The wall of the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., features a series of eight massive paintings illustrating key events in the founding of America. One of these depicts the Pilgrims who were first on the Speedwell before transferring to join others on its sister ship the Mayflower. Prominent figure William Brewster holds open the Bible to the clear words “The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Above them on the sail are written the words “God with us,” shortened from the Pilgrim motto, “In God we trust, God with us.”
Of course, “In God we trust” is America’s national motto even today—imprinted on all U.S. currency and coins. Yet new polls reveal that trust in God and in the Bible have plummeted in recent years. But this result has been a long time coming—the end of a leftist, secular humanist agenda to banish God from the public sphere.
For many decades we have seen a concerted effort to play down the role of the Bible and religion in early America. Now things have gone much further, with the nation’s founders denigrated as evil racists. Of course, they were not perfect men, even by the world’s standards. But they established a nation that has overall been a great blessing to the world.
Yet as they would be first to point out, this achievement was not their doing but God’s. They regularly acknowledged Him and, along with the wider populace, sought out His direction and blessing. Let’s take a closer look at the Christian underpinnings of America’s founding and consider the depths to which the nation has now sunk—and what that means for the future.
Restoring the Sovereign
The Pilgrims and other Puritan settlers sought to construct a model Christian society. Conrad Cherry, in his 1971 book God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny, states: “They believed that, like Israel of old, they had been singled out by God to be an example for the nations (especially for England). With their charter and company in America, the Puritans could in effect construct a republic independent of an English crown that had not allowed them the freedom of their experiment at home” (p. 27).
Setting up and spreading the Kingdom of God, as they understood it, was central to their national purpose. The 1643 Articles of Confederation for Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Plymouth and New Haven declared, “We all came into these parts of America with one and the same end and aim, namely, to advance the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to enjoy the liberties of the gospel in purities with peace.”
To this end, the Puritans set up a theonomist state—one based on the laws of God as found in the Bible. The 1644 New Haven Charter was written with the following stated purpose: “that the judicial laws of God, as they were delivered by Moses . . . be a rule to all the courts in this jurisdiction . . .”
Fast-forward a century to the Continental Congress deciding to break away from British rule, the group signing a world-changing document “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world . . . with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence.” That document, the Declaration of Independence, meant independence from Great Britain but direct dependence on God.
Unbelievable as it may seem today, the United States of America was formed not as a secular republic but one recognizing God as its unseen Ruler. In The Nature of the American System, R.J. Rushdoony writes: “The concept of a secular state was virtually non-existent in 1776 as well as in 1787, when the Constitution was written, and no less so when the Bill of Rights was adopted. To read the Constitution as the charter for a secular state is to misread history, and to misread it radically. The Constitution was designed to perpetuate a Christian order.”
As the Declaration of Independence was being signed, Samuel Adams, who was the driving individual behind the American cause, stated it clearly: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven, and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His Kingdom come” (quoted by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, 1977). No one in the room objected.
The faith of the Founding Fathers
Many have tried to argue that the Founding Fathers were mostly deists. Deism is the belief in an impersonal God who set everything in motion but does not actively intervene in His creation. However, M.E. Bradford in A Worthy Company proves that up to 52 of the 55 framers of the Constitution were professing Christians.
On July 4, 1821, John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, declared: “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity. From the day of the Declaration . . . they [the American people] were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of the Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledged as the rules of their conduct.”
George Washington, the “Father of Our Country,” spoke in his 1789 inaugural address of “my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aid can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes . . .”
In 1787, James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and fourth president of the United States, said: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future . . . upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
John Adams, a loud Christian voice in the early United States and its second president, believed that the nation should be governed by the Bible, writing: “Suppose a nation in some distant Region, should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. Every member would be obliged in conscience to temperance and frugality and industry, to justice and kindness and charity towards his fellow men, and to piety and love, and reverence towards Almighty God.
“In this commonwealth, no man would impair his health by gluttony, drunkenness, or lust . . . No man would steal or lie or any way defraud his neighbour, but would live in peace and good will with all men—no man would blaspheme his maker or profane his worship, but a rational and manly, a sincere and unaffected piety and devotion, would reign in all hearts. What a Eutopia, what a paradise would this region be” (Diary, Feb. 22, 1756).
The religious views of revolutionary America’s “Renaissance man,” Benjamin Franklin, are fiercely debated today. Many have stated that Franklin died a deist. But this is simply not true. While it’s clear from his Autobiography that he adhered to deism in his early years, he became disenchanted with it later in life.
In his famous speech to the Constitutional Convention on June 28, 1787, Franklin violated a fundamental tenet of deism—God’s non-involvement—when he said: “. . . The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this . . .” He followed this with a proposal to hire a clergyman to open every session of Congress with prayer.
It should be noted that none of the Founding Fathers has been so misrepresented as Thomas Jefferson, who’s also charged as being a deist. Yet this is the same Jefferson who concluded his second presidential inaugural address by saying, “I shall need . . . the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life.”
In 1815 he stated: “We are not in a world ungoverned by the laws and the power of a Superior Agent. Our efforts are in His hand, and directed by it, and He will give them their effect in His own time.” Clearly both Franklin and Jefferson believed in a personal, intervening God, and they both were supportive of the Christian religion.
Jefferson’s phrase about a “wall of separation between church and state” has been wrested from its context. He was speaking to a Baptist audience and was likely referring to a similar phrase by early Baptist leader Roger Williams—the “wall” referring to protecting the Christian church from the ravages of the world, not protecting the state from influence by Christian principles. The Founding Fathers did not want the establishment of a national state church, but they very much wanted the involvement of God and Christian believers in the governance of the country.
In an 1892 U.S. Supreme Court case, Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, the justices reached this decision: “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.”
Reaping national blessings—and curses
As a result of so many in early America relying on God, the nation experienced great blessings. We find this principle laid out by God in 1 Samuel 2:30: “. . . Those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” But the strong morality and devotion to God that characterized the early United States were not just happenstance. God brought it about as a necessity.
As explained in our free study guide The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy, America was destined to separate from Great Britain and become a great nation in its own right, helping to fulfill the promises to the biblical patriarch Abraham of national blessings and of being a great blessing to the world (be sure to request your free copy).
This required that America have high moral standards and a devotion to the God of the Bible. God would not pour out His wonderful national blessings on a despicable populace that would misuse and squander all His gifts. Of course, there were problems and sins among the people, but not the widespread immorality and contempt for God we see today.
God turned the hearts of the early Americans toward Him to a significant degree so that He could bless them. We find a similar instance of this in Scripture, when Judah’s King Hezekiah sought to restore the worship of God after a period of idolatry and rebellion. As we’re told, “the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 30:12).
And so God did with the United States—which was richly blessed and in turn became a blessing to the world at large. But that was then. Today many Americans have rejected any sense of godly morality. They have increasingly turned away from Him, rejecting Him from having a role in their lives or society as a whole. Many outright blaspheme Him. So where does that leave America today?
Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 both start with a list of wonderful blessings that God would bestow on Israel for remaining faithful to Him in obeying His laws. But then these chapters move to list terrible curses for unfaithfulness and disobedience. Be sure to read these chapters with a mind toward where America has been and the road it is now heading down.
The curses read like many of today’s headlines. Many other sobering prophecies foretell terrible destruction to come as a consequence of our national sins. Again, see our free study guide and take heed.
We should pray for the nation and other nations—that all will come to repentance. But realize that they are set on a course they are unlikely to turn from until prophesied end-time calamities strike, which they assuredly will. But you can heed God right now and make sure that you personally are obedient to Him. As He promises, “Those who honor Me I will honor.”
As Thanksgiving approaches, reflect on the amazing origins of America as a God-honoring nation and be thankful for our blessings. But also grieve over the terrible wrongs we see. And pray for the day when the true Kingdom of God will come with the return of Jesus Christ and untold blessings will overflow the world.