March 26, 2009
by Patrick Lafferty
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
John Adams, America’s second president, was raised as a farmer, trained to be an attorney, and propelled into political life following his heroic service in the cause of the American Revolution. His incisive analytical skills and trenchant oratory led him to become ambassador to France, England, and the Netherlands, before becoming vice president under George Washington and later succeeding him in 1796.
In the afterword of his biography of John Adams, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author David McCullough celebrates the papers from which he compiled the book as nothing short of a “national treasure.” So much had been preserved of their letters, diaries, and family papers, McCullough contends, that those who peruse them are enabled to know John and Abigail Adams like they can know few of their contemporaries. The couple’s written candor reveals them most vividly.
Sunday explored what God’s candor through the heavens and His law reveals of Him. Psalm 19 concluded that a person with a right apprehension of God would sense His majesty, His goodness, and His graciousness—redounding to a life of praise, humble pleading, and an enduring pursuit of God’s pleasure. John Adams, in his own words, exemplifies someone who has ordered his life around Psalm 19’s celebration of the knowledge of God.
In an invitation to a friend to visit him and his family in their coastal Massachusetts home, Peacefield, Adams extolled the majesty of his surroundings: “I am an atom of intellect with millions of solar systems over my head, under my feet, on my right hand, on my left, before me, and my adoration of the intelligence that contrived and the power that rules the stupendous fabric is too profound to believe them capable of anything unjust or cruel.” Having worked and lived off the earth for all his life, his appreciation for the world was effusive. That “the heavens declare the glory of God” was not lost on Adams.
Neither was the psalmist’s humble acknowledgment of his susceptibility to sin. To his dear friend and fellow patriot Benjamin Rush, Adams conceded having “an immense load of errors, weaknesses, and sins to mourn over and repent of.” But just as the psalmist confessed his need of grace for any hope of becoming blameless before God (Psalm 19:13), Adams, too, found any hope of perfectibility impossible if the pursuit was “abstracted from all divine authority”—as the Enlightenment version of perfectibility had been. “Who can discern all his errors” (Psalm 19:12) was rhetoric Adams found resonant with reality.
As both McCullough’s biography and the miniseries portrayed, John Adams was often inordinately preoccupied with how he was being (or would be) perceived. It was a fault of character in him that Abigail graciously but resolutely ministered to. After years of arduous work, battles military, political, and personal, and the loss of three children, Adams realized one truth that, in retrospect, would’ve most served him—particularly in regard to his most abiding fault.
Long after the end of his presidency, and nearing the end of his life, Adams composed a letter to his son, John Quincy (then the American ambassador to Russia) in which he shared what he considered to be the most important feature of a man’s character. From the words of the apostle Paul, Adams told his son, “Rejoice always in all events, be thankful for all things is a hard precept for human nature, though in my philosophy and in my religion a perfect duty.” Like the psalmist, Adams believed the life well lived was one of “rejoicing evermore”—a life in which what rose to one’s mouth and life, and what was buried deep in one’s heart, were all pleasing to the God who saved and sustained one. The psalmist’s words would have been a fitting epitaph for Adams: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
Rejoicing evermore: Psalm 19, the apostle Paul, and John Adams all think it not only possible but requisite. Do you? What, if anything, is stifling your joy? How might the knowledge of God’s majesty, goodness, and grace in Christ serve to restore joy to your soul? Why not ask for the kind of knowledge He loves to give?