Wylie & His ‘Two Sons’: The Politico-Theological Contexts of the Preacher and his Sermon -- By: J. Michael Dunlap

Journal: Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal
Volume: RPTJ 05:2 (Spring 2019)
Article: Wylie & His ‘Two Sons’: The Politico-Theological Contexts of the Preacher and his Sermon
Author: J. Michael Dunlap


Wylie & His ‘Two Sons’: The Politico-Theological Contexts of the Preacher and his Sermon

J. Michael Dunlap

Master of Divinity Student,
Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary

The window seemed to change in an instant. One moment the night had extinguished every gleam of light except for passing headlights, which careened down a slender highway and eventually faded from memory; the next, and without warning, a world ablaze with the hues of a brilliant autumn morning filled the room where I lay following the accident. Washed in these colors, the gothic spire of La Roche College rose above the landscape like some celestial fixture, alone in magnitude and glory. Across the road, and catching whatever rays it was allowed by the spire, was the bronze dome of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. I was in Passavant Hospital, named after its founder, Rev. William A. Passavant—a Lutheran. At first, these sights were a welcome respite from the cold fluorescent world of the hospital, but as the scene was reenacted morning after morning, a thought continued to dog and alter my perspective.

From a single window, I could see the supposed glory of the “American experiment.” In these peaceful mornings, I saw that a college which disseminated Roman heresy could continue beside a bastion of Eastern sacrilege—across the road from a Lutheran institution—and all with the protection of the civil magistrate. It struck me that I was living in the triumph of revolutionary ideals that were secured in the early American Republic, but more powerful was the thought that this victory was secured against the hopes of my forebears in the faith. This was not the America which Covenanters had preached, prayed, and fought to secure. But as I reclined in my bed, (with La Roche’s cross in my periphery), I realized that however much I knew of their argument, I knew very little of the context of early American Covenanters. I knew this kind of life — one where religious toleration and ecclesiastical disestablishmentarianism are first principles — and could hardly imagine a world wherein the Covenanter project for America was even tenable, let alone acceptable to many.

Samuel Brown Wylie knew a different world. In 1802, the “first principles” of today were still the abstract dreams of radical republicans, and the uncertainties of their ideal society were felt in every congressional meeting. His was a new world, but how “new” it was had yet to be defined. In this nebulous context, Wylie’s Two Sons of Oil offered a clear position — a way forward (or backward) — which, if heeded, promised to turn the infantile United States into a Reformed Republic. However, Wylie’s sermon was not without precedent. The biography of the preacher tells a story, in...

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