Article from Thirsty Theologian blog:
I am not among those who believe that the United States were founded by Christians as a Christian nation. I do not doubt that some of our founders were genuine believers, and I do believe our Constitution represents the closest thing possible to Christian government, if there could be such a thing. However, the Constitution is not the Word of God, and many of the founders — Thomas Pain, for one notable example, and Thomas Jefferson — were definitely not Christians.
Among those that I believe may have been believers is John Adams. I’ve just completed David McCullough’s biography of Adams (cleverly titled John Adams). It contains too little information to conclude with certainty that Adams was a genuine believer, but it does paint a picture of a man of great integrity who was humble and, at least after a fashion, a God-fearing man.
Adams suffered much through his life and political career. While President, he experienced the grief caused by his second son’s dissolute life and premature death. He was not a wealthy man as were many of his peers, and he sacrificed a great deal in service to his country. Defeated by Thomas Jefferson in his second run for the Presidency, he left office abused, slandered, and largely unappreciated by his colleagues in the fledgling government. And this after doing more for his country than, in my opinion, any other President to this day. Yet he bore these offenses largely with grace.
McCullough gives us a small window into Adams’s spiritual life in the following passage, which takes place shortly after Adams left office and returned, finally and gratefully, to private life.
He wrote [to his friend and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush] of his renewed enjoyment of Shakespeare—Adams would read Shakespeare twice through again in 1805—and in his continued devotion to Cicero and the Bible. And he dwelt much on ideas. The ideal of the perfectibility of man as expounded by eighteenth-century philosophers—perfectibility “abstracted from all divine authority”—was unacceptable, he declared.
It is an idea of the Christian religion, and ever has been of all believers of the immorality of the soul, that the intellectual part of man is capable of progressive improvement for ever. Where then is the sense of calling the perfectibility of man as used by modern philosophers to be mere words without a meaning, that is mere nonsense.
He had himself, he told Rush, “an immense load of errors, weaknesses, follies and sins to mourn over and repent of.” These were “the only afflictions” of his present life. But St. Paul had taught him to rejoice ever more and be content. “This phrase ‘rejoice ever more’ shall never be out of my heart, memory or mouth again as long as I live, if I can help it. This is my perfectibility of man.”*
Some years later, writing to his son John Quincy, who by then was President, Adams wrote,
Rejoice always in all events, be thankful always for all things is a hard precept for human nature, though in my philosophy and in my religion a perfect duty.†
On the riddles of life, he told his young granddaughter,
You are not so singular in your suspicions that you know but little. The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know. . . . Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough.‡