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Singing in a Revolution

Rev. Nancy S. Taylor
Oct 28 2012


You know him as a great patriot and a not so great brewer (or maltster). But did you know about his profound devotional life?

You know he was a fierce leader of the Sons of Liberty and a Founding Father of this nation. But did you know that he married a minister’s daughter and that his Christian faith, his Puritan faith, was at the core of his life, of his patriotism and of his politics?

You know that he presided over the meetings that led to the Boston Tea Party. But did you know he presided over family worship, in his home, twice a day, every day without fail?

You know that Samuel Adams was a delegate to the Continental Congress; that he helped guide the Congress toward issuing the Declaration of Independence; that he helped to draft both the Articles of Confederation and the Massachusetts Constitution. But did you that when he was in Boston, Samuel Adams never missed worshipping in our Meeting House? His seat in the pews of the Old South Meeting House was never vacant, “no matter the weather or who the preacher might be.”1

Samuel Adams served his country as the President of the Massachusetts Senate, the clerk of the House of Representatives, the 3rd Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and our 4th Governor. But did you know that upon his death his friends noted with tenderness that Samuel Adams was born, had been baptized and died on the Lord’s Day?2

You know that Samuel Adams was a great man, a great patriot, with a backbone of steel, a heart of fire and a pen as sharp and swift as the finest sword. But did you know that before every meal, regardless of those with whom he was dining, Samuel Adams paused, bowed his head, folded his hands and returned thanks to the Creator and Provider of the earth’s bounty?

You may know that Samuel Adams played a major role in promoting free public education, not only for boys. Samuel Adams risked ridicule and incurred resentment for arguing that girls, too, and American Indians, deserved the same.

Did you know that he despised slavery as repugnant to the heart of God?

Did you know that Samuel Adams heralded the Christian church as a most excellent school of morality? He understood the Christian’s life–worship, Bible reading, devotions, prayer, repentance and alms giving—as the means to a good and noble character. Did you know that he cherished the church as an instructor of humility and kindness, of self-control and moderation, of industry and moral fortitude?

And did you know that our own Samuel Adams attended ecclesiastical councils as a delegate of this church? Indeed, he did. While serving as our Lt Governor Samuel Adams made time to break away from work, to pack his bags, mount his horse and ride to neighboring churches as near as Roxbury, Massachusetts and as far as Concord, New Hampshire and once there to participate in and vote at ecclesiastical councils ... that is, at the examinations of those proposed by neighboring churches for ordained ministry?

In a sermon preached in 1873, Jacob Manning (15th minister of Old South) said of Samuel Adams:
“His mind was imbued with piety; His religion was rational, cultivated by science; it was free from bigotry ..."3

Edward Everett, one time president of Harvard, Governor of Massachusetts and US Congressman, wrote that in all the excitement and turmoil of the anxious days preceding the explosion at Lexington, Samuel Adams was among the few who never lost his balance. Everett attributes this to Adams’ “religious tranquility.”4

You know that Samuel Adams was a great orator, as great as they come. But did you know that Samuel Adams was a singer? He sat with our church’s choir. It was Samuel Adams who often selected the tune to match the psalm to be sung. It was he who then set the pitch and led his fellow choristers in lifting their voices in hearty praise to the Author of the Universe.

It is election season in the great nation Samuel Adams had so strong a hand in shaping. Because it is election season, our Faith at the Crossroads Task Force—one of the three Task Forces of our Vision for the 21st Century—presents this afternoon a forum entitled: “Politics: What’s faith got to do with it?” You will hear from several Old Southers who will help us reflect aloud together on this most pertinent and most American question.

If we were to ask Samuel Adams what his Christian faith had to do with his politics he would, I am sure, answer swiftly and decisively: “My faith in God, my religion, has everything to do with my politics.”

Samuel Adams was intimately acquainted with biblical personages: from Abraham to Amos, from Job to Jeremiah, from Martha and the Mary’s to Matthew and Mark. He knew many psalms from memory. He could recollect each parable, recite the Beatitudes and declaim on the Ten Commandments.

Samuel Adams was a man of prayer, a man of the church, a man of God. The precepts of God and the teachings of Jesus were engraved on his heart, ready on his tongue, and foremost in his thoughts.

Here is what Samuel Adams believed about faith and politics: that God would protect Americans so long as we remained virtuous. That was the bargain, as Adams understood it. That was the covenant, the arrangement. It was a two-way pact. God would protect us so long as we held up our part of the bargain: so long as we strove to be virtuous.

Samuel Adams derived this belief from the biblical story of the Exodus. Just as God had stood beside the Israelites in their exodus from slavery so long as they remained virtuous and true to God ... so will God stand with us, in our journey toward freedom, so long as we, ourselves, strive to be virtuous.

On October 26, 1884, our forebears gathered in this very sanctuary to affix to the wall and to celebrate the tablet commemorating our brother, Samuel Adams. On the tablet it reads:



What that tablet does not say is that Samuel Adam’s patriotism, his revolutionary zeal, was motivated and informed at every turn by his Christian faith.

As we continue our journey through Christian hymnody, we approach an American genre: Negro spirituals.

Hush, hush somebody’s calling my name was a code song, a song sung to signal to the runaway slave and the conductors on the Underground Railroad to lay low.  It meant the bounty hunters or the slave master was on the move looking for you. Be careful. Lay low.6

Steel Away to Jesus ... this too was a code song. Sung to Nat Turner’s co-conspirators, it signaled that tonight they would gather for a clandestine meeting.

Here is what I imagine: I imagine Samuel, from his pew in heaven, setting the pitch for us today. I imagine Samuel Adams joining his voice with our voices as we sing these great spirituals, songs of Christian freedom and liberation.



1669    Samuel Adams’ maternal great grandfather and great, great grandfather are among the 38 men who founded this church.

1690    Adams’ maternal grandmother becomes a member until her death in 1730

1696    Adams’ mother is baptized at our Cedar Meeting House

Mar. 6, 1770    The day after the Boston Massacre, Samuel Adams addresses a crowd of 3000 gathered in our Meeting House. Adams and others call upon the Governor to remove to William Castle Island the British regiments occupying Boston.

1706    Adams’ father, Deacon Adams, becomes a member of Old South.

1711    Adams’ mother becomes a member.

1742    Samuel Adams is welcomed into full communion with Old South.

Nov. 28, 1773    A throng of 6000 is gathered at our Meeting House. Samuel Adams introduces a resolution that the tea aboard the Dartmouth (lately arrived in Boston Harbor) should be sent back to England. The resolution passes unanimously.

Dec 15, 1773    The Old South Meeting House again hosts a throng of people. The Governor has failed to yield despite repeated demands. Adams announces: “this meeting can do nothing more to save the country”. At his words (a coded command) a cry of war whoops erupts and a group of men proceed to the Harbor, divide into three groups, climb aboard the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver and proceed to unburden them of their 342 crates of Chinese tea.

June 14, 1789     Samuel Adams becomes a member of Old South.

Oct 2, 1803    The Meeting House bell tolls in honor of Samuel Adams’ death that day.

1 Hamilton Hill’s two vol. History of Old South Church H Vol. II
2 Ibid, p. 285 (see footnote as well)
3 Ibid, pp. 248-250 (Dr. Jacob Manning’s sermon, On the Religious Character of Samuel Adams, preached on Dec 21, 1873)
4 Edward Everett, from oration delivered at Lexington, 19th (20th) April, 1835, by request of the citizens of that place.
5Massachusetts Spy, Obituary of Samuel Adams, October 19, 1803 “This is but a gazette sketch of his character; to give his history at full length, would be to give an history of the American revolution.”
6 Jones, Arthur C. Wade in the Water: the Wisdom of the Spirituals (p. 44)