Special Episode: Thanksgiving for George Washington

Peace to Live By Special Episode: Thanksgiving for George Washington - Daniel Litton
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[Transcripts may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and may contain extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       It is written by the Apostle Peter, the Founder and Rock of the Church: “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13-17, ESV). Today, let us be obedient to this passage.

       In considering the beginnings of America, the foundation of our government and society, there is one man who sticks out more than all the others. This undoubtedly is George Washington. He is known as ‘The’ Founding Father of America. And there are many reasons for this. Most people know him for his role as the first President of the United States, and that was eight years of his life, right toward the end of it. But besides being a Founding Father of America, along with names like John Adams, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison, Washington spent another eight years of his life being the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army during the American War for Independence, the Revolutionary War. Perhaps of the Founders, none has been written more about than Washington—though Franklin and Jefferson would definitely give him a run for his money.

       But when looking at Washington, it can be rather difficult in this day and age to get a correct picture of the man. One of the problems is that through the last two centuries, many historians and authors have written about the man. And through time, more and more fog has developed around him, and it can be difficult to separate fact from error. Washington is no exception to the vast majority of historical figures who have undergone renovations and fictionalizations to their lives. Sometimes writers do this for dramatization, but sometimes things about the person are just made up from scratch and have no basis in truth. One has to use discernment when reading about biographical or historical accounts of people’s lives. Let us become like the Philippians, of which the Apostle Paul wrote, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9, 10 ESV).

       Probably the greatest misfortune that has come upon Washington is the fact that many have identified him as a Deist in religion. No doubt exists that the time in which Washington lived was a popular time for the Deist movement, as that movement saw its height during the time of Washington’s life. So, Deism definitely had its influence on the day. But to categorize Washington as strictly a Deist is to be grossly misinformed, and to leave out, or ignore, essentials of his life and things he said. Many believe most of the Founders to be Deists simply because that’s what they were told at some point, whether it was from a teacher in grade-school or from discussion about them with fellow students. Some of the incorrect beliefs, I believe, are inadvertent. Many people aren’t trying to strip religion from the Founders, it’s just what they were taught. Categorizing most of the Founders that way, though, doesn’t make sense. It is certainly true, with analyzing the facts of ‘the time,’ that most of them were professing Christians in some way, shape, or form. Even Jefferson believed in Christian principles, though he clearly didn’t believe in the miracles of Jesus, among other things.

       If we look at the beginnings of our government, the beginnings of the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, for instance, we can get an idea of the mindset of the Founders at the time with regard to Christianity. Let’s look at the The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving by the Continental Congress, which was “in the year of our LORD, 1777.” This is a lengthy text, but it’s important that we read all of it. The text reads as follows:

“FOR AS MUCH as it is the indispensable Duty of all Men to adore the superintending Providence of Almighty God; to acknowledge with Gratitude their Obligation to him for Benefits received, and to implore such farther Blessings as they stand in Need of: And it having pleased him in his abundant Mercy, not only to continue to us the innumerable Bounties of his common Providence; but also to smile upon us in the Prosecution of a just and necessary War, for the Defense and Establishment of our unalienable Rights and Liberties; particularly in that he hath been pleased, in so great a Measure, to prosper the Means used for the Support of our Troops, and to crown our Arms with most signal success: It is therefore recommended to the legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for SOLEMN THANKSGIVING and PRAISE: That at one Time and with one Voice, the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor; and that, together with their sincere Acknowledgments and Offerings, they may join the penitent Confession of their manifold Sins, whereby they had forfeited every Favor; and their humble and earnest Supplication that it may please GOD through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of Remembrance; That it may please him graciously to afford his Blessing on the Governments of these States respectively, and prosper the public Council of the whole: To inspire our Commanders, both by Land and Sea, and all under them, with that Wisdom and Fortitude which may render them fit Instruments, under the Providence of Almighty GOD, to secure for these United States, the greatest of all human Blessings, INDEPENDENCE and PEACE: That it may please him, to prosper the Trade and Manufactures of the People, and the Labor of the Husbandman, that our Land may yield its Increase: To take Schools and Seminaries of Education, so necessary for cultivating the Principles of true Liberty, Virtue and Piety, under his nurturing Hand; and to prosper the Means of Religion, for the promotion and enlargement of that Kingdom, which consisteth “in Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the Holy Ghost.” And it is further recommended, That servile Labor, and such Recreation, as, though at other Times innocent, may be unbecoming the Purpose of this Appointment, be omitted on so solemn an Occasion.”

So, here we have in this proclamation the mention of all Three Persons of the Trinity of the Christian God, as well as the need to seek Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of one’s sins, the quoting of New Testament Scripture (Romans 14:17, KJV), and the need to observe a Sabbath. God was the one who the Continental Congress directed people toward in thanksgiving for all that they had, both as individuals, and as a country.

       Certainly people will read such declarations and wonder if it is true that America, as a Nation, was founded on Christian principles. And certainly, as it would seem, it is true that the Founders had Christianity as the pillar for the foundation of Government, as it was already, at the time, the foundation for Society. Indeed, Washington himself said in his Farewell Address as President, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness—these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens…. [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”

       But does that mean that America today is a Christian Nation? Many will subscribe to the notion that it is, and adamantly defend such a position. We already established the importance of Christianity at the beginnings, but certainly over time the influence of Christ has been on the dramatic decline, so much so that I think it is becoming more and more difficult to make such an assertion today, that the United States still is indeed a Christian Nation. The foundation may have been Christian, and the leaders back then may have been Christian, but somewhere along the way the Christian principles have become lost, placed in the rear-view-mirror for a glorification of Self rather than God. So, I’m not so sure we can still call America a Christian Nation today, but it certainly was at one time.

       Rather, though, than focusing square on the beginnings of our Nation in full, I am going to focus here more on Washington because I want us today to grasp as best we can a full view of the man from a Christian perspective, namely, that Washington himself was a Christian, and that he ascribed to Christ-like behaviors in thought, word, and deed. As I mentioned, words are indeed important, but so are the deeds of the man. We must look at both if we are going to have a good picture of the man, and not one that has been marginalized and tainted by incorrect accounts of his life, whether purposeful or inadvertent, or those wishing to strip him of his Christian religion because they find it offensive. The Apostle Paul told Titus, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (Titus 2:7, 8, ESV).

       So, let us ask the obvious question to get started off. And that is was Washington a Christian, and a model one at that? In considering both the man’s words—his writings—and his actions as a person, it becomes clear that Washington did believe in the Christian religion. Really, the evidence becomes overwhelming. Now, was Washington perfect at all times? No, he wasn’t, but then again, who really is? Overall, though, I think it safe to say that Washington modeled good Christian living, and though he wasn’t perfect at all times, he is definitely someone we can admire and look up to in this area. The Apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8, ESV). Washington indeed was raised Christian, married a Christian, and definitely followed Christian principles throughout his life.

       First, let us consider Washington’s church attendance. And indeed, there is a lot to consider. When he grew up in Virginia, Washington attended the Established Church of Virginia (1). Of course, this was during the time of the British rule in America. Martha Custis, whom he married when he was twenty-six years old, was a member of the Church of England, the Anglican Church. Washington himself was an observer the Anglican Church’s fast days. It is recorded that Washington would act as Chaplin as an officer to soldiers when the regular Chaplin was unable to oversee, and this was before the Revolutionary War. Washington is noted as having attended church more frequently when he stayed in towns, rather than when he was in residence at home in Mount Vernon (1). This obviously would be due to travel restrictions at the time, as it was definitely more difficult for one to travel about to various places, which included church, especially when one lived out on the countryside. This would mean that he showed greater church attendance during the 1780s, and especially the 1790s, during his Presidency, toward the end of his life.

       In bringing up Washington’s church attendance, some historians will point out the fact, and it can even be seen in his journal entires, that Washington rarely attended Communion service at church (1, 2). Some would point to this as a sign of his lack of commitment to the Christian faith, though, I think there is a better explanation. If you read Washington’s journal entries, it becomes clear that he thought lowly of himself, and didn’t have an exalted picture of himself. This might be the case, so much so, that Washington personally felt he was unworthy for the Communion service. Remember, the Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians chapter 11 the following: “Whoever… eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27, ESV). It could be very well indeed that Washington didn’t want to risk, what he felt, would be the judgment of God if in fact he was unworthy to partake of the Communion. I personally believe this to be the case with him. In those days, when it came to Christian preaching, the judgment of God was highly emphasized.

       But what other things can we note from Washington’s life that show indication to his faith? David L. Holmes, in his book titled, ‘The Faiths of the Founding Fathers,’ notes the following about Washington: “Washington required Revolutionary military forces to have chaplains, insisted that his soldiers attend Sunday services, and ordered Thanksgiving services after victories…. No historian would be well advised to depict Washington as anything other than a Christian” (p. 68). If we go back to Washington’s home in Mount Vernon, he was also known to give thanks before eating dinner, but then again, who didn’t at the time (1)? But regardless, it shows his allegiance to God. Even more convincing, though, is what his own adapted daughter who lived with him for his last twenty years (she was technically his step-granddaughter) said about him in 1833 in a letter to historian Jared Sparks. She said, “It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o'clock, where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always rose before the sun, and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, "that they may be seen of men." He communed with his God in secret. (3)” So, this excerpt gives us a little glimpse into what has going on behind the scenes with Washington.

       Perhaps, though, more convincing than anything are the things that Washington said. On July 9, 1776, Washington said the following in a military declaration for new military chaplains: “The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger. The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live and act as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.” So, not only was Washington making sure his military had chaplains, but also he was concerned about the ways and behavior of his men under him. If we fast-forward over twenty years later to the end of his Presidency, Washington stated the following in his farewell address to the people: “I now make it my earnest prayer that God would… most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of the mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion.” Washington surely believed in the tenets of Christian faith.

       Some will bring up the fact, however, that Washington often used common deistic words in his writings, whether public or private. If you read his writings, you will find phrases like “the Deity,” “Supreme Ruler of the Universe,” “Divine Providence,” and so forth. It is true that Washington’s writings contain what many people would consider to be deistic phrases. And, really, there’s no question that Washington was interested in the philosophies of his day. But these phrases were common at the time, and used by many (2). In my opinion, his use of the phrases does not mean he was a deist. If one takes into consideration all the phrases he used, and considers all his writings, there are many Christian sentiments, like I have already discussed. So, while there are deistic phrases as some would like to call them, there are also blatant Christian themes in his writings.

       No doubt really exists, though, that Washington was not exclusive or given to one particular Christian denomination of church, but rather he desired that all Christians work to get along. But often that’s true with a lot of politicians, for they have to be that way since they are representing all the people under them. Remember what Jesus said to the Father about his followers in the Garden of Gethsemane? He said: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-24, ESV). And I think this was Washington’s view. In a Letter to Edward Newenham, an Irish statesman, in 1792, Washington said the following: "“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” So, Washington believed all Christians should get along.

       One of the greatest stories that can be told from the Revolution—involving Washington—comes to us at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, New York. Before that battle, Washington wanted to get the morale up for his troops, and he gave them an address. He said, “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.” So, Washington left the battle in the hands of God. And we know, this battle didn’t go all so well for Washington and his men. After defeat, the troops were ordered to evacuate to New York City. However, the Continental army ran into a bit of a snag as the ‘overnight’ evacuation wasn’t going as fast as Washington had planned. Nonetheless, Lord God sent a fog which hid the army from the British infantry, so they could continue to evacuate up until dawn. Washington was the last man to step onto a boat, to cross over to New York City. If it had not been for the fog, Washington and his men would have been captured, and the Revolution likely over. But God had other plans.

       To close today, I would us to consider a quote from a speech Washington gave to the Native American chiefs of Delaware in 1779. He said to them, “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.” Indeed, just as Washington believed in Jesus, and witnessed this fact to the Native Americans, so God wants everyone to believe in him. It is true that God wants everyone to come into personal relationship with him.

       You see, everyone is born into this world separated from God. The only way people can be reconciled to him is to believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Jesus came to the earth, 2,000 years ago, and died on a cross in order that anyone who believes in his death for sins our their behalf, may be saved from their sins. If you will simply believe Jesus died for your sins—the offenses you've committed against God—taking your place, you can have a personal relationship with God. Jesus died and rose from the dead on the third day after his death, and now resides with God in heaven.

       All you have to do is pray this simple prayer, and God ensures that he will save you from your sins, any of his wrath to come, and give you eternal life, which starts now. Just pray:

God, you are the true God. You are holy. I am a sinner. I have sinned from the beginning of my life. I have not done the things you have wanted me to do, but I have been doing the things I have wanted to do. Today, I accept your free gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus came to the earth as a human man and died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, which includes my sins. I believe Jesus rose from the dead, and that today He dwells at your right hand in Heaven. I believe that Jesus truly is Lord of everyone and everything. I surrender my life to you. Please change my life, and me become more like Jesus. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

       Let us pray.

       Heavenly Father, thank you today for the opportunity to look into one of our forefather’s lives, our Chief Forefather, and understand how he modeled Christ in his own life. I thank you for Mister Washington, and for the countless others who gave their lives for our freedom, for my freedom. Their scarifies are sacred, and so incredibly selfless. Let us ascribe to be like them. Indeed, let us all work to become more like Jesus Christ in our own lives. Let us love you the best we can, and love others at the same time. Help us to help others where they need help.

       Holy Father, I pray for those who have accepted Christ today as personal Lord and Savior. Help them to remain established in your truth that they have learned today, and help them to remained anchored in that Truth. May they be learning your Word in the Scriptures and regularly Communing with you, depending on you for their needs, both great and small. May we, those who you already are in personal relationship with you, be working toward becoming more and more like Christ each day of our lives, as long as you give us life here on the earth. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton


(1) Holmes, David L. (2006). ‘The Faiths of the Founding Fathers.’ Oxford University Press, Inc., New York: NY.

(2) Waldman, Steven. (2008). ‘Founding Faith.’ Random House, Inc., New York, NY.

(3) Sparks, Jared. (1838). ‘The Writings of George Washington.’ Vol. XII. Ferdinand Andrews, Boston, MA.