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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Sermon That Helped Ratify the U.S. Constitution (Taken From "The Miracle and Magnificence of America")

On December 6, 1787, by unanimous consent, Delaware became the first state to ratify the new Constitution. New Jersey and Georgia soon followed, also by unanimous consent. On December 12, 1787, by a vote of 46 to 23, Pennsylvania approved the Constitution. In 1788, Connecticut, Massachusetts (by a close 187 to 168 vote), Maryland, and South Carolina made it eight states. New Hampshire was the state that put the Constitution into effect.

Christian ministers played no small role in the matter. Samuel Langdon was a distinguished theologian and scholar. He graduated from Harvard in 1740, went on to become a prominent Congregational minister, and was president of Harvard University from 1774 to 1780. He was also a delegate to the New Hampshire convention that ratified (by the slim margin of 57 to 46) the U.S. Constitution in 1788. New Hampshire was the last of the necessary nine states needed to ratify the Constitution. In order to persuade his fellow delegates to vote in favor of the U.S. Constitution, Langdon delivered an “election sermon” entitled, The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the American States.

After beginning by quoting Deuteronomy 4:5-8 in his sermon, Langdon noted,
[T]he Israelites may be considered as a pattern to the world in all ages; and from them we may learn what will exalt our character, and what will depress and bring us to ruin. Let us therefore look over their constitution and laws, enquire into their practice, and observe how their prosperity and fame depended on their strict observance of the divine commands both as to their government and religion.
Langdon then gave an account of how Moses, upon the wise counsel of his father-in-law Jethro, “the priest of Midian,” set up a republican form of government, with representatives (“leaders,” “rulers,” “judges,” depending on the biblical translation) from groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. In addition, 70 elders, or wise-men—a type of national Senate as described by biblical and Jewish scholars—were selected by Moses and approved by the consent of the people.

Langdon added,
A government thus settled on republican principles, required laws; without which it must have degenerated immediately into aristocracy, or absolute monarchy. But God did not leave a people, wholly unskilled in legislation, to make laws for themselves: he took this important matter wholly into His own hands, and beside the moral laws of the two tables, which directed their conduct as individuals, gave them by Moses a complete code of judicial laws.
Langdon goes on to describe how this republican form of government helped the nation of Israel grow from a “mere mob” (if only the eighteenth century French had taken notice) to a “well regulated nation, under a government and laws far superior to what any other nation could boast!” After detailing Israel’s later struggles—they would eventually “[neglect] their government, [corrupt] their religion, and [grow] dissolute in their morals”—Langston exhorted his fellow citizens to learn from the nation of Israel.
That as God in the course of his kind providence hath given you an excellent constitution of government, founded on the most rational, equitable, and liberal principles, by which all that liberty is secured which a people can reasonably claim, and you are empowered to make righteous laws for promoting public order and good morals; and as he has moreover given you by his son Jesus Christ, who is far superior to Moses, a complete revelation of his will, and a perfect system of true religion, plainly delivered in the sacred writings; it will be your wisdom in the eyes of the nations, and your true interest and happiness, to conform your practice in the strictest manner to the excellent principles of your government, adhere faithfully to the doctrines and commands of the gospel, and practice every public and private virtue. By this you will increase in numbers, wealth, and power, and obtain reputation and dignity among the nations: whereas, the contrary conduct will make you poor, distressed, and contemptible.
On September 21, 1788 the Constitution and the new government of the United States went into effect. Just over three years later, the Bill of Rights would be added. By 1790, when Rhode Island, by a vote of 34 to 32, joined the Union, it was unanimous.

On July 4, 1837, in a speech delivered in the town of Newburyport, Massachusetts, John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, and the sixth U.S. President, proclaimed,
Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the World, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this day? Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior? Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth?
Witnessing the events of the Revolution as a boy, and no-doubt hearing from his father of the raucous debates that gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and then going on to serve his country in many various capacities, John Quincy Adams saw that Christmas and Independence Day were fundamentally linked. He understood well that the Founders took the principles that Christ brought to the world and incorporated them into civil government. This is what makes the U.S. government so distinctive, why it has been so durable, and why, to this day, we are the greatest nation the world has ever known.

Happy Independence Day!

Copyright 2018, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor is the author of the The Miracle and Magnificence of America
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

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