"Against the violence of usurped power": a 1777 sermon by Charles Inglis to Loyalist troops

On 7th September 1777, Charles Inglis - then Rector of Trinity Church, New York - preached at Kings-Bridge to a newly-formed Loyalist unit raised in service of the Crown. Preaching on the text "And the Soldiers likewise demanded of him - And what shall we do? And he said to them, Do Violence to no Man, neither accuse any falsely, but be content with your Wages" (Luke 3:14, the Baptist addressing the soldiers), Inglis pointed to the Forerunner's words as rejecting "crude Notions of those who assert the Unlawfulness of War, or of bearing Arms, on any Occasion". 

This led Inglis to set the context for the moral justification for Loyalists bearing arms in defence of the constitutional order:

This I judged a proper Subject to dwell on, when addressing you, my Brethren, who are now called into the Field, in Defence of legal Government, and of the just Authority of your rightful Sovereign—in Defence of your Lives, Liberties and Property—of all, in short, that is dear or valuable to Man on this Side of Heaven, which the Hand of Violence, and Usurpation would wantonly rend from you.

Such defence of a constitutional, just order against aggression was a necessary feature of a fallen world:

It were indeed most devoutly to be wished that Hostilities, and all Occasions of them, would cease among the Children of Men - that Nation might not lift up Sword against nation, nor learn war any more. But alas! this is a Blessing not to be looked for in the present State of Things. Ambition, Selfishness, Malice, and the other malignant Passions of our fallen Nature have a great Ascendancy over the Judgement, Principles, and Conduct of Mankind. These ever have, and it is probable, ever will produce Violence, and unjust Encroachments, in some; and these again will make Self-Defence indispensably necessary in others.

To what a dreadful Situation would Mankind be reduced were they precluded from Self-Defence! Society could not possibly subsist. The Weak and Helpless would be a Prey to the Strong - the Peaceable and Industrious would be sure Victims to every lawless Invader, who spurned the Dictates of Humanity and Justice. This whole Earth would be one wretched Scene of Disorder, Rapine and Oppression.

Service of the Crown was, therefore, "so good and righteous a Cause". And it was a cause standing "against the violence of usurped power" threatening "your excellent Constitution", the ordered liberty under the Crown in Parliament, bequeathed by the Revolution Settlement:

Your bleeding Country, through which Destruction, Misery and Ruin are now driving in full Career - from which, Peace, Order, Commerce and useful Industry are banished - Your loyal Friends and Relatives groaning in Bondage, under the Iron Scourge of Persecution and Oppression: All these now call upon you for Succour and Redress!

It is not wild, insatiable Ambition, which riots in the Misery and Spoils of others - which sports with the Lives and Fortunes of Mankind, that leads you forth. You have taken up the Sword that those who are Captives, for Conscience Sake, may be set at Liberty, and that the Prisoner may go free - that Desolation may be arrested in its baneful Course, and fell Discord banished from our Land. Driven from your peaceful Habitations, for no other Cause than for honouring your King, as God hath commanded, You have taken up the Sword to vindicate His just Authority - to support your excellent Constitution - to defend your Families, your Lives, Liberties and Property - to secure to yourselves and Posterity, that Inheritance of constitutional Freedom, to which you were born: And all this against the Violence of usurped Power, which would deny you even the Right of Judgment or Choice - which would rend you from the Protection of your Parent State, and eventually place you - astonishing Infatuation and Madness! - place you under the Iron Rule of our inveterate and popish Enemies - the inveterate Enemies of our Religion, our Country and Liberties!

In Augustinian fashion - "we go to war that we may have peace" - Inglis concludes the sermon with a call for the restoration of communal peace:

We should earnestly beseech him to call back the Sword from destroying; and restore Peace, with its attendant Blessings, to our distracted Country. It is he that stills the raging of the Sea, and the Madness of the People.

We should therefore pray that he would remove the Delusion of our misguided Brethren, and turn their Hearts - that they may see the Evil and Error of their Ways, and know the Things which belong to their Peace, before it is too late.

It might be noted in passing that Inglis' reference to "he that stills the raging of the Sea" echoes the second lesson appointed for Morning Prayer on the 1776 general fast day in Great Britain and Ireland.  It is possible that Inglis was aware of this.  Irrespective, however, it points to the passage resonating during the rebellion.  

Inglis' sermon to the Loyalist troops was an expression of Old High convictions: the gift of constitutional order as expressed in the Revolution Settlement; the evil of rebellion and civil war; that "It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the war". What is more, it was an expression of such Old High convictions not in an English or Irish parish church but on the outskirts of the city of New York, which Washington's army had occupied in 1776.  Those listening to the sermon were American volunteers in service of the Crown, who would be consistently involved in defending with arms the authority of the Crown.  And when the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, most of those who had heard Inglis' sermon on that day, and who had survived the conflict, would depart their native land for Canada, there - under the leadership of Inglis - to establish a polity founded on the Old High vision.

(The painting is of a grenadier of the Queen's American Rangers.)


After a break for the Summer, laudable Practice will return on 1st August.

"... it is to be observed, that there are seasons ordinary and extraordinary, in our services of God. Every thing, in its season, is to be preferred" - Jeremy Taylor.


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