By Doug Redford
This year, Monday, February 20, will be observed as Presidents’ Day; however, Wednesday, February 22, marks the actual birthday of our first president, George Washington. Clarence B. Carson, in his perceptive study of early American history, recounted how Washington came to be our first president. His analysis of exactly why Washington made such a desirable candidate is especially noteworthy.
It was this modesty, this lack of personal ambition, this humility, and his sense of stewardship and honor that made him so right for the post. Washington could be trusted, that was the key: trusted to stick to his post until he had accomplished the goal, trusted to do the honorable thing, trusted with the affairs of the people, and trusted to think in terms of the Union. He would not be expected to achieve daring coups, to make risky innovations, or to use his office for purely personal ambitions. He would and did bring dignity to the office and make of it a symbol of unity for a people” (The Rebirth of Liberty: The Founding of the American Republic, 1760-1800, Arlington House, 1973, p. 228).
Being the first in any endeavor (the first pastor of a church, for example) is always a challenge. The person in that position has no previous example to follow, no precedent by which to be guided. Others may have held similar positions in other organizations or ministries, but there is still pressure on the first person in a position to do well and not let those down who recommended him or her for that responsibility.
In Hebrews 12:2, Jesus is called the “pioneer” of our faith, the one who provided a way for us to be forgiven of our sins and reconciled with God. But Jesus was not just the first to fill this role; he was the only one who could fill it.
Jesus possessed some of the qualities that distinguished Washington, including “lack of personal ambition” and a “sense of stewardship and honor.” He could be “trusted to think in terms of the Union”: the union between God and humanity that he provided through his death and resurrection. But it was Jesus’ perfect life that qualified him to be our Savior, that “made him so right for the post.” As hymnwriter and poet Cecil Frances Alexander wrote, “There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; he only could unlock the gates of heav’n, and let us in.”
As of this date, 45 individuals have filled the role of president of the United States. George Washington certainly set a high standard as the first to hold the office. But no one could precede or succeed Jesus in doing what he did. We can only follow his leadership in grateful service.
Doug Redford has served in the preaching ministry, as an editor of adult Sunday school curriculum, and as a Bible college professor. Now retired, he continues to write and speak as opportunities come.
Unfortunately most if not all who followed Washington did not possess the character of Washington.