[File photo by Jerry Newcombe of colonial pulpit]
Jefferson supported Rev. Charles Clay, with whom he had a long relationship. Although ordained in the Anglican Church, Rev. Clay was an evangelical. In our book, Doubting Thomas, we have two sermons of Rev. Clay in print. To our knowledge, this is the first time anywhere that Clay’s messages have been published.
A life-long friend and neighbor, Jefferson said in 1815 that he had discussed religion with Clay more than any other human being. Here are two samples of the types of sermons Rev. Clay delivered, printed with permission of Virginia Historical Society. ( ) indicates a word that is unclear in the original.
Rev. Charles Clay
God, The Adversary of the Sinner
Agree with thine adversary quickly whiles thou art in the way with him, lest at any time the Adversary deliver thee to the Judge, and the Judge deliver thee to the Officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the utmost farthing.
The words which I have just rehearsed, are part of the most Divine Sermon, that ever was delivered. They were spoken by the Greatest preacher that ever appeared upon earth. They are the words of Our blessed Redeemer himself; which when rightly understood, he has elsewhere told us, and Spirit and ( ) life. God grant they may be Spirit and life both to you and me.
In this sermon he opens and explains the spirituality of the Law; assures us that a Just God will by no means accept of a partial obedience and that nothing short of a perfect obedience will be pleasing to a perfect God.
If we attend to the strictness and spirituality of the Law (as explained by Our Lord) we cannot but see how grossly we have violated it; and that no man living (the man Christ Jesus excepted) was ever able to perform it. For according to this explanation, the most High God requires truth in the inward parts. His law extends to our inmost parts and justly condemns the least irregularity of them. This being the case we cannot but own the necessity of our being cloathed with a better righteousness than our own if ever we would be partakers of the Kingdom of Heaven. To induce us to apply for this royal robe is Our Lord’s design, in the words of the text. For after having Cproposing it with such rigor, and requiring an observance of it to such a degree of exactness, as I am sure no man ever arrived at.) I say having proved us all guilty before God of a violation of his law, he then advises us what we are to do in the words of the text, agree with thine Adversary quickly whiles thou art in the way with him, lest at any time the Adversary deliver thee to the Judge, and the Judge deliver thee to the Officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the utmost farthing.
In discoursing further on which words, I propose (God willing) to observe the following method:
First, I shall endeavour to show you who is meant by the adversary here spoken of, “…agree with thine adversary.”
Secondly, in what manner, and at what time we are to agree with him, “Agree…quickly whiles thou art in the way with him.”
Three, Who is meant by the Judge, “…lest at any time the Adversary…Judge.”
Four, I shall inform you who the Officer is here spoken of, and the consequence of being given into his power, “…and the Judge…Officer…prison. Verily I say…”
And each of which I shall endeavour to apply as I go along. And may the good Spirit of God breathe into all our souls the true breath of life, and enable you to look up to him for a blessing while I endeavour, in the first place to show you who is meant by the Adversary here spoken of, “Agree with…Adversary.”
Now this Adversary is the Almighty God. Every man by nature is an enemy to him. We read in Scripture that God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, that no evil dwills with him, and that without holiness no man shall see him. Now we are evil from the womb, God himself hath declared, that the thoughts of man’s hearts are only evil continually. The sacred writings inform us, that we are all gone out of the way; that we are altogether become abominable; that there is none righteous, no not one. Consequently without agreeing with this Adversary we shall never enjoy his heavenly bliss. We brought this enmity to God into the world with us: for we are all by nature born in sin. Our natures are corrupted, and we have no power of ourselves to serve and please God. As the Scriptures assure us of this, our hearts (if we examine them) will convince us of it. We may have indeed some specious qualities in our dispositions, that may appear amiable in the eyes of men like ourselves, but in the sight of infinite Purity, we sink into nothing and are corrupt before him. Every one of us in this situation by nature, and nothing but an Almighty Arm can raise us out of it. The first man indeed was created in the image of God; but that image was defaced by his fall. In the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he died unto God; he died to the Divine life; he died to all Spiritual grace and power. This spiritual death he entailed upon his posterity. We partake of his evil nature and are dead to God.
[To be continued….]