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Friday, November 9, 2012

What Then, Mr. Webster?

Noah Webster (1758-1843), the "Father of American Scholarship and Education," said education was "useless without the Bible." His American Dictionary of 1828 contained more biblical definitions than any other reference volume of his day (and probably since). In the Preface, Webster wrote: "In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed...No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people."

In the March, 1788, issue of The American Magazine, Webster wrote: "...the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. Education, in a great measure, forms the moral characters of men, and morals are the basis of government." He went on to say: "...it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals, than to correct, by penal statutes, the ill effects of a bad system."

Webster referred to the Bible as "that book which the benevolent Creator has furnished for the express purpose of guiding human reason in the path of safety, and the only book which can remedy, or essentially mitigate, the evils of a licentious world." [Harry R. Warfel, ed., Letter of Noah Webster, pp. 453-57].

In a letter to David McClure, written on October 25, 1836, Webster declared: "Any system of education...which limits instruction to the arts and sciences, and rejects the aids of religion in forming the character of citizens, is essentially defective."

[The photo above, by Billy Hathorn, is of a painting in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., used here under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.]

Speaking of veritas, what exactly is "truth," anyway?

The answer provided by Professors William James of Harvard and John Dewey of Columbia could not be further removed from that of Martin Luther, John Comenius and Noah Webster. For the modern Professors, truth is what works. For you, for society, for the system…it just “depends.”

I suspect most Americans in Webster’s day could not have conceived of the darwinized notion that truth evolves. Some of them, when pressed, would have said truth is “self evident.” For the eighteenth-century mind, schooled in the biblio-centric education of Comenius and company, it would, of course, have seemed that way. But today, what is “self evident” to some is not “self evident” to others.

Webster said "morals are the basis of government." Now here’s an interesting question for you: what happens to a nation when morality becomes “what works for me?”  What then, Mr. Webster?
What then? Then you see nearly half of a class of 279 students cheating at Harvard. Then you see accountants cooking the books at a multi-billion-dollar corporation in Texas. Then you see traders on Wall Street designing financial derivatives that the head of the Federal Reserve Board says he could not comprehend. Then you see 5.2 billion dollars in U.S. tax refund fraud last year. Not to mention no-fault divorce and state-sanctioned sodomy. You see exactly what we see today.

Truth? By what measurement? The measurement of unbridled reason? Or is reason to be submitted to a higher authority: the Book of God's Word, and the book of God's work?   
A couple of years ago, I did some man-and-woman-on-the-street interviews on a sunny afternoon in Seattle, asking a very basic question: “What is right and wrong, and how do you determine the difference?” I found no shortage of people ready and willing to answer on camera, giving written permission to share their comments with you and others.

In well over an hour of nearly back-to-back interviews, I did not find a single individual who made reference to the Bible, or to the God of the Bible. Not one. I invite you to witness what I did. And then spend a moment in prayer for the post-Christian West. Click here.
What do you think? Is there any room left for the idea that morality is based on objective, universal truths that remain the same, yesterday, today and forever? Weigh in below.


  1. Great thoughts Christian. Do you think then, that the only way back to a moral society is through education? And if that is the case, must it be education of children?

    If so, then we have a big battle on our hands to change that system, but then also to wait 20 years until it takes affect.

    I guess my big question is, do you think there is hope for this generation of people trained without that moral base?

  2. Dave,

    I'm of the opinion that we need to go at this thing from all angles. Some people will be focusing on education of children, as I am, others will be focusing on education of adults, others will be focusing on integration of biblical worldview with the world of business, and others will be focusing on the restoration of Christian faith in politics, etc, etc. I think it comes down to each of us being effective and faithful in plowing the field He gives us, trusting Him to bring fruit according to His timetable. Some fruit will come quickly, some will take much longer.

    Is there hope for this generation of people trained without a biblically moral base? With God, all things are possible. Yes. But it will require each of us being faithful to the corner of the field to which He directs us, and I believe it will take a major reformation of the Church. We are in great need of serious reforms. But this is another big topic, for another day.

  3. The question/conversation of truth has gone on forever. As the Lord reminds us in John 17, "...Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth." Later, Paul reminds us, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickednesss suppress the truth."..."Claiming to be wise, they became fools." (Rom. 1)
    Mankind--apart from living in the reality of God's grace and redemption--simply cannot resist the temptation of 'claiming to be wise'--regardless of our positions/titles in life. The Lord reminds us, too, that Truth will never be culturally popular or accepted. The good news is that He is with us "even to the end of the age". May we be found faithful...