July 2012 E News
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Plymouth Rock Foundation’s E-News – July, 2012
by Dr. Paul Jehle, Executive Director
A Declaration of Prayer
Americans are aware that the Declaration of Independence was officially signed by John Hancock on July 4, 1776. They may not be aware that every line was debated, or that the Document’s “prayer clauses” were the culmination of proclamations for prayer that preceded it. From a perusal of our history, our nation was born in prayer. The Declaration could be primarily termed, as my mentor Rus Walton once said, a Declaration of Dependence upon God. This is why I also call it a declaration of prayer. Its legacy begins at our birth.
On April 29, 1607, Pastor Robert Hunt led the English settlers in a re-landing at Cape Henry after the failed attempt when they were attacked by Natives three days earlier. This time, they came to kneel in the sand by a wooden cross they had erected, and Hunt led them in a prayer of dedication that is little known today. It could be understood as the prayer of dedication for all of Virginia, or in context for the entire eastern seaboard (which was called Virginia) which became the United States of America:
We do hereby Dedicate this Land, and ourselves, to reach the People within these shores with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to raise up Godly generations after us, and with these generations take the Kingdom of God to all the earth. May this Covenant of Dedication remain to all generations, as long as this earth remains, and may this Land, along with England, be Evangelist to the World. May all who see this Cross, remember what we have done here, and may those who come here to inhabit join us in this Covenant…”
The Pilgrims landed on Cape Cod – in what is now Provincetown – on Monday, November 13, 1620. Their first act was to kneel in prayer, though they had plans of washing clothes, re-constructing their Shallop and exploring the land for a potential settlement. Bradford relates it this way “being thus arrived in a good harbor, and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven.” The Pilgrim story is marked with prayer. After the Pilgrims rejected their “communal arrangement” and set up private enterprise, a multi-week drought threatened their entire crop, but after a prayer and fast meeting was held, “God was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer” by sending a gentle rain that revived their crop. The Native Hobbomock was converted as a result of this prayer meeting!
But did this reliance on prayer continue? Yes, it most certainly did. Beginning in 1694, annual days of Prayer and Humiliation were given in the Spring, with Thanksgiving days in the Fall. The 1697 Day of Fasting and Prayer to repent of the injustice of the Salem Witch Trials was a notable one, and the forgiveness of Ann Putnam at Salem in 1706 might have been the spark for the Great Awakening. The French, in 1746, wanted to “lay waste the entire English Colonies from Georgia to Nova Scotia” as pay-back for the loss of their Fort. A Prayer and Fast Day observed October 16 saw a miracle take place in the Old South Church in Boston when Pastor Thomas Prince led the prayer meeting. During his prayer, the wind blew through the Church, ringing the bells. Later Prince found out it was the very hour that a hurricane blew the French fleet apart, and they never came!
What about the Continental Congress? Were the “prayer clauses” of the Declaration merely rhetoric, or were they drafted meaningfully in the midst of Prayer Proclamations? The 1st Continental Congress began on its knees in September of 1774, and after the battles of Lexington and Concord, the 2nd Continental Congress proclaimed July 20, 1775 as a Day of humiliation, fasting and prayer. The 3rd Continental Congress called another day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” to be observed May 17, 1776, only a month and a half prior to writing the Declaration of Independence!
The Proclamations of Prayer from the Continental Congress followed a long legacy of prayer proclamations since the inception of our nation. They all have a similar pattern that follows what the Lord Jesus taught his disciples. They extol God as Creator and Sovereign (“our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name”), emphasize covenant keeping for the expansion of His Kingdom (“thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”), call for repentance among God’s people through the merits of Christ (“give us this day our daily bread, and forgive our sins, as we forgive those against us, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil), and consecrate the nation under His protection (“for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, amen.”)
Thus, when the drafters of the Declaration debated its contents line by line, the prayer clauses were not rhetoric, but had deep meaning: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge(extol God) of the world for the rectitude of our intentions (repentance)… and for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence (consecration), we mutually pledge(covenant-keeping) to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
This is why John Adams wrote to Abigail on July 3rd “I am apt to believe that it (July 2nd, the day the Declaration was ratified) will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty”. This is also why Sam Adams, at the official signing of the Declaration on August 1st of 1776, declared “We have explored the temple of royalty, and found that the idol we have bowed down to, has eyes which see not, and ears that hear not our prayer, and a heart of nether millstone. We have this day restored the Sovereign, to whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven… from the rising to the setting sun, may His Kingdom come.” Let us, as the heirs of this legacy, never be ashamed of publicly bowing our knee to the King of Kings for the protection of our civil liberty in America and the restoration of our nation as One Nation Under God!