How did Jesus influence America's founders?

There is an on-going debate on whether the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Were our early leaders devout believers in Jesus? Well, what did they write about themselves?

BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor


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Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac offered his personal version of the Lord’s Prayer:

Heavenly Father, May all revere Thee, And become They dutiful children and faithful subjects.  May thy Laws be obeyed on earth as perfectly as they are in Heaven.  Provide for us this day as Thou hast hitherto daily done.  Forgive us our trespasses, and enable us likewise to forgive those that offended us.  Keep us out of temptation and deliver us from Evil.

In a 1787 speech to the Constitutional Convention:

God governs in the affairs of man. 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 in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.

In comments on the Great Awakening – a religious revival that swept early America, led by Jonathan Edwards:

It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.

On matters of education, in 1750 Franklin wrote to Dr. Samuel Johnson, the first president of King’s College (now Columbia University):

I think with you, that nothing is of more importance for the public weal, than to form and train up youth in wisdom and virtue…. I think also, general virtue is more probably to be expected and obtained from the education of youth, than from the exhortation of adult persons; bad habits and vices of the mind being, like diseases of the body, more easily prevented than cured.

I think, moreover, that talents for the education of youth are the gift of God; and that he on whom they are bestowed, whenever a way is opened for the use of them, is as strongly called as if heard a voice from heaven.

Franklin wrote in his Autobiography this prayer that he said he prayed every day:

O powerful goodness! Bountiful Father! Merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. Strengthen my resolution to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me.

It has been alleged that he was an atheist. He wrote in his Autobiography:

I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and governed it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded, either here or hereafter.

In July 1776, Franklin was appointed to a committee to draft a seal for the newly formed United States. He proposed:

Moses lifting up his wand, and dividing the red sea, and pharaoh in his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. This motto: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”

On March 9, 1790 in a letter to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale University, he wrote:

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, is the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see.

In 1787 Franklin wrote in a letter:

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Franklin, disturbed by the bitter debates among the delegates, said in a speech to the convention:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God Governs in the affairs of men….

We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.”…

I therefore beg leave to move–that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.

Prayer has opened both houses of Congress ever since.

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