillery is still done in Kentucky to this day.
But the principle of law was upheld. It was the right thing and the Constitutional order was established. And so we need to see, in this day and age, that the only way a government can possibly function is when people believe there is a right and a wrong. And if it’s constitutionally right, they will in fact, support it and do what they’re called to do. That is something that religion teaches us and that religion says that we must follow the laws that have been ordained by Heaven. Without doing this, the propitious smiles of Heaven will not be upon a nation. That was Washington’s belief. That was his experience. That’s his last words to us and I think they’re great words for all of us. As we talk to our political candidates and we, as the custodians of the politics of America, as the voters, to keep these in mind as we vote and as we do our own political activities.
Bill: Dr. Lillback, thank you so much. Well said. Again, we thank you for your time. We thank you so much for just spending a little bit of it with us and teaching us about this sacred fire that we have, this liberty that we have, remembrance [inaudible 0:58:37.2] experiment. And George Washington said and Edmund Burke also said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. So do something. At least teach your children. Buy Sacred Fire. Go to www.providenceforum.org  or www.amazon.com  or even on our site, www.solutionsfromscience.com . We have the book as well. Check it out. Dig into it a little bit deeper and thank you again, Sir, for spending your time with us today on Off the Grid Radio.
Peter: Well, thanks Bill and thanks to all your listeners. It’s a tremendous privilege.
Bill: Thank you, Dr. Lillback. God bless.
Peter: Have a great day. Bye-bye.
Bill: You too. Bye.