How The Declaration Shapes Our Constitution

This excerpt from a great teaching series produced by Hillsdale College on the Constitution talks about the connection between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. President Larry Arn shows that the principles of nature and equal rights leads to the elements of representation, separation of powers, and limited government within the Constitution.

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The Mayflower Compact And Its Christian Influence

mayflower compact

This is a passage from a book by Benjamin F. Morris on the Christian nature of our civil institutions. He writes a chapter on the civil government instituted through the Mayflower Compact and the Christian basis for the document.

The noblest significance of the Puritan settlement of the North American continent consists in its Christian origin and aim. As the design of Columbus was to “subject every thing to law, order, and religion,” so the Puritans began practically to execute this great work. Their first act was to institute a form of civil government in conformity with the revealed will of God, and under whose benign legislation they were to enjoy all the rights and privileges of civil and religious freedom. The form of government was instituted in the cabin of the Mayflower, before they landed on Plymouth Rock, and signed and ratified under the solemnity of prayer and the most sacred sanctions of the Christian religion. That charter of a godly government is as follows:

“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, &c., having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony on the northern part of Virginia, do , by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof, we have hereunto subscribed our names, at Cape Cod, the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our sovereign lord, King James, of England, France, and Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini 1620.”

“This Constitution,” said Webster, “invokes a religious sanction and the authority of God on their civil obligations; for it was no doctrine of the Puritans that civil obedience is a mere matter of expediency.”

Washington’s Prayer At Valley Forge

george-washington-praying

We’re all familiar with the painting of Washington praying next to his horse in a secluded area near Valley Forge. It was the low point for the war, and the future of the nation yet to be born. Benjamin F. Morris shares the story of that prayer.

One of the most helpful and inspiring scenes of the Revolution was to see this great hero, with the interests of a nation on his soul, retire for prayer unto the God in whom he trusted.

The winter at Valley Forge witnessed the retirement of Washington daily to some secluded glen in the surrounding forest for prayer. Though gloom covered his desponding country and army, yet “a cloud of doubt seldom darkened the serene atmosphere of his hopes. He knew that the cause was just and holy, and his faith and confidence in God, as a defender and helper of right, steady in their ministrations of divine vigor to his soul.”

While the American army was at Valley Forge, Isaac Potts strolled up a creek that ran through his farm, and, walking quietly through the woods, he heard the tones of a solemn voice, and, looking round, saw Washington’s horse tied to a sapling. In a thicket near by was Washington, on his knees, in earnest prayer. Like Moses, Mr. Potts felt he was on holy ground, and retired unobserved. He returned home, and, on entering the room of his wife, burst into tears, and informed her what he had seen and heard, and exclaimed, “If there is any one on earth whom The Lord will hearken to, it is George Washington; and I feel a presentiment that under such a commander there can be no doubt of our eventually establishing our independence, and that God in his providence has will it so.”

“Oh, who shall know the might
Of the words he utter’d there?
The fate of nations there was turn’d
By the fervor of his prayer.
“But wouldst thou know his name
Who wander’d there alone?
Go read enroll’d in Heaven’s archives
The prayer of Washington.”

Chester

The Constitution That Almost Wasn’t

constitutional-convention

Several weeks into the convention things had bogged down and it seemed the whole project would completely fall apart. There was disagreement on every provision and detail with not hope of a compromise. Benjamin Franklin, the “Mentor” of the convention, rose during an opening in the series of heated speakers to break the logjam with the address below. He proposed that a chaplain be appointed to minister to the delegates by opening each day with a prayer and “a portion of heavenly wisdom.” He also proposed a three-day recess for everyone to cool off by gathering together on an informal basis to work out their disagreements.

When they reconvened the convention had been transformed, both in the atmosphere and the hearts of the delegates. There was a spirit of unity and harmony in the room and they began to make much progress until they completed the new Constitution. The change was so dramatic that the delegates who recalled the convention express their amazement at the fact that the convention ended in success. That’s how bad it was. If it wasn’t for God’s intervention in the hearts of those delegates we might not have our Constitution today and the world would be a different place.

Franklin’s address is below:

Mr. President—The slow progress we have made, after four or five weeks’ close attendance and continual reasoning with each other—our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many nays as yeas—is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of human understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist. And we have viewed modern states all round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understanding? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need his assistance?

I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘Except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves become a reproach and by-word down to future fortunate circumstance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.

Benjamin Franklin

28 June, 1787

The Scene At Valley Forge

We’re all familiar with the painting of Washington praying next to his horse in a secluded area near Valley Forge. It was the low point for the war, and the future of the nation yet to be born. Benjamin F. Morris shares the story of that prayer.

One of the most helpful and inspiring scenes of the Revolution was to see this great hero, with the interests of a nation on his soul, retire for prayer unto the God in whom he trusted.

The winter at Valley Forge witnessed the retirement of Washington daily to some secluded glen in the surrounding forest for prayer. Though gloom covered his desponding country and army, yet “a cloud of doubt seldom darkened the serene atmosphere of his hopes. He knew that the cause was just and holy, and his faith and confidence in God, as a defender and helper of right, steady in their ministrations of divine vigor to his soul.”

While the American army was at Valley Forge, Isaac Potts strolled up a creek that ran through his farm, and, walking quietly through the woods, he heard the tones of a solemn voice, and, looking round, saw Washington’s horse tied to a sapling. In a thicket near by was Washington, on his knees, in earnest prayer. Like Moses, Mr. Potts felt he was on holy ground, and retired unobserved. He returned home, and, on entering the room of his wife, burst into tears, and informed her what he had seen and heard, and exclaimed, “If there is any one on earth whom The Lord will hearken to, it is George Washington; and I feel a presentiment that under such a commander there can be no doubt of our eventually establishing our independence, and that God in his providence has will it so.”

“Oh, who shall know the might
Of the words he utter’d there?
The fate of nations there was turn’d
By the fervor of his prayer.
“But wouldst thou know his name
Who wander’d there alone?
Go read enroll’d in Heaven’s archives
The prayer of Washington.”

Chester

The Watchman of the Night

night watchman

In Isaiah 21:11,12 we read:

The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?

The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.

I want to share with you an inspiring sermon on this passage from George Duffield. He was a respected preacher in colonial America and ardent supporter of the Revolution. He served at the Pine Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia where members of the first Continental Congress often attended worship services. He was one of the earliest chaplains with the Congress and the army under Washington in New Jersey.

Duffield gives several reasons why expected a morning in America.

God never has cast off and destroyed a nation so soon, as it would be to deliver America now to ruin. Look at the antediluvian world—the Amorites, and other nations of Canaan—the Jews, etc.

The western world appears to have been retained for that purpose, and designed by an ordinance of heaven as an ASYLUM for LIBERTY, civil and religious. Our forefathers, who first inhabited yonder eastern shores, fled from the iron rod and heavy hand of tyranny. This is was, and no love of earthly gain or prospect of temporal grandeur, that urged them, like Abraham of old, to leave their native soil and tender connections behind, to struggle through winds and waves, and seek a peaceful retreat, in a then howling wilderness, where they might rear the banner of liberty and dwell contented under its propitious shade, esteeming this more than all the treasures of a British Egypt, from whence they were driven forth. Methinks I see them on the inhospitable shore they were hastening to leave, and hear them adopt the sentiment of the Psalmist (4:6,7) to give it in the expressive language of Watts, with as small variation—

‘Oh, were I like a feather’d dove,

And innocence had wings;

I’d fly, and make a far remove,

From persecuting kings.’

Nor was it the fostering care of Britain produced the rapid populating of these colonies, but the tyranny and oppression, both civil and ecclesiastical, of that and other nations, constrained multitudes to resign every other earthly comfort, and leave their country and their friends, to enjoy in peace the fair possession of freedom in this western world. It is this has reared our cities, and turned the wilderness, so far and wide, into a fruitful field. America’s sons, very few excepted, were all refugees—the chosen spirits of various nations, that could not, like Issachar, bow down between the two burdens of the accursed cruelly of tyranny in Church and State. And can it be supposed that the Lord has so far forgot to be gracious, or shut up his tender mercies in his wrath, to favor the arms of oppression and to deliver up this asylum to slavery and bondage? Can it be supposed that the God who made man free, and engraved in indefeasible characters the lover liberty in his mind, should forbid freedom, already exiled from Asia, Africa, and under sentence of banishment from Europe—that he should forbid her to erect her banner here, and constrain her to abandon the earth? As soon shall he reverse creation, and forbid yonder sun to shine! To the Jews he preserved their cities of refuge; and while sun and moon endure, America shall remain a city of refuge for the whole earth, until she herself shall play the tyrant, disgrace her freedom, and provoke her God! When that day shall come, if ever, then, and not till then, shall she also fall, ‘slain with those that go down to the pit.’

After the war Duffield preached a sermon on the day of thanksgiving set aside on occasion of the peace of 1783.

In whatever point of light we view this great event, we are constrained to say, ‘It is the doing of the Lord, and marvelous in our eyes. And to him be rendered thanks and praise. Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy name, O Lord, be the glory. Both success and safety come of thee. And thou reignest over all, and hast wrought all our works, in us and for us. Praise, therefore, thy God, O America; praise the Lord, ye his highly favored United States. Nor let it rest in the fleeting language of the lip, or the formal thanksgiving of a day. But let every heart glow with gratitude, and every life, by a devout regard to his holy law, proclaim his praise. It is this our God requires, as that wherein our personal and national good and the glory of his great name consist, and without which all our professions will be but an empty name. It is that we love the Lord our God, to walk in his ways and keep his commandments, to observe his statutes and judgments—that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Then shall God delight to dwell amongst us, and these United States shall long remain a great, a glorious, and a happy people.