A sermon Given on January 18, 2014, at the Alafia River Rendezvous Sunday Church Service
It’s disturbing how similar our problems are today to those experienced during the formation of our country. We were divided back then into patriots and loyalists. What was it that caused some people to desire to remain subjects of King George III, while others were willing to sacrifice their wealth, honor, and life itself to be free?
Life is a never-ending “war of nature,” involving the “survival of the fittest.” Individuals differ in their ability to survive. In other words, some become winners and some lose. It is a misconception to simply think that one group rejects their rights and is willing to reduce freedoms to get free things while another group sees themselves as free, desiring only life, liberty, and happiness. Everyone wants life, liberty, and happiness.
Common Sense, defined as “sound judgment gathered from experience rather than study,” is one of the most revered qualities in America. But here’s the catch:. Common Sense is not so common. If it were, people wouldn’t spend more than they could afford, they wouldn’t smoke or gamble, they would eat healthy food and exercise more, and for sure, they wouldn’t believe politicians. So what can we learn from American history about the roots of common sense?
In 1764, Reverend Thomas Reid, a Scottish theologian, created the fundamentals for education used to teach Washington, Jefferson, and other founding fathers. It is called the Scottish Common Sense Philosophy of Education. Simply, Reverend Reid insisted that all must be trained to know: (1) there is a God; (2) that God placed a conscience into every individual along with God’s Natural Law; (3) it was God who established “first principles” such as law, government, education, politics, and economics, all this to be discovered and governed by “common sense;” and (4) that there is no conflict between reason and revelation.
Reverend Reid mentions the concept of “Natural Law,” referring to the use of reason to analyze how we act and deduce rules of moral behavior from it. Reverend Reid is emphatic, however, that it is God who creates and permits all of society’s laws to exist and each of us has the responsibility to use “Common Sense” during their application. So how do you think we are doing? Does our nation lack common sense? For common sense to prosper, we need three things: Truth, a Love for God, and Humility.
The truth seems like a fleeting concept these days. Deception is commonplace. Deception was always around, however, even in the formation of our great country. Hercules Mulligan was born in Antrim, Ireland, in 1740 and moved to New York City when he was six. New York could have been called the bastion of loyalism to the king. Some things never change, do they? After attending Kings College, he became a tailor. It was in 1770 that he first took sides, going against King George III and fighting with patriots at the Battle of Golden Hill. In the summer of 1775, he helped the Sons of Liberty steal muskets from the city armory. In July of 1776, Hercules led a group of patriots to tear down a statue of King George III. The statue was made of lead and soon became musket balls for the revolution. His career during the war, however, was mostly passive, working in his New York tailor shop, listening to the idle chatter as British officers would avail themselves of his sewing skills. Mulligan was a spy. So was this truthful behavior, spying for the Sons of Liberty and the Patriot’s Committee of Correspondence?
This was also the period when loyalists gave food and shelter to the British troops while withholding such support from the patriot army. Numerous letters and journals indicate that while our patriot soldiers were without food, there were plenty of people who gladly gave their livestock and crops over to feed the British soldiers. One only needs to read the stories of Valley Forge where our troops, freezing in the Pennsylvania winter, boiled and ate their shoes to fill their stomachs. Our troops had been promised much from the leaders of our fledgling country, but adequate food, shelter, clothing, and even gunpowder and balls were never forthcoming.
So how are we to discern the truth? Were the patriots and the Sons of Liberty truthful in their pursuit of a rebellion? Were the Loyalists being truthful, pledging themselves to their mother country, England? Were our government leaders truthful when they promised to support our troops knowing there was no money to purchase it? Well, I only know of one way to sort this out: we must seek God’s Truth first. When God is with us, so is victory. While Hercules Mulligan lived in deception, he is given credit for providing important information that saved George Washington’s life, not just once but twice. He provided information overheard within his shop. Traps had been set to capture Washington, but Mulligan’s sharp ear would, in the end, allow Washington to avoid capture. So my vote goes to Mulligan as the truthful person here. God wanted a new nation. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on our government’s broken promises back then. When we see chaos in our nation today, always ask whose side God is on. God’s side always wins, you know. So our responsibility should be to seek God’s Truth at all costs.
Is it fair to call our country and its leaders indifferent to God? Though it was common for ministers to preach the cause of liberty, few stepped out of the pulpit into the line of duty. Reverend James Caldwell was one of the few. Caldwell graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1759, studying under the great Presbyterian orator and President of Princeton, Samuel Davies himself. He became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, NJ, in 1762 and later served in the Third Battalion of Company No. 1, New Jersey Volunteers, as their chaplain.
James Caldwell had the honor to travel through Virginia with Reverend John Witherspoon, the only active pastor to sign the Declaration of Independence, to raise money for Princeton College. Caldwell was a very good pastor; his church had 345 rented pews and had just finished an addition. It was one of the oldest in the country, having been constructed in 1667. Caldwell was a mover and shaker. He made it in society. In a world where only the fittest survive, Caldwell was a winner.
So why did Caldwell choose to fight? On January 25, 1780, the British burned his church, destroying all personal papers as well as the church’s records. A tough introduction to the patriotic cause. After the fire, Reverend Caldwell would carry a rifle and participate with his troops as they fought the British. He used his love for God to minister to his battalion. Later, a British soldier would shoot his unarmed wife, Hannah, as she sat protecting their two youngest children, and then burn his home. Caldwell fought on. And then, in 1781, an American traitor would kill an unarmed Reverend Caldwell for no other reason than money. Caldwell had been assisting in the ministry to those held on British prison ships. The British hated Caldwell’s zeal and placed a bounty on his head. Reverend Caldwell had placed all his faith and hope in God. And while we may not like the end to his story, Caldwell helped give his ten children a new and free country to prosper in. There is no doubt that Reverend James Caldwell loved God. Can you find similar sacrifices made by our leaders today? Are they willing to share in the same pain, sacrifice, and risks as you? Do they have a love for God? Remember, God wins!
Our third point today is that for common sense to prosper, humility must be present. It is in humility that we can hear our God speak to us, guide our lives, and help us discern our way. How is it that a brave person can stand before their nation and ask for nothing, but instead, only thank them for the opportunity to serve? “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments onto the road and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of that donkey that any of that was for him?” So here is a story about humility in the American Revolution that often goes untold.
Deborah Sampson was five when she was first sent to live with her mother’s cousin, Ruth Fuller of Middleborough, Massachusetts. Ruth died when Deborah was eight. She then went to live with Mrs. Thatcher, the 80-year-old widow of a First Congregational Church minister. Another local minister noticed how hard Deborah worked and made arrangements for her to serve the household of Benjamin Thomas.
Deborah Sampson was ten years old when the Boston Massacre happened and thirteen years old at the time of the Boston Tea Party. In 1774 King George III issued the Intolerable Acts, and the people of Boston started talking about how they would starve under King George’s laws. Deborah’s response was to plant a garden for herself and the Thomas family.
In 1779, she became a teacher in a Middleborough public school. Deborah still thought about joining the Continental Army but didn’t know how she could do it. Then, in the winter of 1780, Mr. Thomas came for a visit and told her about two of his sons being killed in Virginia when they were fighting with Marquis de Lafayette. She was close to the Thomas boys. Deborah grew up with them, hunting and learning to shoot just as well as they could. This is when she committed to finding a way to serve with the Continentals.
On May 20, 1782, at the age of twenty-one, Deborah Sampson finally enlisted in the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army at Bellingham, Massachusetts, as Robert Shurtleff, which was the name of her oldest brother who had died at the age of eight. Deborah was almost immediately detected when she held the quill with her finger in that funny position, like a girl. No one else seemed to notice and Deborah Sampson, otherwise known as Robert Shurtleff, was now a soldier with the Continental Army, having enlisted for three years. Three days later she was officially part of Captain George Webb’s company. She was soon excommunicated from her Baptist Church because the people of Middleborough had heard she was dressing as a man and serving in the Army.
Her first narrow escape from discovery was when she was altering her poorly fitting uniform and was observed to be very good with a needle. She explained it away by stating there were no girls in her family, so as the youngest, she had to learn how to sew.
Her regiment was sent to West Point, New York. During a scouting party to try to find food for her regiment, she was shot in the leg by Loyalists who caught her stealing from a cave near Tarrytown. To maintain her disguise, Deborah refused to see a doctor and took care of her wound. She was at West Point for eighteen months and fought in several battles. Deborah was injured two more times. Once near Tarrytown, her head was cut with a sword, and then again near Eastchester. This time she was hit in the thigh by a musket ball and was carried to the hospital. But, once there, she showed the surgeon the lesser wound to her head, and he released her. She tried to dig the musket ball out of her thigh with her pen knife! Failing that, she nursed the wound as best she could. But having left the ball in the leg was to cause her trouble for the rest of her life. She again refused to be treated by a doctor thus causing her injuries not to heal completely.
It wasn’t until she came down with a “malignant fever,” which was being passed around the soldiers, that she was forced to see a doctor at a hospital in Philadelphia. A doctor examined her and discovered she was not a man. He didn’t tell anyone but took her to his own home where she could get better care. Once she was well again, the doctor met with her commanding officer.
Deborah Sampson knew right away that her doctor had told her commanding officers, and on October 25, 1783, almost two months after the Peace Treaty of Paris was signed, she was asked to deliver a letter to General Washington. Washington, in turn, handed her papers that honorably discharged her from the Army with some money so she could get home. Later, in 1804, Paul Revere sent a letter to Congress telling them she should receive more money for her duties in the War. Deborah Sampson then received a U.S. pension of four dollars per month and a land grant for her military service. She is celebrated as the first official female soldier of the American military. Deborah gave up her identity and all she had to defend her country and asked nothing in return. To be humble is to live a life of service and sacrifice.
If Truth, Love for God, and Humility serve as the foundations of Common Sense, where do you find them and how do you get them? Well, the search for Common Sense begins at the foot of Christ’s Cross. You must think of yourself as nothing more than the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides in His glory. Sound judgment can only come from placing our faith in the hands of the perfect Teacher. Christ IS the truth, Christ IS love, Christ IS God and Christ IS the ultimate example of humility, and suffering so we would have life. Each of us must practice and demand Truth, have a Love for God, and seek Humility first of ourselves and then of our leaders. Most importantly, we must pass common sense on to our children. Jean-Paul, a German author born in 1763, is quoted, “The conscience of children is formed by the influences that surround them; their notions of good and evil are the result of the moral atmosphere they breathe.” If we are ever to hope for leaders who govern with common sense, if we are ever to have citizens who act with common sense, we must demand it from each other and create it in our children. All of us must develop the skills to recognize the folly of empty messages of hope and change that make no sense. What our forefathers saw so clearly is that a government created of intrusive laws, regulations, and bureaucracies perpetuates injustices. However, when a discerning nation relies on faith in Christ above all things and relies on their God to accomplish great things, each generation will have the common sense to remain “One Nation Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.”
Bible Verses for the lesson chosen from the New Living Translation (NLT)
7 He grants a treasure of common sense to the honest. He is a shield to those who walk with integrity. 8 He guards the paths of the just and protects those who are faithful to him. 9 Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy. 11 Wise choices will watch over you. Understanding will keep you safe.
5 “Tell the people of Israel, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey — even on a donkey’s colt.'”