Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Year of Calvinism: America's First Judge

"Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

These wise words were uttered by the co-author of the Federalist Papers and first Chief US Supreme Court Justice, John Jay. Presiding over the American-British peace-treaty, he was also a New York governor, US ambassador and president of the Continental Congress. He was respected by all the founding Fathers.

He was a godly man. Born in a family descended from the Huguenots, he was reared in an Anglican home with "Calvinistic severity" (Stahr). But how much of the Anglican theological tradition rubbed off on him? Was he a Calvinist?

Consider first his theological state of mind, expressed in a letter to Professor Miller of Princeton:

"In forming and settling my belief relative to the doctrines of Christianity, I adopted no articles from creeds, but such only as, on careful examination, I found to be confirmed by the Bible." (Pellew)

As a low-church Anglican in good standing, then, it can only be surmised with great assurance that Chief Justice Jay was a Calvinist (Jay, 463). After the war, necessarily, the Anglican parishes in America were cut off from their bishop in London. Accordingly, the American Anglicans became the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. And like their mother church in England, they adopted a Book of Common Prayer, which included a confession:

"Art. X. Of Free-will. The condition of man, after the fall of A Jam, is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God..."

"Art. XVII. Of Predestination and Election. Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed, by his counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation, those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour..." (p.378ff., 1808 edition)

What Evangelical today would confess with our First Chief Justice such sublime doctrine?

His own letters are rife with allusions to Providence and God's control over all things. His biographer, Pellew, noted:

"...Jay found both inspiration and great comfort and happiness in religion. It was one of his favorite remarks, that if men would never forget that the world was under the guidance of a Providence which never erred, it would save much useless anxiety, and prevent a great many mistakes." (p.316)

Speaking to the Bible Society about the increase in knowledge and desire for more bibles: "there is reason to conclude that they have been produced by Him in whose hands are the hearts of all men." (p.506)

But it is his God-centered prayer of a self-conscious sinner that truly strikes a cord with devout Christians everywhere:

"Most merciful Father! who desirest not the death of a sinner, but will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, give me grace so to draw nigh unto thee as that thou wilt condescend to draw nigh unto me; and enable me to offer unto thee, through thy beloved Son, supplications and thanksgivings acceptably.

I thank thee for thy mercy to our fallen race, as declared in thy holy gospel by thy beloved Son...Enable me, merciful Father to understand thy holy gospel aright, and to distinguish the doctrines thereof from erroneous expositions of them...Let thy Holy Spirit purify and unite me to my Saviour for ever, and enable me to cleave unto him as unto my very life...Wean me from undue and unseasonable attachments and attentions to the things of this transitory world...

Protect me from becoming a prey to temptations to evil...Give me grace to love and obey and be thankful unto thee, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength...Be pleased also to impress my heart and mind with a deep and unceasing sense and recollection of the evil of sin...Give me grace, I humbly and earnestly beseech thee, to repent of my sins...

I thank thee, the great Sovereign of the universe, for thy long-continued goodness to these countries, notwithstanding our ingratitude and disobedience to thee, our merciful deliverer and benefactor. Give us grace to turn unto thee with true repentance, and implore thy forgiveness.

Condescend, merciful Father! to grant as far as proper these imperfect petitions, to accept these inadequate thanksgivings, and to pardon whatever of sin hath mingled in them, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour; unto whom, with thee, and the blessed Spirit, ever one God, be rendered all honour and glory, now and for ever."


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