The Forgotten Message of Rev. Samuel Davies: True Religion Makes the Best Citizens and Soldiers

Rev. Samuel Davies (Midjourney)

In an era where the line between patriotism and religious conviction seems to be increasingly blurred, or even treated as mutually exclusive, history can often provide clarity.

The voice of Samuel Davies, a renowned 18th-century preacher, pierces through the centuries with his sermon, “Religion and Patriotism the Constituents of a Good Soldier.”

Now, for many of you, Davies might be just another historical figure—yet another preacher from the colonial era. But there’s a reason we ought to pause and remember him.

At a time when America was grappling with its identity, Davies was a beacon of moral clarity. He worked in the gritty trenches of colonial Virginia, bringing the gospel not just to the well-to-do, but to enslaved Africans and Native Americans.

In an era not so different from our own, fraught with divisions and polarizations, Davies reminded us of the larger truths.

Consider this nugget of wisdom from Davies:

“The good soldier is inspired with the love of his country; this makes him consider himself as a part of the community, and therefore he fights for himself as well as for the public. He loves his countrymen, and therefore is willing to venture his life for their defense.”

It’s a passionate call to find the unity in our shared human condition and our relationship with the Divine. In a world where the focus is increasingly on what divides us, Davies offered a message of what binds us: our shared need for redemption, purpose, and hope.

In a few words, Davies manages to encapsulate what seems to elude so many today: the intrinsic bond between love for one’s country and the responsibility to defend it.

Here’s a quote from Davies’s sermon rewritten in today’s vernacular language. It’s worth reading:

“God knew that we live in a world full of power-hungry, vengeful people. He realized that without some kind of force or protection, innocent folks wouldn’t be safe, and our freedoms, properties, and even lives could be at risk from those who crave control or want to harm others. So, God made certain people naturally brave and drawn to defending others, giving them a strong, warrior-like spirit and a love for facing dangers. This kind of boldness can be bad news if not guided by fairness and love for humanity, but when used right, it’s a game-changer. It’s thanks to such brave souls that many dictators have been put in their place, that unchecked power has been held back, and that many oppressed people have been set free. Just as we need kind and gentle people in our world, we also need these fierce protectors. Both come from the same divine source.”

This isn’t about blind patriotisim; it’s about recognizing that true patriotism emerges from genuine love for one’s fellow citizens and the shared values that bind a community together.

Davies didn’t stop there. He seamlessly intertwined patriotism with religious conviction:

“True religion makes men good citizens; it teaches them to love their country, to be just, to be beneficent, to be loyal. And such as these are the best materials to make soldiers.”

In our hyper-partisan age, where religion is often seen as a private matter, detached from public responsibilities, Davies’ words are a clarion call. He reminds us that genuine faith doesn’t shy away from civic duties; it amplifies them.

To be religious, in the truest sense, is to recognize our responsibilities to both God and country.

Some might try to argue that the combination of faith and patriotism is a relic of the past, but I’d challenge them. The problems of our age aren’t new. Davies was addressing an America fraught with external threats and internal divisions. Sound familiar?

The core message of Davies’s sermon is both timeless and timely: our best soldiers, our best citizens, are those who draw strength from both their religious convictions and their patriotic duty. They don’t see these forces as opposed but as mutually reinforcing.

In a country where we often find ourselves divided along so many lines, the wisdom of Samuel Davies serves as a reminder. Religion and patriotism, when rooted in love and genuine conviction, can indeed bring out the best in us.

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