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Philadelphia Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1861
The Effect of our National Troubles on the Kingdom of Christ
By John H. Castle
      The Philadelphia Baptist Association to the Churches composing the same, Sends Greeting.

      DEAR BRETHREN: - The year which has elapsed since we last addressed you is the most momentous in our national history. We were then on the verge of a Presidential election, which the various political parties contested with unusual spirit and determination to succeed. Very soon after the result was announced, several of the slaveholding States assumed the right to withdraw from the national union. Conscious that their act was Rebellion, they seized all the Government property - forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses and vessels within their limits, and banding together in an unholy alliance, put themselves on a war footing to retain by force of arms what they had already secured by robbery and fraud. The only principal cause alleged for the Rebellion was, that the people of the United States, the true Supreme Court, in the manner prescribed by the Constitution - formed by all, assented to by all - had, by their decision in the presidential contest, declared against the extension of human bondage into the territories as yet unoccupied. - Their leaders have avowedly made slavery the “corner-stone” of the Government they are attempting to establish. In fulfillment of their solemn oath, our chosen rulers exerted the strong arm of military power to suppress the rebellion. For the last six months of the year, our country, dearer to us than life, has been plunged into the horrors of a civil war. Our Capital has been beleaguered. Battles have been fought. Contests of greater or less magnitude occur every day. The great industrial pursuits of the country are paralyzed. Manufactories are standing still, and commerce is driven from its customary channel. Pirates, under the authority of the Rebellion, swarm the seas. Strains of martial music salute our ears at every corner. Members of our churches have left their homes and the

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house of God in response to the call of the Government. Every church in the Association has its representatives - from one to thirty in the army. And the most deplorable feature in the contest is that they have gone forth to meet in deadly conflict those whom they had esteemed as brethren. - Sons of a Common Country, and many of them Lovers of the same Saviour.

      To the patriot this scene is one of the saddest he can contemplate. All the glories of the past, all the progress of the present - the perpetuity of free institutions, the bulwarks of our civil and religious freedom - all are in peril. The latest and the grandest experiment of democratic government is passing, before the eyes of all nations, the ordeal which shall realize or dash forever the hopes of every lover of soul and liberty.

      In its political aspects, we do not wish to discuss the present crisis. With whatever feeling it may inspire us as citizens, it has bearings on the kingdom of Christ, which as Christians we must regard. As the blood-bought servants of Jesus, we must ask with intense solicitude,


      For the ultimate results we do not entertain the slightest fear. We are not of those who think that the history of the world is written backward. “God will make the wrath of man to praise Him.” Their passions and their wickedness, their ambition and their selfishness shall be overruled for the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom. Every storm that has swept through the moral firmament has left a clearer and more bracing atmosphere. The mists which hang over the delicate questions, where interest befogs duty, are dissipated. Responsibilities and privileges are better understood. Rights, hitherto denied, are comprehended as the inalienable possession of the race. The Church, coming nearer the Captain of her Salvation, advances and takes a firm stand among the moral questions affecting the welfare of mankind, where before she faltered, and doubted, and despaired. In the contests of the past between the powers of this world, the Prince of Peace has added territory to His own realm. Whoever lost the battle, the spoils of victory were always His. And who can doubt that it will be so in the present conflict 2 No man can tell what are the precise advantages the Christian world will secure in this crisis. But surely we may expect

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that all Christian men will better understand the basis and the influence of that system, which is the primary cause of the present disasters. The churches will no longer doubt whether slavery is a beneficent and Divine institution, to be extended and perpetuated, or whether it is to be condemned as an evil of gigantic proportions and debasing influence. And when all denominations of Christians shall, in the name of the Lord, utter their decided and unequivocal protest, how long will the system endure?

      But usually the blessings which an overruling Providence gathers up from the wreck of political convulsions, He holds in His hand to scatter among the next generation. They reap the harvest which their fathers sowed in the blood-stained soil of liberty. The generation which endures the onset is scarred and maimed. While therefore we are sure that the cause of our Redeemer will in the end be advanced by these upheavings, there are temporary and local dangers to the church which should occasion in us all the most watchful solicitude.

      We are in danger of losing our Spirituality. One great overmastering sentiment has taken possession of the public heart. Go where we will, one topic forms the theme of conversation, - the state of public affairs, the prospects of the country. Never were the secular newspapers so eagerly devoured. Never before did Christians to such an extent profane the Lord's Day by worldly reading and conversation. Even the Sunday journals have found an entrance into many Christian families where they have hitherto been conscientiously excluded. Many church members, not entirely under the influence of Christian principle, are, in the ardor of their patriotism, betrayed into forgetfulness of covenant obligations. Their pastors and brethren note with pain their unnecessary absence from the sanctuary and the prayer meeting. The Christian's usefulness and enjoyment are both measured by his spirituality. The moral power of the church is just in proportion as its members live a life of faith on the Son of God. But such a life must be sustained in the soul by its proper nourishment-meditation, prayer, and the word of God. How soon does the soul become clouded and barren when these are neglected. At ordinary times, the world is sufficiently seductive and alluring to our hearts to require persistent watchfulness. But at the present time, in addition to his usual temptations, the adversary will make even the dictates of a holy patriotism a snare to our souls.

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We blame no man for his devotion to the country. The more he loves her, and the more he shows his love in heroic acts, the more we praise him. But let him remember that Christ claims his first, allegiance, and his warmest affections. Nay, more, that he will best serve his country by his fidelity to Jesus. The Master's voice, louder than the din and [and - omit] tumult, must be heard saying, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” And when the Lord's people shall heed this voice, they will experience the blessing of the promise, “All these things shall be added to you,” including among other necessary things (may we not hope?) the restoration of peace and prosperity to our country. But unless the voice of the Master is heard, and His people practically acknowledge their paramount duty to Him, our churches will be paralyzed in their energies, the influence of the Holy Spirit will be withdrawn, and we shall witness the decay which always follows when godliness loses its power; the very form of it goes to ruin. Let us feel that the times demand special watchfulness, prayerfulness, and a faith which gains its vigor from frequent intercourse with the word of God.

      But beyond the simple loss of our spirituality, there is a second danger, viz: That the war spirit will stir up in our bosoms the worst passions of human nature - bitterness, malice, and revenge. These almost always are the companions and assistants of war.

      Our provocation is great. As a people, we are not conscious of any intention to wrong or injure any section of our common country. But, nevertheless, the calamity of civil war has fallen upon us. We are told on authority which cannot be gainsayed that it is impossible to conceive the intensity of the hatred cherished for us at the South. As love begets love, so hatred begets hatred. We are in danger of the same spirit. In the excitement of the day, we easily fall into the use of language, which indicates that unholy passions mingle with our love of country. Determined to uphold the Government in asserting its supremacy; putting forth our strongest energies to sustain it; giving freely both life and treasure, let us pity rather than hate our enemies, and deplore the necessity which compels us to send our armies to meet them. Above all, let revenge have no place in our hearts. It will incense our Heavenly Father. It will burn up all that is lovely in the work of the Holy Spirit within us. It will re-act upon ourselves and mar the harmony of our own churches. It will tell the world that there is no better

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spirit in the Christian than in the unconverted. It will belie Christianity, which is forgiveness and mercy incarnate. “Vengeance is mine and I will repay,” saith the Lord.

      There is yet another point at which we need to be watchful and solicitous, for the benevolent and aggressive work of our churches is endangered.

      In the present age, Christians have a magnificent field for the exercise and development of their charities. The humblest believer may exert an influence which is felt to the ends of the earth. Foreign Missions - “the glory of the age,” - Home Missions, like the Apostles, beginning at Jerusalem, but sending out their advance lines to the far distant frontier - Bible Distribution, furnishing to wandering man the only infallible guide for time and eternity, - Publication Societies, scattering tracts, like leaves from the tree of life, “for the healing of the nations,” and founding Sunday Schools, where the young are taught and trained for heaven; - Education Societies, aiding the poor but pious and ardent young man to qualify himself for the responsibilities of the Christian ministry - these and kindred institutions furnish the Christian facilities for living for Jesus and working for Jesus, at once in every land remote or near. Through them he may exert a benevolence almost omnipresent. In the most prosperous times, the churches have never been able to meet the demands made upon them by the benevolent agencies of the day. After their most generous response, the cry of spiritual want has still been wafted from a thousand Macedonias, “Come over and help us.” It has come from the frontiers of the West, and from the jungles of India. It has come from the neglected masses in our cities, and from the scattered denizens of our forests. But if in prosperous times the bounty of the churches has not been adequate to supply laborers for the various fields which Providence has opened, what may we not dread when political commotions draw off our minds from the work of Christ, and commercial disasters cripple our resources? Many cheerful givers are lamenting their inability to make their usual generous donations. Covetousness rejoices to find an excuse for withholding what decency has hitherto extracted from its closely guarded treasure. Our benevolent societies are studying to retrench where retrenchment will prove least disastrous. But where can they curtail their expenditures without exciting the most painful anxieties in the lover of Zion? Shall they withdraw their

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Home Missionaries and recall their Colporteurs? Then will be scattered the fruits of years of patient toil, then will expire many a little church, which has been as a “light shining in a dark place.” Shall they reduce their salaries? God forgive the thought! Already they have scarce enough to obtain subsistence. And our Foreign Missionaries, shall they be left to care for themselves among the heathen? Must they cast themselves on the charity of pagans? Shall we ask them to return? To bring them home is more expensive than to support them abroad. Our work is like a half-finished temple; - abandon it, and it soon becomes a ruin. But we cannot afford to abandon it. There is a more excellent way. Let us emulate the generous self-denial of the Macedonian churches, when, “in a great trial of affliction, their DEEP POVERTY ABOUNDED UNTO THE RICHES of THEIR LIBERALITY. For to their power,” as Paul bears record, “yea, and beyond their power, they were willing of themselves.” Let the churches of Christ emulate the spirit with which the nation is responding to the necessities of the Government. At no ordinary time, however prosperous, could an Administration have obtained money for the lavish expenditure of one million dollars per day. But when our institutions, our liberties, our national existence are in peril, in the face of commercial panic and disaster, our citizens without murmur or complaint, hasten to replenish the Treasury. The Capitalist brings his tens of thousands, - the Trader his thousand, - the Mechanic his hundred, - the Laborer his fifty - and the Widow her mite - and they joyfully exclaim, “It is pleasant to sacrifice our treasure for our Country.” Thus are the vast wants of the Government met, and no foreign power is asked for the smallest loan. The nation is astonished at its own resources. It only needs the mystic charm of patriotism to lay open hidden treasure equal to the nation's emergency.

      Let our loyalty to Christ Jesus give a similar expression. Let the imperilled [sic] interests of His kingdom incite us to put forth the noblest effort and endure the severest sacrifices to save them. Let us understand how much is in jeopardy, and our hearts will warm for our Master's work. Then out of our deep poverty, the riches of an abounding liberality will develop unexpected resources, sufficient to prevent the mortification and disgrace of retreating from the fields on which we have planted the Banner of our King.

      We have thus endeavored, dear brethren, to point out some of the

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present dangers to the cause of our Redeemer. These dangers are real and imminent. But is it absolutely necessary and unavoidable that our national troubles shall prove detrimental to the present prosperity of the churches? We think not. The rod of correction is upon us. Let us kiss the rod. We are taught our dependence on the Almighty. Let us draw near Him, with humility and reverence. Where we cannot contribute as large sums as formerly to the work of benevolence, let us put forth more direct personal effort. Then instead of diminished work, there will be an increase in the entire labors of the church. Here then is hope. Our country's affliction, sanctified to the people of God, will make them more spiritually minded. They will feel the necessity of individual endeavor, and whilst they watch and pray and work, God will not withhold the increase.

      We are unable to verify the statement, but it is asserted on good authority, that in no period of the same number of years, considering the population of the country and the membership of our churches, did Baptists multiply with such rapidity as during the Revolution. We recognize the sovereignty of God in this. But we also see a reason for it. None of the denominations of that period were in such full sympathy with liberty and free institutions as our own. - The fact is both encouraging and suggestive; encouraging, for it shows that our churches may increase and prosper even in the time of civil war; - suggestive, for it is a proof that God honors His people, when their instincts and impulses are true to LIBERTY, WHICH IS THE SPIRIT OF THE GOSPEL.
          ;REUBEN JEFFERY, Moderator.
          HORATIO G. JONES, Clerk.


[From the Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1861, pp. 25-31; via the U. of Chicago digitized documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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