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" The following resolution was unanimously adopted :
Resolved^ That the thanks of this Synod be tendered to Rev. Dr.
Lowrie for his very able disccurse on Christian Loyalty, and he be
requested to furnish a copy for publication."
A true extract from the Minutes.

E. W. WRIGHT, Staled Clerh.

Id ifvp/



Titus, 3; 1.

" Put them in mixd to be subject to principalities and powers,
to obey magistrates."

These words are addressed by an aged minister of the
gospel to a younger. And we, who acknowledge the inspira-
tion of the great Apostle to the Gentiles, must admit that
ministers of the church of Christ, in all ages, have here, not
only words of truth as to the soundness of the doctrine incul-
cated, and words appropriate to the ministerial oflBce, as to
the exhortation given, but also words authoritative, as to the
righteous discharge of ministerial duty. That is to say, the
Holy Ghost by the mouth of Paul the aged, commands the
ministers of Christ to put their hearers in mind of the duty
they owe the civil government under which they are. No
man that ever lived had a higher estimate of the sacred
character of the gospel ministry than the apostle Paul. If
ever a man had a passion for souls, if ever a man thought all
other teachings tame in comparison wdth the spiritual instruc-
tions which lead men to the cross, if ever a minister knew
truly, the spiritual functions of the church, and the ap-
propriate duties of the ministry ; if, in the discharge of
any particular duty, any one minister may be a just exam-
ple to others ; — all these things we may grant to Paul.
And here one, who determined to know nothing amons: men
but Jesus Christ and him crucified, in addressing a younger
minister touching ministerial duties, bids him remind the peo-
ple of their civil obligations.

Considering, then, the topic chosen by the Apostle, and the
person to whom he addressed it, we may plead Paul as a pre-
cedent upon the present occasion. Providentially called, in
the regular discharge of an official duty, to address you, fath-
ers and brethren of this venerable Synod, I may rightly choose
the theme the Apostle furnishes. It is the duty of the chris-
tian ministry to remind their hearers that they are, not only
christians, but citizens and patriots ; that the scriptures clear-
ly and often enjoin the careful discharge of civil obligations.;
and that obedience to lawful rulers is obedience to God him-
self; and it is the duty of ministers to remind each other that
these claims of the civil government are to be laid before the
people. I exhort you, my brethren in the ministry, as Paul
exhorted Titus, "Put the people in mind to be subject to
principalities and powers, to obey magistrates."

Nor is it only by Paul's direct example that we may indi-
cate the propriety of this topic in the opening discourse of
the Synod. If any duty, proper for a christian, may be prop-
erly considered by christian ministers and elders ; if any
teachings proper for the people, are proper for our ecclesiastic-
al gatherings ; if duties binding on individuals, bind no less
those who bear the responsibilities of office in the church,
timely discussions especially become this service. The times
in which we live are indeed times of unparalleled agitation
and excitement. Men are swayed by their aroused passions and
prejudice rather than by the calm voice of reason and truth;
and ministers of the gospel and ecclesiastical assemblies are
liable to hasty words and rash judgments. These seem, in
the view of some, scarcely times to settle the proper grounds
of duty, as the Church of Christ stand related to civil socie-
ty. And yet such is the reasoning of shallow and timid
minds. These are the very times in which to discuss earnest-
ly just such questions. " A word spoken in the season how
good it is." "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures
of silver." The opportune time to rebuke any sin, is when
the sin abounds ; to sustain any truth, is when it suffers denial ;
to enforce any duty, is when that duty is trampled under foot ;

when the enemy comes in like a flood, it is the Spirit of the
Lord who prompts and bids us lift up a standard against him ;
and when, not only wrong doctrines are proclaimed, but when
the attempt is made with a high hand to carry them into prac-
tical execution, he is a cowardly soldier who stands back from
the fight because the storm of battle rages high. Let us in-
deed guard against the warping influence of exciting times ;
but these are the very times for instructing men upon these
questions which pertain to our civil duties. Now men will
hear, and think too, as ordinarily they do not ; when awaken-
ed interest has broken up the fallow-ground of careless hearts,
wise men should sow diligently the seeds of righteous prin-
ciples which shall sink through the sods, to lie there perhaps
through a stormy and inclement season, but to shoot up in the
spring and harvest that rapidly follow. In every other mat-
ter the Church of God judges that Providence bids her observe
the times ; suit her instructions to the changing necessities
of the people ; stand boldly up to a crisis, especially when it
comes through none of their own seeking; and look for the Di-
vine blessing only in faithfully withstanding every evil. Why
should we not judge that the duty of the church to the gov-
ernment under which they are, should be specially discussed
when the discussion is specially needed ?

There can be no controversy among us touching the ques-
tion of subjection to the legitimate civil authorities of the
land. Happily, the teachings of the sacred volume are ex-
plicit upon this important matter. They declare to us that
civil government is an ordinance of Divine appointment ; that
civil rulers act by Divine authority ; and that citizens should
be subject, "not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake."
So then, rebellion, treason, or disloyalty, is not only a crime
against the civil government, but an ofi'ence against the laws
of God, and should expose the guilty party to precisely the
same kind of censure, proportioned to the flagrancy of the
offence, what would follow any other breach of human and
divine laws. The disciphne exercised by the Church of Christ
towards the delinquencies of men may be of various forms ;


it may be exercised towards many different offences ; but the
common basis of all is the teaching of God's holy word ; and
every form of church instruction and church authority — one
as truly as another — must be according to this rule. All are
not of equal influence and importance, but all stand on the
same basis. If a minister of God rebukes or reproves ; if a
church judicatory judicially condemns, or authoritatively ex-
pounds or declares, just so much power have they as they
liave of truth ; taking cognizance of the same individuals and
of the same crimes with the civil magistrate, they still exer-
cise over these but spii'itual powers ; the civil authorities may
punish a man for fraud or murder, and this interferes not with
the distinct sentence of the Church for the same offence ;
whatever be the offence, the Church can but treat it in its
spiritual aspects ; but from this she is not to be deterred by
the fact that any offence has also its entangling relations to
earthly things.

But agreeing upon the general duties of the christian
patriot, there is now a conflict in this nation and in the church
to which we belong, between those who a little while ago
seemed firmly united in one sentiment of national loyalty.
There are those among us, on the one hand, who yield our
cordial support to the Government of this great nation in the
exercise of governmental powers ; fully believing that these,
so far as our forms are concerned, are constitutional ; and
that so far as all our citizens and all the world are concerned,
they are legitimate and wise and just. We recognize no such
evils in the administration of this Government as would jus-
tify the mildest civil war ; we claim for it a kindly and be-
neficent and prosperous working, so far at least as our own
citizens are concerned, far beyond any ever yet seen under
human guidance ; and we aver that the American citizen who
shrinks from the duty of entire loyalty at such a time as this,
is recreant to the very highest duty of a citizen as enjoined
in the word of God.

On the other hand there are those who, granting the gen-
eral basis of loyal duty as commanded in the Scriptures, do

yet affirm that in the contest between the Northern and South-
ern States of this Union, there is a conflict of loyal claims,
and that to stand on either side of this contest is so consist-
ent with christian character that the church of God may not
venture to utter her voice upon the subject. It is alleged as
a grave question for our consideration whether a citizen owes
loyalty first to the Union, whose national existence alone has
ever been recognized by other human Governments, or first
to the particular State in which he dwells, and whose present
impulses or apparent interests seem to clash with the biddings
of the General Government. And although the General
Assembly of our Church has taken ground upon this question,
and as we believe only as such a body should ; and although
those who protested against the action of the General Assem-
bly, generally, if not unanimously, professed their own loy-
alty to the National Government, and agreed that the South-
ern disloyalty had no sufficient justification ; yet the position
now held by many in our Southern churches, received from
these protestants an unhappy appearance of plausibility, and
even of authority, when the'statement is made that the Church
of God is not competent to decide this question, which de-
mands the investigation of the Church, and makes it appro-
priate for the people of God to sustain the Assembly. For
the stand taken was proper, and^the utterance both Joyal and

The one general statement which we affirm is, that the
sphere of the. Church of Christ embraces all moral obligations
of men ; and that the power of reproving any moral evil im-
plies and includes necessarily the power to determine the na-
ture of that evil and the fact of its existence. If the Church
may undeniably reprove disloyalty as a sin against God, then
may she also inquire wherein does disloyalty consist. No
matter that her inquiries lead her by paths she is not wont to
tread. If the law of God is written in Hebrew and Greek?
the Church must study languages to become its interpreter :
if the doctrinal heretic hides himself in the mazes of a misty
and vain philosophy, the Church must study metaphysics to


expose its folly: if men trample upon the law of God and
then run for shelter behind the ramparts of political opinions?
the Church may attack and storm their fortress, justified by
the object she has in view, so long as she uses legitimate
means to reach it. The chief aim of a physician is to heal
diseases. But this presupposes that he must be able to dis-
tinguish diseases, their reality, nature and extent, and that he
may go where the patient is to be found, though he should
enter disreputable abodes and prescribe to wicked persons.
So they who maintain the authority of that law which the
Apostle tells us " was made for the lawless and the disloyal,"*
(see the original word, 1 Tim. 1:9,) are competent to follow where
the law goes, to judge the wide wanderings of human trans-
gression. If any man ventures to raise his hand against a law-
ful authority, the Church is expressly justified in condemning
that very thing: the excuses he makes she is competent to
weigh : and we may as well give up church authority altogether
as allow that any plea of innocence or justification is a bar to
jurisdiction. Admit that disloyalty is a crime and its investi-
gation is a right. If even, |as is alleged, there is a conflict
between the State and the National Authorities, the Church
of God does not depart from her sphere when she speaks of
such things : and even upon the principles of these protest-
ants she is abundantly justified in speaking now, because this
is not the true state of the present case.

"We do not claim, let it be distinctly understood, that the
Church of God is bound always to utter her voice when ques-
tions of loyalty are discussed in any community. The revo-
lutions which sometimes take place in civil government usually
proceed through so many changes : the "long train of abuses"
tending towards despotism may gather its strength so slowly,
that the very difficulty of deciding where allegiance is extin-
guished and resistance may begin, may be thought a valid
reason why wise men and a wise Church should go forward
only at the manifest biddings of Providence. Every case of

* dvu'TroTttXTOJf , " Coatumaces, refractarios, contemptores nsagistratuum ac
Ipgum eorumque per quos publica administrantur." — Rosenmcller.


duty that depends upon the changes of time and circiimstan-
ces, involves its own peculiar perplexities ; and just Avhere
her individual members may hesitate as to the path of duty,
move slowly and wait for light, may the Church of God do
likewise. Or if beyond this, we allow more serious and care-
ful deliberation before her voice is uttered, we still affirm that
the principles upon which the christian duty of any person
is decided, are the same principles upon which the Church
may decide her action. So long as the Church confines her
decisions to questions of moral duty, she is within her proper
sphere; and this none the less because legal rights or politi-
cal principles may be involved in the same. If two of her
members claim each a legal right to a disputed estate, she is
no judge or divider between them; and yet she may inquire
into the facts, and issue her reproofs upon the charge that
the pretensions of one are forged or dishonest.

The propriety of the action of the General Assembly in
declaring the obligations of our national loyalty may be af-
firmed in view of the great moral importance of the questions
at issue.

In the First place, the doctrine of Secession is itself a direct
breach of the Covenant made in the United States Constitu-
tution and adopted by the people of the entire Union. This
cannot be evaded by saying that the question turns upon the
construction of a political matter; unless the Church is con-
sistently to refuse her reproofs of crime because of the mere
difficulty of proving it. There is no difficulty in understand-
ing the breach of Covenant. Its VI article expressly makes
the United States Constitution the supreme law of the land,
so binds the judges in every State, and this expressly, " any-
thing in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary
notwithstanding." We need not discuss now any reasons
which might justify the people of the United States in throw-
ing off the United States Constitution. We merely say that
having adopted that Constitution, there is no longer any room
for the question whether the State or the Nation is supreme :
and the man who makes his State allegiance his reason for



disloyalty to the Nation is, upon the very face of the docu-
ment, a covenant breaker.

Secondly, Secession involves abundant perjury. Among
the thousands of oflfice-holders in the Southern States, whether
for State or Federal offices, every man swore solemnly to sup-
port the United States Constitution ; among the thousands of
naturalized citizens, every man took an oath, in which not a
word is said about State authority, but where allegiance to
the United States is solemnly promised, and allegiance to ev-
ery other sovereign power solemnly renounced. There was no
room for these men to raise the question of State or national
supremacy, and how many of them are this day perjured.

Thirdly. The crime of disloyalty itself, is the very highest a
citizen can commit in that capacity; and is of sufficient import-
ance to demand that Church Assemblies should take cognizance
of it, and decide when it has been committed, even though this
should seem to demand the investigation of political princi-
ples. If one single church member had been guilty of these
things — of the breach of covenant, of the perjury, of the trea-
son involved in secession, he would have found no relief from
the censure of the Church, on the plea that it was but a po-
litical offence. Yet the principles involved are the same, and
are only the more dangerous and deserving of pointed rebuke,
when thousands have used them to turn the nation upside
down. If we admit that the Church of God is the just inter-
preter of the moral law, then we must demand in her an ac-
quaintance with the facts and principles which enable her to
make a just interpretation. We do not excuse her from the
discharge of her duty upon the plea that it is difficult or del-
icate : we do not allow that the liability of making an unwise
or unjust decision should lead the Church to shrink from ma-
king any decision at all; we see no reason why a righteous
interpretation of the moral law may not furnish a term of
christian communion with as little objection as the interpreta-
tion of even minor matters of doctrine, which we so frequently
make. We believe that scarcely any matter of interpretation
touching the law of God, is of greater importance to the well-


being of society, of individuals, and of the Church itself, than
that which regards the duties Avhich citizens owe to a lawful
government. We are willing that the largest exercise of pru-
dence and wisdom should be shown by the Church in discus-
sing and deciding upon questions that are related to the pol-
itics of the land; but so far as these things have any moral
bearing, the Church of God should understand them, and bear
her timely testimony respecting them. Let the mischievous
dogma, "religion has nothing to do with politics," became the
settled faith of this land: let the Churches endorse the error,
and the ruin of the nation is sealed. Carry out the principle
consistently, and we will observe no more fast days for national
sins; offer no more prayers for national rulers, and urge no
righteous principles in the conducting of our elections. But
the Church has to do with morals, even in polities ; and if she
may rebuke any sin, she is competent to ask, What is the na-
ture of this sin? and in whom does it exist? And surely if
any sin against authorities may ever be rebuked, the very
highest crime of which a citizen is capable, must not stand
forth as the exception. Rebellion is a proper object for the
censures of the Church; it is within the sphere of the Church
to ascertain whether this sin is or is not committed within her
borders ; and while we acknowledge the right of revolution on
the part of an oppressed people to be justified by the circum-
stances which bring it into being, w'e aver that the pulpits of
this land, and the ecclesiastical Assemblies of this land should
teach the people that there is the widest possible difference
betw^een revolutions against despotism, and insurrections
against constitutional law.

For the General Assembly to exercise this power was also
but to do as our ecclesiastical Assemblies have ever done in
all our history. Even in times when the divine right of kings
found acknowledgment far beyond the claims now conceded
to civil rulers, the Church of Scotland had no hesitation in
making her voice heard in civil affairs. And it ought to be
acknowledged that when our venerable mother Synod supported
the Continental Congress in the times of the Revolutionary


Wat", it was a step far in advance of the action of the late
General Assembly. Without denying, even while in profes-
sion supporting the authority of the King of Great Britain,
the Presbyterian churches of this land were exhorted to sup-
port and to pray for the Continental Congress, though it had
taken up arms against the king. Surely a church that could
gather the evidence and decide upon it, to bid the people
break the bonds of allegiance, may lawfully teach their right-
eous maintenance. To decide that a legitimate govern-
ment has become oppressive; to urge citizens to give up
their former loyalty; to come out boldly in favor of a
new system of things, is certainly a far more difficult
thing, than to maintain a long-existing and beneficent
government. And the inferior judicatories of our Church
have not hesitated to exercise the very right to speak
on those subjects which the Assembly has claimed. This has
Ibeen done in all sections of the land. The Synod of South
Carolina sanctioned the secession movement in advance of the
action of that State. Other Synods and Presbyteries in all
the land have felt free to act on both sides of the question.
Indeed those who chiefly oppose the Assembly's action, have
yet declared that such action might properly be taken by the
Presbyteries and Synods of the North ; and that if Presbyte-
ries were all united, they might declare their sentiments as
freely as they please. This, in our view, settles the full pro-
priety of the Assembly's decision. When the question was
discussed, and these things fairly admitted; when ministers
claimed the right to contend for these principles in pubHc, by
pulpit and press, no wonder the majority rapidly changed
sides and declared that the Assembly could do so too. For
surely principles like these depend neither upon place nor
numbers : no Church Assembly has an authority to be denied
to another. If a Presbytery or Synod may declare the citi-
zen's duty to his country, no precept of the Bible, and no sol-
id reasonings forbid the General Assembly to do the same.

We should not forget, moreover, that this very question of
loyalty is so clearly taught in the Scriptures, is of so pressing


importance, and comes before Christian people so frequently^
that it was already virtually settled all over the land by the
members and Ministers of every Church. We could not ignore
these principles. The Divine word says too much about gov-
ernment, enjoins too clearly the duty of a citizen, and calls
too explicitly for the constant offering of public and private
prayer, to allow us to escape the responsibility of deciding
where our fealty is due, on the plea that we are meddling
with politics. Even those High Church Prelatists, who stand
so much above the sphere of common mortals that they can-
not stoop to touch a moral question, and who universally, as
we believe, refused to decide this matter in their conventions,
were yet compelled to decide it in their separate congrega-
tions and in the worship of every Sabbath. In fact, every
pulpit in the land decided this very question before the As-
sembly met. If any minister formerly prayed for the U. S.
Government, and now neglected it, this falling off from for-
mer duty was a disloyal decision; any minister praying for
different rulers decided the question. Why should a Church
assembly stand back from that which necessarily must be done
in the regular discharge of his duty by every minister in his
pulpit, and indeed by every christian at the family altar?
Especially, why should our Assembly, that had never before
hesitated to express its loyalty, stop at the very juncture
when such hesitation would have all the fatal effects of a dis-
loyal decision?

For it is our firm conviction, not only that a decision given
when the times demand it, in the face of opposition, either
temporizing or disloyal, is worth a thousand formal expres-
sions of more peaceful times, but that the situation of thou-
sands of Presbyterian.^ in the Southern States demanded this
support to their loyalty from the supreme judicatory of the
Church. Three classes of Presbyterians were in the South :

First. — Those who were disloyal, and meant to be so, in
spite of all expositions and expostulations on the part of their

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Online LibraryJohn Marshall LowrieChristian loyalty (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 3)