POLITICAL SERMONS FROM PASTORS IN THE FOUNDING ERA
Pastor Roger Anghis
December 29, 2013
Sermon preached by Samuel Langdon, a Congregational minister and President of Harvard College, to the Massechusetts Congress on the 31st day of May 1775. Because this sermon was given on the anniversary of the election for counselors it is referred to as an ‘election sermon’.
title of the sermon is:
Government Corrupted by Vice and Recovered by Righteousness.
From the early 1760’s there began a major frustration with the policies that England began to enforce on the Colonies. The last two non-military governors that England had set in place were not popular with the people because of Parliament’s attempts to tax the Colonies with representation. Thomas Hutchinson was the last non-military governor and was even a Massachusetts native but his willingness to embrace the policies of the crown made him very unpopular with the citizens of Massachusetts. One such policy was the authorizing of the quartering of British troops in Boston. This eventually resulted in the infamous Boston Massacre in 1770. The patriots began to raise considerable opposition to the crown’s policies and in 1773 after the Boston Tea Party, Hutchinson was replaced by British General Thomas Gage. His popularity disappeared when he began to implement what was to become known as the Intolerable Acts (covered earlier in this series) which included the Massachusetts Government Act which dissolved the legislature which the people had established and giving the crown full government authority over the will of the people, then the implementation of the Boston Port Act which closed the Boston Port until compensation for the tea dumped during the Boston Tea Party in 1773 was made. This port closure had a great negative economic impact on the Massachusetts Colony but created a tremendous amount of support from the other Colonies.
The government established by the crown was never really recognized by the citizens of Massachusetts and in 1774 the General Court of Massachusetts convened in opposition to the crown and established the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. All of this led to Massachusetts declaring independence from England in May of 1776 and then all thirteen declaring independence in July 4, 1776.
This sermon was given in 1775 as things were coming to a boiling point in Boston. The Church of England preached a so-called gospel of unlimited submission. This was to be expected as the Church of England was controlled completely by the crown. The majority of the churches in America, however were controlled by the Holy Spirit and followed a path of submission to God and not government.
This opposition by the Colonies was not expected by Parliament. As noted by one historian: “The resistance and union of the colonies were the very opposite of the results expected by the ministry. Severity defeated its ends. Colonial non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption agreements were met by government prohibition of the fisheries and commerce, though it involved a sacrifice of British interests; for it was shown that New England only could successfully prosecute the fisheries, and the table of the House of Commons was loaded with statistics of their enormous value and importance to trade. The sword was two-edged; but with George III, personal feelings were superior to national interests.
The Provincial Congress voted, May 5th, that General Gage "ought to be considered and guarded against as an unnatural and inveterate enemy to the country." One hundred thousand pounds lawful money were voted; and thirteen thousand six hundred men, from Massachusetts alone, enlisted, as a superior force was the "only means left to stem the rapid progress of a tyrannical ministry." Force must be met by force; and the colonial militia — men with souls in them, ardent for their own firesides and rights — were ready for the king's mercenary troops. "In the name of the great Jehovah and the Continental Congress" was authority enough. Proclamations from royal governors were as the idle wind. Gage was master of Boston only. The trembling tories detained the wives and children of the patriots in Boston, for the security of the town, though in violation of General Gage's faith for their removal. The inhabitants of the seaports, exposed to the enemy by sea, fled from their homes to the interior, and were in want and suffering. "How much better," said the preacher, oppressed by the sight of all this misery, "for the inhabitants to have resolved, at all hazards, to defend themselves by their arms against such an enemy!" (Emphasis mine)
Reverend Langdon was considered a patriots patriot. He had graduated from Harvard at an age when most people today enter Harvard, the age of 18. His disposition towards an armed conflict, if necessary, was well known and even the day after he delivered this message he, as moderator of the annual convention of ministers, that was also held in Watertown at the request of the Provincial Congress, he submitted a letter to the President of the Provincial Congress, the Honorable Joseph Warren Esq. stating the willingness of the ministers to be involved in whatever manner was needed to assist the resistance against the crown: "To the Hon. Joseph Warren, Esq., President of the Provincial Congress of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, etc.
"Sir : —We, the pastors of the Congregational churches of the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay, in our present annual convention,"— at Watertown, June 1, 1775, — "gratefully beg leave to express the sense we have of the regard shown by the Honorable Provincial Congress to us, and the encouragement they have been pleased to afford to our assembling as a body this day. Deeply impressed with sympathy for the distresses of our much-injured and oppressed country, we are not a little relieved in beholding the representatives of this people, chosen by their free and unbiassed suffrages, now met to concert measures for their relief and defence, in whose wisdom and integrity, under the smiles of Divine Providence, we cannot but express our entire confidence.
"As it has been found necessary to raise an army for the common safety, and our brave countrymen have so willingly offered themselves to this hazardous service, we are not insensible of the vast burden that their necessary maintenance must"— devolve— "upon the people. We therefore cannot forbear, upon this occasion, to offer our services i to the public, and to signify our readiness, with the consent of our several congregations, to officiate, by rotation, as chaplains to the army.
"We devoutly commend the Congress, and our brethren in arms, to the guidance and protection of that Providence which, from the first settlement of this country, has so remarkably appeared for the preservation of its civil and religious rights.” (Emphasis mine) It is worthy to note that there were no pastors that supported the ‘conscientious objector’ concept that we have today. When the government of man attempted to take away the God given rights enjoyed in America, the pastors were the first to stand up and cry foul and demand that government abide by biblical mandates, even if it meant using force!
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The foundation scripture for this election sermon was Isaiah 1:26 – And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning; afterward thou shalt be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. He begins by displaying another biblical foundation that the Founders used for establishing the type of government they believed was essential to a successful government and that is a government that is built on men that fear God. He references Exodus 18:21: “Shall we rejoice, my fathers and brethren, or shall we weep together, on the return of this anniversary, which from the first settlement of this colony has been sacred to liberty, to perpetuate that invaluable privilege of choosing from among ourselves wise men, fearing God and hating covetousness, to be honorable counsellors, to constitute one essential branch of that happy government which was established on the faith of royal charters?
On this day the people have from year to year assembled, from all our towns, in a vast congregation, with gladness and festivity, with every ensign of joy displayed in our metropolis, which now, alas ! is made a garrison of mercenary troops, the stronghold of despotism.” (Emphasis mine)
Langdon’s beginning statements show again that the foundation of America was strongly established on the Word of God and the pastors were willing to use any force necessary to regain what the crown had taken away.
Pulpit of the American Revolution, John W. Thorton, The Federalist Papers
Project, (Gould and Lincoln, Boston), p. 232.
2. Pulpit of the American Revolution, John W. Thorton, The Federalist Papers Project, (Gould and Lincoln, Boston), p. 233-234.
3. Geneva Bible 1599, Tolle Lege Press, 2006.
4. Pulpit of the American Revolution, John W. Thorton, The Federalist Papers Project, (Gould and Lincoln, Boston), p. 235.
© 2013 Roger Anghis - All Rights Reserved
Pastor Roger Anghis is the Founder of RestoreFreeSpeech.org, an organization designed to draw attention to the need of returning free speech rights to churches that was restricted in 1954.
President of The Damascus Project, TheDamascusProject.org, which has a stated purpose of teaching pastors and lay people the need of the churches involvement in the political arena and to teach the historical role of Christianity in the politics of the United States. Married-37 years, 3 children, three grandchildren.
Web site: RestoreFreeSpeech.org