Essay / Theology

John Quincy Adams and the “Energy Divine”

John Quincy Adams (born this day, July 11, in 1767) was a Christian of an unusual kind. Raised to be Unitarian, he tended more to the Calvinist side of Congregationalism. As anti-Trinitarianism became more pronounced among the American political class, Adams clearly distinguished his own complex views about the deity of Christ from what he thought was the dogmatic style of denying Christ’s divinity. Still, he was buried in a Unitarian churchyard, and in his later years he thought the New Testament did not clearly state whether Christ was or was not divine.

Disappointing as that view of Christ’s deity is to orthodox Christians, it is nonetheless striking that this sixth president of the United States actually had theological views. He held his views on the basis of close, prolonged study of Scripture, and listened carefully to doctrinal debates on theological topics he cared about. He made time in his busy political life for serious theological study.

He also put a number of psalms into verse form, apparently. Here, to mark his birthday, is John Quincy Adams’ version of Psalm 107:

O that the race of men would raise
Their voices to their heavenly King,
And with the sacrifice of praise
The glories of Jehovah sing!

Ye navigators of the sea,
Your course on ocean’s tides who keep,
And there Jehovah’s wonders see,
His wonders in the briny deep!

He speaks; conflicting whirlwinds fly;
The waves in swelling torrents flow;
They mount, aspire to heaven on high;
They sink, as if to hell below:

Their souls with terror melt away;
They stagger as if drunk with wine
Their skill is vain, — to thee they pray;
O save them, Energy divine!

He stays the storm; the waves subside;
Their hearts with rapture are inspired;
Soft breezes waft them o er the tide
In gladness to their port desired:

O that mankind the song would raise,
Jehovah’s goodness to proclaim!
Assembled nations shout his praise,
Assembled elders bless his name!

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