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William Emerson – American Colonial Prophet and Statesman? On April 19, 1775

19 Apr

Series: On This Day in Christian History – April 19th – By Mike and Sharon Rusten*

The British were taxing the colonists without representation; King George III, a devout evangelical Christian, had recently declared himself and parliament sovereign over the colonies in “all cases whatsoever”; and British troops had arrived in Boston to enforce royal supremacy. During this turbulent time the colonists, more than ever, turned to their ministers for guidance, thereby giving them a unique role in history. They not only were preaching the gospel but also helping to create a nation. Their roles were both prophets and statesmen.

In Concord, Massachusetts, William Emerson (grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson) was one such prophet and statesmen. As a minister he tried to analyze the rapidly changing events in the light of Scripture. In the spring of 1775 he was quickly propelled from being an ordinary country preacher into taking part in what he called “the greatest events taking place in this present age.”

By March, Emerson and other patriots in Concord were aware that British spies had infiltrated their town and had informed General Thomas Gage about a hidden armory, where the local “Sons of Liberty” were stockpiling weapons. Emerson began to fear for the safety of his town. On March 13 he preached a sermon to Concord militia that would alter the course of history.

He had the power to either promote or discourage a call to arms. What should he say? Was it God’s will for America to fight for independence? After much prayer and study, he came on the side of armed resistance.

He reminded the militia of the inevitable “approaching storm of war and bloodshed.” He asked them if they were ready for “real service.” He explained that readiness depended not only on military skill and weapons but also on moral and spiritual resolve. He challenged them to believe wholeheartedly in what they were fighting for and to trust in God’s power to uphold them, or else they would end up running in fear from the British.

He argued for colonial resistance on the grounds that they had been standing by their liberties and trusting only in God yet had been “cruelly charged with rebellion and sedition” by the Crown. “For my own part, the more I reflect upon the movements of the British nation…the more satisfied I am that our military preparation here for our own defense is…justified in the eyes of the impartial world. Nay, for should we neglect to defend ourselves by military preparation, we never could answer it to God and to our own consciences of the rising [generations].” The colonists should go forth into war, assured that “the Lord will cover your head in the day of battle and carry you from victory to victory.” Emerson was convinced that in the end the whole world would realize “that there is a God in America.”

On April 19, 1775, British troops marched as predicted on Lexington and Concord. Before they reached Concord, patriot silversmith Paul Revere had made his famous ride into town, warning of the approaching redcoats. Because the colonists were warned, Emerson and other minutemen from nearby towns were assembled and ready. The first shot, the famed “shot heard ‘round the world,” was fired, and the war for independence began. Three Americans and twelve British soldiers were casualties in that first battle.

Throughout the war of independence, ministers such as Emerson were the single most influential voice of inspiration and encouragement for the fighting colonists. For many ministers, the religious aspect of war was exactly the point of revolution—gaining freedom in order to create a new order in which God’s principles would rule.

For Reflection:

Do you believe there was a biblical basis for waging a war of independence against England?

Was “taxation without representation” a sufficient reason for a just war?

Should the disciples have started a war against Rome in the first century because they had “taxation without representation”?

“You must obey government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience. Pay taxes, too, for these same reasons.” – Romans 13:5-6

Author’s of the Article Above: Mike and Sharon Rusten are not only marriage and business partners; they also share a love for history. Mike studied at Princeton (B.A.), the University of Minnesota (M.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Th.M.), and New York University (Ph.D.). Sharon studied at Beaver College, Lake Forest College, and the University of Minnesota (B.A.), and together with Mike has attended the American Institute of Holy Land Studies (now Jerusalem University College). The Rustens have two grown children and live in Minnetonka, Minnesota. This article was adapted from the April 19 entry in their wonderful book The One Year Book of Christian History, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2003.

 *Other Significant Events on April 19th in Church History:

Annual: Feast day of St. Alphege, archbishop of Canterbury. He refused ransom when captured by the Danes, saying England was too poor to afford it. The Danes martyred him.

1529: In response to the decision of the German diet of Speyer to stay the growth of the new religion of Protestantism, five princes joined with fourteen cities to protest on this day. The name Protestant came from that protest.

1560: Melancthon, the influential reformer and friend of Martin Luther, died on this day. He wrote the Lutheran Augsburg Confession.

1824: Johannes Grossner gave his last Russian sermon. Originally a German Roman Catholic, he began preaching evangelistic messages until he was driven out of his native land by Jesuits. Traveling to Russia, he preached to large crowds before the Orthodox backlash forced him out of the country.

1959: The Coptic (Egyptian) Church chose its 116th patriarch, Kyrillos VI.

*Adapted from This Day In Christian History, edited by A Kenneth Curtis and Daniel Graves, Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications.

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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Church History

 

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