A Heart Firmly Attached in the Interest of His Country.
Abraham Keteltas was born in New York City on December 26, 1732. His father, Abraham Keteltas, Sr., was a merchant who had immigrated to the American colonies in 1720. The family had settled in New Rochelle, New York, which was at the time heavily populated with Huguenots. Young Abraham’s friendships among the Huguenots allowed him to become fluent in French. He later studied theology at Yale, graduating there in 1752, and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New York in 1756.
Installed as pastor in Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1757, he remained there but a year. Rev. Keteltas married about this time and resided at Jamaica, Long Island, yet without pastoral charge. Still, as he was fluent in the three languages dominant in the region and was a masterful preacher, he frequently was called to the pulpits of the Dutch and French churches, as well as the Presbyterian, and during this time his reputation grew among that population.
His reputation and stature apparently extended well beyond the Long Island community, for it is recorded that his advice was held in high esteem by many, George Washington being among that number and known to have frequently consulted him on various matters. Rev. Keteltas readily became a strong advocate in the struggle for independence, so public in his declarations that his personal safety required him to flee Long Island for the relative safety of New England. He was elected in 1777 to serve as a delegate to the New York State constitutional convention, though he did not attend.
Four of Rev. Keteltas’s sermons are extant, preserved in a small number of libraries. These are:
The Religious Soldier: or, The Military Character of King David, display’d and enforced in a sermon, preached March 8, 1759, to the regular officers and soldiers in Elizabeth-Town.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in becoming poor for men displayed and enforced in a charity sermon preached in the French Protestant Church, in New-York, December 27, 1773.
Reflections on Extortion shewing the Nature, Malignity, and Fatal Tendency of that Sin to Individuals and Communities, displayed and enforced in a sermon preached at Newbury-port, on Lord’s Day February 15th, 1778.
God Arising and Pleading His People’s Cause: or, The American War in Favor of Liberty, Against the Measures and Arms of Great Britain, Shewn to Be the Cause of God.
The last mentioned of these, delivered in 1777, is perhaps the best known of his sermons. It is a bold and patriotic record of his support for the American cause. Reiner Smolinki, of George State University, has skillfully made this sermon available in digital edition (see the above link). Of this sermon, Mr. Smolinski states:
In the former sermon . . . Keteltas enlists Jehovah of Armies in defense of America’s rights. Drawing on typological parallels from both Testaments, Keteltas demonstrates that God always supports the cause of righteousness, liberty, and self-government, especially where His people are concerned. If God is on the side of His American Israel, Kelteltas prophecies, the British enemy cannot succeed for long. Religion and politics are joined in a bed of patriotism.
During the war years, Rev. Keteltas supplied the pulpits of many churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts, continuing in that capacity until declining health forced his retirement in 1782. He died while residing in Jamaica, Queens County, New York, on this day, September 30, in 1798, at the age of 65 years, 9 months and 4 days. The New York Historical Society has preserved a portrait of Rev. Keteltas, which can be viewed here. His gravestone, which can be viewed here, reads as follows:
“He possessed unusual talents which were improved by profound erudition & a heart firmly attached in the interest of his Country. His mind was early impressed with a sense of religion, which fully manifested itself by his choice of the sacred office, in which he shone as the able & faithful Divine. It may not perhaps be unworthy of record in this inscription, that he had frequently officiated in three different languages, having preached in the Dutch & French Churches in his native City of New York.”
Something to Consider:
The question is still with us to this day, whether Christians, as Christians, should be involved in politics. Without voting here on the matter, we only make an historical observation of the strong involvement of the clergy in favor of the American Revolution, so much so that the War was sometimes called the Presbyterian Rebellion. To discover how these pastors came to their convictions, it is necessary to take into account the wider context of, first, the English Civil War (1642-51), and second, the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary (1688). The American Revolutionary War was very clearly at the time seen as a continuation of these earlier conflicts. For a Presbyterian defense of the struggle for liberty, see particularly Samuel Rutherford’s Lex, Rex: The Law and the Prince, A Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People (1644).