First General Assembly Writes George Washington
Back on May 21, we wrote about the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which met in Philadelphia in 1789. It is interesting that part of their corporate decisions as a church was to send a letter on May 26, 1789 to President George Washington. Its author of Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
After referring to President’s Washington military career and his unselfish surrender to the popular will of the people, it reads, “But we desire a presage even more flattering from the piety of your character. Public virtue is the most certain means of public felicity, and religion is the surest basis of virtue. We therefore esteem it a peculiar happiness to behold in our chief magistrate a steady, uniform, avowed friend of the Christian religion; who has commenced his administration in rational and exalted sentiments of piety, and who in his private conduct adorns the doctrines of the gospel of Christ, and, on the most public and solemn occasions, devoutly acknowledges the government of Divine providence.
It goes on to say “the example of distinguished characters will ever possess a powerful and extensive influence on the public mind; and when we see in such a conspicuous station the amiable example of piety to God, of benevolence to men, and of a pure and virtuous patriotism, we naturally hope that it will diffuse its influence, and that, eventually, the most happy consequences will result from it. To the force of imitation we will endeavor to add the wholesome instructions of religion. We shall consider ourselves as doing an acceptable service to God, in our profession, when we contribute to render men sober, honest, and industrious citizens and the obedient subjects of a lawful government. In these pious labors we hope to imitate the most worthy of our brethren from other Christian denominations, and to be imitated by them; assured that if we can, by mutual and generous emulation, promote truth and virtue, we shall render a great and important service to the republic, shall receive encouragement from every wise and good citizen, and above all, meet the approbation of our Divine Master.
In conclusion, the Assembly said, “we pray Almighty God to have you always in His holy keeping. May He prolong your valuable life, an ornament and a blessing to your country, and at last bestow on you the glorious reward of a faithful servant.”
The teaching and ruling elders of this first general assembly saw in the first president of this country a Christian president. And so they wrote him on this day at the same time the first Federal Congress was meeting.
Also on this date:
26 May 1858 — The United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) was formed by union of the northern aspect of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church with the Associate Presbyterian Church. Their union was formalized in an assembly held in the Old City Hall in Pittsburgh, 26 May 1858. A century later, the denomination concluded its existence in 1958 when it merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to form the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., on 28 May 1958.