The Bible in America

History From its founding in 1816, the American Bible Society has grappled with the task of making the Word of God available to Christians and churches in America. From its earliest days, it has worked to provide scriptures to the men, and later women of the military, to local and international bible societies, and to translate the Holy Bible to other languages used by peoples in the United States so that they could not only possess scripture, but could understand its importance in their own lives.

Leaders Starting with a leader of the American Revolution, Elias Boudinot, John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and going right down to the most recent president Lamar Vest, The American Bible Society has always been led by “true believers” in the Bible cause.

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Letter from John Jay to SS Woodhull

on His Election as President of ABS

Dated December 17, 1821

Portrait of John Jay

This letter resides in the ABS Archives and was transcribed for a project on Judge Jay. The text of the typed transcription has been reproduced here in its entirety. In his first response to the Board of Managers, John Jay declines their election as president of the Society. He was later persuaded to accept the post.

Bedford, West Chester Co., NJ
17th Dec. 1821

To the Revd. Mr. S. S. Woodhull
Secy, of the Amer. Bible Society

Revd. Sir,

I have received by the last mail your obliging Letter of the 7th Inst. informing me that the Board of Managers had unanimously elected me to succeed the late worthy President of the American Bible Society. Those Gentlemen have thereby done me Honour, and I thank them for it.

The circumstances under which the British and Foreign Bible Society arose, and extended its benign Influence to distant countries; and the subsequent spontaneous formation of numerous similar Societies in other nations, are events so singular, and so little to have been expected, as to afford reason to ascribe them to a more efficient cause, than any of those from which mere human Institutions usually result.

They who regard these Societies as deriving their origin and success from the author and Giver of the Gospel, cannot forbear concluding it to be the duty of Christians, to promote the purposes for which they have been established; and that it is particularly incumbent on their officers to be diligent in the business committed to them.

It has long and uniformly been my opinion, that no person should accept of an office or place, unless he be both able and willing to do the Duties of it. This principle opposes my acceptance of the one in question. My health has been declining for twelve years past - My Excursions from home have long been limited to short-distances - such are my maladies that they often confine me to the house, and at times to my chamber - combined with the increasing infirmities of age, they allow me no prospect of convalescence.

As President of the Society I should think I ought to be conversant with their proceedings; and not only attend their annual meetings, but also, at least occasionally, partake in the consultations and assist in the transactions of the Board of Managers.

Were I in a capacity to do the duties of the office, I should accept it without hesitation. - I say without hesitation - because I should then as much doubt my having a Right to decline, as I now doubt my having a right to accept it.

From the preceding, particulars relative to the state of my health, the Gentlemen of the Board will perceive that my inability to serve them is greater in degree than they doubtless apprehended. Be pleased, Sir, to assure them of my Gratitude for the distinction with which they have honoured me; and that opportunities of manifesting it would give me pleasure.

I am Revd. Sir, Your ob. Servt,
(Signed) JOHN JAY

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