With our 2021 Independence Day celebrations having concluded, I am bringing one more story reflecting on the birth of our Nation. This one is about Benjamin Colman. You may not have heard of him. For that matter, he is not listed among the Founding Fathers. Colman passed away three decades before the Declaration of Independence. What, then, makes him significant enough to write about?
Benjamin Colman was born in Boston in 1673. He went to Harvard University to be trained as a minister. As a minister, he was frequently sought out for speeches. In 1730, he gave the most amazing speech I have ever seen, “Government the Pillar on the Earth.”
At that time, America was merely a colony of England. And, America was treated that way. To control its subjects, England passed the Toleration Act, which was Cancel Culture on steroids with fines and jail time. Many did not dare to speak up against their rulers! Until churches decided to take a stand.
It was August 13, 1730, a Thursday. Bostonians were gathered to a weekday sermon, a common tradition at that time. The speaker, Benjamin Colman, was a well-known preacher from Harvard University.
“If the Divine Eternal Spirit please to inspire and speak by a gracious woman, it is the same thing to us, and requires our reverend attention as much,” he began. He went on to describe prophets in the Bible raised by faithful women who were pillars on Earth. Colman was describing womanhood and what sustains the Earth.
“The natural earth has no pillar. The will and word of God is its only basis.” In attendance was the Governor of the Colony of Massachusetts. He must have noticed the contradiction. Colman was talking about pillars on Earth, and he made a sharp turn in his sermon. However, the governor and his cohorts remained in their seats.
“The governments and rulers of the earth are it’s pillars… These pillars of the earth are the Lord’s… He has set the world upon them.” But, the preacher also talked about the necessity of God’s servants to abide by God’s words. As in, if these pillars do not first abide by God’s teachings, these leaders would not be recognized by God.
It sounded a bit harsh. No doubt the distinguished guests thought the minister was a bad preacher. Still, the sermon was not punishable under the Toleration Act… And the audacity of laying requirements to the royal delegates to behave in a certain way!
But, the sermon was not preached to the distinguished guests. Others understood the sermon differently.
During the colonial era, there was no Internet or YouTube. Sermons were recorded in pamphlets and distributed to the peasants.
A closer inspection of Benjamin Colman’s words reveals that he was preaching that if governments were acting outside of the will of God, then the People would be under no obligation to support them.
There’s more. Colman quoted passages of scripture too. Passages that he mentioned but did not read out loud to his audience.
“… where we read of the Chief of the People, Judges XX.” On the surface, it might sound like we were to listen to the rulers. Judges XX, however, is on Israel rising against the Benjamites for wickedness until the Benjamites were wiped out.
“Pillars should be strong… and it has been a strong rod to be a scepter to rule, Ezekiel 19:14.” Except that this passage of Ezekiel reads:
“And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit, so that she hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule. This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation.”
There are more: Daniel 2; Psalms 75:6,7; Job 22:17,18, all with the message of rising against tyranny.
Benjamin Colman gave the most remarkable sermon. At first glance, it appears he was saying that government officials were legitimate. A closer look reveals that for our government to be legitimate, it will need to abide by a higher law. Further, by following the references that Colman cited, we come away with the message that Freedom is vital and, that we will need to do our part to resist tyranny.
The seeds for freedom were planted before the Declaration of Independence. It is well documented that the fight for Freedom, started at the pulpit. Benjamin Colman was the first such sermon recorded. It remains my favorite. And I have never encountered another quite like the one Benjamin Colman gave.
Source: Ellis Sandoz’s Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, 1730-1805, Vol 1