The Battle of Lexington: A Sermon and Eyewitness Narrative
(Originally titled: The Fate of Blood-Thirsty Oppressors, and God’s Tender Care of His Distressed People, April 19, 1776)
by Rev. Jonas Clark (1755-1805), Pastor, Church of Lexington
Nordskog Publishing, Inc.
89 pages (including illustrations)
Trade paperback: $9.95 at Amazon.com
And this is the place where the fatal scene begins! They approach with the morning light; and, more like murderers and cut-throats than the troops of a Christian king, without provocation, without warning, when no war was proclaimed, they drew the sword of violence upon the inhabitants of this town and, with a cruelty and barbarity which would have made the most hardened savage blush, they shed INNOCENT BLOOD!
On the first anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord—the opening shots of the American Revolution—Reverend Jonas Clark delivered a sermon to commemorate an historical event which he had actually witnessed himself, an account that is not only of historical interest and an inspiration to Christians everywhere but also a fine specimen of eighteenth-century English prose.
Pastor Clark takes as his text Joel 3:19-21 (available in several other translations here):
Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed INNOCENT BLOOD in their land. But Judah shall dwell forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed; for the LORD dwelleth in Zion.
Rev. Clark exhorts his audience to recognize that God afflicts the righteous for their own good—the instance of Pharaoh and the children of Israel springs immediately to mind—but to be patient with the outworking of the Lord’s overall plan:
Yea, however dark and mysterious the ways of providence may appear, yet nothing shall overwhelm the mind or destroy the trust and hope of those that realize the government of Heaven, that realize that an all-wise God is seated on the throne, and that all things are well-appointed for his chosen people—for them that fear Him.
At the time, the outcome of the Revolution was very much in doubt; Clark tells his listeners that regardless of events they should never lose faith in God:
Neither the insults of oppressors nor the flames of our once delightful habitations, nor even the innocent blood of our brethren slain, should move to a murmuring word or an angry thought against God, His government, or providence. “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) And “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25) The more grievously we are smitten, the more deeply we are affected, the more carefully should we endeavour to realize our dependence upon God, the more religiously acknowledge His hand and the more earnestly return to Him that smites.
However, Pastor Clark does bring his audience back to the immediate present, insisting that Americans are the victims in this conflict:
And it may be added that there is no just ground to suppose that it would have ever entered the heart of Americans to have desired a dissolution of so happy a connection with the Mother Country or to have sought independence of Britain, had they not been urged, and even forced upon, an expedient by measures of oppression and violence, and the shedding of innocent blood. But, alas! Ill-judged counsels! Ill-fated measures of Britain and the British admininstration with respect to America, have broken in upon the pleasing scene and fatally destroyed the happy prospects of both Britain and America! …. An innocent, loyal people are distressed, and every art, which wit or malice could invent, is used to flatter or fright, to divide or dishearten, and finally subject us to the will of a power not known to our charters or even in the British constitution itself.
If there were any of his listeners who had failed to draw the parallels between the actors in his keynote verses in Joel 3 and the situation at hand, Pastor Clark doesn’t hesitate to make them plain:
How far the prophecy before us may be applicable upon this solemn occasion, and with what degree of truth or probability it may be predicted, in consequence of the present and unjust and unnatural war, “that Great Britain shall be a desolation and England be a desolate wilderness for the violence against the children of America, because they have shed INNOCENT BLOOD in their land: But America shall dwell forever, and this people from generation to generation. And the LORD Himself will cleanse their blood, that he hath not already cleansed” … God only knows, and time only can discover.
The second section of The Battle of Lexington consists of Rev. Clark’s eyewitness narrative of the first skirmish of the Revolution. Unlike many historians of his time and since, he has no doubt as to who started it:
As to the question, “Who fired first?”, if it can be a question with anyone; we may observe, that though General Gage hath been pleased to tell the world in his account of this savage transaction, “that the troops were fired upon by the rebels out of the meetinghouse and the neighboring houses, as well as by those that were in the field; and that the troops only returned the fire and passed on their way to Concord“; yet nothing can be more certain than the contrary, and nothing more false, weak, or wicked than such a representation.
Being their pastor, for Rev. Clark it must have been a poignant experience to think back to that day when he watched people die whom he knew so well:
The militia on the Common that morning were the same who filled the pews of the meetinghouse on the Sunday morning before, and the same who hung upon the rear of the retreating enemy in the forenoon and throughout the day. They were only carrying the preaching of many previous years into practice.
“Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere …
“Lexington” by Oliver Wendell Holmes:
Slowly the mist o’er the meadow was creeping,
Bright on the dewy buds glistened the sun …
“Lexington” by John Greenleaf Whittier:
No berserk thirst of blood had they,
No battle-joy was theirs …
and “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
Of what value, you may ask, is a book like Rev. Clark’s The Battle of Lexington to the present generation? In the introduction, Rev. Christopher Hoops tells us:
America is perishing for the need of preachers who apply God’s holy Word to every area of life including personal, civil, and religious liberty. The Church needs more pastors like Jonas Clark, a preacher who taught the great doctrines of salvation in Christ alone and the Biblical right to resistance, which gave his congregation courage to stand in the face of great odds. The Battle of Lexington should inspire every man, in all stations of life, to stand and make a difference.
A review of The Book That Made America (2009)
America’s Christian History: The Untold Story (8th edition, 2007)
The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers (2009)