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20 inspiring voices: personal proclamations of American faith

Compiled by Scott Harrup

Throughout some 400 years of Colonial and United States history, the Christian faith has shaped human events, both public and private. Men and women from the 1600s to today have founded their lives on the Bible. The following excerpts are first-person expressions (with the exception of one corporate proclamation). While not every statement is a clear indication of the speaker’s born-again experience, each one clearly reflects Christian principles and illustrates the impact the gospel has had, and continues to have, on America and Americans.

1630 John Winthrop
(First governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony; from “A Model of Christian Charity”)

Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck [possible failure of the colony], and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us as His own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways, so that we shall see much more of His wisdom, power, goodness and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with. We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “The Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.

March 20, 1664 Anne Bradstreet
(Puritan poet; from Meditations Divine and Moral addressed to her son, Simon)

The spring is a lively emblem of the Resurrection: after a long winter we see the leafless trees and dry stocks (at the approach of the sun) to resume their former vigor and beauty in a more ample manner than what they lost in the autumn; so shall it be at that great day after a long vacation [time in the grave], when the Sun of righteousness shall appear; those dry bones shall arise in far more glory than that which they lost at their creation, and in this transcends the spring that their leaf shall never fail nor their sap decline.

Let’s Roll: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage
Lisa Beamer
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Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture
Grant Wacker
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New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements
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July 8, 1741 Jonathan Edwards
(New England minister and revivalist; from the sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”)

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to Him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to Him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in His own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. How awful is it to be left behind at such a day! To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing! To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit! How can you rest one moment in such a condition?

May 1776 John Witherspoon
(Only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence; from the sermon “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men”)

He is the best friend to American liberty who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy to God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country. Do not suppose, my brethren, that I mean to recommend a furious and angry zeal for the circumstantials of religion, or the contentions of one sect with another about their peculiar distinctions. I do not wish you to oppose anybody’s religion, but everybody’s wickedness. Perhaps there are few surer marks of the reality of religion than when a man feels himself more joined in spirit to a true holy person of a different denomination than to an irregular liver of his own. It is therefore your duty in this important and critical season to exert yourselves, everyone in his proper sphere, to stem the tide of prevailing vice, to promote the knowledge of God, the reverence of His name and worship, and obedience to His laws.

July 1778 Abigail Adams
(Wife of John Adams and mother of John Quincy Adams, second and sixth U.S. presidents; from a letter to young John Quincy)

Great learning and superior abilities, should you ever possess them, will be of little value and small estimation, unless virtue, honor, truth and integrity are added to them. Adhere to those religious sentiments and principles which were early instilled into your mind and remember that you are accountable to your Maker for all your words and actions. Let me enjoin it upon you to attend constantly and steadfastly to the precepts and instructions of your father as you value the happiness of your mother and your own welfare. His care and attention to you render many things unnecessary for me to write which I might otherwise do, but the inadvertency and heedlessness of youth, requires line upon line and precept upon precept, and when enforced by the joint efforts of both parents will I hope have a due influence upon your conduct, for dear as you are to me, I had much rather you should have found your grave in the ocean you have crossed, or any untimely death crop you in your infant years, rather than see you an immoral profligate or a graceless child.

 

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