Providence Today: William Penn – A City Without Walls

Dr. Lillback:
Welcome to Providence Today. We’re in historic Philadelphia again, and we’re at a place as you can see, if you look over here, it’s called Welcome Park. Welcome Park is a place where we commemorate William Penn. There’s his beautiful statue, that is a mini version, essentially, of what you see on the top of City Hall here in Philadelphia. And as you look at the ground right here, you see these white stones, and basically this shows the planned city of Philadelphia that William Penn actually put together. The road structures that he wanted to have in one of the first great planned cities in history. That gives you a sense of the visionary character of William Penn. He actually spoke of what he was doing here in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, meaning Penn’s Woods, as the Seed of a Nation. He called it a Holy Experiment. He hoped that out of this exercise that he was putting together, that one day a great nation would be born.

Dr. Lillback:
How right he turned out to be, that in his city, the City of Brotherly Love, the Continental Congress met, declared independence, a new nation was born, and then the Constitution was also developed here in Philadelphia. So William Penn is important. As we look at his life, it’s amazing that he actually is the first person to propose the United States of Europe. Whatever you think about the European Union today, that was a visionary idea that William Penn also put forward. And so, it’s good to get a little overview of his life, but let’s take a look first of all, at the other side of the Welcome Park statue, because there we find a prayer that is the farewell prayer that William Penn had for a city. Let’s go take a look at it.

Dr. Lillback:
On this location was where William Penn’s Slate Roof House was when he lived in Pennsylvania for the two years or so that he was here in Philadelphia. That house is long gone, but this place called Welcome Park commemorates it. And you’ll notice on the back of our statue here, it says the 12th of August, 1684. This is the date that William Penn said farewell to his city, that he was giving birth to, that what would become the Seed of a Nation as he hoped. And as you look at the words from his prayer, you can hear the message of Revelation 3, the Church in Philadelphia, as well as a Christian heart, of his desire that God would bless this work. We need to remember that William Penn was a Minister of the Gospel in the Quaker tradition. Let me just read it.

Dr. Lillback:
“And thou, Philadelphia, the virgin settlement of this province.” What he’s saying, it had never been a city here before. This is his new birth of the beginning of a brand new city, right out of the wilderness. He says it was “named before thou wert born.” He took the name Philadelphia from the Bible and he said, I’m going to call this place by that. He says, “What love, what care, what service, what travail have there been to bring thee forth and preserve thee from such as would abuse and defile thee.” That’s the story of William Penn’s anguish, hard work, sacrifice, and vision, to bring forth this city. He’s describing his autobiography in Philadelphia. And then he says, as he prays, “Oh that thou may be kept from the evil that would overwhelm thee; that faithful to the God of thy mercies, in the life of righteousness, thou mayest be preserved to the end.”

Dr. Lillback:
You hear those words. He wants his city to be a place of righteousness, a place that will live according to the scriptures, according to wisdom. That evil that’s in the world. He knew it was a fallen world. He prayed that that evil would not overcome his city, but rather the Truths Of Scripture, and God’s mercies, and God’s righteousness, would in fact preserve the city until the very end of time. And then he goes on and says, “My soul prays to God for thee.” How many founders of a city have said, “I am praying for this city. This is what I want.” Penn was actually saying, as a minister, “I am interceding for Philadelphia.” He says, “that thou mayest stand in thy day of trial, that thy children may be blessed to the Lord and thy people saved by His power.”

Dr. Lillback:
If you listen to those words, he knew that in the Book of Revelation, the City of Philadelphia said, “There’s an hour of trial coming upon that city.” So there’s going to be an hour of trial that will come upon this city. Little did he know it would be in the middle of the extraordinary Revolutionary War, where Congress would have to flee. The British invaded, and began to burn down part of the City and destroy pieces of it. He prayed that it might be preserved. “And thy children may be blessed to the Lord, and thy people saved by His power.” The gospel, saving from sin, saving from destruction, saving from evil. Penn was looking at a holistic vision of the great Salvation that’s in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Lillback:
And then he says, “My love to thee has been great, and the remembrance of thee affects mine heart and mine eye.” He says, I am stirred in my very soul. My passion. I love this city. I pray for it. I care for it. And he says, then finally, “The God of eternal strength keep and preserve thee to his glory and thy peace.” In other words, he realized the chief end of man is to glorify God. And he said, would Philadelphia be a city that would bring glory to God? And that it would know the peace that God alone can bring. A peace where there would be no fighting.

Dr. Lillback:
And of course, Philadelphia was a city without walls. He wanted it to be a place that would be known for its peace. With the Native Americans, with the immigrants that would come. And so this idea was very close to the Quaker heart. A non-violence, a pacifistic approach. And so he, his hope was that here, the Peaceable Kingdom described in the Book of Isaiah would become a reality. Now, Philadelphia’s not known that peace completely, but it has been a city without walls that has been able to bring our nation together and give us religious liberty, and as a result of our Constitution, to create a peaceful merger of all those individual States. And even with all the rough and tumble politics of America, the Constitution born in this City made it not only the Seed of a Nation, but an occasion to bring peace out of turmoil and conflict. Well, I can’t help, but see God’s Providence in that. And so it is. This is Providence Today. Thanks for watching.

Back to allPosts

Help Us Revive the American Spirit of Liberty!

The Providence Forum exists only through the interest and generous donations of our friends and partners.