GREAT NATION (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on July 16, 2022)
“For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8)
For quite some time, there has been a debate in America about the religious background of our great nation. There are those who deny any biblical roots in our founding, claiming that the founding fathers looked to Enlightenment thinkers, Whig theorists, and Classical philosophers for wisdom in building our nation. In other words, they looked to Montesquieu, Blackstone, Locke, and Hume, rather than to Moses, David, Jesus, and Paul. Is that true?
Recent research has shown that in the founding era (1760s – 1800s), the period when the colonists began to fight for their rights as Englishmen to the time of the Revolutionary War and the establishment of the New Republic, the Bible was very important in the lives of the people. According to Daniel L. Dreisbach (author of Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers), “We know this, for example, by looking at probate records, the records, the catalogs, of what people left behind when they died, and they reveal that if a family owned a single book it was most certainly going to be the Bible.” This does not mean that everyone was a born again Christian. Neither does it mean that they all believed that the Bible was the Word of God.
In the 1980s, political scientist and professor Donald S. Lutz searched scores of documents, both private and public, from the period and concluded: When all the citations are compared, the Bible is quoted 34%, Enlightenment writers 22%, Whig writers 18%, English Common Law 11%, Classical writers 9%, and miscellaneous 6%. This means that about 1/3 of all the quotations came from the Bible. Furthermore, the peak period for biblical quotations was in the 1770s, at the cusp of the revolutionary war. They were mostly found in the political pamphlets, of which 80% were reprinted sermons. Lutz concluded, “the movement toward independence found the clergy out in front, and they were also most vigorous in maintaining morale during the war” (The Origins of American Constitutionalism). We often hear about the separation of church and state (a misquoted phrase of Jefferson), when, in reality, the church laid the foundation for the state.
According to Lutz, the citations come from all over the Bible, Deuteronomy being the most quoted because it was the story of how God’s people found freedom from the wicked Pharaoh. For the early Americans, they were also fleeing a Pharaoh named King George III. In fact, a century earlier, the Pilgrims and the Puritans also looked to Deuteronomy as a model for their search for religious freedom. Just as the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea, the early Americans also crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Just as the children of Israel encountered enemies in the land of promise, they too had to face many obstacles. Moreover, all the laws and covenants of God with his people through Moses became a blueprint for the laws and constitution for the new republic. The founders developed many of their ideas of a limited government, separation of powers, a system of checks and balances, rule of law, due process, representative government, civic virtue, and social order from the Book of Deuteronomy.
On May 10, 1792, in his Election Day sermon from Deuteronomy 4, Pastor Timothy Stone concluded: “We have abundant occasion indeed to bless and praise the God of Heaven for all our distinguishing privileges, both civil and religious…but we do well to remember that profaneness and irreligion, infidelity and ungodliness, when connected with such advantages will exceedingly enhance the guilt of men, and without repentance will awfully increase the pains of damnation. Would we become a wise understanding people, we must learn the statutes and judgments which the Lord our God hath commanded, and obey them – we must be a religious, holy people, ‘for without holiness, no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14). Let all be exhorted to become wise to salvation through faith, which is in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:15). Amen!” Some would say this is more applicable today than ever.