Baptists and the American Civil War: January 26, 1865

christian_commissionThe United States Christian Commission (USCC) supports Union soldiers by providing supplies, medical assistance (in collaboration with the U.S. Sanitary Commission) and religious literature to troops. The work of the USCC is carried out through Protestant chaplains and social workers, many of whom are Baptists.

Today the USCC convenes for its annual meeting in Washington, with business sessions held at the city’s E Street Baptist Church.

The meeting lasts for three days, during which U.S. President Abraham Lincoln makes a special appearance.

The United States Christian Commission met in Washington City for its third annual business meeting, on Thursday, January 26,1865. President Lincoln had ever been so kind to the Commission, officially and personally, that the desire was natural to wait upon him in a body. This desire was early made known to him, and he designated the next day, Friday, at half-past ten o’clock, A. M., as the time when he would receive us. At the appointed hour about one hundred Christian men, from all parts of the North, representatives of the patriotism and benevolence by which the national cause was maintained at home and the national armies succored in the field, were gathered in the East Room of the Executive Mansion. Several ladies were of the party, and a few persons were present not connected with the Commission. We were arranged along the length of the room, forming a semi-ellipse, and fronting the entrance to the Green Room. In a few moments the President entered, unannounced and unattended, holding his hat in his right hand. All were impressed with the republican simplicity of the scene, and felt that it was a fitting illustration of our American character and institutions. Mr. Lincoln looked worn and tired. Not that he appeared despondent or doubtful of the nation’s advancing conflict. His face did not show a perplexed anxiety, nor an eager haste to be free from care and trial. But the care itself was furrowing his features and deepening their pensiveness. He was met at the door by the Chairman of the Commission, Geo. H. Stuart, who introduced him in a general way to the assembly. In brief and appropriate language Mr. Stuart spoke of the work of the Commission, and of the feelings of those engaged in it towards the national cause, its defenders, and its Chief Magistrate. During this address the President stood with his head slightly bowed, and with an abstracted air that left his eyes lustreless, as though his thoughts were among the imperilled and suffering men for whose comfort he was ever ready to yield his own. As he lifted himself up to reply, his whole aspect changed. All his features kindled into a most genial and attractive expression. A pleasant smile overspread his face, and his eyes were filled with a gentle, winning light. And yet in every lineament was there that trace of pensiveness which is the crowning charm of an intelligent and benevolent countenance. In his short and characteristic reply he disclaimed any title to thanks for what he had done in furthering the work of the Commission; “Nor,” said he, “do I know that I owe you any thanks for what you have done. We have all been laboring for a common end. You feel grateful for what I have done that is right; and I certainly feel grateful for what you have done that is right; and yet, in the fact that we have been laboring for the same end, — the preservation of our country and the welfare of its defenders,—has been our motive and joy and reward.”

The formal speeches concluded, the President proposed to take each of us by the hand. At this point the Chairman of the Commission suggested that as the delegation present were not simply Christian men, but representatives of a Christian association, which was itself the organ of the Christian sentiment of the nation, if deemed appropriate by him and agreeable to his own feelings, it would be gratifying to us to invoke the blessing of God upon our Chief Magistrate. The President promptly and cordially responded, that it would be agreeable and most fitting, and requested that prayer be offered. Bishop E. S. Janes, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, led in prayer. In simple and fervent language he thanked God for the signal displays of his wisdom and love in our national affairs, especially in raising up, and sustaining and guiding in the events of his administration, him who was for us a faithful and trusted leader. He implored the choicest gifts of divine providence and grace, for this and the future life, upon him whom God had most manifestly anointed for the great trust and duty of the hour. There were tearful eyes and swelling hearts among those who beheld and participated in the wonderful scene. All felt themselves lifted up by emotions of gratitude to the giver of every good gift,—the God of our fathers and our people,—and by affection for him upon whom we invoked, as with one heart, the benedictions of the Almighty and Eternal Jehovah, through the blood of Jesus Christ. Although our eyes were holden that we could not then see it, yet this was the church of the nation consecrating the lamb for the nation’s sacrifice.

As we took the President’s warm hand within our own, and then separated to our work, it was with feelings of strengthened confidence in God, and a firmer purpose to give ourselves in simplicity and fidelity and zeal to the tasks he might appoint.

The United States Christian Commission, as a soldiers’ support organization, is working hard to bring the war to a swift conclusion. The Confederacy also wishes for the war to conclude, albeit with an outcome favorable to the South.

So why has the war not yet ended? Why, many white Southern Baptists want to know, is God prolonging this great conflict before handing his chosen Southern nation victory over the enemy? Who is at fault in this matter?

The Georgia Baptist Christian Index repeats the same basic answer that the white South has parroted for the duration of the war: individuals mired in personal sins are prolonging the war.

Who? Those amongst us, whether in or out of the army, who are provoking God  by their sins. Does any one doubt that if every individual in this Confederacy would break off from their sins and humble themselves before God, and reverence his holy name, and strive to do his will, these evil days would soon be ended? How often in the Old Testament do we read of the threatened judgments of God being turned aside by the repentance of Israel. And he is the same God still. Wickedness still provokes his wrath, and repentance will still turn his anger away. Those therefore, among us who continue to practice wickedness, may justly be regarded as, in a large measure, the parties responsible for the prolonging of the war. They may talk of peace, and wish for peace, and fight for peace; but the sure way to bring about peace is for them to renounce their sins, and learn to fear God.

We hear much said about “national sins,” but national sins, for the most part, are made up of individual sins. Let every man look to his own life and heart. Let him set his own house in order. Let him make his own peace with God, and then we may hope for peace with our enemies.

As always, slavery is not among the sins of the South. Freedom for all, after all, is not the will of (the Southern white) God.

Sources: Lemuel Moss, Annals of the United States Christian Commission, Volume 3, Phil: J. P. Lippincott, 1865, pp. 213-217 (link); “Who Prolongs the War?”, Christian Index, January 26, 1865