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Divine Judgments Upon Tyrants:
And Compassion to the Oppressed

[Excerpts from "Divine Judgments Upon Tyrants," a sermon delivered by Jacob Cushing at Lexington on April 20, 1778, commemorating the Battle of Lexington. This sermon is described as follows: "In commemoration of the MURDEROUS WAR and RAPINE, inhumanly perpetrated, by two brigades of British troops, in that town and neighborhood, on the NINETEENTH OF APRIL, 1775." The sermon in its entirety is found in "Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805, Volume I, edited by Ellis Sandoz, Second Edition, and can be purchased for approximately $36 at the Liberty Fund website at http://www.libertyfund.org/]

That there is a God, "is the prime foundation of all religion." We should therefore employ our utmost diligence to establish our minds in the stedfast belief of it. For when once we have firmly settled in our minds the belief of God’s being, it will mightily influence all our powers of action; it will invite our hope, alarm our fear, and address to every passion within us, that is capable of persuasion, and be in us a never-failing source of devotion and religion.

A God without a providence, is a solitary kind of being, and affords but gloomy apprehensions. For ‘tis by his providence that all intercourse between GOD and his rational creatures is maintained, therein he exercises and displays his perfections, therein his power executes the contrivances of his wisdom, and his wisdom plans the methods of his goodness and grace, which open to the view and admiration of the wise and good, through successive ages and generations.

But that branch of providence, which, in a peculiar manner, demands our attention on this occasion, and should excite our gratitude is GOD’s uninterrupted government of the rational part of his creation, mankind in particular. For as all government, so the divine, supposes laws, and laws suppose rewards and punishments, of which intelligences only are capable.

Since, therefore, GOD interests himself in the affairs of mankind, and the universal administration of his providence extends to all his works, a large field opens for the employment of our contemplative minds. And we are naturally led to consider this divine government, as respecting communities; the affairs whereof are important, and upon which the order and felicity of the world greatly depend.

God is the sovereign of the world, and disposes all things in the best manner. All blessings and calamities, of a public nature, and the revolutions of kingdoms and states, are to be viewed as under the special direction of heaven. Hence the scripture saith, that GOD "increaseth the nations, and destroyeth them, he enlargeth the nations, and stratneth them again—sometimes he blesseth them, so that they are multiplied greatly; again, they are minished, and brought low through oppression, affliction and sorrow."

These truths being necessarily interwoven with religion, and extensively useful under the varying scenes of life, and misteries in providence—the main design of the present discourse, is to awaken our attention to the passages of divine providence—and lead us to a religious improvement of GOD’s hand, in the tragical events that took place on the nineteenth of April, 1775. I mean the murderous war, rapine and devastation of that day, which we are now met to commemorate.

Under this visitation, or the greatest trials imaginable, we have abundant consolation, that GOD rules in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of this earth.

The words but now read, may be, perhaps, not unfitly applied to us, for comfort and encouragement under GOD’s chastisements, and his usual conduct towards the enemies of his church and people: "Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people." These are the concluding words of Moses his song, which setteth forth GOD’s works of mercy and judgment towards the children of Israel, his covenant people. And though, in their primary meaning, they respect that nation only, yet they may be accommodated and fairly applied to GOD’s faithful and obedient people, at all times, and in all ages; inasmuch as the latter part of the prophecy reaches unto the latter days, and is not yet wholly fulfilled.

Some interpret the former part of the verse thus, "Rejoice ye nations, who are his people," supposing it to be a prophecy of the gentiles becoming one body with the people of Israel; because Moses had supposed in this song, great enmity between them, and that sometimes they had sorely plagued Israel; as at others, GOD rendered to them according to what they had done unto his people: but now breaks out in a rapture of joy, to think that they should one day be reconciled, and made one people of GOD.

The prophecy then before us, is not limited to the Israelites; but may be understood as extending to all GOD’s chosen, though oppressed and injured people, in all generations, that he will recompense their wrongs—plead their cause—and do justice upon their enemies. And taking it in this latitude, we may collect several things from it, as worthy of our notice, and pertinent to this occasion. Accordingly I observe,

First, that GOD, in the righteous administrations of his providence, permits the sons of violence to oppress his saints and people; and, in their malice and rage, to attempt their ruin, by waging war with them.

God is a being of infinite power and inflexible justice, as well as consummate wisdom; and doth according to his sovereign pleasure, in the natural and moral world. He over-rules all things for his own glory, and in subordination to that, has a particular regard to the happiness of his covenant people: His church and chosen are not without mistakes and errors, in this imperfect state—hence they are prone to degenerate and transgress—to be too regardless of GOD, and deficient in their obedience—nay, to be guilty of great wickedness. And it becomes necessary, to punish such revolters from the ways of GOD, and purity of manners. Hence, when the all-wise GOD designs the chastisement and reformation of his backsliding people, he "visits their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes," and uses those methods, that shall best promote his moral government; inflicting this or that judgment, as pleases him. The divine providence then is to be devoutly acknowledged in all events, in all public evils and calamities.

Sometimes there are visible marks of GOD’s anger and displeasure against his people. Their counsels are divided, and their strength impaired—their enemies are permitted to distress and injure them—or they have been harassed by the will and conduct of ambitious, designing men, who have contributed to the ruin of their country, even at the same time they pretend a mighty zeal for its interest: Or they are scourged by haughty tyrants and cruel oppressors: Yet the hand of GOD, and his over-ruling providence is to be acknoweldged in these things, as much as when a people suffer by famine, pestilence, earthquakes, storms and tempests, &c. which are commonly regarded as the more immediate tokens of GOD’s anger, and works of his providence...

Secondly, to observe, the dispensation of heaven towards oppressors and tyrants, the enemies of GOD’s people. "For he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries," none shall hinder his proceedings, to be fully avenged of them.

He is supreme Lord, governor and judge of the world, therefore will he chastise offenders; to him belongeth vengeance, therefore the wicked shall not go unpunished.

The enemies of GOD’s church and people, are GOD’s adversaries.

"The Lord’s portion is his people, he keeps them as the apple of his eye" verses 9,10, of the context. Whoever grieves or afflicts them, provokes GOD, for they are "his peculiar treasure." And having a singular concern for them, he will be their shield and their defence, however they may be persecuted by their enemies. "For the Lord shall judge his people"; ver 36. i.e. plead their cause, and deliver them from the oppression of their enemies; as this phrase is frequently used in the book of Psalms. He will have mercy upon his servants and turn his hand, which punishes them, upon their adversaries...

Likewise the christian church, though the world ever was an enemy to it, has been firmly established: It has been maintained against cruel persecution, and the greatest violence. And though continually burning, it has not been consumed, though tossed with tempests, and worried by its oppressors and adversaries, frequently passing through the furnace of affliction; yet it retains a form more bright and beautiful, as of the spouse of Christ, and the joyful mother of children which no man can number.

Indeed churches are not perfect or compleat; they are apt to decline and transgress; nothing therefore can be more equal and fit, than that GOD should, in his holy providence, manifest his righteous displeasure against backsliding churches that have fallen from the power and purity of religion, into a state of corruption.

Should it happen that, in times of persecution, bloodshed and war, the church may be reduced in its members, still the remnant may become more refined, holy and heavenly. The faith and patience of the saints be more exercised, their zeal and piety more eminent, and practical godliness more gloriously appear. And then, in due season, GOD raiseth his church and people from their afflicted and oppressed state, and rendereth vengeance to their adversaries and persecutors. Thus Babylon of old was punished for her cruelty and oppression of the Jewish church. And thus shall it likewise be in the case of mystical Babylon; which, after having been long suffered to prevail, and to "make war with the saints of the most High," shall have a mighty downfall, wherein the vengeance and justice of almighty GOD, shall be illustriously displayed; of which we have a striking description in XVIII. Chap. Of the Revelation.

And that we may be established in the faith of the prophecy before us, that GOD "will avenge the blood of his servants," and execute "vengeance upon their adversaries," we may advert to the animating promise of our blessed Saviour, in the parable of the unjust judge, who, neither fearing GOD nor regarding man, was nevertheless prevailed on by the continual cries of the widow, to do her justice against her adversary; our Lord adds, And shall not GOD avenge his own elect? "Will he not much more be moved to vindicate his chosen and dearly beloved people, that cry to him day and night, under the cruel oppression of their insulting enemies, even though he may seem to bear long with them, to give them space for repentance? I tell you, he will certainly vindicate them, and when once he undertakes it, he will do it speedily too." Herein, "our condescending Lord only intended to intimate, that if the repeated, importunate cries of the afflicted, may at length prevail even upon an inhuman heart, they will be much more regarded by a righteous and merciful GOD, who is always ready to bestow his favours, when he sees we are prepared to receive them. We may rely upon it, that God will vindicate his saints. Let this encourage them, though the rod of the wicked may for a while rest on them—and let it intimate the proud oppressors of the earth, who, in the midst of all their pomp and power, are so wretched, as to have the prayers of GOD’s people against them."

We have encouragement then, to hope in GOD; that he will build up Zion—that he will appear still for us, under all our distresses and oppression—that he will avenge the innocent blood of our brethren, inhumanely shed in the beginning of the present unjust war—that he will render vengeance to his and our adversaries—and one day restore tranquility to our country—that he will make our land "a quiet habitation," when we may view it in perfect peace, and free from all fears of hostile invasions. For, to use the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King, he will save us." Hence we are naturally led, in the last place, to observe from the concluding words of my text.

Thirdly, the kindness and compassion of GOD, to his penitent, praying and obedient people: "And will be merciful unto his land, and to his people."

Though GOD chastise his people with the rod of his hand, or permit enemies to oppose and oppress them, yet he will remember his holy covenant, and shew compassion to them, to their humiliation and repentance...

The intention of GOD’s severe dispensations being not the destruction of his people, but their amendment, it becomes them to acknowledge his hand, confess and forsake their sins, and importunately seek to him for needed salvation. Hence, we are frequently exhorted in scripture to repentance, as the surest way to obtain mercy from GOD; Job v. 17. "Behold, happy is the man whom GOD correcteth; therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty—for he maketh sore and bindeth up, he woundeth, and his hands make whole. He shall deliver thee in six troubles, yea, in seven, there shall no evil touch thee. In famine he shall redeem thee from death, and in war from the power of the sword."

The corrections of his hand are the scourges of a faithful GOD, who retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy...

And the church of Christ, notwithstanding all oppression and persecution, shall one day break forth as the morning, clear as the sun, fair as the moon, and triumph over all its potent, cruel adversaries; even when the glorious things spoken of her, in the latter days, shall be accomplished, corresponding to the prophecy of Isaiah, chap. lx...

From the preceeding discourse, in connexion with our context, arise the following truths, for instruction and improvement of the dispensations of heaven; and therefore proper for our meditation, on the present occasion. As,

That we should extol the Lord of heaven and earth, who is possessed of glorious perfections, which render him the only fit object of our religious worship.

That we should acknowledge the infinite power of our GOD, and his sovereign dominion over all; and give honour and service to none other.

That his works of providence, no less than of creation, are most perfect; since he doth nothing without the greatest reason, and according to the rules of exact justice.

That we are ignorant of the methods and reasons of GOD’s judgments, that take place in the world.

That all evil, and all the good, that befalls any man, or the whole church, proceeds from the just and equal administrations of divine providence.

That in God we may find a sure refuge, at all times, for he is in one mind, and changeth not.

That he will render vengeance to his adversaries, and do justice to the enemies of his church.

That he will be merciful to his people, his humble, penitent, praying people, and will, in his own way and time, avenge the blood of his servants.

That therefore we have abundant cause to rejoice with his people; and to yield chearful and constant obedience to him...

Nothing new therefore, can be suggested by me on this occasion. I have only to stir up your pure minds, by way of remembrance, of the transactions of that awful day; to excite your devotion, and to recommend a religious improvement of GOD’s righteous dispensations then, and through three revolving years now compleated.

In pursuance of their oppressive measures (if not intentionally to begin the barbarous and bloody scene) the enemy came upon us like a flood stealing a march from Boston, through by-ways, under the darkness and silence of the night; and, like cowards and robbers, attacked us altogether defenceless; and cruelly murdered the innocent, the aged and helpless. Accordingly they are described by the prophet, as persons whose hands are defiled with blood; adding, "their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity, wasting and destruction are in their paths."

With astonishment and gratitude we recollect the kindness of our almighty Preserver, that no more were slain by the hand of violence; and that the people willingly offered themselves to the help of the Lord against the mighty, who manfully opposed the efforts of British pride, power and barbarity. The hand of GOD was visible in these things, and the power and goodness of GOD manifested in our deliverance, from the enraged, disappointed enemy, is to be devoutly retained in memory, and thankfully acknowledged. When we consider, how weak and unprepared we were at that time, for such a sudden assault (though the behaviour of the British troops might have led us to expect hostile measures would ensue), we may, not unfitly, adopt the words of the psalmist, concerning the church of old; in Ps. 124, wherein she blesseth GOD for a miraculous deliverance from a formidable enemy; I say, we may apply the words in the beginning of the psalm, to ourselves and circumstances, with a little variation; "If it had not been the Lord, who was on our side, now may New-England say: If it had not been the Lord, who was on our side, when men rose up against us; then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us," and began to break out in fierceness: In their furious rage they would have suddenly devoured us, and laid waste the country.

But blessed be GOD, to whose infinite mercy we ascribe our deliverance, who was then a present help. These barbarous savage enemies were put into fear; they were made to flee before us, and hastily to retreat (as wild beasts to their dens) before a few scattered, undisciplined freemen. Not to our courage or conduct, but to GOD’s name be all the praise and glory.

A close attention to the occurrences in this unnatural war, from its rise to the present time, affords us great occasion to sing of GOD’s mercy, and to rejoice with his people; and likewise to fear and tremble before the Lord, that his anger is not yet turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

If this war be just and necessary on our part, as past all doubt it is, then we are engaged in the work of the Lord, which obliges us (under GOD mighty in battle) to use our "swords as instruments of righteousness, and calls us to the shocking, but necessary, important duty of shedding human blood"; not only in defence of our property, life and religion, but in obedience to him who hath said, "Cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood."

Here I shall take occasion, to address the companies of militia in this town; our brethren, now under arms. My friends, having early distinguished yourselves in a readiness to promote the common good, and safety of your country; by opposing, with others, its invaders, and the murderers of your brethren in this town and neighborhood, on that day we are now commemorating: You escaped the arrows of death, when perhaps equally exposed, as those that were cut off by the hand of violence: To the GOD of your life, and who was then, in a peculiar sense, your preserver, defence and shield, you owe everlasting love and obedience.

You were spared, it may be, further to signalize yourselves, and to do yet greater service for GOD and your bleeding country, which calls aloud to you, and all its hearty friends, to rouse and exert themselves, for the destruction of the common enemy and oppressor; and to wipe away the blood wherewith this land has been stained. To arms! To action, and the battle of the warrior! Is the language of divine providence; and you have every motive imaginable to awaken, and excite you to be up and doing the work of the Lord faithfully. The honor and glory of GOD, and the salvation of your country under GOD, call aloud upon all. Duty, interest, liberty, religion and life, every thing worth enjoyment, demand speedy and the utmost exertions.

Calculate, my friends, a martial spirit, strive to excel in the art of war, that you may be qualified to act the part of soldiers well; and, under providence, be helpful in vanquishing and subduing the enemies of GOD and this people; and be numbered among those who shall be worthy to wear the laurels of victory and triumph.

Above all, let me recommend and urge it upon you, to strive for a more honorable and shining character; I mean, that of true christians, good soldiers of JESUS CHRIST; and to fight manfully under his banner, as the high priest of your profession, and great captain of your salvation. Then whatever service he shall call you to, or sufferings allot you; wherever he shall lead, you will chearfully follow, be ready to face the enemy and every danger, and meet death with calmness and intrepidity, whenever arrested, and be conquerors through him.

We wish you, and all our friends and brethren, called to bear arms, and jeopard their lives in defence of their country, and support of the common rights of mankind, the presence of GOD, and a blessing this day, from the house of the Lord, all grace and good in time, and glory everlasting.

Finally, let us all devoutly worship and honor, fear and serve the Lord of hosts, and GOD of armies; hearken to his word, and seriously attend to every providence. Let us continue our fervent cries to GOD, and offer up importunate, unceasing supplications to the most High, to "avenge the blood of his saints," and be "merciful to" this "his land, and to his people." We are encouraged to this from the providence and promises of a powerful and faithful GOD. The repeated successes during this calamitous war, from its beginning to the present day, have been great and wonderful; and give us confidence in GOD, and hope of a happy conclusion, if we amend our ways and doings...

These assurances of our covenant-GOD and Father, may well animate our spirits, invigorate our faith, confirm our hope, and establish our confidence in him, under the severest trials and miseries that befall us, in this day of calamity and war.

Whether the prophecy and promise in our text, shall be accomplished, while we of the present generation, are upon the stage of action; is known only to him, who is the Lord of life and death. However, we may piously and chearfully leave the event to GOD, whose righteousness remaineth, and his faithfulness to all generations.

I cannot conclude, without just hinting, that though we must necessarily concern ourselves, in some degree, with the things of the present evil world, so long as GOD shall protract our lives; yet our highest interest lies in another region, far beyond this state of noise and war, danger and misery. And whoever faithfully serves GOD and their generation here, in a wise improvement of their talents, shall in the end, receive a crown of life, unfading and eternal.

Here is nothing, my hearers, nothing worthy your highest affection and unceasing pursuit. "All that cometh is vanity." All things are liable to change, and in perpetual uncertainty. Every thing tends to dissolution, and GOD alone is invariable.

We are all children of mortality—and must die out of this world. Blessed be GOD, honor and immortality beyond the grave is ascertained by divine revelation. Being called to glory by virtue, let us diligently and conscientiously perform all the duties of our holy religion; labor to secure our peace with GOD, through Jesus Christ our only Savior—that we may be perfect and compleat in him, as our head.

That so, when contending powers and jarring nations on earth shall be removed—all kingdoms and states dissolved—and all empire and dominion blotted out, excepting his, who is the first cause, and last end of all things: We may have a place in the highest heavens; be admitted to dwell in GOD’s immediate presence—and join the heavenly host in the warmest ascriptions of blessing, and honor, and praise and glory to GOD and the lamb, for ever and ever.



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