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President of Congress Starts Bible Society

May 11, 1816
President of Congress elected first President of American Bible Society

Thanksgiving week is National Bible Week in America. This annual observance was initiated by the American Bible Society, an organization formed by American Founding Fathers with Elias Boudinot, a former President of the Continental Congress, as its first president. Boudinot penned a letter to the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society on May 5, 1817. That letter is presented in this article with the hope that the reader will obtain a deepening appreciation for the Christian spirit of the men and women who birthed America and the character which they hoped to perpetuate within the nation. Click to read the entire article…

Elias Boudinot had been an American patriot, lawyer, and politician who had served as President of the Continental Congress. Though state and local Bible societies had existed as early as 1808, Elias Boudinot possessed a vision for a Bible society that was broader in scope, and in a letter to William Jay, the son of John Jay, America’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Boudinot helped to lay the plans for what was to become the American Bible Society. More than a month after Boudinot composed his letter to William Jay, a meeting was convened in New York City to organize “a general Bible Society” in America, and on May 11, 1816, the newly formed American Bible Society elected Elias Boudinot as its first president. Boudinot served in this capacity until his death five years later, after which time America’s first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Jay, assumed the presidency.

Prevented by poor health from attending, Elias Boudinot penned a letter to the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society on May 5, 1817. That letter is presented below with the hope that the reader will obtain a deepening appreciation for the Christian spirit of the men and women who birthed America and the character which they hoped to perpetuate within the nation.

Article Contents

Letter from Elias Boudinot

Letter from the Honorable Elias Boudinot,

President of the American Bible Society

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Elias Boudinot

Among the innumerable blessings of this life wherewith it hath pleased a gracious God to favor me, the permitting my union with you in those labors of love, which it is hoped will be made instrumental to the raising a monument to his glory, which may last till the recording angel shall announce to an astonished universe that “it is finished,” is one of the most dear to my heart.

The consoling hope was once cherished that the unspeakable pleasure would, in one instance at least, have been afforded me, in the last decline of life, of meeting with you personally, to have testified my approbation of all your exertions in this glorious work. But a kind and merciful God, who knows all my deficiencies, has thought it best, in his infinite wisdom, to refuse this favor, in which dispensation of his all wise Providence I do most sincerely acquiesce, firmly believing it will be most conducive to his own glory and the best interests of the institution committed to our care.

I once thought I had much to communicate to you, but the extreme debility of both mind and body prevents my attempting it. Suffer me, however, as a last effort, however weak and feeble, to say few words before I go hence.

It is not vanity in me to say that I have labored hard and suffered much in this great cause, occasioned is some measure by a very low state of health; yet such has been the apparent interposition of an overruling Providence, that my faith and hope have never failed, even in the darkest days; and although there have been great temptations to despair of final success, yet have I been so strengthened with the assurance that it was a work of God, and that he would show his power and glory in bringing it to maturity in his own time and by his own means, that I had determined, in case of failure in the last attempt, to commence the great business at all events, with the aid of a few laymen who had testified their willingness to go all lengths with me. But no sooner had the work been brought to an issue, than the clouds began to disperse, and every one was obliged to say in his heart, “This is the work of God.”

Thus, my beloved friends, hath God in his own condescending grace appointed us to become his humble instruments in opening the eyes of the blind; in cheering the abodes of primeval darkness with the joyful sounds of redeeming love; in fulfilling the encouraging prophecy of the angel flying through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel in his hands, to preach to all nations, languages, tongues, and people on the earth.

This, indeed, is an event devoutly to be wished, and most gratefully to be acknowledged. That such comparative worms of the dust should become fellow-workers with Christ in making the wilderness to bloflom as a rose, and the nations of the earth to become the nations of our Lord and his Christ, is an honor in which the highest angels would rejoice. Is there, then, the least reason for fearing the great result? Shall anyone be discouraged at the arduous prospect before us? By no means. Look at the disciples of our dearest Lord, and compare their relative situation when they beheld their blessed Master given up to the power of his enemies—condemned as a base malefactor—stretched on the cross, breathing out his precious life in a prayer in favor of his unrelenting persecutors—forsaken by all—every one fleeing to his own home, and one even repeatedly denying his Lord and Master, though forewarned of it but a few hours before!

Realize their forlorn state when surrounding the risen Savior, hearkening to his invaluable instructions; he is suddenly parted from them, and carried up into heaven, and vanishes from their sight. It is true, they are commissioned to go forth and preach the Gospel to every creature—a Gospel in all its parts and each essential feature destructive of every religion on the face of the earth. This is to be preached to a world wholly absorbed in the works of the flesh; wholly inimical to the precepts of the meek and holy Jesus—a world in absolute possession of all temporal power and authority. All this is to be done by twelve poor, helpless, indigent, and illiterate fishermen, without power civil or ecclesiastical, friends, influence, riches, or rank to aid them in calling the public attention to their divine Master, who, though declared to be God as well as man, was crucified as a malefactor, condemned by the known judicatories of their country. But will it be said that they had the personal assurance of their Almighty Savior for their encouragement and support against all the powers of earth and hell? Yes, my friends, they had; and a blessed support it was, and under it they withstood and overcame the world. And have you not equal, if not superior cause of trust and hope? Have you not all the promises made to them, with the advantage of their experience and success in the fulfillment of all that he said and did, beyond their most exaggerated expectations? Has your Savior lost his power and authority, or has he not given as much confidence and reliance on his continual presence and almighty arm to you as he ever did to his disciples of old? Is he not the same yesterday, today, and forever?

“As long as real brotherly love shall continue and prevail among you, all the arts of the enemy of man’s happiness may be defied.”
—Elias Boudinot

As for my own part, I have been looking for greater opposition and causes of mortification than any that have yet appeared. I know the seductive power of the evil one, and the artful cunning of his devices. An opposition, indeed, has come from quarters whence we ought not to have expected it; indeed, it has been, as yet, too feeble to excite the fear or cool the zeal of God’s people. But, brethren, we are all too well acquainted with the cunning and subtlety of the great enemy of the Gospel to suppose that he will thus early give up his designs. No; but as you have put on the armor of God, you must not put it off till you have obtained a complete, a decided victory. You must be guarded at all points. Woe be to them who shall be the cause of your trouble. Satan’s principal endeavors will be to sow divisions among you; he will attack your union, by which you destroy his strong hold, in breaking down the walls of partition that have so long separated and wounded the Church of Christ. He will fear your apparent cordial love and esteem for each other. As long as real brotherly love shall continue and prevail among you, all the arts of the enemy of man’s happiness may be defied. Guard well the weakest part of your citadel; forget not the solemn injunction of the captain of your salvation, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” Stand on your guard; let no argument persuade you; let no vain alarm of danger to your interests intimidate you. Greater is he who is for you than he who is against you. I do know, and have carefully attended to your probable progress. You have an arduous, but a glorious work and labor of love before you; this will necessarily engage all your powers and all your spare time; but look to the great recompense of reward. That you are striving for eternity, not only for yourselves, but for a world lying in sin, who may, at the great day of account, be found surrounding the throne of the Eternal with hallelujahs and thanksgiving, that you were the cause of their coming to the knowledge of the Gospel. Forget not that your Lord and Master has all power given to him, both in heaven and on earth; that under his guardian care—that under the banner of his cross, you are to go forth and complete the triumphs of redeeming love.

Once more suffer me to beseech you to promote love and harmony in your society as your strong bond of union. God is love. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Let it become a common proverb, “See how these members of the American Bible Society love one another, though consisting of every denomination of Christians among us.” Let a motto be written in letters of gold on the most prominent part of your hall of deliberation, “By this shall all men know ye are my disciples, if ye love one another.” If this, then, is the great characteristic mark of discipleship with Christ, who will refuse to wear the badge as the most desirable trait in his character? The second advent of the Savior is comparatively near—the harbingers of his approach begin to appear. Hear the language of Jesus himself: “For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then shall he reward every man according to his works. Hereafter ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” St. Paul commendeth the Thessalonians for their faith Godward, and waiting for his Son from heaven. “For this we say unto you, by the words of the Lord, If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so (as certainly) they also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him, for this we say unto you, by the word of the Lord, that the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” I rejoice with you, that to accomplish this glorious end, to hasten this blessed event, and to become fellow workers with God, we are assisting in laying the foundation for spreading the Gospel throughout the habitable globe, that the earth may be covered with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the seas, when we may all sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of our Lord.

And now, brethren, beloved in the Lord, I commit you to the grace of that God who hath preserved my life to my seventy eighth year as a living monument of his sparing mercy and goodness, to witness your zeal, activity, and perseverance in his service. May the broad hand of the Almighty cover you; may his Holy Spirit guide, direct, and influence you in all your deliberations and undertakings, and make you burning and shining lights in his Israel. And when the great Shepherd of the sheepfold shall call in his ancient people, the Jews, from the four quarters of the world, may you be found among the number of those who shall he made kings and priests to God.

And now, my beloved friends and brethren, suffer me to leave you, under the pleasing expectation that we shall meet again, to unite in that song of everlasting praise that shall proceed from the trump of the archangel, when he shall sound the glorious anthem of hallelujah! hallelujah! hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.

Soli Dei Gloria et Honor.

Elias Boudinot, President

To the Board of Managers of the American Bible Society

Burlington, 5th May, 1817[1]

Conclusion

Nearly half of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence received their education from Christian schools designed to provide America with educated clergy. This fact is one among thousands that deny the claim that America was started as a secular nation. No nation in world history has applied the principles of the Bible to its national life to the degree that America has applied it. The pages of American history reveal that men and women like Elias Boudinot knew that the American Republic would continue only as long as the Christian principles and character of the Bible were freely advocated. As disclosed in the above letter, Elias Boudinot was eager to ensure that America and the world would have access to the life changing influence of the truths of God’s Word. May God give America—and the nations of the world—leaders who come to a similar appreciation of this truth!

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For Further Consideration

Christian Heritage Fellowship, Inc., Christian Quotes from the Founding Fathers. Christian Quotes from the Founding Fathers is a brief summary of some of the most important Founding Fathers concerning their Christian convictions and public life. Businesses, churches, organizations, and individuals may help correct the deception of the Left with primary quotations. Get your brochures today and help share the truth concerning America's Christian heritage. This product is available in bulk pricing for mass distribution.  Read more...
Stephen A. Flick, Ph.D., America's Founding Fathers and the Bible. Contrary to the contemporary mantra that America was birthed as a secular nation, the historical evidence demonstrates that America was founded by Christians who wished to enjoy the liberty to freely express their Christian faith. Lamentably, Christians have forgotten and neglected the Christian heritage bequeathed to them by America's Founding Fathers and have allowed secularists to disparage and deny what was given to them at such a great price. America's Founding Fathers and the Bible briefly describes a portion of America's Christian heritage, particularly during the rise of nationalism when America was shaping its national government.  Read more...
Stephen A. Flick, Ph.D., When the United States Capitol Was a Church. So deep and strong was the relationship of government to the Christian faith in America that the relationship was recognized in a variety of ways. Few realize that the United States Capitol was used as a church for years before it was used to convene the United States Congress. For nearly three-quarters of a century, the United States Capitol was used for church services. In fact, it became a meeting place for a number of churches in Washington, D. C. While secularists wish to keep this and many other similar historical facts quiet, the sincere Christian will wish to celebrate the spiritual heritage our Founding Fathers have bequeathed to us.  Read more...

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Article Notes and Sources

[1] W Strickland, History of the American Bible Society From Its Organization to the Present Time (New York: Harper and Bros., 1849), 349-352.

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Podcast: ‘President of Congress Starts Bible Society,’ by Dr. Stephen Flick.

Written by Dr. Stephen FlickNumber of posts: 185
Stephen Flick heads Christian Heritage Fellowship, a national organization dedicated to reclaiming America’s Christian Heritage and celebrating the life-changing influence of the Gospel around the world. Concerned with the cultural decay of America, Dr. Flick has sought to provide answers to fellow Christians (and unbelievers) concerning the questions and objections to Christianity often posed by secularists and the irreligious. Dr. Flick is a writer and speaker and has authored numerous articles and books on America’s Christian heritage. He earned his Ph.D. from Drew University in history and Christian theology and has taught at the graduate level as full professor. He has been a licensed minster for nearly forty years and resides in East Tennessee with his wife, Beth. They have two grown, married children and five grandchildren.

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