Baptists and the American Civil War: October 8, 1864

Civil War States MapThis week’s Georgia Baptist Christian Index extensively covers the war.

A tribute to the late great Stonewall Jackson offers a longing glance backward at the biggest Christian superstar the war has produced within the Confederacy.

“Thank God for such a hero!” are the opening words of a sonnet to Jackson. His “divine courage” and “patriot zeal” are honored, along with other godly attributes.

The ongoing inflationary spiral caused by the war leads editor Samuel Boykin to alert his readers of a hike in subscription pricing. The hike is partly necessary, he contends, because the churches have not ordered the Index in large enough quantities to keep the paper solvent via bulk sales.

In Macon, all is not well. “In our hospitals in Macon are some soldiers without clothing or shoes,” the paper notes. When given a furlough, they “cannot leave for home because they have no clothes in which to travel. Not long since, one left for home in his drawers.” Boykin asks why the Christians of Macon are not doing more to meet the needs of hospitalized soldiers, while at the same time commending a Florida Baptist minster for laboring in Macon’s hospitals.

The main war article, however, addresses the big, overarching topic of “Religion and the War.”

One of the effects produced by this war is that Religion has been brought prominently before the people. Let us look at it for a moment. Our President, time and again, has called upon the nation to bow in humiliation before high heaven: our Governors, one after another, by the appointment of days for fasting and prayer, have also thus acknowledged the God of religion: our highest Generals have publicly besought the prayers of supreme ecclesiastical tribunals, and have given all their influence to the work of evangelization: every religious body, as a prominent matter of business, has resulted and acted with reference to the christianization of our armies: all over the Confederacy daily prayer-meetings are held to invoke the favor of the Almighty: immense sums have been contributed purposefully for the spiritual benefit of our soldiers: hundreds of ministers of all denominations have flocked to the camps to carry the Word of Life: millions of tracts and papers have been printed for the soldiers and distributed among them: herculean efforts have been made to supply the army with the Word of God: and amid all denominations the spirit of controversy and sectarianism has diminished its head wonderfully. Even the secular press has, from time after time, called the people to prayer; and it ever speaks respectfully of the work of grace in the army, and has aided powerfully to advance the schemes of Christians for promoting religion. Glorious revivals–revivals that will form an epoch in our religious history–have occurred amongst our troops. Among the churches, wherever the word if faithfully preached, converts multiply and saints are made to rejoice; and in every regiment of our army, within the walls of hospital, yea, within the very trenches themselves, the man of God has been to stand up and proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ in order to procure hearers.

Is it not said to be true that profanity has marvelously decreased in camp? Have not our highest officials published general orders requiring a due observance of God’s holy day?

What does all this evince but that God has used our calamities as a means to place himself and his cause and his religion prominently in the minds of our people? Let him, who dare do so, deny that the religion of the Bible has been brought into bold relief among us by the war; and let him, and him alone, who possesses the hardihood, affirm that this is not one of the ends the Almighty intends to subserve by this mighty affliction of our land.

If it is, the question at one rises to our mind, are we allowing ourselves to be led by the Almighty? If it be his purpose to draw us to him; if it be his purpose to make us, in deed, and in truth, a Christian people, are we submitting to his will? Are we, as a people, more religious than we were before the war? And if we are not, may it not be the intention of the Almighty–would it not be reasonable in him, to maintain his afflictive providence until we do confess and forsake our sins–until we do “put on the whole armor of God”?–Of what avail are all our mighty efforts to promote religion; of what avail our many meetings for prayer–our days for fasting and humiliation, if, notwithstanding all; if, in spite of all, we still forget God–still, at heart, keep far from him? Can we expect his blessing?

Christians, people of the Confederacy, you may wonder at the inscrutableness of that Providence which still suspends above us these clouds of afflictive dispensation: you may stand amazed at the continuous manifestations of God’s displeasure, even amid outpourings that exhibit special favor; and you may ask yourselves with the most inquisitive concern, “Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Is his mercy clean gone forever?” But we tell you, of a truth–and O, that we could write it in lines of living light upon the very sky!–that not till a nation’s ways please the Almighty, will he make their enemies to be at peace with them.

Religion has been brought prominently before us, but are we a religious people? Are we a devout, humble-minded, sin-hating, God-loving people?

If not, is it not high time that we were turning unto the Lord, that he may have mercy upon us, and to our God, that he may abundantly pardon?

Ministers of Jehovah, ye who stand upon the ramparts of Zion, your duty it is to arouse the people, to preach repentance, to cry aloud and spare not. Upon you do we call to be faithful–faithful to your God, faithful to your country, faithful to yourselves, faithful to the souls of our people, and faithful to the millions to are come after us.

Out on the edges of cotton fields in dirt-floored shacks live enslaved, uneducated human beings. Spited by whites who pretend they are not even human, their forced labor nonetheless enriches the readers of this and other newspapers, yet is no guarantee that their masters will allow them to live another day. The enslaved people know that the words of self-righteous whites printed in paper and preached from the pulpit are hollow and meaningless. Personal piety is hollow in the face of a religion of greed, enslavement and racial superiority.

They know the real God dwells in the shacks among the enslaved and in the freedmen’s villages, so close yet so far away from pious white Southerners who long ago forsook the truth and enslaved their fellow human beings.

Source: “Stonewall Jackson,” “Editorial Items,” and “Religion–And the War,” Christian Index, October 7, 1864