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?
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
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.
fit that description. "Every eye opened wide. Sam
Adams moving for an Episcopal prayer? But it was carried without
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?
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
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
FIRST PRAYER IN CONGRESS
Rev. J Duche', Chaplain
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.
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
Excerpts in quotes are from Catherine Drinker Bowen,"John Adams
and the American Revolution," Little Brown and Company,1950,
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.
my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them
that fight against me.
hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.
out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me:
say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
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.
them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the Lord chase
their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the Lord
without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without
cause they have digged for my soul.
destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath
hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.
my soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in his
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?
witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not.
rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul.
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.
behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed
down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.
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:
hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.
how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my
darling from the lions.
will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee
among much people.
not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let
them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.
they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them
that are quiet in the land.
they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, Aha, aha, our eye
hath seen it.
thou hast seen, O Lord: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.
up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and
me, O Lord my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not
rejoice over me.
them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it: let them not
say, We have swallowed him up.
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.
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.
my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the
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