Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams

JAdams_letterI am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forevermore.

You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, “Had a Declaration…” [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Liberty without virtue

levin-the_greatOne of the books I’m working through right now is Yuval Levin’s The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. I came across this quote from Burke last night:

But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint. Those who know what virtuous liberty is, cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapable heads, on account of their having high-sounding words in their mouths.

Apropos, no?

Behold, the acerbic wit of colonial Calvinism!

Before there was Costanza, there was colonial Calvinism.

This anecdote from a biography of Jonathan Edwards was too good not to share. Although I haven’t identified a worthy recipient, I hope to employ these insults very soon:

In one colorful confrontation, a number of the young people were waiting at the Edwards home to meet with a formidable church judicial committee that included Colonel John Stoddard, the chief magistrate and judge of the region. As time dragged on, Timothy Root, one of the principal offenders (and a communicant church member), asked if he could leave and come back. When told “no,” Timothy announced loudly, “I won’t worship a wig.” He and his cousin Simeon then took off for the local tavern. He also declared (in a good example of how a Calvinistic low view of human nature might make one a revolutionary) that the committee members “are nothing but men molded up of a little dirt” and “I don’t give a turd” and “I don’t give a fart” for any of them. Insubordination was now added to the original accusations.

-George Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, 94.

jerk store
Before there was Costanza, there was colonial Calvinism.




Irreverent Musings: When prayer & fasting is worldliness

Worldliness, for the Puritan, had meant “excessive love for the wealth, affluence, and pride of the world.” For the late nineteenth-century evangelical, however, it increasingly came to mean the presence of certain visible habits of behavior which marked the nonevangelical off as nonkosher. At the same time, an insidious process of cultural fusion was going on in which Christianity was gradually identified with Americanism, patriotism and the preservation of the status quo. –Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life [emphasis added]

Is a pastor ever justified in his ambivalence to a call for prayer & fasting? If not, I stand condemned. Chalk it up to immaturity, a contrarian nature, or a hyper-critical spirit, but this quadrennial fervor that solicits a 24-hr renewal of spiritual discipline strikes me as (potentially) misplaced and counterproductive. I’m referring, of course, to calls for the faithful to pray for the outcome of tomorrow’s presidential election.

Yes, yes I know that Scripture warrants the call to pray for our governing leaders and, by implication, elections: God sets rulers in place (Jn 19:11; Rom 13:1); properly functioning government is advantageous for the spread of the gospel (1Tim 2:1-4); a just government rulers is necessary to promote/protect the common good (Rom 13:3-6).  All Christians should be able to affirm such truths & our requisite responsibility to pray.

But the unsettled feeling I find isn’t over the call to pray/fast but the paucity of such calls in the first place. Somehow Jesus’ instructions for prayer & fasting in Matthew 6 strike me as normative–not exceptional–Christian behavior. Unfortunately, our patriotic Christianity would have us read Mat 6:16-17 as “When you fast every four years…” Meanwhile, I can’t think of the last time I heard a call to pray/fast for the persecuted church across the globe or unborn infants or the restoration of a wayward Christian or the mortification of indwelling sin or church renewal or the conversion of our neighbors. Were it not for godly men & women that I know personally who make & take such calls to spiritual action in election time I would be tempted to conclude that all such appeals were little more than the clamor for wealth, affluence, and national pride–worldliness with a spiritual veneer.

In the end the real source of my ambivalence to a day of prayer & fasting for a national election has less to do with the invitation than it does to my/our selective implementation of such spiritual action. Conflicted, I’ll take part in the exercise but only as I confess that the state of our union is a byproduct of my failure to pray/fast more than once every four years.

Happy Independence Day

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1Peter 2:16 {ESV}

…no people will tamely surrender their liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and virtue is preserved. On the contrary, when people are universally ignorant, and debauched in their manners, they will sink under their own weight without the aid of foreign invaders. –Samuel Adams in a letter to James Warren, quoted by Ira Stoll in Samuel Adams: A Life (NY: Free Press, 2008), p172 

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