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Lost Episode for April 19

On April 19, 1775, the first shots were fired in the War for American Independence in Lexington, Massachusetts. The Battles there and in Concord are the basis for “Patriot Day” in New England. On August 18, British grenadiers and the light army set out from occupied Boston toward Concord “to seize a quantity of military stores, and – the bodies of Mess. Hancock and Adams…” So Founding Fathers John Hancock and Samuel Adams were hiding out at the home of Pastor Jonas Clark when Paul Revere arrived on horseback with his famous warning of the British army’s approach. Historian George Bancroft sets the stage:

“At two in the morning, under the watchful eye of the minister, and of Hancock and Adams, Lexington common was alive with the minute-men; and not with them only, but with the old men, who were exempts, except in case of immediate danger to the town. The roll was called, and of militia and alarm men, about one hundred and thirty answered to their names. The captain, John Parker, ordered every one to load with powder and ball, but to take care not to be the first to fire.”*

When no troops were sighted, the decision was made to stand down, return to their homes, and wait for the alarm. However, a few short hours later, the sound of the alarm bell rang out again in Lexington, signaling the approach of some 700 British Regulars under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith. As dawn was breaking, four of the Militiamen were in the church meetinghouse gathering musket balls, gunpowder, and wadding from the munitions stored there. Captain John Parker assembled the other 50-60 men into two lines on the Lexington green and called out: “Stand your ground! Don’t fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!”*

Interestingly, the Battle of Lexington took place in the shadow of the Christ Church meetinghouse and it was the Pastor, Jonas Clark, who had been the primary advocate for raising the militia that engaged the British regulars that fateful morning. The town’s resolve to create the militia resounds with the voice of Pastor Clark: “We shall be ready to sacrifice our estates and everything dear in life, yea and life itself, in support of the common cause.”* Clark’s church members proved those words on the morning of April 19, and seven died in that first battle in the War for Independence.

Pastor Clark preached a message on the one year anniversary of this momentous event. In it he declared: “[F]rom the nineteenth of April, 1775, we may venture to predict, will be dated, in future history, the Liberty or Slavery of the American World.”* The role of Lexington’s Pastor and his Church Members in the first battle in the War for Independence is yet another lost episode in American history.

Read and Reflect: Read 2 Samuel 10:11-12 and reflect on the words of Joab and compare them to the resolve of Lexington in their creation of a militia.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we are grateful for the leadership of Patriot Pastors like Jonas Clark, who inspired his people to stand and fight against tyranny and for liberty, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

*Source Citations: George Bancroft, History of the United States of American, from the Discovery of the American Continent, 10 vols., (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1861), 6:181-82; Frank Warren Coburn, The Battle of April 19, 1775 (Lexington, MA: Lexington Historical Society, 1922), 63; “Report of the Committee of Correspondence adopted by the Town of Lexington, December 1773,” as found in the Lexington Historical Society Archives; Rev. Jonas Clark, The Fate of Blood-thirsty Oppressors, and God’s Tender Care of His Distressed People: A sermon, preached at Lexington, April 19, 1776 (Boston: Powars and Willis, 1776), 29-30.

 

Lost Episode for April 18

In 1644, Governor William Bradford wrote of the April 18 death of Elder William Brewster, who was one of the leaders of the Separatist movement in England. Brewster had allowed a fledgling church under the leadership of Pastor John Robinson to meet for worship at his home in Scrooby, England. After being imprisoned, he later escaped with them to Holland, where he taught at the University of Leyden, Holland and published religious books which were banned in England. Brewster made the voyage on the Mayflower, signed of the Mayflower Compact, and became the founding minister to the Plymouth Colony. Upon his passing, Bradford wrote:

“About the 18th of April died their reverend elder, my dear and loving friend, Mr. William Brewster, a man who had done and suffered much for the Lord Jesus and the gospel’s sake, and had borne his part in weal or woe with this poor persecuted church for over thirty-five years in England, Holland, and this wilderness, and had done the Lord and them faithful service in his calling…

“In the end, the tyranny of the bishops against godly preachers and people, in silencing the former and persecuting the latter, caused him and many more to look further into things, and to realize the unlawfulness of their episcopal callings, and to feel the burden of their many antichristian corruptions, which both he and they endeavoured to throw off…

“On the Lord’s day they generally met at his house, which was a manor of the bishop’s, and he entertained them with great kindness when they came, providing for them at heavy expense to himself. He was the leader of those who were captured at Boston in Lincolnshire, suffering the greatest loss, and was one of the seven who were kept longest in prison and afterwards bound over to the assizes. After he came to Holland he suffered much hardship, having spent most of his means, with a large family to support…

“But on moving to this country all these things were laid aside again, and a new way of living must be framed, in which he was in no way unwilling to take his part and bear his burden with the rest, living often for many months without corn or bread, with nothing but fish to eat, and often not even that. He drank nothing but water for many years, indeed until five or six years before his death; and yet by the blessing of God he lived in health to a very old age. He laboured in the fields as long as he was able; yet when the church had no other minister he taught twice every Sabbath, and that both powerfully and profitably, to the great edification and comfort of his hearers, many being brought to God by his ministry. He did more in this way in a single year, than many who have their hundreds a year do in all their lives.”*

The passing of Elder William Brewster, the acting minister in Plymouth, his life of service and of sacrifice to the church, and his impact on this first New England English colony is a lost episode in American history.

Read and Reflect: Read Hebrews 11:13-15 and reflect on the Old Testament “pilgrims” and compare them to the ones who settled America, namely Elder William Brewster, the minister of the Plymouth colony.

Prayer: Father, we confess that we are all merely pilgrims, passing through this life and looking for a “better, that is, a heavenly country” and a future in a city that You have built. We are grateful that the Lord Jesus is preparing us a place there, and it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

*Source Citation: William Bradford, Bradford’s History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608-1650, Rendered into Modem English by Harold Paget (New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1920) 314-18.

 

Lost Episode for April 17

Born on April 17, 1741, Founding Father Samuel Chase was the son of an Anglican minister. Chase became an attorney, politician and jurist. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from Maryland. He also served as the Chief Justice of the State of Maryland (1791), and was appointed by George Washington as an Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court where he served until his death (1796-1811). A staunch Federalist, Chase was the target of impeachment by President Thomas Jefferson, but he was acquitted by the Senate.

In the case of Runkel v. Winemiller (1799), Justice Chase gave the high court’s opinion:

“Religion is of general and public concern, and on its support depend, in great measure, the peace and good order of government, the safety and happiness of the people [Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-4]. By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty. The principles of the Christian religion cannot so diffused, and its doctrines generally propagated without places of public worship, and teachers and ministers, to explain the scriptures to the people, and to enforce an observance of the precepts of religion by their preaching and living [Rom. 10:13-15]. And the pastors, teachers and ministers of every denomination of Christians are equally entitled to the protection of the law, and to the enjoyment of their religions and temporal rights.”*

Founder Samuel Chase had a life that was marked by controversy, but his Supreme Court opinion that the Christian religion is the established religion of our nation is a lost episode in American history.

Read and Reflect: Read Rom. 10:13-15 and reflect on Paul’s assertion of the need for preachers and compare it with the ruling of Justice Case.

Prayer: Father of our Founders, we praise you for our heritage in America, where the Supreme Court proclaimed that “the Christian religion is the established religion.” Give us the courage to promote our faith by both our “preaching and living,” in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

*Source Citation: Thomas Harris and John McHenry, ed., Maryland Reports: Being a Series of the Most Important Law Cases Argued and Determined in the General Court and Court of Appeals of the State of Maryland from May 1797 to the End of 1799 (Annapolis, MD: Jonas Green, 1818), 4:450. Bracketed items added.

 

Lost Episode for April 16

On April 16, 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote an open letter from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama in response to a statement made by eight Alabama clergymen critical of King’s non-violent protest efforts and calling him an “outsider” and a troublemaker. What follows is a part of Dr. King’s brilliant reply:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice exists here. Just as the prophets of the 8th century B.C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far afield, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid [Acts 16:9].

“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds…

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights….One may well ask, ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’…

“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake [Dan. 3:14-18]. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire.

“In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice I have heard many ministers say, ‘Those are social issues with which the gospel has no real concern,’ and I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which makes a strange, unbiblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular…. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love….

“There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ [Phil. 3:20-21] called to obey God rather than man [Acts 5:29]. Small in number, they were big in commitment…. By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, and gladiatorial contests.

“Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound [1 Cor. 14:8]. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

“But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

“Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”*

Dr. King’s prophetic letter to fellow pastors and church leaders is not only a lost episode in American history, it remains a challenge to the church today.

Read and Reflect: Read Daniel 3 and reflect on the civil disobedience of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and compare that with Dr. King’s argument.

Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that righteousness and justice is the foundation of your throne. Forgive us for not joining you in the mission to advance those twin objectives. Thank you for Dr. King’s prophetic word that calls us back to that mission, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

*Source Citation: The full text of the letter can be found here: http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf.

 

Lost Episode for April 15

On Saturday, April 15, 1775, John Hancock presided over the Second Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, meeting at the church in Concord. The assembly adopted a recommendation declaring a “Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer,” which included the following:

“Whereas, it hath pleased the Righteous Sovereign of the universe, in just indignation against the sins of a people long blessed with inestimable privileges, civil and religious, to suffer the plots of wicked men… that we see the New England colonies reduced to the ungrateful alternative of a tame submission… to the will of a despotic minister, or of preparing themselves speedily to defend, at the hazard of life, the unalienable rights of themselves and posterity against the avowed hostilities of their parent state, who openly threaten to wrest them from their hands, by fire and sword;

“In circumstances dark as these, it becomes us, as men and Christians, to reflect, that whilst every prudent measure should be taken to ward off the impending judgments, or prepare to act a proper part under them when they come; at the same time, all confidence must be withheld from the means we use, and reposed only on that God, who rules in the armies of heaven [Psalm 84:12], and without whose blessing, the best human councils are but foolishness [1 Cor. 3:19], and all created power vanity [Isa. 40:17].

“It is the happiness of his church, that when the powers of earth and hell combine against it [Matt. 16:18], and those who should be nursing fathers become its persecutors, then the throne of grace [Heb. 4:16] is of the easiest access, and its appeal thither is graciously invited by that Father of mercies [2 Cor. 1;3], who has assured it that when his children ask bread he will not give them a stone [Luke 11:11]:

“Therefore, in compliance with the laudable practice of the people of God in all ages, with the humble regard to the steps of Divine Providence towards this oppressed, threatened, and endangered people, and especially in obedience to the command of Heaven, that bids us to call on him in the day of trouble [Psalm 50:15],

“Resolved, That it be, and hereby is, recommended to the good people of this colony, of all denominations, that Thursday, the eleventh day of May next, be set apart as a day of public humiliation, fasting, and prayer…”*

This proclamation for a “Day of Public Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” was adopted a mere four days before armed conflict broke out on the green in Lexington, launching America and Great Britain into the War for Independence, and it is another lost episode in American history.

Read and Reflect: Read Psalm 50:15 and reflect on God’s promise to answer when we call on Him in the day of trouble.

Prayer: Father of Mercies, we are thank you for showing mercy to us when we find ourselves in distress from persecution and oppression. We are grateful that we can come before your throne of grace and find grace and help in time of need, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

*Source Citation: William Lincoln, ed., The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, 1774-1775 (Boston: Dutton & Wentworth, 1838), 144-45.

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