Mentoring our Future Leaders
World History Institute – Dr. Marshall Foster - 4/25/2013
John Witherspoon, as the head of the College of New Jersey, became the teacher of those future leaders. He combined a deep faith in the Biblical Christianity of the Reformation with an understanding of how to apply that faith to every academic discipline, including nation-building.
During his tenure there were 478 graduates of his college. With only three professors including himself, John was able to mentor all who came to his school using the tutorial method in six academic fields. He was then able to preach to them each Sunday in the campus chapel. Until 1902, every President of Princeton was a minister. America’s youth were largely mentored by ministers like Witherspoon until the 20th century.
Of his graduates, at least 86 became active in civil government and included: one president (James Madison), one vice-president (Aaron Burr), 10 cabinet officers, 21 senators, 39 congressmen, 12 governors, a Supreme Court justice, and one attorney general.
Nearly one-fifth of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, one-sixth of the delegates of the Constitutional Convention, and one-fifth of the first Congress under the Constitution were graduates of the College of New Jersey. It can truly be said that John Witherspoon discipled his new nation by training the leaders, just as his ancestor John Knox had done in Scotland 200 years before.
Along with leading a college, and serving in the Presbyterian Church, Witherspoon threw his efforts into the political drive for freedom. He was elected to the Continental
Congress and sat on 100 different committees. As the debate over independence raged in Philadelphia on July 2, 1776, John stood to his feet and declared, “We are ripe for independence and in danger of becoming rotten for want of it, if we delay any longer!” He was the only formal minister to sign the Declaration of Independence (22 others had ministerial training.)
John Witherspoon was an indispensable leader used by God to help found this freest and most blessed of all nations. His words on the National Day of Prayer in 1776 still ring with the spiritual power of his relative, the fiery reformer of Scotland. “While we give praise to God, the supreme disposer of all events, for His interposition on our behalf, let us guard against the dangerous error of trusting in, or boasting of an arm of flesh [human power]…If your cause is just, if your principles are pure, and if you conduct is prudent, you need not fear the multitude of opposing hosts.”
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