Samuel Danforth: "The Cry of Sodom," 1674
the "holiest man hath as vile and filthy a Nature, as the Sodomites"
A classic hellfire and brimstone sermon on the "sins of Sodom," published anonymously in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is attributed to the Reverend Samuel Danforth of Duxbury. The diatribe was issued after a youth, Benjamin Goad, was executed for bestiality. This punishment's harshness apparently caused criticism in Massachusetts of the late 1600s, dissension which this sermon seems designed to answer.(1)
"The sins of Sodom were many and great," said Danforth, but that which was "most grievous of all" was the Sodomites' "abominable filthiness in all manner of Uncleanness." Their specific uncleannesses were said to be "pride, fullness of bread [gluttony], and abundance ofIdleness [sloth]." Also, the Sodomites did not attend to the needs of "the poor and needy, and they were haughty and committed abominations." Such "wickedness" "criedunto Heaven for vengeance.”
The Lord, said Danforth, did not have to travel to Sodom to know its sins, for he saw "the most secret wickedness, and knoweth our thoughts." But to "set an Example" for magistrates of careful criminal prosecution, the Lord decided to go down to earth in the shape of a man, accompanied by two holy Angels. The Sodomites' "Beastly incivility and rage against those Heavenly Guests, the two holy Angels," revealed the city's wickedness. For this wickedness the Lord destroyed Sodom "with Fire and Brimstone.(2)
So that no one could claim the ministry did not acquaint him or her with the "heinousness" of the Sodornites' transgressions, Danforth inquired into the exact nature of their "Abominable Uncleanness." What were the sins which brought divine vengeance?
They were "Fornication, and going after strange flesh." Fornication included, "not only whoredom and Self-pollution, but also Adultery." "Going after strange flesh" included "Sodomy and Bestiality."
"Self-pollution" was that which occurred when a man practiced "filthiness with his own body alone." This was the "sin of Onan," who "abhorred the lawful use of the Marriage-bed, and most impurely defiled himself," This sin was "so detestable in the sight of God" that he slew Onan.
"Some learned Interpreters" of the Bible, Danforth said, also believed self-pollution to include defiling one's body by "nocturnal Pollutions," a "hateful" and "odious sin."(3)
"Whoredom" Danforth defined as "the violating of a single woman."
"Adultery" was "the-violating of the Marriage bed."
"Incest" was "uncleanness committed by parties that are near of Kin."
filthiness committed between parties of the same Sex-when Males with Males, and Females with Females work wickedness. If a man lieth with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death, their blood shall be upon them, Lev. 20:13. This sin raged amongst the Sodomites, and to their perpetual Infamy, it is called Sodomy. Against this wickedness, no indignation is sufficient. The Athenians put such to death. Theodosius [the Roman general and emperor] and Arcadius adjudged such to be Burnt." Amongst the Romans, it was lawful for a man to kill him that made such an assault upon him.(4)
"Bestiality, or Buggery" was "when any prostitute themselves to a Beast."(5)
Danforth's discourse was intended, he declared, to vindicate God's "severity toward this vile and wicked Youth," Benjamin Goad. (That an execution for bestiality needed vindication seems a sign of a popular desire for the less harsh punishment of such crimes.) "Some among us," said Danforth, may "stand astonished" that God should make "such a Youth," a "Child of Religious Parents," a "Dreadful Example of Divine Vengeance." Such doubters were told: "You pity his Youth and tender years," but, "I pray, pity the holy Law of God, which is shamefully violated ... , pity the Land, which is fearfully polluted and defiled."
In defense of "God's" severe punishment of Goad, Danforth argued that the youth
lived in Disobedience to his Parents, in Lying, Stealing, Sabbath-breaking, and was wont to flee away from Catechism.... He was extremely addicted to Sloth and Idleness.... He gave himself to Self-pollution, and other Sodomitical wickedness. He often attempted Buggery with several Beasts. … he grew so impudent in his wickedness, as to commit this horrid Villainy in the sight of the Sun, and in the open field, even at Noon-day.... Though he be a Youth in respect of years, yet he is grown old in wickedness, and ripe for Vengeance.... If we will not pronounce such a Villain Accursed, we must be content to bear the Curse ourselves. The Land cannot be cleansed, until it hath spued out this Unclean Beast. The execution of Justice upon such a notorious Malefactor, is the only way to turn away the wrath of God from us... .(6)
The execution of Goad reminded New Englanders of God's "Divine Wrath," and would "strike a holy fear and dread" into all hearts, preventing further evil, argued Danforth.(7)
The harsh punishment of the wicked was said to impress all persons because "Our cursed Natures” inclined us all to every kind of sin; the "holiest man hath as vile and filthy a Nature, as the Sodomites." The Lord's "severity" to Goad showed that "Whoredom, Adultery, Self-pollution and Sodomy, are as odious ... now, as ever."(8) The destruction of the Sodomites demonstrated the propriety of the execution of Goad, swept away "as dung and filth from the face of the earth." God had "Hanged up" Goad "before the Sun" as "an Instruction and Astonishment to all New England."(9)
Was there anyone who, knowing of Goad's fate, was "not afraid to go on impenitently in the same sins," who did not repent of "Self-pollution, Fornication ... Sodomy and Bestiality"? Such non-repenters were sarcastically exhorted:
Go to now, ye wanton and lascivious persons, go on in your Frolicks and mad Pranks.... He that is a Sodomite, let him be a Sodomite still; he that is a Beast, let him be a Beast still.... Justify this poor Condemned Wretch in all his Villainy....(10)
Those who did "justify Sodom in all her Abomination" willed themselves to be condemned.(11)
The "Wrath of God" which had lighted upon Goad will "restrain the rest of our Youth, and all others," argued Danforth. God "hath cut off this rotten and putrid Member" to "prevent the spreading of the "Infection."(12)
The preacher commanded his readers: "Detest and abominate the sin of Sodomy," and those who "abuse themselves with man-kind.”(13)
To be preserved from "Uncleanness," Danforth ordered, "Beware of Pride," a sin which "makes men despise the Ordinance of Marriage," a "remedy" for "boiling and burning lusts." Beware of "Gluttony and Drunkenness," Danforth also warned.
And "Beware of Sloth and Idleness, added this exponent of the Protestant work ethic, for when "men are sluggish" in the labor which God called them to, the "Devil" will set them about his own work. Do not roll upon your bed when you should be "in the Field," commanded the minister. As the old maxims said: "Laziness breeds Lewdness. No business, debauchery. By doing nothing, men learn to do evil."(14)
Danforth also warned, "Beware of Disobedience to Parents and Masters in Families, and of casting off the Yoke of Government"; such rules "restrain the Enormities of Youth." And "Beware evil Company," "Irreligion and Profaneness." The profane Gentiles represented God "by images of Men and Beasts, wherefore God gave them over to vile. affections ... , so that they ran mad into Sodomitical wickedness."(15)
God's punishment of Goad might move those guilty of Uncleanness to "Repent." The guilty person might well ask, if God did not spare this "lewd Youth," why should he spare any other "old practitioner in Sodomitical wickedness"? Danforth instructed the wicked to repent "unclean Speculations, vile affections, unchaste fire," so that God's heart would not be broken by "thy whorish heart." The "only Sacrifice" God required was a "contrite heart."(16) (Repentance might save even an "old practioncer in Sodomitical wickedness.")
The sinner was urged to labor through the
help of Christ to mortify thy lusts and crucify the flesh 'Take the Sword of the Spirit, and thrust it into the bowels of thy lusts If once thou has escaped out of Sodom, tremble to think of returning …(17)
"Let the fear of God" excite all hearts to "purity" and "love of holiness," exhorted Danforth. The impure of heart were warned to watch all their "thoughts and affections," to "Stop thine Ears at filthy Jests, amorous Songs," and to "Abhor all lascivious Touches, unchaste Embracings."(18)
Finally, Danforth urged, "let us carefully Watch over our Children, Servants, and all that are under our Care and Charge, lest they be stained and defiled." Such prevention of sin might prevent future destruction. The Lord had forewarned Abraham of the Sodomites' impending destruction so that Abraham could "charge his Children and Family to beware of like wickedness."(19)
"Arise," concluded Danforth, "and depart out of Sodom."(20)
- Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 108-111, citing Upon Occasion of The Arraignment and Condemnation of Benjamin Goad For his Prodigious Villany. Together with A Solemn Exhortation to Tremble at Gods Judgements and to Abandon Youthful Lusts (Cambridge; Mass.: Marmaduke Johnson, 1674). Cited in Bullough, SVISH, p. 522; Oaks, "'Things,'" pp. 277-78; Kohler, Search, pp. 72-73.
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