John Wesley Powell’s Grand Canyon Expedition Begins, 1869

2018-05-21T20:41:56+00:00 May 21, 2018|HH 2018|

“The Earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and those that dwell in it, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” —Psalm 24:1-2

John Wesley Powell’s
Grand Canyon Expedition Begins,
May 24, 1869

Until the year 1869, no (known) human being had ever successfully descended the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, or mapped its course. A few natives lived at various spots at the base of the canyon, planting a few rudimentary crops and living isolated lives along the treacherous river, but to the United States government, the canyon was a blank space on the map. A 5’6”, one-armed Union Civil War veteran assembled a group of mountain men, adventurers, and social misfits to shoot the unknown rapids, climb the cliffs, and map the Grand Canyon, a feat so daring that, had Las Vegas odds makers existed, they would have given the expedition virtually no chance of survival, much less success. John Wesley Powell beat the odds.

John Wesley “Wes” Powell (1834-1902)

Born to an itinerant Methodist preacher in New York, Powell grew up in Wisconsin and Illinois. A young man full of wanderlust, he walked across Wisconsin, rowed the Mississippi from Minnesota to the sea, and the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi. By the age of twenty-five he was a member of the Illinois Naturalist Society. He studied at Illinois College (later called Wheaton) and at Oberlin. He came away an ardent abolitionist, but not a graduate. Although he lost his right arm as an Illinois artillery officer at the Battle of Shiloh, the tough naturalist continued to fight on through the war in a number of big battles, ending the war as a brevet Lieutenant Colonel, though he always thereafter went by “Major.”

Portraits of John Wesley Powell and his wife, Emma, in Detroit

While a professor of geology at Illinois State, and an enthusiastic promoter of Darwinian evolution, Powell gathered a diverse group of adventurers to join him in an attempt to survey the Grand Canyon in 1869. They set out on May 24 from Green River, Wyoming for what became an astoundingly arduous descent of the river on four small wooden boats, hauled there from New York on the transcontinental railroad. They traversed 930 miles of river over a three-month period.

First camp of the expedition, in the willows — Green River, Wyoming

Among the hardships encountered were rapids (which they named, and which retain their monikers to this day) which shattered their boats, hunger when no deer or sheep could be shot, accidents and sickness. They lost all their instruments and charts in the raging torrents. Although they began with eleven men, one left after a few weeks, three tried to walk out through the desert wastes, just days before the unforeseen end of the trip, and died — allegedly murdered by Mormons or Indians, or perhaps just dying of thirst in the desert.

John Wesley Powell (middle) on a geological field excursion to Harpers Ferry, WV in 1897

In the end, the voyagers made it through the last canyon, almost miraculously, and announced to the world their feat of endurance and perseverance. Other adventurers tried to emulate the trip and died in the attempt. Powell led a second expedition which covered some of the area of the first, and successfully mapped a good portion of the river and canyon. He ended his days as the curator of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Powell based all his studies and reports on evolutionary theory, and most of his conclusions regarding native Americans and the geology of the canyon are worthless. Nonetheless, the heroism of the men of the expedition and, ultimately, his leadership, captured the imagination of the whole nation and reinforced the drive toward conquering all of North America and beyond.

Powell as second Director of the US Geological Survey (1881–1894)

Powell with Native American Tau-gu, ca. 1873 on his second expedition to the canyon

More than six hundred people have died in the Grand Canyon since Powell’s day, though dams, safety rails, and National Park Service regulations have tried to ameliorate the death toll. We cannot even surmise how many may have died when the great flood of Noah’s day covered the earth in judgement and created the canyon in the first place. Still a place of spectacular beauty and mystery, the Grand Canyon and its rivers are not tame, and are still owned by the Creator, regardless of government interventions.

America Declares War on Mexico, 1846

2018-05-21T20:42:46+00:00 May 14, 2018|HH 2018|

“From whence comes wars and fighting among you? Come they not hence even from lusts that war in your members?” —James 4:1

America Declares War on Mexico,
May 13, 1846

On December 29, 1845, The Republic of Texas became the 28th State of the United States. The legislation admitting Texas did not define the borders of the new state. The government of Mexico protested loudly that Texas was still a Mexican state, although the Texians had revolted ten years earlier and defeated the Mexican army to secure their claim of independence. The Texans asserted that their southern border extended to the Rio Grande River. Mexico claimed that the Texas boundary ended at the Rio Nueces, two hundred miles north of the Rio Grande. A patrol led by Captain Seth Thornton along the river triggered a war that changed American history.

Map of the Mexican-American War

After Texas joined the Union, Mexico withdrew diplomatic relations. In August, 1845, President Polk sent (future President) General Zachary Taylor with about 4,000 soldiers to what is now Corpus Christi, just inside the disputed territory. In December, Polk sent an emissary to the latest President of Mexico, General José Herrera, offering to pay the three million dollars in claims by Mexican citizens against Texas and to purchase northern Mexico for another 25 million, an offer rejected by Herrera after it was leaked to the Mexican press, who screamed for the President’s head if he went along with the plan. Instead, he sent General Mariano Paredes with 8,000 troops (who had defeated and deposed the previous President, Santa Ana) to prevent American troops from invading Mexico. Paredes marched to Mexico City and installed himself as President.

Antonio López de Santa Anna (1794-1876)

José Joaquín de Herrera (1792-1854)

On March 8, Polk ordered Taylor to march to the Rio Grande. Taylor stopped across the river from Matamoros and constructed a star fort, later named Fort Brown. On April 23, Mexican General Mariano Arista sent a thousand troopers across the Rio Grande to cut off Taylor from potential reinforcements. Hearing of the movement, Taylor sent two patrols, one upstream and one down, to locate the Mexican force. Captain Thornton’s patrol ran into an ambush and was wiped out. Eleven American dragoons were killed and forty-six captured.

With the beginning of hostilities, Taylor left Fort Brown garrisoned with 500 or so soldiers (who in a couple days were bombarded by besieging Mexicans) and marched the rest of his men up river to resupply. On his return trip, the American army was cut off from the fort and confronted by Arista’s main force — 3,700 Mexican soldiers and eight cannon against 2,200 American soldiers and ten cannon. The resulting Battle of Palo Alto ended when the Mexicans withdrew having suffered heavier casualties, as the U.S. artillery “tore lanes and vistas” through the infantry lines. Both sides fought well and bravely.

Battle of Palo Alto

On May 9, the two armies fought the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, resulting in heavier casualties on both sides, but again an American victory. Reinforcements arrived and Arista withdrew across the river and retreated two hundred miles. On May 11, President Polk received word of the ambush of Captain Thornton and asked Congress for a declaration of war. On May 13 he got it.

Taylor at the Battle of Resaca de la Palma

The War with Mexico lasted two years and resulted in an overwhelming victory for the United States, including the capture of Mexico City. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo gave the United States the territory that would become the states of California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and slivers of Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. The meandering Rio Grande has reclaimed the ambush site where the war began; it is now safely in Mexican hands and Fort Brown is now a golf course. Captain Thornton died before the walls of Mexico City. His second in command, William Hardee, became a Major General of the Confederacy fifteen years later. The conflict was very controversial in the United States, especially in New England. The disagreements in Congress over how to incorporate the new territories into the Union launched the debates that led to the American Civil War. Small incidents of the past sometimes lead, in the providence of God, to history-changing events.

Fall of Mexico City

George Whitefield Preaches in Philadelphia, 1744

2018-05-08T15:30:06+00:00 May 8, 2018|HH 2018|

“And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 11, 12 NASB)

Whitefield Preaches in Philadelphia,
May 10, 1744

In his lifetime he preached an estimated 18,000 times and reached about ten million hearers. His sermons were reprinted countless times, and people in frontier regions were converted and blessed without ever hearing his stentorian voice. He lived in the middle of the 18th century, so he spoke without electronic amplification or collecting his auditors in sports stadiums. He preached fourteen times in Scotland, once to a crowd estimated at 20,000. In Boston, Massachusetts he addressed about 20,000 people on Boston Commons in a colony with a total population of about 17,000. He was cross-eyed and mocked by his enemies as “Dr. Squintum”, and was consistently opposed by the mainstream clergy, both conservatives and liberals. He was a bold Calvinist in theology and gave no altar calls, only calls to repentance and faith. Multiple thousands came to sincere faith in Christ. He was evangelist George Whitefield, likely the most famous individual in American colonial history.

George Whitefield (1714-1770)

George Whitefield was born the seventh child and fifth son of a Gloucester inn-keeper. He exhibited an academic aptitude, but due to his low estate, entered Oxford as a servitor. While there, he fell under the influence of John Wesley and became a member of The Holy Club, a group of students whose main concerns were prayer, Bible study and piety. Whitefield had been attracted to the theatre and considered acting as a career. A deep spiritual awakening deflected his thespian pursuits, but the skills of public speaking in dramatic fashion never left him. They would, in fact, characterize his impassioned preaching of the Gospel.

Aerial view of the University of Oxford

Ordained as a minister in the Church of England, Whitefield early on sailed to Savannah, Georgia as parish priest. He would become closely associated with Bethesda Orphanage there his entire life. After a short tenure, he returned to England and began an evangelistic preaching ministry throughout the United Kingdom. With his powerful voice and animated style, Whitefield expounded the Scriptures, especially those regarding repentance and faith. Along with the Wesley brothers, these revivals within Anglicanism and among dissenting denominations resulted in what would eventually be known as Methodism, an entirely new denomination in itself. Their appeals for “heart religion” often met with an outpouring of emotional responses and professed conversions to Christ, and the formation of new chapels and churches where none existed before.

George Whitefield preaches to a crowd gathered in Bolton, England in June 1750

Whitefield returned to America in 1739 where, it turned out, the fields were “white unto harvest.” His first tour extended from New York to Savannah, with perhaps his most successful preaching stop in Philadelphia. Sensing a potential economic opportunity for his printing business, Benjamin Franklin negotiated the right to print the twenty-four-year-old Whitefield’s sermons and books, and though not a believer himself, also attended the services. The two men remained correspondents and close friends till Whitefield’s death in 1770. Whitefield crossed the Atlantic thirteen times and became the central figure of the “Great Awakening” in America.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

As historian Thomas Kidd observed:

“Whitefield played a key role in the emerging Anglo-American evangelical movement, but we should remember that the majority of conversions and revivals of the Great Awakening happened without him.

George Whitefield at the pulpit

Nonetheless, his trips to America, Scotland, and England resulted in multiple thousands of conversions. Sometimes churches were split, in other cases, pastors guided converts into the churches and continued preaching the new birth after the itinerant left. Controversy followed in the wake of the unapologetically Calvinistic Whitefield throughout his years of ministry, resulting in a break with John and Charles Wesley over their intransigent Arminian theology and perfectionism. Whitefield was also the most vocal advocate of preaching the Gospel to the slaves and took every opportunity to do so himself. He was mocked, beaten, and publicly ridiculed, but never lost sight of his calling as an evangelist. Lionized as the greatest preacher of his day, Whitefield holds a unique place in the history of revivals and the effect of the Gospel in America. Whitefield died in 1770, age fifty-five and was buried in Newburyport in Massachusetts. Few men in history have been so used of God to lead multitudes of people to personal faith in Christ. Would that more Whitefields be raised up and bring a new spiritual awakening in our country today.

Whitefield’s grave in the crypt of Old South Presbyterian Church, Newburyport, MA
( (CC) Dr Digby L. James )

Scopes Trial, Dayton, Tennessee, 1925

2018-04-17T21:21:34+00:00 April 30, 2018|HH 2018|

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it”.” —Genesis 1:27, 28a

Scopes Trial, Dayton, Tennessee, 1925

In March of 1925, the State Legislature of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, prohibiting the teaching of the theory of evolution in the public schools. Governor Austin Peay signed the bill, courting the support of rural legislators. He later alleged that he thought the law would be unenforceable and would have no effect on the public school teaching in the state. The Governor was wrong.

Charles Darwin had popularized biological evolutionary theory in several books beginning with On the Origin of the Species in the mid-19th century. His theories challenged the Biblical account of creation, the effects of sin, the universal flood and the chronology accepted by most Believers, and wrapped his skepticism in scientific garb. Most churchmen were slow to recognize the power of the attack on Biblical truth, and were increasingly ineffective in combatting the new ideas among intellectuals and, eventually, in the public square. Several biology texts taught the theory of evolution but it was not until 1925, when the new Tennessee law went into effect, that evolutionists were provided with an opportunity to expose to national public ridicule those who still held to the Biblical accounts of creation. The enemies of the Bible wasted no time seizing the moment.

Governor Austin Peay (1876-1927)

John Thomas Scopes (1900-1970)

The American Civil Liberties Union offered to pay for the defense of anyone prosecuted under the new law. A local businessman in Dayton, Tennessee met with the local public school superintendent and challenged him to enforce the law. Biology teacher John T. Scopes agreed to say he taught the chapter on evolution in the (state-mandated) biology textbook. The resulting court case captured the attention of the entire nation. The State of Tennessee called upon the three-time presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, William Jennings Bryan, to prosecute the case, and the ACLU chose the agnostic and notorious defender of murderers, labor union bosses, and anarchists, Clarence Darrow, esq. to lead the defense team.

William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925)

Clarence Seward Darrow (1857-1938)

The iconoclastic reporter H. L. Mencken of the Baltimore Sun Newspaper, two hundred other reporters, and a host of curiosity seekers and publicity hounds flocked to Dayton for the courtroom clash. Mencken viewed the situation as an opportunity to expose the South — “The Bozart of the Sahara” — as knuckle-dragging imbeciles who denied scientific certainty, and held a touching allegiance to the “walking malignancy and hypocrite” William Jennings Bryan. The reporter later said in his obituary of Bryan that “evangelical Christianity, as everyone knows, is based upon hate”. The big city newspapers of the North could hardly wait for his dispatches.

Rhea County Courthouse

Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

The trial featured a number of strategic twists and turns. Presiding Judge John T. Raulston quoted Genesis and quarreled with Darrow on several occasions. He insisted that the jury judge the case, not on the issues regarding evolution vs. the Bible, but on whether the defendant violated the state law. Scopes never actually appeared for questioning, since he was not even sure he had taught the chapter in question and the defense did not want him grilled on it. The defense argued that the Bible dealt with matters of religion and science with matters of facts and the two should not be mixed. Many people believe the same thing today, presupposing the Bible is not inerrant or divinely inspired, but full of human error and unreliable for history or science. If apologetics (the defense of the Bible) begins at a starting point other than the divinely inspired, inerrant Scripture, “common ground” arguments will fall to pieces, eventually.

Soaring temperatures in the courtroom forced some proceedings to be moved outside such as the July 20 session seen above where William Jennings Bryan (seated, left) is being questioned by Clarence Darrow (right)

As for the Butler Act, Scopes was convicted of violating the law and fined (which the ACLU paid). As for the issues between the Biblical account of origins and evolutionary theory, the reporters turned Bryan into a monumental figure of ridicule and ignorance (he died five days later), and conservative Christians into backward rubes unfit for the intellectual challenges of the 20th century. Nonetheless, the spiritual war continued, and other states passed laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution while the Ivy League (and ivory tower) pundits carried their religious faith in evolution to this very day. Let God be true and every man a liar.

John Winthrop’s Sermon Aboard the Arbella, 1630

2018-04-17T21:25:03+00:00 April 23, 2018|HH 2018|

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” — Matthew 5:1

John Winthrop’s Sermon Aboard the Arbella
April 1630


he idea that the United States of America are like a “city set on a hill” for all to see and emulate, originates from the words of Jesus in the well-known Bible verse cited above. Presidents as diverse as John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan used the expression in speeches to assert American “exceptionalism”, one of the most politically incorrect phrases that, today, sends the parvenus of popular culture into paroxysms of horror and malevolence. The actual historical origin of the political use of that metaphor, however, comes from a message entitled “A Modell of Christian Charity”, delivered by John Winthrop aboard the ship Arbella, in 1630, as the great Puritan migration from England to Massachusetts got underway. The quoters and auditors of that expression today might be better served if they would examine the main points of the sermon more closely.

John Winthrop (1587-1649)

Charles I of England (1600-1649)

John Winthrop hailed from the most Puritan area of England. The Protestant Reformation had not only taken root in the Stour Valley, but had persevered through times of persecution and compromise. His father, uncles, and grandfather all held tight to the Reformed faith and envisioned the triumph of Christ’s Kingdom, beginning in England itself. John Winthrop embraced the faith of his Fathers whole-heartedly. When Charles I turned against continued reform, suspended Parliament and seemed to abandon biblical justice, a network of pastors who have been known as “the spiritual brotherhood”, decided to emigrate, with willing members of their congregations, to New England. A number of wealthy investors created the Massachusetts Bay Joint-Stock Company to finance the emigration and they received a charter to do so from King Charles I. A fleet of eleven ships and seven hundred passengers set out to establish a Puritan colony, led by John Winthrop, well-to-do lawyer and CFO of his father’s estate, and newly elected Governor of the future colony.

East Anglia — Stronghold of Puritans

At the beginning of the journey, the Governor preached a sermon that has become one of the seminal documents of early American history, though the original manuscript has never been found. The sermon, if considered at all, is typically redacted by modern historians to include select phrases from the beginning and end of the message. To grasp the significance of this paragon of Puritan prose one must examine the entire text. Winthrop began his encomium regarding the immigrants’ “errand into the wilderness”, using language familiar to Reformed Christians everywhere:

God Almighty in His most holy and wise providence, hath so disposed of the condition of mankind, as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity; others mean and in submission.

The Arbella, flagship of the Winthrop Fleet, transported English Puritans and the Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company from England to Salem between April 8 and June 12, 1630.

After establishing why those differences exist and that they are reflections of God’s wisdom, he set out the major theme of his address, that “there are two rules whereby we are to walk one towards another: Justice and Mercy.” The practical application of these principles centered on loving one’s “…neighbor as himself. Upon this ground stands all the precepts of the moral law.” Loving one’s enemies and seeking to relieve the distress of one’s neighbor — showing mercy would be the only way in which a Christian society could be successfully established. Winthrop set out the framework for lending and paying debts. He reminded the immigrants that they as Christians, were all a part of Christ’s body and were responsible for one another’s welfare. His message was suffused with Scripture, which was the sine qua non of all of life, faith and practice. He concluded his peroration with the words which inspired centuries of Americans:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world…if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it. Therefore, let us choose life, that we and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.

Still true.

View the full sermon transcript here.