Another Response to a Disenchanted Calvinist

•August 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I occasionally visit the blog site of Pastor Rogers (and even, where he frequently writes) because he has made it his recent mission to adamantly oppose Calvinism and any critique of his book.  Well, some of them…

Recently he reposted the comment he left on my site in response to my review of his book, found here: Response To a Critique of my Book

I’ve already responded to his “response,” here: Response to a Pastor Whose Book I Reviewed.

But I have a few further thoughts based on this recent post.

(PR: White; Me: Gray)

Pastor Rogers: I have refrained from responding to some Calvinist’s misrepresentations of my book, Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist because I do not have the time, they do not actually pose a serious challenge to my position, and their demeanor affords little evidence that it would be fruitful.

Me: My personal opinion is that Pastor Rogers has refrained from responding to any meaningful critique of his book.  All I have seen are responses to random comments on SBC Today; none from any acclaimed proponent of Calvinism (a good critique by James White was summarily dismissed, and a response to White from the infamous/stubborn/unthinking Peter Lumpkins was provided in lieu of his own), and none from those who have spent a great deal of time reading his book (more than the majority of his congregants) and listening to his sermons in person (i.e. me).

The content of most “responses” to Calvinists are usually devoid of scripture, and appeal strongly to the emotions and traditionalism of many Southern Baptists who already buy his presuppositions.  But notice how most opposition to his book are nothing but “misrepresentations.”  Is it possible they get it right, and he is wrong?  Pastor Rogers does not show that to be a possibility.

The latter part of the above sentence is probably most troublesome.  Why do they not pose a serious challenge?  I mean no disrespect, but it is the height of hubris to think that no one can quit touch the depth of thought, skill of rhetoric, or logical ability that you possess (especially when your own writing about the subject is exceedingly repetitive, shoddily edited, and missing any meaningful, scriptural response to the opposition; an example? Any treatment of compatibilism dodges the actual scriptures that speak to it (Isa 10? Acts 2&4? Gen 50?)).

How does he know it would not be fruitful?  Has he tried?  I know that I spent many hours reading and reviewing his book, and his response is somehow to be regarded as serious or honestly trying to interact with decent critiques of his book (no matter how inadequate or below him he may deem it to be).  Apply that type of thinking to speaking to unbelievers…or weaker Christians…

“Well, I would correct this person, or address their concerns…but it’s kind of a waste of my time and effort…and I doubt it would be fruitful.”  (Only if one believed it was through his reasoning that people came to a proper understanding of the faith–rather than the Spirit’s work–would that make sense; but I suppose that is the issue at hand).

Pastor Rogers: On one occasion I did, below is the response that I wrote to a young Calvinist who offered a critique of my book. Unfortunately, he believed he understood substantially more about Calvinism proper, and my engagement of it than he did.

Me: I refuse to consider his comment a response.  A response actually deals with what has been said in some meaningful fashion.  I am not expecting 8 blog posts in response, nor am expecting a response at all; but to write a belittling, dismissive comment is hardly a “response,” and to consider it worthy of anyone’s time is insulting to the reader.  Like I said in my previous response, this type of response means nothing to me.  I wouldn’t accept it from a Roman Catholic, Atheist, or Mormon…I would probably just write a quick blog post about how “sophomoric” it is to write an empty comment and consider it a valid response, then post it as a separate blog entry to show others how easily actual responses to his book can be dismissed.

In the past I have had a high regard for Pastor Rogers; I have enjoyed his sermons; I have respected how he has handled several difficult matters.  I suppose that is why it is so difficult for me to see him treat opposition to his book with such pompousness, to dismiss those who try, and to associate with characters like Lumpkins, Caner, and Tim Rogers.

Here’s to hoping that a more “fruitful” conversation about these topics can take place.



Questioning Salvation as Ad Hominem

•July 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Ad Hominem, for those who don’t know, is Latin for “to the man” or “to the person,” and is a logical fallacy.

1. Person A makes claim X.

2. Person B makes attack on Person A (i.e. his education, character, social status, affiliations, past conduct, etc.).

3. Therefore, X is false.

Of course nothing about X is proven false by appeal to the character of Person A, but it distracts the person following the argument, and leads them to believe that X is invalid because the person’s credibility is undermined.  For simple-minded individuals, who lack a critical understanding/discernment, this works rather effectively; as with all fallacies it appears legitimate, but is actually nothing more than manipulation.

For a Christian, it seems obvious that the practice should be avoided, for it really is nothing more than a form of deception—if done knowingly (which is not always so; but I assume that those who claim such superior intellect over others would know what they are doing).  However, the tactic seems popular in the endeavor to gain Twitter and Facebook followers, especially when the arguments made against my position, cause, ministry, etc. are being heeded by those opposed to me…because they might actually have weight.

How to stop it?  Well, question their faith, of course!  Nothing will shut down the opposition quicker than making sure “true believers” (i.e. those who agree with my position) have nothing to do with the foolish arguments of the “world” (i.e. anything that calls into question my position).

I think at least four things should be considered:

1)  Not everyone may agree with your position.  Hyper-Calvinism is typically the poster child of this type of wrong thinking about what makes a Christian a Christian.  Adhering to all points of the Calvinist position, down to the jot and tittle of Limited Atonement, does not make one a Christian any more than having a full-orbed understanding of the Trinity, economically or ontologically.  Theological perfection as a gospel prerequisite is a pretty steep hill on top of which to put the offer of Christ’s forgiveness.  Not everyone’s understanding, practice, or even “Christian walk” are developed equally at all times; and your understanding is not the basis of whether they truly follow Christ (a Christian in China probably has a better understanding of suffering for the Gospel than your understanding of Christian liberty).  See Mark 9:38-41; Romans 14:21; 1 Corinthians 10:27-30; 2 Corinthians 3:18

2) You might actually be wrong.  Think of it…you?…wrong?… whoa.  Far be it from anyone to think that your far-superior intellect, reasoning abilities, powers of deduction, or witty internet rejoinders might actually be incorrect.  Rather than trying to undermine the claims of opposition by questioning their credentials, slandering them, are weaponizing their every mistake, it might be wise to consider at what points they could be right, or…at least…how you could better yourself in that area.  Humility, I know, it’s a dying virtue in Christianity; we don’t want to appear weak, or foolish to the world, so we cloak our insecurity in a facade of mental superiority.  See Proverbs 12:1; Jeremiah 5:3; Matthew 5:5; 1 Corinthians 1:18; Philippians 2:3-4

3) There is a time to ignore opposition, and a time to deal with it.  Let’s say those disagreeing are wrong, and it is biblically evident.  Maybe you’ve dealt with the same person a thousand times, and at this point it is right to plead for them to repent, believe the gospel, and then ignore them (Proverbs 26:4).  But if your first line of attack to any legitimate criticism of your position is to mock, distract, slander, libel, accuse, or cast doubt on someone’s salvation, then you betray your childish insecurities, and make your position stand on the foundations of division (a satanic foundation) rather than the firm Foundation of biblical truth.  Everyone loves the part of the verse that says, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks…,” if only they took the latter part of the verse as seriously as the first, to do so “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:15-16).  So perhaps the person is wrong; perhaps, instead of ostracizing them (and creating further division), you could correct them yourself, and help a weaker brother/sister to better understand the scriptures.  See Proverbs 26:5; Romans 16:7; Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 3:16; Titus 3:10

4) You’re not the Holy Spirit.  I don’t want this to sound like you can’t have a decent idea of who is a Christian and who is not.  There are of course indicators, that the Lord himself told us about, that one is not a believer, is a false prophet, or is of the devil.  However, the internet—an often faceless, nameless, contextualess, impersonal medium—does not seem like a great place to try and “discern the spirits.”  Obvious indicators might have led you to believe that a person is not a believer; but it is imprudent to cast spiritual doubt on every dissenter (especially ones you don’t know personally) for the purpose of undermining their argument, propping up your base, and turning your followers into followers of you rather than the Truth (the modus operandi of the cults).  You do not un-convert people any more than you convert them.  And when you take it upon yourself to un-convert them without addressing their concerns you start to display the indicators that you seem to find so often in others.




I am young in years,
    and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
    to declare my opinion to you.
I said, ‘Let days speak,
    and many years teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in man,
    the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
    nor the aged who understand what is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
    let me also declare my opinion.'”

-Job 32:6-10



The Sanctity of Life & The Elderly

•June 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Picture2For the past year or two, our church has been singing, praying, and interacting with the residents at a local nursing home.  The time spent there has been wonderful, the residents really seem to enjoy our presence, and one individual has been coming to our church for several weeks now–and is even planning to become a member!

This experience has given me cause to think: what other members of our society has our culture/nation denigrated for the sake of convenience, ease, or comfort?  What other members of our church have we neglected, either purposely or in our thoughts about what the church is or does?

We live in a world (not just America) where the mantra is rapidly becoming: “life is worth protecting,but especially mine; children are wonderful, so long as I don’t have to sacrifice money, jobs, success, fun, appearance, or plans for them; marriage is good, so long as I define it; all people are valuable, until they become a drain, a hindrance, a bother, or an interruption to me and my life.”  In all cases the value of life is given lip-service, but ultimately the arbiter of whether its worthy of time, investment, love, and care is the almighty I.  They all have their root in man’s selfishness, and the disregard for God’s word.

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?…’You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'” -Gen 3:1 & 5

Well, we know good and evil: we define it after all.  And in our knowledge we have surely died.  In fact, we have become the culture of death, not life.  Christians know this.  Most can say they speak out against abortion to coworkers, Facebook friends, and family; we pray about it; and we support crisis pregnancy centers.  And this is good, indeed it’s a must.  But we–as the Church–must likewise show love, care, and justice for all neglected groups, including: the poor (Lev 19:10), the sexually abused, the widow, the orphans (Isa 1:17; James 1:27), the elderly (Lev 19:32; 1 Tim 5:8), the diseased, and the handicapped (Lev 19:14; Matt 4:24).  All life is precious in the sight of God; if we believe that to be true, we must stand up for and protect it in all stages, for all people, in order that the world might see how we care for all of life and might glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).

For all of these groups–but the elderly specifically–it must begin with the church’s attitude toward the older generations; we must be different from the world, and express it with our treatment toward those in any stage of life (in the church or out).  If we debate the pro-life argument, but do nothing for those within our church body already, we are not honoring God–and we are hypocrites.

The “church” of America has become infected by the cultural belief that the only thing worth believing and extolling is the new and the fashionable; we don’t want anything that might make people feel like our church is old-fashioned or outdated.  Many churches have likewise sacrificed the transcendent quality of the Gospel, which speaks across cultural identities, generations, personal preferences, economic status, or educational background, for a gospel relevant and appealing to certain subgroups.  The result is a hodgepodge of people who claim membership to the same name on the church sign, but who ultimately have not much to do with each other.  Some examples: children have their own church services; worship services are split into “contemporary” and “traditional,” where music is aimed for a certain crowd; looking down on and ignoring those who do not dress in a certain fashion or have a particular appearance (i.e. tattoos, piercings); or when Christianity becomes synonymous with the American identity.  The high school clique mentality is the inevitable consequence.  We associate with certain people; we talk to certain people; we learn about the spiritual and physical needs of certain people; and we become an insulated people, careful with our comfort bubbles, and never stepping out to care for those who perhaps need the most help.

All churches can look for ways to improve.  Healthy churches are those where the young and old, the poor and rich, the well and ill, the American and the Russian, are bound together in fellowship under the blood of Christ in one fellowship with one another.  Where the young women desire the advice of the older women (Titus 2:3-5), where the young and old treat one another as family (1 Tim 5:1-2), where age is considered a blessing, and those who have it are sought out for wisdom (Prov 16:31).

“…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” -1 John 1:3

“I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism,one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  -Ephesians 4:1-6

The church is not a social club, and fellowship is not simply social time.  We have a calling to care for all of God’s people–physically and spiritually–and to be salt and light in a culture that favors death and self over and against life and God.  Look for ways to bless, encourage, pray, and step out for those less regarded or ones you may have avoided for too long.

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” -Matthew 25:37-40





Slander, Libel, The 9th Commandment, and the Internet

•June 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Slander & Libel:

Slander: n., The action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.

Libel: n., A published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation.

The Ninth Commandment:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” -Ex 20:16

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” -Ex 23:1

There are six things that the Lord hates,seven that are an abomination to him…a false witness who breathes out lies,and one who sows discord among brothers.” -Prov 6:16 & 19

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” -Matt 15:19

The violation of the 9th Commandment is no small matter.  In fact, it is listed by Jesus among sins that people much more easily identify: Murder, Theft, Sexual Immorality, and Adultery.  Christians are often very good at “detecting”–or “deducing”–the lies of others, and perhaps recognizing their own when they are undeniable; but when the internet is fired up, and the ability to hide behind a twitter handle or a delete button presents itself, its as though some think that God will not see.  But just as the “Clear Web History” will not delete from God’s eyes what is done in secret, neither will your screen name or delete button hide you from the eyes of God.

The internet, of course, is popular–or perhaps notorious–for its ability to quickly disseminate information (true or false), to a large body of individuals, giving each their own “voice” on a matter.  But as we all know, the first to say something is often the truth-teller, because the ability to correct a lie or false report is often impossible.  Therefore it is wise to be careful how, what, and where we say what we say, for the effects can be damaging to a person, to their witness, to their family, and to their church; and if not a Christian, our words easily become a stumbling block for an individual already looking for a reason to call Christians hypocrites and liars.

So be careful when you:

…pronounce someone guilty before you have proof.

…condemn someone’s teaching without even hearing it or researching.

…believe the report of others without confirming it.

…comment as though you know the ins and outs of the whole situation.

…only hear one side.

…misrepresent the argument of another purposely, or without making effort to understand them properly.

…make private sins into public ones without Biblical due process (Matt 18).

…discredit someone in order to protect your name, argument, or cause.

…use someone’s sin as a weapon to take the moral high ground.

…black mail.


For “on account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” -Colossians 3:6-10

God is not mocked, and He will hold you accountable for every tweet, post, comment, and blog post…






When Your Pastor is Your Pope

•April 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My friend and I sometimes joke about “Pope Piper.”

John Piper is well known for his insightful observations of verses, his passionate preaching, and his sometimes questionable–but many times helpful–metaphors for understanding spiritual truths.  Because of those qualities, and the role he’s played in both of our lives, my friend and I often remember something he’s said that was helpful in our understanding, which we proceed to sarcastically accept by saying: “well, Pope Piper has spoken!”

Obviously it’s a joke, but it doubles as a reminder that we need to be careful how we treat what Piper has said.  After all, we think him biblical, but he is not the Bible; we think him Christ-like, but he is not Christ; we think his words have credibility, but he is no Pope (non sequitur? perhaps).†  However much we might respect a “big-name” pastor, or our local minister, we should be reminded of this fact, and careful to be as the Bereans who, even after hearing the preaching of the greatest evangelist in the church’s history, examined the Scriptures daily to “see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  Piper is fallible, my pastor is fallible, and so is yours; this does not mean we can’t respect him, nor does it mean we should be sitting through a sermon criticizing their every word, but it also doesn’t mean we sit in our pew, passively accepting his word as law, and never holding him accountable to the Word of God.

In thinking about this for myself, and seeing the lengths to which people will unquestionably accept the words of their pastors–either local or “celebrity”–I have tried to think of several ways to consider whether we may be thinking of our pastor in this way.  Is your pastor your Pope?  Or is he a vessel through whom God speaks His Word to the church.

Here’s a couple things that might make you want to stop and consider whether your pastor is pope:

When you think: “He’s so smart!”

There’s nothing wrong with your pastor being an educated man, and I certainly would never espouse anti-intellectualism.  But when “He’s so smart!” is followed by the thought: “He knows so much, and I know so little, what he’s saying must be true,” and that followed by a response of complacency, or laziness on our part to search out whether “these things [are] so,” it becomes dangerous.

Perhaps nothing bothers me so much as a preacher who makes an assertion, and then proceeds to defend it by human philosophies.  This is usually done by over-complicating the issue under consideration, that the audience hardly follows, but enough terms and jargon were employed, that they hardly blink an eye and accept the words without much consideration.  After all, who could debate or challenge this guy?

Admittedly, there are some things in Scripture that require more hours of study, a better grasp of the original languages, maturity, knowledge of the debates, and sometimes experience.  But this does not free us from our responsibility to study, pray, and meditate on these things for ourselves.  Questions of eschatology, church polity, or worship practices are sometimes more complex, but nothing in those–and especially in salvation–should be made to sound like one needs 4 degrees and a superior intellect to understand.  Grace, faith, repentance, love, holiness, the Trinity, even Calvinism, are not doctrines that only a few can understand, or defend; this understanding is very close to the Roman Catholic’s understanding of clergy and laity prior to the Reformation.

When you think: “He speaks so well!”

Again, nothing wrong with a preacher who can preach, and who can preach it persuasively and with conviction.  But the measure of a pastor is not his speaking ability, whether your flavor is motivational or fire and brimstone.  In the qualifications for elders, in Titus 1, the ability to speak eloquently is omitted.  And, much like the last one, the ability to speak and to sound smart are usually downplayed in favor of speaking the Word of God faithfully: “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor 1:17).

There is a tendency (in several denominations) to be drawn to preachers with the ability to excite emotion and to preach with a certain cadence that almost lulls one into a trance where all you can say is “Amen!” over and over.‡  Like the first example, the ability to speak–and it helps to say it intelligently as well–can sometimes influence a crowd who will not take the time to actually seek out whether what he preaches is the truth.

When you think: “His church is so big.”

How can someone be wrong who has so much success?  I know many mega/seeker/emergent churches where this seems like it might be a good argument.  But like the Roman Catholic Church: numbers does not equal faithfulness to God.  Same could be said for the largeness of the Mormons, Muslims, or Joel-Osteenians.

In fact, it is more likely the case, especially in this country, that a smaller church may be an indication that your church, and your pastor, are doing something right (not always! i.e. Westboro).  Jeremiah was not overly successful in his day, neither was Ezekiel or Isaiah.  Jesus was rejected by his own (John 1:11), and eventually murdered.  And looking at church history does not always result in a large engrafting of followers; though sometimes it might, if God chooses to bless.

The point to take here is NOT that a big church equals a popish preacher, it is to warn against the thought that it ALWAYS indicates faithfulness.  As with all of these warnings, the true indication is faithfulness to the Word of God, and that can only be known by keeping even your pastor accountable.

When you don’t know who the elders are, or what their purpose is.

The plurality of elders is a wonderful thing.  Not only because they assist in the overwatch of your soul (Heb 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5), but because they are often a helpful check to any type of rogue pastor.  If you don’t know who yours are, or whether your church even has them, you might want to be asking around; for your sake and your church’s.

I have been to more than one church where the pastor acts as the sole authority in the church, a veritable pope with a deacon or two whom he rules over as well.  Other churches have a lead pastor, a worship leader, a deacon, a youth pastor, a innovation guy, a marketing guy, and a secretary, and no elders.  This is not the New Testament church, and it is not a sign of a healthy church. These are often the churches that have divisions over petty matters, or matters of secondary importance, and rarely because of a scriptural issue.  They are also churches where sin runs rampant in the church, because the pastor cannot possibly pastor over every individual in his congregation; and typically churches that don’t seem intent upon accountability in the ministry, aren’t too concerned with it among the laity.

When he hardly speaks to anyone, meets with anyone, or rarely makes an effort to visit anyone.

One of my primary concerns with large churches, and especially ones with an insufficient amount of elders, deacons, etc. is the lack of pastoral oversight that should be taking place in the church.  When Peter gave instructions to his fellow elders, he had this to say:  “I exhort the elders among you…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight no under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3).  Peter understood, perhaps better than anyone, the charge to elders (and therefore, pastors) to shepherd the flock; Jesus commanded him thrice, to “tend my sheep” (John 21:15-17).

Pastor is from the latin for “shepherd,” if he is not shepherding his flock, he is no true pastor.  The pastor is not a Pope, a CEO, or a general.  He is not an innovator, motivational speaker, or inventor of new teachings.  He is the under-shepherd of the great Shepherd, and he will be held accountable for how he “tended” His “lambs.”  Did he visit them when they were sick?  Meet with them when they needed accountability?  Pray for them when they were tempted?  Weep with them when they suffered loss?  Correct them when they erred?  Preach the truth of God in all faithfulness and sincerity?

What I’m really asking is: does he love and protect his people?   Or is he simply a in it for the prestige, money, power, authority, ego-boost, or self-righteousness?

These are serious questions, and we must be willing to challenge ourselves to make sure we are not viewing our pastors as pope.  They are fallible, they are human, and they need accountability and Jesus as much as the rest of us.

In all of this, remember: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17).





† Lest I be misunderstood, this is my way of saying: I realize the first two offices are legitimate, and the last is not.  The Bible and Christ are authoritative, the Pope is not (in fact, it’s not even a real office)…but that’s kind of the point of the blog post.

‡ Let me preempt any other misunderstanding here: there is nothing wrong with a hearty “Amen!”…if that’s your thing.  My contention is not with Amen! yellers, but merely the non-reflective, uncritical, passive “Amen-ers” out there.

Justifying Revolt: Protestant Clergy and the American Revolution

•January 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Preface: I have often been asked for my thoughts on the American Revolution, especially given a Christian worldview:  “Was the Revolution just?  Is rebellion ever just?  Did the Protestant clergy of the time believe it to be just?”  (et cetera..).  As with most things worth knowing (in more than a superficial manner) it takes time, development of themes, and context to give a proper answer to such questions.  After reading numerous sermons and pamphlets, it becomes clear that (most) of the clergy wanted to be careful in their own answer to these questions.  They did not advocate rushing headlong into insurrection, nor did they believe that only the British were at fault, but they did believe they had certain unassailable (God-given) rights that it was proper for them to defend if need be.  This paper does not necessarily give a positive answer to the questions, however it presents the arguments of those clergymen, leaving it for all of us to decide what is right and what is wrong when presented with such circumstances.  And remember, it is easy to cast judgment when you have no fear of your money, wife, or life being taken from you.. 

This is a paper written for a graduate research seminar, and was submitted to Oklahoma State University (December 13, 2013) by myself.  This blog post has been transposed (copy/pasted) from its original word document; while an attempt was made to edit the distortions caused by such a move, I am reasonably sure that I missed something (or many things), please inform me if there is any difficulty in determining my meaning, or if it is a mere distraction. 

I’ve included section titles for easier skimming (I know the paper is long (28pgs), and some of the historiographical material may be difficult for those unfamiliar with it); here is a quick Table of Contents of the sections:

I. Introduction/Historiography (Thesis and Previous Scholarship)

II. The Protestants’ Dual Citizenship (How Protestants viewed themselves in politics, history, etc.)

III. Natural Law/Natural Rights Argument

IV. Reformed Resistance Theory Argument

V. The Moral Imperative

VI. Conclusion



I. Introduction/Historiography

Several studies have attempted to discern the religious origins of the enthusiasm that motivated the colonists into armed conflict with Great Britain.  Some scholars suggested that the continuation of religious zeal and New Light disestablishmentarianism borne amidst the Great Awakening contributed to revolutionary enthusiasm; others maintained that the enthusiasm took shape during the intervening wars with the French and Indians; still others believed that it originated as far back as the Puritan founders.  According to the latter two interpretations, the sacred cause of the Massachusetts Puritans (namely, the “city upon a hill”) was realized in the sacred cause of the American Patriots, and the war with the French and Indians gave rise to end times speculation, believing the conflict with Britain would culminate in the millennial reign of Christ.[1]

This subject has preoccupied historians for several decades.  These studies often transformed the war for independence into a veritable crusade, making the religiously minded Patriots appear rather like zealots, all too ready to throw off restraint and fanatically support a crusade to rid the world of evil.  In many of these interpretations the idea of “tailoring” language is prominent, that is, the promulgation of political agendas was achieved by tailoring religious dialect in a way that would appeal to the religious population.  In so doing, notions of Popery became synonymous with tyranny, and redemption synonymous with liberty.  The focus for these historians has been on the conjoining of liberty and tyranny with doctrines of original sin and salvation in colonial sermons, ignoring the fact that the colonial ministers often—if not more so—chastised and warned the colonists for the same sins as the British.  As a result, the conflict became deeply religious, and was defended as a cause not only authorized by God, but a holy war led by him against the forces of Antichrist.[2]

Not persuaded by the whole spectrum of evidence, Melvin Endy argued that an overuse of particular preachers—whose sermons were taken out of context and atomized—was the cause of “overgeneralized interpretation[s].”  By distinguishing between a “holy war” (one authorized by God and fought for religious causes) and a “just war” (one given authorization from political authorities), he concluded that the war was “more political than religious.” Endy meant that the clergy provided less of a religious millennial justification “than arguments harmonizing religion with the Real Whig legitimations of the Revolution and with warnings of the adverse consequences that a British victory would have for religious liberty.”  Instead of a holy war, it often fit “the just war tradition of the Christian church”.[3]

The debate over religious influence, and justifications espoused by the clergy of New England, has been a topic of ever-changing opinion.  To the casual student of American history the justification for Revolution hardly seems to need this type of examination, for what greater justification was needed than the most virtuous cause of liberty?  But for Protestants engrained with religious principles, and thoroughly influenced by their Reformed heritage, it was far from an irrelevant subject.  It was one thing to resist the king’s orders, and something far different to actively fight against him.  Questions of rebellion would require answers: was it ever proper to rebel against the magistrate, what were the prerequisites for this action, and who could do it?  This is why theologians across the colonial map published and preached numerous treatises and sermons defending the justness of the cause.  The war became a cause requiring persuasion from both pulpit and pen.[4]

The objective of this paper is twofold.  First, rather than dichotomizing the motivations for war, and insisting that either religion or politics had a greater influence in bringing about support, it should be viewed as both religious and political, or politically religious.  By religious it is not meant that the war was regarded as a crusade, or holy war, but as given divine authorization by both temporal and supernatural institutions (i.e., the magistrate and the Bible).  The righteousness of the cause, and the extent to which God would give success, was determined, in part, by obedience to his moral law and the gospel, making it a deeply religious affair.  Second, the political and religious arguments used to garner support were not altogether derived from Awakening enthusiasm, millennial expectations, or Enlightenment philosophies, but had a long tradition among Protestant theologians.  Protestants had historically perceived themselves as dual citizens of heaven and earth, with an obligation to both realms, and this manifested itself in rationalizations for political policies derived from religious arguments.  What the manuscript evidence displays is a consistent stream of thought regarding resistance and the relation of politics to religion.[5]

By utilizing many of the same sources as previous historians, this paper endeavors to examine them from a less-than-cynical approach, accepting them for what the writer or speaker had to say rather than importing any underlying skepticism about their true intentions.  Utilizing this approach, the New England clergy are seen to have had several motivating factors in their treatises or sermons, and offered justifications that were as much religious as they were political.  While Endy was correct that millennial thought was not as ubiquitous as some scholars had contended, the cause was nevertheless seen as having the support and approval of God—assuming they lived righteously—to ultimately achieve his purposes.  An attempt was made to draw upon sources from a wide range of individual clergymen, from north to south, liberal to conservative, and spanning the revolutionary years; the purpose is not to delve into the individual theologies of each minister, but to display a common thread of Protestant influence—found in the common apologetic for resistance—throughout the colonies.[6]

In determining how politics and religion were of equal import in developing religious support, it becomes useful to analyze the method of persuasion in the writings or sermonizing of the clergymen who had the greatest influence.  The justifications were usually developed in three ways.  (1.) An appeal to natural law, political pragmatism, and their rights as English citizens provided political justification for the cause.  The ministers often appealed to reason and natural rights to prove that the tyranny of Great Britain was a threat in need of resistance, because it threatened to quash their liberties and rights as humans; these rights were ultimately derived from, and guaranteed by, God.  (2.) The appeal to their unalienable natural rights was often accompanied by Protestant resistance theories.  The clergy had to deal with the objections Loyalists leveled against the colonists, who insisted that they ought to passively obey their magistrates, always.  Their rights as humans and citizens, could never give their cause proper authorization, because those that could rightfully be considered Protestant Evangelicals still believed that ultimate authorization must be given from God, in the Scriptures, in order for success to be possible.  (3.) The conclusion of most sermons involved the combining of the two to develop a moral imperative, exhorting all true Protestants to defend this righteous cause because of its support from God, the civil government, and reason.[7]

Because the war was given authorization in so many ways, both religious and political, it was incumbent upon all true Protestants to wage the virtuous cause.  It was not always pitched as the mechanism by which the millennium would be ushered in, but rather, as the mechanism by which the true worship of God would be maintained and the Great Commission fulfilled for them, their posterity, and their nation.  The religious ramifications—affected and influenced by temporal political actions—were of the utmost importance.


II. The Protestants’ Dual Citizenship

Before examining the characteristics of the sermons, it is important to understand how Protestants of the time would have understood the role of religion in politics, or vice versa.  The fact that the spheres were so often indistinguishable from one another is partly to blame for why so many historians have confused the language of the clergy for a religious crusade, with millennialism as the rhetorical vehicle by which to advance its arrival.

The Revolutionary War, while not a crusade, was nevertheless religious for one crucial reason: because it was the duty of all Christians to improve the world around them by sacred and secular means in order that God might be glorified and pleased.  This was done through inward reform (individual repentance and faith) resulting in outward moral reform (political measures that concurred with God’s law and advanced His kingdom).  This is why so many of the clergy’s sermons belabor the point that if the colonists hoped for God to support them in their cause, they must first look to their own moral behavior (individually and corporately), and “if [their] cause is just—[they] may look with confidence to the Lord and intreat [sic] him to plead it as his own.”  Politics and religion interacted in such a way that good political actions and good citizens were viewed as the outward manifestation of inward reform.  It was the Protestants’ insistence on measures that would please God, and extend the kingdom of Christ through the church, that motivated them to political action.[8]

When Presbyterian minister, John Carmichael, preached his sermon, A Self-Defensive War Lawful, two months after the outbreak at Concord, he proclaimed:

It is but reasonable to suppose, that even the Minister of the Prince of Peace, whose business for ordinary is neither war or politicks, in such a situation, being member of civil society, and intersected like other men would improve the times, by adopting their public instructions, to the best service of the people, and not offensive or displeasing to God; whose holy word is a blessed directory in every emergency.

Carmichael concisely propounded several elements of Protestant understanding rooted more in Protestant tradition than any civil millennialism or Real Whig ideology.  The idea of being a “member of civil society” conveyed the dual citizenship that Protestants throughout history agreed upon; unlike the Quakers or the monks of Roman Catholicism, Reformed Protestants abhorred the idea of withdrawing from society into secluded cloisters where they could ignore worldly affairs and develop piety.  As one influential Puritan forefather made clear:

Within the society men are to serve each other in the mutual duties of justice and love…The solitary life which some hermits have chosen as angelic and others embrace for different reasons is so far from perfection that it is wholly contrary to the law and will of God…Human society provides the foundation to all the office of justice and love commanded in the second table of the law.  Transgressions which lead directly to the disturbance, confusion, and overthrow of this society are more grievous sins than breaches of individual commandments.

Instead, Protestants believed they were to “improve the times” that they inhabited.  They must therefore support causes “best” for the people and not “offensive or displeasing to God.”  And those actions must be approved by the “blessed directory [for] every emergency.”  In turn, they must wage battle against anything that would prevent the improvement of their world.  These ideas were not developed at the eve of Revolution, nor were they created by New Light enthusiasm borne out of the Enlightenment, but they had a long history in the tradition of the Reformed church.  It was this same belief that initiated the Protestant Reformation, provided motivation for the Puritan mission in the New World, and aroused enthusiasm in the Great Awakening; now it became the justification for fighting against the British.[9]

In May, 1776, John Witherspoon, president of Princeton University and signatory of the Declaration of Independence, preached one of his only political sermons: The Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men.  After exhorting his listeners to look within their own hearts and to repent of any known sin in order that God may favor their cause, he laid out several improvements that stressed the necessity of Christian involvement in worldly affairs.

It is therefore your duty, in this important and critical season, to exert yourselves to every one in his proper sphere to stem the tide of prevailing vice, to promote the knowledge of God, the reverence of his name and worship, and obedience to his laws.

And then, in order to make the point more forcefully, he proclaimed:

Industry, therefore, is a moral duty of the greatest moment, absolutely necessary to national prosperity, and the sure way of obtaining the blessing of God.  I would also observe, that in this, as in every other part of God’s government, obedience to his will is as much a natural mean, as a meritorious cause of the advantage we wish to reap from it.

The forcefulness of the argument must not be understated; it was a “moral duty” to improve the times, to remain industrious, to submit cheerfully to proper magistrates, to love your neighbor, and to promote the true religion of Christ.  The importance of personal piety had everything to do with political measures.  God could not be expected to bless a cause that was advanced by an unholy people, no matter its noble intentions.[10]

The Revolutionary manuscripts are replete with calls to repentance, to do their duty as Christians, and to be involved in the defense of truth so that God might support their undertaking.  “Awake, therefore,” wrote John Cleaveland—under the penname Johannes in Eremo—in The Essex Gazette, “Let us all repent and turn every one from his Sins—his Provocations against Heaven, and God Almighty will awake to our Help as in ancient Times.”  Another minister echoed the thought: “Exert…your utmost effort, strain every nerve, do all you can to promote this cause—plead earnestly with God, in its behalf, by continual prayer and supplication, by repentance and reformation, by forsaking every vice, & the practice of universal virtue.”[11]

The colonial ministers concerned themselves with the spiritual condition of the Patriots as much as they concerned themselves with the character of the British.  This was a common practice for all Christians, who believed that the coming of Christ was perpetually imminent and often took Jesus’s words to heart: “and you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”  If it were true that the clergy expected to see the coming of Christ in His kingdom, it is reasonable to expect more sermons with that as the primary subject.  As it is, not many have been cited to support that understanding.  Instead, the sermons are appeals to conduct themselves in such a way that they would not be ashamed if Christ were to return—including service in a war for their neighbor’s wellbeing and God’s glory.[12]

The cause so combined political and religious rhetoric that at some point it becomes frivolous to separate them, but simply to consider their appeals politically religious.  Again, this was no new innovation, as if it were a recent development that Protestants would see themselves as now having a divine directive to get involved in political actions more than the religious ones they once cared more about.  One historian remarked: “Religious aims rapidly became indistinguishable from political ones” during the Great Awakening.  But was this really the case?  Did the Great Awakening act as the catalyst for Protestants to begin utilizing their religion to promote politics?  The answer is a resounding no, because religion was often “indistinguishable” from politics for the Reformed Protestants, and there is no need to go far to find proof of this.[13]

The most relevant and convincing example of the Protestant involvement in worldly or political affairs for a cosmic purpose can be traced back to the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  In speaking about the Puritans—specifically in the context of the New England Puritans—Edmund S. Morgan summarized their task in the world:

Every nation or people, the Puritans believed, existed by virtue of a covenant with God, an agreement whereby they promised to abide by His laws, and He in turn agreed to treat them well.  To help carry out their part of the bargain, people instituted governments, and the business of government was to enforce God’s laws by punishing every detachable breach.  Government in this view had a sacred task and enjoyed divine sanction in carrying it out.  The institution of government, however, did not absolve the people from responsibility.  As long as the government did its job, the people must give it all the assistance in their power.  But if the governors failed in their sacred task and fell prey to the evils they were supposed to suppress, then the people must rebel and replace the wicked rulers with better ones.  If they did not, God would descend in fire and brimstone to punish the whole nation.

This belief led to the throwing off of their government in the Old World in order to start afresh in the New; this idea led John Winthrop to conclude that they must establish a “due form of Government both civil and ecclesiastical,” to follow the commands of God, lest He “break out in wrath” against them, and make them know “the price of the breach of such a covenant.”  Furthermore, this belief provided the motivation behind later revolutionary talk; so far from this being a new belief, it was an old one, rooted in Puritan, Protestant, and Reformed tradition.  To throw off a wicked government was not only politically advantageous, it was religiously justified, and ultimately a sacred duty.[14]

There is truly little difference in the ideologies between the seventeenth-century Puritans and eighteenth-century Protestant Evangelicals; the former required harmless separation, while the latter required bloodshed.  In both cases it was necessary to provide justification for what they were doing, and it did not require as much for a cause that required no war.  Once war seemed unavoidable—or already underway—the justifications became more intricate, exhaustive, and prevalent.  The justifications for separation from Great Britain would appeal to all parts of the Christian: their political and religious sentiments, their dual citizenship in this world and in the next, their belief in a divine Governor, and their insistence on political measures having a cosmic importance.

Having shown that it was the duty of all Protestant believers to improve the world around them and to treat all things in a cosmic sense, attention turns toward the clergy and how they would stimulate widespread support from Protestant Evangelicals through their sermons.  Because of the Christian’s duty to be a member of civil society in order to influence the world for the good of Christ’s kingdom, and because it was a matter of both political and religious significance, the arguments to gain support would have to appeal to both spheres that Christians saw themselves operating within.

As stated before, the sermons of the colonial clergy often contained three important themes.  These themes have been noticed by most historians, but are sometimes misunderstood.  If it is observed that the clergy appealed to their natural rights as citizens of England—and employed reason or common sense as support—it is assumed that they were influenced by Enlightenment philosophy, and shrouding their true political intentions in religious rhetoric.  If it is observed that they utilized Reformed resistance theories, the point is often elided.  If it is observed that the clergy appealed to the sacredness of the cause, its cosmic importance, and concluded that it was morally imperative that they fight, then they were likely religious fanatics, obsessed with signs of the millennium, or—as is more commonly asserted—they began to blend the lines between religion and politics at this particular time.  As will be observed, each of the above conclusions is flawed in some way.  For each of the themes expressed in the sermons there was a long tradition of Protestant belief that preceded it, making it unnecessary to insert Great Awakening enthusiasm, growing millennialism, or the secularization of religion.[15]


III. Natural Law/Natural Rights Argument

The supposition of many commentators on the American Revolution has been that the Enlightenment had the greatest influence on the Founders and even the prominent ministers.  While that conclusion may have an element of truth to it, there is no reason to not as easily assume that the Enlightenment itself was influenced by the Protestant Reformation, thus the colonial ministers could be expected to share a common rhetoric with Enlightenment liberals.  In other words, it was circular: Protestants drew many principles from the Enlightenment, which drew many principles from Protestantism.  After all, it was John Locke who quoted extensively from the famed theologian Richard Hooker throughout his Second Treatise of Government, an influential treatise in New England.  In discussing the limits of the legislative arm of government Locke appealed to the idea of natural law, which, to him, was nothing more than the revealed will of God in his created order:

…the law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others.  The rules that they make for other men’s actions, must, as well as their own and other men’s actions, be conformable to the law of nature, i.e. to the will of God, of which that is a declaration, and the fundamental law of nature being the preservation of mankind, no human sanction can be good, or valid against it.

In turn ministers, such as Elisha Williams, felt comfortable quoting Locke’s work to prove their theological points, and justify resistance against unsuitable governments.

There are too many arbitrary Governments in the World, where the People don’t make their own Laws.  These are not properly speaking Governments but Tyrannies; and are absolutely against the Law of God and Nature.  But I am considering Things as they be in their own Nature, what Reason teaches concerning them: and herein have given a short Sketch of what the celebrated Mr. Lock in his Treatise of Government has largely demonstrated; and in which it is justly to be presumed all are agreed who understand the Rights of Mankind.

Unlike the countless historians who have imported meaning into the sermons, surmising that the ministry had become increasingly secular, there was no true deviation from previous theologians.  Instead, as one historian concluded, there was no “right asserted in the Declaration of Independence”, or by the Black Regiment, “which had not been discussed by the New England clergy before 1763;” the contention of this paper is for an even earlier date.[16]

The point made by the Reverend Williams would become the common rallying cry of the colonial clergymen.  The government of Great Britain, a government increasingly perceived as ruling arbitrarily, would eventually be labeled no government at all, but a tyranny.  Scripture alone was not the sole source for proving this argument, so was the natural reason and common sense endowed to all men by virtue of their creation in the image of God.  These natural rights were considered codified in their rights as citizens of England, and so any violation of rights against the colonists was considered not only an assault against their rights as citizens but their rights as human beings and as Christians.  In a 1775 address to ministers in North Carolina several clergymen argued:

That we have no Representatives in Parliament is evident beyond contest—and if we must give our money as oft as it is demanded by them, where is our English liberty?  To take any man’s money, without his consent, is unjust and contrary to reason and the law of God, and the Gospel of Christ; it is contrary to Magna Carta, or the Great Charter and Constitution of England; and to complain, and even to resist such a lawless power, is just, and reasonable, and no rebellion.

To Protestant Evangelicals natural rights were synonymous with the rights given by God; natural and revealed rights were both instituted, or decreed, by a sovereign deity operating providentially in his creation.  “Hence,” concluded one minister, “tyranny and arbitrary power are utterly inconsistent with and subversive of the very end and design of civil government [which God ordained], and directly contrary to natural law, which is the true foundation of civil government and all political law.”  Therefore, these governments warranted resistance.[17]  

Most ministers recognized the civil and the religious as distinct spheres, but it was also recognized that there was one divine Governor of both.  An assault on their civil liberties was considered as great a threat as an assault on their religious liberties (and often one begot the other).  A recent historian, recognizing the close relationship between religious and civil liberties, commented, “Patriot clergymen made almost indistinguishable arguments for religious and political liberty.”  The extent to which the British government was considered legitimate—and thus able to tax the colonies—was proportional to the manner in which they performed their role as the magistrate, which always included protecting both their civil and religious interests.  Jonathan Mayhew, in his popular Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission (1750), described the purpose of the civil government and how far it was the duty of Christians to submit:

…If we attend to the nature of the argument with which the Apostle here inforces the duty of submission to the higher powers, we shall find it to be such an one as concludes not in favor of submission to all who bear the title of rulers, in common; but only, to those who actually perform the duty of rulers, by exercising a reasonable and just authority, for the good of human society.

The “good of human society” included both civil and ecclesiastical protections. [18]

Mayhew’s argument gained further support as events unfolded in upcoming years.  In the 1760s, deliberations—and conspiracies—began over the institution of an Anglican Bishop in America, with talks of levying taxes for the privilege, only furthering paranoia regarding British innovations to enslave the colonists to the Church of England again.  Mayhew spearheaded the opposition, claiming it violated both their religious right to free worship and their civil rights as delineated in their charter. In 1765, British Parliament introduced the Stamp Act, requiring that printed materials be produced on taxed and stamped paper, in order to pay back debts for the Seven Years’ War.  Following its repeal the next year, Mayhew described the Act as “very hard…justly grievous…[and] oppressive,” concluding that it stripped the colonists of their rights and robbed them of their hard-earned profits, but he was grateful for Great Britain’s retraction of the measure.  Nevertheless, the seeds of resistance were sown in the event that any further laws—or taxes—should seek to hinder their God-given rights to life, property, or religion.  “To many, attacks on political liberty—such as the Stamp Act and the Townshend Duties—were just the secular version of the threats they faced against their right to worship God as their Bibles instructed them to do;” which was considered a deeply religious transgression against men and God.  The Tea Tax and Intolerable Acts in the next decade would succeed in sending the colonists over the proverbial edge.[19]

This type of political religion, and natural rights rhetoric, has commonly been attributed to Old Light theologians, however the theme was ubiquitous among ministers.  The Old Light ministers certainly gave heavier treatment of natural law, but the ideas were so often present in New Light sermons that bifurcation between ministers becomes unnecessary. An “Evangelical” New Light, such as Jonathan Parsons, could say “all attempts to justify slavery, are but the feeble endeavors of selfishness to oppose the law of nature and divine revelation” as easily as a staunch Old Light, such as Charles Chauncy, could say “[rulers] should bring…proposed laws to a fair and impartial examination, not only in their reference to the temper, genius and circumstances of the community, but to that justice also which is founded in the nature of things, and the will of the supreme legislator.”  The practice of submitting all justifications to the rule of Scripture and nature is so prevalent in the sermons of the clergy that the question arises as to where this practice originates: whether from growing secularization borne out of declining religiosity and Enlightenment philosophies, or someplace else.  As Separatist minister, Israel Holley, would declare at the end of his sermon on the “unalienable rights” of men (i.e. life, liberty, and property): these rights were not now being advanced because of the “late religious commotion of the Land” or out of the “fruit of enthusiasm”, but had always been considered the “essential rights of Protestants.”[20]

In Protestantism’s youth, the problem of how far subjects ought to obey their magistrates had already presented itself.  John Calvin had offered little in the way of an answer, as most of his political thoughts had developed in Geneva, a place of relative peace between church and state.  But his Huguenot protégé, Theodore Beza, sought answers from the Lutherans in Magdeburg.  In 1550, the Magdeburg Confession had been drafted as a series of defenses for just resistance to a higher magistrate by a lower one; the language of the Confession could have as easily been inserted into any number of Revolutionary sermons:

If the high authority does not refrain from unjustly and forcible persecuting…the lives of their subjects…[and] their rights under divine and natural law, and if the high authority does not desist from eradicating true doctrine and true worship of God, then the lower magistracy is required by God’s divine command to attempt…to stand up to such superiors…The current persecution which we are suffering at the hands of our superiors is primarily persecution by which they attempt to suppress the…true worship of God and to reestablish the Pope’s lies and abominable idolatry.

The drafters of this confession would have found support from the founder of their movement: “A good and just decision,” said Martin Luther, “must not and cannot be pronounced out of books, but must come from a free mind, as though there were no books. Such a free decision is given…by love and by natural law, with which all reason is filled; out of the books come extravagant and untenable judgments.”  Luther’s colleague and successor, Philip Melanchthon, defined natural law as “a common judgment to which all men alike assent, and therefore one which God has inscribed upon the soul of each man.”  According to early Protestant theologians: reason, conscience, and nature bore enough witness to the unalienable and irrevocable rights and laws of all mankind, because it was “written on the hearts” of all men by the divine lawgiver.[21]

These rationalizations and appeals to natural law and natural rights would find their way into numerous prominent Protestants in the years to come.  By 1644—forty five years before Locke’s Second Treatise—Samuel Rutherford had already challenged the “Divine Right of Kings” in his controversial work, Lex Rex.  Rutherford asserted that while the office of magistrate was divinely appointed, “the power of creating a man a king is from the people.”  The people set the conditions by which the king would rule, and upon violation of those conditions they could rightfully take it back from the magistrate.  As the name of his book implied, law is king, and not the opposite.  To Rutherford, people were created as equals, and only given titles and authority by the society into which they were born.  Therefore the safe keeping of any government was not solely entrusted to the magistrate, but also to the people.  “As God in a law of nature hath given to every man the keeping and self-preservation of himself and of his brother,” Rutherford argued, “so hath God committed the keeping of the commonwealth, by a positive law, not to the king alone, because that is impossible.”  If the magistrate were to threaten the natural, God-given rights of the people, then it was proper to resist and take back what they gave in the first place.  Few historians are prepared to say Rutherford was a product of liberalism, republicanism, or a patriotism that only concerned itself with national, political benefits.  He was a Puritan of the first order, and his thoughts were developed from his extensive use of Scripture and authorities in the Protestant vein, for the ultimate purpose of accomplishing religious ends.  More importantly, his thoughts were a major influence in the Protestants yet to come, including prominent American theologians like Jonathan Edwards, Witherspoon, and Mayhew.[22]

The rationalizations of previous theologians had so much been developed by the eighteenth century that Lockean or Hobbesian theories of individual rights should be viewed as expansions or modifications of political theories already thoroughly engrained in the mind of many Protestants.  Alan Heimert made the point, that “the evangelical ministry [was] not dependent on Locke for their political and social philosophy.”  If true—and it should be plain from the previous examples—then the following words of John Adams were as attributable to Protestant theology as any later Enlightenment philosophy:

Although there is a natural equality and independency among men yet they have voluntarily combined together, and by compact and mutual agreement, have entered into a social state, and bound themselves to the performance of a multitude of affairs, tending to the good; and to the avoiding of a multitude of injuries tending to the hurt and damage of the whole.  And hence arises order and government, and a just regulation of all those matters which relate to the safety of the persons, lives, liberties, and property of individuals.

John Adams declared that “liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator;” and that they “have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge,” namely, “the characters and conduct of their rulers;” and if they were to violate the trust of their people and betray them, “the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents.”  While Adams may have had a different meaning in mind than the common Protestant minister, the words would ring true and would conjure up traditional values Protestants had long maintained.  The truths were self-evident, based in natural law, which bore itself out in political measures (i.e. constitutional laws and governmental authority).  Cleaveland summarized the essential point in the Essex Gazette, informing the readers of the main reason for resistance: “the Rights of Men, the Rights of Englishmen belong to us…the King of Great Britain has pledged his royal Faith to protect us in the Enjoyment of all these Rights by solemn compact as our King;…no Man, nor Body of Men under Heaven, has any just Right to impose of our Properties without our Consent.” [23]


IV. Reformed Resistance Theory Argument

Closely bound to the justifications from natural law—and often acting as the overarching framework—were the Reformed resistance theories that provided greater credibility to armed resistance.  An appeal to natural rights, apprehended by common sense and recognized in their constitutions, would doubtless add weight to the argument for political resistance against the crown; but no self-respecting Protestant would think that a Biblical exposition for resistance was not needed.  The Bible made clear statements regarding a subject’s duty to the magistrate.  The Apostle Paul exhorted his readers to “be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”  He went on to say: “because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God…Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”  Likewise, Peter urged his readers to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…as sent by [God] to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”  Jesus himself told his disciples to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”  These injunctions could not be flippantly dismissed, the opposition would not let them, and their God would not approve.  The arguments for political resistance by temporal authorities required religious exegesis for approval and success from God, thus confirming the religiously political nature of the Revolution.[24]

There are a few things to understand before looking at the resistance theory specifically.  First, like the natural law arguments, there is no reason to interject a liberal tradition into the sermons at every turn; the rationalizations were two sides of the same argument, both deriving their origins from God.  Furthermore, the arguments from Scripture make the Revolution a political and religious affair.  Perhaps it is correct to say the liberal pamphleteers and statesmen like Jefferson or Paine used religious rhetoric for the purpose of manufacturing and achieving political support, but for the Protestant population, faithfulness to God in the Scriptures was not a means to an end, but the end itself; God’s support was paramount.  Last, there is no deviation from previous Protestant theologians in this regard; resistance theories were not sparked by antiauthoritarianism from the Great Awakening or the brainchild of civil millennialism, it was the norm in Protestantism since the sixteenth century.

Historians generally accept that Reformed resistance theories began to truly develop with two groups of Protestant Christians: the “Marian” exiles from England and the French Huguenots.  In the 1550s, British Calvinists fled the persecution of the Catholic “Bloody” Mary.  Known to history as the Marian exiles, they produced several individuals influential in the formation of early resistance theories: John Knox, John Ponet, and Christopher Goodman.  French Huguenots, due to persecution in the sixteenth century, and especially following the atrocities of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, produced a slew of their own theologians, including Theodore Beza, Francois Hotman, and the pseudonymous author of the Vindciae contra Tyrannos.  The substance and radicalism of their works is diverse, but similar themes run through them all.  The intricacy of the particular arguments is too much for the current paper, but the use of three major points would remain consistent from the earliest theorists to the Patriot clergy under consideration.  (1) Redefinition of a true magistrate.  If the Apostles commanded obedience to the authorities placed over them, then they must have meant those who could rightfully be considered a true magistrate.  (2) The case of the lower magistrate against a higher magistrate.  Perhaps it was not lawful or Biblical for a single individual to resist the authorities, but if the lower magistrate (i.e. Continental Congress) were to rightfully resist the higher (i.e. Parliament or king) then it became lawful.  (3) Individual self-preservation or self-defense gave just cause for resistance against oppressive governments.[25]

In order to undermine the authority of a particular authority, Protestants throughout history spent time explaining, in great detail, what the role of the magistrate was.  The implication was that if a magistrate did not fulfill these functions, then he was not a true magistrate.  The Belgic Confession (1561), one of the first continental Reformed confessions, described the role of the magistrate as being invested “with the sword, for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the protection of them that do well.”  This was the reason the Apostle Paul gave for their appointment in Romans 13.  It followed for most Protestants that if the magistrate were emplaced for the furtherance of good and the suppression of evil, then when those roles were not fulfilled they no longer retained their rightful title and were no longer worthy of submission.  Beza argued:

…if [a king] should…plunder the territory of which they have undertaken the government, that cunningly and without self-control they set themselves against law and reason and wantonly break their sworn promises, they can and should be forced, compelled and brought to their duty even by armed force, if it cannot be otherwise, by those who upon special conditions have raised them to this high office.

Rutherford concurred in answering the question of whether absolute and unlimited power was immediately derived from God: “Not at all…An absolute power is essentially a power to do without or above law, and a power to do ill, to destroy; and so it cannot come from God as a moral power by institution, though it come from God by a flux of permissive providence.”[26]

The Revolutionary ministers interpreted the magistrate in a similar manner.  Far from being radical revolutionaries, the colonial ministers were careful in explicating the role of the magistrate and advising obedience among all true Christians.  However, if a ruler or regime became “oppressive,” wherein “compliance would bring on inevitable ruing and destruction,” it “may justly warrant the few to refuse submission to what they judge inconsistence with their peace and safety.”  Samuel West deduced this rationale from the Apostle Paul’s statement that the authorities ought to preserve the good and carry out “God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”  West reasoned further:

If magistrates are no farther ministers of God than they promote the good of the community, then obedience to them neither is nor can be unlimited; for it would imply a gross absurdity to assert that, when magistrates are ordained by the people solely for the purpose of being beneficial to the state, they must be obeyed when they are seeking to ruin and destroy it.

Mayhew was equally adamant about defending this opinion.  After expositing the words of the same Apostle, he summarized:

…it appears that [Paul’s] arguments to enforce submission, are of such a nature, as to conclude only in favour of submission to such rulers as he himself describes; i.e. such as rule for the good of society, which is the only end of their institution.  Common tyrants, and public oppressors, are not intitled to obedience from their subjects, by virtue of any thing here laid down by the inspired apostle.

Even Jacob Duché, a Patriot turned Loyalist, once defended the American interpretation of the passage, saying:

Inasmuch as all rulers are in fact the servants of the public, and appointed for no other purpose than to be a “terror to evil-doers, and a praise to them that do well;” whenever this Divine order is inverted, whenever these rulers abuse their sacred trust, by unrighteous attempts to injure, oppress, and enslave those very persons, from whom alone, under God, their power is derived – does not humanity, does not reason, does not Scripture, call upon the man, the citizen, the Christian of such a community to “stand fast in that liberty wherewith Christ….hath made them free!”[27]

Another prevalent argument in the resistance theories was the notion that a lower magistrate, rightfully instituted, had the authority to stand up to a higher magistrate if that higher magistrate should become injurious to its subjects.  According to the ministers drafting the Magdeburg Confession, Paul had commanded obedience to the “governing authorities”, implying that there existed a plurality of authorities.  If a lower magistrate were to err then it was the duty of the higher magistrate to correct or remove those in authority; similarly, if the higher magistrate usurped authority not given him, it was the duty of lower magistrates to correct or control him, and “may make use of their rights to defend themselves.”  Beza, using Magdeburg as a guide and defending the rightful authority of the subordinate magistrate, concluded: “if they are reduced to such unavoidable compulsion, they are certainly bound, even by means of armed force if they can, to protect against manifest tyranny the safety of those who have been entrusted to their care and honor.”  The words of the ministers at Magdeburg, Beza, and the majority of Protestant theologians through the centuries, could as easily fit in most sermons of revolutionary America.[28]

The colonists considered the Continental Congress a legitimate subordinate authority.  If it were agreed in Congress that war and resistance were appropriate, then Christians had all the authority needed in order to assuage their political and religious concerns (i.e. it was God honoring and could therefore expect he would judge their cause as righteous and support them in it).  It is a well-understood truth that the colonists were opposed to taxation without representation, it was for that purpose that the Continental Congress was formed, in order to act as a representation for the people in order to petition the king.  Witherspoon, a member of said Congress, wrote that it was their purpose to act as the “representative of the great body of the people of North America.”  If representation from Britain was not forthcoming, reasoned the colonists, then they would establish their own.  Whether the British recognized it as a legitimate authority was beside the point, for the colonists it represented them, and, according to all parties involved (i.e. Protestant theologians, Rutherford, Locke, Adams, the Black Regiment, etc.), it could legitimately voice grievances and ultimately declare independence.[29]

In 1775, Witherspoon wrote a pastoral letter to the Presbyterian ministers of the Synod of New York encouraging them in the purpose and legitimacy of the Continental Congress: “…as the Continental Congress, now sitting in Philadelphia, consist[s] of delegates chosen in the most free and unbiased manner, by the body of the people, let them not only be treated with respect, and encouraged in their difficult service…but adhere firmly to their resolutions.”  Ultimately, Witherspoon succeeded in drawing all the principles of reason, Scripture, and Protestant authorities together to form a coherent and forceful argument for resistance.

The Congress is, properly speaking, the representative of the great body of the people of North America.  Their election is for a particular purpose, and a particular season only…It is an interruption or suspension of the usual forms, and an appeal to the great law of reason, the first principles of the social union, and the multitude collectively, for whose benefit all the particular laws and customs of a constituted state, are supposed to have been originally established.[30]

The final defense from the resistance theory that this paper addresses, is the notion of self-preservation or self-defense.  Self-defense is the most basic element of the aforementioned justifications, and was believed to be an obvious natural right.  In 1643, an assembly of prominent Protestant theologians in Westminster began drafting a Confession—with appended Catechisms—that was later widely accepted among Protestants in the Old and New World.  On the question of what duties the sixth commandment (“thou shalt not murder”) required was a statement that defined well the prevailing Protestant conviction:

The duties required…are all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence…

The implication was that life was a precious thing to not only preserve for oneself, but for the sake of others, including taking measures to prevent the unlawful taking of their neighbor’s life.  The taking of life included both physical harm to their persons or the taking of property that would leave them destitute, thus effectively killing them.  Rutherford, again, spoke a truth long held by Protestants, when he said, “if a robber invade me, to take away my life and my purse, I may defend myself by re-action.”  He reiterates: “If my neighbor come to kill me, and I can by no means save my life by flight, I may defend myself; and all divines say I may rather kill ere I be killed, because I am nearer, by the law of nature, and dearer to myself and my own life than to my brother.”  Rutherford was asserting a point that had greater implications, because his end was to apply the same to a king if he should seek to take life or properties, something Americans were accusing the magistrate of doing with their taxes and acts.[31]

Samuel Langdon, President of Harvard, and a staunch supporter of the Patriot cause, was a leading voice in garnering Protestant support.  In a sermon to the Massachusetts Congress (1775) he spoke about the many abuses of the British:

…they have not only endeavored to terrify us with fleets and armies sent to our Capital, and distressed and put an end to our trade [New England Restraining Act of 1775]…but at length attempted…to seize and destroy one of our magazines, formed by the people merely for their own security…By this…a skirmish was brought on [Lexington and Concord]…they [the British] acted the part of Robbers and Savages, by burning, plundering, and damaging almost every house in their way…murdering the unarmed and helpless, and not regarding the weaknesses of the tender sex.

The accuracy of Langdon’s account is entirely irrelevant for the purpose of this paper; the forcefulness of his rhetoric is not.  As the President of Harvard, there is little doubt that he wielded great influence over the ministers and laypersons in the New England area.  So when he used such emotive and provocative examples of Britain’s assault upon the colonies, it was likely heeded, as was his point for outlining these examples of British tyranny: “…he that arms himself to commit a robbery, and demands the traveler’s purse, by the terror of Instant death is the first aggressor, though the other should take the advantage of discharging his pistol first and killing the robber.”[32]

One thing that the Protestant clergy agreed upon was the idea of an individual’s right to self-preservation and self-defense.  Separatist minister, Isaac Backus, declared, “Indeed we apprehend that we have the same right to have our persons and properties protected by authority as our neighbour have.”  Carmichael, in his sermon regarding the justness of a self-defensive war: “[If] rulers of the people should give way to the many temptations their high stations will lead them to…then the people are under a disagreeable, but pressing necessity, rather than be crushed by an iron rod, to re-ascertain their own just rights; and stand forth all of them to oppose such tyranny.”  Samuel West asserted, “When a people find themselves cruelly oppressed by the parent state, they have an undoubted right to throw off the yoke, and to assert their liberty…by the law of self-preservation, which is the first law of nature.”  Jonathan Parsons drew the inference to national self-defense: “…if one man may defend himself and his rights against an assailant, much more may a whole country defend themselves when their rights are invaded, because the concern is greater.”  This justification for conflict is so recurring in the manuscripts that these few should suffice, but it serves the purpose of showing the consistent message of resistance theory throughout Protestant history.[33]

If these defenses were derived from Real Whig ideology or growing liberalism, then it should be assumed that those things had their origination as early as the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent resistance theories.  The dispute is not whether a particular minister intended to secularize his message for a more “rational” populace, but whether such a manipulation of preexisting Protestant defenses was needed.  Resistance theories had historically been defended by inferences—such as natural law—drawn from the Scriptures.  Natural rights were derived from natural law, natural law was derived from the Scriptures, and the divine lawmaker revealed himself in both.  Thus the previous two justifications (natural law and resistance theories) worked conjointly in bringing about a political defense for the war (drawn from religious principles), now it would be incumbent upon the colonial clergy to press the point further and garner widespread Christian support, turning from political actions with religious backing, to making it a religious, God-commanded obligation.


V. The Moral Imperative

Because it was the duty of all Christians to improve their times by being industrious and proactive, because their natural rights were unassailable and divinely given, and because the Scriptures gave them due authorization from God, it was therefore imperative that all true Protestants take part in the fight.  The exhortation, therefore, became: “awake, arise, and stand for your life: You have a grant to do so, against all that assault you, from the King of Heaven; from Nature and from Nature’s God.  To repel armed force, by force of the same kind, is Lawful by Heaven’s decree.”  Indeed anything less was, by intimation, against the moral, religious obligation they had to defend civil and religious liberty where it was theirs to defend.  As Declaration signatory, Francis Hopkinson, would state in answer to the question “Is even defensive war justifiable in a religious view?”, from his political catechism of 1777:

The foundation of war is laid in the wickedness of mankind… God has given man wit to contrive, power to execute, and freedom to will to direct his conduct…some, from a depravity of will, will abuse these privileges, and exert these powers to the injury of others: and the oppressed would have no safety or redress but by exerting the same powers in their defence: and it is our duty to set a proper value upon, and defend to the utmost, our just rights, and the blessings of life: otherwise a few miscreants would tyrannise over the rest of mankind, and make the passive multitude the slaves of their power.  Thus it is that defensive is not only justifiable, but an indispensable duty.

The matter of resistance did not simply stop at the political or religious justifications, but it was made into a religious necessity, a proof of one’s loyalty to the truth and to God.  The fact that Protestants were so adamant about the necessity of fighting for their freedoms, the truth, or God, is probably why so much of the clergy’s words have been viewed as those of a crusading spirit.[34]

To say that the clergy did not elevate the importance of the war to a conflict of religious significance, but instead relied primarily upon arguments of the just war tradition (and the practical consequences of losing; i.e. the loss of religious liberty), is tantamount to saying that Protestant Evangelicals detached actions in history from God’s providence and ultimate objectives in redemptive history.  This is not a prospect many Protestants would have openly entertained.  As one Presbyterian minister concluded in his attempt to merge the religious and the political into a coherent justification for war:

We have all the true friends of virtues; of liberty and righteousness on earth on our side [that is, the political or civil]—we have all the angels of heaven on our side—for we have truth and justice on our side—therefore we have the God of truth and justice on our side [that is, the divine favor of God on their side]…God will never forsake his own side of the question—Courage then! courage my brave American soldiers, if God be for, who can be against you?[35]

There never existed a sharp line between where the religious ended and the political began, it was blurred, because these ministers were not intent on parsing the two; especially not the religiously political Presbyterians and Congregationalists.[36]

To the theologians of the day, and especially those of the Calvinistic brand, there was no boundary to limit God’s sovereign hand, so a war—especially one that eventually began to favor the Americans—was inevitably seen to have God’s blessing in it; all actions, whether good or ill, were perceived as the sovereign will of God, and ultimately he would turn all things to his glory.  Yet, so clear did some apprehend God’s approval of their just and righteous cause, that one pastor rhetorically asked, “…can we suppose that the God who created us free agents, and designed that we should glorify and serve him in this world that we might enjoy him forever hereafter, will suffer liberty and true religion to be banished from off the face of the earth?”  The answer was no, and it was the belief that God was for them—proven from both Scripture and nature—that gave many colonists hope in an unsure future.  This war was one of not only political or pragmatic importance, but of cosmic significance, because to the Protestant Evangelical of the time, everything had cosmic significance.[37]

The colonial ministers implored their congregations to take their Christian faith seriously (repent of their own sin), and to then put it into action (fight against those spreading tyranny and sin).  The first duty of all Protestants was to love their neighbor as themselves; the way to truly do this was to take action when their neighbor’s safety was threatened.  Isaac Story conveyed that meaning in his call for action, in 1775:

As to the duty, it is founded on the grand law of love.  The command is, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself…and that shall prompt thee to wish his welfare and pursue it, as opportunities permit…If this be our love to an individual, how great must be our regard to a community.  If we are to love a neighbour as ourselves, we ought to love the public better than self.  And, of consequence, we ought to be ready, when the exigencies of the State require it, to expose our reputation, our interest, and our live for its good.

This was a forceful argument, and it embodied every point previously mentioned: the law of love (natural law), improving the times, the command of Scripture for self-defense, and the sacredness of such a mission.[38]

The clergy had an objective in each of their justifications for conflict.  The point was not to merely prove the righteousness of their cause, nor was it to simply gain prayers from the religious, it was to prompt direct action, and pitch it in such a way that inaction was to commit sinful neglect.  Samuel West, upon proving that a magistrate who abuses their power and authority “are no magistrates”, declared that resistance “not only becomes lawful, but an indispensable duty.”  Again, he said, “the principles of self-preservation, the affection and duty that we owe to our country, and the obedience we owe the Deity, do all require us to oppose tyranny.”  In the same sermon, West would conclude his arguments with a moral imperative: “Under God, every person in the community ought to contribute his assistance to the bringing about so glorious and important an event.”[39]

Anything less than action in this conflict was considered a grave transgression.  Reverend John Hurt, an ardent supporter of the Patriot cause, delivered a sermon in 1777 before three Virginian battalions in New Jersey, in which he warned them of neglect for their brethren:

 …to be unmindful of the public, is not only an argument of an ungrateful, it is a proof also of a dishonest temper of mind.  God has assigned each of us our station, and a part which we are obliged to discharge in carrying on the great work of social happiness.  If then I neglect the part appointed me, I am highly unjust; because I take share of the benefits of society, and yet leave the burden to be borne by others.  A greater injustice than this can scarcely be conceived.

Other ministers resorted to guilt as a means of achieving support from their followers.  John Carmichael charged individuals with “cowardice” and “sloth” if they would not support the cause, saying, “it is easy to stay at home and earn money… to what it is to be slain in battle…if these people will not be convinced of their duty…they are to be pitied…”; those who would take part “should be well satisfied…that [they are] called of God to do so…[they] may rely on God for strength and protection.”[40]

Rather than this being a call to immediately usher in the kingdom by the sword, it was considered a cause worthy of fighting because it concerned all true Christians that cared for their world (specifically their country), the advancement of truth, and the suppression of evil.  The advancement of the kingdom, for many theologians, was part and parcel of their postmillennial belief that circumstances would get better before the end.  “Be therefore of good courage,” said New Light minister, Abraham Keteltas, “it is a glorious cause: It is the cause of truth against error and falsehood; the cause of righteousness against iniquity; the cause of the oppressed against the oppressor; the cause of pure and undefiled religion, against, bigotry, superstition, & human inventions.”  To Keteltas, the cause was not ultimately the harbinger of the millennium, but simply the advancement of the truth they all held dear.  For this reason it was said that “God [would] effectually plead…by his almighty word, his all conquering spirit, and his over ruling providence” because America was projected to become a land where freedom of knowledge and religion would reign, for them and for the “millions yet unborn.”  If the objective was anything, it was the prospect of a new country, where the worship of God would prosper uninhibited.  To the majority of the clergy, the millennium may or may not come at the end of the conflict, but the cause in which they surrendered themselves was certainly a step towards it.[41]


VI. Conclusion

Perry Miller, in speaking about the colonial ministers, observed that “a ‘pure rationalism’ might have declared the independence of the American people, ‘but it could never have inspired them to fight for it.’”  This statement is effective in its pithiness, but displays a misconception.  A ‘pure rationalism’ is too often understood as the foundation for all the liberties declared by the colonists.  Locke is the most oft-cited of all rational thinkers, yet his works are so often recognized as being influenced by Protestantism and natural law arguments rooted in Biblical and classical thought, that it is difficult to say a pure rationalism declared independence while the ministers contingently supported and molded it to their theology, then turned it into a holy war and radicalized the whole event.  A more precise statement might be: Protestant ministers inspired people to fight for something that had long been declared by their beliefs, and was simultaneously secularized for an increasingly secular culture.  Liberty, natural rights, representation, and justice had long been a mainstay in Protestant theology; the American Revolution merely reintroduced those sensibilities.  Surely it was secularized and rationalized by a number of prominent individuals, but it as surely suited a Protestant sermon—and often more fittingly.[42]

It is important to note again the misunderstandings by previous historians.  Many have seen the Protestant clergy’s exhortation that it was their Christian duty to fight, as proof that they believed this war was the culmination of all events (i.e. the millennium).  Alan Heimert and Nathan Hatch were two influential scholars who disagreed on where these ideas came from, but ultimately agreed that religious rhetoric was becoming so synonymous with republicanism or Real Whig ideology, that it essentially became the same thing.  Ruth Bloch, a supporter of that conclusion, went so far as to say, “[the revolutionaries had the] conviction that history was drawing to its glorious conclusion, when the world would be transformed into a paradise for the righteous, predisposed large numbers of American Protestants to throw themselves behind the Revolutionary cause with a fervency that is otherwise hard to explain.”  This conclusion denotes a slight misconception in the way Protestants viewed God working in all things; this has already been proven in this paper.  To say, as Bloch, that it is “hard to explain,” creates a problem when trying to explain the Protestant history of rebellion (i.e. Scottish Covenanters, Parliament in the English Civil War, the Reformation, Puritan defection to the New World, etc.).[43]

For the Protestant Evangelical, the importance of fighting for such liberties was not merely the temporal benefits of political actions, but had everything to do with the advancement of Christ’s Gospel, church, and kingdom on earth.  The cause was defended by an argument that was as much political as it was religious because of the close relationship of the two.  The fact that it was a war authorized by all authority in the Protestant’s life, it was not only worth fighting for, but it was a true testament of their religious commitment: to the truth, the Gospel, and the kingdom of heaven.  To not defend their “‘birthright’ of freedom” was to be “a violator of the law of nature” and unwilling to love their neighbor—and by implication their country—as themselves.[44]

The dichotomy between the political and religious presents an obvious either-or fallacy.  Political legitimations, which had an appearance of republicanism and relied on just war theories, were undoubtedly present, but the Protestant clergy went further than simple justifications from politics or moral principles.  They also introduced religious zeal into the fray, making the War for Independence as much a sacred cause as it was a Patriotic cause.  Thus the war, according to the clergy of Protestant persuasion, was both political and religious, because they were—in essence, and in doxology—politically religious.


[1]  See Alan Heimert, Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), who believed that the issues between the Awakening and independence were, for the most part, insignificant.  Instead he believed the enthusiasm from the Great Awakening was directly responsible for the revolution; pp. 80-85; and for the revision of Heimert’s argument, see Nathan O. Hatch, The Sacred Cause of Liberty: Republican Thought and the Millennium in Revolutionary New England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977); Hatch rather bluntly repudiated the conclusion of Heimert, arguing, “if the roots of civil millennialism are to be found primarily in New Light enthusiasm, it is strange that its rhetoric was employed by Old Lights such as Belknap, Langdon, and Samuel West, as well as the rationalist John Adams”; pp. 26-27.

[2]  These studies include, but are not limited to: Sacvan Bercovitch, The Puritan Origins of the American Self (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975); Mark A. Noll, Christians in the American Revolution (Washington, D.C.: Christian University Press, 1977); Ruth H. Bloch, Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought, 1756-1800 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1986); Thomas S. Kidd, God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2012).  The idea of “tailoring” is that of Mark A. Noll in “The American Revolution and Protestant Evangelicalism,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Winter, 1993), pp. 615-638.

[3]  Melvin B. Endy, Jr., “Just War, Holy War, and Millennialism in Revolutionary American,” William and Mary Quarterly (Jan, 1985), pp. 3-4, 8-11; also revising the previous works was Mark Valeri, “The New Divinity and the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 46 (Oct, 1989), pp. 741-769; Bernard Bailyn also challenged Heimert’s conclusions early on in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967).  Valeri, in his article “The New Divinity and the American Revolution,” draws out some important points.  “Previous studies”, he says, “have not recognized that the Edwardseans [New Divinity]…distanced themselves from more fervently nationalistic patriots.  Their ideas should be distinguished from those of republican preaches who, reading the hand of God in political events, began to claim divine favor or to anticipate the fulfillment of covenantal promises given to America” (769).  Valeri thus distanced himself from Stout, who claimed that preachers saw America as a covenant nation, and from Hatch, who concluded that preachers saw the cause as given divine favor; not all saw it this way, but certainly some did.

[4]  For examples of these types of objections to the colonists’ rebellion see Joseph Galloway, Historical and Political Reflections on the Rise and Progress of the American Rebellion (London: G. Wilkie, 1780); John Wesley, A Calm Address to Our American Colonies (1775); and for one of the seminal works on the issue, George Berkley’s A Discourse on Passive Obedience (1712); the Protestant clergy were often referred to as “The Black Regiment”, because of the black robes they wore, and the influence on the Revolution that they were believed to possess, even by the enemy.  The persuasion of ministers upon the spiritual lives of the common citizen may be contested, but the degree of influence they had on the argument for war is hardly objected to.  Bernard Bailyn displayed the power of the pamphlet during the Revolution, and many were written by the clergy.  Bernard Bailyn, Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 1750-1776 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965).

[5] The influence of Protestant thought (especially Calvinism) on the American Revolutionaries is not new.  For previous studies on the subject see David W. Hall, The Genevan Reformation and the American Founding (New York, NY: Lexington Books, 2003); Keith Griffin, Revolution and Religion: American Revolutionary War and the Reformed Clergy (St Paul, MN: Paragon House Publishers, 1998).  Hall traced the ideas of the Founders back to the Reformation itself, and while I am inclined to agree, this paper is directed more at tracing the revolutionary enthusiasm of the clergy.  Griffin challenged Heimert and Bailyn, who gave so much credit to New England clergy that it imbalanced the approach to the clergy.  Instead he focused his attention on the middle colonies, especially the Presbyterians there, and how their beliefs were not the brainchild of Harvard’s growing liberalism, but were found in Calvinist theology throughout history.  If anything, this paper is indebted to that approach, but rather than going to the other extreme (focusing specifically on the middle colonies) it is important to understand the inter-colonial relationship of the same Protestant thought patterns.

[6] This cynicism can be seen in several historians, but as one put it: “Of course most scholars would agree that political issues, however shrouded in religious language, lie at the core of eighteenth-century American discourse;” reasoning that latent political ideas were “shrouded” in religious language; Donald Weber, Rhetoric and History in Revolutionary New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 8; Weber essentially generalized the clergy on an issue that cannot logically be dealt with generally, namely, the underlying motive of each minister.

[7]  The fact that Scripture was still needed for final authorization was true despite the decline of sola scriptura and heterodox beliefs gaining popularity in the eighteenth century.

[8]  For many, this was the essence of their postmillennial beliefs, a belief that viewed the millennial kingdom as presently unfolding, and that the world would continue to get better before the end; John Witherspoon, Sermon, The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men (Philadelphia: May 17, 1776), p. 27; for a thorough analysis of this “moral reform” and the interplay between “genuine religion” and “social morality” see Valeri, “The New Divinity.”

[9]  John Carmichael, Sermon, A Self-Defensive War Lawful, June 4, 1775 (Lancaster), 6; William Ames, The Marrow of Sacred Divinity, trans. and ed. John D. Eusden (Philadelphia, 1968), 308, quoted in John Corrigan’s The Hidden Balance (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press,1987), 24 (emphasis added).

[10]  Witherspoon, The Dominion of Providence, p. 34-35, 36-37.

[11]  Johannes En Eremo (John Cleaveland), in The Essex Gazette, April 18, 1775.

[12]  Matthew 24:6; All Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[13]  Patricia Bonomi, Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 186.

[14]  Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (New York, NY: Pearson Education, 2007), 15-16; John Winthrop, Modell of Christian Charity (1630), in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston, 1838).

[15]  Lest the meaning of the argument become unclear, it is important to make a qualification here; obviously the Awakening, Seven Years’ War, Enlightenment, Real Whig ideology, and republicanism influenced the clergy in different ways.  Some may have been more influenced by one more than the other, and some may have abandoned Protestant orthodoxy more than others.  The point here is that the ideas given in the sermons were not “new” innovations, in the sense that they had never appeared in the writings of Protestant theologians prior to the American Revolution.

[16]  John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, ed. C.B. McPherson (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1980; 1690), 78, ch. XI, section 135; Elisha Williams, The Essential Rights and Liberties of Protestants.  A Seasonable Plea for the Liberty of Conscience (Boston: 1744), 5; deviations from orthodoxy varied among Protestant ministers, but taking their body of work generally, there was no need for deviation from Protestant orthodoxy to secular politicizing in order to confirm their arguments; Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1928), 170.

[17]  Francis Alison, et al., “An Address to the Ministers and Presbyterian congregations in North Carolina,” The State Records of North Carolina, Vol. 10 (Raleigh: 1800), 222-228; For discussion of the codification of natural law into the rights of English citizens (i.e. compacts, charters, common law, the Magna Carta) see Bailyn, Pamphlets of the American Revolution, 50-55; Samuel West, Election Day Sermon, Natural Law: The True Principles of Government (Boston: 1776), in The Pulpit of the American Revolution: or, the Political Sermons of the Period of 1776, ed. John Wingate Thornton (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1860).

[18]  Kidd, God of Liberty, 77; Jonathan Mayhew, Sermon, A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (Boston: 1750), in American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr., ed. Michael Warner (New York, NY: Library of America, 1999), 398.

[19]  Jonathan Mayhew, Observations on the charter and conduct of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (Boston: 1763), 1-158; Jonathan Mayhew, Sermon, The Snare Broken (Boston: May 23, 1766), 5; Kidd, God of Liberty, 63.

[20]  Jonathan Parsons, Sermon, Freedom from Civil and Ecclesiastical Slavery (Newburyport: March 5, 1774), 10; Charles Chauncy, Election Sermon, Civil Magistrates must be Just, ruling in the Fear of God (Boston: May 27, 1747), 18 (emphasis added); to observe more of the same, simply look at the popular revolutionary sermons of Old Lights (Ezra Stiles, Jonathan Mayhew, Samuel Langdon, etc.), New Lights (Abraham Keteltas, Elisha Williams, Lameul Haynes, etc.), and moderate New Lights like John Witherspoon.

[21]  Magdeburg Confession, A1v, quoted in John Witte, Jr. “Rights, Resistance, and Revolution in the Western Tradition: Early Protestant Foundations,” Law and History Review (Fall, 2008), 549; Martin Luther, Temporal Authority: To What Extent it Should be Obeyed (Wittenberg: 1523) in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 458; Philip Melanchthon, The “Loci Communes” of Philip Melanchthon, ed. and tr. Charles L. Hill (Boston, MA: Meador, 1944) 112; The list of Protestant theologians who utilized natural law argumentation to prove their points is so large that this paper could not address them all.  For a comprehensive look at Reformers and their use of natural law in their resistance theories see David VanDrunen, “The Use of Natural Law in Early Calvinist Resistance Theory,” Journal of Law and Religion (2005/2006), 143-167, and his book Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study of the Development of Reformed Social Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2010).

[22]  Samuel Rutherford, Lex Rex (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle and Oliver & Boyd, 1843, 1644) 6, 97; see especially Questions I-IX; It is interesting to note that Heimert’s massive work on “religion and the American mind”, which tries to distinguish the roots of resistance (among other things), never references Rutherford; Hatch, Bonomi, and Bloch’s works are also devoid of much mention of Rutherford or any Protestant theologian prior to the Puritan founders of the Bay Colony.  As regards the colonial clergy by these writers, more political influence is attributed to Locke or Hobbes than those in their own heritage.  I believe this is a mistake if one purports to speak about the Protestant “mind”; For a helpful work on the life and influence of Rutherford, see John Coffey, Politicals, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997); one reviewer of the book echoes the sentiment expressed above, “Dr. Coffey’s introduction shows how Scottish Puritans have been neglected by modern historiography while American Puritans have not; and what historiography neglects is unlikely to bulk large in the popular imagination.” John M. Simpson in The Scottish Historical Review (Oct, 1999), 268.

[23]  Heimert, Religion and the American Mind, 18; Ebenezer Bridge, A Sermon Preach…May 27th, 1767.  Being the Anniversary for the Election (Boston, 1767), p. 14, in Heimert, Religion and the American Mind, 16; John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law (Boston: 1765), in The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, ed. C. Bradley Thompson (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000), 28; Johannes En Eremo (John Cleaveland), in The Essex Gazette, April 18, 1775.

[24]  Romans 13:1-2, 6-7; 1 Peter 2:14; Matthew 22:21.

[25]  For the works of the Marian exiles see John Ponet, A Short Treatise on Politique Power, and the True Obedience which Subjects Owe to Kings and Other Civil Governors (1556); Christopher Goodman, How Superior Powers Ought to be Obeyed (1558); John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558); and for the works of the Huguenots see Francois Hotman, Franco-Gallia (1573); and Theodore Beza, De jure magistratuum [Right of Magistrates] (1574).

[26]  The Belgic Confession, Article 36 (Antwerp: 1566); Beza, Right of Magistrates; Rutherford, Lex Rex, 228.

[27]  Samuel West, Sermon, Natural Law; Romans 13, The Holy Bible; Jonathan Mayhew, Concerning Unlimited Submission, 402; Jacob Duche, The Duty of Standing Fast in our Spiritual and Temporal Liberties, A Sermon Preached in Christ Church, July 7, 1775. Before the First Battalion of the City and Liberties of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: James Humphreys, Jr., 1775), 13-14.

[28]  Magdeburg Confession, J4r-K1r, K2r-L1r, M1r-M2r, P2r-P3r, quoted in John Witte, Jr. “Rights, Resistance, and Revolution,” 551; Beza, Right of Magistrates.

[29]  Witherspoon, “Thoughts on American Liberty,” Works (Edinburgh, 1805), 73.

[30]  Witherspoon, “Pastoral Letter,” Works (1775), 5:171-73; “On the Contest Between Great Britain and America,” Witherspoon to unnamed correspondent, September 3, 1778, in Works, 9:169-70; For a full explanation of Witherspoon’s utilization of Reformed resistance theory see Jeffry H. Morrison, John Witherspoon: And the Founding of the American Republic (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame, 2005); Morrison is in agreement with this paper that Witherspoon and others like him were heavily influenced by Locke and resistance theorists.  Moreover, he agrees that Locke was probably greatly influenced by Reformed Protestants in developing his own thoughts (82).

[31]  Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 135 (Edinburgh: 1648); The Confession and Catechism were accepted among most Reformed Protestant denominations: Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists.  Baptists would later draft the Baptist Confession of 1689 and Congregationalists the Savoy Declaration (1658), which were essentially word-for-word reprints with modifications to their specific polity and practices; Rutherford, Lex Rex, 156-160.

[32]  Samuel Langdon, Sermon, Government Corrupted by Vice, and recovered by Righteousness (Watertown: 1775), 7-8.

[33]  Isaac Backus, Sermon, Government and Liberty Described; and Ecclesiastical Tyranny Exposed (Boston: 1778); Carmichael, Self-Defensive War Lawful, 11-12; West, Natural Law (Boston: 1776); Parsons, Freedom from Civil and Ecclesiastical Tyranny (1774), 16.

[34]  Oliver Noble, Some Strictures upon the Sacred Story recorded in the Book of Esther (Newbury: 1775), 28, Reiner Smolinksi, ed. (Georgia State University: 1998);  Francis Hopkinson, The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq. (Philadelphia: T. Dobson, 1792), Vol. I, 114.

[35]  John Carmichael, Sermon, A Self-Defensive War Lawful, June 4, 1775 (Lancaster), p. 33.

[36]  The idea of the blurred line between politics and religion for Protestants of the Reformed tradition has been developed, in part, by Keith L. Griffin’s Revolution and Religion, wherein he described a “Reformed political ideology” that arose from classical principles revived by Jonathan Edwards.

[37]  Samuel West, Natural Law (Boston: 1776).

[38]  Isaac Story, The Love of Our Country Recommended and Enforced. In a Sermon from Psalm CXXII. 7 (Boston: 1775), 7, in Heimert, Religion and the American Mind, 468.

[39]  West, Natural Law (Boston: 1776).

[40]  John Hurt, Sermon, The Love of our Country (Philadelphia: 1777), 9-10; Carmichael, Self-Defensive War Lawful, 20.

[41]  Abraham Keteltas, Sermon, God Arising and Pleading His People’s Cause (Newbury-Port: 1777), 31ff.

[42]  Perry Miller, “From the Covenant to the Revival,” The Shaping of American Religion, Religion in American Life, vol. I, James W. Smith and A. Leland Jamison, eds. (Princeton: 1961), 343.

[43]  Bloch, Visionary Republic, xiii-xiv; The point was proven in the industriousness that all Protestants believed was essential to their faith, as well as the historical background of every Protestant justification for this war.

[44]  Heimert, Religion and the American Mind, 468.

Three Reasons to Consider Singing Psalms in Worship

•December 21, 2013 • Leave a Comment

CM101-2This post is not meant to convince anyone of Exclusive Psalmody, nor to debate the specific applications of the Regulative Principle.  Instead the idea is to suggest three reasons I believe the Psalms should at least be incorporated into the corporate worship of the church, even if not exclusively.  And to ask the question: why would you not want to sing the Psalms together as a church?  Please consider.

1) It is the inspired Word of God

It is a hymn book given by God, blessed by God, and referenced to by the Son of God, inside the Word of God.  No other book of Hymnody or modern praise can claim such characteristics for itself.  Moreover, the author[s] of the book was inspired by the Holy Spirit to compose the words which were placed within; again, that cannot be attributed to any other human author, no matter how good you may think the song is.  This helps to avoid the possibility of false teaching subtly being introduced into our worship of God.

Most will admit that there is no better way to memorize something than by putting it to song, and with the importance of scripture memorization in our life (especially a book so emotional, heartfelt, and applicable to our daily lives as the Psalms are) there is great reason to sing the Psalms together as a corporate body.

The Psalms touch on a wide-range of subjects (i.e. the holiness, wrath, love, justice, omniscience, power, purpose, providence, sovereignty, promises, and faithfulness of God) which really ought to be sung and thought upon corporately.  This makes the Psalms extremely useful in many situations that the church faces: heartbreak, death, illness, praise, joy, gratefulness, worship, prayer, repentance, confesison, etc.  And truthfully, what better thing to speak to these things in congregational worship than the Word of God itself?  The works of human authors simply cannot touch it in that regard…

2) It Reminds us of Our Heritage, Links us to the Saints Throughout History, and Ties Together all of Redemptive History Unlike any other Hymn Book

Think about it: if you sing the Psalms in worship, or use them to bring the heart of the congregation together for worship of the Triune God, or in response to the teachings of the Word of God, you are singing the exact same songs as the saints of old.  Many of the saints throughout the redemptive history of the church sang them: David, Solomon, the Prophets, the Apostles….Jesus….

After the Passover/Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26, it says: “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26)  It may very well have been Psalm 22 (but I speculate now).

However the thought should be astounding, and give us at least some reason to consider their singing in the corporate worship of the Church–the same Psalms that our Lord sang!

(And without delving too much into the history of the Psalms, most of the early church sang them, the Reformers, the Puritans (English and American), etc.  Something to think about…)

What’s more, the Psalms have a greater ability to express God’s full purpose in redemptive history, the dealings He has had with his saints throughout history, and they draw together the full scope of the Biblical narrative (in all of its covenant promises, blessings, and curses).  Unfortunately, some hymns–modern ones especially–have begun to drop out terms like Jacob, Israel, Emmanuel, etc. from their lyrics, altogether detaching the New Testament from the Old (purposely or not), and separating the truths expressed in the first 3/4 of our Bible from that of its fulfillment in the New.

3) It is how the Psalms were Meant to be Read (Sung)

I think the Psalms are great for several reasons; I think they are great for preaching, for meditation, and for praying through.  But one thing many do not give much thought to is their original purpose: to be sung.  And not only sung, but sung on the way to, and in, worship!

Someone once told me: perhaps the greatest argument for Psalmody, exclusive or not, is actually singing them together as a church.  I am inclined to agree.  When the issue becomes one of intellectual debate about the Regulative Principle, Reformed tradition, or Pragmatism, the true beauty of singing the Psalms together can often be lost.  It’s the actual sing of them, that convinces many (including my wife, who recently saw the greatest example and argument for it at the funeral of a friend recently) of the need, beauty, and practical reasons for singing the Word of God together as a church.

I hope that this blog entry will not be seen as one for sparking debate, but rather as an encouragement to give it thought, whether you accept or reject the idea in the end.



psalm 5


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