Election Sermons: The Long History of Politics and Preaching

As some of you may be aware, there is a long history of sermons offered on election day. It seems like it was almost a tradition to preach on the role of government and the responsibility of the Christian citizen to vote in accordance with the dictates of Scripture. There are thousands of such sermons. This website gives you a just a taste. As you will see, some of these sermons date back to the mid-1600’s.

Below I have included one of those sermons. It was preached by William Hubbard and has the following title:

The happiness of a people in the wisdome of their rulers directing and in the obedience of their brethren attending unto what Israel ought to do: recommended in a sermon before the Honourable Governour and Council, and the respected Deputies of Mattachusets colony in New-England.

Preached at Boston, May 3rd, 1676, being the day of election there.

Below I have included an excerpt from this sermons, pages 12-13. The sermon is primarily drawn from 1 Chronicles 12:32,

“And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment.”

I chose this section, in keeping with the theme of this blog, for a phrase which appears in the fourth paragraph which I have put in bold and underlined. When you arrive at that section note how Hubbard speaks of the Scriptures. Hubbard maintains that in order for rulers to rightly govern they must govern according to “the received rule of Scripture Language and Phrase.” He speaks of Scripture as the “received rule”, being God’s rule, reed, and standard and from this grounding can call one and all to their civic duty. The language of “received rule” looks a lot like Received Text and Authorized Version doesn’t it? Furthermore, Scripture is not merely a received rule as a whole, but also in its parts. Indeed, it is the received rule of “Scripture Language and Phrase.” Put simply, and not squeezing the passage for more than it can give, Hubbard here regards the whole of Scripture, its parts [i.e., language], and its organization of those parts [i.e., phrases] to be the received rule.

Still, it stands to reason that if God’s rule is in flux [as it is in 21st century America], then so should the rule of men be in flux. Certainly men are apt to fluctuate in their ruling temper and decisions, but if God’s rule is in flux then men ought to follow God’s lead and do the same. So next time you find yourself unsatisfied with the everchanging political winds around you remember that there is no longer a received rule of Scripture Language and Phrase and so there is no longer a received rule of Civic Language and Phrase. In such a religio-political context the Inflation Reduction Act makes perfect sense; does it not?

So in light of the elections this week I offer you this excerpt of William Hubbard’s 1676 election sermon.


In a curious piece of Architecture, that which first offers it self to the view of the beholder, is the beauty of the structure, the proportion that one piece bears to another, wherein the skill of the Architect most shews it self. But that which is most Admirable in sensitive and rational beings, is that inward principle, seated in some one part, able to guid the whole, and influence all the rest of the parts, with an apt and regular motion, for their mutual good and safety. The wisdome of the Creatour was more seen in the breath of life, breathed into the Nostrils of Adam, whereby he became a living soul, then in the feature and beauty of the goodly frame of his body, formed out of the dust, as the Poet speaks, Os homini sublime dedit— The Architect of that curious piece hath placed the Head in the fore-front, and highest sphear, where are lodged all the senses, as in a Watch-Tower, ready to be improved upon all occasions, for the safety and preservation of the whole. There are placed those that look out at the windows, to foresee evil and danger approaching, accordingly to alarm all the other inferiour powers, to take the signal and stand upon their guard for defence of the whole.

There also is the seat of the Daughters of musick, ready to give audience to all reports and messages that come from abroad: if any thing should occurre or happen nearer home, or further off, imparting either fear or evil, or hope of good; Their work is immediately to dispatch messages through the whole province of nature, to summon all the other Members together, to come in and yield their assistance to prevent the mischief feared, or prepare for the reception of the good promised, or pretended, as the nature of the case may require. Thus are all orders wont to be dispatched and issued from the Cinque ports of the senses in, and about the head, for the benefit and advantage of the whole body. Very fitly therefore in the body politick are the rulers by way of allusion called Heads. And in case of inability to discharge those functions, such societies may not undeservedly be compared to the Palmists Idols, that have eyes but see not, and have ears but hear not.

Suppose the hands be never so strong for action, or the feet never so swift for motion, yet if there be not discretion in the head to discerne, or judgement to determine what is meet to be done for the obviating of evil and danger, or procuring of good, it will be impossible to save such a body from ruine and destruction. If the Mast be never so well strengthened, and the Tackline never so well bound together, yet if there wants a skilful Pilot to Steer and Guide, especially in a rough and tempestuous Sea, the lame will soon take the prey, as it hapned a little before this time, in the Reign of Saul, when the Philistines had so often harressed that Country, and placed their Garisons in the very heart of the Land, and not long after, when in the days of Rehoboam, who had shields enough, some of Gold, with other weapons of War, many thousand stalls of Horses, with Horsemen proportionable to manage them, yet for want of wisdome and understanding in the head of that rich and populous Kingdome, how soon is it become a prey to the first assaylant, as afterwards also in the dayes of Joash; when there was but a small company of the Syrians that came against him, a great Host was delivered into their hand, and all through that ill conduct of the Head of that Kingdome.

But by the way, here we are to mark, according to the sence of the words already given; under the wisdome of conduct, or understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, is necessarily comprehended piety before God, as well as prudence amongst men, according to the received rule of Scripture Language and Phrase, where as Divines use to say, verba sensus denotant affectum cordis: therefore understanding to know Israels duty, requires a great deal of divine skill and spiritual wisdome attained by Faith in Gods promises, diligent reading of the precepts of his Law, fervent and frequent prayer for divine assistance, by which means David became wiser then his Teachers, yea, was accounted wise as the Angel of God to discerne good and bad, and to know all things that were in the earth. It was by a special Law required of God that the King in Israel should have a copy of the divine Law, written out (by his own hand, say some of the Rabbines) and kept by him, that he might read therein all the dayes of his life, Deut. 17 19.20. that from thence he might receive direction how to govern his Kingdome, so that according to the excellent patern before us in the Text, it is requisite that the Heads and leaders of Israel, should be versed in Divine, as well as in humane Law.

Therefore we find, that when Solomon, after he was advanced to be the chief Head and Leader of Israel, when he had his Option granted him of God, could not ask any thing so well pleasing to God, and so needful to himself, as wisdome, or an understanding heart to judge the Israel of God, and to discerne between good and bad. As herein had David his Father before him approved himself, as a meet Shepheard over the flock of God, in feeding of them according to the integrity of his heart, and guiding them by the skilfulness of his hands, Psal. 78. ult. That is he guided them by his counsel, and preserved them by his power, in which two branches is contained the sum of a Rulers office. And though in many cases the rule is very plain and easie, and he that runs, as is said, may read what Israel ought to do; yet things may be oft times so circumstanced in Israel, that it is no easie matter to know what Israel ought to do: many times the right way lieth in a very narrow; the Channel may run between two dangerous precipices on either side, so that a man who hath not great understanding, Incidit in syllam volens vitare charybdin. A Ruler may oft times run into one or more evils, and it may be great ones too, that intended only to avoid some lesser one, yea sometimes he that resolves to keep the middle of the Channel, yet for want of insight and experience, not making allowance for emergent cases & difficulties, not easie to be foreseen, may by the setting of the Current be shipwracked on the opposite Shoar.



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