Baptists and the American Civil War: November 4, 1862

Civil War States MapRev. A. E. Dickinson of Virginia, traveling throughout the Confederacy as a representative of the temporarily-shuttered Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board and coordinating Southern Baptist efforts to distribute Bibles to soldiers, this week offers a message of future hope (as related by a reporter) for his fellow white Southern Baptists.

…. Christianity has achieved its brightest triumphs in troubleus times. It will be so now. History teaches us that one generation marches to clearer views of divine truth, over the skulls of their predecessors. If it should be so now, he would try to be resigned and rejoice in it. Let us be resigned to the will of God. The christian as he looks around him on the misery and vice and desolation which this war is causing involuntarily exclaims O, the cause of God! and it is right that we should feel concerned about the condition of Zion. But let us remember that God reigns and that His cause is far dearer to Him than ours is to us. Let us remember that for four thousand years, God was preparing the world for the coming of his son, and that He has ever since been guiding the wars and revolutions and persecutions of the world and making them tend to the extension of His Kingdom. The child adopted into the family, and clothed, fed, and tenderly cared for, gradually grows dearer to us, and at length becomes a part of our very being. So, if possible, the cause of God is dearer to Him, for the care which He bestowed on it. Let us be willing to leave it to Him. The child of the great statesman playing around his father can not understand the workings of his mind or the intricate problems which engage his thoughts; neither can we understand the plans of God. As we look on the workings of some magnificent machinery, and see one piece running this way and another that, it appears to us to be coming to nothing. But the mind of the inventor follows it and it brings the intended results. So with the conversion of the world. God is protecting it, and He will bring it out right at last. He believed that we may even now see glimmerings of light through the darkness, and that we have many cases for gratitude. He looked forward to the time when the war shall be ended and our independence achieved, and we shall be a great and prosperous nation. We have advantages for wielding commercial influences such as no other nation possesses and he hoped the time would come when they would all be used for the glory of God. There are five millions of colored people among us. Hitherto we have been prevented, by the officious intermeddling of our enemies, from attending to their spiritual wants as we desired. When our independence is achieved and our separation complete, there will be triumphs of the Gospel among our colored people and among the whites of the Confederacy such as the world has never seen. The streams of Gospel truth would yet flow from our country into the heathen nations of the earth as they never had flowed before. We should be encouraged, and pray, and not only pray, but act. Let us labor not only for the army and at home, but abroad. Let us still feel that the conversion of the world is our work and that our field is the world….

Dickson’s triumphal vision cheers his white Baptist hearers, but offers no hope of freedom to enslaved Africans.

Sources: “Baptist State Convention [of North Carolina], Biblical Recorder, November 5, 1862 (link); “Alfred Elijah Dickinson,” in George Braxton Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, 5th Series, 1902-1914, Lynchburg, Va.: J. P. Bell, 1915, pp. 166-176 (link)