The past few weeks in America have caused my phone to ring a number of times with folks asking about how things are going at the church, given that we are in successive months of quarantine in Louisiana. Usually there is also a thought or question shared about the events happening in the streets of the country as well, in light of the killing of George Floyd. Some who call remember well the unrest of the 1960’s, and they wonder out loud about how we could be facing such questions again; I sometimes wonder with them, and try not offer any “pat” answers, or the political bromides that are broadcast electronically across the land.
Having been a student of American History for a number of years, some of what I hear being called for from courthouse steps, pulpits, talk radio and social media, reminds me of the conversational rhetoric that has been alive and well in America’s past. From 100,000 feet it has always seemed to me that we are a nation of revolutionaries; it is in the DNA of the country, and as Churchill once noted, “We mostly live between wars.” His point being that fighting and social unrest are far more the rule than the exception in Western nations; and that for some strange reason we become habituated to the seasons of peace and prosperity as the norm, rather than a blessing and an exception.
The sermon below was given before the Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia in 1775. The preacher, Jacob Duche, first chaplain appointed to Congress, was a patriotic revolutionary, and who turned against his ordination vows to the Church of England by refusing to pray for the King of England once the Revolution was underway – he was beloved by many early patriots by risking such treasonous acts as a clergyman. Later during the war, finding himself called to accept Christ’s example of being a peacemaker in the midst of a fallen world, Duche wrote to General George Washington, who was then suffering through a very difficult winter at Valley Forge, and begged, begged, the general to negotiate a peace treaty with the British . . . needless to say he was perceived by many as being neither “hot nor cold,” and was there spewed out of the mouth of favor in the Revolution. He ended up being convicted of “high treason” by the new United States, and moved to England where he cared for orphans at Lambeth Palace.
I am simply dropping this into the “Ether” of the internet because I am growing weary of conversational rhetoric that seems amputated from the deep and contextual roots of our shared American history. George Floyd should never have died, and the “revolution” through which we are living at present will perhaps bring us to new seasons of peace and prosperity; but I do think that Churchill was onto something – it may not be long until we are “at war” again.
Although I do not agree with Douche in all of his particulars and exegesis, I am refreshed to hear questions of political identity, social justice, religious duty, and personal responsibility and agency, woven from the depths of both the Old and New Testaments. I hope that you will give it a read.
You can read more about Jacob Duche in the notes provided by Southern Methodist University following the sermon. They are very informative and interesting.
Blessings and Godspeed,
PSALM LXXX. VERSE XIV.
RETURN, WE BESEECH THEE, O GOD OF HOSTS!
LOOK DOWN FROM HEAVEN, AND BEHOLD AND VISIT THE VINE!
IF we could retire awhile, my brethren, from the sphere of political tumult, contemplate at leisure the system of the universe, and look beyond second causes for the springs and principles of motion, we should doubtless be able [9/10] to discern in almost every human event, the marks of Sovereign Wisdom, the energy of Infinite Power, and the prevalence of Almighty Goodness; and should thereby be led to acknowledge the immediate influence and operation of the great moral Governor.
NOT only the course of all public transactions, the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms appear to be directed by his omnipotent hand; but his providence is known to extend to the concerns of individuals, to things of the minutest nature, so that, according to the language of inspiration, NOT A SPARROW FALLS TO THE GROUND WITHOUT HIS KNOWLEDGE, AND THE VERY HAIRS OF OUR HEADS ARE NUMBERED.
 WHAT a scene of disorder, ruin and desolation would soon be exhibited upon the theatre of the world, was the ALMIGHTY to withdraw his overruling influence! Men, savage in some degree by nature, and more savage by the growth and indulgence of their evil lusts and passions, would soon fall upon each other with a violence and ferocity equal to that of beasts of prey. Ambition, tyranny and vengeance would rage without controul, and the whole world would, ere long, be deluged in blood.
HAPPY, however, for mankind, this is not the case. An all-wise and all-powerful Being sits at the helm. He presides, unseen, in the councils of Princes. He prospers or disappoints them in their projects and undertakings; and renders all the thoughts, intentions [11/12] and actions of men subservient to the completion of his own most wise and benevolent purposes.
CONQUEST and defeat, the shouts of the victor, and the cries of the vanquished are from him. The prosperity of nations and the happiness of individuals, public misfortunes and private distresses, plentiful harvests and years of famine, the ravages of war, and the smiles of peace, are all dealt forth by him to the sons of men, at such times and in such degrees, as in his wisdom and goodness he finds expedient for their real welfare. Happy, therefore, that people, who, (amid all the variety of changes to which governments as well as individuals are exposed) have placed their sole dependence upon the KING OF KINGS!
 WITH these principles in our hearts, and with a sincere purpose of HUMBLING OURSELVES UNDER THE MIGHTY HAND OF GOD, and imploring his gracious interposition under our present public distresses, I would fain hope, that we have all THIS DAY ENTERED THE COURTS OF THE LORD’S HOUSE.
THE trumpet is sounded in Zion. A fast is proclaimed. A solemn assembly convened. The numerous inhabitants of our extensive colonies, are now prostrate with us before the Throne of Grace, and jointly lifting up their hands and hearts to heaven in some such supplicatory address as this: RETURN, WE BESEECH THEE, O GOD OF HOSTS! LOOK DOWN FROM HEAVEN, AND BEHOLD AND VISIT THIS VINE! And would to God! that our united prayers and supplications might [13/14] prevail, that the Lord of mercy would incline his ear, and say to the destroying Angel: IT IS ENOUGH–STAY NOW THINE HAND.
IN the Psalm from whence my text is taken, the Royal Author, after having enumerated the many distinguishing favours, with which Heaven had heretofore blessed his church and nation, proceeds in the most earnest manner to deprecate some grievous calamities with which they were at that time oppressed:
GIVE EAR, O SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL, THOU THAT LEADEST JOSEPH LIKE A FLOCK; THOU THAT DWELLEST BETWEEN THE CHERUBIMS, SHINE FORTH!–THOU HAST BROUGHT A VINE OUT OF EGYPT: THOU HAST CAST OUT THE HEATHEN AND PLANTED IT; THOU PREPAREDST ROOM FOR IT, AND DIDST [14/15] CAUSE IT TO TAKE DEEP ROOT, AND IT FILLED THE LAND. THE HILLS WERE COVERED WITH THE SHADOW OF IT, AND THE BOUGHS THEREOF WERE LIKE THE GOODLY CEDARS. SHE SENT OUT HER BOUGHS UNTO THE SEA, AND HER BRANCHES UNTO THE RIVER. WHY HAST THOU THEN BROKEN DOWN HER HEDGES, SO THAT ALL THEY THAT PASS BY THE WAY DO PLUCK HER. THE WILD BOAR OUT OF THE WOOD DOTH WASTE IT; AND THE WILD BEAST OF THE FIELD DOTH DEVOUR IT. RETURN, WE BESEECH THEE, O GOD OF HOSTS! LOOK DOWN FROM HEAVEN, AND BEHOLD AND VISIT THIS VINE!
IN applying this passage of scripture to the present solemnity, my observations will turn chiefly upon the blessings by which we have hitherto been distinguished, the ungrateful returns [15/16] we have made to the God of Heaven, for his unmerited goodness, and the only means by which, as a people, we can be re-instated in his favour.
I. GREAT and astonishing have been the blessings of Providence, by which these American colonies have been distinguished from their very first settlements to the present period. They have indeed been a VINEYARD PLANTED BY THE LORD’S RIGHT HAND. And though some gloomy scenes have now and then shaded the brightness of the prospect, yet even these have greatly contributed to their prosperity and enlargement.
IF we look back a little into the annals of America, we shall find, that this very spot, on which our large and populous city now stands, was, less than a century ago, a wild uncultivated desert. The arts and customs of civilized [16/17] life were here unknown. Nought else was visible, but the sad effects of ignorance, superstition and idolatry. The untutor’d savage roamed the wood, like a beast of prey, stranger to the comforts and advantages of mental culture, involved in Pagan darkness, with scarcely one ray of heavenly truth to irradiate the gloom of nature.
SUCH was the dark and dreary prospect, when providence conducted our Forefathers to this new world. He took the tender slip from the PARENT VINE. HE CAST OUT THE HEATHEN AND PLANTED IT. THE HILLS WERE SOON COVERED WITH THE SHADOW OF IT, AND THE BOUGHS THEREOF WERE LIKE THE GOODLY CEDARS. SHE SENT OUT HER BOUGHS UNTO THE SEA, AND HER BRANCHES UNTO THE RIVER.–From NORTH to SOUTH he stretched the extensive line.–From EAST to WEST he bad the prospect open–[17/18] THE WILDERNESS AND SOLITARY PLACE WERE MADE GLAD, AND THE DESART REJOICED AND BLOSSOMED LIKE THE ROSE.
OUR sober Ancestors brought over with them, not only the several useful arts and improvements, of which the natives were ignorant, but a treasure of infinitely greater value, even the charter of TEMPORAL FREEDOM, and the records of ETERNAL TRUTH. The banners of CHRISTIAN and BRITISH Liberty were at once unfolded, and these remote parts of the earth were thereby added to the MESSIAH’s kingdom.
NUMBERLESS, indeed, were the toils, difficulties, and dangers, to which the first founders of these colonies, as well as their successors were exposed, before they arrived at their present height of opulence and splendor. So remarkable, [18/19] however, were the interpositions of Providence, that the most inattentive mind must have frequently discerned them.
SCARCELY is there recorded in the annals of history a more rapid series of successes of every kind in the settlement and population of any country on the globe. Whilst favoured with the nurturing care and protection of the mother country, whose fleets and armies, in conjunction with our own, have ever been faithfully and successfully employed in our defense, our common enemies have looked with astonishment and envy upon our rising glory, nor have dared for years to interrupt a repose, purchased, under the smiles of Heaven, by virtue, industry, and British and American valour.
AND happy, my dear brethren, should we still remain, if the parent would [19/20] be satisfied with such returns from the children, as filial duty would always prompt them to pay, and not exact such an illegal and unrighteous tribute, as by weakening and distressing them, must in the end weaken and distress the parent too.
HERE then our present calamities commence. Our MORNING JOYS are past–and a NIGHT OF HEAVINESS succeeds–The HEDGES OF LIBERTY, by which we hoped our VINEYARD was secured, ARE BROKEN DOWN, and THEY THAT PASS BY THE WAY, ARE seeking to PLUCK OUR GRAPES.
‘Tis not indeed THE WILD BOAR OUT OF THE WOOD, OR THE WILD BEAST OF THE FIELD, that are ready to WASTE AND DEVOUR IT. ‘Tis not now a foreign enemy, or the savages of our own wilderness, that have made the cruel and unrighteous assault–But it [20/21] is even, thou, BRITAIN, that with merciless and unhallowed hands, wouldst cut down and destroy this BRANCH of thine own VINE, the very BRANCH, which Providence HATH MADE STRONG even FOR THYSELF!
II. INJURED and oppressed as we are, unmeriting the harsh and rigorous treatment, which we have received from such an unexpected quarter, let us, however, look up to an higher cause for the awful infliction; and whilst we are faithfully persevering in the defence of our TEMPORAL RIGHTS, let us humble ourselves before God, lay our hands upon our hearts, and seriously and impartially enquire, what returns we have made to heaven for its past favours, and whether its present chastisements have not been drawn down upon us by a gross neglect of our SPIRITUAL PRIVILEGES.
 HATH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, then, SHONE FORTH AS THE LIGHT, AND OUR JUST DEALINGS AS THE NOON DAY?–Hath a sense of God’s unnumbered and unmerited mercies awakened in our souls an ardent affection for our divine Benefactor? have we been more zealous for the honour of his government and the observance of his laws? Have we testified our zeal by a correspondent practice? By works of piety, beneficence, and public virtue? Have our heads of families been careful to set good examples to their children and servants, by a punctual attendance at the house of GOD, by a decent and devout behaviour in our solemn assemblies, and by regular, daily, grateful addresses to their heavenly Father in their closets at home?
HAVE we been careful to check that overweening fondness of gaiety and pleasure, [22/23] which frequently discovers itself in the dispositions of our children?–to check it did I say–yea, to endeavour to root it out of their hearts, and plant and nourish in its room the love of GOD and of goodness?–In a word, have we been industrious, in our several stations and according to our respective abilities, in propagating the gospel of JESUS CHRIST, as well in sound doctrine as in sound practice? Hath OUR LIGHT for this purpose so SHONE BEFORE MEN, THAT THEY SEEING OUR GOOD WORKS, have been led TO GLORIFY OUR FATHER WHICH IS IN HEAVEN?–
ALAS! my brethren, have we not rather been so far carried away by the stream of prosperity, as to be forgetful of the source from whence it was derived? So elevated by the prospect, which peace and a successful commerce have opened to us, as to neglect those impressions [23/24] of goodness, which former afflictions had left upon our hearts? Have not luxury and vice, the common attendants of wealth and grandeur, too soon made their appearance amongst us, and begun to spread a dangerous infection through our hitherto healthy and thriving state? Amid the hurry and tumult of the passions, hath not conscience fallen asleep? Hath not a false security gained ground? And a worldly spirit too generally prevailed?
AND is it not for this, that the ALMIGHTY hath bared his arm against us?–Is it not for this, that he now speaks to us in thunder? And, as we would not be drawn by the cords of his love, that he is now chastising us with the rods of his wrath? Is it not for this, that the flames of an UNNATURAL WAR have burst forth in the very bowels of our native land? And that our [24/25] garments have been already stained with kindred blood?–
O MY GOD! let this suffice!–let MERCY interpose, and stay the avenging hand of JUSTICE!
FOR behold! we now desire to TURN UNTO THEE WITH ALL OUR HEARTS, WITH FASTING, AND WITH WEEPING AND WITH MOURNING! We know, that MERCY is thy darling attribute, and that JUDGMENT is a STRANGE WORK to thee!–RETURN, then, WE BESEECH THEE, O GOD OF HOSTS! LOOK DOWN FROM HEAVEN! And once more BEHOLD AND VISIT THIS VINE!
III. BUT WHEREWITHAL, my dear brethren, SHALL WE COME BEFORE THE LORD, AND BOW OURSELVES BEFORE THE HIGH GOD? With what sacrifice shall we approach this altar? [25/26] With what language, or by what conduct shall we invite him to return?
THE SACRIFICE OF GOD IS A BROKEN SPIRIT: A BROKEN AND A CONTRITE HEART, O GOD, THOU WILT NOT DESPISE. PRAYER and SUPPLICATION, is a language, which he will not refuse to hear: and REPENTANCE and REFORMATION of life, through the redeeming power of his EVER-BLESSED SON, is the only conduct, that will reinstate us in his favour.
LET us adore, then, the divine wisdom and goodness, for putting it into the hearts of that Honourable Assembly, now entrusted with the great cause of American Liberty, to call upon the whole people, whom they represent, in the most solemn and affectionate manner, to join in deprecating the Divine displeasure, by one general act [26/27] of religious humiliation. Heaven be praised, that they have hereby shewn their attention and zeal for our eternal as well as temporal welfare.
Go on, ye chosen band of Christian Patriots! Testify to the world, by your example as well as by your counsels, that ye are equally the foes of VICE and of SLAVERY–Banish the Syren LUXURY, with all her train of fascinating pleasures, idle dissipation, and expensive amusements from our borders. Call upon honest industry, sober frugality, simplicity of manners, plain hospitality and Christian benevolence to throw down the usurpers, and take possession of their seats. Recommend every species of reformation, that will have a tendency to promote the glory of GOD, the interest of the Gospel of JESUS, and all those private and public virtues, upon the basis of which alone, [27/28] the superstructure of true Liberty can be erected.
To second your virtuous attempts, let the MINISTERS of the everlasting gospel, the ambassadors of JESUS CHRIST, step forth with fresh zeal and courage to their duty. Let them remember, that they are not only answerable for their own souls, but for the souls of those under their care. “They are set as watchmen over the house of Israel”–Let them, therefore, CRY ALOUD AND SPARE NOT: let them LIFT UP THEIR VOICE AS A TRUMPET, AND SHEW ISRAEL THEIR TRANSGRESSION, AND THE HOUSE OF JACOB THEIR SIN.
FROM these let the magistrates TAKE ALARM–Let them boldly rebuke vice–Let them punish immorality and profaneness without respect to rank or fortune–Let them become MINISTERS [28/29] of the Gospel as well as MINISTERS OF JUSTICE–let them inculcate the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, as far as their influence and authority extends.
WHEN MAGISTRATES and MINISTERS shall ardently conspire for such pious and benevolent purposes–Heaven will surely smile upon their labours of love; and the people committed to their charge will GROW IN GRACE, and become eminent examples of every divine and social virtue.
WE cannot expect, my dear brethren, that the GOD OF HOSTS WILL RETURN, LOOK DOWN FROM HEAVEN, AND BEHOLD AND VISIT OUR VINE; that he will cause his sun to shine, and his refreshing dews and rains to shine upon it, unless we are careful to cultivate and improve the soil, and to root out every useless noxious [29/30] weed, that will impede its growth. By neglecting this, we shall be in danger of incurring the dreadful sentence denounced against the barren fig-tree, CUT IT DOWN: WHY CUMBERETH IT THE GROUND?
BUT whilst I am recommending in general those essential branches of a true reformation, piety and gratitude to GOD, repentance and humiliation for past neglects, together with the revival of every private and public virtue, which can adorn and dignify the citizen and the Christian, let me not forget to remind you, at this awful season in particular, of the great gospel duty of CHARITY, which will ever prompt us to sympathize with the distresses, and to relieve the wants of our brethren.
WHILE prosperity stretches her silken banner over our heads, and administers a continual supply of the comforts [30/31] and enjoyments of life, let us not be content to repose at ease beneath her friendly shade, and selfishly and solitarily reach forth our hands to take her cup of bliss, whilst thousands are suffering, neglected beside us, and ten thousands at our right-hand. In these calamitous times at least, let us deem it BETTER TO GO TO THE HOUSE OF MOURNING THAN TO THE HOUSE OF FEASTING. Let us cheerfully sacrifice our hours of entertainment and convivial mirth, and be willing to contract our usual expenses, that we may have leisure to WEEP WITH THEM THAT WEEP, and have somewhat to spare for the relief of them that want.
FOR, alas! if arms must decide the unnatural contest, and Heaven should even smile upon our righteous cause, our success cannot be purchased without many a tear, on the part of the victor as well as the vanquished. An anxious [31/32] parent may be afflicted with the melancholy tidings of the death of the only Son–A fond wife may be plunged into all the bitterness of woe, upon reading the name of her affectionate spouse among the number of the slain–A beloved child may listen with an heart-felt anguish to the sad story of his father’s fall–And all this load of misery may be dreadfully accumulated by the languors of disease, and the frowns of poverty.
OUR fasting and humiliation, therefore, will stand us in no stead, unless, whilst we are seeking to LOOSE THE BANDS OF WICKEDNESS in our own hearts, we endeavour likewise TO UNDO THE HEAVY BURDENS OF OTHERS, AND TO LET THE OPPRESSED GO FREE– unless we DEAL OUR BREAD TO THE HUNGRY, AND BRING THE POOR THAT ARE CAST OUT INTO OUR HOUSES–WHEN WE SEE THE NAKED, [32/33] THAT WE COVER HIM, AND HIDE NOT OURSELVES FROM OUR OWN FLESH.
IF our hearts and hands are employed in such deeds of beneficence and love, our LIGHT SHALL BREAK FORTH AS THE MORNING, AND OUR HEALTH SHALL SPRING FORTH SPEEDILY: OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS SHALL GO BEFORE US: THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHALL BE OUR REAR-WARD.
IN a word, if we would wish THE GOD OF HOSTS TO RETURN, TO LOOK DOWN FROM HEAVEN AND BEHOLD AND VISIT our American VINE, we must be prepared to meet him by such heavenly tempers and dispositions, as alone can testify our vital union and communion with him. Happy, if we find him a reconciled GOD in JESUS CHRIST! Thrice happy, if our faith has fixed us to the ROCK OF AGES! Then indeed the rude winds may [33/34] blow, the billows of public or private adversity may rise and rage: But we shall stand collected and secure, like the stately cedars of the mountain, amid the general storm.
Religion and the Founding of the United States https://people.smu.edu/religionandfoundingusa/
The American Vine
During the tumultuous year of 1775, Reverend Jacob Duché preached his sermon, The American Vine, to the Continental Congress on July 20, 1775. Duché preached as an Anglican minister in Philadelphia and was born in Philadelphia in 1737 and studied at Cambridge University before he was ordained as an Anglican clergyman by the Bishop of London. Duché became a member of the elite class in Philadelphia, and in 1761 he was asked to serve on the Board of Trustees at the College of Philadelphia, now known as the University of Pennsylvania. He was invited to deliver the opening prayer at the First Continental Congress and elected to open the Second Continental Congress with prayer due to his ability to connect with many Christian denominations. He served briefly as the official chaplain to the Continental Congress in 1776. His first prayer to Congress at the Continental Congress cited Psalm 35, which was very appropriate for the political climate of the time and became a unifying moment for the men present. Because this Psalm deals with David’s appeals to the righteous God for help against his enemies that have punished and persecuted him, many colonists found it symbolic of political conflict they were facing.
The American Vine, his second sermon to congress, served as the opening prayer to the Second Continental Congress on May 10, 1775. Duché cited Psalm 80 as his primary biblical source and created an analogy of America as a vine planted by England to match the analogy the psalmist uses of Israel as a vine planted by God. Psalm 80 is about those in Israel after their enslavement in Egypt and is a calling for God to answer the prayers of the people, focusing on the individual responsibility of each person to repent and monitor their behavior. In American Vine, Duché asserts that the British and the colonists are jointly to blame for their political conflict. His solution to the problem was that the colonists needed to repent their sins and reform their lives to adhere more closely to the laws of God. Duché’s sermon was printed and distributed throughout the colonies and the reaction was very positive. After his preaching of the American Vine, Duché began to retreat from the political sphere. He had a personal and internal struggle with the idea of revolution and independence from Britain, and had trouble preaching something he did not fully support. Duché preached the American Vine on a fast day. Fast days were used as a way to restore proper order and favor with God in response to a calamitous event. The primary purpose of the fast day was to publically recognize times of trouble and collectively repent sins and ask God for forgiveness. This context will present information about Duché’s life and career, fast days and their importance in Revolutionary America and an explaination of Psalm 80, as well as an annotated version of the sermon.
Jacob Duché was born on January 31st, 1738 in Philadelphia to Mary Spence Duché and Jacob Duché Sr. Duché’s father was a successful and wealthy lawyer who’s father, Anthony Duché, arrived in America in 1699 – a French Huguenot and potter by trade. After Anthony Duché expanded his business to pottery and dying he was able to purchase significant amounts of land to bequeath to his children upon his death in 1762. In the 1730s Anthony converted to Anglicanism, possibly for economic reasons, and it was Jacob Duché who would follow in his path as an Anglican minister. Jacob Duché was baptized at Christ Church in 1738 and it was the same church where he would one day serve as minister and preach his famous American Vine sermon.
Duché began his education in 1743 at Francis Alison’s New London Academy in Chester County, and it was here where he formed his opinions about consent and resistance to unjust government. Duché entered the College of Philadelphia in 1755 and was a student in the inaugural class. The curriculum was diverse in languages learned and subjects studied, and many of Duché’s classmates went on to be influential members of colonial society.
Duché became involved in politics when the fight between the Quakers and proprietors began over how to defend Pennsylvania as a result of the French and Indian War. Duché wrote a poem, Pennsylvania: A Poem, in 1756 that was published by Franklin because of its “Degree of Judgement, Genius and Public-Spirit seldom to be met with in Persons so young an age”. The ideas in this poem were resistance to political factions and expressed concern for stability of Pennsylvania, the latter of which would continue to be an important concept throughout Duché’s life. During his time at College of Philadelphia Duché served as Benjamin Franklin’s secretary and then graduated as valedictorian in 1757, heading to Clare Hall in England to receive his graduate degree.
Not long after Duché left for England, his father was successful in petitioning for a second church to serve the growing congregation of Christ Church. By 1759, the vestry of Christ Church had written a letter to the Bishop of London asking for Duché, Jr. to be “admitted to holy orders” and to “license him to officiate as an assistant minister in the churches of Philadelphia”. The Bishop of London complied and Duché became an ordained minister. Upon his return to Philadelphia the College of Philadelphia hired him as a Professor of Oratory, the first alumni professor and the youngest.
Duché’s theology and ideology are important to understanding the choices he made during his professional career. The three major points of Duché’s theology are his beliefs in the inherent sinfulness of man, the doctrine of universal grace selectively received, and evangelical morality. Duché believed that Adam’s fall was the sin repeated from generation to generation through free will, and that God’s wrath should not be blamed on God but on individuals responsible for their own sins and the consequences of those sins. Duché also believed that through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection God redeemed His people and revealed that He is a loving God, and that God gives all people the ability to accept or reject His grace through free will. Finally, Duché believes that all those who accept God’s grace have access to God working in and through them, but that the individual is still responsible for their life through Christ. Though an Anglican minister, Duché was influenced by the ideas of Calvinism, Arminianism and the individualism of the Great Awakening.
Duché’s ideology and political philosophy was expressed in a series of letters that he wrote and published in a local paper in 1772 and 1773 under the pseudonym Tamoc Caspipina, later published as a collection entitled Caspipina’s Letters. Duché’s primary view on government was that its most important role was to maintain an orderly society that would promote stability – the institutions that Duché saw as vital to societal stability were the churches, statehouse, library, college and the river system (which promoted commerce and a stable economy). Duché called for the acceptance of all people and less class distinctions, but didn’t believe in equality for all and was himself a member of the gentry or upper class. Duché believed that the collective happiness of society was equal to justice and stability, and that the enemies of a benevolent government were corruption and party factions – these views would be very evident in his sermon The American Vine. While a supporter of liberty and happiness within society, Duché did prefer order to freedom if the choice had to be made and this view might be more evident in his letter to Washington, written in the midst of the Revolution.
Duché was very involved in both the Anglican Controversy and the Bishop Controversy happening in the colonies, and was able to successfully work with ministers and congregations of other denominations. The two major controversial issues within the Anglican Controversy were the issues of power of the authoritarian structure of the Anglican Church and evangelicalism and its place within Anglican worship and theology. The struggle on the issue of authoritarian structure and power was between high church Anglicans, who believed that bishops and their policies were not to be questioned due to their divine ordination, and low church Anglicans, who believed that the vestries of individual churches should be given more authority over affairs. It is unclear which side Duché took on this issue, but his involvement with the Bishop Controversy shows that he may have been a high church Anglican. Evangelicalism was the second big issue within the Anglican church in the colonies, with some members wanting a more rational religion (called rationalists) and others wanting a more emotional and personal religion (called evangelicals). Duché was very influenced by the events of the Great Awakening and would eventually publically support famous evangelical preacher George Whitefield, appearing to some to be an evangelical. Duché’s views on individual responsibility and relationship with God also show that he held evangelical views.
The Bishop Controversy dealt with the issue of the Anglican church appointing an American Bishop to oversee clerical appointments and overall ecclesiastical organization within the colonial Anglican community. Many colonists of other religions felt that an Anglican Bishop in America was just another attempt by the British to assert control and restrict religious freedom in the colonies, and Duché worked very hard with other denominations to help them understand the purely organizational necessities of an American Bishop. One of the other important justifications for an American Bishop was more representation for the Anglican colonial churches in England, a justification that was in line with the overall political complaints against the British at the time.
After many years serving as assistant minister at Christ Church and being involved in church politics in the area, Duché was chosen by the Continental Congress to open their first session in prayer. Samuel Adams originally chose Duché because he was a respected minister, had great public speaking skills, was in good standing with other Christian denominations and was involved in politics. These qualities indicated that Duché’s prayer would satisfy all members of the congress, and so he was notified of his election the evening before the congress would meet for the first time. Duché accepted, and it was due to his moving and deeply emotional extemporaneous prayer that morning that Duché was asked to preach the American Vine sermon in the summer of 1775, and then to serve as the nation’s first official chaplain in 1776.
Unfortunately, Duché was a moderate revolutionary who did not support independence from Britain. While he supported resisting oppression from an unjust government, he could not serve as chaplain to a government going against his own fundamental beliefs and resigned from his position just a few months after accepting it. The members of congress, Duché’s friends and supporters, did not realize that anti-independence was his position until they read the letter Duché wrote to George Washington in 1777. In the letter Duché explained his position against independence and blamed his compliance on the needs of his congregations. Duché analyzed the current state of affairs between the colonies and Britain and claimed that independence is something that could never happen, and then urged Washington to turn to peace talks before the colonies were destroyed. Duché also attacked the men in charge of political affairs in the colonies, claiming that they were all common men who were unfit to lead and that their decision for independence was completely unsound. Nothing that Duché wrote in the letter made him a loyalist, but it didn’t support the cause that so many Americans already believed in and were fighting for – it was for these reasons that Washington had to hand it over to the committee, ruining Duché’s career in America until he and his family could return to Philadelphia in 1793.