Deuteronomy 10:17-21
July 4, 2016
St Paul’s Anglican Church

“Great and Terrible Things”

He [is] thy praise… he [is] thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.
It was 240-years ago in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that the Continental Congress voted to dissolve their “connection” with Great Britain — declaring their thirteen united colonies to be free and independent states. And a new and independent Republic (which means “rule by law”) was born!
After each of the 56 signers had penned their names to this Declaration, Samuel Adams (“Father of the American Revolution”) declared: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.”
John Adams (who would become the second president of these United States) wrote: “We are in the very midst of a revolution… the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations.”
Many have questioned (and still do today) the legitimacy of such a “rebellion” given the Scriptural injunction to honour the king. The reason for this drastic action, of course, was based upon the fact that King George III and the British Parliament had acted faithlessly – indeed, recklessly — in breaking the charters they had sworn to uphold. They had become lawless!
And in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence the signers went into great detail to explain to mankind their many grievances! Quote… “The History of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
To prove their claim, dozens of facts were submitted, as they wrote, to a “candid world” – including first, obstruction in the administration of justice… second, making judges dependent upon the will of King George III alone… and third, the creation of a multitude of new offices with “swarms” of officers to harass the colonists and consume their substance…
The signers’ actions on behalf of the American colonies have been accurately described as self-defense.
As we know, all actions have consequences… and the Declaration of Independence had consequences as well!
Within days, British naval vessels began arriving – their sails first appearing as tiny shining specks on the distant horizon, then steadily growing until they made their way into New York harbor.
General William Howe sailed in on July 6th. Five more ships on July 25th. Eight more on July 26th. And 20 more on July 29th. By mid-August the total British armada at anchor off Staten Island included 400 ships! The British officers gleefully reminded themselves this was the largest fleet ever seen in American water – in fact, the largest expeditionary force of the entire 18th century… from Britain or any nation of the earth!
The British had everything! Guns… cannons… explosives… food… clothing… specialized training… experience… equipment, and confidence (lots of it… too much of it!). They also had troops – 32,000 of the finest. This was more than the entire population of Philadelphia, America’s largest city.
What did the colonists have? Not much humanly speaking! No ships (not a single one)! Few weapons. No cannons. No explosives. No trained soldiers. Many were just teenagers. Some did not even have shoes. Others not even coats or shirts! Few experienced military leaders. A growing national debt. An increasingly worthless currency known as the Continental. They had defections… British spies in their ranks… British spies in their towns, constantly listening, constantly watching.
They also had Benjamin Franklin in France seeking financial assistance and military help. Especially the services of Comte de Grasse, the experienced admiral of the French Navy. They had the “Black Robed Brigade” – Anglican and other clergy angered by the takeover of colonial churches by the British for use as horse stables. The Black Robed Brigade became famous for their role in fortifying fearful communicants and encouraging them to pray and labor and not give up in the quest for liberty for their families and generations to come.
They also had the keen eyes, wits, and courage of General Washington. They had faith in God. They had unending prayers to Him on their behalf.
We have not time to stop at Valley Forge, the Crossing of the Delaware, the Battle at Trenton and the defeat of the Hessian Colonel Rall, or the surprising victory at Princeton. But I would like to tell you on this special day how five years after the Declaration of Independence, God quickly brought the conflict to an end – miraculously — and our liberties of old were won.
By 1781, the French had agreed to assist the colonists in their struggle. Rochambeau and Lafayette were with Washington and Comte de Grasse was cleared to move his French armada to America to assist the patriots.
Miraculously, a dispatch reached General Washington revealing that the British General Cornwallis had settled in at Yorktown on the York River (ten miles from its mouth) without any regard for the fears of his commander, Henry Clinton, that he might be trapped.
This was the “misstep” Washington had sought! Rochambeau and Lafayette agreed. Washington proceeded to send out fake dispatches for the “benefit” of Clinton indicating the French and Americans were heading to New York to engage British troops there. Meanwhile secret dispatches were expedited for his officers to bring troops from all thirteen colonies to arrive outside Yorktown (trapping Cornwallis from a land-route escape). Word was also sent to Comte de Grasse to pilot his armada at the mouth of the York River and set a blockade to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown.
The plan, in the Providence of God, worked perfectly. The Americans, who were always outnumbered… out-equipped… out-supplied… this time had every advantage!
The blockade was set, the city surrounded, and the siege of Yorktown began. With British supplies dwindling, the allies began pounding the headquarters where Cornwallis was residing. One of the British ships was hit and caught fire… which burned two others next to it.
Unbeknown to Washington at the time, half of Cornwallis’ army had come down with malaria and were unable to fight. In a last ditch effort, Cornwallis began an evacuation of his men in small boats to the other side of the York River. In miraculous fashion, God sent a squall (wind storm) to push them back to Yorktown… disabling the operation making any further evacuation impossible.
Under heavy and unceasing bombardment, Cornwallis consulted with his officers and agreed the situation was hopeless. A drummer was sent out the next morning with an officer behind him waving the white flag of surrender.
Terms of capitulation were negotiated, then Cornwallis was called upon to appear and deliver his sword in surrender. He would not meet with Washington, claiming illness.
October 17, 1781 marked the end of the American War for Independence. It is always much easier to begin something that to end it. But with the help of the Almighty the struggle for freedom and independence on the part of the American colonies was finally brought to a glorious end.
In a day when the average person in America no longer knows about George Washington, King George III, Comte de Grasse, or Yorktown – we are indeed privileged to understand how God’s strong Hand and mighty Arm brought religious freedom to America.
Not because we deserved it… but because He is good and heard the devout prayers of many of His own.
I believe it was Thomas Jefferson, who when national symbols were under discussion, recommended the parting the of the Red Sea – for that is precisely what the Almighty did for the American Colonies… He opened a way for His people to liberation and safety.
He [is] thy praise… he [is] thy God, that hath done for thee these great and terrible things, which thine eyes have seen.
And may they stand forever. World without end… A-men.

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