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December 17, 1777

 

 

On a cold December day in 1777 a group of sober-minded men gathered in a room in old Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  They had come from long journeys on foot, by horse back and by buggy over rough, unpaved roads, through forests, snow and icy winds to attend the most serious matter mankind had ever yet had to handle.  Why were they there?  What caused them to be bound together tighter than brothers?  What danger brought them to their knees in solemn dedication to one another?  To whom could they look in such an hour?  What could they promise the peoples of the Thirteen British Colonies on the American Continent who anxiously awaited the outcome of this momentous time.  WOULD THERE BE WAR?  What a time for Church and State to be bound together by the cords of love and necessity!  The people trusted their countrymen, the Continental Congressmen of the Thirteen United Colonies/States.  And who shall lead them in this day of trouble?

When it was suggested that prayer be made at the beginning of the above mentioned meeting, it was met, at first, with disapproval.  "Who could deliver a prayer in this place-an Episcopalian, a Quaker, a Congregationalist, a Presbyterian, an Anabaptist?"1  It was now that Sam Adams stood up.  His voice was soft, his manner pleasingly diffident.   "He was," he said, "a stranger in Philadelphia, but might he suggest for such a prayer, a Philadelphia clergyman, Mr. Duche' of the Episcopal Church?   I hope I am not a bigot.  I can hear a prayer from a gentleman of piety and virtue who is at the same time a friend to his country."  Sam Adams then recommended that the Rev. Mr. Duche' fit that description.  "Every eye opened wide.  Sam Adams moving for an Episcopal prayer?  But it was carried without objection....."

It is well the motion for prayer was carried for a rumor came that Boston had been fired upon.  British soldiers were everywhere and war seemed imminent.  Congress spent a sleepless night.  If Massachusetts had been fired upon, what else could be expected?

The next morning, when the doors to Carpenter Hall were opened, one of the first to enter was Rev. Duche'.  No one could have been more welcome to Congress.  He opened his Psalter to the Seventh Day and began reading from the Thirty Fifth Psalm..."Plead thou my cause, O Lord....2

John Adams, Sam Adams cousin, reported to his wife that there had not been a dry eye among them when the pastor suddenly broke into a passionate prayer for the Congress and for the peoples of these United States.  Such a prayer we, ourselves, may consider appropriate for our days, too.  Let us bow in humble adoration to the God who came down to man and gave himself that we might have liberty: "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed,." (John 8:36)

 

THE FIRST PRAYER IN CONGRESS

December 17, 1777

by Rev. J Duche', Chaplain

 

O, Lord, our heavenly Father, high and Mighty King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who dost from thy Throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all kingdoms, empires and governments: look down in mercy we beseech Thee on these American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor, and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection desiring henceforth to be dependent only on Thee.  To Thee they have appealed for the righteousness of their cause.  To Thee do they look up for that countenance and support which Thou alone canst give.  Take them therefore Heavenly Father under they nurturing care.  Give them wisdom in counsel and valor in the field.  Defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries.  Convince them of the unrighteousness of their cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purpose, O let the voice of thine own unerring justice sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop their weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle.

Be Thou present, O God of wisdom and direct the counsels of this honorable Assembly.  Enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation that the scent of blood may speedily be closed, that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice and religion and piety may prevail and flourish among Thy people.  Preserve the health of their bodies, and the vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they represent such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come.  All this we ask in the name of and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Savior.  Amen


Footnotes:

1. Excerpts in quotes are from Catherine Drinker Bowen,"John Adams and the American Revolution," Little Brown and Company,1950, pp.479-481.

2. Psalm 35 follows below. It was, however, very likely from the Geneva Bible, rather than the King James, as that is the version used in the early days of our history. You will probably notice how appropriate Psalm 35 was for that day.

 

Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.

Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.

Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.

Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt.

Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the Lord chase them.

Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the Lord persecute them.

For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.

Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.

And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in his salvation.

All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?

False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not.

They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul.

But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.

I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.

But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together: yea, the abjects gathered themselves together against me, and I knew it not; they did tear me, and ceased not:

With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.

Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions.

I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.

Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.

For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.

Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it.

This thou hast seen, O Lord: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.

Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord.

Judge me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me.

Let them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it: let them not say, We have swallowed him up.

Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me.

Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.

And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.

 

Psalm 35:1 -28


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