I was driving north on I-75 toward Knoxville in late May 2008 on my way to a speaking engagement in Morgantown, West Virginia, when I received a phone call from my office. “Gary, a man just called. He said that he was dying and that he had to talk with you.” I knew it was Chris Hoops. He had been ill for some time from a failing liver. Chris was a godly man who understood the Christian heritage of our nation and how it had been forgotten. Not only had he been fighting for his life for more than 25 years, he was fighting to return this nation back to its Christian foundation. When I got Chris’ message, I immediately called him.
He told me that he had a 200-year-old book in his possession that he wanted American Vision to publish. He entrusted me with the only copy, and I assured him that we would reprint it if funds became available. A few weeks after Chris’ call, the book arrived. It had a worn leather binding but did not have a title page. After some research, I came to realize that the book I was holding in my hands was a one-of-a-kind discovery. It’s what librarians describe as a “bound-with” book. Dr. Stephen Crocco, the James Lenox Librarian at Princeton Theological Seminary, offered this helpful explanation after I described the content of the book to him and sent him a scanned copy:
It was common practice to take a group of sermons or pamphlets and have them bound together for the convenience of the owner. Libraries are full of these things and no two “bound-with” volumes are the same. That’s why they don’t have title pages for the whole and why the pagination is on a pamphlet by pamphlet basis. While they are rich resources, they require that each title be separately cataloged. Some libraries “disband” these collections to protect the individual items. What is different about this collection is that the pamphlets appear to be published by the same printer and they seem to be of a uniform size.
As a result, you won’t find this book anywhere, not even in the Library of Congress. Its 500 pages consist of messages delivered on various occasions and on a variety of subjects dating from 1799 to 1802. The pamphlets are originals that were handled more than 200 years ago! While the individual chapters exist in pamphlet form and can be found in private collections and libraries, it would take someone years to find original copies and a small fortune to procure them. Most libraries only have digital copies of these pamphlets.
The makeup of the pamphlets is interesting. In addition to Election Sermons, there are messages on the anniversary of “American Independence” and tributes to the late George Washington delivered soon after his death. One of special note was delivered by Timothy Dwight, President of Yale-College, on February 22, 1800, on what would have been Washington’s 68th birthday. The title of Dwight’s discourse—“On the Character of George Washington”—is instructive considering that so many scandal-ridden officials get elected. Also included in this volume is President Washington’s Farewell Address of September 17, 1796 in which he stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.”
Another unique feature of these messages is the historical value of the Century Sermons. They were designed by their authors to remind people of God’s work of providence in history. Moses C. Welch writes:
Who can view the great things God has done among the inhabitants of the earth and not have exalted conceptions of him? He has overturned, and overturned, the nations at his pleasure. When it was necessary for the accomplishment of his purposes, he has raised up and exalted a nation—suffered them to continue in power, and bear down all before them, for a season, and, by and by, has caused them to fall in their turn, and crumble to pieces. The Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian monarchies rose in succession, flourished and conquered; and in succession were conquered, and overcome. The last of these gave way to the greater power of the Romans. In these overturnings God was displaying himself, and making way for the introduction of Christianity in the greatest glory of the greatest pagan monarchy that ever existed. The rise and fall of empires, and overturning powerful monarchies, gives a serious, contemplative mind exalted ideas of God…. We all begin the new century with new resolutions in favor of Godliness. May we gird up our loins, and be strong in the Lord. May we set up our Ebenezer, strongly impressed with this idea that hitherto hath the Lord helped us.
What would happen if America’s pulpits once again proclaimed the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) like these ministers of two centuries ago? Not only would atheists be upset, many ministers would object to their content as well. Today’s clergy have tried to remain neutral in their pulpits by claiming that religion and politics do not meet on any point. I’m sure you’ve heard ministers tell their congregations to stay out of politics using some of the following unsupported claims:
• “Politics is dirty.” (So what isn’t?)
• “Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics.” (He didn’t get married either.)
• “There’s a separation between Church and State.” (There’s no separation between God and the State.)
• “Our citizenship is in heaven.” (It didn’t stop Paul from using his Roman citizenship and appealing to Caesar.)
• “We’re not supposed to judge.” (We are to judge consistently and righteously.)
• “You can’t impose your morality on other people.” (Every law is the imposition of someone’s view of morality.)
The men who penned these pamphlets would recoil in disbelief and despair if they heard these excuses coming from ministers of the gospel. Joseph Strong stated in 1802 that our founding fathers adhered to the principle “that none ought to be elevated to public office except those whose opinions and behavior were strictly Christian” and that “righteousness exalts a nation.” Such claims would be considered “intolerant” and “non-inclusive,” or worse, “hate speech.” These ministers were not afraid to proclaim the truth:
• “In the judicial department, a high regard to law and justice must never be subordinated to party interest or a fear of rejection from office.” (23)
• “Religion promotes union and confidence, and thus gives strength to a nation.” (51)
• “Religion will make good rulers and good citizens.” (52)
• “Any good order is but the political name for religion.” (52)
• “[N]o religion has been so favorably calculated for the rectitude, support and comfort of the individual, or for the order, improvement and honor of society, as the Christian.” (52–53)
These are principles that many Christians have long forgotten. We’re not in a mess today solely because of unbelievers; we’re in a mess because we are a nation that has lost its memory of its Christian beginnings and the biblical injunction that civil governors are “ministers of God” (Rom 13:4). It seems also that many Christians have lost their courage.
The public political sermons found in this book are just a few of thousands of such sermons preached from colonial times until well after the framing and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Prof. Ellis Sandoz has read more than 8,000 of them and edited Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730–1805. These public sermons, some of which were preached in the halls of Congress, are a vast mountain of evidence that (1) the church used to preach and teach the whole counsel of God, including what God’s Word says about civil government, law, public life, and the political issues of the day; (2) that Christianity was predominant in early American political thought before, during, and after the framing and ratification of the Constitution; (3) that early Americans—and their pastors—did not believe that either the Constitution or the First Amendment imposed a “separation of church and state” which required a secularization or de-Christianization of civil government, its laws, or a “religious neutrality” among all the religions of man concerning civil government, law, and public life.
The church in early America preached and taught the whole counsel of God. It spoke from Scripture to the ministry of civil government—a crucially important ministry which the church today (and for many decades now) has turned over to the enemies of Jesus Christ. Today’s church needs to get back to doing what the Great Commission commands: preaching, teaching, and acting to influence the ministry of civil government for Jesus Christ and His righteousness. Many in the church have failed to honor God because of their colossal neglect of their duty to teach about and speak to the ministry of civil government!
In addition to the political messages found in this rare volume, there are sermons that express optimism about the future in the midst of surrounding evil. While these ministers did not deny that their new century had its troubles, they continued to preach about the success of the gospel in the world. Consider these words from Nathan Strong, Pastor of the North Presbyterian Church in Hartford Connecticut, which he preached on the “first Sabbath of the nineteenth century of the Christian era”:
If the present state of things among the nations, and the changes that have happened in the past century, are a train of events, that do, in a most astonishing degree, prepare for the fulfilment of the divine promise, that the kingdom of Christ shall fill the world; and if viewed on a large scale, they have a most propitious aspect for the gospel, then, surely pious minds will rejoice; and as surely infidels ought to tremble for themselves, and for the vain contest in which they are engaged with the king in Zion.
While Strong misinterpreted passages from Daniel and followed the Reformation view that the antichrist was the Papacy of his day, even so, there is no preoccupation with “last days madness.” He believed in the “Universal Spread of the Gospel.”
To read these sermons is to be transported back to a time where God was acknowledged as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, where history was important and under His sovereign control, and the character of civil officials was indispensable for the survival of a nation. It was Chris Hoops’ prayer that in some small way this book would recapture these biblical truths and return America to real liberty: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17).