An American Patriot

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Many people think of Thomas Jefferson as an American patriot. His political views on individual freedom and religious liberty have greatly inspired many democratic nations around the world. We usually think of Jefferson as a man who achieved many great accomplishments in his lifetime. He was the 3rd President of the United States, and author of the American Declaration of Independence. Less known are his other lifetime achievements including Governor, Vice President, Secretary of State, Ambassador, architect, inventor, and founder of the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson had a lifetime of vast achievement, yet few know his life was also filled with great personal tragedy. His most significant personal achievements were accomplished during times of great personal sorrow in his life and they can provide a few valuable lessons for us.

Thomas Jefferson was not a perfect man. Like all human beings, he had a number of individual flaws and weaknesses. Recent DNA testing has established the strong possibility that he may have fathered children through a slave named Sally Hemings. However, one cannot read about his life without appreciating how much he shaped the freedoms and religious liberties many of us cherish. Throughout history, men of great governmental leadership have been rare. A study of his life shows a man who had a profound respect and belief in God and felt that basic human rights were God ordained rights. Jefferson wrote three references to God in the Declaration of Independence. Truly, Jefferson's personal faith may have embodied a reliance on God's Providence as recorded in the book of Proverbs. God states, "I have good sense and advice, and I have understanding and power. I help kings to govern and rulers to make fair laws. Princes use me to lead, and so do all important people who judge fairly. I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me" (Proverbs 8:14-17, NIV).

Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743. He was the son of a Welsh farmer who owned a large plantation in the British American colony of Virginia. Thomas was blessed to receive a good education and strong moral teachings by loving parents. From his father and his rural surroundings he acquired a lasting interest in the sciences and in education. He also developed a love for Greek and Latin at a young age. As a young adult, he attended the College of William and Mary in the early 1760's. Jefferson eventually received his law degree in 1767.

After he began his law practice, an interest in politics led him to be selected as a delegate to the Virginia House of Burgesses. The House of Burgesses was a colonial legislative assembly under the authority of the British appointed governor. Three years later, at age 29, he married a wealthy widow named Martha Wayles Skelton.

His earliest ambitions were to study nature, manage his own farm, and complete the building of his new mountain top home he named Monticello. The word Monticello means "little mountain" in Italian. It was here that his creative talents were nurtured. One of his inventions was a clock designed with two faces. One face is inside the house, the other is on the outside wall. Jefferson connected the clock to a loud gong on the roof so that people working outside would know the time. The position of the clock weights reveal the day of the week. Another of his inventions was a lap desk. He used it to write the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776. The desk has a hinged writing top that can be propped up at different angles. He also designed it with a drawer for storing ink, pens and paper.

Jefferson's first love was farming and he often remarked how he yearned to simply farm on his plantation, and live quietly at Monticello. However, destiny would provide other opportunities.

Jefferson was a shy person by nature and spoke in a soft voice. He was never considered eloquent in speech and gave few public speeches in his career. But, one of his earliest recognized talents was skillful writing. In his lifetime, Jefferson wrote over 18,000 letters. The American colonies felt unfairly dominated by Great Britain. Delegates from these colonies assembled as a Congress to discuss their grievances and future relationship with Great Britain. Jefferson was chosen to represent Virginia at the 2nd Continental Congress in 1775. By the time of the 2nd Continental Congress, his previously published writings on the "rights of people from tyranny" had already caught the attention of many other delegates to the Congress. Jefferson was asked to be the principle author of the American Declaration of Independence. He completed his draft in late June of 1776. For the next 5 years, he was a legislator and Governor of the state of Virginia. In 1782, Jefferson became a member of the newly formed Congress of the United States, and in 1784, he was named the American Ambassador to France.

This decade of his life was one of tremendous accomplishment. As a legislator, he had instituted many social reforms to protect individual rights and the use of private property. He played a pivotal role in the establishment of a new nation. He was influential in guaranteeing that no one church would become the official state religion of the United States or receive public state financing. This decade of his life would also bring about a number of personal tragedies. In 1773, his father-in-law died; shortly afterward, his closest childhood friend died suddenly leaving a wife and six children behind for Jefferson to help care for. The next year, his first daughter Jane was born, but she would die 18 months later. In 1776, his mother died unexpectedly at age 57. One year later, Jefferson's first son was born and died within a few hours of birth.

The year 1781 brought more personal trials. The British army invaded Virginia and captured his beloved Monticello. Jefferson barely escaped capture by the British army. He broke his left wrist when thrown from a horse. Also during this year, his reputation was damaged when his political enemies convinced the Virginia State Assembly to investigate his conduct as Governor of Virginia. The next year, his wife Martha died just a few months after giving birth to their daughter Lucy Elizabeth. On her deathbed, she made him promise never to marry again. Jefferson was only 39 years old and although he would live another 43 years, he never did marry again.

Most of us would certainly agree that Thomas Jefferson had many distressing personal trials during this 10-year period. But, this is not all! At age 41, he experienced the death of his daughter Lucy Elizabeth who died of the whopping cough. One year later, he stumbled while walking and broke his right wrist. It was not set properly and was painful for the rest of his life. During other times of his life he also suffered from prolonged migraine headaches. Debt plagued him because while serving his country his farm deteriorated. All these events were happening while Jefferson was involved in the founding of a fragile nation. History has recorded all of his many achievements during the very years when these personal trials were occurring in his life. However, Jefferson is not remembered for his trials, but for his accomplishments! Jefferson was a religious man. Many of his religious views were not biblical and cannot be endorsed. But, it was Jefferson who refers to God's eminence three times in the American Declaration of Independence. He is considered a "deist" by most historians, and some of his political enemies even claimed he was irreligious! In contrast to the belief of deism, we know that God plays a personal and pivotal role in the daily activities of His people and the world.

Thomas Jefferson was a firm believer of religious freedom and rejected the traditional views and doctrines of most churches that existed during his time. Feeling that some had distorted the original teachings of Christ, Jefferson assembled a personal journal consisting of only portions of the four gospels and created a book now known as the Jefferson Bible. This was the book he took to bed with him to end his day. In a letter he wrote to John Adams, he stated that he read this book for "an hour or a half's...reading of something moral whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep."

Thomas Jefferson was able to endure great personal hardship in life because he was a man of purpose. He viewed life as an opportunity to explore the universe and gain knowledge about the wonderful creation around him. He wrote the following statement in 1786, which reveals his zest for life even with all of its trials. "Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures...Ever in our power, always leading us to something new, never cloying, we ride, serene and sublime, above the concerns of this mortal world, contemplating truth and nature, matter and motion, the laws which bind up their existence, and the Eternal being who made and bound them up by these laws. Let this be our employ."

It is obvious from his many writings and his enthusiasm for life, that he knew "contemplating truth and nature" would be beneficial beyond this mere mortal existence.

Jefferson looked beyond the present sufferings he experienced and toward the opportunities of the future. How about us? Don't we also suffer from personal problems, trials and seemingly constant adversity? How can we overcome personal adversity and, at the same time, develop the talents God has graciously granted to us?

Trials and suffering are a natural part of life in this physical world, and a part of the human experience. We can view them in a negative way and gain very little from them, or we can view them in a positive way. The New Testament discusses the purpose of trials in an honest and productive way that can result in a more fruitful life.

Let's begin by reading a statement from the Apostle Paul. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV).

Sometimes when we are in the middle of a trial, we may be tempted to simply give up. The temptation to stop trusting in God can quickly develop. We may sometimes feel so alone and begin to think we are the only ones experiencing a particular trial. Or we may begin to feel that God, or no one else really cares about our problems! Paul reminds us that we experience the same adversities that befall most people at one time or another in their lives. The Greek word for temptation in verse 13 literally means "putting to proof". In our modern age, we call this experience a trial. This scripture should encourage us to understand that God will not allow us to bear a trial beyond our ability to endure it. God will provide us a way of escape because He is our refuge and fortress. God wants us to know that His divine presence in our lives will allow us to overcome any personal adversity. Our loving Father knows our strengths and our limitations. He will never leave us nor forsake us in time of need! We can have hope and faith that God will provide an answer or solution when He knows the time is best.

Paul also discusses the afflictions we individually suffer in his letter to the Romans. "The Spirit Himself [itself] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:16-21, NKJV).

Trials and suffering are indeed part of our human experience. Some trials we suffer are self-inflicted, and some are due to circumstances beyond our control. But all trials should remind us of our need to look beyond the limited physical world we live in and realize that every trial has the potential to produce a positive learning experience in our lives. Jesus suffered various trials so he could empathize with our suffering, and become a personal atoning sacrifice for all-human suffering and sin. As his joint heirs with Him, we should be patient as we also suffer severe problems and trials knowing that we too shall be glorified together with him!

The Apostle Paul continues in verse 20, "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?" As physical people, we naturally groan in frustration and discouragement as we experience suffering.

Much like Jefferson, our trials usually center around a concern for our loved ones, health problems, financial problems or other personal afflictions. However, our hope is the knowledge that these temporary sufferings, like the process of giving birth, will produce an abundant new life as a glorified child of God. The Apostle Peter also spoke about the trials we experience. In 1 Peter 1:6, we read the following, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ," Peter states that the "genuineness" of our faith is tested by fire. Other versions of Scripture translate this word as the "purity" of our faith. Peter viewed suffering as both necessary and fruitful. He uses an analogy of an artisan remolding the precious metal of gold, to the sufferings we experience through various trials.

In Peter's day, gold was remolded by subjecting it to an intense fire. This intense heat destroyed the initial shape of the gold and burned off the impurities. The molten gold could now be reshaped and become even more precious. The same is true in our personal lives and the trials we experience. Problems and difficulties will often afflict us. But these trials have the capacity to reveal and purge the impurities in our character, which hinder our own growth and service to others. When the trial is completed, our very character has often been reshaped and has become more like our Creator in compassion, patience, and spiritual maturity.

Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. His final letters to fellow patriot John Adams and many other friends reveal a man who had mellowed and changed much through a lifetime of experiences and personal suffering. Because of our precious calling and knowledge of God's Word, we can have an even deeper understanding of the purpose of trials and suffering. Your faith is more precious than gold! Remember, the next time you are are God's workmanship and he is working out His great purpose for you!

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