Over the next several weeks we will examine our American heritage as it relates to prayer in regards to the leaders of our great country, beginning with George Washington.
In 1794, after the Whiskey Rebellion, President George Washington declared a Day of Prayer. The practice of prayer “…was indispensable in coalescing the country into a unified force. Prayer was used by the Founding Fathers as a tool of union to bring together the widely disparate colonies, communities, and churches.” In the first half of the century, the first catalyzing national movement had brought them together – the First Great Awakening. As a result, the most recognizable man in the colonies was not Washington or Jefferson, Franklin, Madison or Adams. It was the preacher, George Whitfield. And it was preachers who were the fire-brands of the revolution, hated by the British, their churches often the brunt of cruel revenge. Protestant Christian pulpits in the 1700s were the media outlets of their day. They came to be called the ‘black robe regiment.’
In his Farewell Address of September 1796, Washington called religion, and by that, he meant Christianity, “a necessary spring of popular government.” He would say, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” Perhaps in response to the devastating consequences of what had happened in France, he would note, “… reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” In a letter dated August 20, 1778 and addressed to Brigadier General Thomas Nelson he wrote, “The Hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.” John Adams, the second President went further, saying, “Religion [Christianity] and Morality alone … can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.” George Washington’s Prayer Journal reflects his faith:
O eternal and everlasting God, I presume to present myself this morning before thy Divine majesty, beseeching thee to accept of my humble and hearty thanks, that it hath pleased thy great goodness to keep and preserve me the night past from all the dangers poor mortals are subject to, and has given me sweet and pleasant sleep, whereby I find my body refreshed and comforted for performing the duties of this day, in which I beseech thee to defend me from all perils of body and soul.
Direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb, and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit, from the dross of my natural corruption, that I may with more freedom of mind and liberty of will serve thee, the everlasting God, in righteousness and holiness this day, and all the days of my life.
Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the Gospel. Give me repentance from dead works. Pardon my wanderings, & direct my thoughts unto thyself, the God of my salvation. Teach me how to live in thy fear, labor in thy service, and ever to run in the ways of thy commandments. Make me always watchful over my heart, that neither the terrors of conscience, the loathing of holy duties, the love of sin, nor an unwillingness to depart this life, may cast me into a spiritual slumber. But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life. Bless my family, friends & kindred unite us all in praising & glorifying thee in all our works begun, continued, and ended, when we shall come to make our last account before thee blessed Saviour, who hath taught us thus to pray, our Father.
In another entry, Washington writes,
We cannot cease, but must cry unto thee for mercy, because my sins cry against me for justice … I must with the publican stand and admire at thy great goodness, tender mercy, and long suffering towards me … O, blessed father, let thy son’s blood wash me from all impurities, and cleanse me from the stains of sin … Embrace me in the arms of thy mercy … shadow me with thy wings … into thy hands I commend myself, both soul and body, in the name of thy son, Jesus Christ …
Washington spoke of “Almighty God’ the ‘most merciful father.’ Recalling the pattern of the children of Israel who offered a daily sacrifice, he prayed, “Receive, O Lord, my morning sacrifice …” He recounted in the prayer how God had preserved him from the danger and comforted him. “Let my heart, therefore, Gracious God, be so affected with the glory and majesty of it, that I may not do mine own works, but wait on thee, and discharge those weighty duties thou requirest of me … since thou art a God of pure eyes, and wilt be sanctified in all who draw near unto thee …” Washington noted that God did not “regard the sacrifice of fools, nor hear sinners” and he prayed, “I beseech thee, my sins, remove them from thy presence …” And this request for pardon Washington tied to “the merits of thy son Jesus Christ.” He likened his prayers “as incense” – his knowledge of Scripture was certainly less than superficial. He prayed that as he read the Bible that God would give him ‘grace’ and that it would be “wisdom, righteousness, reconciliation and peace to the saving of the soul in the day of the Lord Jesus.” He prayed that he would hear its words “with reverence, receive it with meekness, mingle it with faith” and that it might “accomplish … the good work for which thou has sent it.” He requested the blessing of God on his family, kindred, friends and his country, and prayer that God would guide him through the day and forever. This is not the prayer of a deist.
The first President, a General – also kept a daily prayer journal!
“Almighty and eternal Lord God, the great Creator of heaven and earth, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; look down from heaven in pity and compassion upon me, Thy servant, who humbly prostrate myself before Thee.” This was his prayer at Valley Forge.
This teaching will be included in the upcoming The Praying Church Handbook – Volume IV – Intercessory Prayer and Missions. Purchase the 4 volume set at: www.alivepublications.org.
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 Ibid, 51.
 “George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799: Series 3h Varick Transcripts,” Letterbook 1, Images 135-138. See – http://christian76.com/george-washington/
 William J. Johnson, George Washington, The Christian (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1919). See also: http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/PrayerAndCounseling/Intercession/washington_prayer.aspx
 William J. Johnson, George Washington, The Christian (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1919).