A SERMON PREACHED AT YORKTOWN,
BEFORE CAPTAIN MORGAN’S
AND CAPTAIN PRICE’S COMPANIES OF RIFLE-MEN
Thursday, July 20, 1775
By Daniel Batwell, M.A., Philadelphia, 1775
Being the Day recommended by the Honorable Continental Congress
for a General Fast throughout the
Twelve United Colonies of North-America
O Most Mighty God, terrible in thy judgments, and wonderful in thy doings towards the children of men! We thy sinful servants here assembled before thee, confess, and adore the mysterious strokes of thy supreme Providence.
Long has the land rejoiced in the abundant emanation of thy tender mercies. Not our merit but thy goodness, has turned the wilderness into fruitful fields, and the lonesome solitude into the cheerful dwellings of men. From year to year, almost from day to day, new habitations have sprung up, which ought to resound with the praise of thy holy name, of thy eternal and uncreated son, and of thy most blessed spirit.
But alas with grief and shame we acknowledge, that we have not always made a right use of thy continued favours. Not according to thy benefits have been our improvements not according to thy bounty has been our gratitude. Our hearts smite us when we reflect on the many instances of our neglect of heavenly, and our attachment to earthly things. Creation and all its blessings, redemption and all its graces have but too frequently elapsed from our memories; and whilst we have been anxiously attentive to the life that now is, we have been foolishly inattentive to the promise of the life to come. We see, we feel, we own ourselves unworthy of the least of thy gracious vouchsafements; whereby as a state we have been gradually led from weakness to strength, as individuals from lonely helplessness to all the numerous comforts of society.
Hence doubtless it is; so it becomes us to believe, and so confess, that thou hast permitted the brightness of our prospect to be overclouded, hence, for without thy sovereign will noting can take effect, the dreadful flame of discord has been kindled, and the devouring sword of war unsheathed: Hence, we are wounded in the tenderest part, are at variance with those whom hitherto we have revered as fathers, honoured as teachers, loved as brethren, and dealt with as friends. For it is not an open enemy that has done us this dishounour, neither is it an adversary that has magnified himself against us; but it is even our brother, our guide, and familiar friend, with whom we took sweet council, and in the most amicable intercourse, walked together in the house of God.
In this severe distress whither shall we fly but to thy presence? As a religious society, prayer is our only weapon: O may it prove the prayer of the humble, may it pierce through the clouds, reach the footsteps of they Almighty throne, and not turn away till thou, O most high, regardest it! St. Paul, the chosen vessel of thy son, our savior Jesus Christ, has taught us to make prayer and supplication for all men – for Kings, and for all that are in eminent place; that they, exercising their authority with righteousness and justice, we may lead a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, urged therefore alike by our duty, our inclination, and our necessity, we meekly and devoutly implore thee in behalf of George thy servant, our King, and Governor, that wisdom descending from above may inform his soul, and regulate his thoughts, words, and actions; that looking upon himself as the common father and protector of all his subjects, he may cherish them all without distinction, watch over them for their good, and endeavour to preserve them in wealthy, peace and happiness: and more particularly because it is our more immediate concern; that he may extend his care and regard to the inhabitants of this land and province – may know, and accept, and rejoice in their loyalty and dutiful affection – may be always ready to hear their complaints, and redress their sufferings, that so, happy in the felicity of his people, and distinguished by a life of goodness here, he may reign over us honoured and beloved, till it shall be thy pleasure to remove him to a life of glory hereafter. We also pray thee for the rulers of this our country, that thou would’st give them righteous and understanding hearts, that wisdom and gentleness, fortitude and moderation may equally animate their councils and actions, that in the present dangerous crisis of affairs, they may leave nothing undone that appertains to our safety and welfare, nor do any thing from a principle of ambition, vain-glory, or self interest, that in the midst of war they may remember peace, and in the very moment of opposition, wish, long, pant, for a safe, happy, and honourable accommodation.
O Gracious God who alone makest men to be of one mind in a house, a city, a kingdom, a continent, and even a whole world, suffer not, in the sincerity of our hearts, and bitterness of our souls we beseech thee, suffer not those to remain long divided, whom the same language, the same descent, the same manners, the same constitution, the same religion, have so intimately united. We confess that we are severed for our mutual sins, but do thou most gracious father, re-unite us for thy mercy’s sake. A terrible misconception is gone forth, remove it, O remove it, thou, whose conceptions are clearer than light, and who alone can’st regulate the wills and affections of sinful men. We humble ourselves under thy correcting hand, and confess the justice of all thy judgments, but we pray, we are allowed to pray, that the duration of our punishment may be shortened, and our tribulations come to an end. We pray for millions now under affliction, and for millions yet unborn in both countries, who wihout thy interposing favour, will hereafter be affected by the consequence of the present calamities, yet not on ourselves but on thee do we rely for our deliverance, not on our merits, but on our Saviour’s merits do we depend for mercy: Hear us therefore, O Lord, hear thy people who call upon thee, that all the world may know, that thou art our savior and mighty deliverer, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
“That they may fear thee all the days that they live in the land which thou gavest to our fathers. (1 Kings 8:40)
By the covenant which Almighty God was pleased to enter into with his people the Jews, an immediate intercourse was established between heaven and earth. Each deviation from the divine law was followed by sure pains and penalties; each return to holiness was a certain return to peace and prosperity. The sin of individuals never failed to bring upon them the curse, their repentance always restored them to the blessing. Whensoever the state fell from its allegiance to Jehovah, then straightway came the great, the terrible day of vengeance: No sooner was the trumpet blown in Zion, the fast sanctified, and the solemn assembly called, no sooner did the Priests and Ministers weep between the porch and the alter, and say spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach; no sooner was the act of public humiliation performed, than public redress ensued – the Lord was jealous for his land, and pitied his people, and removed far off them the northern army.
Of this foundation of God’s unchangeable promise it is, that King Solomon at the dedication of the temple frames his petition in the verses preceding the text. His claim, the sacred historian goes on to inform us, was allowed; and the most high by fire from Heaven ratified afresh the covenant.
The process is most plain and most awful. Israel offended, the God of Israel punished with the famine, the pestilence, or the sword: The people conscious of their sins, made solemn prayer and supplication; the Lord saw the sincerity of their repentance, and heard from heaven his dwelling place and forgave them. What was the consequence? Man by correction learned to fear his God, and that holy fear insuring the divine protection, he continued to dwell in safety in the land of his fathers.
Happy will it be for us, happy will it be for every nation under the sun, if due attention is given to this important lesson. Were we but all convinced that righteousness exalteth a kingdom, whilst sin is a reproach to any people, and did we sanctify this conviction by practice, what a glorious, what a delightful scene of things would immediately present itself to our view! The nations would be bound in a golden chain of amity: None would groan under oppression, for no one would dare to oppress: The haughty invader, the cruel spoiler, the relentless destroyer, would be terms no more made use of: And each man sitting in safety under his own vine, and under his own fig tree would rapturously exclaim, – Lo this is the true, the genuine reign of Christ upon earth! Behold, the kingdoms of this world are become, not in name, but in deed, not in appearance, but in reality, the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.
But the multiplied provocations of the sons of men forbid us to indulge the least expectation of so pleasing a prospect. The beauteous vision shifts away from before our eyes, and in a moment we return to the real unhappy state of things, a world of discord and lamentation, of violence and woe, where the long forbearance of the Almighty is much more conspicuous than his judgments. Where it is more reasonable to ask, why cities and states are permitted to stand, than why they are destroyed – where the abominations of Canaan, and even of Sodom and Gomorrah, are frequent in some communities – and where in the best and most virtuous congregations, the preacher has still to cry aloud the solemn and unceasing voice, - except ye repent ye must inevitably perish.
Blessed forever be the hallowed lips of our most gracious redeemer, who foreseeing that faith would decay, and love wax cold among his disciples, has so affectionately called us to repentance, who delivering us from sin, and well knowing that we should lead ourselves therewith a fresh, has softened all the difficulties of this essential duty, and rendered it easy for us to perform; who kindly himself receives our intercessions, presents them to the throne of grace, and from thence procures us indubitable and authentic pardon! And blessed be the influence of that divine comforter, who has this day removed the stony from our hearts, and melted them into the sincerest contrition, all humbly to bewail our manifold transgressions, all devoutly to acknowledge the divine dispensations, all piously to pray for the removal of them from ourselves and our brethren, and all, I trust to depart in peace and comfort, full of good hopes and good resolutions, unburthened of our sins, our consciences appeased, and the love of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, beaming upon our souls with unclouded splendor.
Religious discomposure tends ultimately to our composure and tranquility, When the judgments of God are abroad, the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness. Did we ever expect to see the day, when all the various communions of this wide-extended continent should be bowed as the heart of one man to deprecate the wrath, and to entreat the protection of heaven, in one and the same hour, in one and the same cause? O it is a goodly sight, and all the angelick host will applaud our humiliation! It is to begin at the right end; for being once secure of defense from above, what is it that can possibly confound us. Lovest thou, and art thou beloved of thy maker? His friendship shall deliver thee in six troubles, yea, in seven shall no evil touch thee; in famine he shall redeem thee from death, and in war from the power of the sword, thou shalt not be afraid of the scourge of the tongue, nor of destruction when it cometh, yea though thou walkest through the valley of the shadow of death thou should fear no evil, for he is with thee his rod and his staff shall comfort thee.
The present situation is the most distressful that could have happened to beings endued with humanity. It is more replete with anguish, than even with danger. I have heard, and can well believe, that the opposing armies respect and pity each other in the very instant that their weapons are uplifted to destroy. Can we avoid praying that hearts so framed might be permitted to meet in equal and honourable union; neither conquering nor conquered, but as free citizens of the same realm, intitled to the same rights and privileges. Much, too much, does our case resemble that recorded in scripture where King Rehoboam assembled the house of Judah, with the tribe of Benjamin to fight against the house of Israel: But alas! Alas! There is no Prophet, no Shemiah the man of God, to speak unto Rehoboam and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin, saying, ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the house of Israel; return ye every man to his house.
But my duty in this sacred place leads me no farther than to bewail the miseries brought upon this country by those fatal misconceptions that have gone forth on the other side of the atlantick, and to exhort my little flock, so to prepare themselves by unfeigned faith, by holy prayer, and by genuine repentance to deserve (if man can be said to deserve) the temporal blessings of the Almighty, which I trust, nor trust in vain, will be poured out upon us, if we patiently and manfully abide the appointed trial. There is who reigns on high, and at his pleasure breaketh the bow and knappeth the spear in sunder, and burneth the chariots in the fire; for his good time let us wait with calmness and submission, and let us endeavour to shorten the period by the integrity of our behavior, and by the fervor of our devotions. That good time will come; let us not doubt it for we have a gracious master in heaven; when the labour of some of our fellow citizens, and the sorrows of others shall cease – when our darkness shall be turned into light, and our mourning into joy- when our loyalty shall stand confirmed, and our liberty established by sufferings – when we shall meet again in the Lord’s house, to celebrate his returning mercies, whose wrath we now deprecate, and to whose judgments we now bend with submissive adoration.
For in revolving the days of old, and considering the manner in which it has pleased the almighty ruler to exercise his moral government, there is no reason to think, that any state legitimately constituted, will be destroyed by his supreme fiat, till that state has rendered itself unworthy of continuance, by acts that defile its purity, and corrupt its very essence. I say legitimately constituted, meaning where the natural rights of mankind have been respected in its constitution, because with domination founded in tyranny the allwise, and alljust ruler has no connection: That is not his work, but rather the work of that malignant being, who delights in human wretchedness. Now the means by which the rulers of a state may shamefully deviate, and thereby provoke the fullness of divine anger, are chiefly idolatry, persecution for religious opinions, wanton invasion of their neighbours, mean pilfering and stealing of adjacent lands, and laws made on purpose to oppress, or corrupt the people. When enormities such as these prevail, it is neither to be wondered or murmured at, if the storm descends from above, and sweeps away such a perverted government from the face of the earth. But from enormities such as these, blacker than the blackest night, more savage than the howlings of the wild beasts of the forest, disgraceful to reason, to truth, to justice, and to human nature, this land of our hopes, and desires is most notoriously, and remarkably free. No man can dwell therein who believes in more than one God, the Creator of the universe, and none who profess themselves the servants of that all-glorious being, can be molested for their religious principles. It is not upon the records of history, nor in the memory of man, that this government has ever in any shape, much less in wantonness, invaded the property of others: From the poor untutored Indian it has uniformly disdained to borrow, and abhorred to steal: Fair and open purchases have preceded every settlement: Its laws – but why should I praise its laws to those who live under them, when their good report is spread far and near, when I have heard it a thousand times acknowledged in Europe, that they are the mildest and most equitable now in force on the terrestrial globe? Can we entertain a suspicion that such a state is obnoxious to the supreme legislator? No, we may rather comfort ourselves with the assurance, that however greatly we have sinned as individuals, yet that the judge of all the earth will not suffer the benevolent work of one immortal man to be defaced or demolished.
With respect to the present unnatural disputes, it would ill become my place and station to say any thing with the tone of decisive authority: My master’s kingdom is not of this world, nor am I appointed a Ruler, a Judge, or a Divider: But if nothing more is designed, than what is professed; if to preserve our rights and privileges be the sole aim of the Continental Congress, and of those who assemble at their biddings; if no sparks of disloyalty, no desire of change, no intentions of removing the ancient land marks, lie concealed beneath the fair outside of public good; I say, if this be the case, and according to the best of my observation it really is so, then we have a good cause, and may expect the blessing of Heaven upon our endeavours. For the blessing of legal, and equal Liberty we pray; and tho’ our prayers are sincere, yet because of our tender attachment to our parent state, grief mixes with our devotions: For the same liberty our fellow citizens are to fight; and they will surely do it, with steady tho’ reluctant courage – with hearts that wish to save, in the same moment that they are obliged to destroy.
It happens, that many defenders of this land are now before me. Summoned to immediate service, they have arrived here at this solemn season, and have joined in our act of humiliation. These I will exhort to go on to their appointed destination, in the fear of God, n the sentiments of true honor, in the love of Liberty and of their Country. Descended from ancestors who in the old world often proved, they preferred freedom to life, I trust you have not degenerated from their nobleness of soul, but will even strive to exceed your forefathers in deeds of valour, generosity and humanity. Remember that they mean to hazard every thing dear for the recovery of our rights, and the moment those are recovered to sheathe the sword. I have a commission, and it is written in the most luminous characters of truth; to bid you hour the King – yet I trust you want not the admonition: But I have no commission to bid you honour those, who wickedly stand between the throne and the subject; and yet I believer, you will begin to respect them, when they learn to respect themselves, and the common rights of humanity. Go, Brethren, and may the Lord of Hosts be with you: Go, and fill up the measure of your fame, more by generous behavior, than even by feats of arms: God, and defend our franchises, our wives, our children, and possessions: God, and bring us back a speedy and honourable peace: And having done so, may you long enjoy in the bosom of that peace, the illustrious title you will have acquired of Protectors and Preservers of your Country.
For us, Brethren, beloved in the Lord, let us, as I have already admonished you, proceed as we have this day begun, and strive to deserve in some sort, the Benediction of the Almighty. Nor only now with united hearts and voices, but also singly and separately in the closet, unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins, and offer up our supplications to the allwise, omnipotent, and merciful Disposer of all events, to forgive our iniquities, remove our calamities, and avert those desolating judgments with which we are threatened: That he will bless our rightful Sovereign King George the Third, and inspire him with wisdom to discern and pursue the true interest of all his subjects: That a speedy end may be put to the discord between Great-Britain and the American Colonies without further effusion of blood; and that the British nation may be influenced to regard the things that belong to her peace before they are hid from her eyes: That these Colonies may be ever under the care and protection of a kind Providence; and be prospered in all their interests: That the divine blessing may descend upon all our civil rulers, and upon the Representatives of the People in their several Assemblies and Conventions; that they may be directed to wise and effectual measures for preserving the Union, and securing the just Rights and Privileges of the Colonies: That virtue and true religion may revive and flourish throughout our land: That America may soon behold a gracious interposition of Heaven, for the redress of her many grievances, the restoration of her invaded rights, a reconciliation with the parent state on terms constitutional and honourable to both: And that her civil and religious Liberties may be secured to the latest posterity.