The Curse of Cowardice

On May 8, 1758, Samuel Davies preached to the militia being mustered in Hanover county, Virginia as a result of the French and Indian War (1755-163). He had three years earlier preached a similar recruiting sermon at the raising of an independent militia for CPT Overton, the first such militia raised in response to the defeat of General Edward Braddock at Fort Duquesne, near modern-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On this latest occasion, Davies took Jeremiah 48:10 as his text, “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully; and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood” (KJV) for his sermon, “The Curse of Cowardice.” As a result of Davies’ message, the quota for the company was raised immediately and many would be volunteers were regrettably turned away. Following that sermon, Davies attempted to retire to Shelton’s Tavern, across the road from the Hanover Courthouse where he had just preached. The soldiers followed Davies, hanging on his every word. Standing on the front porch of the tavern, he addressed them again until he became too exhausted to stand any longer. That second message is lost to posterity because it was totally impromptu and no one took notes of his words. Since I will be speaking in Richmond, Virginia at the Virginia Crossings Hotel on Friday evening, November 3, 2023, for the three hundredth anniversary of Davies’ birth, I am enclosing in this newsletter some quotes from Davies’ sermon to the militia in 1758. I believe my lecture will be recorded and possibly available on YouTube afterwards. I certainly hope so as my speech will show that without Samuel Davies championing several critical causes in his life, America likely would have been a very different country from what it has been. I will be covering things that even other students of Samuel Davies’ life do not know—at least not fully. I wish I had included them in my biography of Davies, but they did not fully formulate in my mind until recently. The facts were there, but I failed to put them together. Of course, no one else has done so either—to my knowledge. So, there is always that! With that being said, here are the quotes from Davies:

Nothing can be more agreeable to the God of Peace, than to see universal harmony and benevolence prevail among his creatures, and he has laid them under the strongest obligations to cultivate a pacific temper towards one another, both as individuals and as nations. Follow peace with all men, is one of the principal precepts of our holy religion. And the great Prince of Peace has solemnly pronounced, Blessed are the peacemakers.  

But when, in this corrupt, disordered state of things, where the lusts of men are perpetually embroiling the world with wars and fightings, throwing all into confusion; when ambition and avarice rob us of our property, for which we have toiled, and on which we subsist; when they would enslave the free-born mind, and compel us to engage in usurpation and arbitrary power; when they would tear from our eager grasp the most visible blessing of heaven, I mean our religion; when they invade our country, formerly the region of tranquility, ravage our frontiers, butcher our fellow-subjects, or confuse them in a barbarous captivity in the dens of savages; when our earthly all is ready to be seized by rapacious hands, and even our eternal all is in danger by the loss of our religion: when his is the case, what is, then, the will of God? Must peace then be maintained, maintained with our perfidious and cruel invaders? maintained at the expense of property, liberty, life, and every thing dear and valuable? maintained when it is in our power to vindicate our right, and do ourselves justice? Is the work of peace then our only business? No, in such a time, even the God of Peace proclaims by His providence, “To arms!” Then the sword is, as it were, consecrated to God; and the art of war becomes a part of our religion. Then happy is he that shall reward our enemies as they have served us. Psalm cxxxvii.8. Blessed is the brave soldier; blessed is the defender of his country, and the destroyer of its enemies. Blessed are those who offer themselves willingly in this service, and who faithfully discharge it. But on the other hand, “Cursed is he that doth the work of the Lord deceitfully; and cursed is he that keepeth back his sword from blood.” (Davies, Sermons of the Rev. Samuel Davies, Soli Deo Gloria, pp. 147-8). 

Those were the opening words to Davies’ sermon and it is easy to understand, therefore, why the militia’s quota was filled so quickly. Young Patrick Henry, the Virginia statesman, was doubtless present on that occasion and surely would have remembered Davies’ words seventeen years later when he would give an immortal speech to the Virginia Convention meeting to determine whether that colony would declare war against the British crown. His most famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death!”, have no exact parallel in any of the printed sermons of Davies, but the section quoted above was probably the basis for Henry’s words. Davies asked, “Must peace be maintained. . . at the expense of property, liberty, life, and everything sear and valuable?” Life and liberty were the themes of both Davies and Henry (who sat under Davies’ ministry for several years when his mother made him recite the sermon on the trip back home). We should remember those words when we consider the situation in the world today in various places—Ukraine and Russia; China and Taiwan; Hamas, Hezbollah, and many Arab nations versus Israel; and other places. It is a fundamental right of all people everywhere to live in peace and to take up arms in their defense to preserve that peace. The resulting casualties are the result of the aggressor, not the defender. The American colonies once had to take up arms against the French and Indians. Then, later they had to defend their freedoms against the British. The world at present seems like a powder keg ready to explode with all the wars and rumors of war everywhere. There are fears in many places that the world is close to WWIII. In Christ, there is peace, but in the world there is tribulation—and war, and killing, and theft and many other things. 

Addition to Last Week’s Update: In giving the update on Vanguard last week, I accidentally left Ken Stark of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, MI off of the list of new candidates for the ministry. Ken joins Jordan Sweezer as candidates for the ministry from the church pastored by Sacha Walicord. We are very thankful for the good things happening in Michigan. 

Also, I received a report yesterday from Gwendolyn Rodriguez in Clarksville, TN that the Pathway Presbyterian Church had 31 people present for their Sunday services. Pathway is the church that was ground zero last year when a few churches tried to do a hostile takeover of Vanguard Presbytery (as they had done in a few other denominations previously). Pathway was left with only a few members in May of 2022, but has been steadily growing back ever since. Pathway’s use of Facebook advertising is a model other Vanguard churches should use also.  

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL

Please send any donations to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540   

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