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 seventeenth. — RDM
by Dr. David W. Hall
July 17, 2016
“A Sermon on the Occasion of the Commencement of the New Hampshire Constitution” by Samuel McClintock (June 3, 1784)
Samuel McClintock (1732-1804), a graduate of the College of New Jersey, served the Greenland, New Hampshire, Congregational church for nearly a half century. He was a chaplain in the French and Indian War and for the New Hampshire Regiment in the Revolutionary War. This sermon was preached at the convocation of the New Hampshire House of Representatives to commemorate the recently adopted constitution. The biblical text for this sermon was Jeremiah 18:7-10.
For this occasion, the sermon begins with a given of the day, i. e., that the character and providence of God were undisputed. McClintock believed that both the works of creation and manifest providence pointed to God’s direction of all events. He put it this way:
To men whose practice says there is no God-who view the events of time merely as effects of natural causes, of blind chance, or fatal necessity; and in the pride of reason, conceit that their own wisdom is sufficient to manage the affairs of states and empires, religion must appear an idle superstition; but to those who are convinced of the important truth taught in the words now read, the sovereign dominion of God over the nations of the earth, and the necessary dependence of all things on him, nothing can appear more rational than to seek to him on whom they depend, and in whose hand is the disposal of their circumstances, for direction in all their undertakings; more especially in affairs of public and national concernment, such as the present occasion, when a constitution of government is to take place, which in its operation may essentially affect the interest and happiness of present and future generations.
According to the passage in Jeremiah, he asserted that the Jewish nation had forfeited their blessings by disobeying God; consequently, they were exiled to Babylon. He then drew two main inferences from the theology of this passage:
1st. That God exercises a sovereign dominion over the nations and kingdoms of this world, and determines their rise, growth, declension and duration–and
2nd. That his sovereign power is invariably directed by perfect and infinite rectitude; in plucking up and destroying, and in building and planting them, he treats them according to their moral character.
As an application of the first principles, he argued: “By a turn of the wheel of providence, he can form a people into a respectable and happy, or a mean and contemptible nation; more easily than the potter, of the same lump, can make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor.” Coupling this teaching also with a prophecy of Isaiah, he declared:
That sovereign word which gave existence to all things at first, continually supports their being, and gives efficacy to all the secondary causes of the growth and prosperity, or the decline and ruin of nations and empires. When he speaks and intimates his design by favorable events of providence, to plant and build up a nation, things are so ordered that there is a concurrence of causes to promote this end. Their public counsels are directed by wisdom, and their enterprises crowned with success; they are prospered in their agriculture, commerce, manufactures, and all their undertakings-happy in their union at home, and respectable among their neighbors, for their wisdom, virtue, and magnanimity. And when, on the contrary, he determines to destroy an impenitent nation for their sins, no human wisdom, counsel or might, can prevail to frustrate the execution of his threatenings; but they are so infatuated, that even the methods they take to support their tottering state, serve to precipitate their ruin. Thus he increaseth the nations and destroyed them; he enlarged the nations and straitneth them.
He cited the biblical examples of rulers (Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus) as being prompted by lust, pride, and evil, but nonetheless superintended by God’s providence to conform to his purposes. His listeners were exhorted to see God “as the first cause, the fountain of all life, power, and motion, and the author of all the events and revolutions which take place in the nations and empires of this world. It is God who does all these things by the influence of his providence.” And of this particular American revolution, he affirmed:
The divine hand has been so signally displayed in the events and occurrences which have led to it, that those who are not convinced of the government of providence over the affairs of nations by what has passed before them in these late years, would not have been persuaded if they had been eye-witnesses of the mighty works which God wrought in the midst of his peculiar people. For though the events were not strictly miraculous, yet they were truly marvelous, and so circumstanced, that they never can be rationally accounted for without admitting the interposition of providence.
The war was not an act of aggression, he stated, but of self-defense, following on the heels of many insults, oppressions, and injuries. From a worldly viewpoint or if devoid of the Divine favor, McClintock compared this to David Vs. Goliath. Furthermore, he thought that the “Declaration of Rights” and the form of government into 3 distinct branches were little more than correlates of the Christian religion, copied by many other governments. In almost catechetical repetition, he claimed: “In a word, the history of all nations and ages, shows that public virtue makes a people great and happy, vice contemptible and miserable. This is the constitution of God-the immutable law of his kingdom, founded in the infinite perfection of his nature, so that unless God should change, that is, cease to be God, we cannot be a happy, unless we are a virtuous people.”
Far from unleashing government from its Creator, McClintock preached that rulers were “ministers of God for good to the people; and their situation gives them a peculiar advantage to promote this benevolent design. They are placed on high, like a city set upon a hill.” His statement below was fairly customary for the day:
As religion has a manifest tendency to promote the temporal as well as eternal interests of mankind, it is the duty of rulers to give all that countenance and support to religion that is consistent with liberty of conscience. And it is perfectly consistent with that liberty and equal protection which are secured to all denominations of Christians, by our excellent constitution, for rulers in the exercise of their authority to punish profane swearing, blasphemy, and open contempt of the institutions of religion, which have a fatal influence on the interests of society, and for which no man, in the exercise of reason, can plead conscience; and by their example, to encourage the practice of those things which all denominations allow to be essential in religion.
This preacher also commended education for the youth as necessary for the maintenance of virtue; moreover, he believed that even those who did not have religion would favor virtue over vice. Calling for obedience, he reprised Joshua as below:
The Almighty Ruler of nations and kingdoms sets before us this day, life and death, blessing and cursing, and leaves it to ourselves which we will choose. Although true religion, the religion of the heart, consisting in faith and love unfeigned, and a real conformity to the divine character, is necessary in all who on good grounds would hope for eternal life; yet those who are wholly destitute of this religion, have it in their power to practice, on natural principles, that virtue, which according to the constitution of the divine government over nations, will ensure their temporal prosperity and glory.
Concluding with a reference to Daniel’s prophecies, McClintock heralded:
. . . it is matter of solid consolation and exalted joy to the friends of God and religion, amid the darkness and imperfection of this present state, that all human events are under the direction of an infinitely wise, good, holy and powerful providence, and are subservient to the peculiar kingdom of the Mediator, and uniformly working together to bring it to that state of perfection and glory for which it is designed. It is delightful to observe, how all things from the beginning of time, in the four great monarchies that rose in succession, that of the Babylonians, that of the Medes and Persians, that of the Macedonians, and that of the Romans, were disposed by divine providence to prepare the way for the coming of the Mediator, and the introduction of his kingdom; and how the kings and rulers of the earth in those enterprises, in which they were actuated by pride and vain glory, were only instruments in his hand to accomplish the predictions of his holy word respecting his church and people, though they meant not so, neither came it into their heart. The design of God in all his dispensations and in all events that have come to pass in every age, has been to serve the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom. And this, doubtless, is his design in the present revolution.
This sermon is available in printed form in both my 1996 Election Day Sermons, as well as in Ellis Sandoz, Political Sermons of the American Founding Era (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998). It is accessible online at: http://consource.org/document/a-sermon-on-occasion-of-the-commencement-of-the-new-hampshire-constitution-by-samuel-mcclintock-1784-6-3/.
— Dr. David W. Hall is pastor of Midway Presbyterian Church, Powder Springs, Georgia, and author of over 20 books on theology and church history.