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Book Reviews > Christian Living > The Bible Lessons of John Quincy Adams for His Son

Ray VanNeste

Ray VanNeste
Director of the RC Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and Assistant Professor of Christian Studies

The Bible Lessons of John Quincy Adams for His Son
Adams, John Quincy (Doug Phillips, editor)
Details: 2002, Vision Forum, Amazon.comISBN: 1929241224
Posted: April 30, 2004


That the view of fatherhood in our culture is confused and skewed is manifest. I remember a few years ago reading of a Brazilian actress whose 4 month old son had been proven by blood tests to be the son of Mick Jagger. Jagger, married to someone else, had yet to visit his son, but the mother said, "He is a very loving father and, as fathers go, Lucas couldn't be luckier." "As fathers go"- what an indictment on us! In this setting Doug Phillips' Profiles in Fatherhood Series is a welcome tool pointing us to another vision of fatherhood from days past, a biblical vision fleshed out in imperfect yet noble examples as seen in their letters to their children. There are currently two volumes in the series, both, interestingly, focusing on previous presidents: John Quincy Adams and Teddy Roosevelt.

The John Quincy Adams book contains nine letters he wrote to one of his sons while Adams himself was serving in St. Petersburg as ambassador to Russia and his son was in school in Massachusetts. Far from the modern example mentioned above, Adams though involved in heavy and important business took significant time to communicate to his son. Indeed, he states in his letters that he writes to urge his son to read the Bible and he sets out to teach him how to do so profitably. The first letter opens with Adams expressing delight in his son's communication that he was reading a chapter in the Bible every evening. In response to this news Adams wrote:

“This information gave me real pleasure; for so great is my veneration for the Bible, and so strong my belief, that when duly read and meditated on, it is of all books in the world, that which contributes most to make men wise, and happy – that the earlier my children begin to read it, the more steadily they pursue the practice of reading it throughout their lives, the more lively and confident will be my hopes that they will prove useful citizens to their country, respectable members of society, and a real blessing to their parents.” (13)

Adams then sets out in the course of his letters to teach his son how to understand and apply the scriptures, putting together an effective approach to synthesizing Scripture and constructing a biblical worldview. This sense of urgency for his son to read the scriptures and the sense of duty to inculcate this himself (rather than delegating it to others) is a great example for us today.

It may be useful here to list some quotes which illustrate the goal of these letters.

“There are, and always have been, where the Holy Scriptures have been known, petty witlings and self-conceited reasoners, who cavil at some of the particular details of this narration.” (24)

“To a man of liberal education, the study of history is not only useful, and important, but altogether indispensable, and with regard to the history contained in the Bible, the observation which Cicero makes respecting that of his own country is much more emphatically applicable, that ‘it is not so much praiseworthy to be acquainted with as it is shameful to be ignorant of it.’” (27)

“The miraculous interposition of Divine power recorded in every part of the Bible, are invariably marked with grandeur and sublimity worthy of the Creator of the world, and before which the gods of Homer, not excepting his Jupiter, dwindle into the most contemptible pigmies.” (45)

“The more you meditate on the laws of Moses, the more striking and brighter does their wisdom appear.” (47)

“Vain, indeed, would be the search among the writings of profane antiquity (not merely of that remote and antiquity, but even in the most refined and philosophical ages of Greece and Rome), to find so broad, so complete and so solid a basis for morality as the Decalogue lays down.” (49)

“I have already observed that the great immovable and eternal foundation of the superiority of scripture morals, to all other morality, was the idea of God disclosed in them and only in them: the unity of God, his omnipotence, his righteousness, his mercy, and the infinity of his attributes, are marked in every line of the Old Testament, in characters which nothing less than blindness, can fail to discern, and nothing less than fraud can misrepresent.” (51)

“for pathos of narrative; for the selections of incidents that go directly to the heart; for the picturesque of character and manner; the selection of circumstances that mark the individuality of persons; for copiousness, grandeur, and sublimity of imagery; for unanswerable cogency and closeness of reasoning; and for irresistible force of persuasion: no book in the world deserves to be so unceasingly studied, and so profoundly meditated upon as the Bible.” (77)

It must be conceded, as Phillips does in his introduction, that Adams' theology is not exemplary at all points. He had been affected by the rationalism of his day, and this is seen at points in his letters. Phillips, rightly, has not edited this out but allows us to see both wheat and chaff. This does not impede the usefulness of the book. Indeed, it only heightens the challenge to fathers who claim to believe the Bible more completely but take less pains to teach it to their children!

In addition to the letters and Phillips' introduction the book contains the original publisher's introduction and closes with Adams' poem, "The wants of Man," composed in 1874 when he was 74.

There are some places where improvement could be made in future editions. Primarily some more historical background would be helpful. For instance I was left wondering who this son was and what he eventually did in life. It would be nice to have the dates on each letter. The name of the original publisher and date were not given. It may be that some or all of this information is unknown, but if accessible it would only strengthen a great book. Also, there is a frequent unnecessary use of "sic" in regards to British spelling in words such a "recognised" and "practised."

In conclusion, this is a great book and Doug Phillips and Vision Forum are to be thanked once again for making it available. It would make a great gift for fathers. May God use it to spur us on to reclaiming the glorious task of discipling our own children.

Ray Van Neste

Union University