In the wake of the heart-rending massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a cry has arisen for gun control. But such calls are misdirected. The lessons of Scriptures and history are clear that the key is controlling what is in one’s heart, not what is in one’s hand. As the great Daniel Webster reminded a crowd at the U. S. Capitol:
[T]he cultivation of the religious sentiment represses licentiousness . . . inspires respect for law and order, and gives strength to the whole social fabric. 1 Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens. 2
The Founders understood that the inside was the most important focus, not the outside. This is why Thomas Jefferson believed the teachings of Jesus were so effective, explaining:
The precepts of philosophy, and of the Hebrew code, laid hold of actions only. He [Jesus] pushed his scrutinies into the heart of man, erected his tribunal in the region of his thoughts, and purified the waters at the fountain head.3
While civil law prohibits murder, the Bible addresses it before it occurs—while it is still only a thought in the heart (see Matthew 5:22-28). As John Quincy Adams explained:
Human legislators can undertake only to prescribe the actions of men: they acknowledge their inability to govern and direct the sentiments of the heart. . . . It is one of the greatest marks of Divine favor . . . that the Legislator gave them rules not only of action but for the government of the heart.4
The Founders were clear that only the Scriptures provide effective “rules for the government of the heart” and thus help prevent the crimes which originate internally:
Love to God and love to man is the substance of religion; when these prevail, civil laws will have little to do.5 John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration
Without the restraints of religion and social worship, men become savages. 6 Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration
I have always said, and always will say, that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands. 7 Thomas Jefferson, President, Signer of the Declaration
In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses. 8 James McHenry, Signer of the Constitution
Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.9 Robert Winthrop, Early Speaker of the U.S. House
So . . . if Congress and the media want to have a debate, let it be over what is put into the heart, not the hand – over returning instruction in moral and religious principles to schools and the public arena. In the meantime, there are already some measures that are completely legal and which you can help expand across the country:
- Get a Bible course in public schools around you
- Start a Good News Club in a nearby public school
- Get your legislature to pass a law authorizing an elective course on the Bible, such as those already passed in Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, and other states.
1 Daniel Webster, Address Delivered at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the Addition to the Capitol, July 4, 1851 The Works of Daniel Webster (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1853), II:615.
2 Webster, “Discourse Delivered at Plymouth,” December 22, 1820, Works of Webster (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1853), I:44.
3 Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803, Jefferson’s “Syllabus of an Estimate of the Merit of the Doctrines of Jesus, Compared with Those of Others,” Memoir, Correspondence, and Miscellanies, From the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Thomas Jefferson Randolph (Boston: Gray and Bowen, 1830), III:509. See also William Linn, The Life of Thomas Jefferson (Ithaca, New York: Mack & Andrus, 1834), 265.
4 John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son, on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn, New York: Derby, Miller, and Co., 1848), 62.
5 John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: 1805), VII:119.
6 Benjamin Rush, “To American Farmers About to Settle in New Parts of the United States,” March 1789, Letters of Benjamin Rush, ed. L. H. Butterfield (Princeton: The American Philosophical Society, 1951), I:505.
7 Daniel Webster to Professor Pease on June 15, 1852, The Writings and Speeches of Daniel Webster Hitherto Uncollected (Boston: Little, Brown, & Company, 1903), IV:656-657, originally appearing in The National Magazine: Devoted to Literature, Art, and Religion. July to December, 1858, ed. James Floy (New York: Carolton & Porter, 1858), XIII:178-179
8 Bernard C. Steiner, One Hundred and Ten Years of Bible Society Work in Maryland, 1810-1920 (Baltimore: The Maryland Bible Society, 1921), 14.
9 Robert Winthrop, Address Delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Bible Society in Boston, May 28, 1849 Addresses and Speeches on Various Occasions (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1852), 172.
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