Religion and the Declaration of Independence
The Godly Nature of Freedom
From their upbringing and tenets inherited from puritans and pilgrims, religious sentiments were deep inside the patriots. They grew up learning and consulting the Bible and tried always to be on the right side of God's laws. They learned to evaluate every aspect of their lives accordingly while religious leaders further encouraged them not to accept anything contrary to the word of God. In knowing that King George III was violating biblical precepts, they began to protest. These men were logical and passionate in their beliefs, and they were fired up. They would not live without the spiritual right of liberty. When King George did not heed their protests and, instead, attacked in battle, that was all the push they needed. Ready or not, they would fight.
If your cause is just, you may look with confidence to the Lord, and intreat him to plead it as his own.
John Witherspoon, "The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men" (sermon), May 1776
Many Revolutionary War clergy believed God would approve the start of war against an unjust Britain. They preached compelling sermons that resonated throughout New England about the evils of tyranny and the importance of liberty. A relationship between true religion and virtue and the preservation of liberty was drawn.
Abraham Keteltas, for example, wrote that the American effort was "the cause of truth, against error and falsehood . . .the cause of pure and undefiled religion, against bigotry, superstition, and human invention . . .in short, it is the cause of heaven against hell--of the kind Parent of the Universe against the prince of darkness, and the destroyer of the human race." See "Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (87)
In a word, we seriously and earnestly recommend the practice of that pure and undefiled religion, which embalmed the memory of our pious ancestors, as that alone upon which we can build a solid hope and confidence in the Divine protection and favour, without whose blessing all the measures of safety we have, or can propose, will end in our shame and disappointment.
John Witherspoon (1723-1794), educated at Edinburgh University and ordained as a minister in 1745, was the sixth president of Princeton. He came from Scotland in 1768 to assume the presidency of the college and held office until his death.
He was a leading member of the Continental Congress from 1776 to 1782, in which capacity he signed the Declaration of Independence and served on more than 100 committees. He is considered the most important "political parson" of the Revolutionary period.
God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseparable . . .
Reverend Doctor John Witherspoon
James Caldwell was a Presbyterian minister at Elizabeth, New Jersey, serving as chaplain during the Revolutionary War.
At the battle of Springfield, New Jersey, 1780, when his company ran out of wadding, Caldwell ran into a nearby Presbyterian Church to gather as many Watts hymnals as he could and distributed them to the troops, shouting "put Watts into them, boys."
Caldwell and his wife were both killed before the war ended.
Reverend James Caldwell at the Battle of Springfield
Watercolor by Henry Alexander Ogden Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia (90) Llibrary of Congress
...Neither the wisest constitution nor the
wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are
Samuel Adams, in The Public Advertiser, circa 1749
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.
1 Corinthians 8:9
But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.
Nevertheless, to the persecution and tyranny of his cruel ministry we will not tamely submit — appealing to Heaven for the justice of our cause, we determine to die or be free....
Joseph Warren, American account of the Battle of Lexington, 1775
Jonathan Mayhew, a pastor who believed that civil and religious liberty was ordained by God, considered the Church of England a dangerous enemy of the New England Way.
The bishop's mitre with the snake emerging from it represented his view of the Anglican hierarchy. In his influential sermon, he offered moral sanction in explaining that resistance to a tyrant was a "glorious" Christian duty.
Jonathan Mayhew, D.D. Pastor of the West Church in Boston .
The American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts (82)
Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King.
Stanza From My Country 'tis of Thee
by Samuel F. Smith
Peter Muhlenberg was a clergyman who started the Lutheran church in America. He became a general in the Revolutionary Army having participated in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, Stonypoint, and Yorktown; and he later served as Vice President of Pennsylvania under Benjamin Franklin.
It began in a Church
Reverend Jonas Clark was parson of a church in Lexington. In his church parking lot, the "shot heard around the world" was fired; and members of his congregation were killed. Clark looked down with great anguish at the dead bodies and cried: "From this day will be dated the liberty of the world."
Chaplains were appointed in abundance by Congress during the Revolutionary War. By resolution, it was directed that military chaplains were paid at the rate of a major in the Continental Army. Congressional resolution Broadside, April 22, 1782 Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (102)
Endorsed by Congress
The war with Britain cut off the supply of Bibles to the United States. Congress instructed its Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from "Scotland, Holland or elsewhere." Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken (1734-1802) petitioned Congress to officially approve publication of the Old and New Testament which he was preparing at his own expense. Congressional members "highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion . . . in this country, and . . . they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States." See: Congressional resolution, September 12, 1782, endorsing Robert Aitken's Bible Philadelphia: David C. Claypoole, 1782 from the Journals of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
Let the pulpit resound with the doctrine and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear of the dignity of man's nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God...Let it be known that British liberties are not the grants of princes and parliaments.
John Adams "Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law," 1765
Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.
Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.
He is the best friend to American liberty, who is most sincere and active in promoting true and undefiled religion, and who sets himself with the greatest firmness to bear down on profanity and immorality of every kind. Whoever is an avowed enemy of God, I scruple not to call him an enemy to his country.
John Witherspoon, 1776
That liberty is a great thing we may know from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge so from the conduct of the white people in the late war
"An Address to the Negroes in the State of New-York," 1787
Samuel Davies As the son of persecuted Baptists, Davies was a champion for the cause of religious freedom.
His mother had
had difficulty conceiving and prayed to God for a child. Born in 1723, Samuel
later wrote, "I am a son of prayer, like my namesake Samuel the prophet; and my
mother called me Samuel because, she said, 'I have asked him of the Lord...'"
Samuel, also like his namesake, was determined to live his life for God.
In 1740, Davies received a license from Virginia to preach as a Presbyterian minister in four counties. He had obtained it in spite of discrimination by the colonial government against any denomination but the official Church of England. Yet he had to fight to keep it, being called several times before the Council and threatened with revocation of his license. Fortunately, he knew his laws to ably argue his case, persuading the Council to continue his license to preach. One of his foes exclaimed, "What a lawyer was spoiled when Davies took the pulpit." Ironically, Davies often used his license to promote tolerance for all denominations of Christianity.
His unusual gift of persuasion spilled over into dynamic sermons, often persuading the crowds with Scripture and practical application. Patrick Henry, a regular attendee to Davies' services, was truly mesmerized and influenced by his eloquence.
Davies regularly invited three hundred slaves to his home on Saturday evenings--their only free time. He taught them to read and to sing hymns, many of which he wrote himself. His gospel songs are still found in hymn-books today including "Great God of Wonders." Davies also helped establish a mission to the Indians with aid from the Scotch Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.
As a product of the Great Awakening, Davies always preached for conviction both to kings or to slaves. He traveled with Gilbert Tennant to England (1753–1755) to raise funds for the College of New Jersey. While there he was asked to preach before King George II in his royal chapel. The king made comments about Davies unusual manner of preaching to those sitting around him, which disturbed Davies. He (Davies) responded: "When the lion roars, the beasts of the forest all tremble; and when King Jesus speaks, the princes of the earth should keep silence."
At age 36, he succeeded Jonathan Edwards as President of Princeton University. http://www.puritansermons.com/banner/sdavies1.htm http://etcweb.princeton.edu/CampusWWW/Companion/davies_samuel.html
I may point out to the public that heroic youth Colonel Washington, whom I cannot but hope Providence has hitherto preserved in so signal a manner for some important service to his country.
Reverend Samuel Davies
Great God of
wonders! All Thy ways
Are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace
More Godlike and unrivaled shine,
More Godlike and unrivaled shine.
Crimes of such horror to forgive,
Such guilty, daring worms to spare;
This is Thy grand prerogative,
And none shall in the honor share,
And none shall in the honor share
Angels and men, resign your claim
To pity, mercy, love and grace:
These glories crown Jehovah’s Name
With an incomparable glaze
With an incomparable glaze.
In wonder lost, with trembling joy,
We take the pardon of our God:
Pardon for crimes of deepest dye,
A pardon bought with Jesus’ blood,
A pardon bought with Jesus’ blood.
O may this strange, this matchless grace,
This Godlike miracle of love,
Fill the whole earth with grateful praise,
And all th’angelic choirs above,
And all th’angelic choirs above.
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Washington at Valley Forge. Lithograph by F. Heppenheimer, 1853. Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-818
The Dutch Declaration of Independence
In his Autobiography, Jefferson indicated that the "Dutch Revolution" gave inspiration to the Second Continental Congress that the American Revolution could imitate that of the Dutch and likewise succeed.
The Dutch Declaration of Independence, a Calvinistic document, most likely served as a model for the U.S. Declaration of Independence. John Adams said that the Dutch charters had "been particularly studied, admired, and imitated in every State" in America, and he stated that "the analogy between the means by which the two republics [Holland and U.S.A.] arrived at independency... will infallibly draw them together."
Sermons Preached During the Revolutionary Period