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prayer-meeting or the sermon, as having greater popular
interest, for the time, than the criminal trial or the politi-
cal debate. Such papers as the "Tribune" and the
" Herald," laying on men's breakfast- tables and counting-
room desks the latest pungent word from the noon prayer-
meeting or the evening sermon, did the work of many
tract societies.

As the immediate result of the revival of 1857-58 it
has been estimated that one milHon of members were
added to the fellowship of the churches. But the ulterior
result was greater. This revival was the introduction to
a new era of the nation's spiritual life. It was the train-
ing-school for a force of lay evangelists for future work,
eminent among whom is the name of Dwight Moody.
And, like the Great Awakening of 1 740, it was the provi-
dential preparation of the American church for an imme-
diately impending peril the gravity of which there were
none at the time far-sighted enough to predict. Looking
backward, it is instructive for us to raise the question how
the church would have passed through the decade of the
sixties without the spiritual reinforcement that came to it
amid the pentecostal scenes of 1857 and 1858.

And yet there were those among the old men who were
ready to weep as they compared the building of the Lord's
house with what they had known in their younger days :
no sustained enforcement on the mind and conscience of
alarming and heart-searching doctrines ; no " protracted
meetings " in which from day to day the warnings and in-


vitations of the gospel were set forth before the hesitating
mind ; in the converts no severe and thorough " law- work,"
from the agonizing throes of which the soul was with no
brief travail born to newness of life ; but the free invita-
tion, the ready and glad acceptance, the prompt enroll-
ment on the Lord's side. Did not these things betoken
a superficial piety, springing up like seed in the thin soil
of rocky places ? It was a question for later years to an-
swer, and perhaps we have not the whole of the answer
yet. Certainly the work was not as in the days of Edwards
and Brainerd, nor as in the days of Nettleton and Finney ;
was it not, perhaps, more like the work in the days of
Barnabas and Paul and Peter?

It does not appear that the spiritual quickening of 1857
had any effect in allaying the sharp controversy between
northern and southern Christians on the subject of slavery.
Perhaps it may have deepened and intensified it. The
" southern apostasy," from principles universally accepted
in 1818, had become complete and (so far as any utterance
was permitted to reach the public) unanimous. The
southern Methodists and the southern Baptists had, a
dozen years before, relieved themselves from liability to
rebuke, whether express or implied, from their northern
brethren for complicity with the crimes involved in slav-
ery, by seceding from fellowship. Into the councils of the
Episcopalians and the Catholics this great question of
public morality was never allowed to enter. The Pres-
byterians were divided into two bodies, each having its
northern and its southern presbyteries ; and the course of
events in these two bodies may be taken as an indication
of the drift of opinion and feeling. The Old-School
body, having a strong southern element, remained silent,
notwithstanding the open nullification of its declaration


of 1818 by the presbytery of Harmony, S. C, resolv-
ing that " the existence of slavery is not opposed to the
will of God," and the synod of Virginia declaring that
" the General Assembly had no right to declare that re-
lation sinful u'hich Christ and his apostles teach to be con-
sistent with the most unquestionable piety." The New-
School body, patient and considerate toward its southern
presbyteries, did not fail, nevertheless, to reassert the
principles of righteousness, and in 1850 it declared slave-
holding to h^ prima facie a subject of the discipline of the
church. In 1853 it called upon its southern presbyteries to
report what had been done in the case. One of them re-
plied defiantly that its ministers and church-members were
slave-holders by choice and on principle. When the
General Assembly condemned this utterance, the entire
southern part of the church seceded and set up a separate

There seems no reason to doubt the entire sincerity with
which the southern church, in all its sects, had consecrated
itself with religious devotion to the maintenance of that
horrible and inhuman form of slavery which had drawn
upon itself the condemnation of the civiHzed world. The
earnest antislavery convictions which had characterized it
only twenty-five years before, violently suppressed from
utterance, seem to have perished by suffocation. The
common sentiment of southern Christianity was expressed
in that serious declaration of the Southern Presbyterian
Church, during the war, of its " deep conviction of the
divine appointment of domestic servitude," and of the
" peculiar mission of the southern church to conserve the
institution of slavery." 2

1 Thompson, " The Presbyterians," p. 135.

2 " Narrative of the State of Religion " of the Southern General Assembly
of 1864.


At the North, on the other hand, with larger liberty,
there was wider diversity of opinion. In general, the effect
of continued discussion, of larger knowledge of facts, and
of the enforcement on the common conscience, by the
course of public events, of a sense of responsibility and
duty in the matter, had been to make more intelligent,
sober, and discriminating, and therefore more strong and
steadfast, the resolution to keep clear of all complicity with
slavery. There were few to assume the defense of that
odious system, though there were some. There were
many to object to scores of objectionable things in the
conduct of abolitionists. And there were a very great
number of honest, conscientious men who were appalled
as they looked forward to the boldly threatened conse-
quences of even the mildest action in opposition to slav-
ery вАФ the rending of the church, the ruin of the country,
the horrors of civil war, and its uncertain event, issuing
perhaps in the wider extension and firmer establishment
of slavery itself. It was an immense power that the bold,
resolute, rule-or-ruin supporters of the divine right of
slavery held over the Christian public of the whole coun-
try, so long as they could keep these threats suspended in
the air. It seemed to hold in the balance against a sim-
ple demand to execute righteousness toward a poor, op-
pressed, and helpless race, immense interests of patriotism,
of humanity, of the kingdom of God itself. Presently the
time came when these threats could no longer be kept
aloft. The compliance demanded was clearly, decisively
refused. The threats must either be executed or must fall
to the ground amid general derision. But the moment
that the threat was put in execution its power as a threat
had ceased. With the first stroke against the life of the
nation all great and noble motives, instead of being bal-
anced against each other, were drawing together in the


same direction. It ought not to have been a surprise to
the religious leaders of disunion, ecclesiastical and politi-
cal, to find that those who had most anxiously deprecated
the attack upon the government should be among the
most earnest and resolute to repel the attack when made.

No man can read the history of the American church in
the Civil War intelligently who does not apprehend, how-
ever great the effort, that the Christian people of the South
did really and sincerely believe themselves to be commis-
sioned by the providence of God to " conserve the insti-
tution of slavery " as an institution of "divine appointment,"
Strange as the conviction seems, it is sure that the convic-
tion of conscience in the southern army that it was right
in waging war against the government of the country was
as clear as the conviction, on the other side, of the duty
of defending the government. The southern regiments,
like the northern, were sent forth with prayer and bene-
diction, and their camps, as well as those of their adver-
saries, were often the seats of earnest religious Hfe.^

At the South the entire able-bodied population was soon
called into military service, so that almost the whole
church was in the army. At the North the churches at
home hardly seemed diminished by the myriads sent to
the field. It was amazing to see the charities and missions
of the churches sustained with almost undiminished sup-
plies, while the great enterprises of the Sanitary and
Christian Commissions were set on foot and magnificently
carried forward, for the physical, social, and spiritual good
of the soldiers. Never was the gift of giving so abun-
dantly bestowed on the church as in these stormy times.
There was a feverish eagerness of life in all ways; if there

1 For interesting illustrations of this, see Alexander, " The Methodists,
South," pp. 71-75. The history of the religious life of the northern army
is superabundant and everywhere accessible.


was a too eager haste to make money among those that
could be spared for business, there was a generous readi-
ness in bestowing it. The little faith that expected to
cancel and retrench, especially in foreign missions, in which
it took sometimes three dollars in the collection to put one
dollar into the work, was rebuked by the rising of the
church to the height of the exigency.

One religious lesson that was learned as never before,
on both sides of the conflict, was the lesson of Christian
fellowship as against the prevailing folly of sectarian di-
visions, emulations, and jealousies. There were great
drawings in" this direction in the early days of the war,
when men of the most unlike antecedents and associations
gathered on the same platform, intent on the same work,
and mutual aversions and partisan antagonisms melted
away in the fervent heat of a common religious patriotism.
But the lesson which was commended at home was en-
forced in the camp and the regiment by constraint of cir-
cumstances. The army chaplain, however one-sided he
might have been in his parish, had to be on all sides with
his kindly sympathy as soon as he joined his regiment.
He learned in a right apostolic sense to become all things
to all men, and, returning home, he did not forget the
lesson. The delight of a fellowship truly catholic in the
one work of Christ, once tasted, was not easily foregone.
Already the current, perplexed with eddies, had begun to
set in the direction of Christian unity. How much the
common labors of Christian men and women and Christian
ministers of every different name, through the five years
of bloody strife, contributed to swell and speed the cur-
rent, no one can measure.

According to a well-known law of the kingdom of
heaven, the intense experiences of the war, both in the
army and out of it, left no man just as he was before.


To " them that were exercised thereby " they brought
great promotion in the service of the King. The cases are
not few nor inconspicuous of men coming forth from the
temptations and the discipline of the military service every
way stronger and better Christians than they entered it.
The whole church gained higher conceptions of the joy
and glory of self-sacrifice, and deeper and more vivid in-
sight into the significance of vicarious suffering and death.
The war was a rude school of theology, but it taught some
things well. The church had need of all that it could learn,
in preparation for the tasks and trials that were before it.
There were those, on the other hand, who emerged
from the military service depraved and brutalized ; and
those who, in the rush of business incidental to the war,
were not trained to self-sacrifice and duty, but habituated
to the seeking of selfish interests in the midst of the pub-
lic peril and affliction. We delight in the evidences that
these cases were a small proportion of the whole. But
even a small percentage of so many hundreds of thousands
mounts up to a formidable total. The early years of the
peace were so marked by crimes of violence that a frequent
heading in the daily newspapers was " The Carnival of
Crime." Prosperity, or the semblance of it, came in like
a sudden flood. Immigration of an improved character
poured into the country in greater volume than ever.
Multitudes made haste to be rich, and fell into temptations
and snares. The perilous era of enormous fortunes began.



When the five years of rending and tearing had passed,
in which slavery was dispossessed of its hold upon the
nation, there was much to be done in reconstructing and
readjusting the religious institutions of the country.

Throughout the seceding States buildings and endow-
ments for religious uses had suffered in the general waste
and destruction of property. Colleges and seminaries, in
many instances, had seen their entire resources swept away
through investment in the hopeless promises of the de-
feated government. Churches, boards, and like associa-
tions were widely disorganized through the vicissitudes of
military occupation and the protracted absence or the death
of men of experience and capacity.

The effect of the war upon denominational organizations
had been various. There was no sect of all the church
the members and ministers of which had not felt the sweep
of the currents of popular opinion all about them. But
the course of events in each denomination was in some
measure illustrative of the character of its polity.

In the Roman Catholic Cliurch the antagonisms of the

conflict were as keenly felt as anywhere. Archbishop

Hughes of New York, who, with Henry Ward Beecher

and Bishop Mclh'aine of Ohio, accepted a political mission



from President Lincoln, was not more distinctly a Union
man than Bishop Lynch of Charleston was a secessionist.
But the firm texture of the hierarchical organization,
held steadily in place by a central authority outside of the
national boundaries, prevented any organic rupture. The
Catholic Church in America was eminently fortunate at
one point : the famous bull Quanta Cura, with its ap-
pended " Syllabus " of damnable errors, in which almost
all the essential characteristics of the institutions of the
American Republic are anathematized, was fulminated in
1864, when people in the United States had little time to
think of ecclesiastical events taking place at such a distance.
If this extraordinary document had been first published in
a time of peace, and freely discussed in the newspapers of
the time, it could hardly have failed to inflict the most
serious embarrassment on the interests of Catholicism in
America. Even now it keeps the Catholic clergy in a
constantly explanatory attitude to show that the Syllabus
does not really mean what to the ordinary reader it un-
mistakably seems to mean ; and the work of explanation
is made the more necessary and the more difficult by the
decree of papal infallibility, which followed the Syllabus
after a few years.

Simply on the ground of a de facto political indepen-
dence, the southern dioceses of the Protestant Episcopal
Church, following the principles and precedents of 1789.
organized themselves into a " Church in the Confederate
States." One of the southern bishops, Polk, of Louisiana,
accepted a commission of major-general in the Confederate
army, and relieved his brethren of any disciplinary ques-
tions that might have arisen in consequence by dying on
the field from a cannon-shot. With admirable tact and
good temper, the " Church in the United States " managed
to ignore the existence of any secession; and when


the alleged de facto independence ceased, the seceding
bishops and their dioceses dropped quietly back into place
without leaving a trace of the secession upon the record.

The southern organizations of the Methodists and
Baptists were of twenty years' standing at the close of the
war in 1865. The war had abolished the original cause
of these divisions, but it had substituted others quite as
serious. The exasperations of the war, and the still more
acrimonious exasperations of the period of the political
reconstruction and of the organization of northern missions
at the South, gendered strifes that still delay the redin-
tegration which is so visibly future of both of these divided

At the beginning of the war one of the most important
of the denominations that still retained large northern and
southern memberships in the same fellowship was the Old-
School Presbyterian Church ; and no national sect had
made larger concessions to avert a breach of unity. When
the General Assembly met at Philadelphia in May, 1861,
amid the intense excitements of the opening war, it was
still the hope of the habitual leaders and managers of the
Assembly to avert a division by holding back that body
from any expression of sentiment on the question on
which the minds of Christians were stirred at that time
with a profound and most religious fervor. But the As-
sembly took the matter out of the hands of its leaders, and
by a great majority, in the words of a solemn and tem-
perate resolution drawn by the venerable and conservative
Dr. Gardiner Spring, declared its loyalty to the govern-
ment and constitution of the country. With expressions
of horror at the sacrilege of taking the church into the
domain of politics, southern presbyteries one after another
renounced the jurisdiction of the General Assembly that
could be guilty of so shocking a profanation, and, uniting


in a General Assembly of their own, proceeded with great
promptitude to make equally emphatic deliverances on the
opposite side of the same political question.^ But nice
logical consistency and accurate working within the lines
of a church theory were more than could reasonably be
expected of a people in so pitiable a plight. The diflfer-
ence on the subject of the right function of the church
continued to be held as the ground for continuing the
separation from the General Assembly after the alleged
ground in political geography had ceased to be valid ; the
working motive for it was more obvious in the unfraternal
and almost wantonly exasperating course of the national
General Assembly during the war ; but the best justifica-
tion for it is to be found in the effective and useful work-
ing of the Southern Presbyterian Church. Considering
the impoverishment and desolation of the southern coun-
try, the record of useful and self-denying work accom-
plished by this body, not only at home, but in foreign
fields, is, from its beginning, an immensely honorable one.
Another occasion of reconstruction was the strong dis-
position of the liberated negroes to withdraw themselves
from the tutelage of the churches in which they had been
held, in the days of slavery, in a lower-caste relation. The
eager entrance of the northern churches upon mission
work among the blacks, to which access had long been
barred by atrocious laws and by the savage fury of mobs,
tended to promote this change. The multiplication and
growth of organized negro denominations is a characteris-
tic of the period after the war. There is reason to hope
that the change may by and by, with the advance of edu-
cation and moral training among this people, inure to their
spiritual advantage. There is equal reason to fear that at
present, in many cases, it works to their serious detriment.

1 Thompson, " The Presbyterians," chap. xiii. ; Johnson, " The Southern
Presbyterians," chap. v.


The effect of the war was not exclusively divisive. In
two instances, at least, it had the effect of healing old
schisms. The southern secession from the New-School
Presbyterian Church, which had come away in 1858 on the
slavery issue, found itself in 1861 side by side with the
southern secession from the Old School, and in full agree-
ment with it in morals and politics. The two bodies were
not long in finding that the doctrinal differences which a
quarter-century before had seemed so insuperable were,
after all, no serious hindrance to their coming together.

Even after the war was over, its healing power was felt,
this time at the North. There was a honeycomb for Sam-
son in the carcass of the monster. The two great Pres-
byterian sects at the North had found a common comfort
in their relief from the perpetual festering irritation of the
slavery question ; they had softened toward each other in
the glow of a religious patriotism ; they had forgotten old
antagonisms in common labors ; and new issues had ob-
scured the tenuous doctrinal disputes that had agitated the
continent in 1837. Both parties grew tired and ashamed
of the long and sometimes ill-natured quarrel. With such
a disposition on both sides, terms of agreement could not
fail in time to be found. For substance, the basis of re-
union was this: that the New-School church should yield
the point of organization, and the Old-School church
should yield the point of doctrine; the New-School men
should sustain the Old-School boards, and the Old-School
men should tolerate the New-School heresies. The con-
solidation of the two sects into one powerful organization
was consummated at Pittsburg, November 12, 1869, with
every demonstration of joy and devout thanksgiving.

One important denomination, the Congregationalists,
had had the distinguished advantage, through all these
turbulent years, of having no southern membership. Out
of all proportion to its numerical strength was the part


which it took in those missions to the neglected popula-
tions of the southern country into which the various de-
nominations, both of the South and of the North, entered
with generous emulation while yet the war was still wag-
ing. Always leaders in advanced education, they not
only, acting through the American Missionary Association,
provided for primary and secondary schools for the negroes,
but promoted the foundation of institutions of higher, and
even of the higliest, grade at Hampton, at Atlanta, at
Tuskegee, at New Orleans, at Nashville, and at Washing-
ton. Many noble lives have been consecrated to this most
Christlike work of lifting up the depressed. None will
grudge a word of exceptional eulogy to the memory of
that splendid character. General Samuel C. Armstrong,
son of one of the early missionaries to the Sandwich
Islands, who poured his inspiring soul into the building
up of the " Normal Institute " at Hampton, Va., thus not
only rearing a visible monument of his labor in the en-
during buildings of that great and useful institution, but
also establishing his memory, for as long as human grati-
tude can endure, in the hearts of hundreds of young men
and young women, negro and Indian, whose lives are the
better and nobler for their having known him as their

It cannot be justly claimed for the Congregationalists of
the present day that they have lost nothing of that cor-
porate unselfishness, seeking no sectarian aggrandizement,
but only God's reign and righteousness, which had been
the glory of their fathers. The studious efforts that have
been made to cultivate among them a sectarian .spirit, as
if this were one of the Christian virtues, have not been
fruitless. Nevertheless it may be seen that their work of
education at the South has been conducted in no narrow
spirit. The extending of their sect over new territory has


been a most trivial and unimportant result of their wide-
spread and efficient work. A far greater result has been
the promotion among the colored people of a better edu-
cation, a higher standard of morality, and an enlightened
piety, through the influence of the graduates of these in-
stitutions, not only as pastors and as teachers, but in all
sorts of trades and professions and as mothers of families.

This work of the Congregationalists is entitled to men-
tion, not as exceptional, but only as eminent among like
enterprises, in which few of the leading sects have failed
to be represented. Extravagant expectations were at first
entertained of immediate results in bringing the long-
depressed race up to the common plane of civilization.

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 28 of 34)