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FIRST-PERSON: The faith of Patrick Henry

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) — On July 4 the United States will celebrate its 238th birthday. Dedicated secularists and some atheists continue to push the idea that a preponderance of America’s founders were, at best, only nominally religious.

It is true they were not all Christians. Some were deists who believed in a Creator, though not one interested in relating personally to His creatures. But choose at random any man considered one of our nation’s founders and examine his life and personal writings. You are almost sure to find a man deeply influenced by faith in a Creator God.

Consider Patrick Henry, my favorite personality from among the founders. A Virginia attorney and eloquent orator, Henry helped motivate the move toward independence with his inspirational speeches.

Henry was a follower of Christ and a man of faith. A variety of sources confirm the following incidents from his life.

He once said to a neighbor:

“This book [the Bible] is worth all the books that ever were printed, and it has been my misfortune that I never found time to read it with the proper attention and feeling till lately. I trust in the mercy of heaven that it is not too late.”

In a letter to his daughter dated August 20, 1796, he wrote:

“Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of their number; and indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.”

On his deathbed, Patrick Henry was reported to have said:

“Doctor, I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die…. I am … much consoled by reflecting that the religion of Christ has, from its first appearance in the world, been attacked in vain by all the wits, philosophers, and wise ones, aided by every power of man, and its triumphs have been complete.”

On November 20, 1798, in his Last Will and Testament, Patrick Henry wrote:

“This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.”

Henry is best known for the speech he made on March 23, 1775, in Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Va., more than a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Virginia House was undecided on whether to organize for military action against the encroaching British army. Henry argued in favor of mobilizing for war.

Henry rarely, if ever, utilized notes for his speeches. As a result, his first biographer, William Wirt, worked diligently from oral histories to reconstruct a text of Henry’s most memorable and perhaps most influential speech.

Consider some excerpts from Wirt’s reconstruction of Henry’s address:

“They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house?

“Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

“Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.

“Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!

“Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

On July 4 remember that those who laid the foundation for our nation were very much like Patrick Henry — men who believed that liberty was a precious right that flowed from God. And in Henry’s life God was preeminent, personal and the provider of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention’s office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Kelly Boggs