Tuesday, July 5, 2011
The Man and President: John Adams
This work is in the public domain in the United States.
This past weekend, somewhat coincidentally on the 4th of July weekend, my wife and I watched the HBO miniseries on John Adams. It was through the beginning portion of this series that led us to some questions as to the historical context. Ashamedly, we found ourselves knowing very little about the many events that took place before and after the American Revolution. Relying on what we could find on the internet, and through the miniseries itself, we learned a little bit more about our history and about some of our Founding Fathers.
I have never been naïve to believe that all those who came to America during that era were all somehow Bible-believing, born-again Christians. But I have believed, and still do, that many Colonists and immigrants lived moral lives based primarily on Biblical principles. This, of course, does not suggest that this was all-exclusive behavior throughout the Thirteen Colonies. However, it does lend some background to the events that took place. For the most part, the leaders of that day evidently did hold to Christian theology. So, in turn, decisions were made and laws and documents were heavily influenced by their understanding and relation to God.
John Adams, as portrayed in the HBO series, was a very intelligent man. Some have regarded him as being one of the most important FFs of the United States. Not only was he a signer of the Declaration of Independence (DOI), he was virtually responsible, or at least integral, in its conception. According to the miniseries, Adams was the one who nominated Thomas Jefferson to draft this important document and was even part of the process in its final state. Interestingly, the three most responsible (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin) were not what we would consider Christian, but each was drawn to certain Biblical principles as evidenced in the DOI. This is not to say that only these three drafted or revised this important document, but their handiwork was responsible for most of its content.
The other FFs in our nations’ beginnings, the leaders of the Constitutional Convention, were also highly influential in shaping the political foundations. 93% of them were considered Christian. Stand to Reason shows that Christianity was responsible for shaping the nation and its politics. Given this, one would assume that the United States would be a Christian nation. But as Stand to Reason states, “the Founders stopped short of giving their Christian religion a position of legal privilege. In the tradition of the early church, believers were to be salt and light. The First Amendment insured the liberty needed for Christianity to be a preserving influence and a moral beacon, but it also insured Christianity would never be the law of the land” (emphasis mine.)
Perhaps due to this important point regarding the intentional exclusion of Christianity as a legal basis in the Constitution, I believe there’s much indeed to be learned from what our FFs did intend. And this weekend I enjoyed spending some time learning about the life of John Adams. Though there were perhaps many influences in Adams’ life, from his father who urged him to become a minister, to his education at Harvard, a missionary-oriented college back then, it was his wife Abigail who was perhaps the one who gave him the greatest council during his prestigious political career. According to Adherents.com, “They were lovers, friends, counselors, and mentors to one another into old age […] one of history's great partnerships.” This was also seen quite clearly in the miniseries. This fact is not a small thing considering Abigail’s upbringing in a Christian home and her understanding of theology. This was certain to have played a factor in John and Abigail’s relationship and Abigail’s influence in her husband’s religious and political leanings.
Adams’ career did not start out in politics, however. He began his career out of Harvard as a lawyer. It was while he was practicing law that he also served in the Massachusetts legislature. From there, he distinguished himself as a patriot and was elected a member of the Continental Congress. About.com lists the process of Adams’ career and is nearly mirrored throughout in the HBO miniseries.
But it’s not necessarily Adams’ career that I think adequately describes this man. He was a patriot and a leader. He was also a man driven by purpose. He seemingly wanted to be remembered for doing the right thing, not necessarily the popular thing. Apparently, he was opposed not only by another political party, but opposed even within his own party (the Federalists.) If nothing else, Adams was a man of principle and he stood by those principles even if history would one day present an adverse depiction of him. Interestingly, Adams may have saved the United States from certain war as a young and fragile nation. Through his perseverance, he kept the nation at peace and allowed it to grow militarily and financially, ultimately keeping the nation intact.
I would love to say that it was because Adams was a devout Christian that he was blessed and given all of this success in life. Although there are some indications that his faith grew and it is possible he drew close to God in the latter days of his life, it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise. It is possible, and I believe this to be true, that even though someone is not a sincere believer in Christ Jesus that if they apply the principles of the Bible to life’s circumstances, they may find success in their endeavors. For example, for a man and wife to take marriage according to God’s principles, they can have success in their union. This seems to follow the principle of sowing and reaping.
I also believe there are lessons we can draw from the life of Adams based on principle. I like what is written about him on Adherents.com:
Adams was aware of (and wary of) the risks, such as persecution of minorities and the temptation to wage holy wars, that an established religion poses. Nonetheless, he believed that religion, by uniting and morally guiding the people, had a role in public life.
Though he couldn’t exactly reconcile religion into how this matched with Christian behavior, he did acknowledge the legitimacy of Scripture. Unfortunately, he also applied this reasoning to other religions as well.
There’s another side to this issue, John Adams’ belief system that is. It seems clear God was working His plan during the founding of this nation. Does that mean that God condoned the Founding Fathers’ decision to break off ties from the authority of the King of England? Not necessarily. However, God does use people, whether they make good or bad decisions, to accomplish His purposes. He is Sovereign in all things. It is quite possible that God used Adams, a vessel created for His purposes, to bring about a goal He had in mind. Romans 8:28 says that, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This verse obviously wouldn’t apply to Adams, but definitely would toward God’s children living in America. In addition, Romans 9:20-22 says, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? ‘Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?”’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?” This would indicate that God could have used Adams to advance His cause for this nation.
I think rather than ascribing certain accolades to men, we should look at the events at the founding of our nation and be in awe of the Divine Author and Supreme Being who is Almighty God! I have no problem giving certain credit and praise to men such as Adams for their role, but ultimately it is God who orchestrates the affairs of man. As Proverbs 19:21 states, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
When I think about how close it came that America could have been defeated by England, I’m even more in awe of God’s sovereignty. Even George Washington was aware of the Lord’s providence:
The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct 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.
The cause of our common country calls us both to an active and dangerous duty; Divine Providence, which wisely orders the affairs of men, will enable us to discharge it with fidelity and success.
I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.
So, as much as there is to admire about the life of John Adams, my hope and prayer is that we look instead more intently into the heart of God who has blessed us with so great a nation. There may be those who disagree and contend that God had/has nothing to do with the greatness of the United States. These same people would argue that man in his wisdom has brought about the success, prosperity, and privileges of our country. I disagree. That is why it is so important that Christians stay engaged in politics and events of our time. If Christians think that success and God’s blessings will come without effort, we should consider our FFs and their sacrifices. As Stand to Reason declares, “Christians have no special privileges simply because Christianity was America's first faith. ‘If America ever was or ever will be a “Christian nation,”’ [John] Seel observes, ‘it is not by conscious design or written law, but by free conviction.’ Success for the Christian cannot be measured in numbers or political muscle, but only in faithfulness. Our most important weapon is not our voting power, but the power of the truth freely spoken and freely heard.”
And with that, I say “Amen.”