I am reading a biography of John Adams, the 18th century American leader who played a vital role in the American War of Independence. He was in France and Holland during the latter half of that war trying to get European nations to recognize the United States as an independent state. Eventually the Netherlands did recognize the United States and Adams became the county’s first ambassador overseas. Whilst he was there his wife, Abigail, wrote to him from New England, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for whom Adams had drafted the constitution and bill of rights. She wrote about their daughter “Nabby” who was being courted by a young man from Harvard. Abigail was not sure to what extent she should encourage the attentions of their daughter’s suitor.
John Adams was a man of Puritan stock, a plain, no-nonsense and honest man who had a definite and positive view of life that was shaped by his upbringing as a farmer’s son and as a Protestant Christian from the New England mould. What he said to his daughter was this: “Daughter! Get you an honest man for a husband, and keep him honest. No matter whether he is rich, provided he be independent. Regard the honor and moral character of the man more than all other circumstances. Think of no other greatness but that of the soul, no other riches but those of the heart. An honest, sensible, humane man, above all the littleness of vanity and extravagances of imagination, laboring to do good rather than be rich, to be useful rather than to make a show, living in modest simplicity clearly within his means and free from debts and obligations, is really the most respectable man in society, makes himself and all about him most happy.”
His advice to her was not only good for her but his description of a good husband might be regarded as a model to which we should aspire also.
The reason is because what John Adams regarded as a good character was firmly based upon the kind of person who was praised by the writers of the New Testament, and not least by Saint Paul writing to the Colossians, part of which we heard this morning in the readings. Paul writes that “Christ is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn of the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.”
What upset the writers of the New Testament was that they thought that the people to whom Christ brought his message had not given him his rightful place.
We better understand now why this was, but at the end of the first century and start of the second, it looked to the writers as though Christ had come and had been deliberately rejected in favor of the worldly ways of evil.
What is more, these same people were now creating a religion that was in opposition to theirs and did not include Christ as part of its teaching. To the new Christian Church this was a terrible indictment of the Jewish faith, and they interpreted it as endorsing the ways of the world, the very ways that Christ had come to overthrow in the establishment of the new kingdom of God.
In this new kingdom, God was and is the only ruler, and Christ is his model of how we should behave in the world, and it is to him that we should look. For those who joined the church, the training ground for the new kingdom, Christ was the head in all things and the example for all to emulate, because he was the firstborn of the dead, and that entitles him to have first place in everything.
Then, as now, we find a world where compromise is rife. Where people strive to be rich rather than to do good; where power and prestige are greater goals than goodness and love; where cunning and manipulation are put above honesty and straightforwardness.
Perhaps now we can see where John Adams was influenced, when writing to his daughter, because what he recommends fits very well the New Testament view of how a person should behave in society if it was to be good in the eyes of God.
The men who drew up the Charter of American Independence were not naive idealists, though no doubt there were some among them who might have been inclined in that direction, given the emotional strivings of the times, but they were all Christian realists who wanted a country based on the true understanding of the New Testament that was, as far as they were concerned, the Word of God that should be obeyed if there was to be a just society in North America.
They were well aware that in the old world, contracts were drawn up and before the ink was even dry, the lawyers were looking for loopholes by which they could break the spirit of the agreement to their advantage.
They knew that countries formulated new statutes, and before they can be enforced, powerful lobbies were making alterations, modifications and additions and caveats so that their interests would not be disturbed. They knew that absolute monarchs and dictators shifted the ground of their oppositions so that they were constantly at a disadvantage and they knew that this was wrong because the New Testament said it was and they believed it.
What was right, was to put Christ first in all things, so when John Adams writes to his daughter, his message is clear and unequivocal. He knows what a good person should be, and therefore what a good husband should be.
When Jesus came to preach his message, most people either did not think it feasible, because it was too difficult, or they could not pick it out from all the other messages with which they were bombarded.
That is the same situation as we are faced with today. But Christ still comes to us as he has always done and waits for us to welcome or reject him, and should we ever give advice to our daughters or our sons, what we tell them will say a lot about us, and the place we have given or not given to Christ and whether we are members or not of the new country.