Baptists and the American Civil War: January 27, 1861

SlaveryBefore a packed sanctuary at the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, Ebenezer W. Warren, pastor of the Macon congregation, delivers a sermon defending black slavery as biblical. (The Macon Telegraph printed the sermon in its February 7, 1861 edition.)

Warren ties slavery explicitly to the Bible and the will of God, arguing that biblical truth and God’s identity rises or falls upon the validity of black slavery. He also notes that the South intends to maintain black slavery in perpetuity. He preaches about slavery even as Georgia’s secession convention continues in Milledgeville.

The following is the bulk of the lengthy manuscript, with some non-critical portions omitted (this reproduction was copied from Oby Brown’s typed manuscript of the Macon Telegraph transcript provided to Baptist historian Buddy Shurden):

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THE SCRIPTURAL VINDICATION OF SLAVERY
by Ebenezer W. Warren

Eph. 5:5-8, “Servants, (bondsmen,) be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart as unto Christ; not with eye service as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service as unto the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” I am to present this morning a Bible exposition of the subject of slavery. A sermon on a topic so unusual to a Southern audience, may need a word of explanation to justify it. Two reasons will be sufficient for this purpose:

1.  Slavery forms a vital element of the Divine Revelation to man. Its institution, regulation, and perpetuity, constitute a part of many of the books of the Bible.

God instituted it in the days of Noah, and gave it His sanction again at Mt. Sinai. His Son  commended it during his ministry on earth. The holy apostle Paul, exhorted his son Timothy to preach it; and Peter teaches a most important precept as to its obligations.

If God, through Noah, after the flood, and at Sinai, through the Law—if Christ during his ministry, and the apostles in their writings, instituted, regulated and promulgated slavery—it is not less imperative on me, to “declare the whole counsel of God” on this subject, than it is on any other, which the wise and beneficent Creator has seen proper to reveal to man.

2. The public mind needs enlightening from the sacred teachings of Inspiration on this subject.

Some of our greatest statesmen and patriots, whose moral worth is still fragrant in the memories of all – but who better understand the laws of nations, political economy, and the Constitution of the U.S., than they did the Bible, have declared slavery to be a sin.

Not a few of our standard literary and Theological works, written by Northern men of recognized learning and piety, embody a strong anti-slavery sentiment. The Sabbath school books, heretofore taught to our children; and the light literature and religious periodicals issued from the Northern presses, and read by our families, have not been free from the same pernicious and unsanctified teachings. The discourse delivered on this subject, whether from the pulpit or the hustings, have heretofore been by those who opposed the institution.

So frequent and declamatory have been their efforts, that a popular current of opposition has been set in commotion, which has well nigh overleaped its bounds. We of the South have been passive, hoping the storm would subside and leave the wrecks of its own folly and madness upon the field that gave it birth. Our passiveness has been our sin. We have not come up to the vindication of God and of truth, as duty demanded. The consequence has been, as might have been expected. A few of our own people have been prepared to look upon slavery as a “necessary evil.” Some others are unsettled in their views, and apologize for, rather than justify the institution. While many who believe it is right, have not taken the time to investigate it thoroughly as it is taught from Heaven – and hence, are better prepared to defend it upon constitutional, than upon Bible grounds.

For these reasons, it is necessary for ministers of the Gospel … to teach slavery from the pulpit, as it was taught by the holy men of old, who spake as moved by the Holy Spirit. I should feel I was derelict to my religious obligations to God – wanting in philanthropy to the negro race among us – and unfaithful to the high, social and religious interest of my State, were I, at this crisis, to decline, as a religious teacher, to give my congregation what I conceive to be the revealed word of God on this subject.

The moral sentiments of the North, and of England, is opposed to slavery. Their presses, pulpits and orators, have for years been opposing the extension and even the existence of the institution. No effort moral or political, has been spared to which promised to cripple it, and yet its progress has been steady and uniform – widening in its area, and deepening its hold on the confidence and affections of all classes among us, especially the learned and pious. Its propensity up to this time has been unabated.

… Both Christianity and Slavery are from Heaven; both are blessings to humanity; both are to be perpetuated to the end of time; and therefore both have been protected and defended by God’s omnipotent arm from the assaults, oppositions and persecutions through which they have passed.

Why are our slaves still peaceful and happy, notwithstanding the incendiary spirit of abolitionism? Why have they not revolted and thrown off the yoke of bondage? Why do hundreds go forth at the will of one man, to their daily labor, contented and happy? Why to we hear their merry laugh and cheerful songs, and see their sports of mirth – giving evidences, of joyous and happy hearts, and that, too, while they are as conscious as we are that they are held in involuntary servitude? Because Slavery is right; and because the condition of the slaves affords them all those privileges which would prove substantial blessings to them; and, too, because their Maker has decreed their bondage, and has given them, as a race, capacities and aspirations suited alone to this condition of life.

The serfs of other nations are discontented, and not unfrequently mobs are raised, and depredations of a serious character committed by them; but the South is, always has been, and always will be, free from danger from her domestics. Should they increase ten-fold, but little, if any, damage is ever anticipated from a spirit of insubordination. The reasons are obvious. An unparalleled progress in civilization and Christianity has resulted to them, from this domestic relation. They constitute an element in the social and religious relations of life, not as equals to the master, but as good subjects of a patriarchal government, under their moral and spiritual interests are supplied through the gospel – they are fed, clothed and protected – nursed affectionately when sick, and bountifully provided and tenderly cared for when old. Under this treatment, they cherish an affection for the master akin to the love of children to their parents, and thus through affection is the yoke made easy and the burden light.

The more pious and cultivated among them believe their bondage is according to the will of God; and they exert their influence, both by percept and example, to enforce upon their less informed brethren, a conscientious submission to this decree of Heaven. A few months since an intelligent slave preached in a neighboring village to a colored congregation, on the subject of slavery, presenting the Bible arguments in support of it. At the conclusion of the discourse, he took a vote to see how many of his congregation agreed in believing that slavery was right according to the Bible, when the whole congregation without a single exception, arose to their feet.

A slave, who was born and reared in an adjoining county to this, and who is yet a slave, has written a book on Slavery, which is now in press in Georgia. It is intended for circulation, principally at the North, and is said to be complete refutation, upon historical and biblical proofs, of the principles upon which Black Republicanism has planted itself. Thus we have the moral spectacle of a negro slave teaching ethics, religion, history and slavery, to the misguided fanatics who become his liberators.

A slave in this city took some pains to read the late excellent sermon of the Rev. VanDyke to his fellow servants, because, he said, it was the ablest vindication of Bible truth, upon that subject, he had ever seen.

Refer to these as Signs of the Times, which show that Providence instead of releasing the negro from bondage, is raising up faithful and gifted men among them, to defend the institution which enslaves them. I challenge the world to produce another instance, in which the enslaved, of any land, have believed it to be morally and religiously right to be held in bondage, and have, on principle, come to the defense of those who held them in bondage. The hand of God was not more obvious in the release of the Israelites from bondage, than it is apparent, in enslaving the Africans who are among us.

… it will not be denied by any sane man, that the Bible does recognize the owner’s right to his slave as property, and regulates the relation – therefore slavery is not sin.

Injustice, oppression, and wrong of every characteristic are rebuked and denounced in the Bible, but it no where rebukes or denounces slavery, but upon the contrary establishes and perpetuated it – therefore is neither unjust, oppressive, nor wrong. A higher law than the Bible must be found before slavery can be condemned.

Slavery Ordained and Perpetuated by God

More than two thousand years before the christian era, slavery was instituted by decree of heaven, and published to the world by Noah, a “preacher of righteousness.” Here is the decree, Genesis 9:25-27, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants, shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” The Jews descended from Shem, the Europeans and Americans from Japheth, the Africans from Ham, the father of Canaan.

To show that the above language was the announcement of heaven’s decree concerning slavery, and that Noah was speaking as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, we have only to refer to its explanation and fulfillment by the descendants of Shem, as recorded in the 25th chapter of Leviticus. God gave to Abraham, a descendant of Shem, and to his seed after him the land of the Canaanites, into the possession of which they came in the days of Joshua. After the children of Israel came into the possession of the land, God gave them the following instruction as to bringing the people into bondage: “Both thy bond men and thy bond maids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you (these were the descendants of Canaan, and hence called Canaanites), of them shall ye BUY BOND MEN AND BOND MAIDS. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possessions. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for possession; they shall be your bond men forever.” (verses 44-46)

Here is a decree from the Creator, giving to one man the right of holding another in involuntary servitude. Man holding his fellow man as his property, and enjoined to perpetuate that property by inheritance to his children, forever.

Three points are here gained.

1. The establishment of slavery by divine decree.
2. The right to buy and sell men and women into bondage.
3. The perpetuity of the institution by the same authority.

A theocratic government, that is, one in which God, as the ruler, gives immediate direction, was established over the Israelites and continued for about four hundred years. The government was fully organized at Mount Sinai. The Constitution (called the Decalogue) given on that occasion, is considered the basis of all good law, and the standard of moral action, in every age of the world down to the present time – it is as of universal application as the gospel of Christ. It guarantees to the slaveholder the peaceable and unmolested right to his slave property, in language as emphatic as does the Constitution of the United States. Hear its enactment on this subject.

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house; thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s wife, nor his MAN SERVANT, not his MAID SERVANT, nor his ox, nor his ass, not anything that is thy neighbor’s”

Is a man entitled to the unmolested occupation of his house? This Divine Constitution guarantees to him the same right to his servants. Has any man the right to interfere with the domestic relation of husband and wife? Equally secure is the relation of master and servant made by this enactment of heaven. Should a man’s right to the exclusive and perpetual possession of his ox, or his ass, or of any other property of which he may be possessed, be secured to him by constitutional enactment? No more so, determined the unerring wisdom of the most high God, than the right of masters to their slaves.

Had God, the Great Law Giver, been opposed to slavery, he would perhaps have said, “thou shalt not hold property in man: thou shalt not enslave thy fellow being, for all men are born free and equal.” Instead of reproving the sin of covetousness, he would have denounced the sin of slavery; but instead of this denunciation, when He became the Ruler of his people, He established, regulated and perpetuated slavery by special enactment, and guaranteed the unmolested rights of masters to their slaves by Constitutional provision.

CHRIST RECONCILED AND SANCTIONED SLAVERY

The blessed Saviour descended from a slave-holder, Abraham. This “father of the faithful,” held as many bondmen, “born in his house and bought with his money,” as perhaps any slaveholder in the South. When he was chosen out, as the one “in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed,” not a word of Divine disapprobation, on account of his being a slave-holder was uttered.

His descendants, the Jews, up to the time of their national dispersion, were as emphatically a slave-holding people as we Georgians are.

The only qualification which is due to this remark, is founded on the captivity and wars which robbed them of much of their property. Such was the case when the Saviour came among them.

He reproved them for their sins. Calling them the works of the flesh and of the devil. He denounced idolatry, covetousness, adultery, fornification, hypocrisy, and many other sins of less moral turpitude, but never once reproved them for holding slaves; though He alluded to it frequently, yet never with an expression of the slightest disapprobation.

Many gospel truths He illustrates most happily by an allusion to the institution, and by implication, endorses and commends it. The following is a case in point:

“Which of you having a servant plowing or feeding the cattle, will say unto him by and by when he is come from the field, go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me till I have eaten and drunken; and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not.” – Luke 17:7-9

How true to Southern life, in this picture, drawn by the Divine pencil. Here is a servant laboring in the field, he is called home to prepare food for the meal, commanded to stand around the table and serve, and when he is done, no thanks are expressed to him, because he has only done his duty.

The following language is said by Paul, to be the teachings of our Saviour … Let those whose are under the yoke, as bondmen, esteem their masters worthy of all honor, lest reproach be brought upon the name of God and his doctrine – and let those whose masters are believers, not despise them because they are brethren, but serve them with the more subjection, because they who claim the benefit (of their labor) are believing and beloved. THUS TEACH AND EXHORT.” – 1 Tim. 6:1-3

Here we are taught:

1. That the disciples of Christ held slaves.
2. That this slavery was in accordance with the doctrine or teachings of God.
3. That a failure on the part of they servants to esteem their masters worthy of honor, or obedience, was considered by Christ, a reproach to the name and doctrine of God. Because He had commanded it, and whosoever disobeyed reproached his Maker.
4. That christianity did not oblige the master to liberate his slave, but upon the contrary bound the slave to serve his master with the “more subjection.” …

Lastly, Timothy was enjoined by Paul to explain and enforce in his ministry the above instructions of Christ.

I leave the apostle in the three following verses to give you a graphic portraiture of some communities “North of Mason & Dixon’s line.”

“If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railing, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth.”

Such is now the sad condition of our country, resulting from the predominant influence of characters just described by the inspired pensman, who have set at naught the doctrine of God, and established the “higher law” that our citizens true to the Divine injunction, have felt that the time has come when “from such they must withdraw themselves.”

PAUL SANCTIONS SLAVERY, BY ENFORCING UPON SERVANTS, OBEDIENCE TO MASTERS – THIS HE DOES BOTH BY EXAMPLE AND PRECEPT

1. By example.

Philemon, an Asiatic christian owned a very wicked and perverse slave, named Onesimus. On a certain occasion, this slave robbed this master of some valuables – and to prevent detection and punishment, ran a way. By some means or other, he reached Rome, where Paul was at that time preaching. A merciful Providence led the wicked fugitive to the house of God, where he was awakened by the word and spirit of God, and converted to the “faith and morality of the gospel.” With unaffected honesty, he confessed to the apostle his wickedness and injustice to his master.

Paul perceived in him the indications of gifts, which fitted him for a more important post than any which he could hold as the slave of Philemon. He wished to keep him in Rome, and employ him in preaching the gospel. His master Philemon, was so devoted a Christian that Paul had heard, even in Rome, of his “love of faith towards Jesus and towards the saints.” His unusual piety was known and spoken of everywhere. Could not Paul on this account venture to keep this reclaimed slave, who had never before been profitable to this master – and especially so, as he desired to make him a missionary? No! Onesimus anxious to repair the wrong he had done his master, and Paul recognizing Philemon’s right to the fugitive slave – without delay, prepares a letter and sends it back by Onesimus stating the facts to the master, asking him to forgive his slave for the past – and assuring him, that now he had embraced the gospel, he would be a profitable servant ….

Here is the example of a holy man of God acting under the influence of the divine teacher – the adoption of which example, had it been considered worthy of imitation by our northern brethren, would have made us one, in the bonds of a fraternal and perpetual union.

Had Paul considered slavery wrong, here was a most appropriate occasion to express that belief. Had it been opposed to the genius and precepts of that holy Christianity, of which he was the inspired expounder, he was bound by the highest obligations ever imposed upon man to declare that fact, And with what great propriety could he have done so, to his excellent and pious brother Philemon. But not the slightest intimation of that sort fell from his lips.

2. Paul’s precepts to slaves are pointed and forcible.

Eph. 6:5-8. Servants, (Bondsmen,) be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling with singleness of heart, as unto Christ; not with eye service as men pleasers; but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with good will doing service, as unto the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

These facts are here taught.

1. That slaves are required by their religious obligations, to obey their masters. The master then has a corresponding right to command, else the servant would be under no obligation to obey – slavery is here endorsed as divinely right, because to the master is given the divine right to command.

Then the Divine right to slavery is here expressly given – but God never grants to any man the divine right to sin. Therefore slavery is not sin.

2. That in obeying the master, the slave is obeying Christ. “In singleness of your heart as unto Christ – doing the will of God from the heart!” A cheerful and hearty obedience to the master is a part of the slaves duty to God. His religion enjoins it. But his obligation depends upon his servitude – were there no servitude there would be no obligation. If the servitude is wrong and wicked, then the obligation is of no force, it is only the command of an usurper – who violates the natural rights of man. But God says the servant is bound not alone by the superior will of the master, but by Divine law, to obey from the heart, his masters commandments – God’s law binds no man to sin, or to do wrong at the command of another, but requires him to avoid the very appearance of evil. His commendation of slavery is here found in his enforcement of its obligations.

3. The apostle also teaches the truth here that God will reward the slave for his faithfulness to this master.

So profoundly is Paul impressed with the right of masters to control, and the duty of slaves to obey, that he urges upon Titus, (2:9-10) a young minister, as one of the sacred obligations of his high office, to “exhort servants to be obedient to their own masters, and to please them well in all things, not answering again (i.e. not replying to or questioning the master’s right) not purloining (i.e. not stealing) but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” It is remarkable that this apostle should invariably conclude his exhortation to servants, by appealing to their obligations to God, as the incentive to obedience and faithfulness to their masters, clearly proving that disobedience to masters is rebellion against God. Hitherto, Paul has not, in so many words, given any instruction as to the duty of servants towards masters whose deportment to them is harsh and oppressive. I refer, therefore, for specific instruction upon this subject, to the writings of another apostle (1 Peter 2:18,19). “Servants, be subject to your masters, with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward, for this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God, endure grief and suffering wrongfully.”

Here is the inspired injunction making it the duty of a bondman, which is to be performed in good conscience toward God, to submit quietly to the ill treatment of a churlish or bad tempered master. This obligation of the slave does not rest upon the right of his master thus to treat him, for he has no such right, either moral or legal, but is bound to “give unto them that which is just and equal;” but the servants obligation is derived from the moral and religious duty, which binds him to be faithful to God and man.

I have now proven clearly from the sacred pages of inspiration,

1. That slavery was instituted by God, who accompanied it with his decree making it perpetual.
2. That Christ recognized its existence, enforced its obligations, and regulated its connections.
3. That Paul and Peter, inspired apostles, elaborated upon the subject, and showed the religious obligations under which servants are bound to obey their masters.

I commend the careful study of the New Testament to Masters – that they may be taught of God, the manner in which they should treat their Slaves. I do this with the more pleasure, because I have observed for years past a growing desire among our citizens to do their whole duty conscientiously before God, to their slaves. You will not find in this sacred revelation a single injunction requiring you to emancipate your slaves.

I desire to meet one plausible, but specious objection to slavery, urged by the abolitionists before I take my seat.

It is said that one single passage in the gospel, imperatively requires every master at once to emancipate his slaves. It is recorded in Mat. 7:12. “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets.”

it is thought, that if the master would desire liberty, were he a slave, he is bound by this rule, to liberate his slave. But his argument is specious, and this construction, if applied to the various relations of life will subvert all the laws and regulations of society and governments.

A criminal is arraigned, tried and found guilty of a violationof the law – but the judge would not desire to be punished were he in the criminal’s place – is he bound therefore to release him? ….

A desire entertained by a servant to be set at liberty, is an unlawful desire, because its accomplishment, would violate the “law” which enjoins perpetual servitude ….

Finally a revolution in the moral sentiment of the world in the favor of slavery will yet be effected. The truly pious of all lands will yet receive the Bible, as God’s Revelation and, with the Bible they will, they must receive the theory, if not the practice of slavery.

Religious fanaticism sets up a human standard, at the bar of which the inspiration of the Bible is tried, and being found to establish, rather than abolish slavery, is condemned as coming in direct conflict with certain principles in human nature, termed the “higher law.” This fanaticism will ultimately enshrine its conceptions of philosophy as the French did reason, as the deity to whom it will pay its adorations. Freedom will become its watchword, Freedom, not only from involuntary servitude, but freedom to reject the Bible – free thinking, free loving, free acting, in a word freedom from all the moral restraints which make society virtuous and desirable.

Thus, ultimately, but certainly, I think, will this spirit of religious fanaticism, terminate in an amalgamation of abolitionism and infidelity. And so subversive of all the better interests of society and of our holy religion, will it prove, that the good and true of all communities will find, that the irresponsible conflict which is now waged between free soilism and slavery will terminate between infidelity, as the result of abolitionism, on the one hand, and the Bible and religion on the other. It requires no prophetic ken to foretell that religion and the Bible must triumph as they always have in the conflicts of the past.

Christianity has had her trials, and is now in some measure, enjoying her triumph. Slavery is her trial now, but a triumph, which shall honor God, and bless humanity awaits her in the future.

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