We live in an age where scoffing at religion and believers in God is all the rage. In some ways the Eighteenth Century was like this time period. In the Age of Enlightenment much of elite Western European opinion mocked Christianity and some openly embraced atheism. It was considered witty and daring and fun by the cultural avant garde. It seemed much less humorous at the tail end of the century when the French Revolutionary regime for a time persecuted Christians and slaughtered them for their faith. This type of hostility was much less in evidence in Eighteenth Century America. Even those, for example Thomas Jefferson, who had doubts about the divinity of Christ, praised His teachings and had no doubt as to the existence of God.
George Washington, the commanding American figure of his day, was a very conventional Christian. He attended church regularly, said his prayers and read his Bible. His faith was as much a part of him as his love of his wife, his love of Mount Vernon and his ability to lead men through sufferings in the War of Independence that most of us today would find simply unimaginable. Pious without being sanctimonious, Washington had no doubt that the fate of America in the Revolution was firmly in the hands of God.
We see this belief in the General Order he issued to the Continental Army on March 6, 1776:
Thursday the seventh Instant, being set apart by the Honorable the Legislature of this province, as a day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation, “to implore the Lord, and Giver of all victory, to pardon our manifold sins and wickedness’s, and that it would please him to bless the Continental Arms, with his divine favour and protection”—All Officers, and Soldiers, are strictly enjoined to pay all due reverance, and attention on that day, to the sacred duties due to the Lord of hosts, for his mercies already received, and for those blessings, which our Holiness and Uprightness of life can alone encourage us to hope through his mercy to obtain.
Washington’s faith is something for us to remember this week as we celebrate Thanksgiving, and recall that the holiday is about far more than turkey and football. At the end of the War, looking back on it, Washington saw the hand of God in the American victory:
A contemplation of the compleat attainment (at a period earlier than could have been expected) of the object for which we contended against so formidable a power cannot but inspire us with astonishment and gratitude. The disadvantageous circumstances on our part, under which the war was undertaken, can never be forgotten. The singular interpositions of Providence in our feeble condition were such, as could scarcely escape the attention of the most unobserving; while the unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle.
I agree with General Washington, and I pray that our country may ever receive, and deserve, such favor from God.