Fall Festival 2014 – CHRIST & the Cosmos

CHRIST & the Cosmos

CHRIST & the Cosmos is the text of the teachings Dr. Ralph Blair presented at the 2014 Evangelicals Concerned Fall Festival in Ocean Grove, NJ, October 3-5, 2014. On the first evening, he presented biographical background on five Christians honored:

The 300th Anniversaries of
Matthew Henry, James Hervey, William Romaine and George Whitefield
&
200th Anniversary of
Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner”

Sermons from the weekend are available here.

Ralph Blair


It’s 1714. Isaac Watts is writing words on praise, here and hereafter: “I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath, / And when my voice is lost in death, / Praise shall employ my nobler powers; / My days of praise shall ne’er be past, / While life, and thought, and being last, / Or immortality endures.”
Matthew Henry passes away to “employ [his] nobler powers” of praise, while here, his work continues to bless us. And three boys are born who’ll be evangelical leaders of their generation and beyond: James Hervey, William Romaine and George Whitefield.
England’s Queen Anne dies and the Stuart royal line ends. George Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, arrives to be King George, first of four Hanoverian kings – all named George. The last Hanoverian reign will begin in 1837 with Queen Victoria and last until her death in 1901.
Other notable deaths in 1714 include theologian Gottfried Arnold and Sir Edmund Andros, appointed as first proprietary governor of New York, an area including what will later be New Jersey and the state of Maine.
Parliament is offering a reward for an accurate way to determine longitude. It’s worth 10,000 pounds to anyone who can determine a ship’s longitude within one degree and worth double that to anyone who can cut that by half.
Alexander Pope’s, “Rape of the Lock,” is published. In his poem, he gently mocks a dispute between two aristocratic families.  It all stemmed from a young man’s playfully snipping a lock of hair from a young lady of the other family.
The big hit in Drury Lane is The Wonder: A Woman Keeps a Secret. The greatest actor of the day, David Garrick, closes his career in it. Corelli writes a Christmas Concerto and Bach welcomes the birth of his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. Mozart will say of the younger Bach: “He is the father and we are the children.” Christoph von Gluck is born. He’ll become famous for his emphasis on the dramatic in opera and that will greatly influence Mozart, Weber and Wagner.
The Archbishop of Canterbury founds the world’s first mixed-gender school. It’s for “10 poor boys and 10 poor girls.” And Henry Mill, an English waterworks engineer, patents an early version of the typewriter.
Tea comes to the colonies. And a rural road is laid in New York that none at the time could possibly imagine would one day be called 233rd Street!

Matthew Henry
(October 18, 1662 – June 22, 1714)

On his birthday in 1702, Matthew Henry wrote: “This day I have completed the 40th year of my life; of life did I say? Rather, indeed, of my inactivity and folly, but of the tender mercy, kindness, and forbearance of God towards me.” Twelve years later, he was done with his “inactivity and folly” as he humbly called it. But he’ll never be done with the “tender mercy” of God.
He wrote: “Death will not always come just when we call for it, whether in a passion of sorrow or in a passion of joy. Our times are in God’s hand, and not in our own; we must die just when God pleases, and not either just when we are surfeited with the pleasures of life or just when we are overwhelmed with its griefs.”
God’s time for closing this earth’s chapter of Henry’s life was on June the 22nd, 1714. Returning to London after preaching to his old congregation in Chester, he had a massive stroke and went Home to God. He was 51. Some say that’s too young to die. But just 100 years ago in America, 51 was the average life expectancy. Henry’s first wife died at 25. Life expectancy back then was 38. Besides, after 50, time flies so fast and health fails, even if you live to be 100, you won’t have had another 50!
Four decades after his death, the Chester remnant drifted into Unitarianism and their building fell into disuse. It’s now a community center. Wood panels hide an inscription to Henry and the Unitarians meet twice a month in the Chester Sports Lounge, calling themselves the “Matthew Henry Unitarian Chapel.”
This dismantling of biblical faith would not surprise Henry. All through life, he’d witnessed apostasy in Anglican aggression against orthodoxy. In the Preface to his comments on the Gospels and Acts, he wrote: “Christianity and the New Testament are more virulently and daringly attacked and Christ and his gospel ridiculed not by the obvious enemies but by men that are baptized and called Christians.”
He summed up the good life in these wise words: “A holy, heavenly life, spent in the service of God and communion with him, is the most pleasant and comfortable life that anyone can live in this world.”
In the year before he died, he returned from preaching in London on “rejoicing in the name of the Lord.” When he got home, he wrote this in his diary: “As I came home I was robbed. The thieves took from me about ten or eleven shillings.” Giving thanks to God that, in all of his travels, he’d never before been robbed, he wrote: “What a deal of evil, the love of money is the root of, that four men would venture their lives and souls, for about half a crown a piece. … See the vanity of worldly wealth; how soon we may be stripped of it. How loose, therefore, we should sit to it.”
To know Matthew Henry, we should know something of his father, Philip. Twenty-two years – almost to the day – before his own death, his father was dying. He asked his father: “Oh, Sir, pray for me that I may but tread in your steps.” His father replied, full of love and wisdom: “Yea, follow peace and holiness, and let them say what they will.”
His father had been barred from ministry in the Established church but he’d never allowed himself to be bitter. He’d tried to accommodate all of the government’s intrusive demands, but he would not go far enough to satisfy all the political dictates of the Act of Uniformity.
So, although he’d attend his parish church for worship, he was no longer allowed to conduct service or preach there. So he preached in homes and in Dissenters’ chapels.
His oft-repeated maxim (though seldom attributed to him) is this: “He is no fool who parts with what he cannot keep, when he’s sure to be recompensed with what he cannot lose.”
Nine-year-old Matthew’s first extant letter is to his father, away in London. “Honored Father, ever day since you went, I have done my lesson, a side of Latin, two Latin verses and two verses in Greek. I hope I have done well, and so I will continue till you come.” He reports his sisters are well, “blessed be God.” He asks: “If you think good to buy them each of them a Bible and if you Please Let one have marginall notes for mee, and one of my little sisters shall have mine for such a one I desire.” [sic] The young boy’s hope was a harbinger of his own 6-volume Bible commentary, still much used today.
In 1687, after studies in law at Gray’s Inn, Matthew was ordained by six ministers in a private home. The next month, at 24, he began his ministry in Chester. A month later, he married Katherine Hardware.
Way ahead of his time in recognizing the importance of gender equality in marriage, he surpasses many preachers even today when he famously noted: “Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.”
In their second year of marriage, Katherine died in childbirth. The next year he married Mary Warburton who would outlive him. In their second year of marriage, a son was born, named Philip for the grandfather. Births of four sisters followed, though three died in infancy. The surviving daughter’s son became a Baptist minister and Philip was a Member of Parliament. He died, unmarried, at 59.
Matthew Henry liked alliteration. In a sermon, he said that God’s Peace “is satisfying to all our desires. … silencing to all our fears. … securing in all our dangers. … solacing in all our sorrows [and] sweetening in all our comforts.” His sermons weren’t limited to three points.  His very first comment in the first volume of his multivol­ume Bible commentary was this: “In these Verses we have the Work of Creation in its Epitome, and in its Embryo.”
He began the commentary on November 12, 1704 and completed the Old Testament, Gospels and Acts by April 17, 1714. He died two months later. Friends finished his New Testament commentary from his notes. We have an autograph manuscript and his vintage first volume for you to see tonight.
Over a thousand copies of his works are on sale in rare and used bookstores around the world. His work is also available from digital publishers and it’s still published by Evangelical presses. His complete work is on the Internet.

James Hervey
(February 26, 1714 – December 25, 1758)

Four months before Henry died, Hervey was born in an Anglican parsonage near Northampton. His mother taught him to read and then enrolled him in a grammar school run by a man who, by all reports, knew lots of Latin and little else. Young James was bright and therefore bored in that grammar school.
He, Romaine and Whitefield, were all five years old when Robinson Crusoe was published and 12 when Gulliver’s Travels came along, so these stories formed parts of their childhoods.
At 17, Hervey entered Lincoln College, Oxford, but found little intellectual stimulation even there. The tutors were lazy and students who could afford it, arrived with their own tutor in tow.
Though many Oxford students planned to be Anglican clergy, they were no more interested in the Gospel than were their parish priests. Hervey, at this time, was oblivious to the Gospel of grace.
Soon after arriving at Oxford, he was invited into Wesley’s Holy Club – about a dozen young men who met to study the Greek New Testament, attempt moral improvement and minister each week to the local poor and prisoners in the town’s castle. Only later, and with other men from the old Holy Club, would Hervey become a real believer and so, a true Gospel preacher. But, along with Whitefield, Romaine and even Charles Wesley, he never subscribed to John Wesley’s Arminianism.
An incident at the start of his priesthood led to his conviction that he’d never been truly converted to Christ. Frail from childhood, he took a doctor’s advice and tried to pull himself away from books long enough to spend some time following a ploughman through the fields. It was thought that inhaling the air above freshly overturned soil was healthy. So he trotted alongside a ploughman, back and forth across the fields.
Bored and unable to resist showing off his moralistic acumen, he engaged the old ploughman in religious conversation. Hervey asked him: “What’s the hardest thing in religion?” The man replied that, as he himself was but a poor illiterate, he’d have to look to his questioner for the answer. Glad to oblige, Hervey’s answer was moralistic: “The hardest thing is to deny sinful self.”  He enlarged on his theme of works-righteousness, while the wise old ploughman listened patiently. Finally, the old man said to Hervey: “The hardest thing is to deny righteous self.”
The ploughman explained that, instead of attending the parish church, he and his family walked all the way to Northampton to hear Dr. Doddridge. Hervey took offense, for he’d been reared near there and knew of this noted Dissenter, so disdained by the Anglican Establishment.
Yet, through this old man’s testimony, the Spirit began to convict Hervey and he started to see that he could not count on his so-called “righteousness” rather than on Christ’s true righteousness. His letters over the next five years show his movement toward the God of all grace alone.
This famous Philip Doddridge would have been his mother’s 19th dead baby but for an alert midwife’s noting his almost imperceptible breath while she was removing him from his mother’s view after 36 hours of a very difficult labor and delivery. Orphaned at 13 and, like Hervey, frail all his life, he was called “a bag of bones.”  But, he had a profound ministry, preaching, as he described it, “man’s fall, sin, and misery; the necessity of regeneration; the imputation of Christ’s righteousness; the necessity of holiness, as the evidence of acceptance before God; and the absolute need of the Holy Spirit to begin and carry on a saving change in heart and life.”
Hervey never forgot that it was Doddridge’s illiterate convert who prompted his own conversion. Doddridge became Hervey’s very close friend and mentor.
Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages” hymn writer, wrote the Preface to a book of Hervey’s sermons. Quoting Proverbs, Toplady endorsed Hervey’s “performances [as] apples of gold in pictures of silver: transmitting the most precious truths, through the channel of the most elegant correct expressions.”
In one of these sermons, Hervey gave this exposition on Romans 5: “By the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.” He calls it, “the most sweet and precious part of our Christian faith; … But,” he pleaded with his listeners, “inasmuch as it is little understood by some, entirely exploded by others, and scarce ever thought upon by more; let us crave your impartial attention.” He said in summary: “Let me observe the difference between the law of nature and the law of Moses and the law of faith. The law of nature says, ‘Live up to the duties of thy reason and the conviction of thy own mind; and thou shall be safe.’ The law of Moses saith, ‘Keep the commandments, and execute all the statutes, and thy salvation shall be sure.’ But faith saith, ‘Thou needest not attempt these impossibilities. Christ hath done both, hath done all, in thy stead. He hath improved the light of nature, and fulfilled the whole law of God; and this is the capacity of thy Surety.’ Go then, to thy Redeemer; lay hold on his righteousness. Believe truly in Christ Jesus, and what he hath done, shall be accounted thine. Thy eternal felicity is already procured. Thou hast nothing else to do, but to look upon it as thy certain portion, and unalienable inheritance, through Christ; and to live in humble and cheerful expectation of that great day, when thy free title shall be changed into actual possession. And, in the meantime, love that divine Benefactor with all thy heart, and study to please him in all holy conversation and godliness.”
Some called Hervey a genius. He was a naturalist and scientist in a rapidly evolving scientific age. In his library, he had two microscopes, a telescope and a mechanical model of the solar system and, with Doddridge and others, he was a founder of the Northampton hospital.
A forerunner of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and other Romantics, Hervey was also a major influence on William Blake’s visual art and poetry. His work, Meditations Among the Tombs, inspired Blake to illustrate them with what’s been called Blake’s Sistine Chapel. And, but for Hervey’s having written: “God out of Christ is a consuming fire,” we’d not have Blake’s lines: “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, / In the forests of the night; / What immortal hand or eye, / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”
In poetic prose, Hervey describes a morning’s sunrise: “The greyness of the dawn decays gradually. Abundance of ruddy streaks tinge the fleeces of the firmament. Till at length the dappled aspect of the east is lost in one ardent and boundless blush.” Here’s an example of his profoundly wise, biblically-based, counsel: “To [God’s] unerring gracious will, Be ev’ry wish resign’d.”
His last day in this world was Christmas day, 1758. Friends propped him up in an armchair, for reclining was now too painful. Looking upward, he clasped his hands and whispered, “When this great conflict is over, then … ” His words trailed off. But all knew he was saying that, then, he’d be at rest.

William Romaine
(September 25, 1714 – July 26, 1795)

Ten days after Hervey’s death, his fellow Anglican Calvinist, William Romaine, preached on Simeon at the Temple: “Simeon waited to see God incarnate; and having seen him, he wanted to live no longer. ‘Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.’ ” Romaine said this was true of Hervey who’d, “died as he had lived in a perfectly even and calm composure of mind. Oh!,” blurted Romaine, “That you and I, my brethren, may so live by the faith of the Son of God, that when we come to die, we may be able to use the same prayer and may receive of the Lord a gracious answer.”
As with Hervey, Wesley and other 18th-century Anglican priests who did not come to a living faith until after their ordination, so it was with Romaine.
Born near Durham, he graduated from Oxford in 1737. He served as a curate in Devonshire and was ordained the next year. Chaplain to the Lord Mayor of London, he preached at St. Paul’s Cathedral, but his conversion to Christ was yet a decade away. Then, he would write: “All the desire of the soul is satisfied with Jesus’ person and Jesus’ work. This, this is the death of pride. Here free-will, self-righteousness, a legal spirit cannot work.”
Looking back on his earliest years as a priest, he said he was prideful and ignorant, recalling that he’d learned “very slowly” that the Holy Spirit “will glorify nothing but Jesus [and] stain the pride of all greatness and of all goodness, excepting what is derived from the fullness of the incarnate God.”
Even in his later ministry, he was conscious of his continuing pride and he prayed: “Lord, Whatever You give, give humility with it, that we may not seek SELF in it—but Your honor, nor lay it out upon ourselves —but to Your glory. Meek and lowly Jesus, make us like Yourself; keep us learning of You—until we are perfectly like You.”
Romaine understood that, as he put it: “Nothing is in mankind by nature but selfishness. Every age has felt this malady, and complained of it. But no human means have been able to remedy it. He only, who made us creatures, can make us new creatures. … So far as the love of God is felt, it produces loving tempers. The more we believe that we are, indeed, in Christ a member of his body … the more will the fruits of it appear.  Enjoy it in the peace of thy conscience and in the love of thy heart.” So well grasped; so well said.
Of course, we all fail at this, for even Christians forget God’s love to us and to all. Even as evangelicals, we’re blind to our prejudice that will embarrass our descendants. We’re embarrassed by our own earlier blind spots while unaware of our current blindness. And, for all of his sincerity of faith, for all his brilliance, Romaine, too, with us, had his blind spots and prejudice.
One egregious episode was in 1753, when he expressed angry oppo­sition to the Act to Permit Persons Professing the Jewish Religion to be Naturalized by Parliament. Astonishingly, his pamphlet against the bill took as its proof text, Acts 16:20f: “These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe.” But, wait! In this text, “these men” are Paul and Silas! Their accusers are pagan charlatans upset with Paul for healing their slave girl whose demon-possession had been their dishonest bread and butter!
Romaine railed that, “Jews who lived in the time of Christ [were] traitors, rebels against God [and, he said] the present Jews are guilty of the same treason by aiding and abetting traitors, for they defend their ancestors’ rebellion.” He warned that the bill was against prophecy in Deuteronomy (28:65). He ranted: “God expelled them, they come to us expelled, and we naturalize them: so that, what [God] made their punishment, we turn into a reward.” And he talked of the Jews’ “malignant blackness” under their eyes.
Well, his evangelical friends were appalled. Whitefield wrote: “God keep him and all others from further entanglements by fleshly wisdom and worldly policy, which have nothing to do with the work of the Lord.”  Yet, as we’ll see, Whitefield, too, had a blind spot. And, so do we.
Well, unlike Wesley’s bad marriage and Whitefield’s strange marriage (we’ll get to that), Romaine had a good marriage. She was a genteel young lady little more than half his age. They had two boys and a girl. The first son became a clergyman and the daughter married a clergyman. The other son, Adam, was an army captain who died in Ceylon at only 24.  Adam had once sent his father an Irish lottery ticket and, in a warm letter that you’ll see tonight, Romaine thanked his “dear son” for his gift and tells him the ticket came up: “Blank!” (in big bold letters). He adds, good naturedly: “If you buy me another perhaps it may be more successful.”
Romaine was better than most at dodging Anglican hierarchical opposition bent on obstructing advancement of evangelical priests. Though one of the most popular of pulpit preachers, until late in life, he was denied a major pulpit of his own and given only curate or lecturer posts. He was often barred from even guest preaching in almost empty churches that would have been filled were he to preach. But, in 1766, he did become the rector at London’s St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe and he continued there until his death.
Naturally, the Calvinist Romaine and the Arminian John Wesley were at odds. Wesley once replied to a friend about something she’d heard Romaine preach. Wesley wrote: “While the world stands, neither Mr. Romaine nor anyone else will make anything of the Hebrew without points [for it’s] about the poorest and most ambiguous language which exists.” Yet, Romaine, not Wesley, was the Hebrew scholar. Still, Wesley mocks Romaine’s exegesis with exegetical push back of his own. “But,” he says in closing his letter, “I have no right to prescribe. Please yourself and you will please, My Dear Nancy, your affectionate Brother, J. Wesley.” You’ll see that letter tonight.
Shortly before Romaine died at age 80, a visitor came to call. He told his visitor, as he’d often told visitors: “You’ve come to see a saved sinner.”
On the 26th of July, 1795, in the first hour of that Sunday morning, William Romaine passed into the nearer presence of his Savior.

George Whitefield
(December 27, 1714 – September 30, 1770)

John Newton, once a slave ship captain and later an ardent abolitionist and writer of “Amazing Grace” was also a popular Anglican preacher in London. When the news of George Whitefield’s death in America reached England, Newton led one of the memorial services. Speaking of Whitefield in the context of the day’s Anglican apathy to the Gospel, Newton said: “He was raised up to shine at a dark season. Religion was at a very low ebb in our church, when he began to appear in public. I speak the truth, though it may give offence to some. Before his time, the doctrines of grace were seldom spoken of in the pulpit.”
Whitefield was not beholden to the ecclesiastical critics. He never allowed even the heckling mobs to dissuade him, though they physically attacked him and assaulted and even raped those who tried to hear him preach in his open air meetings. He knew that God was with him and he prayed: “God, give us a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst!”
Born in Gloucester in 1714, two days after Christmas, he lost his father the next year. As a boy, he worked at the family’s pub, The Bell Inn.  Business was poor. So, when, at 17, he enrolled at Oxford, he had to earn his keep by serving wealthy students. The task entailed even waking and bathing them. Charles Wesley brought him into the Holy Club.  He read all he could find on how to win God’s approval through rigorous moral discipline. And he fasted so much that he became too weak to stay in school and had to move back to Gloucester to recuperate. There, in utter desperation, he threw himself onto God’s mercy and, at last, found, in the free grace of God, release from all his guilt.
He returned to Oxford and graduated. At 21, he quickly gained fame for preaching that moved hearers as no one else did. He said that, as a result of his own deep experience, he could do no other than to preach “a felt Christ.”
At 23, Whitefield made the first of seven voyages to America. During these trips, he traveled on horseback, up and down the eastern seaboard, preaching and founding schools and churches as well as an orphanage for Negro children in Pennsylvania and his Bethesda orphanage near Savannah, Georgia. But to support Bethesda on income from its plantation, he said he needed slave labor. Christians had founded Georgia as a refuge for debtors and other poor folk. Led by philanthropist, Gen. James Oglethorpe, it did not permit slavery. But Whitefield’s economic argument helped introduce it into Georgia, even though he granted that a slave revolt would be an understandably “just judgment” against slavery.
Bethesda orphanage is now Bethesda Academy, a residential school for grades 6 through 12. Enrollment is 60 percent Blacks. The aim is “to provide young men a transformative second chance at success by promoting and instilling a love of God, a love of learning and a strong work ethic.” We’ll donate our Sunday collection to Bethesda Academy.
Whitefield preached to larger crowds than anyone in his day. His good friend, Ben Franklin, figured out that 30,000 people in the center of Philadelphia could intelligibly hear him.  Modern computer simulation confirms that Franklin’s calculations were accurate.
Franklin said Whitefield’s mesmerizing voice, “can bring men to tears merely by pronouncing the word, ‘Mesopotamia.’ ” Said David Garrick, London’s leading actor: “I would give a hundred guineas if I could say ‘oh’ like Mr. Whitefield.”
Ever since he was a boy, Whitefield had been keenly alert to dramatic artistry and even had done some acting.  But his preaching oratory wasn’t all about theater. Patrick Henry put it this way: “Would that every bearer of God’s glad tidings be as fit a vessel of grace as Mr. Whitefield.”
Whitefield was instrumental in the founding of Princeton, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania.  For Whitefield’s 200th anniversary in 1914, Penn alumni commissioned a statue with an arm raised dramatically. It still stands tall in Penn’s Quad, although just who this man might be is likely little understood by most students who pass the statue every day. On its pedestal, there’s testimony from Franklin who also had a role in the University’s founding. He says: “I knew him intimately upwards of thirty years. His integrity, disinterestedness and indefatigable zeal in prosecuting every good work, I have never seen equaled and shall never see excelled.”
Now, for what Christianity Today’s Mark Galli calls Whitefield’s “strange” marriage. At 25, Whitefield wrote: “I pray God that I may not have a wife till I can live as though I had none.” He had his take on Paul’s advice on marriage in mind. Henry’s nuanced wisdom on Paul’s words had been: “That condition of life is best for every man, which is best for his soul,” (I Cor 7:29) – or, as we might speak of that experienced interiority today, that suits his psychosexual orientation most fittingly. Whitefield seemed to find in I Corinthians 7:1 and 8, some reason for remaining single.
He wrote to a woman’s parents: “I am free from that foolish passion which the world calls love.” To the woman, herself, he listed all she’d have to give up to marry him and added: “The passionate expressions which carnal courtiers use, I think, ought to be avoided by those that would marry in the Lord.” Galli remarks: “Had he tried to design his proposal in such a way as to ensure its failure, he could hardly have done better.” His major biographer says he was “as odd a wooer as ever wooed.” (Dallimore) Indeed, one might wonder if he really wanted to marry.
After knowing an older widow for less than a week, Whitefield married her, though she was in love with another preacher, his good friend, Howell Harris. But Harris was committed to bachelorhood and he urged Whitefield to marry her.  Whitefield did not find her “beautiful” but, as he said: “I believe [she’s] a true child of God.” On each day of their honeymoon, he took time out to preach twice.
A month later, in allusion to a saying of Jesus about the life of resurrection, Whitefield wrote: “O for that blessed time when we shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but be as the angels of God.” (Matt 22:30)
Their only child lived for just four months and Whitefield soon left for his third trip to America. He did not return home for four years.
Whenever he was in England, the wealthy Selina Hastings, Lady Huntingdon, supported him. She’d built several homes in order to attach her “personal” chapels, much larger than her homes, so that evangelicals such as Whitefield, Romaine and other Calvinists, barred from most Anglican pulpits, could preach to large assemblies, including her aristocratic friends who wouldn’t stoop to attend open air services.
In 1770, on his seventh trip to America, Whitefield was preaching in New England. On September 29th, sick and worn out, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of thy work. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for thee once more in the fields, seal thy truth, and come home and die.”
At Newburyport, Rhode Island later that night, he found that many of his friends who’d heard he’d arrived without planning to preach, were begging him to speak at least “a short message.” So, struggling through asthma and much pain, he preached. He finally finished, out of breath,
in the wee hours of Sunday morning. He went to bed and, within a few hours was Home with his Lord. His body was buried there, as he’d wished, beneath the pulpit of the Presbyterian Church.
When news of his death reached England, the Arminian and abolitionist, John Wesley said of this Calvinist who’d defended slavery for Georgia: “Oh, what has the church suffered in the setting of that bright star which shone so gloriously … . We have none left to succeed him; none of his gifts; none anything like him in usefulness.” In honor of his old friend, Charles Wesley had written: “Fully thy Heavenly mission prove and make thy own Election sure. Rooted in Faith and Hope and Love, Active in work and firm to Endure.” We have Wesley’s hand-written tribute here tonight.

Francis Scott Key
(August 1, 1779 – January 11, 1843)

A leaflet was circulating among Baltimore’s relieved citizens 200 years ago this week. It celebrated Britain’s failure to take the city three weeks before. Having torched Washington’s government buildings, they’d now failed at Baltimore and would fail at New Orleans too, before a peace treaty reached America after a month at sea, finally putting an end to the War of 1812.
The leaflet read: “The annexed song was composed under the following circumstances: A gentleman had left Baltimore, in a flag of truce, …[to get] released, from the British fleet, a friend of his who had been captured … [He] was not permitted to return lest the intended attack on Baltimore should be disclosed. He was therefore … kept under the guns of a frigate, and he was compelled to witness the bombardment of Fort McHenry, which the Admiral had boasted he would carry in a few hours, and that the city must fall. He watched the flag at the fort through the whole day with an anxiety that can be better felt than described, until the night prevented him from seeing it. In the night he watched the bomb-shells, and at early dawn his eye was again greeted by the proudly waving flag of his country.”
The poem, “Defense of Fort McHenry,” was printed on the leaflet. Instruction indicated it was to be sung to the tune, “Anacreon in Heaven,” a London singing club’s drinking song in honor of an ancient Greek poet. Here’s that drinking song.
Of course, the unnamed “gentleman” was Francis Scott Key, 35 at the time. His poem would come to be known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” and, since 1931, 117 years after Key wrote it, it’s been America’s national anthem.
Attorney, landowner, poet, philanthropist and devout Christian, F. S. Key, as he was known, taught Sunday school in his parish. Here, we have his letter asking that a substitute teach his Sunday class during his upcoming absence.
Key was born at his family’s 3,000-acre plantation in Maryland. That was in the summer of 1779, three years after the Continental Congress declared American independence from England. Tutored at home in boyhood, he then studied at St. John’s College, a school founded by Protestants and Catholics.
In 1833, Key become the district attorney in Washington and argued cases before the Supreme Court and served on behalf of President Andrew Jackson.
Key called the slave trade “abominable and detestable beyond all epithets.” But Southern clergy preached pro-slavery sermons on the “curse of Canaan” and other Bible verses while abolitionists pressed for what Key contended would result in unintended consequences all around. Key argued for the Colonization of freed slaves back to their native Africa. And, he said, the U.S. should protect them from re-enslavement by hostile tribes, Arab kidnappers and any others.
In one of his several hymns, he wrote this: “Lord, with Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee, / For the bliss Thy love bestows, / For the pardoning grace that saves me, / And the peace that from it flows: / Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee, / Wretched wanderer, far astray; / Found thee lost, and kindly brought thee / From the paths of death away; / Praise, with love’s devoutest feeling, / Him who saw thy guilt-born fear, / And the light of hope revealing, / Bade the blood-stained cross appear.”
Key’s poem, “Home of the Soul” concludes: “Home, home, home of the soul! The bosom of God is the home of the soul.” And here are lines from his very last poem, written in the winter of 1843, four days before his own soul went Home: “ ‘Ask what thou wilt’, commands He still; / Fear not, thou shalt be heard; / Only believe – He can, He will / Speak the life-giving word. … But a gift beyond thy poor request / May to thy prayers be given.” Amen!

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