Ezra Stiles rarely makes even an obscure footnote in most American history texts, yet he was probably the most broadly learned man on the continent during the era of American independence. His book, The United States Elevated to Glory and Honor, presented here, is a showcase of his tremendous intellectual gifts, his foresight, and his tireless zeal. [See the first chapter, “America: A New Israel,” below]
Stiles wrote this book originally as an election-day sermon preached before the General Assembly of Connecticut. Considering the theme of the future hope and glory of the United States, the timing is of interest: given in 1783, it would have come four years before the Constitutional Convention. This gives Stiles’s ideas and predictions a considerably different political context than later works on a similar theme. Most of the writings that have survived under the label of “Christian America” date from the latter half of the nineteenth century and represent a government-driven American empire more than a biblical worldview. And many times, this counterfeit patriotism is read back into the works and intentions of the earlier framers of the Constitution. Preaching prior to this period and even before the Constitution itself, Stiles is generally free from the partisanship that would result from it. His prediction of America’s future glory and honor stems from a many-faceted examination of national morality, liberty, commerce, demographics, biblical doctrine and culture, and much else. And far from shrinking from the idea of a Christian society and system of civil polity—as so many modern Christian leaders do—Stiles refers more than once to the ideal of “Christendom” and places America squarely within it.
I highly recommend this work for anyone wanting to get closer to the original Christian vision for America.
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“America: A New Israel”
And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honor; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God (Deut. 26:19).
Taught by the omniscient Deity, Moses foresaw and predicted the capital events relative to Israel, through the successive changes of depression and glory, until their final elevation to the first dignity and eminence among the empires of the world. These events have been so ordered as to become a display of retribution and sovereignty; for, while the good and evil hitherto felt by this people have been dispensed in the way of exact national retribution, their ultimate glory and honor will be of the divine sovereignty, with a “Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord, be it known unto you—but for mine holy name’s sake.”
However it may be doubted whether political communities are rewarded and punished in this world only, and whether the prosperity and decline of other Empires have corresponded with their moral state as to virtue and vice, yet the history of the Hebrew theocracy shows that the secular welfare of God’s ancient people depended upon their virtue, their religion, their observance of that holy covenant which Israel entered into with God on the plains at the foot of Nebo, on the other side of Jordan. Here Moses, the man of God, assembled three million of people—the number of the United States—recapitulated and gave them a second publication of the sacred jural institute, delivered thirty-eight years before, with the most awful [awe-inspiring] solemnity, at Mount Sinai. A law dictated with sovereign authority by the Most High to a people, to a world, a universe, becomes of invincible force and obligation without any reference to the consent of the governed. It is obligatory for three reasons, viz. its original justice and unerring equity; the omnipotent Authority by which it is enforced, and the sanctions of rewards and punishments. But, in the case of Israel, He condescended to a mutual covenant, and by the hand of Moses led His people to avouch the Lord Jehovah to be their God, and in the most public and explicit manner voluntarily to engage and covenant with God to keep and obey His Law. Thereupon this great prophet, whom God had raised up for so solemn a transaction, declared in the name of the Lord that the Most High avouched, acknowledged, and took them for a peculiar people to Himself; promising to be their God and Protector, and upon their obedience to make them prosperous and happy (Deut. 29:10, 14; 30:9, 19). He foresaw, indeed, their rejection of God, and predicted the judicial chastisement of apostasy—a chastisement involving the righteous with the wicked.
But, as well to comfort and support the righteous in every age, and under every calamity, as to make His power known among all nations, God determined that a remnant should be saved. Whence Moses and the prophets, by divine direction, interspersed their writings with promises that when the ends of God’s moral government should be answered in a series of national punishments, inflicted for a succession of ages, He would, by His irresistible power and sovereign grace, subdue the hearts of His people to a free, willing, joyful obedience; turn their captivity;—recover and gather them from all the nations whither the Lord had scattered them in his fierce anger—bring them into the land which their fathers possessed—and multiply them above their fathers, and rejoice over them for good, as He rejoiced over their fathers (Deut. 30:3). Then the words of Moses, hitherto accomplished but in part, will be literally fulfilled, when this branch of the posterity of Abraham shall be nationally collected, and become a very distinguished and glorious people, under the great Messiah, the Prince of Peace. He will then make them high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honor, and they shall become a key people unto the Lord their God.
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I shall enlarge no further upon the primary sense and Eternal accomplishment of this and numerous other prophecies respecting both Jews and Gentiles, in the latter day glory of the church. For I have assumed the text, only as introductory to a discourse upon the political welfare of God’s American Israel; and as allusively prophetic of the future prosperity and splendor of the United States. We may then consider
I. What reason we have to expect that, by the blessing of God, these States may prosper and flourish into a great American Republic; and ascend into high and distinguished honor among the nations of the earth. To make thee high above all nations, which he hath made in praise, and in name, and in honor.
II. That our system of dominion and civil polity would be imperfect, without the true religion; or, that from the diffusion of virtue among the people of any community, would arise their greatest secular happiness: which will terminate in this conclusion, that Holiness ought to be the end [goal] of all civil government. That thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God.
I. The first of these propositions will divide itself into two branches, and lead us to show,
1. Wherein consists the true political welfare and prosperity, and what the civil administration necessary for the elevation and advancement of a people to the highest secular glory.
2. The reasons rendering it probable that the United States will, by the ordering of Heaven, eventually become this people. But I shall combine these together as I go along.