By Dr. Mal Couch
Public prayer, spiritual publications of poems and music, have always been a part of America, until recently. There are forces now trying to silence the Christian spiritual heritage of open and free expression to our God that made this nation great.
Each week I’ll add some historical tidbits as how Christian expression and public prayer was a vital part of our nation’s blessing. We may not fully know of the spiritual state of all the men we examine, but we do know none of them were fearful of prayers to the God of the Bible in the public setting.
If you are a pastor or Sunday school teacher, please print off these little bits of our history and share them with others.
In the 1760s Thomas Paine became a catalyst for the Revolutionary war. He was known as being hot-tempered and at times erratic, and an agnostic at best. Theodore Roosevelt called him "that filthy little atheist." But even atheists in the fox hole can call upon God, and that is just what Paine often did. His prayers may not have been sincere but they were brilliant and they inspired the nation in defense of freedom.
Paine often quoted the Old and New Testaments to illustrate the need to pray. He wrote:
So Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God that we die not for we have added unto our sins this evil, to as for a king.
Paine wrote the treatise called Common Sense which was used to rivet the colonies and even some in Great Britain alike to understand the merits of the revolution. As disingenuous as it may have been coming from Paine, his invoking God and prayer, in effect was trumping the authority of the King of England—a strategic move at that time!
By 1776, Common Sense had been published by a dozen printers from Philadelphia to Boston. One hundred thousand readers had bought the pamphlet.
Another personality stirred by revolution fever was the Christian Virginia lawyer Patrick Henry. He was delighted when a group of Baptist pastors, who were pro-revolutionary, had been jailed for holding prayer services for freedom. Many called these preachers rabble rousers but Henry jumped on his horse and road to defend them in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Being an Anglican, Henry was for anyone who advocated freedom from Britain.
In March of 1775, Henry stood before the Virginia colonial convention and erupted in indignation over British arrogance and the Crown’s disregard for the grievances of its American subjects. Standing before the delegates, he roared forth,
There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our cause. ... Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
When he finished more than one hundred delegates sat in place in complete silence. One young man who was standing but a few feet from Henry said, "Let me be buried on this spot!" Shortly, ministers from all the denominations, including the Rabbis of five synagogues, called for liberation from the Mother Country.