Article Series: The Pulpit and the Patriots
WEEK 5: The Pulpit and the American Revolution: Charles Chauncy (1705-1787)
A fourth preacher who very much deserves mentioning is Charles Chauncy, also considered by John Adams as one of the six of the most influential Revolutionary leaders in Massachusetts.[i] Regarding Chauncy’s influence, Ellis Sandoz describes the man as “The most influential clergyman in the Boston of his time and—apart from Jonathan Edwards the elder—in all New England.”[ii] Another graduate from Harvard, Chauncy served fifty years as the minister for the First Church in Boston from 1727 to 1787.[iii] Chauncy was widely recognized not necessarily for his close relationships with key Revolutionary leaders, but for his tremendous pamphleteering skills. Understanding that pamphlets were essential towards generating public opinion, Chauncy’s influence can be seen in that “his sermons, newspaper articles, and pamphlets were more widely distributed in Europe than those of any propagandist for the American cause.”[iv] In addition, Chauncy played an essential role between 1762 and 1771 in opposing the British efforts to establish an Anglican bishop over America. This issue was major in rallying “Congregationalists across New England in the period leading to the Revolution.”[v]
One of the major contributions at the Pulpit that Chauncy offered the Revolution came in his Thanksgiving Sermon on the Repeal of the Stamp Act, which “bristle[d] with arguments in favor of resistance against British tyranny.”[vi] A second noteworthy sermon was delivered by Chancy in Boston, 1747, entitled Civil Magistrates Must be Just, Ruling in the Fear of God. In this sermon, Chauncy focused on II Samuel 23:3, concluding from the passage two central principles: “I. There is a certain order among mankind, according to which some are entrusted with power to rule over others,” and “II. Those who rule over others must be just, ruling in the fear of God.”[vii] The Puritan and Calvinist themes of total depravity and a fear of power are also evident in his work:
The present circumstances of the human race are therefore such, by means of sin, that ’tis necessary they should, for their mutual defense and safety, combine together in distinct societies, lodging as much power in the hands of a few, as may be sufficient to restrain the irregularities of the rest, and keep them within the bounds of a just decorum.
The Pulpit and the American Revolution: Charles Chauncy Political Sermon
Charles Chauncy, Civil Magistrates Must Be Just Ruling in the Fear of God (May 27, 1747)
[i] Ibid. 40.
[ii] Ellis Sandoz. Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805. Indianapolis: LibertyPress, 1991: Foreword.
[iii] It is worth noting, perhaps for personal reflection, the dedication these pulpit-patriots offered their churches: Samuel Cooper (nearly forty years, Brattle Street Church), Jonas Clark (fifty years, Lexington), and Charles Chauncy (sixty years, First Church in Boston). Perhaps there is a lesson here for modern-day pastors who have a tendency to move from one pastorate to the next.
[iv] Franklin Paul Cole, They Preached Liberty: 40.
[v] Ellis Sandoz. Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805: Foreword.
[vi] Franklin Paul Cole, They Preached Liberty: 40.
[vii] Ellis Sandoz, quoting Charles Chauncy. “Civil Magistrates Must Be Just, Ruling in the Fear of God.” Political Sermons of the American Founding Era: 1730-1805: Vol. 1 Chapter: 5: Charles Chauncy. Indianapolis: LibertyPress, 1991.