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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.


J said...

Well, Hume says about the same thing about human nature, really. That could be from the cynics or stoics as well as from scripture or Calvin. He's warning against the dangers of democracy unleashed, and factionalism, not discussing original sin or perdition. There may be religious connotations (to some), but I defy you to find one statement arguing for orthodox religion in Madison's public writing or speeches.

And I think you are cherry picking from the Remonstrance. Even the section you quote does not really affirm christian orthodoxy. JM argues for secularism throughout (or at least, pluralism), and against those who want to establish a state church. Madison's merely saying the faith itself does not depend on having a theocratic government.

Our Founding Truth said...

Madison says salvation(Christian) is a gift. As my original post says, the heterodox framers, and the "Old Lights," did not believe what Madison did.

His memorial even claims he believes the Bible is inerrant, that "every page of it" and that the other religions are "false religions" and in "darkness."

Madison learned depravity at Seminary, not from Hume, who he called a "bungling lawgiver."

There's no other way around it. This information also shows the rationalists are in error claiming Madison is a rationalist, by Madison's use of "miraculous aid."

No one gets to cherry pick what is a miracle and what isn't, which is what rationalists do.
A miracle is what the word meant at that particular time, and Webster gives its definition.

Madison's use of "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" is referring to the miracles of the Apostles in the early church.

Madison's error in his belief in total separation of church and state, isn't that relevant to the understanding of his faith. While forming the nation, Madison Orthodox, unless new evidence can be presented

J said...

Do you mean the Memorial AND Remonstrance? (or Remonstrance as it is known). The M & R may be counted as the secular document, par example, of the Founding Fathers.

A few quotes:
"The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate."

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?

"""During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. """

There are a few statements of a sort of public religion (the universal lawgiver, creator, etc), but that is not orthodoxy, sir.

Our Founding Truth said...

Freedom of conscience is Orthodox.

You are posting Madison's views on church state issues, not his theology. His theology was Christian, and Orthodox Calvinist.

Revelation is purely freedom of conscience.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

I hate to agree with Brother J, but a close reading of Madison's statements shows that he's not theologically affirming his arguments---he's using the language of his audience.

If you believe x, surely you agree that it logically leads to my y.

That form of argument is all through his writings.

As far as I know, you can't come up with a single in-context sentence or paragraph that explicitly reveals Madison's own personal beliefs.

I've looked. First I think I've found something probative, and then realize that it's weasel language.

We have to understand that these guys were pretty clever, and wrote stuff intentionally ambiguous so people could see what they wanted to see.

Christ, Obama got elected doing that, although the reality is starting to soak in, because he's not all that clever afterall. The truth about what he thinks and feels and believes is leaking out.

Our Founding Truth said...


I think Madison was a Calvinist, because he studied him at seminary, and quoted him:

"It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary."
-Federalist 51

And now Calvin:

"If we were all like angels, blameless and freely able to exercise perfect control, we would not need rules or regulations. Why, then, do we have so many laws and statutes? Because of man's wickedness, for he is constantly overflowing with evil; this is why a remedy is required."
-Sermons on Galatians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 313. Emphasis Added.

Tom, you once said on AC, that public declarations are more important than private ones, because of what the public thought of the declaration. I believe you, and am not one who says Madison, or the others hoodwinked the public. They said what they meant.

Madison's use of "Grace" and "Gift" in the Memorial is Calvinism all the way, of which he was indoctrinated his first twenty-two years of life.

Our Founding Truth said...


John Adams, who, as you know, was a chameleon, was at first a Calvinist, and, as the others, had only praise for Calvin:

"If all men were just, and honest, and pious, and religious, etc., there would be no need of lawyers....[I]t may be said, with equal truth, that all magistrates and all civil officers and all civil government are founded and maintained upon the sins of the people. All armies would be needless if men were universally virtuous."
-The Selected Writings of John and John Quincy Adams (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), Italics added to note similarity of quotes above.

Adams said Geneva was, "the first Puritan state" and "Let not Geneva be forgotten or despised. Religious liberty owes it much respect."[in light of Servetus] Adams also said the Bible was "the most republican book in the world."
-Cited by Herbert Foster in Robert M. Kingdon, Calvin and Calvinism: Sources of Democracy(Lexington, Mass,: D.C. Heath and Company, 1970), 39.

Where is the Republicanism in the Bible if not in Exodus 18?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I've read some tracts on Calvinism and the Founding. Sorry, I don't buy it. Gregg Frazer's quite right that a Calvinistic [literal] reading of Romans 13 would have forbade the Revolution in the first place.

Our Founding Truth said...

Read David W. Hall's book on Reforming America on google. I've learned a lot about Calvinism and the founding, and I also believe Calvin left room for rebellion by lower magistrates, echoing, I believe, Aquinas.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Madison's early studies are no smoking gun evidence of his "Calvinism." Influence? Sure. That's Gregg's point. The FFs retained their "Christian" influence but weren't "Christians" because they gave up orthodoxy for rationalism/nature/unitarianism, etc.

James H. Hutson's cautious conclusions are also apt:

Educated by Presbyterian clergymen, Madison, as a student at Princeton (1769-1772), seems to have developed a "transient inclination" to enter the ministry. In a 1773 letter to a college friend he made the zealous proposal that the rising stars of his generation renounce their secular prospects and "publicly . . . declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ." Two months later Madison renounced his spiritual prospects and began the study of law. The next year he entered the political arena, serving as a member of the Orange County Committee of Safety. Public service seems to have crowded out of his consciousness the previous imprints of faith. For the rest of his life there is no mention in his writings of Jesus Christ nor of any of the issues that might concern a practicing Christian. Late in retirement there are a few enigmatic references to religion, but nothing else. With Madison, unlike Jefferson or any of the other principal founding fathers with the possible exception of Washington, one peers into a void when trying to discern evidence of personal religious belief.

Our Founding Truth said...

Mr. Hutson says there were no writings of any issues of a practicing Christian. In the Memorial, Madison mentions, "Grace" "the Gift" and "Salvation". Christian Grace is the heart of Christianity.

I do see those as Christian issues, that his political mentors rejected. Federalist 51, where he basically quotes Calvin is 1788?

Our Founding Truth said...

I think quoting Calvin on the issue of depravity is fairly strong evidence against the theory he wanted to hoodwink his audience.

I concur that Madison has no theological writings on Christianity; where are his writings at Princeton? But did his friends Bradford, Benford write on theology? Was it common for Statesman to write on theology? Madison was a private man, keeping his religious cards in the hole.

Granted he planned on going into the ministry, however I don't see the omission of theological writings as evidence of his lack of faith.

It's possible Hutson could be wrong about his assumption of Madison losing his spiritual prospects, by his attendence of the Presbyterian Synod in May of 1774. I'm fairly certain he planned to attend while studying theology with the "Good Doctor."

Our sentiments are similar as to Madison's faith after the founding, which isn't my concern. I'm not unaware of the fact that many Whigs changed their views over time (Adams and Paine come to mind).

Hutson says Madison made another quote on human depravity in 1778 that I'm trying to find.

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