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Commentary

What Caleb Adams Has to Teach Us about the Role of Religion in the Public Square - by Daniel Vos

As the account of Caleb Adams shows, there was once a time in American history when it was not considered peculiar, fanatical, or intolerant for a Christian minister to speak at a public execution, using it as an opportunity to preach the truths of the gospel. 200 years ago, true religion was allowed a voice in the public square. Today, orthodox Christianity is muted, muffled, and silenced. Sometimes Christians have been beaten back by opposition, by those in positions of authority who wish such teachings as God's absolute claim on humanity and such practices as capital punishment to be removed and abolished. More often, though, Christians have silenced themselves, and found it easier to remain silent than to speak, and as a result, the public have not felt the potency of the Scriptures.

The suggestion we wish to make on this website through the story of Caleb Adams, is that God's sovereignty over all spheres of human activity deserves to be taken seriously. In doing this, we probably won't convince everyone to become a death penalty supporter (in fact, this story will probably only fan the zeal of convinced abolitionists). Nor is that the point.

Rather, the point is that most people truly desire a better society and want to seek the truth about life, death, and beyond. Rev. Elijah Waterman's sermon on the Conscience speaks pointedly to these often unvoiced concerns. He proclaims the centrality of Jesus Christ, and how his life and teachings seem like foolishness to some, but are true wisdom to those to who listen and grapple with them. Obedience to Jesus Christ is the key to a better society.

Waterman's sermon illustrates how Christ's teachings touch every person's life, and every aspect of life. Even the "awful scene" of a dying criminal (as Rev. Moses Welch says in his remarks) has something to teach us. Consider the applications of Rev. Waterman's sermon: Parents, be careful what examples you give to your children and what principles you teach them. Sinners, look to Jesus that God may be merciful to you. Children, look to the example of Caleb Adams that you may keep a tender conscience. All believers, live with an eternal perspective.

We live 200 years after the execution of Caleb Adams. It is worth asking ourselves as we consider his tragic story whether we are really so much more humane and effective in policing our society today. Is a society really better off with the retreat of religion from public discourse? Are we practicing "chronological snobbery" against the wisdom of the past, or are we remembering history and learning from it? Increase Mather once said, "Faithfulness begat prosperity, and the child devoured the mother." This is an ever-present danger. If we do not remember our nation's past, a past shaped by men and women grappling with the life-transforming teachings of the Scriptures, we are in danger of losing our nation's future.



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