God Blessed America: Jefferson

Posted in God Blessed America, Old Testament, Psalms, Psalms 33

PSALM 33:12a
God Blessed America: Jefferson
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Psalm 33:12a Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.

Baptists heroically led the fight for religious liberty in the colonies, but were not its only champions. Lord Baltimore chartered “Mary-land” in 1632 as a haven for Catholics persecuted in England, and for nonconformist Protestants. Lord Berkeley and George Carteret granted religious freedom when they founded the colony of New Jersey in 1664.
No discussion of religious freedom in the USA is complete without mentioning the extraordinary efforts of William Penn. King Charles II owed the Penn family $80,000. Penn, hoping to establish a haven for the persecuted, asked the King to pay him with wilderness land in America.
In 1681 King Charles II gave William Penn the largest territory ever granted a British subject and named it Pennsylvania, Penn’s Woods, in honor of William’s father, Admiral Sir William Penn. Later William Penn the son received Delaware from the Duke of York.
Penn gave his life to what he called the “holy experiment”, granting absolute religious freedom, and proactively pursuing and recruiting immigrants. He invited the persecuted everywhere to come to his colony.
My family and I owe a personal debt to Penn. My Wilcox ancestors (through Grandma Hill) were on his ship on his last trip to Penn’s Woods. The bulk of our Wilcox’s remained Quakers for nearly two centuries.
When discussing non-Baptists who influenced religious freedom, Thomas Jefferson has to be mentioned. He was without doubt the Baptists’ unparalleled, most loved political figure. To them, he was a pantheon of one.
A persistent story about Jefferson involves the influence Baptists had on him in the years before the Revolution. Dolly Madison, late in life, supposedly confirmed that Baptists influenced Jefferson. She remembered him saying it was a Baptist church from which his views were gathered.
Familiar with a Baptist church near his home, he let its democracy influence his thinking of a pattern for the colonies. He allegedly said Baptist church government is the only form of pure democracy existing in the world. He concluded it would be the best plan of government for the colonies.
Andrew Tribble served as Pastor of the small Baptist church. It met monthly. Jefferson attended its meetings for several consecutive months, and had Tribble in his home to discuss Baptist philosophy of self-governing.
The Baptist/Jefferson love affair is complicated to unravel. Jefferson’s opponents accused him of being an atheist. He refuted these claims, and through it all, Baptists stayed true to him. They considered him their ideal statesman, though his religious views were diametrically opposed to theirs.
In my studying for these sermons on religious liberty, I encountered two extremely bizarre stories. One is that visitors can go to Roger Williams’ home and see the root of an apple tree that invaded his body and took on its shape. Macabre. The other story is about the Baptist Mammoth Cheese.
The ultimate tangible expression of appreciation from Baptists to Jefferson was shown in a weird gesture made by the Virginia Baptist religious-liberty-hero John Leland. Before Jefferson was elected President, Pastor John Leland had moved from Virginia to Cheshire, Massachusetts.
Leland had known Jefferson well in Virginia, and campaigned vigorously for him in Massachusetts. Leland, convinced he and other Baptists had helped Jefferson win the Presidency, decided a unique gesture of love and appreciation was needed. He had his church members bring all the milk their cows gave on a given day in order to make a mammoth cheese. No cow of a Federalist, Jefferson’s opponents, was allowed to offer milk, “lest it should leaven the whole lump with a distasteful savour.”
The townspeople made a special cheese press, sang a hymn over it, and put the ingredients in it. Leland said it was the largest cheese ever put to press in the New World or Old. It weighed 1235 pounds, was four feet wide, and fifteen inches thick. Since it was too heavy to be delivered on a wheeled vehicle, the townspeople hired a sleigh to bring it to President Jefferson during the winter. Leland himself made the 500-mile trip. The news media made him a national super star. His cheese was the talk of the country.
Jefferson cut off a piece of the cheese, thanked Leland and the people of Cheshire, and kept the cheese at the White House for two years, until it was replaced by the “mammoth loaf” presented to him by the US Navy.
Leland delivered the mammoth cheese on New Years Day 1802. On Sunday January 3 Jefferson attended church in the USA Capitol building and heard John Leland preach on the text, “A greater than Solomon is here.” I wonder; was the preacher thinking more about Jesus or about Jefferson?
Some speculate this uncanny incident is the basis of our expression “The big cheese”. But, as is the case in most idioms, accurately discovering its origens is hard to do because its roots are shrouded in foggy shadows.
Few peoples’ religious beliefs stir up a more raucous debate than Thomas Jefferson’s. He is usually said to have been a Deist, a person who believes God created the world, wound it up like a clock, and then left it alone. We know for sure Jefferson was not a Deist because he believed in miracles. He was convinced God did intervene in human affairs.
Jefferson adored the teachings of Jesus. He believed they were the best source of moral material in all of history. Jefferson felt Christian morals were absolutely essential to having a happy society. He would buy nice Bibles, and give them as presents to his children and grandchildren.
Jefferson called himself a Christian, but we have to be careful here. He defined the term very narrowly. He said he was a Christian in the sense of following Jesus’ “genuine precepts”. Jefferson believed the text of the New Testament had been corrupted and mistranslated, which had resulted in Jesus being reported to have said things he never said.
Concluding Jesus was not the Son of God, Jefferson rejected huge portions of the four Gospels. His “scissor and paste” Bible is on display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
When seeking to accurately discern people’s religious beliefs, we must let them speak for themselves. The best, most succinct, understanding of his religious beliefs was clearly spelled out in a letter he wrote at Monticello in his older years (June 26, 1822) to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse.
In the letter, Jefferson was very candid. He said the true, reliable doctrines of Jesus were: 1) There is only one God; He is all perfect; 2) There is a future state of rewards and punishments; 3) To love God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.
To make double sure he was clearly expressing his beliefs, Jefferson in the same letter absolutely rejected Calvinism, saying it wrongly taught: 1) There are three Gods; 2) Good works are nothing; 3) Faith is everything; 4) Reason in religion is unlawful; 5) God elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned.
In this letter, Jefferson called himself a Unitarian, and wrote, “I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.” I think this designation of himself as a Unitarian is, in modern parlance, the most accurate description of his religious beliefs.
In concise form, Jefferson believed there was no Trinity, salvation was by works not grace, human reasoning superseded any notion of divine revelation (thus the Bible was not trustworthy or authoritative), and only free will existed in determining people’s dealings with God.
Jefferson moved away from orthodoxy under the tutelage of a college professor at Williamsburg. Dr. William Small was a Scott who introduced the Enlightenment worldview to Jefferson. Its key insight was; reason, not revelation or unquestioned tradition or superstition, deserved first place in human thinking. With this premise accepted, his mind was closed to any argument favoring Holy Writ or the presence of the Divine in a person’s life.
Reason wants everything explained and rationalized. To live by faith requires accepting what lies beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Only by a divine miracle of conviction and conversion can this position be embraced.

FATHER’S DAY 2005

Posted in Father's Day, Psalms

Psalm 78:2b-7
FATHER’S DAY 2005
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Psalm 78:2b-7 (Holman) “I will speak mysteries from the past ( things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us. We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed. He established a testimony in Jacob and set up a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to teach to their children so that a future generation ( children yet to be born ( might know. They were to rise and tell their children so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep His commandments.”

The key phrase is in verse 5, “He commanded our fathers to teach to their children.” God intended for fathers to be the primary conveyers of spiritual truth to their children. This was the case in my life.

On a cold snowy night, Dad pulled his 1929 Ford Model A Coupe up close to the front porch of our house and helped my pregnant mother get in. A few hours later, on December 22, 1951, I was born.

I arrived, and grew up, in a wonderful environment. For the most part, Godly precious women nurtured me, men admonished me.

The latter fact was an unspeakable blessing, because children usually follow the religious practices of their fathers. I’m grateful for the men in my heritage who did not abdicate this spiritual duty to the women.

I was blessed to have all four of my grandparents till I was 28. Grandpa Hill was quiet and soft-spoken, a southern gentleman preacher. He felt his greatest life work was as a World War II chaplain. He followed our troops into France after D-Day, and spent many hours transcribing letters dictated by dying soldiers for their families at home.

Grandpa instilled a deep sense of holiness in my mother. At age 15, she married Dad, who was not walking closely with the Lord. Early one Sunday morning, Mom rose and dressed. Dad asked, “Where are you going?” Mom matter-of-factly replied, “To church.” Dad angrily complained, but Mom went to church anyway. She has never quit. Dad soon adopted her way of thinking.

Grandpa Marshall was a fireball, a backwoods, mule-farming, in-your-face preacher. While preaching one Sunday at Crossroads Baptist Church, near Blytheville, Arkansas, a dog entered the front door, ran up the aisle, and bit him. He kicked the dog, told a man, “Get that dog out of here,” and while the yelping dog was hauled out went on preaching as if nothing unusual had happened.

Grandpa once preached a revival at a public school where he was the teacher. Every lost student in the school became a believer.

Grandpa preached a brush arbor meeting in Northeast Arkansas. After a couple of nights with no results, Grandpa stopped the invitation and said, “Someone in this crowd is living in sin, quenching the Lord’s ability to work in this meeting. Many in this community are lost. If they go to Hell, the guilty man will forevermore bear the blame.”

Instantly a man on the third row cried out “I am the man!” He jumped over two rows of chairs and landed face-down at Grandpa’s feet. Revival broke loose, resulting in Cole Ridge Baptist Church being founded.

About this time, one of the darkest clouds ever to overshadow our family arrived. Grandpa decided to read the writings of a famous atheist to refute him.

Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Grandpa’s faith was badly shaken. He spent a decade in this wilderness wandering. Some of his children were affected negatively, and scarred spiritually for life.

Seventy years later our family still suffers fallout from Grandpa’s period of unbelief. Men, footsteps of failure can last as long as footsteps of success.

Grandpa regained his bearings and spent the last 30 years of his life serving Jesus. When I left for seminary, I stopped to tell him farewell. As I was getting back in the car, Grandpa looked across the top of my blue 1972 Ford Maverick and said, “Son, I believe in God as much as I believe you and I are standing here.”

When we gathered at the funeral home to view his body, Grandma was displeased. Something wasn’t right. She sent home for his Bible. When it was put under his hands, she said, “Now he looks like himself.” When we are gone, what will people most associate with us?

Long before Grandpa died, he and my dad were one day driving between Manila and Leachville, Arkansas. Dad had been struggling against the call to preach, but finally relenting, said, “Dad, I feel I need to get out in these farmhouses and preach the Gospel.” With tears, Grandpa replied, “That’s all that matters, Son, all that matters.”

When I cried at birth, Dad, who had just started preaching, said, “Sounds like one crying in the wilderness.” He named me for John the Baptist.

When Dad preached my ordination sermon, he used as his text John 1:6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” Dad enumerated from the ministry of John the Baptist certain traits I should imitate.

Holiness always mattered most in our household. Dad was a Godly husband, always treating Mom like a Queen. Men, here’s a wonderful gift we can give our children. Honor their mother.

Dad was a Godly father. He daily told me Bible stories, and lived a Bible life before me. His telling me the story of Jesus’ death on the cross led to my being saved at age 6. Dad was a Godly pastor, the greatest soulwinner I ever knew.

I repeat, holiness mattered most. We never carried a cigar, pipe, cigarette, can of beer, or suggestive magazine across the threshold of our house. We never owned an ash tray. We said grace before every meal. This would later be the trait about Ruth that first attracted my attention to her.

We always attended church ( Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. I can never remember an argument about going to church. It was a given. Dad even made my deaf sister go to church, with no interpreter.

I repeat again, holiness mattered most in our house. No profanity, no off-color jokes, no racial slurs, no humor at God’s expense.

One night I was watching on TV a chorus line dancing to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Dad arrived home, saw what was on, immediately walked over, turned off the TV, turned around, and said, “If I left that on, I’d be afraid God would strike me with lightning.” He then marched out of the room. I don’t remember hearing thunder that night, but do recall learning something about the holiness of God.

Not long after I started preaching, I saw Dad one very late night looking sad and forlorn at the kitchen table. This was a rare sight. Dad was born with a perpetual smile. He can hardly frown.

I’m the opposite, born with a scowl on my face. Dad says it was God’s gift to me to make me a better preacher. He thinks people show more respect to preachers with a serious countenance. I have nothing smart to say about that.

When I asked Dad what was wrong, he said, “Son, my generation has failed to win our country for Jesus. We’re counting on your generation to do a better job.” I fear the expectation was too high. The years have made me more sympathetic toward his feeling of failure.

I have tried to convey the heritage of righteousness to my children and grandchildren. My life motto is, holiness matters most.

Our family lived by the same household rules I was raised with. My attitude was summarized in what I one day told my children, “If you grow up to become President of the United States or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, if you don’t love Jesus, we will have precious little to talk about.”

If I asked your children what their dad’s number one desire for them was, would they say, growing up to please Jesus? Have you articulated this to your children? Do your children know that to you holiness matters most? Does it?

A final story will emphasize the significance of passing on the heritage of righteousness to our children. When Grandpa Marshall died, I lost a grandparent for the first time. Devastated, I had a thousand questions I wish I would have asked him. I began doing genealogical research to help me work through my grief.

This research is how I learned I’m a sixth generation preacher. Our family’s heritage of righteousness began before the Civil War. My great great great grandfather was a Methodist circuit riding preacher. His son, William Jonathan Couch, as best we can tell, became a Baptist during the revival that swept through the Confederate Army. He was one day scrounging for food on a garbage heap when a Union soldier saw him and shot him. The bullet destroyed his upper lip. To cover the deformity, he wore a mustache the rest of his life.

William Jonathan Couch remained a steadfast faithful preacher of the Gospel for some 60 years. His spiritual shadow still looms large across our family, though he has been dead 81 years.

Fascinated by his story, I traveled to Illinois to find his grave. When I asked, at the cemetery office, the precise location of his grave, they would not tell me because money was owed against his account. During the Great Depression, poverty forced his family to quit paying what they owed on his grave.

Our family later paid the debt in full, but on this first visit to the cemetery, I went back to the car dejected. The cemetery being huge, I had no reasonable chance of finding the grave, but I began driving slowly and aimlessly down the main cemetery lane.

To my left I saw a large granite grave marker, inscribed in huge letters, “Sinner Saved By Grace.” I stopped the car, and told Ruth to look. I said something to the effect there was a believer who though dead, yet speaketh.

I then saw written on the marker, “William Jonathan Couch: 1844-1924.” I had found my great great grandpa’s grave.

Excited beyond containment, I rushed to my parents’ house in St. Louis. I returned to the grave with my dad, brother, and cousin Rod.

We stood on the grave, marveling at how this man had lived in such a way that the heritage of righteousness he conveyed was still alive and well. As we were about to leave, Rod said, “I pray our great great grandchildren will someday stand on our graves and still be talking about the things of God.”

I intend to take my grandchildren someday to William Jonathan Couch’s grave and tell them this story. Their grandchildren will be my great great grandchildren, the ones I pray will fulfill my cousin Rod’s prayer.

Fathers, let’s not allow the heritage of righteousness to die on our watch. Our children will probably become what we are spiritually. Don’t fail them.