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Blake Hart | Anchorage, Alaska
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Hillside Baptist Church
5200 O’Malley Rd
Anchorage, AK 99507
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The Black Robed Regiment: The Role of American Clergy in the American Revolution pt.1
THURSDAY, JULY 04, 2019
Posted by: Hillside Baptist Church | more..
360+ views | 30+ clicks

“It was Sunday morning early in the year 1776. In the church where Pastor Muhlenberg preached, it was a regular service for his congregation, but a quite different affair for Muhlenberg himself. Muhlenberg’s text for the day was Ecclesiastes 3 where it explains, ‘To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted…'”

“Coming to the end of his sermon, Peter Muhlenberg turned to his congregation and said, ‘In the language of the holy writ, there was a time for all things, a time to preach and a time to pray, but those times have passed away.’ As those assembled looked on, Pastor Muhlenberg declared, ‘There is a time to fight, and that time is now coming!’ Muhlenberg then proceeded to remove his robes revealing, to the shock of his congregation, a military uniform.”

“Marching to the back of the church he declared, ‘Who among you is with me?’ On that day 300 men from his church stood up and joined Peter Muhlenberg. They eventually became the 8th Virginia Brigade fighting for liberty.”[1]

Muhlenberg was no “Lone Ranger” when it came to being a clergy who supported and championed the cause of the American Revolution. As England began to try and figure out who was rallying the most support for this “revolt” they quickly came to the realization that it was the pulpits of the American Colonies that served as the greatest instruments in championing the colonists desire for “freedom and liberty.” The Black Robed Regiment was meant to be an ad-hominem that the British placed on these patriotic American clergy (a backhanded reference to the black robes they wore).[2]

These preachers were the heart that pumped the ideals of the “rights” and “liberty” and “justice for all” throughout veins of the colonies. One historian writes, “There is not a right asserted in the Declaration of Independence which had not been discussed by the New England clergy before 1763. [3] It is strange to today’s generation to think that the rights listed in the Declaration of Independence were nothing more than a listing of sermon topics that had been preached from the pulpit in the two decades leading up to the American Revolution, but such was the case. It was not just the British leaders who saw American clergy as the lifeblood of revolutionary ideals, John Adams declared, ““the pulpits have thundered”and specifically identified several ministers as being among the “characters the most conspicuous, the most ardent, and influential” in the “awakening and a revival of American principles and feelings.”[4]

B.F. Morris a 19th century historian wrote of the American Clergy during the Revolution, “The ministers of the Revolution were, like their Puritan predecessors, bold and fearless in the cause of their country. No class of men contributed more to carry forward the Revolution and to achieve our independence than did the ministers. . . . [B]y their prayers, patriotic sermons, and services [they] rendered the highest assistance to the civil government, the army, and the country. [5]

The American clergy were faithful exponents of the fullness of God’s Word, applying its principles to every aspect of life, thus shaping America’s institutes and culture. They were also at the forefront of proclaiming liberty, resisting tyranny, and opposing any encroachments on God-given rights and freedoms. But the ministers during the Revolutionary period were not necessarily unique; they were simply continuing what ministers had been doing to shape American government and culture in the century and a half preceding the Revolution. For instance, Reverend Thomas Hooker, a founder of Connecticut, in a 1638 sermon based on Deuteronomy 1:13 and Exodus 18:21, explained the three Biblical principles that had guided the plan of government in Connecticut:

I. The choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.

II. The privilege of election . . . belongs to the people . . .

III. They who have power to appoint officers and magistrates [i.e., the people], it is in their power also to set the bounds and limitations of the power and place. [6]

There are many additional examples of which clergymen were vital in establishing the foundational principles that would be stamped onto the hearts of the American Colonists. As Founding Father Noah Webster affirmed, “The learned clergy . . . had great influence in founding the first genuine republican governments ever formed and which, with all the faults and defects of the men and their laws, were the best republican governments on earth. At this moment, the people of this country are indebted chiefly to their institutions for the rights and privileges which are enjoyed.”[7]

Because Christian ministers established in America freedoms and opportunities not generally available even in the mother country of Great Britain, they were also at the forefront of resisting encroachments on the civil and religious liberties that they had helped secure. It is important to remember that many of these ministers came out of separatists groups who were not allowed the freedom to worship in England. And because American preachers consistently opposed encroachments on civil and religious liberties, when the British imposed on Americans the 1765 Stamp Act (an early harbinger of the rupture between the two nations soon to follow), at the vanguard of the opposition to that act were the Revs. Andrew Eliot, Charles Chauncey, Samuel Cooper, Jonathan Mayhew, and George Whitefield. Whitefield even accompanied Benjamin Franklin to Parliament to protest the Act and assert colonial rights. [8]

Five years later in 1770 when the British opened fire on their own citizens in the famous “Boston Massacre,” ministers again stepped to the forefront, boldly denouncing that abuse of power. A number of sermons were preached on the subject, including by the Revs. John Lathrop, Charles Chauncey, and Samuel Cooke; the Massachusetts House of Representatives even ordered that Rev. Cooke’s sermon be printed and distributed.[9]

Footnotes

[1] http://www.heritageofthefoundingfathers.com/article11.html

[2] Boston Gazette, December 7, 1772, article by “Israelite,” and Boston Weekly Newsletter, January 11, 1776, article by Peter Oliver, British official.

[3] Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (New York: Frederick Ungar, 1958), p. 170.

[4] John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1851), Vol. III, p. 476, “The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym,” January 20, 1766.

[5] Benjamin Franklin Morris, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States (Philadelphia: George W. Childs, 1864), pp. 334-335.

[6] Clinton Rossiter, Seedtime of the Republic (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1953), p. 171

[7] Noah Webster, Letters of Noah Webster, Harry R. Warfel, editor (New York: Library Publishers, 1953, p. 455, letter to David McClure, October 25, 1836.

[8] Stephen Mansfield, Forgotten Founding Father: The Heroic Legacy of George Whitefield (Cumberland House, 2001), p. 112.

[9] John Wingate Thornton, Pulpit of the American Revolution (Boston: Gould and Lincoln, 1860), pp. 147-148.See also Claude H. Van Tyne, The Causes of the War of Independence (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922), p. 362.

Category:  Church History

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