In honor of the upcoming elections, which may well prove the most consequential since 1860, my friend Dr. David Hall is publishing a series of articles on historic American election sermons. This is the twenty-fourth. — RDM
by Dr. David W. Hall
October 2, 2016
Abraham Keteltas (1732-98) was raised by Protestant parents in New York and New Rochelle, where he spent much of his time among the communities of Huguenots in the area. Becoming fluent in French early on, he later studied theology at Yale, where he earned his degree in 1752, followed by gaining his preacher’s license in 1756. From 1757 until his dismissal in 1760, Keteltas supplied the pulpit of the Presbyterian church in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. He then served as an itinerant preacher to the Dutch and Huguenot parishes in Jamaica and Long Island, New York, where he gained much popular support. By 1776, Keteltas was elected to the Provincial Congress and became such a vociferous defender of the American cause that he feared for reprisals when British troops landed on Long Island. During the Revolution, he served as preacher to a number of Presbyterian churches in Massachusetts and Connecticut until his retirement in 1782. He died in 1798 and was buried on Long Island. (Source: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/30/)
An earlier sermon on patriotic themes was his 1759 The Religious Soldier, which was preached to both American and English soldiers, calling for ethical behavior among the military. A year after this sermon below, Keteltas also supported the Revolution with his Reflections on Extortion. Thus, he hardly shied away from political subjects.
Reiner Smolinksi summarizes that in this influential political sermon, Keteltas enlists Jehovah of Armies in defense of America’s rights. Drawing on typological parallels from both Testaments, Keteltas demonstrates that God always supports the cause of righteousness, liberty, and self-government, especially where his people are concerned. If God is on the side of his American Israel, Kelteltas prophecies, the British enemy cannot succeed for long. Religion and politics are joined in a bed of patriotism.”
Keteltas begins with an imprecation from Psalm 74:22, calling on God to arise and plead his own cause. His first primary point was “To shew you what we are to understand by the cause of God.” The preacher then set out to define the “cause of God,” which was “the whole system of divine truth.” In amplified form, the cause of God was:
All the doctrines contained in the old and new Testament, from that system of truth, of which we are speaking, amongst these doctrines, those most essential to man, are his fall in Adam, and redemption by the Lord Jesus Christ, the necessity of being regenerated and sanctified by the spirit of God, and being justified by the righteousness of his son imputed to them, and received by faith, the necessity of holiness in order to happiness, and of conformity in heart and life to the nature and will of God: These, and all the other doctrines of his word, are the cause of God.
However, Keteltas goes further to amplify: “But 2dly, By the cause of God, we are to understand, the cause of universal righteousness: The moral law, or the ten command-ments is the rule of this righteousness, and besides the moral law, all those duties which are incumbent upon us, as fallen creatures; such as the great duties of faith, repentance and conversion, which imply the forsaking of every sin, and the practice of every virtue.”
Thirdly, he added: “the welfare of the people, who believe and profess the above-mentioned system of divine truths, and practice the righteousness just now described, is the cause of God.”
As he begins to expand his themes, his second major heading was: “what is meant by his arising and pleading this cause; and what encouragement his people have that he will effectually do it.” He sounds very much like a well-trained exegete, beginning with: “The Hebrew word here translated ‘plead,’ may be rendered ‘litigate, strove, contend, fight,’ but being here connected with cause, it is best translated, by the English word ‘plead,’ a term very familiar to most of us, which signifies an advocate, lawyer, or patron’s arguing, supplicating, interceding, contending for his client, and representing his case to the best advantage, espousing or patronizing it, or taking it in his own hands and managing it. The phrase of God’s pleading his people’s cause, frequently occurs in scripture.” God pleads his cause by his word, by his Spirit, and by his providence.
In his Word, God commands his followers how to live; also “he pronounces a woe against them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed, to turn the needy from judgment, and to take away the right of the poor of his people; he commands that he who ruleth over men, must be just, ruling in the fear of the Lord; he commands magistrates to be a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them who do well.”
After a discussion of how God works by his spirit, his providence is extolled as: “The whole history of it, from the creation of the world, is a series of wonderful interpositions in behalf of his elect.” In this section, he refers to the Dutch and Swiss independence movements as worthy precedents and useful models.
He praised liberty as “the grand fountain, under God, of every temporal blessing, and what is infinitely more important, it is favorable to the propagation of unadulterated christianity. Liberty is the parent of truth, justice, virtue, patriotism, benevolence, and every generous and noble purpose of the soul. Under the influence of liberty, the arts and sciences, trade, commerce, and husbandry flourish, and the wilderness blossoms like the rose.” On the flip side: “But if liberty is thus friendly to the happiness of mankind, and is the cause of the kind parent of the universe; certainly tyranny & oppression are the cause of the devil, the cause which God’s soul hates. The holy scriptures abound with instances and prophecies of his judgments against tyrants and oppressors; and not only sacred, but prophane history, prove the fulfilment of those prophecies.”
Conversely, “tyranny & oppression are the cause of the devil, the cause which God’s soul hates.” God has “in the most lively characters, written his hatred and detestation of tyranny and oppression, upon the bodies of those who have been guilty of those heaven daring offences—thus hath he shewn how much he detests, and how severely he will punish cruelty and injustice, the murder of the innocent, and the invasion of their rights and property.”
Keteltas cites several previous precedents that support the independence of America. Moreover, he also drafted several British statesmen who supported the revolution. His sermon concludes with these words and a call for Americans to defend not only their own liberty but that of the coming generations.
The cause of God—his own cause, must prosper, in spite of earth and hell—God will effectually plead it; he will plead it by his almighty word, his all conquering spirit, and his over ruling providence. No weapon formed against Zion, shall prosper: every tongue that riseth up against her, shall be condemned: God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved: God will help her, and that right early: Trust ye therefore in the Lord Jehovah, for in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength. Cast all your burdens and cares upon the Lord, and he will sustain you—he will never suffer the righteous to be moved. Eminent Divines & celebrated poets, have given it as their opinion, that America will be a glorious land of freedom, knowledge, and religion,—an asylum for distressed, oppressed, and persecuted virtue
— Dr. David W. Hall is pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church, Powder Springs, Georgia, and author of over 20 books on theology and church history. This sermon is available at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1030&context=etas.