Baptists and the American Civil War: December 18, 1863

The war may be ever on the minds of the South’s Baptists, but that is no excuse to shirk Christian duty or backslide in one’s faith, as an editorial by editor J. D. Hufham in this week’s North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder reminds readers.

Hufham’s reasoning is not uncommon during the war years. While demanding personal obedience to Christ on the one hand, he offers no indication that the war itself, as persecuted by the Confederate States, may be sinful in the eyes of Christ. And as always in the editorials of Baptist newspapers of the South, the black, enslaved Baptist perspective is entirely absent.

Hufham thus declares:

Changes of time and place and circumstances have no power to change our relations to God. As our Creator and Redeemer He justly claims our supreme love and our earnest and conscientious services, no matter what may be our condition or circumstances. He orders our lot for us and gives us just such a measure of the comforts and blessings or of the disappointments and sorrows of life as will be best for us here and hereafter. He sends prosperity with its honors and luxurious ease. But in doing it He does not release us from the humility, the gratitude, the love, and the labor in His cause which He requires at the hands of others less favored. Nay more, this fulness of blessings calls for a larger return. He sends adversity with its bitter cup of sorrows, its garments of heaviness, its humiliations and disappointments, but under them all He expects us to remember that we are in His hands and to love and trust Him as well as to labor for the honor of His name and the extension of His Kingdom.

Christians need to have this truth often repeated to them. Especially to the people of God in this time of anxiety and gloom need to have it impressed on their hearts, which, strongly enough inclined to shake off its influences even under the most favorable circumstances, now encounter so many things calculated to divert them from it or to weaken its force. Every one should remember that the war does not, in any way or degree, release him from the faithful discharge of his religious duties.

It does not relax the strictness of the obligation resting on every one to maintain a consistent christian character and to throw across the darkened path of the careless and ungodly the soft steady radiance of a heart entirely consecrated to its Redeemer. He who said, “Ye are the light of the world,” meant it for all times and places and conditions; and the unfaithful servant who neglects or disregards the injunction is utterly without excuse. The soldier amid the tide of wickedness which floods the camp, and many at home, having relaxed their vigilance and prayerfulness and become irregular and inconsistent in their conduct attempt to extenuate their guilt by pleading the evil influence of their associates. But this plea is utterly invalid; and he who when iniquity abounds falls in with the current or fails to breast it manfully is as unreasonable and criminal as the lighthouse keeper who lazily reposes by his own fireside and refuses to kindle the beacon while the hurricane sweeps over the night-enveloped bosom of the deep.–Then, if ever, the light should shine steadily and with its utmost brilliancy.

Neither does the war release us from our obligations to labor and pray for the salvation of others. For this purpose are we redeemed, that we may glorify God and bring others to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. The first yearnings of the converted soul are to discharge this duty, and every day’s experience should only intensify them and give them a more practical and controlling influence over their lives; should consecrate and draw into the work every faculty and energy of the mind, every power of the body and the portion of wealth which God may have bestowed on us. How glorious the calling, how noble the work! Nothing, not even the terrible war with which we are now scourged, should ever divert our attention from it. On the contrary we should give ourselves the more earnestly to it now that death is holding a horrid carnival on all the borders of our country and counts his victims by hundreds and thousands on the battle field and in the hospital, and men do not wait for the slow hand of disease but fall without previous warning or a moment for preparation. What then, shall we say of those who insensible to such considerations give themselves up to the pursuit of money or pleasure, who allow the Sabbath School to languish and die for want of their presence and cooperation, and, by their covetousness, close the lips of their pastor and drive him into some secular calling, to eke out a support for himself and his family? Whatever their profession, how ever loudly they may talk of their hopes, they are doubly guilty before God and have no right to claim they are His children. How can His love dwell in their hearts when they look with unconcern on souls passing every day into an eternity of changeless misery? They may have a name to live but they are dead.

The war does not release us from the duty of exercising charity and kindness towards each other. Christ enjoins it on His disciples to bear one another’s burdens, and it is a test of their love to Him that they visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction and, so far as they can, minister to the distressed and sorrowing ones within their reach. In this, He has given us not only His precept but His example; and the war with its miseries does not release us from our obligations to obey the one and imitate the other. When penury and want reign supreme in so many households and grief sits enthroned by so many firesides, he who refuses his sympathy, shuts up his bowels of compassion and fails to administer relief and comfort wherever he can is no friend of Christ. His professions are mockeries and his religion hypocrisy or a deception.

Let us all remember this truth, that the war, terrible as it is, relaxes none of the stern requirements of the gospel and grants us exemption from none of our duties either to our fellow men or to God. If we fail to learn it now we shall learn by sad experience in the great day when every man shall stand before the Ruler of the universe to render account of his stewardship.

Source: “The War Does Not Release Us,” Biblical Recorder, December 16, 1863 (link)