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Revolutionary Faith in the Birth of America

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
July 4, 2023 8:36 am

Revolutionary Faith in the Birth of America

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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July 4, 2023 8:36 am

Rod Gragg recounts fascinating stories of our nation’s history and how Christians can learn from the faith of America’s past leaders. He shares about the first Independence Day celebration, and how churches today can flourish in the midst of a cultural shift away from a Biblical worldview.


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Hey friends, check out the latest episode on my podcast, Refocus with Jim Daley. Author Tim Geglein will help us to honor America's spiritual heritage and influence the culture with faith and optimism.

Visit And the belief was that you were to be submissive to authority over you unless that authority usurped the higher law. And they believe that's what occurred and you see that in the language of the Declaration of Independence. And that really was the motivation throughout the Revolutionary War. Happy Independence Day from Focus on the Family. We're joined today by historian Rod Gregg who will share about the incredible faith of George Washington and other leaders in the Revolutionary War. They were vital in securing our freedom.

I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus President Jim Daley. John, I love reflecting on how God's hand of providence has been on this nation from the very beginning. And Independence Day is a great time for us to remember all that he's done for this country. Of course, we know that George Washington and the members of the Continental Congress were fallible people. We are all fallible. We're all sinners saved by grace and we get that. But God certainly used their faith and courage in extraordinary ways and we can learn a lot from them. Our guest today is historian Rod Gregg as you've mentioned and he's dedicated a lot of his time studying the Revolutionary War and the faith of the founders and I'm looking forward to this discussion.

I am too. Rod is an award-winning author of more than 20 books. He has spoken at many many different venues. He's been on national TV shows sharing from his wealth of expertise.

He and his wife have seven children and 14 grandchildren. Rod, welcome back. Thank you. Good to be here.

So good to have you. Tell me in your words why is it important for us to talk about George Washington's faith and the influence that he had on the American Revolution. So often in today's you know lexicon when we raise a founding father good point people jump on all the bad points. But what was so unique about Washington and his commitment? Well to me I think what's distinctive about him the most in terms of faith is that he was really representative in the sense that he was motivated and directed by his personal faith and that was really typical of what it was like in colonial America.

The Judeo-Christian worldview was really the bedrock foundation and it really affected everything. American law, culture, government and Washington really was more typical of his day and then you would think that you'd see in any other era. He seemed to express in his writings and his diary etc. just how much faith meant to the country and that the events of the Revolution were evidence of why all Americans should have faith. And in fact he said this in one of those writings, I am sure there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs than those of the United States and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency which was so often manifested during our Revolution.

I mean that's pretty straightforward right? Right and he uses the phrase throughout his writings which were voluminous, the hand of providence, by the hand of providence, through the hand of providence, the interpositioning of providence. He uses that a lot and that's where the title in the book comes from. But Washington was a very reserved man. He was a low church Anglican and he really was one, his family said, who wanted to express his faith more by action than by words, although he wrote a lot and expressed a lot of his faith in his writings. And it was really important in his leadership during the Revolutionary War as general and as commanding general of the Continental Army and all the armies, his particular army that they led himself, he encouraged his troops to follow what he called the character of a Christian in their duties. He was very serious about appointing chaplains and chaplains who were serious about their faith.

He took a position that after defeats he would call for a time of reflection and worship and repentance. And what you saw there was in Washington's influence and how he made sure that his troops treated loyalists that were near his army. He treated them respectfully and did not mistreat them and that really attracted them to the patriot cause, particularly in contrast to the British who so often would fall into this harsh, brutal form of warfare that kind of moved people away from them. And when you look at the population, Americans at the time of the Revolution, it was really much thirds, a third patriot, a third loyalist, and a third not sure which way to go. And that third really made a difference and because of the, in many ways I think, the conduct of the British, the conduct of Washington's army in contrast, that third moved over to the patriot side and that made a big difference.

Yeah, I'm sure. You know, Washington often referred to Providence as playing a key role and sometimes historians debate, you know, were they people of true faith, a Christian faith, or people of just a greater God, you know, not really narrowing it to Jesus basically. Speak to Washington's understanding that way and the language of the day when they talk about Providence and divinity and a great God, they're still pointing to the God that we believe in today.

Right, the God of the Bible. And Washington's family were insistent that his faith was genuine and deep and serious. He not only provided leadership in his church but in the community, he would privately fast at times. And his faith, all the evidence shows to it being genuine and he spoke often of Providence, of God working in this time of revolution.

When he resigned his commission at the end of the war then before Congress, it was a very moving dramatic scene, a lot of tears. Washington, who was very stoic about things like that, really struggled to keep his feelings in but he made the point of saying again that the American victory and independence came from what he called the interposition of Providence and also that he trusted the future of this new nation in the hands of God. When you look at Yorktown as an example of that Providence as he saw it, what happened in Yorktown in the battle and how did Washington translate that as a divine intervention?

Well you really have a situation of the proverbial David and Goliath with the Americans facing the strongest military force on the face of the earth at the time. And European leaders didn't expect this revolution to last very long and there are many times where they thought well now it's over. 1777 the British captured Philadelphia, the capital, and occupied it and European leaders thought well that's all over. And early on Washington led a New York campaign, the British landed large force of troops and over a period of several months pushed Washington's army out of New York across New Jersey into Philadelphia and then stopped. When they could have dealt with the army they stopped and said they went into winter camp and at that time Washington engineered the victory at Trenton which turned things around and gave Americans hope again. Same sort of thing, you see that throughout the war and it really is remarkable and we can't know how that happened but Washington was certain that it was Providence that was intervening and at Yorktown Washington's army was in New York surrounding the British. It had gone from a point where the British really controlled everything to a point where the British were on the defensive and the French sent a French army to bolster Washington's troops and then he learned they were sending the French navy. Washington wanted to attack British forces in New York.

The French general, Rochambeau, suggested they move south because they'd learned that Cornwallis' British army had faced a lot of problems and lost a lot of troops and had been weakened in a Carolina campaign and so he moved up to Yorktown in Virginia and was there trying to recoup and Washington and the French army made this rapid remarkable march from New York to Virginia aided by the French navy and bottled up the army. The British had already a few years earlier at the Battle of Saratoga lost an army of 6,000 troops to the Americans and here they were now losing an army of 7,000. They were surrounded, they were under siege and they had to surrender and so you see this again and again, this David Goliath thing and this turnaround in the war that really was remarkable but at the base of all that was really the American world view. And the American world view was Judeo-Christian, the biblical world view. It affected and shaped everything in the way that Americans thought and acted and responded to all of this and so it's a remarkable revolution when you think about it in contrast say to the French revolution that occurred at the same time where it was really a bloody revolution against all authority, even Christianity but the American revolution was a revolution of law and the fact that Americans believe that parliament and later they believe the king as well were usurping God-given or inalienable rights and so it's no accident the Declaration of Independence said that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable, God-given rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That's what they were motivated to fight for, not taxes but that. Let me ask you in that regard when you look at freedom of religion which seems to be under assault today. It's like we've forgotten our way and what our founding was about. Where did the freedom of religion originate and why do we often refer to that as the most core freedom? Well the founding of the 13 English colonies occurred in a remarkable time and place in the wake of what was called the English Reformation where there was an explosion of faith in England that spread across the nation in a great revival and in that time and place at that moment in time, a very narrow moment, that's when the English people spilled into the American colonies. And you had a real diversity of faith. You had the Puritans in New England, the Baptists in Rhode Island, the Dutch Reformed in New York, you had the Quakers in Pennsylvania, the Presbyterians in New Jersey and Delaware and the Catholics in Maryland, you had Jewish communities in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston and then you had the Anglicans in Virginia, the Carolinas in Georgia.

So a lot of diversity but all people of the book. And so that was the foundation of American culture and law and government. And so when this revolution occurred it really was a revolution of law where the American people believed that through a series of actions the British Parliament and later the King were attempting to usurp what was known then as the higher law. And the belief was that you were to be submissive to authority over you unless that authority usurped the higher law. And they believe that's what occurred and you see that in the language of the Declaration of Independence.

And that really was the motivation throughout the Revolutionary War. We're talking today on Focus on the Family with Rod Greg. Many of these concepts that he shared are in his book By the Hand of Providence and we do have copies of that book here at the ministry. Stop by our website to find out more.

It's slash broadcast. You know Rod you mentioned in the book Washington's perspective on America's sacred calling as a nation and I want you to elaborate on that. But also when you look at that idea of exceptionalism I think this kind of fits in that area where there seems to be the founding of this country, the Revolutionary War. There is a spiritual overtone to it all and again while I've traveled people have said America has stood as that beacon of freedom. If we lose America we lose everything because we try imperfectly to stand in that position of freedom through all different kinds of administrations and philosophies and beliefs. But I think at the core America has always stood for that idea of freedom, democracy, etc.

imperfectly as it does. But speak to that understanding that Washington seemed to have already that this was an exceptional nation because of its connection to God and then its future was pretty bright if we stood on the right values. Well and that is how there's a good summary of what he believed but again he was really representative of the general world view of the American people. And when you look at the Continental Congress like you look at the American people at that time you saw in terms of faith you saw those who had little or none. You had the nominal and you had the people who were of strong faith.

But aside from where they were personally there was this underlying foundation, this Judeo-Christian worldview and those values and those principles. John Adams said again about those signers and those who drafted the Declaration of Independence and he said that that beautiful group of young men were reunited only by one thing and that was quote the general principles of Christianity. So if you look at how for instance Congress provided leadership for that drive for independence and that drive for freedom, Congress throughout the war twice a year called for days of prayer, fasting, and humiliation.

That was what they called it. They actually had the audacity after some defeats to call on American people to repent of their sins and after victories they would call for times of worship. When they wanted to put out a message to the American people they would send it to two places and this included the Declaration of Independence and that's why it's a document that's really laced with the language of faith throughout that. And if you think about it you know the U.S. Constitution is a rule book. Rule books don't have philosophy in them.

They're the rules. The mission statement for America was the Declaration of Independence. So the Declaration of Independence gave you the mission statement, the why, the motivation, the explanation, and then the Constitution is the rule book.

Yeah that is really good to think of it that way. Rod we have to talk about you know the the national sin, slavery, and what was going on at the time and so often today we place our current cultural perspective, our modern glasses, on the view of those then. Although I do like Shelby Steele who I interviewed and Shelby said he's an African American. I think he operates out of Stanford University but one of the things that he said is people need to understand that the founding fathers although they didn't do away with slavery at the time they wrote the document that would quickly compared to how long slavery had been in play. I think they he said it was a three thousand year old industry that started in Africa certainly was used around the world for an economic engine. We get all that but he said if you think about it the founding fathers created a document that you quoted a moment ago about all men being created equal that within 80 90 years it would result in the emancipation proclamation what Abraham Lincoln would do. So they took a three thousand year old industry created a document that could illuminate people at the right time with the right leadership to end it and that's kind of part of our history too. But speak to that idea that everything the founding fathers believed is nullified because they didn't attack slavery at the time even though George Washington wrote about the growing concern he had about it. Well first of all you have to acknowledge and understand come from a point of view that's reality that slavery was the great American tragedy that in often the way the government treated Native American peoples great American tragedy and yet at the same time there was this great debate about slavery with the founders at the time of the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson's original draft was stronger about it language that was taken out and the big concern was politically that they felt like that it was so narrow of a vote to be able to pass this Declaration of Independence and it really was narrow because they had it had to be unanimous because you couldn't have some colonies that were in some colonies were out and so the big debate was that finally they decided after dealing with slavery that they couldn't fix it so they kicked the can down the road because they felt like that they had to have the Declaration of Independence they had to have a nation and then then it could be addressed so then it came up again during the Constitution and it still was not properly addressed and the can was kicked down the road again but even with all that imperfection even with how that all turned out still the forward motion was put in place that it was be such hypocrisy to say in your mission statement that all men are created equal by their creator and yet have such inequality with slavery and so once that document became the mission statement of this new nation and was expressed through law through the Constitution it was like the clock was ticking on the death of slavery yeah I mean in that you know it is a scourge it's it's horrific what took place you don't want to minimize that but like any nation you hopefully continue to grow in a positive direction in a good biblical direction which I think when you look at the arc of history in the U.S. that's certainly I think the experience and many people are coming to that same conclusion including Shelby Steele who just says we are so much closer than we were 40 years ago 60 years ago so that continual progress is the key even though it's imperfect Rod let me ask you we have the privilege of celebrating our freedom in America today largely because of what these people did back then how did George Washington and the Founding Fathers celebrate their freedom right after their victory over the British well for all purposes the Revolutionary War ended in 1781 with the victory at Yorktown but it took another almost two years or to work out all the details and come to a treaty at the Treaty of Paris Washington's reaction was to call for a worship service Congress did the same thing Congress called for on these days of prayer and fasting the Continental Congress observed those on typically by assembling together and then marching as a unit to a church in Philadelphia and in some cases twice at least they went to two different churches for two different worship services and that's how they reacted to the victory there was this widespread celebration on July 4th they released the Declaration of Independence and but Jefferson Adams the founders they thought the great party day would be on the second and Adams said in fact he wrote a letter to his wife and said that you know from now on July the second will be a day of celebration of fireworks of worship services of great and glad celebration on the second yeah you know on this day we're celebrating this this is why we had you here to talk about the the founding of America all of its goodness and all of its imperfection and I think this will be a little bit of an unfair question but you're the historian so if we could slap the Jurassic Park idea on to the founding fathers and somehow we could revive them to come back today and they look at America and they look at where we're at what do you think their reaction would be well I would say that and I thought about that I would say that and I'm you know getting in the ground of speculation here but I would I would say first of all that they would be they would be impressed at the scope and measure of America they would be impressed to a point with technology I think they would have a lot to grieve about I think they would grieve a lot about America and and and and where it is today in terms of its shift in the world view because the and this is really central to everything that you're addressing I believe but the great influential and underreported story of our generation to me as a historian is the shift in the world view in the western culture and in America in particular you know everybody has a world view it's how you look at life it's how you view the world it's at your core values and the traditional historic western civilization world view and the American world view is the Judeo-Christian world view biblical world view and in the late mid late 20th century there became a shift from this world view the Judeo-Christian world view holding a view that God is the authority over everything and that God should be the central focus of everything and the shift over to a view that humanity is the authority over everything and humanity should be the focus of everything now that's a that is a phenomenal shift that has a remarkable impact and cannot do anything but that I think in that context then right at the end here you know what do churches do churches played a vital role as you've pointed out in the revolutionary war clergy led people in their theological understanding of what was right and wrong what about today how do we apply those principles to our situation today how do we assess our situation and then act accordingly how should we then live well I would I would say that we have to remember that it is a difficult time for people of faith in particular difficult time particularly for Christians who are called on to remain steadfast in the faith and in the truth of scripture and that at the same time becoming the unpopular minority and also having to show the love of Christ and wanting to show the love of Christ but I would just say that from a point of view of history that you see throughout history that the church has flourished under duress so I would say that if we feel pressure as Christians today and I'm speaking as personally now as a Christian not as a historian but I think we feel that pressure we have to realize that this is not new for Christianity this is what we've enjoyed as Christians here in this culture over the life of our nation has has been really unique and and it's not typical of what Christians have faced and yet we see that the church of Christ has flourished throughout the ages it's a great reminder and I you know I think of those scriptures fear not be anxious for nothing I mean if we as believers believe I think we should have a sense that God knows what he's doing and he's going to unroll this according to his plan and you know I think we need to be projecting the very things the founding fathers talked about in terms of a sense of faith religious freedom the core beliefs of the Judeo-Christian perspective the fruit of the spirit if we can do those things and remain calm I think I think people will wake up when we go into this folly of trying to live life without God because I think it ends up in a dead end and I think our culture is experiencing that now well always throughout history if you study church history the challenge has been and it is today that in whatever circumstances we face that we show the love of Christ do that consistently and God will take care of it think of the people in Rome and what they face like you mentioned China where it doesn't look like the church is going to flourish or even get out of that decade or that century and then the Lord turns it around and the thing standing in the floor of the Colosseum today is what oh a cross the cross of Christ isn't that interesting rod this has been great thank you for the conversation thanks for re-educating us on what the founding fathers particularly George Washington was about what this nation was founded upon the principles that it was founded upon and the reminder of how do we get back there and concentrate on the core things fear not be anxious for nothing and love your neighbor and love God and I think you've got the ingredients there for a truly continued great nation thanks for being with us my pleasure and if you want a copy of this great book by the hand of providence get in touch with us and we will send it to you for gift of any amount if you can make a monthly commitment like Jean and I do and Dina and John do monthly contributors yeah that's a great way to do it we'll send you a copy as always saying thank you if it's a one-time gift we'll do the same we'll send a copy of the book for you and it's just a great way to do ministry together yeah donate today and make a generous contribution as you can and get a copy of this terrific book by the hand of providence written by our guest rod Greg and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family I'm John Fuller wishing you a happy Independence Day and inviting you back next time as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ if the fights with your spouse have become unbearable if you feel like you can't take it anymore there's still hope hope for a better life for all of us here at Focus on the Family we'll talk with you pray with you and help you find out which program will work best that's one eight six six eight seven five two nine one five you
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-04 10:50:53 / 2023-07-04 11:00:45 / 10

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