by Marshall Foster
While many of our families are together this season, we have a wonderful opportunity to remember that we hold the keys to the future within our family “dynasties.” Psalm 108 (AMP) speaks of David’s “dynasty.” Throughout the centuries, the godly strategy of defeating evil has always been a bottom-up, generational, exponential, internal to external, family plan. God’s worldwide covenant of blessing was initiated through His servant Abraham. The Lord said He would not hide His plans from Abraham because He knew that Abraham would command and teach his children.
The most powerful force in America is not our government, our economy or our military. The force that has created the freest nations in history is the peaceful and virtually unreported armies of godly families. We can take leadership over all areas of society, if we mentor our families and friends to live out the Great Commission in the culture as well as the church. Here is a story to inspire and challenge your family. Notice the power of only a few individuals from one family tree that helped create two great nations.
John Knox, a former bodyguard and defrocked priest turned reformer, returned to his native Scotland, in 1560. He had spent 15 years in prison and exile. He preached the liberating gospel with such power from the pulpit of St.Giles Cathedral that much of his nation was converted. The culture and form of government itself was transformed in a decade.
Four generations later, one of John Knox’s great granddaughters married a minister named John Witherspoon. By this time, in the 1740’s, Scotland had once again entered a time of economic turmoil, famine and persecution from its powerful overlord to the south, England. The Witherspoon/Knox family endured trials and even imprisonment, as they worked to revive the true faith in their homeland. They persevered. Elizabeth and John had ten children. Five made it out of childhood.
Right before the founding of America, John and Elizabeth were called to America so that he could become the President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University). In the 1760’s the Colonies were being pushed toward war with England. They were on the verge of either creating the world’s first constitutional republic or falling back into the European model of divine right kings and impoverished commoners. But if the Colonists were to succeed they would need political, military and spiritual leaders that would surpass any in history.
Witherspoon, as the head of the College of New Jersey, became the teacher of those future leaders. He combined a deep faith in the Biblical Christianity of the Reformation with an understanding of how to apply that faith to every academic discipline, including nation-building. During his tenure there were 478 graduates of his college. With only three professors including himself, John was able to mentor all who came to his school using the tutorial method in six academic fields. Then he was able to preach to them each Sunday in the church on campus. Of his graduates, at least 86 became active in civil government and included: one president (James Madison), one vice-president (Aaron Burr), 10 cabinet officers, 21 senators, 39 congressmen, 12 governors, a Supreme Court justice, and one attorney general.
Nearly one-fifth of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, one-sixth of the delegates of the Constitutional Convention, and one-fifth of the first Congress under the Constitution were graduates of the College of New Jersey. It can truly be said that John Witherspoon discipled his new nation by training the leaders, just as his ancestor, John Knox, had done in Scotland 200 years before.
Along with leading a college, and being a national leader of the Presbyterian Church, John threw his efforts into the political drive for freedom. He was elected to the Continental Congress and sat on 100 different committees. As the debate over independence raged in Philadelphia, on July 2, 1776, John stood to his feet and declared, “We are ripe for independence and in danger of becoming rotten for want of it—if we delay any longer!” He was the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence (22 others had ministerial training.) The British took their revenge out on him the next year as they ravaged his college and burned his personal and college libraries. He also lost two of his sons in the War for Independence.
John Witherspoon was an indispensable player used by God to help found this freest and most blessed of all nations. His words on a national day of prayer in 1776 still ring with the spiritual power of his relative, the fiery reformer of Scotland. “While we give praise to God, the supreme disposer of all events, for His interposition on our behalf, let us guard against the dangerous error of trusting in, or boasting of, an arm of flesh [human power]…. If your cause is just, if your principles are pure, and if your conduct is prudent, you need not fear the multitude of opposing hosts.”
John Witherspoon’s words and life speak to us from the “great cloud of witnesses.” This is our day on the stage of history. God is orchestrating world events and our lives so that “all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
I believe that around our dining tables this season are seated the “Knoxes” and “Witherspoons” of our day who will be used to disciple the nations in our time. May God give us the eyes to recognize them and the commitment to train them, while they are still in our sphere of influence!