— July 4th, 2012 —

Book Review: “George Washington’s Sacred Fire,” by Peter A. Lillback

“What sets George Washington’s Sacred Fire apart from all previous works on this man for the ages, is the exhaustive fifteen years of Dr. Peter Lillback’s research, revealing a unique icon driven by the highest ideals. Only do George Washington’s own writings, journals, letters, manuscripts, and those of his closest family and confidants reveal the truth of this awe-inspiring role model for all generations.
Dr. Lillback paints a picture of a man, who, faced with unprecedented challenges and circumstances, ultimately drew upon his persistent qualities of character—honesty, justice, equity, perseverance, piety, forgiveness, humility, and servant leadership, to become one of the most revered figures in world history.
George Washington set the cornerstone for what would become one of the most prosperous, free nations in the history of civilization. Through this book, Dr. Lillback, assisted by Jerry Newcombe, will reveal to the reader a newly inspirational image of General and President George Washington.” — from the back cover

This is not a biography of George Washington, but rather a scholarly, gracious defense of his Christianity. Totaling around 957 pages of the main text and nearly 200 pages of endnotes, this book is, I think, the greatest, most cogent defense of George Washington’s Christianity penned yet. I really don’t see how it could be otherwise: authors Dr. Peter Lillback and Jerry Newcombe simply bury the arguments against Washington’s Christianity “under an avalanche of facts”, as one reviewer states on the back of the book. That reviewer is right. The authors of this book leave no stone unturned in their meticulous research.
Lillback conducts extensive word studies, analyzing all the “religious” words and phrases Washington used and how many times they were referenced; and what Bible verses were referred to both explicitly and implicitly. We read of the many sermons Washington owned and appreciated. We learn of the dozens of prayers he wrote for so many different causes and reasons. The authors touch on alternate biographies of Washington (such as that written by Parson Weems) as well as the famous story of Washington and the cherry tree.
But Lillback also deals with objections, those that claim that Washington didn’t take communion, that Washington was a Freemason, that Washington had a temper, that Washington owned slaves. But Lillback and Newcombe always weigh the evidence carefully against the objection to determine the validity (or lack thereof) of a particular objection, instead of letting their personal feelings interpret the evidence.
As Walter A. McDougall has said of this book,

Secular historians ignore George Washington’s ward Nelly Custis, who wrote that doubting his Christian faith was as absurd as doubting his patriotism. But they cannot ignore this mountain of evidence suggesting Washington’s religion was not Deism, but just the sort of low-church Anglicanism one would expect in an 18th century Virginia gentleman. His “sacred fire” lit America’s path toward civil and religious liberty.

It’s a long book, and the pages are salted heavily with superscript numerals referencing the exhaustive endnotes. But in the end, it’s well worth the journey—especially in an age of history revisionism where the heroes of yesteryear are thanked for their sacrifices by getting their names dragged through the mud.
Highly recommended.
AGE RANGE: All ages.

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