The Fourth of July is obviously one of our nation’s most celebrated holidays. It was truly an historic day when the members of the Continental Congress put their signatures to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. We generally celebrate the day with parades, fireworks, and cookouts.
Actually, the Americans of the late 18th and early 19th centuries did the same kind of things. But they also did something we usually do not do. They would have community meetings in which the ministers would preach sermons that related to the beginning of our nation. Whole towns would gather to give thanks to God and recommit themselves to keeping the Lord first in their lives.
The evidence of God’s hand in the history of America is overwhelming. I have been studying it for many years and I continue to be amazed and challenged by what I discover. Many of our founders were Christian or at least had a Christian worldview, and that reality was a significant factor in what they did and how they did it. There were also many short-comings and sins—just like there are in your life and mine. We can learn from those too.
I want to give you a brief listing of examples of God’s providential hand in America’s history that you can use this Independence Day to give thanks to God.
- Christopher Columbus: Columbus was a Christian man. In his Book of Prophecies he gives us great advice on how to see ourselves and our reasons for doing what we do. “I am a most unworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous presence. No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior, if it is just and if the intention is purely for His holy service.”
- The Pilgrims: William Bradford, their long-time governor, shared one of the most important motivations behind their voyage to the new world. “Lastly (and which was not least), a great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but even as stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”
- Rev. Thomas Hooker: On May 31, 1638, Rev. Hooker preached a sermon from Deuteronomy 1:13 among the people of his Newtown congregation that would later become Connecticut Colony. The principles from this sermon became the foundation for The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut which was later adopted as the Constitution of Connecticut. This constitution contained many biblical rights and ideas that would have a great influence on our nation.
- The Ministers of the Colonial Era: The clergy of America basically discipled the nation in the principles of liberty. They would give weekday lectures and were often consulted by the legislature in their decisions. They would preach “Election Sermons” which spoke of the character required for magistrates, the duties of citizens, and the biblical reasons for standing against tyranny. It is estimated that the average adult in Colonial America would have listened to 15,000 hours of biblical exposition from their ministers in their lifetime.
- George Washington: Washington was a Christian man, principled leader, and a true statesman. Without him there would be no United States of America. In 1783, Dr. Ezra Styles, the President of Yale College said this about him in one of his sermons. “Whereupon Congress put at the head of the spirited army, the only man on whom the eyes of all Israel were placed. Posterity, incredulous as they may be, will yet acknowledge this American Joshua was raised up by God for the great work for leading the armies … conducting these people to liberty and independence.”
There is so much more to be said. I have had to leave out John Winthrop, lessons learned from the Salem witch trials, the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, the Black Regiment, Noah Webster, Isaac Backus … you get the picture.
We have much to be thankful for. Make this Independence Day a day of thanksgiving.