American Minute with Bill Federer: Pastors in Politics during American Revolution: Hugh Williamson & other preachers

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American Minute with Bill Federer
Pastors in Politics during American Revolution: Hugh Williamson & other preachers
“The most important thing is to bring people to Christ,
–and the second most important thing is to preserve the freedom to do the most important thing!”–W.J. Federer
This was the attitude of many pastors and seminary-trained founders who served in America’s early government.
Rev. John Witherspoon (1723-1794) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor and President of Princeton who was a delegate to the Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Rev. John Peter Muhlenberg (1746-1807) was a Lutheran pastor in Virginia who became a major general during the Revolutionary War, a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator.
Rev. Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg (1750-1801) was a Lutheran pastor in New York who was elected a U.S. Congressman and was the First Speaker of the House, signing the Bill of Rights.
Rev. Abiel Foster (1735-1806) served as pastor in Canterbury, New Hampshire, a delegate to the Continental Congress, the New Hampshire Legislature and a U.S. Congressman.
Rev. Benjamin Contee (1755-1815) was an Episcopal pastor in Maryland who served as an officer in the Revolutionary War, a delegate to the Confederation Congress, and a U.S. Congressman.
Rev. Abraham Baldwin (1754-1807) served as a minister at Yale, a chaplain in the Revolutionary War, a delegate from Georgia to the Continental Congress, a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator.
He was the founding president of the University of Georgia.
Rev. Paine Wingate (1739-1838) was a pastor in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, who served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator.
Rev. Joseph Montgomery (1733-1794) was a Presbyterian pastor in New Castle, Delaware, married to the sister of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration.
He served as a chaplain in the Revolutionary War with Colonel Smallwood’s Maryland Regiment.
Montgomery was elected a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Continental Congress, a judge, and a representative in the State Assembly.
Rev. James Manning (1738-1791) was a Baptist pastor in Rhode Island who was the first President of Brown University where, during the Revolutionary War, he allowed General Rochambeau’s French troops to camp on the campus grounds.
He was elected a delegate to Congress.
John Joachim Zubly (1724-1781) was a Presbyterian pastor in Georgia who was a delegate to the Continental Congress.
Evangelist George Whitefield helped spread the Great Awakening Revival throughout the colonies. He was the first to preach to mixed race audiences.
In 1739, Whitefield inspired citizens in Philadelphia to have a charity school for blacks and poor orphan children, as Whitefield, himself, had gone to a charity school in England when he was a boy.
In 1740, his followers began building a church and charity school in the city.
The Charity School was formed, teaching writing, arithmetic, and the general principles of Christianity.
Unfortunately it was short-lived. By 1746, popular evangelism declined and funding for the school dried up.
In 1749, Ben Franklin convinced the board of trustees of the newly founded Academy of Philadelphia to purchase the school.
The trustees maintained the school’s vision, and expanded it to include a secondary school for boys in 1751 and a school for girls in 1753.
In 1754, the school expanded again, adding the College of Philadelphia, with Rev. William Smith as its president.
A student who enrolled in the College’s first class was Hugh Williamson.
That first class graduated on May 17, 1757.
Five days later, his father died.
After graduation, Williamson taught at the Academy of Philadelphia, tutoring students in English and Latin.
Hugh Williamson was one of 21 members of the Continental Congress who graduated from the College of Philadelphia.
Nine of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were either trustees or alumni from there.
The College of Philadelphia was renamed in 1779 to the University of Pennsylvania.
Due to his role in the founding of the University, a statue of Evangelist George Whitefield was erected in Dormitory Quadrangle in 1919.
Engraved on the base of the statue was:
“The Reverend George Whitefield, Bachelor of Arts 1736, Pembroke College Oxford — Humble Disciple of Jesus Christ, Eloquent Preacher of the Gospel”
Another person who taught at the Academy of Philadelphia was Charles Thomson, who became the Secretary of Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.
Thomson designed the Great Seal of the United States, and signed Congress’ authorization for Robert Aitken to print the first English Language Bible in America.
Upon retiring from Congress, Charles Thomson spent 19 years compiling the “Thomson Bible” (printed in 1808), which contained the first American translation of the Greek Septuagint.
Hugh Williamson, born December 5, 1735, had an amazing career, which included becoming a licensed Presbyterian pastor, a doctor, and a Signer of the U.S. Constitution.
He studied theology with Rev. Samuel Finley, who later became President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton).
At age 24, Williamson decided to go into the ministry as a Presbyterian preacher.
John Neal recorded of Hugh Williamson in the Trinity College Historical Society Papers (NY: AMS Press, 1915):
“In 1759, (Williamson) went to Connecticut, where he pursued his theological studies and was licensed to preach.
After returning from Connecticut, he was admitted to membership in the Presbytery of Philadelphia (the oldest in America) … (and there) preached nearly two years.”
Williamson visited and prayed for the sick, and gave sermons, until a chronic chest weakness convinced him he had to pursue a career that did not involve public speaking.
He was also disaffected by the theological debates that grew out of the Great Awakening Revival — between the “Old Lights” and the “New Lights.”
“Old Lights” were older church leaders who were rigid in orthodox teachings, emphasizing the letter of the law; while “New Lights” were zealous younger church leaders who emphasized evangelism and the Holy Spirit.
In 1760, Williamson joined the faculty at his alma mater, the College of Philadelphia, where he was professor of mathematics.
After four years, Williamson traveled to Europe to study medicine.
He received his medical degree from the prestigious University of Utrecht in the Netherlands.
After graduation, Dr. Hugh Williamson practiced medicine in Philadelphia.
Williamson took it upon himself to raise money to start the Newark Academy, the seventh-oldest private school in the nation, founded by Rev. Alexander MacWhorter, an advisor to George Washington.
To raise funds for the academy, Williamson sailed to England, but not before stopping off in Boston, where he witnessed the Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773.
When he reached London, the Privy Council — the formal advisors to the King — summoned him to testify on the rebellious actions in America.
When the Privy Council began to discuss how to punish Boston for the Tea Party, Dr. Hugh Williamson warned them that continuing their high taxes would provoke the colonies into rebellion.
He argued further that Americans should be entitled to full rights as Englishmen.
At that time, there was an American statesman in London who heard Williamson’s patriotic answers to the Privy Council. It was Ben Franklin, a founder of the school that Williamson had graduated from and taught at.
Returning to America in 1777, Dr. Hugh Williamson distinguished himself during the Revolutionary War as a Surgeon General caring for wounded North Carolina troops.
In 1780, Dr. Williamson was attached to the command of Brigadier General Isaac Gregory.
General Isaac Gregory adopted the tactics of South Carolina’s Francis Marion, nicknamed “Swamp Fox” — who would launch surprise attacks on British forces then quickly retreat into inhospitable terrain.
General Gregory stationed his troops in the Great Dismal Swamp — over 100,000 acres of dangerous wetlands between southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina.
Dr. Williamson’s insistence on sanitation, diet and preventive medicine kept the troops virtually disease free during their six months there.
After the War, in 1782, North Carolina elected Dr. Williamson as a representative to Congress.
North Carolina’s 1776 Constitution that was in effect at the time stated in ARTICLE 32:
“That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of t he Protestant religion, or the Divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.”
(“Protestant” was changed to “Christian” in 1835, then changed in 1868 to simply a belief in “Almighty God.”)
While in Congress, Dr. Williamson helped write the Northwest Territory laws.
He was part of the committee that proposed a clause, (though it was later omitted), for:
“… reserving the central section of every township for the maintenance of public schools and the section immediately to the northward for the support of religion.”
The final version of the Northwest Ordinance, July 13, 1787, included:
“Sec. 13. And, for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected …”
“Art. 1. No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments, in the said territory …”
“Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent …”
“Art. 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory.”
From May 25 to September 17, 1787, Dr. Hugh Williamson was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia where he helped write the U.S. Constitution, lodging at the same residence as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.
Williamson signed the Constitution, then helped convinced North Carolina to ratify it.
Thomas Jefferson related of Dr. Williamson’s reputation at the Constitutional Convention:
“He was a useful member, of an acute mind, attentive to business, and of an high degree of erudition.”
Dr. Hugh Williamson later became wealthy through investments and land speculations, and wrote extensively for medical and literary societies, winning international acclaim.
He participated with Ben Franklin in conducting electrical experiments.
In 1811, Dr. Hugh Williamson wrote a respected book, Observations of the Climate in Different Parts of America, in which he refuted “higher criticism” of Scripture and gave scientific explanation for the credibility of stories in the Bible, such as Noah’s flood and the events of Moses’ exodus.
Dr. Hugh Williamson served as one of the original trustees of the University of North Carolina.
Dying May 22, 1819, Dr. Hugh Williamson is buried at Trinity Church, in New York City.
“The most important thing is to bring people to Christ,
–and the second most important thing is to preserve the freedom to do the most important thing!”
Pastors and church leaders not involved in preserving the freedom to preach the Gospel are effectively admitting they really do not believe preaching the Gospel is that important.
In law, the rule of tacit admission is that “silence equals consent.”
The Law of Moses explains in the Book of Numbers, chapter 30.
“If a daughter binds herself while in her father’s house in her youth, and her father hear her vow … and her father holds his peace, then all her vows shall stand …
but if her father overrules her on the day that he hears, then none of her vows … shall stand; and the Lord will release her.”
Pastors utilize this is weddings ceremonies, saying:
“If anyone present objects to this wedding, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
If church members hold their peace and are silent, they are giving consent to the wedding.
With this understanding, if church members are silent regarding sins in a community, they are, in essence, giving consent to the sins.
And if they give consent to the sins, they share in the guilt of the sin, and they will also share in the judgment!
Leviticus 19:17 warns:
“Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.” (NLT)
If church members know about unborn or new born babies being killed and they do nothing to stop it, they will be judged as if they had committed the sin, as explained in Proverbs 24:11-12:
“Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death; don’t stand back and let them die.
Don’t try to disclaim responsibility by saying you didn’t know about it. For God, who knows all hearts, knows yours, and he knows you knew!
And he will reward everyone according to his deeds.” (TLB)
In Matthew 19:4, Jesus said:
“He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female.’”
If church members are aware their local school is indoctrinating innocent children with sexual views different than what Jesus taught, and they are silent giving their consent, Jesus warned in Mark 9:43 of the judgment they will share in:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a large millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
It will be a rude awakening for church members who think they are being super-spiritual by not getting involved, when they discover their silence is actually inviting the judgment of God upon their heads!
Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who resisted Hitler and helped found the Confessing Church in Germany, stated:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless.”
16th century German reformer Rev. Martin Luther stated:
“If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.
Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
Baptist Pastor Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated:
“The church must be reminded that it is … the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state …
If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
Joseph Story, the First Chief Justice of Supreme Court, wrote to Jedediah Morse, January 1, 1813:
“It is the right and duty of OUR PASTORS to press the observance of all moral and religious duties.”
Rev. Billy Graham stated:
“Bad politicians are elected by good people who don’t vote.”
Washington Post video journalists Whitney Leaming and Whitney Shefte published a report, May 17, 2022, “Pushing evangelicals into politics to create ‘a Biblically-based culture'”:
“The American Renewal Project has been working to inspire Christian pastors and church members to run for political office across North Carolina.”
Pastors were involved in politics from America’s beginning, as President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed at the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, July 5, 1926:
“The principles … which went into the Declaration of Independence … are found in … the sermons … of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live.
They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image …
Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government …”
Coolidge concluded:
“In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations WITH THEIR PASTORS migrated to the Colonies.”
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