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SECTION XIV.-THE CHURCH AND ADVISORY TESTIMONY.
After this long digression, of your own seeking, I return to the original topic of the relation of the Church to emancipation. The Church has a right to enjoin the performance of all the relative duties specified in the Scriptures, and to give general counsel, or testimony, in regard to the termination of the relation itself, as a moral and lawful end.
Why a right to give counsel ? Because, as I have attempted to show, the relation being abnormal and exceptional, its ultimate dissolution is fairly inferred, as a moral duty, from the general spirit and principles of the word of God. So far as the dissolution of the relation requires the action of the State, the Church has no right to meddle with it in any form, either as to the plan, or the time. The Church has simply the right to advise and urge her members to prepare their slaves for freedom, as soon as Providence shall open the way for it.
Why may not the Church enjoin emancipation ? Because slaveholding being right or wrong, according to circumstances, the Church can neither give a specific rule of permanent and universal obligation, nor can it take cognizance of the circumstances of each particular case, which must be adjudicated by the mind and conscience of each individual under his responsibility to God.
The Church, therefore, whilst it cannot prescribe political measures of emancipation, or the time of emancipation, has a perfect right to say to its members, as our General Assembly did, in 1818:
“We earnestly exhort them to continue, and, if possible, to increase their exertions to effect a total abolition of slavery. We exhort them to suffer no greater delay to take place in this most interesting concern, than a regard to the public welfare truly and indispensably demands.”
“And we, at the same time, exhort others to forbear harsh censures, and uncharitable reflections on their brethren, who unhappily live among slaves, whom they cannot immediately set free; but who are really using all of their influence and all their endeavours to bring them into a state of freedom, as soon as a door for it can be safely opened.”
Or, as the Synod of Virginia declared in 1802:
“We consider it the indispensable duty of all who hold slaves to prepare, by a suitable education, the young among them for a state of freedom, and to liberate them as soon as they shall appear to be duly qualified for that high privilege.”
In thus maintaining the right of the Church to give advisory testimony, there is scarcely need to add, that the Church is bound to proceed with the wisdom which should ever characterize a court of the Lord Jesus Christ.
SECTION XV.-THE THIRD LETTER. HISTORY OF ANTI-SLAVERY
1. I do not conceive that my third letter was based upon the slightest misapprehension. The whole strain of Bishop Hopkins's apology for slavery implies, like your own, that the institution may lawfully exist among a people, forever, without any concern. This I do not believe ; and this the Christian Church has not believed, either in earlier or later times. I protest against such doctrine, in however guarded language it may be expressed or concealed.
In the time of Chrysostom, who flourished after Constantine, about A.D. 400, emancipation was encouraged throughout the Empire; more so than my brother Armstrong seems to encourage it now, in the interval of fourteen centuries. There is no reason to infer from Chrysostom's fanciful interpretation of 1 Cor. 7 : 21, that he was an advocate of the perpetuity of slavery. In some respects, that distant age was in advance of our own.
2. You think that in two instances I confound things that differ. (1.) But I did not understand you as saying that the Christian anti-slavery philanthropists of England were infidels, but simply that they acted quoad hoc on infidel principles. I proved that their principles were not those of infidelity; that such an idea was preposterous.* (2.) Nor did I confound slaveholding with the African slave-trade. The paragraphs from Mr. Bancroft's history embraced both subjects, so that one could not be well separated from the other. Besides, the traffic and the system sustain a close relation to each other. The abettors of perpetual slavery are always prone to defend the slave-trade, as is lamentably witnessed at the present time, in the extreme South.
SECTION XVI.-CONCLUDING REMARKS.
On reviewing our respective positions on this interesting question, I am confirmed in the correctness of those with which I set out, viz. : that “slaveholding is right or wrong according to circumstances;" that the General Assembly had a right to exhort the members of the Church to prepare their slaves for freedom whenever Providence should open the door for it; that the history of anti-slavery opinions shows that the Church has never regarded slavery as an institution to be perpetuated; that it is wise for us, as citizens, to examine the question of emancipation in all its bearings; and that the border States, if no others, might advantageously commence the work speedily, on the plan of a prospective scheme, with Liberian colonization as its adjunct.
* HOBBES, one of the leaders of infidelity, maintained that every man being by nature at war with every man, the one has a perpetual right to reduce the other to servitude, when he can accomplish the end.
On the other hand, if I do not misunderstand you, you have taken the following positions : 1. “Slaveholding is not a sin in the sight of God.” 2. The Church has no right even to advise her members to elevate their slaves with a view to their freedom, and that the testimonies of the General Assembly, down to 1845, were wrong, and ought never to have been uttered. 3. Slaveholding has always existed in the Church without any reproach, from the earliest times, until Christian philanthropy, adopting the principles of Infidelity, has lately agitated the matter. 4. It is expedient to do nothing in the way of emancipation at present, if, indeed, the slaves are ever to be free; and the South had better not send any more slaves to Liberia until the North has sent its free blacks.
By the expression of these sentiments, I fear that, without intending it, you have lowered the tone of public sentiment wherever your influence extends, and have impaired the obligations of conscientious Christians on this great subject. John Randolph declared in Congress, “Sir, I envy not the heart nor the head of that man from the North, who rises here to defend slavery from principle.” This remark has no direct application, of course, to yourself; but many readers, I fear, will claim, in your behalf, the credit of doing the very thing that John Randolph denounced.
I agree with you about the evils of the course of the fanatical abolitionists; and no more than yourself do I desire to unite my honour with their assembly.*
I stand upon the good old ground, occupied by the Presbyterian Church from time immemorial. Believing it to be scriptural ground, I have endeavoured to defend it; and shall, by God's grace, continue to defend it on all fit occasions, against extreme views either at the North or at the South. I further believe that
my beloved brethren at the South occupy, in the main, the same conservative position-a position which has enabled our Church to maintain her scriptural character and her integrity. I do not expect that my brethren, either at the North or South, will agree with me in all the side issues about plans of emancipation, which you have thrown into the argument without any logical authority, and to which I have replied according to the best light given me.
Praying for spiritual blessings upon Africa and her descendants, and that the cause of truth, liberty, and righteousness may prevail from shore to shore,
I am yours fraternally,
C. VAN RENSSELAER.
Notwithstanding Dr. Armstrong's strong condemnation of the abolitionists, he practically, but unintentionally, adopts two of their leading principles. 1. He discourages, at least for a long period, the emancipation of slaves, with a view of sending them to Liberia. So far as this generation is concerned, Dr. Armstrong and the abolitionists are, on this point, at unity. 2. He maintains that Africa ought not to be regarded as the country and home of the coloured race; but that America is as much their home as it is his or mine. This is a favourite and fundamental principle of the abolitionists, from which they argue emancipation upon the soil.
NOTE. DR. BAXTER ON SLAVERY. Since writing the foregoing Article, a friend has forwarded to the Presbyterian Historical Society, Dr. Baxter's pamphlet on Slavery. I have read, with great interest and satisfaction, this remarkable production of my revered theological instructor. It breathes the spirit of his great soul.
1. The principles of Dr. Baxter's pamphlet are not at all inconsistent with the Assembly's testimony of 1818, which he had a share in preparing and adopting. The general views are coincident with those of that immortal document, with such difference only as was naturally to be expected in looking at the subject from a different stand.point.
2. In the statement of the doctrine of slavery, Dr. Baxter fully agrees with me, as will be seen by the following quotations from bis pamphlet:
“The relation of the master is lawful, as long as the circumstances of the case make slavery necessary.” p. 5.
“There is no consistent ground of opposing abolition, without asserting that the relation of master is right or wrong according to circumstances, and that the examination of our circumstances is necessary to ascertain whether or not it be consistent with our duty.” pp. 9, 10.
“It therefore appears plain, that the Apostle determines the relation of master to be a lawful relation. [Here Dr. Armstrong would have stopped, but Dr. Baxter adds.] I only mean that slavery is lawful, whilst necessary; or that it is lawful to hold slaves, whilst this is the best thing that can be done for them.” p.
15. “I believe that the true ground of Scripture, and of sound philosophy, as to this subject, is, that slavery is lawful in the sight of Heaven, whilst the character of the slave makes it necessary." p. 23.
Dr. Armstrong will see that my doctrine of circumstances, and nothing else, was in the mind of Dr. Baxter. This was the Assembly's doctrine of 1818. Dr. Baxter was no wiser in 1836, "eighteen years afterwards," because he was scripturally wise in 1818. I have a firmer persuasion than
ever, that the great mass of my bretbren at the South agree with Dr. Baxter, and not with Dr. Armstrong.
3. Dr. Baxter does not hesitate to speak out, like a man and a Christian, against the idea of the perpetuity of slavery.
“For my part, I do not believe that the system of slavery will or can be perpetual in this country.” p. 16.
"Christianity in its future progress through the world, with greater power than has heretofore been witnessed, I have no doubt will banish slavery from the face of the whole earth.” p. 17.
“The application of Christian principles to both master and servant, will hasten the day of general emancipation.” p. 23.
Dr. Baxter uses no ifs, like a man afraid of his shadow, but boldly declares the common conviction of the Christian, and even political, world in regard to the desirableness and certainty of ultimate emancipation.
4. Dr. Baxter's pamphlet is specially directed against the abolition doctrine of immediate emancipation; and his object is to show that slavery can only be abolished by preparing the slaves for freedom under the influences of Christianity. "I find nothing in the pamphlet on the question of Church testimony. There is no doubt, in my own mind, that he adhered to his views of 1818, on this, as on other points. God bless his memory and example! “Being dead, he yet speaketh."
For “ The Presbyterian Magazine."
“DISCOURAGED, BECAUSE OF THE WAY.”
O WEARY, murmuring soul!
While yet far from the goal !
This strengthening word of cheer-
Falls on thy listening ear.
Earth's labourers may repine,
But, O my soul, not thine!
They may despond; but thou,
Such gloom upon thy brow?
Thy wistful glances trace
Who ran the martyr's race.
What! Couldst thou, fearless, drink
Would flesh nor spirit shrink ?
Presumptuous, sinful thought !
Of light to thee is fraught
With horror and dismay !
Without one gladdening ray ?
Nay, leave to God, Allwise,
With heaven-directed eyes.
The promise standeth sure !
Firm to the end endure !