Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Thomas Jefferson and the Gospel"

Dare I attempt to write about Jefferson when so much has already been written? Well, it appears so, but I promise I won't write much. He has come to mind again as I have communicated with a dear friend recently who identifies himself as an atheist.

A few days ago he sent me the quote, "Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."  ~ Thomas Jefferson

I would suggest to you that is very good advise, for it would be better to question the existence of God and search diligently for the truth, than to believe blindly and care not for the search of truth. It is a given, that a person of faith, has a passion to know the truth and search it out. His life will be spent in discovering all he can about God, about the work of Christ, and how it affects his personal life and family. 

My purpose in addressing Jefferson is not to write in such a way as to make him look Christian, doing so will not save him, nor will it benefit our nation to make him so. Only truth will benefit, so the closer we come to truth the better we are.

In studying Jefferson slightly over the years, I have found him a brilliant man, though a complicated one. His views of the Gospel seems to have changed throughout his life, therefore you find seemingly contradicting statements, some which can be taken slightly out of context and made to say something they don't exactly say. I will attempt not  to do so, but as best as I can, in a few words and short discourse, let him speak for himself. It does appear for most of this life he held to a fairly Orthodox view of Christianity. But in the latter part of his life drifted into a lessor orthodox view.

 So what about Jefferson and the Church, what was his views?

"My views . . . are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others . . . ." ~ Thomas Jefferson. April 21, 1803, in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush.

Now I will strongly suggest that this quotation certainly does not make him a Christian, for being sincerely attached to Christ's doctrines in preference to all others only makes you religious. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." - Eph 2:8,9.

"No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advance toward rational Christianity, and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed from His lips, the whole world would at this day been Christian . . . . Had there never been a commentator there never would have been an infidel. I have little doubt that the whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also." ~ Thomas Jefferson. Library of American literature, Vol III, pp 283,284.

These are strange views indeed, Jefferson appeals to reason as the source to faith. I agree, reason is a means to faith, but not the source of it. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." - Isa 1:18

Jefferson's reasoning appears illogical, for it seems he believed that if the words of Jesus had never been commented on, the words themselves would have been enough to convince the world of the hope of Christianity, yet they did not convince the multitude of the generation in which Christ personally spoke them himself. This reasoning and logic is flawed and has proved itself to be so. One thing is certain, Jefferson was a religious man, believed in God and that Christ was the Saviour of mankind. It is also certain, in the latter part of his life his views of God and of Christ as Saviour could not be seen as Orthodox. He drifted from many, if not most, general Christian views. So to say he was a genuine Christian would be difficult to say.

As now, so it was then; there were those who took views of scripture outside of Orthodoxy, and under the pretense or assumption, promoted the idea that they had recovered what had been lost in it's interpretation.  These things usually manifest themselves in some form of new movement with its promoters gathering to themselves followers.

It was the case here with Jefferson, who in his later years was influenced by such a movement called "Christian Primitivism" or "Restoration Movement". Leaders such as Barton Stone rejected denominational titles except that of Christian, rejected church hierarchal structure, and developed an Anti-Trinitarianism theology, placing emphasis on using only Bible language and terms.

Jefferson held such views as the book of Revelation being written by the ravings of a maniac. In his understanding, only the Gospels were pure and divine, he saw even the New Testament epistles as inferior writings and the Apostle Paul as introducing divisive doctrines into the church. So yes, he was anti-Christian in many respects all the while claiming to be a (real) Christian himself. "To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus Himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which He wished any one to be: sincerely attached to His doctrines in preference to all other." ~ Thomas Jefferson. April 21, 1803, in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush.

While holding to the beliefs of "Christian Primitivism" Jefferson stated: "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." ~ Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, vol. 4 (New York: G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830), 366.

So what is to be learned from Jefferson and Christianity? It should make us ever so cautious in our study and interpretation of Scripture. We have thousands of years of Christian history which held to and taught orthodox doctrines, yet that history also demonstrates how easily one can drift off into error. Our study must be diligent, but it must hold to sound doctrine. No writings have been studied and poured over more than the Christian Scriptures have for thousands of years. Discovering something new, something that has been overlooked in all church history is unlikely. It is quiet arrogant of us to presume that we have discovered something that all the great church theologians and their brilliant minds have overlooked, then to go and teach some new doctrine or start some new movement under the pretense of recovering lost truth.

Truth can be lost, but for it to be lost, it first must be found somewhere in church history. Ah! But all the new  movements return to the Scriptures with their interpretations of this lost truth! It was lost they say in the 2nd or 3rd century, after the Apostles died out the doctrine got corrupted they say. It has remained lost for nearly two thousand years, but now (they) have discovered it. Now we have the new or second Pentecost.  Now God is moving in these last days and restoring His Church to the former days!  Now as they always have, draw unto themselves followers and history continues.

Beware of the new thing! The New Testament is the new thing, it has remained the truth throughout history, His church has remained faithful. All through history you can follow this Orthodox Christian doctrine that has been held by the faithful. Do not be moved by every wind of doctrine.

Eph 4:14  That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

As it is now, so it was then, Orthodox doctrine was held to by the faithful, others were drawn away by crafty men with new movements and interpretations.

Gal 1:6  I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Gal 1:7  Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
Gal 1:8  But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Gal 1:9  As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.


May the Grace of God be upon each of you,

David
 



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