February 21, 2004
The Faith of George
Sunday is George Washington's real birthday, an appropriate time to consider
the faith of America's most important founding father.
At age 13 George transcribed "110 Rules for Young Gentlemen," written by
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits in the 1590's. George memorized
them. They teach that man is God's servant who lives not for self, but for
others. They became part of his character:
"Let your conversation be without malice or envy...
"When you speak of God or His attributes, be serious and speak with words of
"Let your recreations be manful, and not sinful.
At age 20, he wrote prayers to say each morning and evening. On Sunday
mornings he prayed: "...pardon, I beseech Thee, my sins; remove them from
Thy presence, as far as the east is from the west, and accept me for the
merits of Thy son, Jesus Christ..."
At 23, Captain Washington was caught in a surprise ambush by the French and
Indians near what is now Pittsburgh. Every British and American officer was
shot but Washington though he rode back and forth across the battlefield.
George later wrote to his brother, "By the all powerful dispensations of
Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or
expectation, for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot
under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on
every side of me."
On July 2, 1776 he told his troops: "The fate of unborn millions will now
depend, under God, on the courage of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting
enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance or the most abject
submission. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die."
Seven weeks later British General Howe had trapped Washington and his 8,000
troops on Brooklyn Heights, ready to crush them the next morning. Washington
gathered every vessel from fishing to row boats and spent all night ferrying
his army across the East River. By morning many troops were still exposed to
"In a most unusual change in weather, the fog did not lift from the river.
It stayed thick, covering Washington's retreat until the entire army had
evacuated and escaped," writes William Federer in his inspiring book,
"America's God and Country." Never again did the British have such a rare
chance to win the war.
During the freezing winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, a dozen soldiers died a
day, with many not having blankets or shoes. "Feet and legs froze till they
became black," and were amputated wrote a Committee from Congress. A Quaker
named Isaac Potts came upon Washington upon his knees in the snow, praying
aloud for his beloved country. He thanked God for exalting him to the head
of a great nation which was fighting at fearful odds.
The Quaker told his wife of the sight: "Till now I have thought that a
Christian and a solider were characters incompatible, but if George
Washington not be a man of God I am mistaken, and still more I shall be
disappointed if God does not through him perform some great thing for this
On May 5, 1778 Washington learned that the French would join America as
allies. The General told his troops, "It having pleased the Almighty Ruler
of the universe to defend the cause of the United American States, and
finally to raise up a powerful friend among the princes of the earth, to
establish our liberty, and independence upon a lasting foundation, it
becomes us to set apart a day for gratefully acknowledging the divine
In 1781 Washington's southern army defeated a detachment of British troops.
Lord Cornwallis was infuriated and began pursuing the outnumbered Americans.
He waited the night at the Catawba River, which the U.S. troops had crossed
just two hours earlier. Miraculously, a storm arose during the night causing
the river to be uncrossable for five days. Cornwallis nearly overtook
Americans at the Yadkin River, but another flood arose, allowing Americans
The French navy seized control of the Chesapeake Aug. 30, 1781, driving out
British ships. Washington rejoiced and besieged Cornwallis' stronghold at
Yorktown. With no ships to escape upon, Cornwallis surrendered.
Washington wrote Congress, "I take a particular pleasure in acknowledging
that the interposing Hand of Heaven...has been most conspicuous and
Washington had more near escapes than victories. Would God have protected
him from bullets, and saved his troops with fog and floods - had he not been
a praying man?