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DR. ARMSTRONG'S SECOND REJOINDER.
EMANCIPATION AND THE CHURCH.
TO THE Rev. C. VAN RENSSELAER, D.D.:
If I correctly apprehend the position you assume on the subject of “Emancipation and the Church,” in your second letter, we agree in the main, whilst on secondary points only we differ.
SECTION I.-AGREEMENT AND DIFFERENCE.
What you assert for the Church is simply the right to utter opinions, or give advisory testimonies in favour of Emancipation; but not to make deliverances which shall bind the conscience, or in any way affect the standing of those who hold and act upon opinions different from those which she expresses. It was against the right of the Church to make the authoritative deliverances of the latter kind, that the argument of my second letter was mainly directed: and had I understood your position at first, as I do now, I should probably never have written that letter.
In so far, then, as authoritative deliverances are concerned, we agree.
The point on which we differ, is the right of the Church to utter opinions, or give advisory testimony in favour of emancipation.
You write—“Slavery has both moral and political aspects. “Our Church has always avoided interference with the State, in matters that are outside of her own appropriate work. She has
VOL. VIII. NO. 11.
not claimed authority over the political relations of slavery, nor attempted to extend her domain over subjects not plainly within her own province. It is only where slavery comes within the line of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, that is to say, in its moral and religious aspects, that our Church has maintained her right to deliver her testimony in such form, and at such times, as seemed best. She has rendered unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's.' Let no one attempt to despoil her of this joy."
Here again, if I understand you, is a second point on which we agree, viz. : If the question of emancipation be properly a political question, the Church has no “right to deliver her testimony" respecting it, being estopped by God's law, which requires her to "render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's."
We differ as to the category-religious or political—to which the question of emancipation belongs.
SECTION II.-IS THE QUESTION OF EMANCIPATION PROPERLY A
POLITICAL QUESTION ?
In my fourth letter, as well as in my “Christian Doctrine of Slavery," pp. 129, 130, I have endeavoured to draw the distinction between the political” and “scriptural or Christian,” in the doctrine of slavery; and if the positions there assumed are sound ones, then emancipation falls into the category of political questions, unless you can show either (1) That it is a question which “immediately concerns the interests of the life to come," and is not a question respecting “civil rights and political franchises ;" or (2) That the word of God, when fairly interpreted, does contain a clear deliverance on the subject.
First. For proof that the Bible “treats the distinctions which slavery creates as matters of very little importance, in so far as the interests of the Christian life are concerned,” and, consequently, the question of emancipation as not one which “immediately concerns the interests of the life to come,” I refer you to “ Christian Doctrine of Slavery," pp. 65-74.
In proof that the teaching of the Bible here corresponds with the experience of the Church, I refer you to the two incontrovertible facts-(1) That a larger proportion of the labouring classes belong to the Christian Church in the Southern States, where the labourers are mostly slaves, than in the Northern, where slavery does not exist; and (2) The number of coloured church members, in the evangelical churches in our Southern States, is nearly double that of all the evangelical churches gathered from among the heathen throughout the world. “In 1855 heathen church membership is set down at one hundred and eighty thousand. The present estimate of coloured church members in the Methodist Church South, is one hundred and seventy-five thousand. Eight or ten
years ago the Baptist coloured membership at the South was recorded as only four thousand less than the Methodist. When to these two numbers, you add all the coloured members of other unincluded organizations of Methodists and Baptists, also of Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, you readily reach an aggregate of coloured church membership near twice as large as the strictly heathen orthodox church membership of the world.” (Stiles's Modern Reform, p. 277.)
Second. Does the word of God, when fairly interpreted, contain a clear deliverance on this subject ?
You find such a deliverance in 1 Cor. 7: 20, 21. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant ? care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather,”—and you write,“ Use your freedom, rather," says Paul, expounding the nature of slavery, and throwing the light of inspiration upon its anomalous character. When did the Apostle ever exhort husbands and wives not to care for the marriage tie, and to seek to be freed from it, if the opportunity offered ?
As I read this comment of yours, I could not but ask myself : Can my good brother Van Rensselaer have carefully studied this 7th chapter of 1 Cor.? Put the questions fairly, not—" when did the Apostle ever exhort husbands and wives not to care for the marriage tie, and to seek to be free from it if the opportunity offered,” for the marriage tie, unlike that of slavery, cannot be dissolved by consent of parties; but “when did the Apostle ever exhort the unmarried not to care for the marriage tie, but being free from it, to retain their freedom." And I answer, in this very chapter. “ I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them that they abide even as I. Art thou loosed from a wife, seek not a wife. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doth better.” Verses 8, 27, 88.
And this brings out my objection to the interpretation which you would put upon verse 21. Throughout the chapter, in answer to inquiries from the church at Corinth, Paul is giving instruction with especial regard to the circumstances in which they were placed at the time, and hence every special item of advice must be interpreted with this fact in view. Disregard this, in interpreting either the preceding portions of the chapter, or the parts which follow the passage under examination, and I see not how you can avoid the admission of doctrines clearly at variance with the teachings of other portions of the word of God; the Romish doctrine of the superior sanctity of a life of celibacy, for example.
Tried in either of these ways, then, emancipation falls into the category of political, and not that of religious questions. Nor will it avail to take it out of this category to show,
1. That the Church has often made deliverances on this subject in years that are passed. From the close of the third until near the beginning of the present century a union of Church and State has existed throughout Christendom. In our country, for the first time since the days of Constantine, has the Church assumed that position of freedom which was her glory in apostolic days. It would be strange indeed if, in such circumstances, she has never transcended the limits which her great Head has prescribed; it would be more than could reasonably be expected, that she had yet fully comprehended her true position. Political preaching, and political church-deliverances, instead of being the novelty which some imagine them, date their origin as far back as the days when this union of Church and State was formed.
You quote the paper adopted by the Assembly in 1818 as containing such a deliverance respecting emancipation as you contend for; and you call my attention to the fact that my old instructor, Dr. George A. Baxter, “clarum et venerabile nomen,' was one of the committee of three by whom that paper was prepared. I know and admit all that you say about that paper. And I know also, that eighteen years afterwards, when Dr. Baxter was an older-and may I not add—a wiser man, he entertained and published very different views, as you will see by referring to his “Essay on the Abolition of Slavery," especially pp. 4 and 7. You quote, also, the paper adopted by the Synod of Virginia in 1800, and express the opinion that our Synod are ready to reaffirm this testimony in 1858. That you are mistaken here, you can easily satisfy yourself by read. ing the paper on slavery adopted in 1837, and the remarks made by the Virginia delegation in the convention which immediately preceded the separation of the Old from the New School, as reported in the second volume of Foote's Sketches of Virginia. You will there see that the ground assumed is precisely that which I occupy. .
2. Nor will it avail to show that emancipation has a bearing upon the well-being of a people—even their spiritual well-being. Human advancement in every particular—the extension of commerce, the opening up of the country by railroads, improvements in agriculture and the mechanic arts—affects the spiritual well-being of man more or less directly. How could we, for instance, carry on the missionary operations of this nineteenth century but for the improvements of the nineteenth century? It is a mark of the heavenly origin of Christianity that she thus subsidizes every agency for God's service. And this, I believe, will be more and more the case as “the end” draweth nigh. But this by no means authorizes the Church to turn aside from
her appropriate work, that she may supervise these agencies. In the days of her greatest glory, a prophet tells us that “there shall be upon the bells of the horses, holiness unto the Lord" (Zech. 14:20); but surely, he does not mean to teach us that in that day the Church of God will go into the business of bell-founding.
SECTION III.- MY POSITION.
Do not misapprehend the position I have assumed respecting this subject of Emancipation. It is not, that the word of God teaches that slavery is to be “a permanent institution, on a level with marriage and the parental relation,” but that it treats the question of emancipation from slavery, just as it treats the analogous question of deliverance from despotic civil rule, as a political, and not a religious question, and hence, makes no deliverance on the subject. And further, that the Church is bound to treat them both alike, just as her Head has treated them in the instructions he has given her. And let me add, if you would convince the many “ of like faith” with me on this point, you will have to show either (1.) That we place the question of emancipation in the wrong category; or (2.) That the Church has a right to meddle with politics.
SECTION IV.-A SECOND QUESTION.* Thus far, I have discussed this subject of slavery, with the especial
purpose of determining, if possible, the proper limits of ecclesiastical action. Let us look at it now from a different point of view, for the purpose of determining what our duty is, as citizens and Christian men, in a country where every citizen has a right to participation in the civil government.
To the general proposition, that all men are bound to seek the well-being, temporal and eternal, of their fellow-men, no one who receives the Bible as the word of God can possibly object. The injunctions, “ Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” and “ All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” in their true scope and plain import, place this duty beyond all question.
How, then, can we best promote the well-being, temporal and eternal, of the slave race which in God's providence is among us ?
SECTION V-POPULAR ERRORS.
Before attempting to answer this second question directly, let me turn your attention, briefly, to certain popular errors which, if I mistake not, lie at the foundation of the false reasoning current respecting the slave race in our country.
I. It is a mistake to suppose that the slaves among us have any intelligent desire for freedom.
All this discussion about plans of emancipation appeared to the Editor new matter, foreign to the question of “ Emancipation and the Churcb," and to the nature of a rejoinder. The Editor suggested to Dr. Armstrong the propriety of publishing it as a separate article, a sort of appendix to the series. But Dr. Armstrong having objected to this, courtesy to him required the publication of his letter, just as he wrote it. In the Reply to this second Rejoinder, the Editor will feel at liberty, either not to notice this new matter at all, or notice it now or hereafter, according to circumstances.-ED.