Baptists and the American Civil War: May 29, 1862

African SlaveryWilliam R. Williams, prominent Northern Baptist pastor of Amity Baptist Church, New York, delivers the keynote address at this evening’s convening of the American Baptist Home Mission Society. The war is heavy on the minds, hearts and spirits of all present, and Williams offers no sympathy to the Southern Cause as supported by his fellow estranged Baptists of the Confederacy.

Their new Confederacy was to be based on slavery as its corner stone, as the ablest and frankest of their statesmen presented their case to our land and to all nations. Their act has, happily, swung the whole question out of its old moorings. Before our country and our churches — before the other nations of the earth, before the Judge of all the earth, the question now assumes a new shape. They remodel and recast the Constitution; and they recast the gospel. And they virtually challenge us to an acquiescence in their new gods ; or demand the quiet surrender of our national unity, and their own peaceful dismission with insult unpunished and plunder uncompensated. The men, whose hold on the conservatism of Northern States and Northern Churches lay in their own fidelity to the Constitution, its oaths and its balances, have toppled over the balance, and spurned the oath, and assayed to remodel the Constitution.

Although the South is devoted with military might to the refashioning of the American nation and Baptists of the South dedicated to a new gospel, Williams reminds his hearers that God remains on His throne.

We are, throughout our land, once so fertile and peaceful, and teeming with richest promise, feeling the terrible ills of warfare. But are we because of its drafts of men, and its heavy burdens of consumption and taxation, because of the harvest fields that it tramples down, and the hospital beds that it litters with, heroic agonies, and the households that it darkens and shivers, and the graves that it fills — to say, that it has abrogated Faith, or Prayer, or Sabbaths ?

Has it repealed the gospel, or banned the further descent of the regenerating and sanctifying Spirit of God? None of all these. God is in the struggle. We, in our temerity, clay as we are, are but too prone to forget this, and to question and to instruct the Divine Worker who is tempering and moulding the ductile mass. He, as his word expressively designates Him, is “The Potter.” But, as said an old Puritan worthy, in regard to man’s rashness and despondency when misreading the mysteries of the Divine judgments, what is it but to exalt clay to the pottership. When man undertakes to mend God’s sovereign behests, he would, by his success, mar, far as in him lies, the whole universe ; and the critic fools himself into a misshapen vessel of dishonor. God is in the struggle. And for His church shall good emerge from all these dark and stormy scenes.

Many of those present indeed long for the day when the war will be over and African slavery relegated to the dust bin of history.

Source: William R. Williams, “God Timing all National Changes in the Interest of His Christ,” May 29, 1862 (link)