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Today, during and after the recent impeachment hearings and trial, there is talk of "compartmentalization"—the notion that all the parts of one's life do not necessarily have to connect, that moral character and job competency do not have to be in one man. This is simply not the original American equation of republican ideal and it is certainly not biblically founded.Historical episodes are much like a snowfield. Someone has to go first through the dual challenge of wonderment and danger. There comes a time in the human experience in which people, tribes and nations are confronted with this proverbial field of snow. I would like to share with you one man's walk in the snow on behalf of his nation. But before I do, let's understand who lays the field before us.
Long ago, God stated to Abraham that, "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed"(Genesis:12:3). It is to be understood that first and foremost this is speaking of spiritual salvation for all humanity through the birth of Abraham's descendant, Jesus Christ. But there is also an added aspect of historical note regarding the physical descendants of Abraham that should be considered. It is found in Genesis:48:19. In speaking of Abraham's grandchildren, the Bible says, "He also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations."
This verse spells out a prophetic blessing upon Abraham's descendants that defines a role of historical greatness.These verses speak of a people who would become "great" and a kindred people who would become a "multitude of nations." We see spelled out verses that depict the modern rise of the special relationship communities of the United States (Manasseh) and the famous alliance of nations known as the British Commonwealth (Ephraim).
But greatness does not just occur. God utilizes men and women throughout human history to bring about His will and purpose. God intervenes in the human chronicle through the hearts and minds of people. Romans:13:1 exemplifies God's finger on the pulse of history by stating, "For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God."
Throughout the biblical narrative we think of Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Tiberius and Herod. What about George Washington? No, he is not biblically mentioned by name, but can we consider that he was directly used by God? Was he "appointed" by God to a role in His plan of establishing the "greatness" of modern day Manasseh? A "greatness" that would be molded by his personal walk through the historical fresh snow laid before him at the dawn of the American Revolution? Let's peek back in history and understand the tracks that Washington laid for future generations to follow.
The Man Behind the Picture
Today, many people when confronted with George Washington, think of the man with the stern face painted by Gilbert Stuart that appears on America's one dollar bills. As a landed gentleman, he would become first a general and later the first president of the United States. This is indeed a limiting picture, and to limit Washington is to limit ourselves. Rather than being stuck with the visual picture of the colonnades of Mt. Vernon, let's understand that Washington was born in humbler surroundings, being born into a much lower rung of Virginia gentry. We might say towards the bottom.
At his father's early death, in accordance with the British custom, most of the inheritance of family domain went to his half-brother Lawrence. Washington's formal education was over at age 15. But he did an amazing thing. He wrote out a collection of European maxims which he titled "The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation." This exercise would instill in him a moral fabric in relating to other human beings. It would be his shining star to guide him. This is not too unlike the writing exercise the ancient kings of Israel were to perform. The instruction of Deuteronomy:17:18-20 states, "Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel."
God's law was more than just rules for rules' sake, but more about relationships. Relationships that would not separate men, but bring them together on the equal plane of "brethren." Washington's list is in no way holy writ, but it contains a lot of wisdom pertaining to personal dealings with others. Let's read a few of the rules he wrote:
"In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet." "Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop." My favorite is, "Spit not in the fire, nor stoop low before it, neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire especially if there be meat before it."
What is interesting is the sense of value placed on outgoing concern towards others. These "proverbs" of the classical era would offer Washington a sensitized moral compass of "justice, judgment and equity;" as mentioned in the Bible and offer "to the young man knowledge and discretion-A wise man will hear and increase learning"(Proverbs:1:4-5). At a time when colonial America was still inventing itself, this young man was likewise self-examining and personally inventive. He recognized that if he were to succeed and be a person of worth he would have to establish standards and values. Values that would work later in life for him-recognizing that you do not find your values in a trial or situation, but you take them into the arena with you. The common self invention of the man and the nation would cross paths on the snow field of history 40 years down the line.
Prepared For Future Battles
As a young man, Washington had burning ambition and a self-importance that moved him through the ranks of the colonial militia. His time spent in the French and Indian War would both prepare him for future battle and place a curb on his ego, as he experienced both triumph and failure. After the war, he married well, having taken Martha Custis to wife. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he became commander of the Continental Army. As an interesting part of focused leadership, he had the Declaration of Independence read aloud to every soldier so that he might know what was at stake.
This would be very important in the bumpy road to independence from the British Empire. Early on, he would be chased from Brooklyn, lose Manhattan, flee across New Jersey, and pick up a couple of victories at Princeton and Trenton. But always his biggest victory would be keeping the army together. Imagine an army composed of merchants, farmers, backwoodsmen, including every ethnic and racial group in America (still in some cases speaking their native tongue), all from 13 different sovereign states. Yankees from New England, Dutch from New York, Germans from Pennsylvania, Scots-Irish from the South, Swedes from Delaware, and African-Americans seeking a piece of the dream for liberty .
But all this would come to a grinding halt in the snows of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, in the winter of 1777. Washington despaired, "The game will be pretty well up!" The British General Howe was outside Philadelphia, Congress had fled to Baltimore, and there before him in the snow was the sight of "men, without clothes, to cover their nakedness; without blankets to lay on; without shoes, by which their marches might be traced, by the blood from their feet." His army had shrunk to 3,000 men, and more were deserting daily. What had happened to that bright and wondrous picture of liberty? What had happened to the pure and glistening wonderment of government not based upon birth, but government based upon personal ability?
Like the snow, Washington now had to step out and make tracks where no man had gone before. Encouragement would come from a young, French nobleman, the Marquis de Lafayette. It is said that at one particularly low point the Marquis reminded his general that "the eyes of Europe are upon you!" Every step was being watched, every footprint in the snow was being analyzed by a world which had never known anything other than kings, emperors, czars and khans. Proverbs:29:18 says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Sometimes we need to remind one another exactly "why are we here?" In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey calls it "beginning with the end in mind." Herbert Armstrong called it "keeping the big picture." Remember, you don't find your values in a trial, you take them in with you. First Corinthians 3:13 vividly reminds us, "Each one's work will become clear: for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is."
The Most Famous Man in the World
The "greatness factor" of this one man's personal walk through the snow was yet to come a few years down the line. It came in 1783. The war was won and the long drawn-out peace accord was finally ratified. What Washington did next would astound the world. He simply got off his horse and went home to his beloved Mt. Vernon. This made him the most famous man in the world. The greatest victory he accomplished was letting go of power. This had rarely been done before. The snow was fresh and Washington carefully and surely laid a great print for others to follow. He was the modern day Cincinnatus, the Latin farmer of Roman lore. According to history as it comes down to us, Cincinnatus had victoriously defended Rome against her enemies at her gate and was invited to become ruler. But, he went back to his farm saying only that he had done his duty. What would you have done?
In English history, having disposed of King Charles, Oliver Cromwell stayed on his horse at the head of the New Model Army and became Lord Protector. Napoleon a few years down the line would stay on his horse and go from being "first citizen of the republic" to Emperor. In the course of the American Revolution as sole commander, Washington had outlasted eight presidents of the Continental Congress. On December 23, 1783, at Annapolis, Maryland, Washington ceremoniously handed back to the president of Congress the parchment commission he had received in Philadelphia on June 15, 1775. He had never lost the vision. For this man, giving up power was more ennobling than winning a war. It is said that King George III asked the American painter Benjamin West what General Washington was likely to do when peace came. Would he stay with the army, would he become head of state? West replied, "Washington will probably return home to his farm." King George responded, "If Washington does that, he will become the most famous man in the world."
Rather than merely comparing Washington's example to Cincinnatus, let's focus on Christ's words in Matthew:20:25-28. "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave-just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
Whether or not Washington fully recognized it, he was following someone else's tracks that had been laid out long before his.
For the remainder of his life, George Washington realized he would have incredible responsibility in how he conducted himself and used his fame and notoriety. He would be called on again and again to "walk through the snow." In 1785, two years after the final peace treaty had been signed, with the country tottering in its disunited infancy under the Articles of Confederation, he stated, "I can foresee no evil greater than disunion." Here were 13 loosely confederated states of America now more afraid of one another than the nearby lingering shadow of the British Empire. How could they ever unite? As he would state, "the fate of unborn millions" would rest on their deliberations. Here was an individual of growth and invention that would spend his life in transformation from a British subject, to a man of the South from Virginia, to a Nationalist.
Character Does Count
But as all the wrinkles were slowly ironed away at Philadelphia's Constitutional Convention, a lingering nerve of contention remained before the delegates. Having cast off (in Colonial eyes) a tyrant, would they ever again dare invest authority in an executive power? Washington's powerful life example spoke louder than any good arguments. It would not be by his grasp for power or intellectual wit that he would ascend to the presidency—but simply by "quiet tracks in the snow" laid over a lifetime.
Pierce Butler, of South Carolina, thought the president's powers were "full, great, and greater than I was disposed to make them. Nor do I believe they would have been so great had not many of the members cast their eyes towards General Washington as President; and shaped their ideas of the Powers to be given a President by their opinions of his virtue." From the beginning America's concept of the presidency, was the idea of virtue—let's put it plainly—character. The standard would be—not simply what you do—but what you are. This was the only way a young and frightened nation could come to terms with trusting an executive leader. Washington's lifetime of self invention based upon his "Rules of Civility" had served him and the nation well.
Today, during and after the recent impeachment hearings and trial, there is talk of "compartmentalization"—the notion that all the parts of one's life do not necessarily have to connect, that moral character and job competency do not have to be in one man. This is simply not the original American equation of republican ideal and it is certainly not biblically founded. Notice the power of cause and effect as outlined in Proverbs:29:2: "When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, the people groan."
Washington's stepping off his horse, and later his stepping away from the executive office after his second term, set forever the mode of America's greatness of being gallant enough to conquer the problems that lay in her path, but also to have the ability to muster the "right stuff" and go back home when the task was accomplished.
Snow is a wondrous attraction. So are the revolutions of history. What appears wondrous can take a sharp turn towards disaster. Many revolutions would follow the American experiment. Hope would turn to despair as tyrants of royal blood would be replaced with demagogues with radical blood flowing in their veins. Much of Latin America would devolve for nearly two centuries into military dictatorships. The great revolutions of France and Russia would go through stages of moderation to radicalism-ending with much of their citizenry losing their lives, because of the lack of a galvanizing example of moderation like Washington's. Imagine a "modern day Manasseh" whose civilians would report to the military or whose chief executive maintained total power for a lifetime. Then, think again of one man's influence as he walked in the snow for a nation to follow. WNP
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