How much do you know about the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America?
I have received permission from the publisher to reproduce the following text from pages 182-187 of the book Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States:
As a Christian legislator, statesman, and judge, exerted a large and active influence in the Revolution, and in founding and administering the civil government of the United States. In private and public life he was an eminent Christian. His recognition of God and belief in the Christian religion were striking elements of his character.
“Whoever,” said he, “compares our present with our former constitution will find abundant reasons to rejoice in the exchange, and readily admit that all the calamities incident to this war will be amply compensated by the many blessings flowing from this revolution.
“We should always remember that the many remarkable and unexpected means and events by which our wants have been supplied and our enemies repelled or restrained are such strong and striking proofs of the interposition of Heaven, that our having been hitherto delivered from the threatened bondage of Britain ought to be forever ascribed to its true cause (the favor of God), and, instead of swelling our breasts with arrogant ideas of our prowess and importance, kindle in them a flame of gratitude and piety which may consume all remains of vice and irreligion.”
During a most gloomy period of the Revolution, when New York was in the hands of the British, and Washington was retreating through New Jersey, with an almost naked army, and the country desponding, Jay animated his countrymen with such stirring words as the following—
“Under the auspices of divine Providence your forefathers removed to the wilds and wilderness of America. By their industry they made it a fruitful, and by their virtues a happy, country; and we should still have enjoyed the blessings of peace and plenty, if we had not forgotten the source from which these blessings flowed, and permitted our country to be contaminated by the many shameful vices which have prevailed among us. It is a well-known fact that no virtuous people were ever oppressed, and it is also true that a scourge was never wanting to those of an opposite character. Even the Jews, those favorites of Heaven, met with the frowns whenever they forgot the smiles of their benevolent Creator. They for their wickedness were permitted to be scourged; and we for our wickedness are scourged by tyrants as cruel and implacable as theirs. If we turn from our sins, God will turn from his anger. Then will our arms be crowned with success, and the pride and power of our enemies, like the pride and arrogance of Nebuchadnezzar, will vanish away.
“Let a general reformation of manners take place; let universal charity, public spirit, and private virtue be inculcated, encouraged, and practised. Unite in preparing for a vigorous defence of your country as if all depended on you. And when you have done all these things, then rely on the good providence of Almighty God for success, in full confidence that without his blessing all our efforts will inevitably fail.
“Rouse, then, brave citizens! Do your duty like men, and be persuaded that Divine Providence will not let this Western World be involved in the horrors of slavery. Consider that from the earliest ages of the world religious liberty and reason have been bending their course towards the setting sun. The holy gospels are yet to be preached to these western regions; and we have the highest reason to believe that the Almighty will not suffer slavery and the gospel to go hand in hand. It cannot, it will not be.”
In September, 1777, Jay, as Chief-Justice of the Supreme Court of New York, delivered a charge to the Grand Jury of Ulster county, on the political condition of the country. It was given at a time when the Assembly and Senate were convening, and the whole system of government, established by the Constitution of New York, about being put in motion. The grand inquest was composed of the most respectable characters in the county. In that charge are found the following Christian passages—
“Gentlemen—It affords me very sensible pleasure to congratulate you on the dawn of that free, mild, and equal government which now begins to rise and break from amidst those clouds of anarchy, confusion, and licentiousness which the arbitrary and violent domination of the King of Great Britain had spread throughout this and the other American States. This is one of those signal instances in which Divine Providence has made the tyranny of princes instrumental in breaking the chains of their subjects, and rendering the most inhuman designs productive of the best consequences to those against whom they were intended—a revolution which, in the whole course of its rise and progress, is distinguished by so many marks of the divine favor and interposition that no doubt can remain of its being finally accomplished. It was begun, and has been supported, in a manner so singular and, I may say, miraculous, that when future ages shall read its history they will be tempted to consider great part of it as fabulous. Will it not appear extraordinary that thirteen colonies, divided by a variety of governments and manners, should immediately become one people, and, though without funds, without magazines, without disciplined troops, in the face of their enemies, unanimously determine to be free, and, undaunted by the power of Great Britain, refer their cause to the justice of the Almighty, and resolve to repel force by force—thereby presenting to the world an illustrious example of magnanimity and virtue scarcely to be paralleled? However incredible these things may in future appear, we know them to be true, and we should always remember that the many remarkable and unexpected means and events by which our wants have been supplied and our enemies repelled or restrained are such strong and striking proofs of the interposition of Heaven, that our having been hitherto delivered from the threatened bondage of Britain ought, like the emancipation of the Jews from Egyptian servitude, to be forever ascribed to its true Cause, and, instead of swelling our breasts with arrogant ideas of our own prowess and importance, kindle in them a flame of gratitude and piety which may consume all remains of vice and irreligion.
“The Americans are the first people whom Heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon and choosing the forms of government under which they should live. While you possess wisdom to discern and virtue to appoint men of worth and abilities to fill the offices of the state, you will be happy at home and respected abroad. Your life, your liberties, your property, will be at the disposal only of your Creator and yourselves.
“Security under our Constitution is given to the rights of conscience and private judgment. They are by nature subject to no control but that of Deity, and in that free situation they are now left. Every man is permitted to consider, to adore, and to worship his Creator in the manner most agreeable to his conscience. No opinions are dictated, no rules of faith are prescribed, no preference given to one sect to the prejudice of others. The Constitution, however, has wisely declared that the ‘liberty of conscience, thereby granted, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state.’ In a word, the convention by whom that Constitution was formed were of opinion that the gospel of Christ, like the ark of God, would not fall, though unsupported by the arm of flesh; and happy would it be for mankind if that opinion prevailed more generally.
“But let it be remembered that whatever marks of wisdom, experience, and patriotism there may be in the Constitution, yet, like the beautiful symmetry, the just proportions, and elegant forms of our first parents before their Maker breathed into them the breath of life, it is yet to be animated, and, till then, may indeed excite admiration, but will be of no use. From the people it must receive its spirit, and by them be quickened. Let virtue, honor, the love of liberty and science, be and remain the soul of the Constitution, and it will become the source of great and extreme happiness to this and future generations. Vice, ignorance, and want of vigilance will be the only enemies that can destroy it. Against these provide, and of these be forever jealous. Every citizen ought diligently to read and study the Constitution of his country, and teach the rising generation to be free.”
“Providence,” said he, “has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
Mr. Jay, from 1822 till his death in 1827, was President of the Bible Society, and at each annual meeting delivered an address. He demonstrated the divinity of the Bible, showed its relations and results to civil government and human society, and urged its universal circulation as the means to illumine and regenerate the world. He was an active and devout member of the Episcopal Church, but eminently liberal and charitable in his Christian views. His life was a beautiful exhibition of Christian faith, and his public career a noble illustration of the value of Christianity in forming the character and acts of a Christian statesman. Webster said of this eminent Christian jurist, that “when the ermine fell on him it touched nothing less pure than itself.”
He was eminently a man of prayer, and drew up a form, full of spirituality and of Christian truths, as an extract will show—
“Enable me, merciful Father, to understand thy holy gospels, and to distinguish the doctrines thereof from erroneous expositions of them; and bless me with that fear of offending thee, which is the beginning of wisdom. Let thy Holy Spirit purify and unite me to my Saviour forever; and enable me to cleave unto him as unto my very life, as indeed he is. Perfect and confirm my faith, my trust, my hope of salvation in him, and in him only.
“Give me grace to love and obey, and be thankful unto thee, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, and with all my strength, and to worship and to serve thee in humility of spirit, and in truth. Give me grace also to love my neighbor as myself, and wisely and diligently to do the duties incumbent on me according to thy holy will, and not from worldly consideration. Condescend, merciful Father, to grant, as far as proper, these imperfect petitions, these inadequate thanksgivings, and to pardon whatever of sin hath mingled in them, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour, unto whom, with thee and the blessed Spirit, even one God, be rendered all honor and glory, now and forever.”
In his dying hour, he was asked if he had any farewell counsels to leave his children. His reply was, “THEY HAVE THE BOOK.”