Only thirty days after Patrick Henry’s impassioned speech concluding with “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death,” a loud knock was heard on the door of a country parsonage. At approximately 1:00 A.M. on the nineteenth of April, 1775, Paul Revere walked into the presence of Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Rev. Jonas Clark, pastor of the Congregational Church at Lexington, Massachusetts. His report of 700 approaching redcoats necessitated a hurriedly convened council of war. The responsibility for calling out the militia was Hancock’s, but the question of the hour was whether or not the people would fight. Would these humble farmers and mill hands dare resist the greatest army of professional soldiers in the world?
Pastor Clark assured his guest that he was well-acquainted with the state of his flock. They would not only fight, but they would also be willing to lay down their lives for the cause of liberty. This confidence stemmed from his faithful pulpit ministry. Joel Headley, the excellent Colonial historian, recounts Clark’s pastoral patriotism: “Earnestly, yet without passion, he discussed from the pulpit the great questions at issue, and that powerful voice thundered forth the principles of personal, civil, and religious liberty, and the right of resistance, in tones as earnest and effective as it had the doctrine of salvation by the cross.”
At 4:30 A.M., the church bells started ringing announcing the approaching columns of seasonal marines. Captain John Parker, the 45-year-old militia commander assembled his meager force of only 77 men in two anemic ranks. A palsied Sam Adams prevailed upon Hancock to retire with him because their cabinet positions demanded they avoid capture at all cost. However, Pastor Clark would fight alongside his sheep. Bancroft states: “Among the most alert was…the minister with gun in hand, his powder-horn and pouch of balls slung over his shoulder. By his sermons and his prayers, he had so hallowed the enthusiasm of his flock that they held the defense of their liberties a part of their covenant with God; his presence with arms strengthened their sense of duty. Under the eye of the minister…Lexington common was alive with the minute men.”
Outnumbered ten to one, Captain Parker had ordered his men to allow the redcoats to pass by unmolested, yet with the manly stipulation, “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war let it begin here.” Allegedly, a nervous trigger finger of an unidentified participant set off the bloody encounter that would last only minutes. When the smoke cleared, eight Americans lay dead around the church property with another nine being wounded. The British losses were given as only two slightly injured.
With all due respect to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the real shot heard around the world was fired first on a church green in Lexington. Headley comments further: “Clark gazed long and earnestly on this tragic spectacle, but no tear of regret mingled with those of sympathy which he shed. Those lifeless forms before him were holy martyrs in his sight, the first precious sacrifices laid upon the altar of his country, which was yet to groan under its load of victims. He had no misgivings, for from this day,” said he, “will be dated the liberty of the world.” No sound broke the stillness of the scene, but he heard far up in the dome of the universe a bell tolling the death knell of tyranny.
This effort of resistance was not the result of spontaneous generation but rather the product of pulpits across the land that had been kindling a flame of increased intensity. Once again J.T. Headley enlightens us accordingly: “It must be remembered that newspapers at that day were a novelty, and ideas were not so easily dissembled as now. The pulpit, therefore, was the most effectual way of reaching the masses. In addition to these hundreds of weekly Sunday messages, and extremely influential “State of the Union” sermon was delivered in most colonies on an annual basis. The preachers did not confine themselves to a dissertation on doctrinal truths nor mere exhortation to godly behavior. They grappled with the great question of the rights of men, and especially the rights of the Colonists in their controversy with the mother country.”
Advancing the calendar, 243 years discovers an entirely different landscape of religious sentiment. The most politically aggressive pulpits are those driven by liberalism and political correctness. A miniscule number of conservatives are vocal, but the majority are silenced by financial intimidation or pew politics. Those issues, as prevalent as they are, exist in the shadows of a much larger obstacle. In far too many circles, the Scriptures are no longer viewed as the final, absolute authority concerning doctrine and human behavior.
Our clerical forefathers derived their opinions of human rights and liberty exclusively from the Bible. All one has to do to be convinced of that is to read a handful of their sermons. That zeal for divine truth found its way into the hearts of thousands of minutemen. The present day abdication of this sacred responsibility has delivered to us the debacle of “the blind leading the blind.”
Before we place all of the blame on the under-shepherds, perhaps some of the sheep should request of their leadership some exposure to more nourishing pastures. “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17).