I was reading through the records of the Continental Congress yesterday when I came across a letter written by Elias Boudinot to his 18 year old daughter, Susan. At the time that this letter was written, Boudinot was the President of the Congress. The war with England was coming to a close, and within six months, Boudinot would sign the Treaty of Paris to bring about the official end of the Revolutionary War. In the years following, Boudinot was elected to the first Congress where he helped frame the Bill of Rights. Many people are familiar with Boudinot’s statement that:
Good government generally begins in the family, and if the moral character of a people once degenerate, their political character must soon follow.
But few are aware of how diligent he was at putting this philosophy into practice. This letter, written during a debate in the Congress over which he presided, reveals that Boudinot never let his duties as the leader of the nation take precedence over his greatest duty as the spiritual leader of his family.
Philadelphia Octr. 30th. 1782
My dearest Susan,
Your Letter of the 19th Instt. lies unanswered, altho' I am still a Letter ahead of you, but as it is said, in an invaluable Book of Antiquity, that the Elder shall serve the Younger, perhaps you may think it right, that I should go on, bringing you in debt.
I propose this Letter as a serious one--I have for some time past been led by Circumstances, to reflect more seriously on the prospect of you launching into life, and leaving your Fathers Roof, as well as his immediate Protection & Guardianship.
I have reflected how far, I have done my Duty in executing the Trust committed to me, by the great Governor of the Universe in your Education--in a proper Provision for you in Life, in preparing you for usefulness in whatever Station it may please God to call you--and laying a rational foundation, by the aid of Divine Grace, for your enjoyment of a glorious & happy Immortality in the life to Come. Through the unmerited Blessing of a kind Providence, I cannot blame myself greatly, for any deficiency in your Education and Provision for Life--Nature wants but little and not that little long. I have confidence in you, that if you make good use of and continue improving those Abilities & that knowledge you now possess, your usefulness in this Life under God, may be of some Importance to your Fellow Creatures.
But my dear Child, all these are but secondary Objects. How stands it as to your preparation for and hope in the prospects of a joyfull Immortality--I can assure you in all the Sincerity of Truth, that you have been from your first Conception, dedicated to God, as his peculiar Property. At your Birth (which was a Miracle of Mercy, and deserves your whole Soul, as a living Monument thereof) you was repeatedly, by the most solemn Acts of religious Worship in the fear of God, given up to him. Your Baptism in the Face of the Church of Christ, was an Express Covenant with God in Christ on your Behalf, by which you Altogether became the Lord's--Your Parents became bound on your Part, and I devoutly trust that the Contract stands ratified in Heaven. You have been instructed from your Childhood in the knowledge of your Lost State by Nature--the absolute necessity of a Change of Heart, and an entire renovation of Soul, to the Image of Jesus Christ--of Salvation, thro' his meritorious Righteousness only--and the indispensable necessity of personal Holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.
You are well acquainted that the most perfect & consummate Doctrinal Knowledge, is of no avail, without it operates on & sincerely affects the Heart--Changes the Practice--and totally influences the Will--and that without the almighty Power of the Spirit of God, enlightening your Mind, subduing your Will, and continually drawing you to himself--you can do nothing. Altho' at the same Time, your own Constant unwearied Endeavours after Holiness and perpetual Applications to a merciful Saviour for this Aid, are as necessary as if you could accomplish your own Salvation by your own Works.
Blessed be God, this has been your happy Lot, but my dearest Susan, all our Tears, Prayers, Dedications, Instructions, Example, & Admonitions will not accomplish the Event so devoutly to be wished. What have You done, in your own Person, since you have come to the Age of discretion? Have you confirmed the all gracious Covenant. Have you justified your Parents, in the multiplied Acts of devoting you to God? They have travailed in Birth a second time with you, till you should be born again to newness of Life. Your baptismal Covenant was the Act of your Parents, in your Name & Behalf, but it is high Time, that this Act of your Parents should be acknowledged & renewed by you, in the solemn dedication of yourself in the Lords Supper.
This is an Ordinance designed as a solemn Seal of the same Covenant, as if designed by your Baptism. They are both Seals of the same Covenant, and a worthy Subject, of one is a worthy subject of the other. I have a most earnest desire, that this important Event in your Life, should take place before you launch into the world, and leave your Father's assiduous care, that he may be blessed, with seeing the work completed, as far as human endeavours can go. That you may go forth under the protection of the God of Heaven, as his peculiar inheritance by your own Act, in Compliance with his positive Command "Do this in remembrance of me."
I was led to this train of reflection by a Sermon I lately heard on this Subject--the only one I remember that fully came up to my Sentiments and which I verily believe is founded on the Truth of the Gospell. My Anxiety for your accomplishing (and that without delay) your whole Duty, made me wish most heartily, you could have heard it delivered, because it might have removed all scruples, which too often injure young & tender minds. To shew you my warmest desires for your Spiritual Growth in Grace and that you may go from under my immediate Care, the Subject of the divine special Grace & Government, I have amidst all the Variety of my important concerns, by taking from the Hours of the Night, endeavoured to commit the Sermon to Writing for your careful perusal & Improvement. Read it with Attention--Consider it well--It is the Truth and the Truth will set you free.
Be not deceived or discouraged. You are in Covenant with God by the Act of your Parents--I hope by your own private Acts. Be not afraid to go to him as you[r] Father--your Friend & your God. Remember that it is in the use of his own Appointed Means, that we are to expect the Blessing. And may the God of your Parents (for many Generations past) seal Instruction to your Soul and lead you to himself thro' the Blood of his too greatly despised Son, who notwithstanding, is still reclaiming the World to God thro' that Blood, not imputing to them their Sins. To him be Glory forever.
I have wrote this in Congress, amidst a Warm debate, to which I have been obliged to attend, at the same time, therefore, you must make the necessary corrections yourself.
My kind Love to all who think it worth while to inquire after me.
Am my Dearest Susan,
Your very Afft. Father,
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)