WASHINGTON — WND is proud to help present a monumental event inside the U.S. Capitol on May 7, 2014, when several lawmakers will offer prayers on behalf of the nation, our president and his Cabinet, the Supreme Court and its justices and members of Congress.
“Washington: A Man of Prayer, 2014” commemorates the events of April 30, 1789, when, after being sworn in at Federal Hall, President George Washington, accompanied by Congress, proceeded to St. Paul’s Chapel where, as one of his first official acts, the president offered a prayer of dedication to God on America’s behalf.
Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., will host, Mike Huckabee will emcee, and some of America’s most principled public servants (including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Lee, R-Utah; and Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas; and Steve King, R-Iowa) will commemorate the 225th inaugural anniversary of President Washington, with members of Congress and national Christian leaders honoring the first U.S. president as a man of Christian faith.
One of the nation’s leading experts on President Washington has graciously contributed the following article to WND’s series previewing “Washington: A Man of Prayer, 2014.”
Peter A. Lillback, Ph.D., is author of the No. 1 Amazon.com national bestseller, “George Washington’s Sacred Fire,” representing the culmination of 20 years of primary-source research and scholarship on the life of George Washington.
WND is proud to present Dr. Lillbacks’ “Top 10 reasons Washington was a man of prayer.”
By Dr. Peter A. Lillback
Washington: A Man of Prayer is now an annual event held in the U.S. Capitol building. Some retort that if that isn’t a violation of the First Amendment, it surely is a violation of history. Everyone knows that our Founding Father, George Washington, was a deist, not a man of faith! At least that’s what many Americans object about this gathering. Is it really a historical aberration to represent Washington as a man of prayer?
The only satisfactory answer for this question is indisputable evidence. And evidence with this reliability has to come from Washington’s own hand.
Sign up here to watch the webcast of “Washington: A Man of Prayer” from the U.S. Capitol on May 7, 2014, at 7:30 EST. You can be there virtually and experience the history in the making, the camaraderie, the inspiration and the prayers just by signing up on this page for FREE.
Indeed, there is decisive written evidence from Washington himself that demonstrates he was a man of prayer. To make this case, let’s follow the popular method of a countdown from 10 to one. Here, then, are my 10 key reasons why we know Washington was a man of prayer.
Reason No. 10: There are some 100 written prayers in Washington’s writings, none of which can be rejected as unauthentic.
Let the debate rage over whether Gen. Washington knelt in the snow and prayed at Valley Forge, or if he was the author of “The Daily Sacrifice” prayers that were found in his possessions in the 1890s. The rejection of these disputed claims cannot overturn Washington’s vast written prayers. As a simple example, consider Washington’s prayer from a personal letter to Landon Carter at the start of the Revolutionary War.
“… That the God of Armies may Incline the Hearts of my American Brethren to support, and bestow sufficient abilities on me to bring the present contest to a speedy and happy conclusion … is the first wish, and most fervent prayer of my Soul,” April 15, 1777.
This is a prayer for himself and his Army. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a non-praying man writing of his soul’s “most fervent prayer“ in a personal letter!
Reason No. 9: There are numerous eyewitness accounts of Washington praying.
Bishop William Meade printed a letter from Gen. Lewis, of Augusta County, Va., to the Rev. Mr. Dana, of Alexandria, dated Dec. 14, 1855:
Reverend and Dear Sir: … Some short time before the death of General Porterfield, I made him a visit and spent a night at his house. He related many interesting facts that had occurred within his own observation in the war of the Revolution, particularly in the Jersey campaign and the encampment of the army at Valley Forge. He said that his official duty (being brigade-inspector) frequently brought him in contact with General Washington. Upon one occasion, some emergency induced him to dispense with the usual formality, and he went directly to General Washington’s apartment, where he found him on his knees, engaged in his morning devotions. He said that he mentioned the circumstance to General Hamilton, who replied that such was his constant habit.
Reason No. 8: Washington used The Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
Before the American Episcopal Church created its own “Book of Common Prayer” in the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War, Washington was a regular user of the 1662 edition of the “Book of Common Prayer” of the Anglican Church. In fact, he ordered a copy with specific dimensions so he could carry it with him:
INVOICE OF GOODS TO BE SHIPD BY ROBERT CARY & CO.
FOR THE USE OF GEO. WASHINGTON, POTOMACK
RIVER, VIRGINIA, VIZ.
July 18, 1771.
A Prayr. Book with the new Version of Psalms and good plain type, covd. with red Moroco., to be 7 Inchs. long 4½ wide, and as thin as possible for the greatr. ease of caryg. in the Pocket.
Here’s an example of the prayers that Washington prayed as he used the daily morning prayer:
The Order for Morning Prayer,
Daily Throughout the Year.
At the beginning of Morning Prayer the Minister shall read with a loud voice some one or more of these Sentences of the Scriptures that follow …
Repent ye; for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. St. Matt. iii. 2.
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. St. Luke xv. 18, 19.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 St. John i. 8, 9.
After reading these convicting Bible verses, the worshipers would recite the following prayers of repentance and of forgiveness:
A general Confession to be said of the whole Congregation after the Minister, all kneeling.
ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
It is clear that the guide for prayer used by Washington’s church, his family, his soldiers and himself was unmistakably Christian.
Reason No. 7: Washington served as chaplain at the funeral service of his mortally wounded commanding officer, Gen.Braddock, at the Massacre at the Monongahela in the French and Indian War.
Here is what Washington read to his defeated and grieving soldiers:
The Order for the Burial of the Dead.
I AM the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. St. John xi. 25, 26.
I KNOW that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shalt stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another. Job xix. 25, 26, 27.
WE brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord. 1 Tim. vi. 7. Job I. 21.
After other prayers (such as the Lord’s Prayer) are said and other scriptures are read, the leader closes with this prayer and the attached benediction:
O MERCIFUL God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life; in whom whosoever believeth shall live, though he die; and whosoever liveth, and believeth in him, shall not die eternally; who also hath taught us, by his holy Apostle Saint Paul, not to be sorry, as men without hope, for them that sleep in him: We meekly beseech thee, O Father, to raise us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness; that, when we shall depart this life, we may rest in him, as our hope is this our brother doth; and that, at the general Resurrection in the last day, we may be found acceptable in thy sight; and receive that blessing, which thy well-beloved Son shall then pronounce to all that love and fear thee, saying, Come, ye blessed children of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world: Grant this, we beseech thee, O merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Redeemer. Amen.
THE grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.
George Washington, as an 18th century Anglican, prayed this prayer at the funerals he led and attended in his military and political career.
Reason No. 6: Washington gave his support for public and private calls for prayer.
As a military and political leader, George Washington called for prayer on a multitude of occasions, or he received such requests from Congress and church leaders and then passed them on to his others with his blessing and commitment to participate. Excellent examples of the congressional calls for prayer come from 1779. On this date, Washington, acting on Congress’ request, not only ordered his men to pray but in the process, mentioned “our gracious redeemer,” the “light of the gospel,“ “the church,“ “the light of Christian knowledge“ and “the Holy Spirit.“ Washington proceeded to command his chaplains to promulgate this message to the whole army.
After the end of the War, Gen. Washington explained how the surrender of the British would be proclaimed to the troops, making sure that he gave thanks to God first.
Friday, April 18, 1783
The Commander in Chief orders the Cessation of Hostilities between the United States of America and the King of Great Britain to be publickly proclaimed tomorrow … After which the Chaplains with the several Brigades will render thanks to almighty God for all his mercies, particularly for his over ruling the wrath of man to his own glory, and causing the rage of war to cease amongst the nations.
During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when a passionate plea to turn to God for help came from none other than Benjamin Franklin, Washington ostensibly was in complete agreement. As the new president, Washington wrote to the ministers, church wardens and vestrymen of the German Lutheran congregation in and near Philadelphia on April 27, 1789: “I shall earnestly desire the continuation of an interest in your intercessions at the Throne of Grace.“ In short, Washington said: Keep praying for me. Washington repeated this allusion to the “Throne of Grace“ in his May 29, 1789, letter to the bishops of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
Since America now had a president, and Congress was operating under the new Constitution, Congress sent word to Washington to call for a day of thanksgiving and prayer. Thus Washington issued a call for prayer to the nation on America’s first official Thanksgiving. The purpose was to thank God for the chance to peaceably assemble and operate under the new government. Washington complied, and on Oct. 3, 1789, he issued a proclamation (which is found in full in Appendix 3). We quote the opening here to show that our first president believed that prayer had a place in society:
“[I]t is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor. …”
In his Sixth Annual Message to Congress on Nov. 19, 1794, he again called the nation to prayer:
Let us unite, therefore, in imploring the Supreme Ruler of nations, to spread his holy protection over these United States: to turn the machinations of the wicked to the confirming of our constitution: to enable us at all times to root out internal sedition, and put invasion to flight: to perpetuate to our country that prosperity, which his goodness has already conferred, and to verify the anticipations of this government being a safe guard to human rights.
In his final, Eighth Annual Address to Congress, dated Dec. 7, 1796, Washington again referred to his prayers for the nation:
The situation in which I now stand, for the last time, in the midst of the Representatives of the People of the United States, naturally recalls the period when the Administration of the present form of Government commenced; and I cannot omit the occasion, to congratulate you and my Country, on the success of the experiment; nor to repeat my fervent supplications to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and Sovereign Arbiter of Nations, that his Providential care may still be extended to the United States; that the virtue and happiness of the People, may be preserved.
Sign up here to watch the webcast of “Washington: A Man of Prayer” from the U.S. Capitol on May 7, 2014, at 7:30 EST. You can be there virtually and experience the history in the making, the camaraderie, the inspiration and the prayers just by signing up on this page for FREE.
Reason No. 5: Washington’s letters included written prayers at his insistence.
One of the draft letters containing a prayer was prepared by Thomas Jefferson, who was not known as a particularly religious man of prayer. Clearly, written prayers were not being foisted on Washington by his hyper-religious military staff that hailed from the Puritan New England states. Jefferson’s draft was written during Washington’s first term, at the time of the opening of the new government in the wake of the French Revolution:
To THE PROVISORY EXECUTIVE COUNCIL OF FRANCE
I assure you, with a sincere participation, of the great and constant friendship, which these U.S. bear to the French nation. of the interest they feel in whatever concerns their happiness and prosperity, and of their wishes for a perpetual fraternity with them, and I pray God to have them and you, very great and good friends and allies, in his holy keeping.
Similarly, Washington’s staff member, Alexander Hamilton, also knew to put in prayers in Washington’s letters:
To GOVERNOR DIEGO JOSEPH NAVARRO [of Havana]
Head Quarters, Middle Brook, March 4, 1779.
With my prayers for your health and happiness, and with the greatest respect I have the honor etc.
So Washington’s staff, like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, knew that the commander in chief expected prayers to be in his letters. But at least on one occasion, when a prayer had been overlooked in the draft, Washington himself personally added one. This happened in the following letter, also drafted by Alexander Hamilton. Note that the words in brackets are those that Washington himself added to Hamilton’s draft.
To COMTE DE ROCHAMBEAU
New Windsor, February 26, 1781.
I have an increase of happiness from the subsequent intelligence you do me the favour to communicate respecting Count D’Estaings success. This repetition of advices justifies a confidence in their truth [which I pray God may be confirmed in its greatest extent.]
Reason No. 4: Washington responded to prayers offered for him by reciprocating those prayers for those who were praying for him.
Washington’s prayers sometimes occur in his letters when the correspondents say they are praying for him, and he writes back saying he is reciprocating or praying for them as well. Some of the prayers are so Christian and biblical that to affirm a reciprocal prayer was a confession of Christian faith. The first example shows that the reciprocation can be in terms of God’s blessings on earthly matters such as “life and public usefulness.”
As an example consider, “The Humble Address of the Ministers, Elders and Deacons of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in Kingston”:
To the Excellency George Washington Esquire General and Commander in Chief of the American Army etc:
… When the sword shall be sheathed and peace reestablished, whensoever it is the will of Heaven that your Excellency has lived long enough for the purposes of nature, then may you enter triumphantly thro’ the Blood of the Lamb, into the Regions of Bliss there to take possession of that Crown of Glory, the Reward of the Virtuous and which fadeth not away.
By Order of the Consistory Kingston, November 15, 1782.
In Washington’s Nov. 16, 1782, answer, he wrote these striking words:
In return for your kind concern for my temporal and eternal happiness, permit me to assure you that my wishes are reciprocal; and that you may be enabled to hand down your Religion pure and undefiled to a Posterity worthy of their Ancestors. I am Gentlemen, Etc., GW.
Washington responded to the Consistory with a reciprocal wish for their salvation.
Another example are the letters that were exchanged between Rev. William Linn and Washington.
Rev. Linn had written from New York on May 30, 1798, stating:
… I beg leave only to express my wishes, that the evening of your busy and eventful life may be peaceful and happy; that you may see your country established in the enjoyment of those blessings you toiled to secure; and that, when removed from this earthly scene you may, through the merits of the Redeemer, receive a crown of glory in heaven. I am with the highest respect, Your Most Obedient Wm. Linn.
Washington’s response is as follows:
Mount Vernon, June 4, 1798. Revd. Sir: I received with thankfulness your favour of the 30th. Ulto., enclosing the discourse delivered by you on the day recommended by the President of the United States to be observed as a general Fast. I have read them both with pleasure; and feel grateful for the favourable sentiments you have been pleased to express in my behalf; but more especially for those good wishes which you offer for my temporal and eternal happiness; which I reciprocate with great cordiality, being with esteem and respect, Revd. Sir Your etc.
The reciprocal prayers for eternal happiness that Washington affirmed here were made in the context of the saving work of the Redeemer—Jesus Christ, and the concomitant hope of a “crown of glory in heaven.” Washington’s reciprocal prayers were offered to the minister with “cordiality,” “esteem” and “respect.”
Reason No. 3: Washington prayed for his family.
Washington prayed for his family in a time of war. Consider two examples among many:
To MRS. MARTHA CUSTIS July 20, 1758.
Since that happy hour when we made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been continually going to you as another Self. That an all-powerful Providence may keep us both in safety is the prayer of your ever faithful and affectionate friend.
To JOHN AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON New York, April 29, 1776.
[T]hat all your Family are well; that they may continue so, and that our once happy Country may escape the depredations and Calamities attending on War, is the fervent prayer of, dear Sir, your most affectionate brother.
Reason No. 2: Washington openly prayed for his Army, his nation and its people in war and in peace.
Washington supported a day of Thanksgiving as the new general of the American Army:
GENERAL ORDERS Head Quarters, Cambridge, November 18, 1775.
The Honorable the Legislature of this Colony having thought fit to set apart Thursday the 23d of November Instant, as a day of public thanksgiving “to offer up our praises, and prayers to Almighty God, the Source and Benevolent Bestower of all good; That he would be pleased graciously to continue, to smile upon our Endeavours, to restore peace, preserve our Rights, and Privileges, to the latest posterity; prosper the American Arms, preserve and strengthen the Harmony of the United Colonies, and avert the Calamities of a civil war.” The General therefore commands that day to be observed with all the Solemnity directed by the Legislative Proclamation, and all Officers, Soldiers and others, are hereby directed, with the most unfeigned Devotion, to obey the same.”
Washington supported prayers for God’s blessings in times of peace as at the end of the war.
To THE MILITIA OFFICERS OF THE CITY AND LIBERTIES OF PHILADELPHIA
Philadelphia, December 12, 1783.
While the various Scenes of the War, in which I have experienced the timely aid of the Militia of Philadelphia, recur to my mind, my ardent prayer ascends to Heaven that they may long enjoy the blessings of that Peace which has been obtained by the divine benediction on our common exertions.
Examples of such prayers can be multiplied many times in Washington’s writings. These examples include his prayers for the armies of the United States, the legislators of Massachusetts, the 13 newly independent states, Princeton and its historic college, New York City, the start of the new government, the first national Thanksgiving, his farewell from the presidency, a time of impending war and officers of the regiments of the Virginia militia.
Reason No. 1: The extensive items identified by Washington as part of his prayers could not possibly have been prayed for by him unless he was a praying man.
A study of Washington’s prayers reveal the specifics that he prayed for manifesting the breadth of his prayer life. If the reader is interested in the sources for these, he or she may refer to Appendix III of “George Washington’s Sacred Fire.” Here is an extended list of examples of what Washington wrote that he prayed for:
Prayer requests during days of prayer and fasting:
1) Confession and forgiveness of sin
2) Averting war
3) Addressing the grievances of Americans against Britain
4) Providential mercy
5) Protection and success
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for himself and family:
1) To continue to deserve the good sentiments of people
2) Safety for Martha
3) For his fears of the ruin of the military
4) For health concerns
5) For escaping the calamities of war
6) For provisions for the successful conclusion of the war
7) For his retirement and return to domestic happiness and peace
8) For happiness
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for his Army and his officers:
1) To finish the work
2) To be preserved and to prosper
3) To never again be in a state of the severe lack of needed items for life
4) For success and a safe return from a mission
5) To avert another campaign
6) For justice
7) For heaven’s favor here and in the hereafter
8) For peace
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for citizens and cities:
1) For aid in their efforts for liberty
2) For the favor of heaven
3) To recover ease and happiness
4) For the choicest blessings
5) For liberties to continue to the latest posterity
6) For the traces of war to be gone
7) For enriched commerce
8) To set examples of wisdom and liberality so that the union would be permanent at home and respected abroad
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for Native-American tribes:
1) That they would be wise and strong
2) That they would walk the right path
3) That they would not be deceived and turn against America
4) That the Great Spirit would preserve them
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for a national Thanksgiving:
1) Pardon of sins
2) To perform our duties
3) That government would be a blessing
4) For growth in knowledge, religion, virtue, science and temporal prosperity
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for legislative activity:
1) That his doubts about the value of a new law would not be realized
2) For the success of negotiations
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for government leaders:
1) To be in God’s holy keeping
2) For health, happiness and prosperity
3) For their welfare
4) For health and long life to enjoy blessings
Prayer Requests Expressed By Washington For Royalty:
1) For God’s holy protection
2) For guidance
3) For health and happiness
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for the American states:
2) Possession of their rights
3) For the prospering of their arms
4) Harmony of colonies
5) To avert calamities
6) Divine mercies
7) The overruling of wrath and the making of war to cease
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for the United States:
1) Peace to the end of time
3) That the citizens would be obedient to government
4) Brotherly love
5) Disposed to do justice
6) To love mercy
8) Pacific temper of mind
9) For a humble imitation of the Divine Author of our blessed religion
11) Long uninterrupted felicity
12) Such conduct that would merit continuing blessings
14) A wise and virtuous use of blessings
15) That all may turn out for the best
16) That the nation would not become a prey to anarchy or despotism
Prayer requests expressed by Washington for churches:
1) For present and future happiness
2) For the blessings a gracious God bestows upon the righteous
3) For the preservation of civil and religious liberties
4) For the extension of knowledge, virtue and true religion
5) To be conspicuous for religious character
6) To pass on religion to posterity in a pure and undefiled form
Some of the religious prayer requests expressed by Washington in his written and reciprocal prayers:
1) The extension of true religion
2) Spiritual felicity
3) Forgiveness of sins
5) Favor in the hereafter
6) Spiritual and eternal happiness
7) Providential or temporal felicity
8) God’s holy keeping
9) The blessings of a gracious God
10) Virtuous conduct flowing from imitating Christ, the Divine Author of Christianity
11) A conspicuous religious character
12) Passing on the Reformed Church’s religion to posterity in a pure and undefiled form
13) The reciprocated prayer to “enter triumphantly thro’ the Blood of the Lamb, into the Regions of Bliss there to take possession of that Crown of Glory, the Reward of the Virtuous and which fadeth not away”
14) The reciprocated prayer that “When removed from this earthly scene you may, through the merits of the Redeemer, receive a crown of glory in heaven”
15) A benediction for justice and heaven’s favor here and hereafter
So to conclude, these 10 reasons are decisive evidence in favor of viewing Washington as a “Man of Prayer.” Those meeting in the U.S. Capitol building not only have history on their side, they have the very words of Washington to prove it.
By the way, all of this supports that Washington really did pray at Valley Forge after all. During the long, cold winter at Valley Forge, Washington had nothing, except a prayer.
Perhaps the best way to conclude a piece like this is to offer one of Washington’s most poignant prayers for our nation. In his Circular Letter to the States from his headquarters in Newburgh on June 8, 1783, he prayed:
I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.
We may wonder if it is constitutional to pray like this anymore. If it isn’t constitutional, it may explain why so many today don’t find America a “happy nation” anymore. But like Washington at Valley Forge, we still have a prayer of a chance. Why not join those who gather in the Capitol building, in the spirit of prayer of our Founding Father? Even if it seems as though the Constitution is slipping away, for now at least, the First Amendment allows us all to pray just like George Washington did.
Peter A. Lillback, Ph.D., is president of The Providence Forum, the nonprofit scholarly organization committed to preserve, defend and advance the faith and values of America’s founding and founders. He is also president of Westminster Theological Seminary, one of the world’s leading institutes of higher reformed theological education. He has also been professor of church history at Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia. He holds degrees from Cedarville University (B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.) and Westminster Theological Seminary (Ph.D.)
Now in its third year, “Washington: A Man of Prayer, 2014″ is the brainchild of Dan Cummins, pastor of Bridlewood Church in Bullard, Texas. The event will be broadcast globally by the Daystar Television Network, with WorldNetDaily Films and CBN News providing the satellite feed from Statuary Hall.
Churches can register online to host the webcast during their Wednesday midweek services at “Washington: A Man of Prayer.”
See a clip of Rabbi Jonathan Cahn speaking during last year’s events:
Read these WND articles on "Washington: A Man of Prayer, 2014":