WEBSTER, NOAH – Sermons and Biblical Studies

WEBSTER, NOAH

(October 16, 1758–May 28, 1843), was a statesman, educator and lexicographer. He was noted for compiling the Webster’s Dictionary. “The Schoolmaster of the Nation,” he published the first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language in November of 1828, containing the greatest number of biblical definitions in any secular volume.

Noah Webster had served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War; was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly for nine terms; the Legislature of Massachusetts for three terms; and served as a judge. His efforts contributed to the addition of Article I, Section 8, to the United States Constitution. In the Massachusetts Legislature, he labored to have funds appropriated for education.

Noah Webster declared government was responsible to:

Discipline our youth in early life in sound maxims of moral, political, and religious duties.1500

Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book, originally written in the 1780’s while teaching in New York, became the most popular book in American education. His “blue-backed speller” set a publishing record of a million copies a year for one hundred years. Early editions even contained a “Moral Catechism” with rules from the scriptures upon which to base moral conduct. Nearly all Americans during this period learned their letters, morality and patriotism from Webster’s dictionaries, spellers, catechisms, history books, etc …

In 1788, Noah Webster’s essay, “On the Education of Youth in America” was printed in the Webster’s American Magazine:

Select passages of [Scripture] … may be read in schools, to great advantage. In some countries the common people are not permitted to read the Bible at all.

In ours, it is as common as a newspaper and in schools is read with nearly the same degree of respect. … My wish is not to see the Bible excluded from schools but to see it used as a system of religion and morality.1501

In 1790, in his American Spelling Book—Containing an easy Standard of Pronunciation, being the first part of a Grammatical Institute of the English Language, Noah Webster wrote:

This first part of a Grammatical Institute of the English Language, is, with permission, most humbly inscribed, as a testimony of my veneration, for the superior talents, piety and patriotism, which enable him to preside over that seat of literature, with distinguished reputation, which render him an ornament to the Christian Profession, and give him an eminent rank among the illustrious characters that adorn the revolution.1502

In an article published in The American Minerva, September 21, 1796, entitled “Political Fanaticism, No. III,” Noah Webster wrote:

The reason why severe laws are necessary in France, is, that the people have not been educated republicans—they do not know how to govern themselves [and so] must be governed by severe laws and penalties, and a most rigid administration.1503

Noah Webster stated:

Education is useless without the Bible.1504

The Bible was America’s basic text book in all fields.1505

God’s Word, contained in the Bible, has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.1506

On December 20, 1808, in a letter Thomas Dawes, Noah Webster stated:

About a year ago, an unusual revival of religion took place in New Haven … and I was led by a spontaneous impulse of repentance, prayer, and entire submission and surrender of myself to my Maker and Redeemer. … In the month of April last I made a profession of faith.1507

In 1823, in an article entitled, Letters to a Young Gentleman Commencing His Education, published in New Haven, Noah Webster wrote:

In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. … It is alleged by men of loose principles, or defective views of the subject, that religion and morality are not necessary or important qualifications for political stations.

But the Scriptures teach a different doctrine. They direct that rulers should be men who rule in the fear of God, able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.

But if we had no divine instruction on the subject, our own interest would demand of us a strict observance of the principle of these injunctions.

And it is to the neglect of this rule of conduct in our citizens, that we must ascribe the multiplied frauds, breeches of trust, peculations and embezzlements of public property which astonish even ourselves; which tarnish the character of our country; which disgrace a republican government; and which will tend to reconcile men to monarchs in other countries and even our own.1508

When a citizen gives his suffrage [vote] to a man of known immorality, he abuses his trust; he sacrifices not only his own interest, but that of his neighbor, and he betrays the interest of his country.1509

In 1828, Noah Webster completed his work, An American Dictionary of the English Language—with pronouncing vocabularies of Scripture, classical and geographical names. This 26–year project contained 70,000 entries and 12,000 new definitions. For the first time in the history of the English language a standardized spelling for vocabulary words was provided. Noah Webster stated in the preface:

In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed. …

No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.1510

To that great and benevolent Being, who, during the preparation of this work, has sustained a feeble constitution amidst obstacles and toils, disappointments, infirmities and depression; who has borne me and my manuscripts in safety across the Atlantic, and given me strength and resolution to bring the work to a close, I would present the tribute of my most grateful acknowledgements.

And if the talent which He entrusted to my care, has not been put to the most profitable use in his service, I hope it has not been “kept laid up in a napkin” and that any misapplication of it may be graciously forgiven.

New Haven

Noah Webster.1511

Noah Webster’s 1828 edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language contained numerous Scripture verses from the Old and New Testaments to clarify the context in which a word was to be used. The word Faith had the definition:

Faith. … That firm belief of God’s testimony, and of the truth of the gospel, which influences the will, and leads to an entire reliance on Christ for salvation.

Being justified by faith. Rom.v.

Without faith it is impossible to please God. Heb.xi.

For we walk by faith, not by sight. 2Cor.v.

With the heart man believeth to righteousness. Rom.x.

Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. Rom.i.

Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God. Rom.xiv.

Children in whom is no faith. Deut.xxxii.1512

The word Property had the definition:

Property. … The exclusive right of possessing, enjoying and disposing of a thing; ownership. In the beginning of the world, the Creator gave to man dominion over the earth, over the fish of the sea and the fowls of the air, and over every living thing. This is the foundation of man’s property in the earth and all its productions. … The labor of inventing, making or producing any thing constitutes one of the highest titles to property … It is one of the greatest blessings of civil society that the property of citizens is well secured.1513

The word Providence had the definition:

Providence. … The care and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures. … Some persons admit a general providence, but deny a particular providence, not considering that a general providence consists of particulars. A belief in divine providence is a source of great consolation to good men. By divine providence is understood God himself.1514

The word Law had the definition:

Law of Nature. … is a rule or conduct arising out of the natural relations of human beings established by the Creator, and existing prior to any positive precept. Thus it is a law of nature, that one man should not injure another, and murder and fraud would be crimes, independent of any prohibition from a supreme power. … A rule of direction; a directory; as reason and natural conscience. “These, having not the law, are a law to themselves.” Rom.ii.1515

The word Religion had the definition:

Religion. … In its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfection of God, in the revelation of his will to man, and in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of rewards and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. … The practice of moral duties without belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion.1516

In the American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828, Noah Webster stated:

The Bible should be the standard of language as well as of faith.1517

On October 16, 1829, Noah Webster wrote to James Madison:

The Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. …

I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist & be durable, in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.1518

In 1832, in his History of the United States, Noah Webster wrote:

The brief exposition of the constitution of the United States, will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government; and it is the sincere desire of the writer that our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion.1519

Almost all the civil liberty now enjoyed in the world owes its origin to the principles of the Christian religion. …

The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother, or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free Constitutions of Government.1520

The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all of our civil constitutions and laws. …

All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.1521

When you become entitled to exercise the right of voting for public officers, let it be impressed on your mind that God commands you to choose for rulers “just men who will rule in the fear of God.” The preservation of a republican government depends on the faithful discharge of this duty;

If the citizens neglect their duty and place unprincipled men in office, the government will soon be corrupted; laws will be made not for the public good so much as for the selfish or local purposes;

Corrupt or incompetent men will be appointed to execute the laws; the public revenues will be squandered on unworthy men; and the rights of the citizens will be violated or disregarded.

If a republican government fails to secure public prosperity and happiness, it must be because the citizens neglect the divine commands, and elect bad men to make and administer the laws.1522

In an article entitled “Advice to the Young,” included in his History of the United States, 1832, Noah Webster stated:

The brief exposition of the Constitution of the United States, will unfold to young persons the principles of republican government; and it is the sincere desire of the writer that our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament or the Christian religion. …

The ‘Advice to the Young,’ … will be useful in enlightening the minds of youth in religious and moral principles, and serve … to restrain some of the common vices of our country. …

Republican government loses half of its value, where the moral and social duties are imperfectly understood, or negligently practised.

To exterminate our popular vices is a work of far more importance to the character and happiness of our citizens than any other improvements in our system of education.1523

The preface of Noah Webster’s 1833 translation of the Common Version of the Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testament, with Amendments of the Language, reads:

The Bible is the Chief moral cause of all that is good, and the best corrector of all that is evil, in human society; the best book for regulating the temporal concerns of men, and the only book that can serve as an infallible guide to future felicity. …

It is extremely important to our nation, in a political as well as religious view, that all possible authority and influence should be given to the scriptures, for these furnish the best principles of civil liberty, and the most effectual support of republican government.

The principles of genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations, are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man, therefore, who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that Book may be accessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer. …

There are two powers only, sufficient to control men and secure the rights of individuals and a peaceable administration; these are the combined force of religion and law, and the force or fear of the bayonet.

Noah Webster
New Haven 1833.1524

In his 1834 work entitled, Value of the Bible and Excellence of the Christian Religion, Noah Webster wrote:

The Bible must be considered as the great source of all the truths by which men are to be guided in government, as well as in all social transactions. … The Bible [is] the instrument of all reformation in morals and religion.1525

Moral evils constitute or produce most of the miseries of mankind and these may be prevented or avoided. Be it remembered then that disobedience to God’s law, or sin is the procuring cause of almost all the sufferings of mankind.

God has so formed the moral system of this world, that a conformity to His will by men produces peace, prosperity and happiness; and disobedience to His will or laws inevitably produces misery.

If men are wretched, it is because they reject the government of God, and seek temporary good in that which certainly produces evil.1526

Men may devise and adopt new forms of government; they may amend old forms, repair breaches, and punish violators of the constitution; but there is, there can be, no effectual remedy, but obedience to the divine law.1527

In the preface of his American Dictionary of the English Language, republished 1841, Noah Webster wrote:

If the language can be improved in regularity, so as to be more easily acquired by our own citizens and by foreigners, and thus be rendered a more useful instrument for the propagation of science, arts, civilization and Christianity.1528

The liberty of the press, trial by jury, the Habias Corpus writ, even Magna Carta itself, although justly deemed the palladia of freedom, are all inferior considerations, when compared with a general distribution of real property among every class of people.

The power of entailing estates is more dangerous to liberty and republican government than all the constitutions that can be written on paper, or even than a standing army.

Let the people have property and they will have power—a power that will forever be exerted to prevent a restriction of the press, and abolition of trial by jury, or the abridgement of any other privilege. …

The production of genius and the imagination are if possible more really and exclusively property than houses and lands, and are equally entitled to legal security.1529

Noah Webster stated:

For this reason society requires that the education of youth should be watched with the most scrupulous attention. Education, in a great measure, forms the moral characters of men, and morals are the basis of government.

Education should therefore be the first care of a legislature; not merely the institution of schools, but the furnishing of them with the best men for teachers.

A good system of education should be the first article in the code of political regulations; for it is much easier to introduce and establish an effectual system for preserving morals, than to correct by penal statutes the ill effects of a bad system.

The goodness of a heart is of infinitely more consequence to society than an elegance of manners; nor will any superficial accomplishments repair the want of principle in the mind. It is always better to be vulgarly right than politely wrong. …

The education of youth [is] an employment of more consequence than making laws and preaching the gospel, because it lays the foundation on which both law and gospel rest for success.1530

Republican government loses half of its value, where the moral and social duties are. … negligently practised. To exterminate our popular vices is a work of far more importance to the character and happiness of our citizens, than any other improvements in our system of education.1531

To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.1532

By taking revenge, a man is even with his enemy, but by passing it over, he is superior.1533

[I]n the lapse of two or three centuries, changes have taken place which in particular passages … obscure the sense of the original languages. … The effect of these changes is that some words are … being now used in a sense different from that which they had … [and] present wrong signification or false ideas. Whenever words are understood in a sense different from that which they had when introduced. … mistakes may be very injurious.1534

In A Collection of Papers on Political, Literary and Moral Subjects, published in New York, 1843, Noah Webster stated:

The virtue which is necessary to preserve a just administration and render a government stable, is Christian virtue, which consists in the uniform practice of moral and religious duties, in conformity with the laws of both of God and man.

This virtue must be based on a reverence for the authority of God, which shall counteract and control ambition and selfish views, and subject them to the precepts of divine authority.

The effect of such a virtue would be, to bring the citizens of a state to vote and act for the good of the state, whether that should coincide with their private interests or not.1535

In A Manual of Useful Studies, published in New Haven, 1839, Noah Webster stated:

In the family are formed the elements of civil governments; the family discipline is the model of all social order; … the respect for the law and the magistrate begins in the respect for parents. …

Families are the nurseries of good and bad citizens. The parent who neglects to restrain and govern his child, or who, by his example, corrupts him, is the enemy of the community to which he belongs;

the parent who instructs his child in good principles, and subjects him to correct discipline, is the guardian angel of his child, and the best benefactor of society.1536

Practical truths in religion, in morals, and in all civil and social concerns, ought to be among the first and most prominent objects of instruction. Without a competent knowledge of legal and social rights and duties, persons are often liable to suffer in property or reputation, by neglect or mistakes.

Without religious and moral principles deeply impressed on the mind, and controlling the whole conduct, science and literature will not make men what the laws of God require them to be; and without both kinds of knowledge, citizens can not enjoy the blessings which they seek, and which a strict conformity to rules of duty will enable them to obtain.1537

Just prior to his death in 1843, Noah Webster professed:

I know whom I have believed, and that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.1538