Baptists and the American Civil War: August 26, 1863

Civil War States MapIn a post-Gettysburg world, some Southern Baptist leaders begin considering the possibility that the South may lose the war. It is an unpleasant and distasteful thought, and such acknowledgments are tentative and limited.

An editorial in today’s North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder takes a peek at what a Confederate loss may mean. As Southern Baptists spiritualized African slavery decades ago, now editor J. D. Hufham offers a definition of Confederate victory that transcends earthly battles: however may end the war, true success will be at the judgment seat of Christ in the aftermath, when faithful Christians of the South will be rewarded for loyalty to God and Confederacy in the war against an unjust United States.

To those who acknowledge not the power and sovereignty of God, and even to many professing christians, the present is a scene of darkness and confusion. Whether they survey the present or look into the future, the same saddening, heart-rending prospect meets the eye. No ray of light struggles through the deepening gloom to relieve their anxiety or cheer them in their despondency. To them the cause of humanity, civilization, liberty and religion seems to be overwhelmed in the bloody sea which the fierce passions of men have lashed into the wild fury, and they can see no probability that it will ever again rise triumphant over the angry and conflicting elements. It is not surprising that these persons, failing to recognize the government which God exercises over this, in common with the other departments of the universe, should be unutterably sad, sad beyond th reach of human comforters.

View the present as we may, we must experience pain. The condition of the country and the events daily occuring around us must touch in its tenderest part, the heart of each one who is not dear to the higher sympathies and nobler sensibilities of manhood. A great nation renowned throughout the world rent in twain, the two peoples arrayed against each other in deadly conflict, animated by the fiercest hate that human beings can know; the ravages of war; its destruction of life, property, happiness and morals; these and a thousand other things in their present and future bearings, distress the christian patriot and philanthropist, as he looks on the bloody panorama which is daily unfolded to his view. But amid it all; amid the desolations of this cruel war, whether they be considered with reference to their effects on ourselves or others, in the material prosperity and happiness of the country, or the spread of the glorious gospel of the blessed God, this sincere-believer in an overruling Providence has an unfailing source of solid comfort, to which others are strangers.

It is the truth that God rules and that He will turn the present confusion and distress and abounding wickedness to the promotion of His glory and the extention of His Kingdom. This truth is written in His word and illustrated in the records of the past. He makes the wrath of man praise Him, and the remainder of wrath He restrains. The rise and downfall of nations, the long season of peace and repose, and the dark period of revolution and war are not left to ambitious chieftains and wily politicians to work out their own ends without let or hindrance.–Nor are they the results of blind chance, arising by chance and tending to no previously selected good. Men may seem to be succeeding in their plans and there may be nothing else in their thoughts, but without intending it, nay, in spite of themselves, they are carrying out the designs of the great Sovereign of the skies.

The brothers of Joseph, when they perpetrated their deed of falsehood and cruelty, thought only of gratifying their jealousy and ridding themselves of a dangerous rival in their father’s affections. Yet, how wonderfully God overruled their purposes to their good and the accomplishment of His own ends. Alexander, when he entered on his career of conquest and slaughter, had no higher aim than the gratification of his sordid and grasping ambition. A despot and a sensualist, the slave of his unholy passions, he rested not till he fancied that he had conquered a world, and then wept that there were no more worlds to conquer. But he acted a very important part in the preparation of the world for the rising of the Sun of righteousness. Rome, gradually increasing in strength and influence till she crushed every adversary and absorbed the whole of the world as it appeared to her in her wide domain; but in so doing she not only finished the work of preparation for the coming of Christ, but also laid the foundation for the immediate and rapid spread of His gospel.

So in every great event which has occured since that time. The irruption of the Northern barbarians, the downfall of Rome, the corruption of religion and the cruel persecution of those who held a pure faith, the mild benignant sway of peace and the fearful, bloody reign of war, all disclose to the careful student of history the hand of God, overruling them with unerring certainty to the accomplishment of His purposes.

This truth so plainly taught in the Scriptures and so clearly exemplified in the records of the past, is applicable to our own times. However, this struggle may terminate, whether in accordance with our wishes and expectations or not; and whatever it effects on us, it will be surely turned by God to the promotion of His glory and the spreading of His truth. We many not now be able to see how this can be. It may even appear impossible; but it is nevertheless true, and it will appear in the great day when the nations of the earth are judged. Nay, more; not only will the result of this struggle be made to promote the designs of God as a whole, they will also be promotive of the good of each individual christian in this Confederacy. However desolate and heart-striken, however great his sufferings, they shall surely work out for him the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Thus is is written in God’s word, and it must be true.

Let us take this truth home to our hearts and let it comfort and sustain us in these times of change, of which it may be said, with peculiar emphasis, “Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Let us cherish it and go forward in the discharge of our duties, enduring hardships and sufferings without murmuring, and encouraging dangers without alarm.

In Hufham’s ruminations and dozens if not hundreds of other editorials, sermons, and speeches during this dark time for the Confederacy, the seeds of the Lost Cause germinate as white Southerners reach for a cloak of righteousness to ensconce their race-based society in the face of possible earthly destruction.

In an even broader sense, Hufham offers insight into an ongoing transformation in the way the Western world understands history. For millenia past, the study of history was an attempt to understand “the hand of God” or the presence and purpose of God (or the gods) in the course of human affairs. Increasingly, however, modern science is pushing the divine away from the flow of the human story. As modern scientific thought advances, however, some devout Christians–such as Hufham–cling all the more to the concept of the centrality of God in human history. For many white Christian of the Confederacy, the creeping advance of scientific knowledge and the whirlwind of war are even now combining to deify a literal, inerrant Bible in the spiritual trenches of a world bent on escaping the reach of God.

Source: “A Comfort in Time of Trouble,” Biblical Recorder, August 26, 1863 (link)