#A Stone called Help
On a day when I found myself so troubled at events happening daily, disasters, wars, the erosion of morality and standards, the crumbling of liberty's foundation, I discovered a sermon hidden away in the bowels of a search engine. I had merely typed in the word "Help", and what I read made me know that God had answered my prayer. Preparing to preach a sermon the next Sunday, I had prayed to Him several nights before, "Please speak to me, Lord. Give me something that I will know it is You speaking to us."
In the year 1890 there was a celebration of the Inauguration of George Washington as the first president of America held in Faribault, Minnesota. The inauguration had occurred just 100 years earlier in New York city, the first capital of the United States. Rev. H.B.Whipple, an Anglican bishop, was asked to deliver a series of five sermons. The second one, from which excerpts will be mentioned in this article, has a startling relevance for today, and can be read in its entirety at this website:
Rev. Whipple began his sermon by quoting from 1 Samuel 7:12:
"Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us."
As I re-read the story of how Israel had despaired over the constant harassment of their enemies, the Philistines, the prophet Samuel had told them that they must repent and pray for help--God would hear. And indeed He did. Afterwards, Samuel had erected a stone to commemorate the answer to their prayers. From that point on, Whipple's sermon zeroed in on the critical time of America's agonizing future as she likewise sought freedom from the tyranny of England's stranglehold on their rights and liberties.
The 55 colonial delegates, met together on September 5th, 1774 in a carpenter's hall. It was proposed to open the first Continental Congress with prayer. But objections were made on account of the religious differences of the delegates. Of these 55 men, twenty were Quakers, others were Puritans, Unitarians, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, some were even deists and agnostics. I thought about that. Here we are, over two hundred years later, and there are still objections to prayer all around us. In schools, at ball games--there is a steady stream of objections to prayer, and for the same reason! Religious differences. (Even atheism itself is a religious belief).
"Old Samuel Adams rose, with his long white hair streaming on his shoulders and said, 'Gentlemen, shall it be said that is possible that there can be any religious difference which will prevent men from crying to that God who alone can save them? Puritan as I am, I move that the Rev. Dr. Duche, minister of Christ Church in the city, be asked to open this Congress with prayer.' John Adams, writing to his wife, said, 'Never can I forget that scene. There were twenty Quakers standing by my side and we were all bathed in tears. When Psalms for the day were read, it seemed as if Heaven itself was pleading for the oppressed: 'O Lord, fight thou against them that fight against me. Lord, who is like unto Thee to defend the poor and needy? Avenge Thou my cause, my Lord and my God.'"
"The battles at Lexington, Concord and Ticonderoga preceded the second meeting of Congress in May, 1775. The pleas for justice had been spurned. The outlook was dark as midnight. These brave men represented no government, they had no power to make laws, they had no officers to execute them, they could not impose customs, they had no army, they did not own a foot of land. On the 12th of June Congress made its first appeal to the people of the colonies. It was a solemn call for the whole people to observe one and the same day as a day of fasting and prayer 'for the restoration of the invaded rights of America and reconciliation with the parent state.' They who sought the protection of God knew that under God they must protect themselves."
George Washington was unanimously chosen to be commander-in-chief over a rag-tag of an army numbering less that 7,000 volunteers. During that seven-year war would find Washington writing, "Our troops are fast approaching nakedness; our hospitals are without medicine; our sick are without meat; our public works are at a standstill; in a word, we are at the end of our tether, and now or never deliverance must come." The British had enlisted mercenaries, Indian tribes, to harass the tiny army. Then an army of British soldiers and sailors, numbering some 40,000 landed and blockaded the harbors. The Continental army would surely be defeated without doubt.
Whipple wrote: "In 1777 a Quaker had occasion to pass through the woods near the headquarters of the army; hearing a voice, he approached the spot, and saw Washington in prayer. Returning home, he said to his wife: "All's well! Washington will prevail. I have thought that no man can be a soldier and a Christian. George Washington has convinced me of my mistake." The rest is history. The Colonialists defeated the British by a miracle of God and peace was declared in 1783.
The Congress then met in May 1787 to adopt a Constitution. Once more, there were differences and squabbling. It looked as if the convention must disband. No one had suggested they once again needed to pray. Benjamin Franklin then spoke, "Mr. President, the small progress we have made after five weeks is a melancholy proof of the imperfection of human understanding--we have gone back to ancient history for models of government--we have viewed modern states--we find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances--we are groping in the dark to find political truth, and are scarcely able to distinguish it when presented to us. How has it happened, sir, that we have not once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illumine our understands? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard and they were graciously answered. All of us 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 to establish our nation. Have we forgotten our powerful Friend? Do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convinced I am that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We are told, 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 aid we shall succeed in our political building no better than the builder of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial, local interest, our project will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword to future ages. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business.."
The Constitution was ratified and electors chosen from all the ratifying States. Washington was then chosen to become its first President. He reluctantly agreed. Bells sounded and cannons thundered as Washington was escorted along with a flotilla of ships and sea captains to New York on the 23rd of April. A week was spent in festivity. Every church was open for prayers for the new government and its chosen head. Washington, all six feet of him, stood as the chancellor of the State of New York administered the oath of office. His large hand rested on the words, "His hands were made strong by the mighty God of Israel." Washington then kissed the Bible and went to give His inaugural address to the Senate. Then turning to his friends, he said, "Now we will go to St. Paul's church for prayers."
"Washington assumed office in the midst of dangers...there was a stormy sea before the new ship of state. The bitter hatreds between Federalist and ant-Federalist were not healed. Two states had not ratified the Constitution--there were tokens in more than one direction of rebellion. Without one dollar in the treasury, they were eighty millions in debt. The pirates of Morocco had destroyed their commerce in the Mediterranean, Spain threatened the valley of the Mississippi. Relations with England were full of bitter memories; a country larger than Europe was to be protected with a standing army of only 600 men!"
After eight years as President, Washington retired to the shades of Mt. Vernon, where he died on the 12th of December, 1799.
Whipple concluded his sermon with these words: "We have sinned deeply, and deeply have we paid the penalty. No hand but God's could have over-ruled our mistakes and given us our favored position today. We must not forget that no nation has ever survived the loss of its religion....There are clouds and darkness on the horizon for the future. I see it in the impatience of law, in the jealousies between class and class, in the selfishness of the rich, and in the misery of the poor...in bribery and corruption in high places and in the turbulence of mobs....but I see the greatest danger in that insidious teaching which robs humanity of an eternal standard of right, which makes morality prudence or imprudence, which limits man's horizon by the grave, and takes from hearts and homes God and Christ and heaven. Yet, I reverently believe that God has set us in the forefront of the nations to be, "a mountain-top" to lead on in His work in the last time. I sometimes lose faith in men, but I will not lose faith in God."
Ironically, St. Paul's chapel is the oldest remaining building from the pre-Revolutionary era which still stands in New York city. The pew on which Washington occupied remains.
Two hundred years later, though situated only 500 feet from ground zero, it survived intact and without even so much as a shattered window on September 11th, 2001.
I wonder---in that small room in Philadelphia where the first Continental Congress met with those 55 men: What might have happened to this nation and all the generations that followed them, if another Samuel had not risen to speak when men hesitated to pray to Almighty God?
I think for sure Benjamin Franklin knew.
MARY E. ADAMS