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Early American Education, the Bible and the Constitution

 

Excerpts from: The Bible and the Constitution of the United States of America1

Wycliffe2 stated: The Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, for the people." "For two hundred years...men searched and pondered Biblical principles relating to self and civil government."

Where do we begin to restore the roots of our Tree of Liberty?  We begin with the American individual. We begin with the basic institutions: home, church, school, business. We, as a people, must return to the Holy Bible as our American Political, Economic, Social, Education and Civic Textbook. The Bible gives us our first admonition: "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he" (Prov. 29: 18). "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." (Prov. 14:34) The history of the Bible and the history of American liberty are inseparable. The Bible is the source of individual liberty-salvation from sin through Jesus Christ. It is also the basis for external or civil government.  As Noah Webster wrote:

It is extremely important to our nation, in a political as well as religious view, that all possible authority and influence should be given to the scriptures; for these furnish the best principles of civil liberty, and the most effectual support of republican government.

 

Without the Bible, the character for self-government would not have led to the forming of a Christian Constitutional Republic - that American Federalism which has provided so much liberty and opportunity for individuals in our nation.

Without the Bible, the Pilgrims, Puritans, Patriots would not have learned how to govern their families, their churches, their towns, their colonial assemblies - all in preparation for the establishment of a new nation under God - the United States of America. Without the Bible, the Pioneers moving westward would not have practiced that voluntarism which built homes, churches, schools, communities, businesses and new states for the union.

One hundred years ago, Robert C. Winthrop, descendant of the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, warned the audience of the Massachusetts Bible Society:

"All societies of men must be governed in some way or other.  The less they may have of stringent State Government, the more they must have of individual self-government.  The less they rely on public law or physical force, the more they must rely on private moral restraint.  Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or the bayonet.  It may do for other countries and other governments to talk about the State supporting religion. Here, under our own free institutions, it is Religion which must support the State."

When Americans are Biblically educated and practicing the two great commandments of our Lord, love for God, and love for man (Matt. 22:36-39), then our constitutional form of government works.  It will not function correctly without this education.  It is dependent upon Christian self-government with union in all phases of human experience.  America is a national-federal government which depends upon the balance between the city and the state, and the state and the nation, for its proper operation and it is up to the individual to see that the balances are kept.  The legislative bodies of the cities, states and the nation will not keep the balance -- nor is it primarily their responsibility to do so.  The primary responsibility for maintaining Constitutional federalism resides in the individuals of the cities, states and nation.

This governmental phenomenon could never have been achieved had we not developed through Biblical education, the character and capacity for self-government with voluntary union during our first one hundred and fifty years.

The American home: foundation for constitutional character: Home was identified in Colonial America as the first sphere of government.  No single institution in America contributes more significantly to the success or failure of Constitutional government than the American home.  It is in the home where the foundation of character is laid and where self-government must be first learned and practiced.

By contrast with our Founding period, American homes of the twentieth Century have relinquished their role of education.  Few homes still prepare a Biblical character in their children.  And fewer still teach the history of American liberty and the first principles of Constitutional government.  How can we restore our nation to the capacity for self-government if our homes continue to permit the permissiveness, which has brought about the irresponsibility and even the rebellion, or lawlessness towards government that characterizes much of modern-day America?  Americans would never have been ready to "assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station" of a nation - had not American homes prepared a generation of men, women and children-able to be self-governed.

One of the most critical changes we have witnessed in American education has been the change away from the reasoning, writing, reflecting abilities so prominent in the generations that produced the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Monroe Doctrine and other documents.  This ability to define a philosophy of government in writing was the result of a Colonial education in principles and their application to the field of civil government - America's unique contribution to the Chain of Christianity moving westward with individual liberty.  This education began in the home.

The American Church: "Conscience and Constitution" In our Republic "the church was (once editor) the real morning of the state."  The churches were the incarnation of Federalism for they built into the people "general intelligence, reverence for law, and faith in God."  It was the pastors whose years of Biblical preaching on the principles of government from God's Word (that) lighted the way for our statesmen to clearly identify in our Constitution the precepts of the Christian idea of man and government.

Charles Warren in his "History of Harvard Law School" writes:

"It was to their clergyman that the colonists looked to guide their new governments, and in their clergymen they believed, lay all that was necessary and proper for their lawful and righteous government.  It followed, therefore, that the "Word of God" played a greater part in the progress and practice of the law than the words of Bracton, Littleton or Coke (English lawyers editor)."

It was customary during the Colonial period to print and circulate the sermons of the clergy throughout the colonies and even to England. These sermons have become part of our great heritage of literature.  There are still extant over a thousand of these sermons and they represent a register of the consistency of our American Christians as they legislated, fasted, fought, and prayed their way through the American Revolution to the establishment of our Constitution.

Sermons as Political Pamphlets: Modern scholarship has established the fact that the many sermons of our pastors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were dissertations on government: individual self-government.  They were not political, in our modern sense of the word, but governmental.  For a people Biblically educated it was thought right and proper to seek first God's direction, learn His truths to determine how men should govern themselves individually and collectively.

The annual 'Election Sermon' - a perpetual memorial, continued down through the generations from century to century (and) - still bears witness that our fathers ever began their civil year and its responsibilities with an appeal to Heaven, and recognized Christian morality as the only basis for good laws."  Election day in the colonies was celebrated by long governmental sermons delivered by pastors and printed for circulation throughout the colonies.  Many were sent to England.

American Federalism, the practice of self-government at every level of society and (in civil) government, could not have been learned apart from the study of the Bible.  Therefore the history of the Bible and the history of American liberty are inseparable.

There were, in addition to the Sunday and Fast Day sermons, different types, all contributing to the education of the public.  Today there is "a famine in the land ... of hearing the words of the Lord" (Amos 8:11) - a famine of instruction in Biblical principles of government.  Oh that we might raise up pastors like our Colonial clergy willing to restore the foundations of American Federalism -- Christian Self-Government with Union.

Election Sermons: These were given at the seat of government in answer to the request of either the House of Representatives or the Council upon the election of the Governor's Council.  These sermons were many pages in length and dealt with the subject of character and civil government, showing that both areas must conform to God's Word.

Artillery Sermons: These were given upon the occasion of the election of the officers of the local militia, and showed the Biblical basis for the defense of liberty.  They also dealt with the importance of being a Christian soldier.

Early American Education: One of the modern myths, due to our ignorance of history, is that the educational level of our pre-Constitutional period was very low.  Consequently it follows that most Americans believe the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were written by and were representative of only a small minority of educated men.  On the contrary, the educational level of our pre-revolutionary population was considerably higher than our national level of education today.  At the time of the Declaration of Independence the quality of education had enabled the colonies to achieve a degree of literacy from "70% to virtually 100%."  This was not education restricted to the few.  Modern scholarship reports "the prevalence of schooling and its accessibility to most segments of the population."  How did American education produce such a remarkable people -- even before we became a nation?  The answer begins with the predominance of the Bible in American life and learning.

Dr. Lawrence A. Cremin in his study of American education from 1607 to 1789, credits the high quality of American education to the Bible, "the single most important cultural influence in the lives of Anglo-Americans."  The Bible, states Dr. Cremin, "contained the means to salvation, the keys to good and evil, the rules by which to live, and the standards against which to measure the conduct of prince and pastor."

From the time of the Pilgrims and Puritans, men had set the standard of God's Word before them to measure the tyranny and despotism of their times.  American life began with the flight of men, women and children who sought civil and religious liberty - a vision inspired by the Bible.  The New World was to be the habitation of liberty and law.  Literacy - the first promise of education - has always been associated with the Bible.  The schools taught a classical education built upon the Bible.  The primary purpose of the early colleges was to turn out Christian men who knew God's Word thoroughly and could reason from its principles to civil government, economics, and all national concerns.

 

When our republic was established and we began our first years as a new nation, it became important to clearly distinguish those aspects of curriculum which would help us maintain both the character and the conscience which would perpetuate our form of government under the Constitution.

America is approaching her third century as the world's first Christian Republic established for the protection of the individual.  But American Christians have allowed this Christian Republic to deteriorate into a socialistic democracy, and we have put our religious and civil liberties in jeopardy.  It has has been shown briefly, America's form of civil government is the product of the Bible in the hands of the individual, and the individual endeavoring with the Lord's help, to live every aspect of his life in accordance with the precepts given, which were summed up in the two commandments of our Lord.  It has also been shown we have failed to maintain the quality of education practiced by the Founding Fathers generations, and the failure to do so has undermined our capacity for self-government with union.  American Christians should earnestly begin to learn the Biblical principles of government which made us a Christian Republic, and the events which made us this unique nation under the Providence of God, and humbly beseech God to withhold His Hand.

Let us, as individuals, and as a nation, rededicate ourselves to the restoration of the home -- as a nursery of character - for all - adults as well as children.  Let us restore home as the educational center for learning Christian self-government with union, so that we may carry out this principle into all avenues of our nation arid thus restore the efficacy of our Constitution.  Home is the first sphere of government. . . .  Lastly, let us pray that some pastors in America today will be willing to study their pastoral heritage.  For it was the pastors of Colonial and Revolutionary America who led our nation in forming both the character for Christian self-government with union, and the Constitution.

If American Federalism-Christian self-government with union - the State and the Nation, is to work effectively, we must have the restoration of Biblical and governmental leadership from our clergy we once had.

Miss Slater adds:

"Oh that our present day pastors would preach the quality of sermons preached by our Founding Father pastors in their election sermons, fast day sermons, weekly lectures, artillery sermons, as well as their Sunday sermons!"3

 

May I (the editor of this dissertation) add my "Amen!"


Footnotes:

1. Wycliffe: (1320?-1384) Quoted from The Bible and the Constitution of the United States of America as found in Rushdoony, Rousas, John.  The Institutes of Biblical Law, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973, p. i.

2. All excerpts are from The Bible and the Constitution of the United States of America, 1983 Commemorative of the Year of the Bible, Editors.  The Misses Vera M. Hall and Rosalie J. Slater, San Francisco, Foundation for American Christian Education.

3. Miss Rosalie J.Slater, The Bible and the Constitution of the United States of America.


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