It really wasn’t that long ago. With the way America’s clergymen act today, however, one would think that preachers such as James Caldwell, Jonas Clark, Joab Houghton, and John Peter Muhlenberg never existed. But they did exist; and without them, it is this country we call the United States of America that would not exist.
Caldwell was a Presbyterian; Muhlenberg was a Lutheran; Houghton was a Baptist; and no one really seems to know what denomination (if any) Jonas Clark claimed. But these men had one thing in common (besides their faith in Jesus Christ): they were all ardent patriots who actually participated in America’s War for Independence.
James Caldwell was called “The Rebel High Priest” or “The Fighting Chaplain.” Caldwell is most famous for the “Give ’em Watts!” story.
During the Springfield (New Jersey) engagement, the colonial militia ran out of wadding for their muskets. Quickly, Caldwell galloped to the Presbyterian church, and returning with an armload of hymnals, threw them to the ground, and hollered, “Now, boys, give ’em Watts!” He was referring to the famous hymn writer, Isaac Watts, of course.
The British hated Caldwell so much, they murdered his wife, Hannah, in her own home, as she sat with her children on her bed. Later, a fellow American who had been bribed by the British to assassinate the preacher murdered Caldwell. Americans loyal to the Crown burned both his house and church. No less than three cities and two public schools in the State of New Jersey bear his name.
John Peter Muhlenberg
John Peter Muhlenberg was pastor of a Lutheran church in Woodstock, Virginia, when hostilities erupted between Great Britain and the American colonies. When news of Bunker Hill reached Virginia, Muhlenberg preached a sermon from Ecclesiastes chapter 3 to his congregation. He reminded his parishioners that there was a time to preach and a time to fight. He said that for him the time to preach was past and it was time to fight. He then threw off his vestments and stood before his congregants in the uniform of a Virginia colonel.
Muhlenberg later was promoted to brigadier-general in the Continental Army, and later, major general. He participated in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth, and Yorktown. He went on to serve in both the US House of Representatives and US Senate.
Joab Houghton was in the Hopewell (New Jersey) Baptist Meeting House at worship when he received the first information regarding the battles at Lexington and Concord. His great-grandson gives the following eloquent description of the way he treated the tidings:
“[M]ounting the great stone block in front of the meeting-house, he beckoned the people to stop. Men and women paused to hear, curious to know what so unusual a sequel to the service of the day could mean. At the first words a silence, stern as death, fell over all. The Sabbath quiet of the hour and of the place was deepened into a terrible solemnity. He told them all the story of the cowardly murder at Lexington by the royal troops; the heroic vengeance following hard upon it; the retreat of Percy; the gathering of the children of the Pilgrims round the beleaguered hills of Boston; then pausing, and looking over the silent throng, he said slowly, ‘Men of New Jersey, the red coats are murdering our brethren of New England! Who follows me to Boston?’ And every man in that audience stepped out of line, and answered, ‘I!’ There was not a coward or a traitor in old Hopewell Baptist Meeting-House that day.” (Cathcart, William. Baptists and the American Revolution. Philadelphia: S.A. George, 1876, rev. 1976. Print.)
Jonas Clark was pastor of the church in Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775, the day that British troops marched on Concord with orders to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, and to seize a cache of firearms. What most historians fail to acknowledge, is that it was Pastor Clark’s male congregants who were the first ones to face-off against the British troops as they marched through Lexington. When you hear the story of the “Minutemen” at the Battle of Lexington, remember those Minutemen were Pastor Jonas Clark and the men of his congregation. Yes, it was Pastor Jonas Clark and his men who fired that “shot heard ’round the world.”
On the One Year Anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, Clark preached a sermon based upon his eyewitness testimony of the event. He called his sermon, “The Fate of Blood-Thirsty Oppressors and God’s Tender Care of His Distressed People.” His sermon has been republished by Nordskog Publishing under the title, “The Battle of Lexington, A Sermon and Eyewitness Narrative, Jonas Clark, Pastor, Church of Lexington.”
Of course, these four brave preachers were not the only ones to participate in America’s fight for independence. There were Episcopalian ministers such as Dr. Samuel Provost of New York, Dr. John Croes of New Jersey, and Robert Smith of South Carolina. Presbyterian ministers such as Adam Boyd of North Carolina and James Armstrong of Maryland, along with many others, also took part.
So many Baptist preachers participated in America’s War for Independence that, at the conclusion of the war, President George Washington wrote a personal letter to the Baptist people saying, “I recollect with satisfaction that the religious societies of which you are a member have been, throughout America, uniformly and almost unanimously, the firm friends to civil liberty, and the preserving promoters of our glorious Revolution.” It also explains how Thomas Jefferson could write to a Baptist congregation and say, “We have acted together from the origin to the end of a memorable Revolution.” (McDaniel, George White. The People Called Baptists. The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1918. Print.)
And although not every pastor was able to actively participate in our fight for independence, so many pastors throughout colonial America preached the principles of liberty and independence from their pulpits that the Crown created a moniker for them: The Black Regiment (referring to the long, black robes that so many colonial clergymen wore in the pulpit). Without question, the courageous preaching and example of colonial America’s patriot-pastors provided the colonists with the inspiration and resolve to resist the tyranny of the Crown and win America’s freedom and independence.
I invite readers to visit my Black Regiment web page to learn more about my attempt to resurrect America’s Black-Robed Regiment.
This is the fighting heritage of America’s pastors and preachers. So, what has happened? What has happened to that fighting spirit that once existed, almost universally, throughout America’s Christian denominations? How have preachers become so timid, so shy, and so cowardly that they will stand apathetic and mute as America faces the destruction of its liberties? Where are the preachers to explain, expound, and extrapolate the principles of liberty from Holy Writ? Where are the pastors to preach the truth about Romans chapter 13?
The sermons Americans frequently hear today deal with prosperity theology, entertainment evangelism, feelgoodism, emotionalism, and Aren’t-I-Wonderful ear tickling! This milquetoast preaching makes it hard to find Christian men who even have control of their children, much less the courage and resolve to stand against the onslaught of socialism, corporatism, and, yes, fascism that is swallowing America whole.
America cut its spiritual teeth on the powerful preaching and exemplary examples of men such as James Caldwell, Jonas Clark, Joab Houghton, and John Peter Muhlenberg. We need them as much now as we did then.