March 2016

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hallDWFor today’s post we turn to something that our good friend the Rev. David W. Hall wrote some years ago. As readers of this blog will know, Rev. Hall is currently authoring a series on Election Day Sermons that appears here on TDPH each Saturday. That series will run through the month of October. Today’s post, a small portion of a larger article, explores the role of the Christian faith during the years of the American revolution.

Religion, the Revolution, and the Founding

by Rev. David W. Hall

The 1776 Bill of Rights of Virginia affirmed that all men by nature possess rights to enjoy life and liberty, along with the means of obtaining such. These Virginians also viewed governmental power to be “vested in, and consequently derived from the people.” They affirmed that “magistrates are their [the citizens’] trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.” Civil government was limited to serve the ends of the commonweal, not to aggrandize individuals or segments of the populace. A majority of citizens had the “indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish” a government if it did not serve the “public weal.”

This Old Dominion Bill of Rights asserted a separation of powers, limitation of terms (in order that “the members . . . may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating in the burdens of the people, they should at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station . . . and the vacancies filled” by others), free elections, representative federalism, and freedom of the press. It affirmed that “the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty . . . [it] can never be restrained but by despotic governments.”

This Virginia catalogue also confirmed the propriety of armed militias and the danger of standing armies in peacetime. This governmental platform depended on “firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.” It also supported freedom of religion (“the duty which we owe to our Creator”) and mutual toleration.These views were shared by American Puritans and Calvinists in 1776.

Approximately three out of four Americans attended church services at the time, near an all-time high for America. Recent studies have noted that the Revolutionary period saw Christianity flourishing in America with an almost revivalistic fervor, as many of the sermons of the day indicate. Religion played a leading role in the American Revolution. The first order of the Continental Congress in September 1774 was to locate a minister to lead in prayer. Jacob Duche, a Philadelphia minister, served informally as a spiritual mentor until after the Declaration was adopted. Five days after the Declaration’s adoption, he was formally elected as a chaplain to the Congress. This same Congress called for a day of public prayer and fasting in July 1775, similar to the British parliamentarians four generations earlier. When this Congress commissioned a seal, the committee consisting of Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams came back with symbolism from the Book of Exodus, with George III caricatured as Pharoh, sporting the motto equating rebellion against tyrants with religious duty.

Congress on several occasions called for public fasts and days of humiliation and prayers. One such notable day, approved on March 16, 1776 (and signed by John Hancock), urged united hearts to make “sincere repentance and amendments of life” and to appease the righteous displeasure of “the Lords of Hosts, the God of armies” and “through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ” to “obtain his pardon and forgiveness.”

Two months later, another fast day was called by Congress, and this time they requested that ministers read the proclamation, similar to the distribution method for the Magna Carta and other ancient documents which had been circulated to churches. Another fast day, a fortnight after the Declaration (July 20), featured sermons by prominent Philadelphia clergy—Chaplain Jacob Duche (whose church featured a stained glass window with the motto, “The Church and Magna Carta”) and Presbyterian patriarch Francis Alison. Of this occasion, John Adams observed, “Millions will be on their Knees at once before their great Creator, imploring His forgiveness and Blessing, his Smiles on American Councils and Arms.” Several scholars have noted that the language of this July 20, 1776, (and other) proclamations is riddled with the covenant theology of the Swiss Reformation. “As old as the Reformation itself,” notes historian James Hutson, “this doctrine was embraced by all of the major Protestant groups who settled America, although it has become known as one of the signature statements of the New England Puritans.”

Words to Live By:
Our thanks to Rev. Hall for permission to use this portion of his article. It is right and proper that magistrates should call upon the Church to pray and even to fast. Indeed, Scripture commands us to pray for those in authority over us. (I Timothy 2:1-3). But to digress a bit and address something I’ve been thinking of recently, it is quite common to hear the words of II Chronicles 7:14 applied to the United States by well-meaning Christians. [Is this error unique to American evangelicalism, or does it appear elsewhere around the world and applied to other nations?]  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” How shall that text be applied? As any good Reformed pastor or theologian will tell you, that verse originally applied to national Israel and by extension, the verse, as indicated by the words “My people,” must and can only today mean the Church. It is only Christians who are His people and who are called by His name. When the Church has fallen from where it should be, humble repentance and an earnest seeking after the Lord is the only due course of action. And the land that will be healed must then be the Church itself. For some very edifying reading, I would encourage you to take up and read a small book by John Preston, titled The Golden Sceptre Held forth to the Humble. The book consists of six sermons on the text of II Chronicles 7:14, and I think you will find it to be some of the best reading you’ve come across in quite some time, outside of Scripture.

Reverend William Plumer Jacobs, D.D., LL.D. [03/15/1842 – 09/1One of the great Presbyterian institutions in the South was the Thornwell Orphanage, which still exists to this day, now operating as the Thornwell Home for Children. Founded in 1872 by William Plumer Jacobs, the orphanage brought a unique approach in its care of those children who now number in the thousands. William Plumer Jacobs was born on this day, March 15, 1841. Our post today is drawn from several books about Rev. Jacobs and the Thornwell Orphanage:

A Founding Principle—

Behind the founding of Thornwell Orphanage was the great desire and purpose on the part of its founder, Reverend William Plumer Jacobs, to bring into existence a Christian home for homeless orphans. Let him state this in his own words: “To what end was this new home established? The Saviour says, ‘The poor ye have always with you,’ and so, no matter to what extent such Institutions are multiplied, there is no danger of overtaking the destitution. But a particular purpose was contemplated, apart from that underlying the usual and typical orphan asylum, by the founders of Thornwell Orphanage. the special object of this Institution is to do for orphans, just exactly what you Christian parents would like to have done for your children, were death to take you from them and leave them in poverty.

“The design of the Institution is not to furnish a temporary home for the bodies of the orphans, but to select suitable orphan children (as many as can be provided for) and to conduct them through a regular course of manual, mental, and religious training . . . we believe that one carefully cultured child will do the world more good than half a dozen on whom little impression is made, and ordinarily time will tell.”

Dr. Jacobs felt that the obligation of the Orphanage ceased only when the children had been fitted to become useful members of society.

First among the principles of Thornwell Orphanage was that one set forth in Scripture which deals with the care of the needy by the Church of God. The founders of the Institution said: “We believe it to be the duty of the Church of Jesus Christ to care for its helpless classes.” None can deny the homeless, needy orphan a place among the “helpless classes” of the Church. He would be hard-hearted indeed who would deny the homeless, needy orphan a place in the love and care of the Church. Scripture plainly teaches the unity of believers, the family relationship existing between all the children of God, and at the same time declares: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house (family), he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

[Thornwell Orphanage: Its Principles and Product (1942), p. 19-20.]

The Gift of a Little Child—

Rev. Jacobs felt impelled to speak of that which was upon his heart whenever he could find an interested listener. . . One day the young preacher was in the home of Mrs. Sarah Anderson, a widow, of the Friendship congregation in the western part of Laurens county. He talked of his wish and purpose to start the orphanage. Little Willie Anderson, a fatherless boy, listened in rapt attention. After a bit he slipped out of the room, but was soon back standing by the knee of the speaker. His little hand was clinched tightly as if he had something very precious in it. “What is it?” asked the speaker. The little hand was opened and there lay a bright silver half dollar. The child said” “Take this and build the home for the orphans.” That was back in the early seventies, 1871. In June, 1922, a man who had been elected a member of the Board of Trustees of Thornwell Orphanage appeared and was enrolled. The chairman of the Board, ex-Gov. M.F. Ansel, introduced this man, Mr. William P. Anderson, to the members present. Mr. Anderson was requested to tell the story of his having given that first fifty cents to the orphanage. This he did giving the facts as above stated, with the addition that it was made pulling fodder. It was his all, given out of a generous heart which had been touched by the appeal.

The Orphanage was built, its then present material equipment and endowment (in 1925) were worth three-quarters of a million dollars. Only eternity can reveal, when the great book is opened, what has been its value in saved and redeemed lives. This first gift of the boy reminds one of the loaves and fishes given by the lad to the Master, which, under His divine touch, were multiplied to feed the five thousand.

[The Story of Thornwell Orphanage, Clinton, South Carolina (1925), p. 42-43.]

Words to Live By:
Learn not to despise the day of small beginnings. Or as some have put it, “Bloom where you’re planted.” Rev. Jacobs had his own way of making a similar point:

“I believe that God has a purpose in locating me in Clinton,” he concluded, “and I am determined to work it out. This little church may yet be a center of Presbyterian influence. . . Those who sigh for a larger field of labour,” he added, “do not properly take care of the little field they already have. Make your field larger and more attractive, my dear sir, and study more, visit more, write more, pray more. You are in great want, but action, energy, faith, perseverance are the main things you need.” [The Life of William Plumer Jacobs (1918), p. 92.]

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” – James 1:27, NASB.

Dr. Charles A. Stillman and The Presbytery’s Right of Examination.

Today we are drawing from a short biographical sketch that Dr. Barry Waugh provided for a section of the PCA Historical Center’s web site. He is the author of these first three paragraphs. Then following the biography, something of an aside for the policy wonks out there, (which I hope will prove interesting), on the Presbytery’s right of examination.

stillmanCharles Allen Stillman was born in Charleston, South Carolina to James S. and Mary Stillman on March 14, 1819. He attended Oglethorpe University in Georgia and received his degree in 1841. He then received his divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1844 and proceeded to be licensed by Charleston Presbytery later that year. The Second Presbyterian Church of Charleston provided the opportunity for Charles to exercise his ministerial gifts until 1845. In 1845 he was ordained by Tuscaloosa Presbytery to receive a call to the Presbyterian Church in Eutaw, Alabama where he served until 1853. Remaining in Alabama, Rev. Stillman received a call to be the pastor of the Gainesville church where he ministered until 1870. It was in 1863, while he was at Gainesville, that Charles received the Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Alabama. Dr. Stillman’s next call was to the Presbyterian Church at Tuscaloosa where he began his longest ministry in 1870 and continued there until his death on January 23, 1895.

Dr. Stillman’s non-pastoral ministerial efforts were many. He was the Chairman of Tuscaloosa Presbytery’s Home Missions Committee. From 1847 until 1884 he served as the Stated Clerk of Tuscaloosa Presbytery. One of his most significant achievements was when a group of Tuscaloosa Presbyterians, headed by Dr. Stillman, presented an overture to the 1875 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States concerning a training school for Black ministers. The 1876 General Assembly followed the recommendation of its specially appointed committee and authorized establishing the Institute for Training Colored Ministers at Tuscaloosa. In the fall of 1876 Charles Stillman taught its first classes. The Institute came to be named the Stillman Institute in honor of its devoted founder who served as its superintendent from its founding until his death. The curriculum and nature of its educational program has changed over the years and it is known today as Stillman College.

Charles Stillman was married three times. He married his first wife, Martha Hammond of Milledgeville, Georgia, on October 15, 1846. His second marriage was to the widow Fannie Collins of Shubuta, Mississippi, whom he married on April 17, 1866. Elfreda Walker of Clarksville, Tennessee was his third wife and they were married on April 17, 1872. At least two of Dr. Stillman’s descendants continued to serve the Presbyterian Church–his daughter, Anna M. Stillman, was a secretary for Rev. T. P. Mordecai at the First Presbyterian Church, in Birmingham, Alabama, and his grandson, Rev. Charles Sholl, was the pastor of the Avondale Presbyterian Church, another of the Presbyterian churches in Birmingham.

Now, on the thin ruse that it was Dr. Stillman who initiated the following discussion at the 1866 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian), we present the following narrative, which concerns the Presbytery’s right to examine men transferring into the Presbytery from elsewhere, whether from within the denomination or from without. To compare the PCA’s stance on such matters, click here.

[excerpted from The Christian Observer 45.1 (4 January 1866): 1.]

The Committee on Bills and Overtures reported adversely to an overture from the Presbytery of South Alabama, asking for the repeal of the rule requiring the examination of ministers coming into a Presbytery from another.

Rev. Dr. Stillman reported that there is a Presbytery in South Alabama prepared to unite with us—they are well known, and have the entire confidence of all the ministers of the Presbytery of South Alabama. They are thoroughly orthodox. The Presbytery has a delicacy in examining them. This rule requiring their examination is the only obstacle to the union. The request of the Presbytery is unanimously endorsed by the Synod of Alabama. We believe that the rule is unconstitutional as far as its action is concerned—the necessity for it has passed away—it has been abrogated by the Assembly in reference to one large body—the United Synod—and now it is hoped that there will not be no hesitation in abolishing a rule which excludes a Presbytery of another body ready to unite with us.

Rev. Dr. [Samuel J.] Baird sketched the history of the origin of the rule requiring the examination of ministers passing from Presbytery to Presbytery. Dr. Lyman Beecher came to a Presbytery in New York from some Congregational Association, and was admitted without examination, and immediately took a letter of dismission to an Ohio Presbytery, and was received, and subsequently stated that he had never signified his adoption of the Confession of Faith. The late Dr. Alexander therefore advocated the adoption of the examination rule, for without it a single Presbytery might deluge the church with heretical ministers. The rule was not directed especially against the New School Church, for at the time of its adoption that church had no existence. Nor had it been suspended in the case of the United Synod.—They had examined the Old School and the Old School had examined them, and it was not until they were thoroughly satisfied as to one another’s soundness that they came together. Nor could it be reasonably objected to. He was not ashamed to proclaim anywhere what he believed as to the great doctrines of religion, and he was not willing to alter our whole system to open the door to a few who were not willing to come in the same way that others had been received. The importance of it is increased at this time—it is more necessary than ever in these days of fanaticism that we should have such a rule. Even in the case of old ministers he thought it a good thing to talk over our views occasionally. When a venerable father in the church comes to be examined, if we cannot find any heresy in him, we can at least learn a great deal from him about the great doctrines of grace. The speaker continued that if the rule is absolute, nobody’s feelings can be hurt by it. He therefore saw no necessity for its repeal.

Rev. Dr. [Robert] Nall said these brethren have not even asked the repeal of this law — they do not make their coming to depend on the repeal of this law—they would, however, prefer to come in without an examination, and if we repeal the law the Presbytery still has the right to examine all who come to them.

The report was adopted, refusing to repeal the rule requiring the examination of all ministers entering a Presbytery. Rev. Dr. Brown proposed that a letter be addressed to the Presbytery of South Alabama, explanatory of the views of the Assembly, to be used by them as they see fit in communicating with these brethren. Dr. [George] Howe and Dr. Baird were appointed to that committee. On motion, adjourned.

Closed with prayer by Rev. Ed. P. Palmer.

Words to Live By:
One strength of the Presbyterian system is the safeguard provided for the congregations by the Presbytery, as they watch over who may lawfully enter the field to tend the sheep. When a church calls a man to be its pastor, that man must first be examined by the Presbytery before he will be allowed onto the field of service within that Presbytery. The Presbytery has ever right and every responsibility before God, to watch over and protect the congregations within their bounds. God help them if they take their duty lightly.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; (1 John 4:1-2, NASB).

Through a technical difficulty, we are unable today to present the scheduled post of Rev. Leonard Van Horn’s commentary on Question 69 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. That being the case, this seems a good time to revisit our first post in this series. Rev. Van Horn was born in 1920, educated at Columbia Theological Seminary, and pastored churches in Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and New Mexico. He also served as a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. His work on the ruling elder remains in print, but his series on the Westminster Shorter Catechism has, regrettably, never been published. It was originally issued in the form of bulletin inserts, and the PCA Historical Center is pleased to have a complete set of these inserts. It is my plan to post one lesson each Sunday this year.


Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

Scripture References: I Cor. 10:31Psalm 73:24-26John 17:22,24.

1.    What is the meaning of the word “end” in this question?
The word means an aim, a purpose, an intention. It will be noted that the word “end” is qualified by the word “chief”. Thus it is noted that man will have other purposes in this life but his primary purpose should be to glorify God. This is in keeping with the purpose for which man was made. It is when we are alienated from God that we have the wrong end or purpose in view.

2.    What does the word “glorify” mean in this question?
Calvin tells us that the “glory of God is when we know what He is.” In its Scriptural sense, it is struggling to set forth a divine thing. We glorify Him when we do not seek our own glory but seek Him first in all things.

3.    How can we glorify God?
Augustine said, “Thou hast created us for Thyself, O God, and our heart is restless until it finds repose in Thee.” We glorify God by believing in Him, by confessing Him before men, by praising Him, by defending His truth, by showing the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, by worshiping Him.

4.    What rule should we remember in regard to glorifying God?
We should remember that every Christian is called of God to a life of service. We glorify God by using the abilities He has given us for Him, though we should remember that our service should be from the heart and not simply as a duty.

5.    Why is the word “glorify” placed before “enjoy” in the answer?
It is placed first because you must glorify Him before you can enjoy Him. If enjoyment was placed first you would be in danger of supposing that God exists for man instead of men for God. If a person would stress the enjoying of God over the glorifying of God there would be danger, of simply an emotional type of religion. The Scripture says, “In Thy presence is fulness of joy. . . .” (Ps. 16:11). But joy from God comes from being in a right relationship with God, the relationship being set within the confines of Scripture.

6.    What is a good Scripture to memorize to remind us of the lesson found in Question No. 1?
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: …” (Ps. 42:1,2a). This reminds us of the correct relationship for the Christian, looking unto Him. It is there we find our ability to glorify Him and the resulting joy.

It is a fact to be much regretted that the average Christian who gives allegiance to the Westminster Standards is a Christian that many times leaves out the living of these Standards in the daily pursuits of life. It is good to believe, it is good to have a creed in which to believe. But there is much harm that can result from believing in a creed and not living it day by day. From such an existence we arrive at a low tone of spiritual living and the professing believer becomes cold, formal, without spiritual power in his life.

We should always recognize that the first lesson to be learned from our catechism is that our primary concern is to be of service to the Sovereign God. Our Westminster Shorter Catechism does not start with the salvation of man. It does not start with God’s promises to us. It starts with placing us in the right relationship with our Sovereign God. James Benjamin Green tells us that the answer to the first question of the Catechism asserts two things: “The duty of man, ‘to glorify God.’ The destiny of man, ‘to enjoy Him.’ ”

It is to be regretted that though we have inherited the principles of our forefathers, in that their Creed is still our Creed, so many times we have failed to inherit the desire to practice their way of living. Many people will attempt to excuse themselves here by stating that we live in a different age, that the temptations and speed of life today divert us from spiritual things. But no matter what excuses we might give, the Catechism instructs us right at the outset that our duty is to glorify God, such is our chief purpose in life. All of us need to note the valid words of J. C. Ryle in regard to our Christian living: “Where is the self-denial, the redemption of time, the absence of luxury and self-indulgence, the unmistakable separation from earthly things, the manifest air of being always about our Master’s business, the singleness of eye, the high tone of conversation, the patience, the humility that marked so many of our forerunners . . . ?”

May God help each of us to stop right now, read again the first question and answer of our Catechism, and pray to God that in the days to come our primary concern might be that we will live to His glory. It is not difficult for us to know the characteristics of such a life. The fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 are plain enough.

The Shield and Sword, Inc.
Vol. 1 No. 3  January, 1961
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

“An Anniversary Sermon at Lexington” by Henry Cumings  (April 19, 1781)

cumings02Pastor Henry Cumings [1739-1823] was a Congregationalist pastor in Billerica, Massachusetts for his entire ministry. After graduating from Harvard in 1760, he later was honored with a doctorate by Harvard in 1800. He was an outspoken revolutionary leader who preached against the ‘tyranny’ of Great Britain. He held to much of orthodox Christianity but may have been swayed by Unitarianism later in life. Nothwithstanding, he denounced Deism and the French Revolution.

Cumings was selected to be a delegate to the 1780 constitutional convention in Massachusetts—interestingly, at a period when most Americans still were not excessively phobic of a putative wall demanding separation. This sermon was preached at Lexington on April 19th, on the 6th anniversary of the onset of the Revolutionary war. Such anniversary observations became commonplace, and the American clergy were frequently the broadcasters both of British tyrannies and American rights. The printed version of this sermon features quotes from the OT by Samuel (“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”) and Solomon (“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.”). The text for the sermon was Psalm 76:10: “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath thou shalt restrain.”

Cumings began this anniversary sermon by acknowledging that although God permits evil, he also is fully competent to govern, guide, and correct all events. At the same time, he also will bring correction, and it “cannot be doubted, but the infinitely wise GOD knows how to promote his own glory, by those ungoverned lusts of envious, discontented and proud mortals.”

Sounding distinctively Augustinian, Cumings recognizes that we live in a hate-filled world—one which is fallen and characterized by the wrath of man. Despite the pride and violence, he comforted: “We may rest assured, that the supreme governor of the world, will not suffer the wrath of man, of a weak and impotent mortal, (how much soever advanced above his fellow mortals) to overthrow his government, or defeat the counsels of his wisdom; but will cause it to praise him.”

He, then, reviewed instances of sacred history in which God permitted the wrath of man to have temporary sway. Among the examples from biblical history, he mentions Joseph at Potiphar’s hand, Moses and Pharaoh, rulers like Solomon and Rehoboam, and Esther’s deliverance. In these instances, “The haughty tyrant, who endeavours to advance his oppressive schemes, and to set himself up above all law and justice, by severities and cruelties, dictated by wrath, does thereby frequently work out his own disappointment, and is forced eventually to acknowledge his impotence, and to own a power above himself.”

Nevertheless, the wrath of man is not the absolute determinant; it is circumscribed by God’s governance: “SHOULD GOD permit the wrath of man to do all that it designs, what havock and devastation, what mischief and wretchedness, would it spread through the world? This world, at best, is a very turbulent scene; but it would be much more so, did not providence lay restraints upon the lusts and passions of ill-designing men, and prevent their going to such lengths in mischief, as they wish.”

Thankfully, in all human events, the hand of the Supreme Governor restrains the wrath of man from having total sway: “All nature is at the beck of the great Creator, who, when he pleases, can employ any part thereof, to disappoint the devices of the crafty, and carry the counsels of the froward headlong. What we call second causes, are entirely dependent upon the great first cause, to whom they owe all their force and energy.” The various ways that God checks the wrath of man are explored in the middle part of this famous sermon.

The final part of this sermon, as expected, is given to a discussion of the underlying providence that was at work six years earlier in the massacre at Lexington, Massachusetts. Early American preachers (and this is far from unique to America) were quite specific in their application sections, as this exemplar is. Sounding similar to the catechesis of causes for the revolution chronicled in the Declaration of Independence, Cumings cited the following as political abuses:

The pride, avarice and ambition of Great-Britain, gave rise to the present hostile contests. From this source originated those oppressive acts, which first alarmed the freemen of America; and provoked them, after petitioning in vain for redress, to form plans of opposition and resistance. This conduct of America exasperated the British administration, and roused all their wrath Transported with angry resentments, they proceeded from oppression to open war, in order to frighten and compel us into a submission to those arbitrary and despotic schemes, which they were determined, at all hazards, to carry into execution. But those vindictive and sanguinary counsels and measures, which, in the vehemence of their passions, they adopted, for this purpose, have, by the providence of GOD, contrary to their expectations, involved them in the most perplexing difficulties, by uniting thirteen provinces of America, in that declaration of independence, which they now wish us to rescind.

Applying an OT precedent from Rehoboam, Cumings believed that “The cause was from the Lord.” Even the tyranny of Great Britain was categorized as tyranny, which would justify overthrow. Evil intents, political abuse, tyranny in general or the British oppression in particular did not suggest that God was off the throne. As the hymn puts it, “And though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” Pastor Cumings preached, “We have therefore abundant reason to be thankful to the sovereign Ruler of the world, not only that he hath hitherto protected us against the open violence of our avowed foes; but also that he hath guarded us against the treacheries and treasonable conspiracies, of false and disaffected persons, whom we have harboured in our own bosoms; and defeated those hidden and mischievous artifices, which they have used to work our destruction.”

Specifically, the wrath of England, signaled by the April 19, 1775 attack at Lexington “has contributed to bring about and establish our independency.” He exhorted: “And the wrath, which she has thus roused in America, has been wisely managed by Providence, for checking and restraining her rage and vengeance.” Cumings drew these applications:

BUT whatever we may think of the ends of Providence, in ordering such a diversity of tempers among men, this is certain, that GOD will so manage the most disorderly, turbulent and boisterous passions, as to make them promotive of the designs of his government, or lay such restraints upon them, that instead of frustrating, they shall really subserve the purposes of his wisdom. Of this we have had the clearest evidence, in a variety of instances in the course of the present war; which affords substantial ground for a rational hope and trust in GOD, for the future.

Cumings also looks to the future, hoping for an end of the war and full independence for America. Agreeing with Solomon that “righteousness exalteth a nation, [which] asserts no more, than what the experience of all ages has found to be true,” Cumings concludes by citing Job 15:31ff and provides a brief exhortation to the local army.

The memory of those, who have magnanimously jeoparded their lives, and shed their blood in their country’s cause, will ever be dear to us. We particularly retain an honorable remembrance of those, who first fell a sacrifice to British wrath; and feel emotions of sympathy towards their surviving relatives, who cannot but be sensibly affected on this occasion. We would also join with you, in grateful acknowledgments to GOD, who mercifully checked the wrath of our enemies in its first eruptions, and caused it to recoil back on their own heads. We doubt not, but from the warmth of honest resentment; from a love of liberty and of your country, you will persevere to oppose and resist those insolent and haughty enemies, of whose wanton cruelty, you have had too melancholy a specimen, to permit you to expect much mercy at their hands, should they gain their point.

WHILE therefore, you are engaged with a laudable zeal in the cause of civil liberty, you will permit me to remind you, that there is another kind of liberty of an higher and nobler nature, which it is of infinite importance to every one to be possessed of; I mean that glorious internal liberty, which consists in a freedom from the dominion of sin, and in the habit and practice of all the virtues of a good life. This is that noble and exalted liberty of the sons of God, of which our saviour speaks, when he says, If the son of God shall make you free, then shall ye be free indeed. And this, once gained, will inspire you with the greatest magnanimity and fortitude, in the cause of outward liberty. For the righteous are bold as a lion.

The word count of this stirring sermon was ca. 8500. It is available in Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998) and at;view=fulltext.

by Dr. David W. Hall, Pastor
Midway Presbyterian Church

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