As America celebrates the anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence, I’ve wondered if there might not have been an America except for George Washington. In an excellent book, Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, Eric Metaxas draws the same conclusion. He begins his book with the story of George Washington who “once gave up extraordinary power. He actually could have become king, when being a king really meant something; but he selflessly refused the honor. . . . Washington knew there was something even greater than power. To do the noble thing, the heroic thing, the right thing–for him, that was greater than being powerful. He surrendered all that power for the sake of something nobler; he did it for the sake of his new country and for millions yet to be born.”
Washington led a ragtag band of citizen soldiers against the regiments of England, the world’s super power of that day, and miraculously prevailed. It was also a miracle Washington survived to fight those battles. Before the revolution, George Washington wore a red coat, not a blue one. He had been a 23-year-old officer with the British army fighting the French and Indian War in the Colonies. In one battle the British were being slaughtered as they marched shoulder to shoulder openly across the field with their field officers riding beside them.
The chief of the Indians told his marksmen to aim specifically at officers on horses. They did and the toll was dreadful. Twice Washington had his horse shot out from under him. But he grabbed another rider-less horse and kept fighting. At the end of the battle, 1500 British lay dead but only 30 Indians. The Indian chief later told the story of how his men shot repeatedly at Washington but could not hit him. Finally, the chief told his men to stop shooting at that man because it was clear “the Great Spirit” was protecting him.
When Washington got home and took off his army coat, he found four bullet holes in it, but there were no wounds—or even scratches—on him. Washington knew Who to thank for such a remarkable deliverance. He wrote, “I was but the humble agent of a favoring heaven, whose benign influence was so often manifested in our behalf, and to whom the praise of victory is due.”
Washington often referred to God as “Providence” but he was not a deist, as revisionist historians often try to claim. A lifelong churchgoer, he was painted in one famous portrait kneeling in prayer beside his horse. Washington did not pose for that portrait; the painter knew what all around him knew–that George Washington was a devout man who daily went to the Source of all wisdom for guidance. More than one person had accidentally happened upon him as he knelt in prayer with his Bible open before him in morning and evening devotions.
Unashamedly a Christian, a few days after the signing of the Declaration on July 9, 1776, he openly shared his faith as he wrote to his men: “General Washington hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor to live, and act, as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country. To the distinguished character of Patriot it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”
Although he was ambitious and had set out to make his mark on the world, Washington marched to the drumbeat of a higher calling. By keeping himself from being made king, one biographer said that he demonstrated he was as immune to the seductions of dictatorial power as he had been to the smallpox which he’d survived in his youth. An excerpt from Washington’s prayer journal shows what he yearned for rather than power. He prayed, “But daily frame me more and more into the likeness of thy son Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life.”