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Monday, August 31, 2009

The Calvinist, James Madison

From Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, and his contribution in the Federalist, he was, at this time, no doubt a Calvinist, adhereing to total depravity. His three main teachers in his education were all Calvinist Clergyman. Does not sin corrupt the whole lump, or only parts of the lump? Yes, man can be good; that is not the issue, rather, man is prone to sin, and requires many checks that Calvinism supplies:

"The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation...Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits...Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them." [bold face mine]
-James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785.

Madison believed salvation was by grace through faith; a gift, that cannot be earned, not that salvation was by character, as Unitarians, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin believed.

"The genius of republican liberty seems to demand on one side, not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those intrusted with it should be kept in independence on the people, by a short duration of their appointments; and that even during this short period the trust should be placed not in a few, but a number of hands...The history of almost all the great councils and consultations held among mankind for reconciling their discordant opinions, assuaging their mutual jealousies, and adjusting their respective interests, is a history of factions, contentions, and disappointments, and may be classed among the most dark and degraded pictures which display the infirmities and depravities of the human character."
-Madison, Federalist #37.

Madison understood what depravity was, and how man acquired it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

John Witherspoon Claimed the Most Votes

Dr. Witherspoon received the most votes as the important Clergyman of the founding period. Although it was a small sample, and a close race, I was suprised Jonathan Mayhew received the votes he did, as he passed away years before the Revolution. Jonathon Edwards and Joseph Priestley came in 2nd, and 3rd respectively. Witherspoon was the favorite at the outset.

Witherspoon was no doubt one of our greatest Founding Fathers, having participated in over one-hundred committees in the Continental Congress; among his layman graduates was James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, and Vice-President Aaron Burr. Of his students, ten became cabinet officers and sixty served in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives in Congress. Twelve became Governors of States and fifty-six members of State Legislative bodies and three Justices of the Supreme Court of the U.S. Of the twenty-five College graduates at the Continental Congress, nine were from Princeton University, among which six had Witherspoon's signature on their College diplomas.

He was a staunch Calvinist, teaching its precepts at Presbyterian, Princeton College. Witherspoon disagreed with rationalists of the enlightenment, including, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume, who understood reason was superior to revelation:

"In the deistical controversy, what commonly leads the way, is the necessity of revelation in general...The first infidel writers in Europe, were chiefly employed in shewing the sufficiency of reason as a guide to man in his conduct, of whom Lord Herbert, of Cherburg, was one of the most early, and one of the most eminent. Their way of arguing is very fallacious; for they avail themselves of that very improvement of reason, which they owe to revelation, in order to shew revelation to be unnecessary...Infidels do not now plead for Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Apollo, but for the suffciency of human reason." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.

Witherspoon understood, as did John Calvin, that reason supports revelation, and is a vital part of Christian Theology, however, he never aligned with the rationalists, but derided their theology:

"Very plain, that such is our blindness and ignorance in the things of God, that we know very little about them, till they are made known by God himself; and if we were to make our own reason the previous standard of what was admissible or not in quality of revelation, it would make mad work indeed." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.

He believed, as did all Christians before him, that reason is perfectly agreeable to The Gospel of Jesus Christ:

"I shall care very little what men of vain and carnal minds say of my sentiments; but I have been many years of opinion, that as revelation was necessary, and revelation is given us, we act the most wise and truly rational part, if we take all our theological opinions immediately, and without challenge, from the oracles of truth. I confess it is agreeable to me to shew, that the truths of the everlasting gospel are agreeable to sound reason, and founded upon the state of human nature ; and I have made it my business through my whole life to illustrate this remark. Yet to begin by making the suggession of our own reason the standard of what is to be heard or examined as a matter of revelation, I look upon to be highly dangerous, manifestly unjust, and inconsistent with the foundation-stone of all revealed religion, viz. that reason, without it, is insufficient to bring us to the knowledge of God and our duty; and therefore as Socrates said to Al.cibiades, It is reasonable to think that God will come down into the world, to teach us his will." I am not insensible how far it would be just to carry the principle on which our adversaries ground their sentiments. Any new principles or doctrines, seemingly absurd in themselves, and unholy in their effects, would not, with judicious persons, be rashly or suddenly admitted ; and the more supicious the principles are in themselves, no doubt we will examine the pretensions to miracles the more carefully.—This is the part of prudence ; but to carry it further, and say, we will receive no evidence that God hasn't taught any thing different from what we ourselves think reasonahle, is just weakening the truth before admitted,' that revelation immediately from himself is evidently new?"It will now be time to consider a little, the objections against the Christian religion...That reason is a sufficient guide to truth and happiness and therefore revelation is unnecessary; and that miracles are impossible, and incredible. Those I pass with what has been laid on them above.""that things may be above reason, and yet not contradictory to it. By this expression above reason, may be understood two things—beyond the power of reason to discover, and above the reach of reason to comprehend."Therefore though we say that the trinity in unity is incomprehensible, or above reason, we say nothing that is absurd or contrary to reason; so far from it, I may say rather it is consistent to reason and the analogy of nature that there should be many things in the divine nature that we cannot fully comprehend. There are many such things in his providence, and surely much more in his essence." [bold face mine]
-Works, Vol 4.

The Sovereignty of God is a firm Calvinist belief that all Christians should adhere to. There are many parts of scripture beyond our comprehension to understand, yet God is Sovereign, and has preserved His Words for His Creation.

Monday, August 17, 2009

John Eidsmore on John Calvin and the Founding

John Eidsmore, Pastor, Assn. of Free Lutheran Congregations, and Professor at Oak Brook College of Law & Government Policy has written a post on Firm Foundation about John Calvin's legacy to our Founding.

Calvin was no doubt the Greatest of Reformers during the Protestant Reformation, being the only person to give a succinct Christian Theology. Calvin greatly influenced the Founding Fathers in their understanding of Law and Government, as Eidsmore explains:

"But if, as Calvin taught, every plowboy should be able to read and interpret the Scriptures for himself, then every plowboy must be taught to read. This led to widespread literacy, which made republican self-government possible."

It is true, the framers wanted literacy to be a great part of Republican Government. Benjamin Rush was among the many who labored hard for literacy to any and everyone, not to mention, nearly all the framers affirmed Calvin's Human Depravity which leads to Republican Representative Government:

"Calvin’s emphasis on Sola Gratia led to a recognition of the total depravity of human nature. Because of man’s sinful nature, we cannot live in a state of anarchy; we need government to maintain law and order. But because those in authority have the same sinful nature as the rest of us, we cannot trust government with too much power. This led to the system of limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, and reserved individual rights that characterize republican self-government."

The framers employed Calvin's Human Depravity into Representative Government, which led to consent of the governed, separation of powers, etc. Representative government derives from the Calvinist concept of solidarity; the Biblical notion of persons (The King) representing the group, and the group judged by actions of the one (King). This Calvinist (Biblical) idea, being "In Adam" because of the imputation of sin, and "In Christ" by the imputation of Christ's Righteousness, is based on solidarity. In fact, Calvin's espousal of Original Sin is an air-tight case, quoting James 3:9 as scriptural support. If man is to deny Original Sin, he must deny man is made in the image of God as well.

Other historians have claimed Calvin's great influence on our Founding:

"But Leopold von Ranke, founder of the modern school of history in Germany, stated flatly, “John Calvin was the virtual founder of America.” And George Bancroft, the leading American historian of the first half of the 1800s, though not a Calvinist himself, called Calvin the “father of America” and added, “He who will not honor the memory and respect the influence of Calvin knows but little of the origin of American liberty.”

Calvin on Romans 13, and the responsibility of civil rulers:

'Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the well-being of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects; they are therefore debtors to them."
-Calvin, Commentary on Romans, 481.

And in some cases it appears Calvin allowed lower magistrates to overthrow a wicked ruler:

"For if there are now any magistrates of the people, appointed to restrain the willfulness of kings (as in ancient times the ephors . . .), I am so far from forbidding them to withstand, in accordance with their duty, the fierce licentiousness of kings, that, if they wink at kings who violently fall upon and assault the lowly common folk, I declare that their dis-simulation involves nefarious perfidy, because they dishonestly betray the freedom of the people, of which they know that they have been appointed protectors by God’s ordinance."
- Calvin, Institutes 4. 20. 30