This Day in Presbyterian History: June 24
An Honest Man was His Epitaph
He was the fifty-fifth delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence, even though he signed the historic document three months after July 4, 1776. He was a Presbyterian, and a faithful member of the Presbyterian Church of Londonderry, New Hampshire. He was in local, state, and Federal governments, serving his fellow citizens. But beyond all these kudos, it was said that he was “consistent and zealous Christian.” He was Matthew Thornton.
Born in Ireland of Scottish ancestry, from the northern Ireland Protestant section of that country, Matthew Thornton was brought to this country by his parents at the age of three. Settling in what later on became Maine, God’s providence preserved them from hostile Indian attacks. Once, his parents and Matthew had to flee a burning cabin to save their lives. They all moved to Worcester, Massachusetts. Later they moved to Londonderry, New Hampshire in 1740, where Matthew would live for the next four decades.
Studying medicine there, Matthew Thornton became a successful physician. Even through this, he served his country, accompanying New Hampshire militia as they fought the French. In other regiments, death came heavily through fighting and disease, but in Dr. Thornton’s regiment, only six soldiers lost their life in the campaign, due to the skill of this man.
With the rise of the American Independence movement, he entered politics, but not in a way so as to divorce his biblical background. He would serve in local and state government, as justice of the peace, chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and a member of the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Provincial Congress. In fact, he was the President of the last Provincial Congress.
Elected next to the Continental Congress, he went to Philadelphia where on November 4, 1776, he signed the Declaration of Independence. He served his one year but refused a second year in the national body.
As a Christian, it has been said that “no man was more deeply impressed with a belief in the existence and bounties of an overruling Providence” than Matthew Thornton. He used Providence as a synonym of God here, as many of our forefathers did.
Married to Hannah Jack, the union produced five children. He died on June 24, 1803. Upon his grave stone is the epitaph, “An Honest Man.”
Words to Live By: As the country approached war with England, Thomas Thornton wrote a letter to all the citizens of New Hampshire, telling them that they needed to come together as Christians and rest upon their faith. The separation of church from state did not mean separation of the state from the God of the Bible. We must be diligent to interpret that familiar expression in the right sense of which it was understood by our forefathers.
Through the Scriptures: 2 Kings 7 – 10
Through the Standards: Preface to the Ten Commandments
WLC 101 — “What is the preface to the ten commandments?
A. The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Wherein God manifests his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivers us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.”
WSC 43 — “What is the preface to the ten commandments?
A. The preface to the ten commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” ; S.C. 44 “The preface to the ten commandments teaches us, That because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.”