Here is the second half of the “Forward” to George Washington’s Sacred Fire, Dr. Peter Lillback’s exhaustive expose on George Washington’s faith, as written by John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D., chairman and president of the John Templeton Foundation.
From his deep Christian faith, Washington also found occasion to advocate Christianity. In a speech to the Delaware chiefs on May 12, 1779, he said: “This is a great mark of your confidence and of your desire to preserve friendship between the Two Nations to the end of time, and to become One People with your Brethren of the United States. My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.”
Later, during the Revolutionary War, amidst a continuing series of disappointments and setbacks,. Washington said: “While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
But for Washington, the true mark of conviction was how one behaved and what one did. From his lifelong commitment to rectitude and Christian moral principle, Washington stressed in his orders and directives and exhibited in his personal life, that a Christian faith is not just how one speaks but how one acts. As commander in chief, he set high standards for Christian worship and Christian behavior: “We can have little hope of the blessing of Heaven on our arms if we insult it by our impiety and folly. Let vice and immorality of every kind be discouraged, as much as possible in your brigade; and as a chaplain is allowed to each regiment, see that the men regularly attend divine Worship.” This precedent was established earlier in his life as the widely recognized leader of Virginia’s Militia. He emphasized that his troops should “pray, fast, attend worship and observe days of thanksgiving.”
Finally, it is helpful to reflect on those many, many times in his life when Washington was not sure that he was up to the task of the heavy burden of responsibilities he was called upon to fulfill. When he was selected, unanimously, by the Continental Congress to serve as commander in chief of the Continental Army, he said: “I beg it may be remembered, by every gentleman in the room, that I, this day, declare with my utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with.” Many times during the eight long years of the Revolutionary War, Washington experienced more failures than successes. Because the conflict was so protracted, he faced continuing high rates of desertion of various state militias during the War. While Washington maintained great conviction in the merits of the American cause, he nevertheless clearly turned again and again, to prayer that the Lord God would give him strength and sustain him.
For a man of such probity and such self-restraint, the truest relection of George Washington’s conviction and practice as an orthodox Christian requires exhaustive and thorough scholarship to bring together the totality of George Washington’s devotion as a Christian. This book by the Reverend Dr. Peter Lillback in conjunction with Jerry Newcombe, gives us all a much truer understanding of the man who as “Father of Our Country” was indispensable to the success of securing, not only American independence, but, more importantly, the survival of America’s bold experiment in republican representative government. George Washington’s Sacred Fire is an attempt to let Washington speak for himself, and to address, in a definitive manner, the evidence of his Christian faith and conviction. This book makes a unique and authoritative case for the underlying faith of George Washington which sustained him and guided him throughout his remarkable life.