Election Day Sermon Series: 'Scriptural Instructions to Civil Rulers'
Posted at This Day in Presbyterian History:
A Sermon Containing Scriptural Instructions to Civil Rulers …”
by Samuel Sherwood (Aug 31, 1774)
Samuel Sherwood (1730-1783) was a graduate of Yale and Princeton (at the time led by his uncle Aaron Burr), who pastored in Weston (CT) from 1757 to his death in 1783. Next to this sermon, his other published sermon (also of political import) was his sermon, “The Church’s Flight into the Wilderness” (see the earlier sermon in this series here).
Delivered on a Connecticut Fast Day in 1774, the full title of this sermon flies the flag: “A sermon, containing Scriptural instructions to civil rulers, and all free-born subjects. In which the principles of sound policy and good government are established and vindicated; and some doctrines advanced and zealously propagated by New-England Tories, are considered and refuted.” It also includes “an appendix, stating the heavy grievances the colonies labour under from several late acts of the British Parliament, and shewing what we have just reason to expect the consequences of these measures will be” by the Rev. Ebenezer Baldwin, of Danbury.
Sherwood’s text was Acts 22:28 (followed by two quotes from Cicero), and he humbly considered his work a “poor mite” in the public discourse. His initial hope was that “our charter and birth right privileges may be taken from us; that we may be ruled by the iron rod of oppression, and chained down to eternal slavery and bondage.” He cheers on the patriots and others who were recently awakened by tragic events in Boston (and elsewhere). This burgeoning patriotism “if duly regulated by Christian principles and rules, ensure success to American liberty and freedom,” he thought, would deliver the colony. He thought, “No free state was ever yet enslaved and brought into bondage, where the people were incessantly vigilant and watchful; and instantly took the alarm at the first addition made to the power exercised over them.—They are those only of the tribes of Issachar, who keep in profound sleep; and like strong and stupid asses, couch down between heavy burdens; that insensibly sink into abject slavery and bondage. It is a duty incumbent upon us at all times, to keep a watchful attention to our interests; (especially in seasons of peril and danger,) to watch and pray that we fall not.” At the same time, he called for good order and for men to work within “their own proper spheres,” eschewing anarchy.
While his listeners had been well-steeped in apostolic doctrine (to fear God and honor the King, 1 Peter 2:16), Sherwood also warned against being deceived by corrupt leaders. Some, he warned, “may have the advantage of others, in their tendency to promote these Christian and political virtues; yet I believe there may be mean, base and mercenary wretches in every profession, who for one sweet delicious morsel to themselves, might be tempted to sell their country with all its liberties and privileges, as profane Esau sold his birth-right.”