The Faith of George Washington

- by Michael J. McManus -
Posted by rturner on 2004/2/21 17:47:26 (134 reads)

Sunday is George Washington's real birthday, an appropriate time to consider the faith of America's most important founding father.

At age 13 George transcribed "110 Rules for Young Gentlemen," written by Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits in the 1590's. George memorized them. They teach that man is God's servant who lives not for self, but for others. They became part of his character:

"Let your conversation be without malice or envy...

"When you speak of God or His attributes, be serious and speak with words of reverence.

"Let your recreations be manful, and not sinful.

At age 20, he wrote prayers to say each morning and evening. On Sunday mornings he prayed: "...pardon, I beseech Thee, my sins; remove them from Thy presence, as far as the east is from the west, and accept me for the merits of Thy son, Jesus Christ..."

At 23 Captain Washington was caught in a surprise ambush by the French and Indians near what is now Pittsburgh. Every British and American officer was shot but Washington though he rode back and forth across the battlefield. George later wrote to his brother, "By the all powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation, for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me."

On July 2, 1776 he told his troops: "The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance or the most abject submission. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die."

Seven weeks later British General Howe had trapped Washington and his 8,000 troops on Brooklyn Heights, ready to crush them the next morning. Washington gathered every vessel from fishing to row boats and spent all night ferrying his army across the East River. By morning many troops were still exposed to the British.

"In a most unusual change in weather, the fog did not lift from the river. It stayed thick, covering Washington's retreat until the entire army had evacuated and escaped," writes William Federer in his inspiring book, "America's God and Country." Never again did the British have such a rare chance to win the war.

During the freezing winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, a dozen soldiers died a day, with many not having blankets or shoes. "Feet and legs froze till they became black," and were amputated wrote a Committee from Congress. A Quaker named Isaac Potts came upon Washington upon his knees in the snow, praying aloud for his beloved country. He thanked God for exalting him to the head of a great nation which was fighting at fearful odds.

The Quaker told his wife of the sight: "Till now I have thought that a Christian and a solider were characters incompatible, but if George Washington not be a man of God I am mistaken, and still more I shall be disappointed in God does not through him perform some great thing for this country."

On May 5, 1778 Washington learned that the French would join America as allies. The General told his troops, "It having pleased the Almighty Ruler of the universe to defend the cause of the United American States, and finally to raise up a powerful friend among the princes of the earth, to establish our liberty, and independence upon a lasting foundation, it becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine goodness..."

In 1781 Washington's southern army defeated a detachment of British troops. Lord Cornwallis was infuriated and began pursuing the outnumbered Americans. He waited the night at the Catawba River, which the U.S. troops had crossed just two hours earlier. Miraculously, a storm arose during the night causing the river to be uncrossable for five days. Cornwallis nearly overtook Americans at the Yadkin River, but another flood arose, allowing Americans to escape.

The French navy seized control of the Chesapeake Aug. 30, 1781, driving out British ships. Washington rejoiced and besieged Cornwallis' stronghold at Yorktown. With no ships to escape upon, Cornwallis surrendered.

Washington wrote Congress, "I take a particular pleasure in acknowledging that the interposing Hand of Heaven...has been most conspicuous and remarkable."

Washington had more near escapes than victories.  Would God have protected him from bullets, and saved his troops with fog and floods - had he not been a praying man?

Copyright 2004 Michael J. McManus

[COMMENT:  Whether GW began to lose his Christian commitment in later years is up for debate.  He may have been drifting in toward a kind of unitarianism, or a Biblical worldview without Christ (sort of Jewish without the culture).  There was certainly a strong faith there to begin with.  Whether he was able in his own mind to deal with the so-called "Enlightenment" washing ashore from France is the issue.  He almost for sure would have called himself a Christian. 

There is no doubt that he was never a deist (one who believed that God created the cosmos and then ignored it to let it run its own course.  Not one of the founding fathers believed that.  They all were clear in stating that we are both personally and corporately responsible to, and under the authority of, God, and that God intervened in human affairs. 

So there was a general Biblical worldview which was almost universally accepted.  The great majority of the early leaders were evangelical, and spoke up for a personal relation to a personal God in Christ.  David Barton's book, "Original Intent" is very good on these issues.   See     E. Fox] 

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