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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Parson’s Call to Arms

By Samuel Davies (1723–1761)

[Born in Newcastle Co., Del., 1723. Died at Princeton, N. J., 1761. The Curse of Cowardice. A Sermon Preached to the Militia of Hanover county in Virginia, May 8, 1758.]

CAN Indian revenge and thirst for blood be glutted? or can French ambition and avarice be satisfied? No, we have no method left, but to repel force with force, and give them blood to drink in their turn, who have drunk ours. If we sit still and do nothing, or content ourselves, as, alas, we have hitherto, with feeble, dilatory efforts, we may expect these barbarities will not only continue, but that the Indians, headed by the French, those eternal enemies of peace, liberty, and Britons, will carry their inroads still farther into the country, and reach even to us. By the desertion of our remote settlements, the frontiers are approaching every day nearer and nearer to us: and if we cannot stand our ground now,—when we have above an hundred miles of a thick settled country between us and the enemy,—much less shall we be able, when our strength is weakened by so vast a loss of men, arms, and riches, and we lie exposed to their immediate incursions. Some cry, “Let the enemy come down to us, and then we will fight them.” But this is the trifling excuse of cowardice or security, and not the language of prudence and fortitude. Those who make this plea, if the enemy should take them at their word, and make them so near a visit, would be as forward in flight as they are now backward to take up arms.

Such, my brethren, such, alas! is the present state of our country: it bleeds in a thousand veins; and without a timely remedy, the wound will prove mortal. And in such circumstances, is it not our duty in the sight of God, is it not a work to which the Lord loudly calls us, to take up arms for the defence of our country? Certainly it is: and “cursed is he,” who having no ties sufficiently strong to confine him at home, “keepeth his sword from blood.” The mean, sneaking wretch, that can desert the cause of his country in such an exigency; his country, in the blessings of which he shared, while in peace and prosperity; and which is therefore entitled to his sympathy and assistance in the day of its distress; that cowardly ungrateful wretch sins against God and his country, and deserves the curse of both. Such a conduct in such a conjuncture, is a moral evil, a gross weakness; and exposes the wretch to the heavy curse of God both in this and the eternal world.

And here I cannot but observe, that among the various and numberless sins under which our country groans, and which must be looked upon as the causes of our public calamities, by every one that believes a divine providence (a doctrine so comfortable, and so essential both in nature and revealed religion; an article in the creed of heathens and Mahometans, as well as Jews and Christians), I say, among these various sins, cowardice and security are none of the least. He that hath determined the bounds of our habitation, hath planted us in a land of liberty and plenty; a land, till lately, unalarmed with the terrors of war, and unstained with human blood. Indeed, all things considered, there are but few such happy spots upon our globe. And must it not highly provoke our divine Benefactor, to see a people thus distinguished with blessings, so insensible of their worth, so ungrateful for them and so unacquainted with their own unworthiness to receive them? What can be more evidential of their undue apprehensions of the worth of these blessings, than their being so little concerned to secure and recover them? The generality among us have acted as if their interests at stake were so trifling, that it would not be worth while to take pains, or encounter dangers, to preserve them. What greater evidence can be given of ingratitude, than a supine neglect of these blessings, and such a stupidly tame and irresisting resignation of them into bloody and rapacious hands?

And what can be more evidential of a proud insensibility of our unworthiness of such blessings, than our being so inapprehensive of losing them, even in the most threatening and dangerous circumstances? Our countrymen in general have acted as if beings of their importance and merit might certainly rest in the quiet, unmolested possession of their liberty and property, without any one daring to disturb them, and without their doing anything for their own defence; or as if neither God nor man could strip them of their enjoyments. What vain, self-confident presumption, what intolerable insolence is this, in a sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, who have forfeited every blessing, even the ground they tread upon, and the air they breathe in; and who live merely by the unmerited grace and bounty of God! Is not cowardice and security, or an unwillingness to engage with all our might in the defence of our country, in such a situation, an enormous wickedness in the sight of God, and worthy of his curse, as well as a scandalous, dastardly meanness in the sight of men, and worthy of public shame and indignation? Is it not fit, that those who so contemptuously depreciate the rich and undeserved bounties of heaven, and who swell so insolently with a vain conceit of their own importance and worth, should be punished with the loss of these blessings? What discipline can be more seasonable or congruous? May we not suppose that divine Providence has permitted our body politic to suffer wound after wound, and baffled all our languid efforts, in order to give it sensibility, and rouse us to exert our strength in more vigorous efforts? Has not the curse of God lain heavy upon our country, because we have done the work of the Lord deceitfully, and kept back our swords from blood?

And shall this guilt increase from year to year, till we are entirely crushed with the enormous load? Shall neither the fear of Jehovah’s curse, nor the love of our country, nor even the love of ourselves, and our own personal interest, constrain us at length to relieve our ravaged country, and defend the blessings which God has entrusted to our custody, as well as lent us to enjoy?…

Oh! for the all-prevailing force of Demosthenes’s oratory—but I recall my wish, that I may correct it—Oh! for the influence of the Lord of armies, the God of battles, the Author of true courage and every heroic virtue, to fire you into patriots this moment and soldiers!—Ye young and hardy men, whose very faces seem to speak that God and nature formed you for soldiers, who are free from the incumbrance of families depending upon you for subsistence, and who are perhaps but of little service to society, while at home, may I not speak for you, and declare as your mouth, “Here we are, all ready to abandon our ease, and rush into the glorious dangers of the field, in defence of our country?” Ye that love your country, enlist; for honor will follow you in life or death in such a cause.