Home » When America’s Pastors Preached Politics, Resisted Tyranny, & Founded a Nation on the Bible
We have a terrible problem in our land today, and the truth contained in Dr. Baldwin’s newly reprinted book, The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution, is a welcome antidote—should we be willing to take it. The problem is that our pulpits and preachers today have abandoned the fullness of what Christ commanded us: to disciple nations and to teach them all of His commandments. That Great Commission includes the call, which our forefathers ably demonstrated, to speak truth to the public realm: to call out rulers, governments, laws, abuse, and to demand liberty and justice. In all our preaching today about iniquity and sin, we neglect to address inequity and tyranny.
And worse: should one dare to mention that broader social and political scope of the Great Commission today they are likely to be harangued not only by humanists and leftists, but by the vast majority of Christians and clergy. The response will be almost unanimous, almost in perfect chorus: “Christians should not preach politics!” “We should preach the ‘Gospel’ only!” . . .
Dr. Baldwin’s wonderful book illustrates how preachers of a bygone, but crucial and formative, era thought and practiced just the opposite. After mountains of research in colonial sermons, tracts, pamphlets, and other publications, she relates how the substantial pulpits of colonial America rang constantly with teaching on all aspects of the public square: good rulers, good laws, good forms of government, the blessings of liberty. We especially hear of those choice values of biblical order that became the hallmarks and battle cries of American independence. These are best summarized in Baldwin’s own Conclusion:
Out of reading and discussion, preaching and practice there had grown up a body of constitutional doctrine, very closely associated with theology and church polity, and commonly accepted by New Englanders. Most significant was the conviction that fundamental law was the basis of all rights. God ruled over men by a divine constitution. Natural and Christian rights were legal rights because a part of the law of God. . . .
Probably the most fundamental principle of the American constitutional system is the principle that no one is bound to obey an unconstitutional act. The present study reveals that this doctrine was taught in fullness and taught repeatedly before 1763. . . . No single idea was more fully stressed, no principle more often repeated, through the first sixty years of the eighteenth century, than that governments must obey law and that he who resisted one in authority who was violating that law was not himself a rebel but a protector of law.
She, in fact, goes so far as to note that we cannot properly understand the nature of the American system without understanding the message preached by the American pulpit constantly over the decades leading up to independence. Commenting on the classic paraphrase of “life, liberty, and property,” she proclaims,
No one can fully understand the American Revolution and the American constitutional system without a realization of the long history and religious associations which lie behind these words; without realizing that for a hundred years before the Revolution men were taught that these rights were protected by divine, inviolable law.
And it will surprise many . . . just how these great preachers derived their doctrines.
The Bible and the Law of God
Baldwin’s work is a phenomenal way to learn of the true influence of Christianity and the Bible in the founding of this nation. It serves as a flat refutation of the critics of secularists who wish to eradicate and bury our Christian heritage. Baldwin writes,
It must not be forgotten, in the multiplicity of authors mentioned, that the source of greatest authority and the one most commonly used was the Bible. The New England preacher drew his beliefs largely from the Bible, which was to him a sacred book, infallible, God’s will for man. Of necessity it colored his political thinking. His conception of God, of God’s law, and of God’s relation to man determined to a large extent his conception of human law and of man’s relation to his fellows. If his ideas of government and the rights of man were in part derived from other sources, they were strengthened and sanctioned by Holy Writ. This was of course especially true of the clergy. They stood before the people as interpreters of God’s will. Their political speeches were sermons, their political slogans were often Bible texts. What they taught of government had about it the authority of the divine.
This reality leads Baldwin into a study of the political and governmental concepts these men actually derived from Scripture, as summarized above, and chief among them is the application of God’s Law to life. . . . [T]he preachers turned to the written revelation of God’s Law, including Old Testament law, to make it clear:
The revelation in the Old and New Testaments helped to make clear the law of nature and to disclose its full extent. In the Old Testament God gave to man a “positive law.” It was true that some of its statutes applied to the Jews only, but there were also great moral principles which applied to all phases of man’s activity, now as formerly, and were equally binding. Thus even in that part of Old Testament law which no longer applied to Christians and in the history of God’s dealings with His chosen people there were many examples for men of today.
To be sure, the relationships between terms, and the uses to which they were put, were not always uniform or even purely biblical, but in large measure, the most important doctrines of American liberty arose from a biblical understanding and application of God’s Law. Thus Baldwin could conclude that “There was no conflict in their minds between the divine and natural law. They were the same”; and thus, “from the law of God they derived their political theories.”
Read the rest of the article at American Vision
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