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Christians You Should Know: John Leland September 20, 2023

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Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. – Proverbs 30:5

A Snapshot of the Life of John Leland:

Born: May 14, 1754 – Grafton, Massachusetts
Died: Jan. 14, 1841 – Cheshire, Massachusetts

Baptist evangelist and home missionary. He worked to disestablish the Episcopal Church in Virginia and the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. Leland married Sarah (Sallie) Divine on September 30, 1776, and they had nine children. Leland was converted at age 18, pastored small Baptist churches (such as in Culpepper County, VA, 1777-91), and lived in Cheshire, MA from 1791-1841, serving is an evangelist. In Virginia, he baptized 1,278 and preached over 3,000 sermons. Leland’s influence was wide-spread. Article I of the Constitution was formed as a result of his letter to President George Washington.* He advocated separation of church and state, the abolition of slavery, and traveled widely in his attempts to vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men. He helped elect James Madison to the Virginia Convention and also wrote 21 hymns. He wrote Short Essays on Government (1820). – (Excerpt taken from the Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies. Used by permission.)

*Leland also wielded his influence and popularity against his friend, James Madison, to push him to include religious protections in the Bill of Rights.*

A Spiritual Application for Our Lives:

John Leland is an oft-forgotten leader in the formation of America. This famous Baptist evangelist was a staunch defender of religious freedom. The First Amendment exists in large part due to Leland’s staunch defense of religious liberty. In the early days of the colonies, state-organized religion was extremely common. Many states had stated-enforced and funded religion. Leland saw the devastation this adulterous relationship between church and state brought. Therefore, John Leland resolved to wield his influence and pen to guard against the fusion.

Leland was not against Christian influence in Government – far from it. He was active in government and participated in Christ-honoring government functions often. Yet, Leland understood the corruption that follows as the civil government seeks to enforce adherence to Christ’s commands. He was far more worried about the corruption that occurred when church and state were joined than ministers losing taxpayer paychecks. The work of Christ will always move forward when wrought by Christ’s power. As Leland put it, “True religion can, and will prevail best, where it is left entirely to Christ.”

John Leland contended with the growing idea that people should be forced to participate in religious activity to keep morality high. Leland thoroughly rejected this idea. 

[Muhammed] called in the use of the law and sword, to convert people to his religion; but Jesus did not — does not. It is the duty of men to love God with all their hearts, and their neighbors as themselves; but have legislatures authority to punish men if they do not? That it is the duty of men, who are taught in the word, to communicate to him that teaches, is beyond controversy; but that it is the province of the civil law to force them to do so, is denied.”

As a passionate evangelist, John Leland spent hours in prayer for lost souls. He labored in the Word of God and sought to preach it all through the land. As much as Leland longed for men to live for Christ, he understood that the arm of flesh will never accomplish the Holy Spirit’s work in human hearts (Jeremiah 17:5). Instead of asking our government to enforce Christ’s commands, we ought to be declaring Christ’s call for salvation. God chooses to work through His people. The Lord established the Church to accomplish His work. Righteous laws are a fruit of people seeking to obey God’s laws (Proverbs 14:34). No politician will set this nation on course. The hope of the nation is the people of God; the hope of God’s people is never the nation. 

A Suggestion for Further Reading…

The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland – Leland, John; Greene, L. F. (1845)

If you are burdened for your nation, we hope you will take the time to read, The Need of Our Nation. You can also study more through our online Bible study, The Need of Every Nation.

The Need of Our Nation


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