If you peruse the papers of our 2nd president John Adams, you come upon his dear friend’s letter to him containing the words: “America has ever appeared to me to be the theater in which human nature will reach its greatest civic, literary and religious honors. Now is the time to sow the seeds of each of them.” The man who wrote these words knew that a great future comes from a diligent present. He was brilliant doctor whose love for this new nation was only eclipsed by his devotion to Jesus Christ.
I did say “brilliant.” At 15 he graduated from Princeton with a Bachelor of Arts degree. At 23 he completed his studies at Edinburgh University to become a medical doctor. The next year he was elected professor of chemistry in the college of Philadelphia. He completely reformed the medical school. He founded Dickinson College. In his 42nd year he was a member of the convention of Pennsylvania for the adoption of the U.S. federal constitution. Rush founded the first anti-slavery society in America. He was president of the Philadelphia medical society. He was vice-president and a founder of the Philadelphia Bible society and advocated the use of the Scriptures as a textbook in the public schools. He was a pioneer in the Temperance Movement. He crusaded for the humane treatment of the mentally ill. Perhaps he could be called America’s first clinical psychologist. He helped form the American Philosophical Society. Its operative motto: “Knowledge is of little use when confined to mere speculation” came from Rush. Benjamin proposed the study of veterinary medicine, and wrote the first American textbook on psychiatry.
I tell you all that to impress on you that the words I quoted above sprang from a gifted mind. Arthur Herman in his book with the novel title How the Scots invented the modern world says “Rush and William Small’s college (later the university of Pennsylvania) became one important conduit for the Scottish remaking of American Education. The premise of that Scottish system was: “Debate until the truth clearly emerges.”
Benjamin conveyed to President Adams the challenge that excellence in civics, literacy and religion has to be cultivated. As a Bible lover he knew that the maxim “what you sow you shall also reap,” warned of the results of bad seed but also promised good to the diligent. If these founders of our country could see how miserably we are failing to keep civics, literature and religion together, let alone collectively cultivate them; they would be stinging in their rebuke.
Not that our American patriarch’s were perfect. Rush was a very impatient man. He made indiscreet remarks about General Washington. He tended the wounded in the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Germantown, and the sickness at Valley Forge, but disagreed boldly with Washington. He was not easily entreated. America should not be afraid of spirited debate. Public disagreement must not be met with emotional rejections.
It has become fashionable to discredit the truth a leader speaks by amplifying the faults in their character. We’ve all seen the dirty tricks used in political campaigns these days. Rush was broken in some places and bent in others, but the flame of his vision of an America, built on the tested combination of Biblical guidance and debate towards establishment of ultimate truth burned way beyond his death.
The revisionist’s pen would like nothing better than have us believe that America was founded by greedy, closed-minded bigots whose unhealthy view of the world left large societal problems. These “problems,” they claim, have been resolved by the liberal teachings of modern philosophy. Their undoing, however, is that history, in the long view, is rooted in the principle of what you sow you reap. Do you have a dream of a righteous society for your children’s children? Aim high, its no harder on the gun! Now is the time to sow some fresh seeds. Let a man like Rush inspire you. Live righteously. Debate vigorously. Read widely. Love generously. Vote faithfully. Influence earnestly.
Andrew Paton of Clinton Church of the Nazarene, born in Africa, has pastored in Hunterdon County since 1997. Before that he ministered in Durban and Bedfordview, South Africa and prior to that was an officer in The Salvation Army. He has been in full time Christian leadership since 1975. He and his wife Carol have two married sons and five grandchildren.
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