Friday, June 20, 2008

Attributes of George Washington – A Great and Noble Man of God*

Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, wrote of Washington, “No man ever lived, more deservedly beloved and respected. . . [he] maintained a modest diffidence of his own talents . . . Possesst of power, possesst of an extensive influence, he never used it but for the benefit of his Country.” Washington recognized he was merely an instrument in the hands of God. In a speech following victory in the revolutionary war he stated, “I attribute all the glory to a Supreme Being . . . who was able by the humblest instruments . . . to establish and secure the liberty and happiness of these United States.”

Continually Learning
His higher education consisted of the lessons he took in surveying. However, during his lifetime he accumulated a library of more than 700 books, a great many which he studied closely. Washington’s step-granddaughter, Nelly Custis, wrote one of Washington’s early biographers: “It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o’clock, where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always arose before the sun, and remained in his library until called to breakfast.”

Defined and Lived His Values
As a young man, Washington copied out in his own handwriting the code of a moral life and strived to live by them. The last maxim read, “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

Prayed and Fasted Often
Before the War of Independence, Washington purchased a thin Book of Psalms which he carried in his coat pocket. The Psalms often found there way into his writings and prayers. History records many prayers from Washington and his men that God would act on their behalf. Washington issued many orders enjoining his troops to pray; to attend church services; to observe days of thanksgiving; and to spend days in fasting, humiliation, and prayer. He expected his troops to conduct themselves as Christian soldiers. There are accounts in Washington’s private letters and journals which record many references to an entire day spent in prayer and fasting.

He experienced many excruciating failures and defeats. He knew the task before him was too immense for him alone. He trusted in “a kind Providence.” Washington was filled with a faith in God knowing he need not worry about the harvest, only about the sowing and tending; the increase depends upon the Lord. Washington devoted a lot of energy attending to the religious life of his troops, which he considered indispensable to their success. In a speech Washington said, “You do well to wish to learn our art and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a great and happier people than you are.” Washington was a man of Faith who loved Jesus Christ and the Bible. After taking his oath of office upon the Bible as required by the Constitution, he kissed the Bible.

After victory, there were desires by some to make Washington king. The first Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of $25,000 a year (approximately $500,000 in 2006 dollars). Washington, however, chose to continue his work as an unpaid servant of the people. During his years as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army he took no pay. He would do the same during his eight years as the first president of the United States. He exemplified the words of the Savior, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11, King James Version)

Sense of Divine Mission
General order from George Washington on July 2, 1776 read, “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. . . Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is.” Although the Continental Army lacked uniforms, sufficient powder, money, and a navy, they were fighting to be free and independent.

Uplifting Leader
Washington aimed his men high and drew more from them than seemed humanly possible. Yet he also maintained his composure when from all sorts of causes, their courage wavered, they broke ranks or ran. Leading a nonprofessional army, Washington often tasted that bitter cup. Yet he also knew how to pick his men up again, lead them on, and inspire them with the hope that they might do better on another day.

On December 18, 1777, while he and his impoverished soldiers endured the cold winds and snow of Valley Forge, Washington asked his men to observe a day of prayer and fasting to give thanks to God for blessings already received, and to implore the continuing favor of Providence upon the American cause. Washington sometimes expressed dismay to those who did not recognize God’s hand in the war effort. In one letter he wrote, “. . . he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge [the hand of Providence].” Washington continually gave thanks privately and publicly to Almighty God.

*The majority of the content for this post was adapted from the book Washington’s God by Michael and Jana Novak.