Baptists and the American Civil War: September 12, 1861

Samuel Boykin

Samuel Boykin, Editor, Christian Index

Editor Samuel Boykin of Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index, frequent commentator regarding war news and views, this week offers his thoughts on “The Ministry: Its duty and responsibility in the present state of the country.” While loyal to the Confederacy, and at times positing the Confederate States of America as God’s Kingdom on earth, Boykin at other times laments that the war distracts from the preaching of the Gospel. Of the latter theme Boykin this week writes:

This is a time, not only of temporal danger, but great spiritual danger, to our country. Nay, judging from the excited state of the public mind, from the intense interest manifested in war matters, from the neglect of religious duties and from the apparent general spiritual apathy that exists, we apprehend that great peril is overshadowing the spiritual interests of our land.

It cannot be denied that war, even when defensive and justifiable, has a tendency to demoralize a people; but while this, in the nature of things, should not be the necessary result of a just contest, yet, when we behold the minds of good men and women wrought up to that pitch which demands bloody retaliation for outrages; when we see the bitter and vituperative language of some portions of the press; when the ordinances of religion are neglected, and the Bible and closet devotions supplanted by the Daily Journal; when Sabbath Schools are permitted to expire, and prayer meetings are forgotten, and the Lord’s day devoted to perusing secular papers; when ministers, in private conversations, discourse mostly of the war, send for their mail on Sabbath and, in the pulpit, permit a political bearing to tincture their sermons; and when we remember the anxiety that pervades society, the fear of penury that haunts many, the eagerness to realize profit or stave off bankruptcy – to say nothing of the fearful effects of a corrupted soldiery, turned loose at the conclusion of the war, upon an excited and unstrung community, we may well experience alarm lest precisely those instrumentalities are in operation among us which are calculated to undermine our moral principles and sweep away the glorious and ennobling bulwarks that a pure christianity had been erecting in our midst. And, if we do not open our eyes to the dangers that environ us; if we do not rear the standard of right principle and rally to its support, we may, even when chanting paeans of victory, have to mourn over a blunted public sensibility, over a generation of youth contaminated in moral principle, or destitute of religious and literary instruction, over a state of religion that neglects the Great Commission and over a general condition of society that will require years of prayer, preaching, instruction and careful training to recover its healthy moral tone.

To whom shall we look in this hour of peril? To the editors of the secular press? They are but adding to the baleful excitement. Shall we look to the editors of religious journals? There are only a dozen or two in all the Confederate States. Besides, how many persons read religious papers? Not more than one in a hundred.

It is to the ministers of the everlasting Gospel that we must look in this trying hour. They are the watchmen upon the moral and spiritual ramparts of our Confederacy, who must sound the alarm. They it is who, from their elevated standpoint, can first catch the faint murmur of Satan’s onset, that betokens spiritual declension; and they it is who, in the absence of spirituality, in the neglect of christian duty, in the absorption of mind and spirit by the great events of the day and in decreasing benevolence and increasing truculence, may behold the first indications of a temporary withdrawal of the gracious influences of God’s Spirit from our land. And their duty is to lift the warning voice, and raise the cry of alarm. Thrice each week to their utterances hundreds of thousands, all over this vast Confederacy of ours, give the most earnest heed, doubly attentive because of the sacred character of the speakers. When, then, symptoms of social demoralization appear, let them call upon the people to stay them in their onward rush towards practical infidelity ….

Alas, alas, that so many of God’s ambassadors have swept on with the current of popular excitement, instead of essaying to stem the tide and bring men to reflection! …. Beyond all controversy, a spiritual lethargy, resulting from the excitement of the day, is resting upon our churches, and a back sliding state, arising from much anxiety in regard to worldly matters, is too common with our church members; and upon the ministers of Christ in these Southern States rests the solemn responsibility of rescuing the churches from a state of declension and arousing recreant christians to a sense of duty ….

We call upon you, men of God, in the name of our beleaguered and beloved country, to stand up for the best interests of humanity, in these trying times, at any and every sacrifice; we call upon you in the name of a lukewarm church, that should be adorned as a Bride, to be faithful to your trust; we call upon you in the name of immortal souls, that are being carried away by the rush of worldliness to be instant in season and out of season; we call upon you, in view of that account you must render, as stewards of the manifold mercies of God, to do your utmost, in opposition to the war spirit, to extend your Redeemer’s Kingdom and manifest His glory upon earth!

Source: Christian Index, September 11, 1861.