Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.

ELECTION DAY SERMONS

October 21st, 2010

The election day sermon was a 250-year New England tradition from 1634 to 1884, and many of the sermons still speak to modern concerns during this election season. The below article is an excerpt from Christianity in the United States, Daniel Dorchester, D.D., © 2009 American Vision Press, Powder Springs, GA; originally published by Phillips & Hunt, New York, 1888.

Politico-religious sermons were introduced early into New England. As early as 1633 the governor and council of the Massachusetts Bay Colony began to appoint one of the clergy to preach on the day of elections – which was the first of the long list of “Election Sermons.” Governor Winthrop’s critical notice of the discourse of Rev. Nathaniel Ward, of Ipswich, in June 1641, is the earliest sketch of an Election Sermon now extant. By the charter of William and Mary, October 7, 1691, the last Wednesday in May was established as “election day,” and it remained so until the Revolution. This was the date on which the new General Court, as the Legislature of Massachusetts has ever been called, assembled, and the election sermon was at the opening of the session. Another sermon was also delivered, a little time after, on which was called the artillery election day. The sermons on these occasions discussed politico-religious topics, were printed, and widely circulated. They reasoned, instructed, and discussed speculative questions of government, ‘when there was nothing in practice which could give any grounds for forming parties.”

The annual election sermons widely promoted the study of political ethics, which had become a prominent feature in New England history in the middle of the last century, and laid the foundation for that “earnestness which consciousness of rights begets, and those appeals to principle which distinguished the colonies.” The highest glory of the American Revolution, in the estimation of Hon. John Quincy Adams, was the ripe fruitage of this old custom: “It connected, with one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

Occupying a position of such eminent respect and influence in society, it is not strange that the clergy shared the sympathy of the people in the civil struggles through which they were passing, and that “The Pulpit of the Revolution” came to be one of the great factors of the times in the Middle and the New England colonies. God was involved in the civil assemblies, and the teachers of religion were called upon for counsel from the Bible. /Sermons were preached, religion and politics were closely united, and with Bibles and bayonets they entered into the struggle. “This was the secret of that moral energy which sustained the Republic in its material weakness against superior numbers and discipline, and all the power of England. To these sermons the State fixed its imprimatur, and this they were handed down to future generations with a twofold claim to respect.”*

*The Pulpit of the American Revolution, Preface by J. W. Thornton. Boston: Gould & Lincoln, 1860.

FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS OPENING PRAYER

March 2nd, 2010

The Reverend Jacob Duché opened the September 7th, 1774 first Continental Congress in Philadelphia with prayer. Here is the story about a prayer that stirred the Founding Fathers.

The first American Congress (Continental Congress) was a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen North American colonies that met on September 5, 1774, at Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early in the American Revolution. Called in response to the passage of the Coercive Acts (also known as Intolerable Acts by the Colonial Americans) by the British Parliament, the Congress was attended by 56 members appointed by the legislatures of twelve of the Thirteen Colonies, the exception being the Province of Georgia, which did not send delegates. At the time, Georgia was the newest and smallest province and declined to send a delegation because it was seeking help from London in pacifying its smoldering Indian frontier. [1]

Delegates met in secret. Benjamin Franklin had proposed such a meeting a year earlier, but after the Port of Boston was closed the momentum for such a meeting grew rapidly. The goal of the Congress was to resolve the differences between England and the colonies.

The Congress opened in prayer led by the Reverend Jacob Duché, a local minister from nearby Christ Church. Many of the Founding Fathers worshipped there and seven signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in Christ’s Church cemetery. Reverend Jacob Duché (1737-98) was born in Pennsylvania, a descendant of Huguenots who immigrated to America with William Penn.

"The First Prayer in Congress" by T.H. Matteson 1848

Reverend Duché opened the second session on September 7th, 1774 with prayer. It was not a perfunctory prayer, but one that was a time of profound prayer. Opening the session he read the 35th Psalm, and then broke into extemporaneous prayer.

First Prayer of the Continental Congress, 1774

O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior.

Amen.

Reverend Jacob Duché
Rector of Christ Church of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 7, 1774, 9 o’clock a.m. [2]

The prayer had a profound effect on the delegates, as recounted by John Adams to his wife. Dr. Duché followed the psalm with ten minutes of spontaneous prayer asking God to support the American cause. Adams stated, “[Rev] Duche, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into extemporaneous prayer filled which filled     the bosom of every man present. I must confess I never heard a better prayer. . . .with such fervor, such ardor, earnestness and pathos, and in a language so elegant and sublime for America [and] for the Congress. . . .It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here.” He went on to say, “I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on the morning. . . .I must beg you to read that Psalm. . . [Read] the 35th Psalm to [your friends]. Read it to your father.” One other delegate said he was “worth riding 100 miles to hear.”

On July 4, 1776, Jacob Duché met with his Vestry to make a momentous decision. Just two days after the Continental Congress voted to “dissolve the connection” with Great Britain in what became known as the Declaration of Independence, the decision at hand was whether or not to pray for the royal family in the upcoming Sunday service. In the politically charged world of Philadelphia, the act of excluding prayers for King George was fraught with partisan labeling: are you a loyalist Tory or a rebel? The vestry decided “for the peace and well-being of the churches, to omit the said petitions.” To this day, you can visit Christ Church and see the 1776 Prayer Book where the prayer has an ink line literally crossing out those prayers for the King. [4]

[1] Ferling, John. (2003). A Leap in the Dark. Oxford University Press. p. 112

[2] http://chaplain.house.gov/archive/continental.html

[3] John Adams, Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife, letter of September 16, 1774; Charles Francis Adams, Editor, Charles C. Little & James Brown 1841

[4] Why Remembering Matters sermon, The Rev. Walter Smedley, IV, The Church of the Holy Cross, Dunn Loring, Virginia, Sunday, July 2, 2006

End Note: The painting is “The First Prayer in Congress” by T.H. Matteson and was completed 74 years after the Congress was held, in the year 1848. It does not picture all of the 56 delegates (36 are in the painting) and the backdrop of the room was as it was in Carpenter Hall (next to Independence Hall) in the year 1848, not in 1774.

A MAN OF INFLUENCE – JOHN COTTON

March 1st, 2010

Reverend John Cotton

One of the very influential forces in the founding of America as a Christian nation were passionate ministers who spoke, preached and wrote clear messages of God’s Divine Providence. These great men we will write about set the standard, principles and call to establish our government and rule on the word of God. John Cotton is one of these key figures and was very influential in the founding and formation of the Massachusetts Colony.

The Reverend John Cotton (December 4, 1585 – December 23, 1652) was a highly regarded principal among the New England Puritan ministers, who also included John Winthrop, Thomas Hooker, Increase Mather (who became his son-in-law), John Davenport, and Thomas Shepard. He was the grandfather of Cotton Mather, who was named after him.

Born in England, he was educated at Derby School, in buildings which are now the Derby Heritage Centre, and attended Cambridge University, where he also taught, and became a long-serving minister in the English town of  Boston, Lincolnshire before his Puritanism and criticism of hierarchy drew the hostile attention of Church of England authorities. In 1633, William Laud was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, and like numerous other Puritan nonconformist figures, Cotton soon came under his close “eye of scrutiny”. In the same year Cotton, his family, and a few local followers sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Brownist congregational movement within the Church of England had by this stage, in effect at least, become a separate church. Because of his early views on the primacy of congregational government, his was an important role in Puritan aspirations to become the “city on a hill” which might help reform the English church. He is best known among other things for his initial defense of Anne Hutchinson early in her trials during the Antinomian crisis, during which she mentioned him with respect, though he turned strongly against her with the further course of the trial. He is also remembered for his role in the banishment of Roger Williams regarding the role of democracy and the separation of church and state in the Puritan theonomic society, both of which Williams tended to advocate. Cotton grew still more conservative in his views with the years but always retained the estimation of his community. Cotton’s written legacy includes a body of correspondence, numerous sermons, a catechism, and in 1646 a shorter catechism for children titled Milk for Babes, which is considered the first children’s book by an American and was incorporated into The New England Primer around 1701 and remained a component of that work for over 150 years. His most famous sermon is probably Gods Promise to His Plantation (1630), preached at the departure of John Winthrop’s fleet for New England. [1]

“Now, God makes room for a people three ways: First when He casts out the enemies of a people before them by lawful war with the inhabitants, which God calls them unto, as in Ps. 44:2: “Thou didst drive out the heathen before them.” But this course of warring against others and driving them out without provocation depends upon special commission from God, or else it is not imitable. Second, when He gives a foreign people favor in the eyes of any native people to come and sit down with them, either by way of purchase, as Abraham did obtain the field of Machpelah; or else when they give it in courtesy, as Pharaoh did the land of Goshen unto the sons of Jacob. Third, when He makes a country, though not altogether void of inhabitants, yet void in the place where they reside. Where there is a vacant place, there is liberty for the sons of Adam or Noah to come and inhabit, though they neither buy it nor ask their leaves. So that it is free from that common grant for any to take possession of vacant countries. Indeed, no nation is to drive out another without special commission from Heaven, such as the Israelites had, and will not recompense the wrongs done in a peaceable way. And then they may right themselves by lawful war and subdue the country unto themselves.” [2}

Cotton, explained that “what hee [God] hath planted he will maintain … his owne plantation shall prosper, & flourish.” Cotton urged Puritans to “Have speciall care that you have had the ordinances [of God] planted amongst you,” because “As soon as God’s ordinances cease, yor security ceaseth likewise.” Cotton warned his fellow Puritans that breaking the covenant with God would result in a loss of his protection for his chosen. [3]

Cotton faced more and more pressure in England over his Puritan views and declarations. Though he had friends among the titled gentry, they were no longer able to protect him from the increasing ecclesiastical pressure to conform. He went into hiding in the fall of 1632 and was temporarily separated from his new wife and her ten-year-old daughter, Elizabeth (his first wife passed away from a sickness). Reunited before the end of the year, they were concealed by Puritan friends, including John Dod. Early in 1633 Cotton was cited to appear before the Court of High Commission. During this period, Cotton is said to have converted John Davenport, Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, and Henry Whitfield to nonconformity. On 7 May 1633 Cotton resigned his vicarage in Boston, regretting that “neither my bodily health, nor the peace of the church will now stand with my continuance there.” The crucial issue of conformity had been the central factor, as he explained to Bishop Williams: “howsoever I doe highly prize and much prefer other mens judgment and learning, and wisdome, and piety, yet in thinges pertaining to God and his worship, still, I must (as I ought) live by mine own fayth, not theirs.” Along with Puritan ministers Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone and their families, Cotton sailed for New England on the Griffin on 13 July 1633. During the voyage, Sarah delivered their first child, aptly named Seaborn Cotton. [4]

Cotton was chosen teacher of the first church in Boston, of which John Wilson was already pastor. Cotton thus enjoyed a prominent position in the only church in what was to become the principal town of New England. His reputation for piety, learning, and insight, together with the respect paid to the minister in a community based on a desire to worship “in the purity of the ordinances,” gave him immediate influence.

Cotton was one of the most influential leaders of the Puritan movement in England and in the first generation of New England’s settlement. He brought a scholar’s erudition to his practice as preacher, biblical interpreter, disputant, and analyst of spiritual experience. Cotton is buried in the King’s Chapel Burial Ground in central Boston, MA, in the same grave as John Davenport (d. 1670), John Oxonbridge (d. 1674) and Thomas Bridge (d. 1713).

[1] Monergism, Copyright © 2009 by CPR Foundation. All rights reserved [2] God’s Promise to His Plantation, 1630 Sermon preached at Southampton when John Winthrop and his part departed to America [3] God’s Promise to His Plantation in Settlements to Society, 65-6 [4] American Philosophy, The Puritans, John Cotton

HIRAM RHODES REVELS

February 28th, 2010

Reverend Hiram Rhodes Revels

In this blog we are going to consider Hiram Rhodes Revels, born in 1827 and died in 1901. Although he was not among our country’s founders and his time represents a much later period in our country, he is the fruit of a continuing Christian influence in our nation. Although his name is not familiar to most, he was a man of high honor, fighting for his people and this nation.

Revels was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and was a free man of African-American and American Indian descent. In his pursuit to gain an education, he left North Carolina and first attended the Union County Quaker Seminary in Liberty, Indiana, and from 1856–57, Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. He also studied at a black seminary in Ohio. Revels was ordained a minister. As a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Revels preached in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, and Maryland in the 1850s. “At times, I met with a great deal of opposition,” he later recalled. “I was imprisoned in Missouri in 1854 for preaching the gospel to Negroes, though I was never subjected to violence.” In 1845 he became a minister in Baltimore, Maryland and set up a private school.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Revels helped raise two African-American Union regiments from Maryland. He then moved to Missouri where continued recruiting of African-Americans for the Union Army. He was then selected to be Union Army Chaplain for a regiment of African-Americans from Mississippi. He, at one point, was the provost marshall at Vicksburg, where he took part in one the bloodiest and most prolonged sieges along the Mississippi River.

After the war and in 1865, Revels returned to his ministry and was assigned briefly to AME churches in Leavenworth, Kansas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1866, he was given a permanent pastorship in Natchez, Mississippi, where he settled with his wife and five daughters, continued his ministerial work, and founded schools for black children.

During Reconstruction, Revels was elected alderman in Natchez in 1868, and he was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi State Senate in 1869. As John R. Lynch reports, “so far as known he [Revels] had never voted, had never attended a political meeting, and of course, had never made a political speech. But he was a colored man, and presumed to be a Republican, and believed to be a man of ability and considerably above the average in point of intelligence.” [Lynch 1913] In January 1870, Revels presented a remarkable opening prayer in the state legislature. As Lynch says, “That prayer—one of the most impressive and eloquent prayers that had ever been delivered in the [Mississippi] Senate Chamber—made Revels a United States Senator. He made a profound impression upon all who heard him. It impressed those who heard it that Revels was not only a man of great natural ability but that he was also a man of superior attainments.”

Mississippi, being readmitted to the Union, had an open Senate seat that was last held by Jefferson Davis who had resigned to become President of the Confederate States of America. At the time, the state legislature elected US senators. Revels was elected by a vote of 81 to 15 in the Mississippi State Senate to finish the term of one of the state’s two seats in the US Senate left vacant since the Civil War. The seat had once been held by Albert G. Brown, who withdrew from the US Senate in 1861.

The election of Revels was met with opposition from Southern conservative Democrats who cited the Dred Scott Decision which was considered by many to have been a central cause of the American Civil War. They argued that no black man was a citizen before the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868. Because election to the Senate required nine years’ prior citizenship, opponents of Revels claimed he could not be seated, having been a citizen by law for only two years. Supporters of Revels countered by stating that the Dred Scott decision applied only to those blacks who were of pure African blood. Revels was of mixed black and white ancestry, and therefore exempt, they said, and had been a citizen all his life. This argument prevailed, and on February 25, 1870, Revels, by a vote of 48 to 8, became the first black man to be seated in the United States Senate. Revels was praised in the newspapers for his oratorical abilities. His conduct in the Senate, along with that of the other African Americans who had been seated in the House of Representatives, also prompted a white contemporary, James G. Blaine, to say, “The colored men who took their seats in both Senate and House were as a rule studious, earnest, ambitious men, whose public conduct would be honorable to any race.”

After finishing her term in the United States Senate, Revels was named President of Alcorn College, the first college for African-Americans in Mississippi. Revels remained active in his ministry. For a time, he served as editor of the Southwestern Christian Advocate and taught theology at Shaw College (now Rust College), founded in 1866 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where Revels and his family made their home. Hiram Revels died on January 16, 1901, while attending a church conference in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

It was by prayer that Revels was elevated to the United States Senate. It was by faith that he fought for justice for his people and mercy in reconciliation with the former Confederate states. His life was an expression of self-sacrifice and dedication to the spiritual and educational advancement of African-Americans.

Compiled from these sources:
1. U.S. Senate: Art & History Home; Photo Exhibit at www.senate.gov
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Rhodes_Revels
3. On This Day, Dr. Paul E. Barkey, self-published 2009