Thomas Smyth.

Complete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D online

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Nor were these sentiments only received, they were con-
firmed by the unanimous adoption of a resolution — ^"That
thanks be rendered to God for the harmony which, for thirty-
two years, has prevailed in the councils of the Committee," &c.

Now, when it is remembered that all this was done on the
eve of the recent and most excited political election through
which as a country we have ever passed ; when an anti-slavery
candidate was prominent, and when anti-slavery excitement
had inflamed every association of men of whatever kind, the
emphasis and importance of these facts, as proofs of the con-
servative spirit of the friends of the Tract Society at the North,

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and their devotion to its constitutional principles and limited
object, must be apparent.

The sentiments quoted above are repeatedly, and, if possible,
more emphatically stated in many official documents of the
officers of the Society — as for instance, in the "Circular" and
"Card," re-published in the Report for 1866. Thus to give one
quotation from the Circular :

"These principles have been understood and acted on as fun-
damental in the Society's Constitution by all the commit-
tees and executive officers, and all agents and colporteurs
employed, from the foundation of the Society to the present
hour. What is 'calculated to receive the approbation of all
evangelical christians,* has been practically held to be as fun-
damental in this Society's charter, as in that of the Bible Soci-
ety to issue the Bible 'without note or comment ;' or that of an
Orphan Asylum to devote funds to the good of the orphan, or
the obligation of any other corporate body to adhere to the
principles of its charter."

And after enumerating many of the distinguished men who
have labored with the Society, it is added : "From the lips of
these deceased devoted founders and toil-worn laborers, con-
nected as they were with five great evangelical communions, no
intimation that the Society could rightfully, by any act what-
ever, give offence to evangelical christians of any name or
locality, is known ever to have fallen, nor any such intimation
from the lips of any member of the Committees ; and no act of
either Committee has ever been carried into effect, that was not

The reiteration of these views led to the anti-slavery political
excitement against the Tract Society, charging it with having
become unconstitutionally a pro-slavery Society. This charge
was sustained by the alleged "sympathies of the officers — by
the fact that they had actually omitted from some works,
offensive passages against slavery — that they had dropped
works in which it was alluded to altogether, and that they had
never published anything against it."

And what was the reply made by the twenty officers constitu-
ting the Executive Committee? They reply, in a paper pub-
lished in the same Report, by asking — "How far, then, can the
Society go, in showing the evils of slavery?

"We answer, its Constitution allows it to go so far as evan-
gelical christians in the Northern and in the Southern States
can approve the publications it may issue, and no farther. The

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question is not now, at the end of thirty years, how the Society
ought to have been, or might have been formed, but how it was
formed. In May, 1825, christians from the Northern and the
Southern States united publicly and solemnly before CJod in
adopting this Society's Constitution as the basis of a national
catholic Society, to receive the prayers, co-operation, donations,
and legacies of the whole coimtry, for issuing such publications,
and such only, whether of 'vital godliness,' or 'sound morality,'
as should be approved by all evangelical christians,' North,
South, East, and West. No sophistry, evasion, or collusion,
can change this historical fact. They acted from a belief that
evangelical christians do agree in the great essential truths by
which men are blessed and saved, and unanimously bound
themselves to each other, to the christian community, and to
God, to employ the Society's means only in publishing those
truths ; believing that if one class of evangelical christians be
trespassed against, so might another, and the bond of union be
dissolved. This compact has been so understood by all our
beloved associates, the dead and the living. Never have we
heard from one of them an intimation that it could have any
other import. Every act of the Society to this day has been based
on this understanding. In our labors to fulfil this sacred com-
pact, we feel we can bear to be misrepresented or censured;
that if smitten on the one cheek, we can, by the grace of God,
'turn the other also,' 'until seventy times seven ;' but we cannot
violate this solemn trust ; the laws of God and the laws of the
land forbid it. Nor can we virtually say of our brethren of
different evangelical denominations south of Mason and
Dixon's line, that they are not evangelical christians in the sense
of the Society's Constitution; for we know that, in the letter
and spirit and intent of that document, they ivere and are
included as fully as christians north of that line, God has led
the Society into a great work for the destitute, bond and free,
in our Southern and South-western States, and we hear no call
from Him to relinquish it."

This surely is enough, and more than enough, to satisfy every
Southern Evangelical christian. The men who said this meant
all they said. They are now doing and not doing all they
said; all the Constitution required; all we have ever wished.
They are now enduring all of prejudice and misrepresentation,
the enemies of the Society can inflict upon them. But they are
also sustained both in what they have done and in what they
have not done, by nine-tenths of all Evangelical christians, and

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among them by some of the ablest judges of our country, both
at the North, the East, and the West.

Of course, it is to be expected that while thus speaking and
acting as it regards Evangelical christians and slavery at the
South, these officers were required to justify themselves to
Evangelical christians and to anti-slavery at the North, East
and West. This they were bound to do, and this they were
therefore right in doing. As officers of the American Tract
Society they ought to have no sympathy for either slavery or
anti-slavery. As such they represent and act for all Evan-
gelical christians and are in good faith required to represent
and act for them all — North and South, slavery and anti-
slavery — in carrying on the one and only object for which such
christians are united in "The American Tract Society." This
they have done, and this is all that they have done. And what-
ever they have said which is, or has been considered, offensive
by some at the South and by others at the North, has been said
in the wish to assure all Evangelical christians that, as officers
of the Society, they had no other object or principle before
them than those laid down in the Constitution as the one and
only object and principle of the American Tract Society.

Let the Reports and Statements of the officers be looked at
through this, which is the only true and charitable medium, and
I feel perfectly confident that christians at the South and at the
North will find that they have endeavored to the very utmost of
human wisdom and caution to act and speak impartially, and
that where they have failed to make this impression, it has been
through an error of judgment and not through an intentional
identification of themselves with any party or opinion what-

These remarks will not apply, except in part, to the Report
and Resolutions presented by the Committee of fifteen at the
last Anniversary, and so unaccountably adopted by it. So far
as that Report alluded to slavery it is unjustifiable, and was
certainly extra-constitutional, and therefore null and void,
since the Tract Society is a body corporate to do a specified
work, by prescribed and carefully limited means, and to do
nothing else.

Neither do I believe that Committee of Fifteen had any
intention to contravene the constitutional object of the Society
or to injure the rights and feelings of their Southern brethren,
as these are secured by the constitution. Far from it. That
Committee was composed of high-minded christian men — ^all of

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them men of eminence, and for some of whom all have cher-
ished most profound respect. All that I have said proves that
they did not. In their Report itself much of which is valuable,
th6y show that they did not. For they throw upon the execu-
tive officers the solemn responsibility of acting upon their sug-
gestions 'only so far as the widest and best usefulness of the
society could be promoted throughout our whole country."
Several other remarks limit and qualify, and neutralize what
they did say so as to make it impossible to do what, by a well-
meant desire to harmonize all parties and preserve the greatest
efficiency to the society, they did seem to recommend. And
that such was the spirit of the Report is further evident from
the fact that it was so interpreted by Southern gentlemen on
the platform when it was read, and by many readers at the
South afterwards, until a portion of the Report was falsely
printed as the whole and heralded as an Abolition triumph.

While then part of this Report is objectionable this does not
alter my views of the society itself or of the officers, or of our
duty to hold on to both; and while heartily sustaining those
noble and devoted men, at the same time to avail ourselves of
this powerful instrumentality for diffusing among our millions
of unevangelized population the knowledge of our Lord and
Saviour Jesus Christ, as the only means under heaven for
securing to them, and to our communities, and to our country,
vital godliness, sound morality, and pure and abiding liberty.

And, hoping that all will be lead with me still to love and
labor for the American Tract Society, and with the noble and
devoted and faithful officers of the American Tract Society,
I will reserve some further observations to another and final
article. Evangelicus.

III. Why I Still Love the American Tract Society.

''Ever since I have had a heart to understand and love the truths which
your Society is bearing on its myriad wings alike to rich and poor, to the
high and the low, to the bond and the free, I have admired the greatness
of its object and the simplicity of its means, the richness of its treasure,
and the freeness with which it is given. And every year's observation and
experience serve to heighten and deepen my admiration. I love the great
principles by which its elements are united ; I love the noble spirit with
which they are animated ; and I love the blessed work which each separately
and all unitedly are laboring to promote. May God preserve the Society,
and make it useful so long as there are sinners to be won to Christ, or
saints to be fitted for heaven." — The Rev, John C. Lord, Baptist Missionary
to Ningpo,

1 Still love the American Tract Society, because I find that all
evangelical christians at the South, and the great majority of

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them elsewhere, unite in loving it for all the reasons I have
before given. There is but one opinion among them all, as to
the christian character and invaluable importance of the

The Reverend and truly venerable Dr. De Witt, one of the
Vice-Presidents at the last anniversary — ^the only occasion
when any thing was done to grieve its friends at the South —
"spoke of his early connection with the Society, and of the
interest and even solicitude with which he had ever since
watched its progress. He had great love for such an institu-
tion, uniting as it does members of all christian denominations
on a common platform, for the diffusion of evangelical truth
among men. God's blessing, he said, had rested upon the
Society; and although some of its friends may have felt and
feared for it ; although clouds and storms may have arisen, yet
he could now see the bow of promise — the emblem and pledge
of peace and security. He thought that the scrutiny which had
been made into the business affairs of the Society would serve
only to commend it to the increased confidence of the christian
community. He well remembered that, as he and the lamented
Summerfield, both of whom were permitted to take part in the
hallowed exercises at the formation of this Society, sat beside
each other, Mr. Summerfield said to him that he believed God
would bless this institution as a powerful means of cementing
the hearts of his people of every name and in all parts of our
beloved coimtry." Another eminent clergyman, the venerable
and beloved, and now sainted. Dr. Knox, Chairman of the
Executive Committee, in the statement read at the last anni-
versary, and already quoted from, said, "God has singularly
owned and blessed its efforts. In the great southern section of
our country especially, the labours bestowed have never been
greater, nor the evidence of spiritual results more cheering,
than during the last year."

"This institution, (said another venerable and life-long
friend of the Society, Dr. Milnor,) commences itself to all of
us, fellow-citizens, in our civil no less than in our religious
relations in the community in which we live."

"It is a noble enterprise, deserving the hearty encourage-
ment and support of all who seek to promote the cause of
Christ's religion among the destitute of our country," says the
Hon. Simon Greenleaf,'a Protestant Episcopalian.

"I doubt whether in the world, at this time, there exists an
organization, the christian ministry excepted, which is more

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eifective in diffusing a knowledge of the truths of the gospel
among all classes of people," said the Rev. A. Alexander, D.
D., another venerated founder.

In these sentiments evangelical ministers in South-Carolina
concur. In the Report and Resolutions of the South-Carolina
Branch, in reference to the action of the last annual meeting,
adopted though they were under much public excitement, all
cordially united in the affectionate language in which the
American Tract Society is spoken of : "Their publications have
hitherto received the cordial sanction and approval of evangeli-
cal christians in all parts of the country. United together in
bonds of mutual love, christians of various names have devoted
their means, and contributed their efforts to promote this great
and philanthropic work, and the blessing of God has always
rewarded, in a very remarkable degree, their self-denying and
charitable labors."

And, again, that Report says: "They feel the profoundest
unwillingness to destroy, or even hazard the existence of an
organization, which has accomplished so much for the souls of
men, and the spread of christian truth. That Satan and his
emissaries should achieve a triumph like this, is hateful to their
minds, and they earnestly desire to be, in no degree whatever,
responsible for such a result. It is their hope and prayer, that
the Society which numbers in its ranks so many of the truest
servants of God, when made aware of Southern sentiment upon
this matter, will in the same spirit of christian forbearance and
candour, withdraw from its recent position, and return in good
faith to that platform of the Constitution, from whence the
affairs of the Society have been so peacefully, happily, and suc-
cessfully administered for the last thirty years."

I cannot, therefore, help loving the American Tract Society,
because in loving it I love all evangelical christians, and all
evangelical efforts to do good, and to win souls to Christ. I
can, therefore truly say with the Rev. Dr. Peck, of the Meth-
odist Episcopal Church, "I love the Tract enterprise, because
it is a cause in which all evangelical christians can unite."

I can also say with Dr. Schmucker, of the Lutheran Church,
that "No benevolent institution can be nearer my heart ;" and
with the Rev. Baron Stow, of the Baptist Church, I can elo-
quently, and yet truly say, "Over all lands this Society has
poured, by the press, millions of streams of light and love. I
know of no institution doing so much to fill the vials of incense
in the hands of the angel standing by the altar."

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2. But, secondly, I still love the American Tract Society,
because its Constitution, which "embodies the object and prin-
ciples which all evangelical christians (to use the language of
the Hon. William Jay, an Episcopalian) peculiariy love"— can
never, as I have shewn, be changed, so long as evangelical
christians at the South, hold on to the Society. Such a change
cannot possibly be adopted, except by two-thirds of all the life-
members present at an annual meeting, and after having been
proposed at a previous annual meeting. And even were such
an alteration of the Constitution proposed by two-thirds of one
annual meeting and adopted at anotfier, the Society would be
interdicted from violating its catholic principles, and its national
and unsectional character, by a legal appeal, which, when neces-
sary, would be sustained by a lai^e majority of evangelical
christians at the North, East and West

And, it is still further to be considered, that as the Society
has no invested capital, beyond its character and the confidence
and yearly support of those who love it as it is, were it — ^let us
imagine— even altered, it would be found like the destroyed
city of Moscow, the grave, instead of the asylum of its victors.

3. I will, therefore, still love the American Tract Society,
because by still loving and laboring with it, I will defeat the
very end which abolitionists have for many years, and by every
kind of strategy, been endeavouring to secure, and that is to
induce evangelical christians in the slave-holding States to
withdraw from this Evangelical Union of the United States of
America, and thus leave it more dangerously exposed to their
fierce opposition. This has been unquestionably the policy of
the abolitionists.* They have, for years, employed every pos-
sible effort to compel the officers of the American Tract Soci-
ety to issue tracts on the subject of Slavery, under the threat
that if they did not they should be displaced by others willing
at the sacrifice of moral obligation and religious duty, to vio-
late its Constitution, pervert its funds, and convert this holy
instrumentality for diffusing vital godliness and sound morality
into an abolition society. That this has been, and is their
object is evident from the open avowal, made on their behalf
by Dr. Wayland (whose past writings, however, would excul-

*By Abolitionists I do not mean those who in any proper Constitutional
and Christian way would be glad to see Slavery either abolished or limited
to its present boundaries, but those who are politically disunionists, and
morally and, christianly, a law unto themselves higher tiian the law of the
land, than the common laws of sound morality, and than the almost uni-
versal interpretation of the laws of God.

80— Vol IX.

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pate him from any sympathy with such views.) For in his
reply to the objection **that the usefulness of the Society will
be impaired in the South," Dr. Wayland very calmly says,
**the South if it please will form a society of its own for the
teachings of which we are not responsible." Thus they coolly
calculate on the withdrawal of the South. Their sentiments
and intolerant spirit would drive off Southern christians, and
they anticipate that then the control of the Society and the
management of its funds would fall into their hands."

Now this is a very important fact, and as it gives a coloring
to the whole action of the officers and their published state-
ments, and also to the Report of the Committee of Fifteen, —
and as it ought to be our stand-point in judging them, and
deeding our own course, — I will quote what is said upon it, in
the Report of the South-Carolina Branch, adopted in June
last: "For some time past, Southern christians have been
aware of the fact, that the same restless faction, whose untir-
ing agitations against Slavery have introduced confusion and
division into every body which has allowed their influence, were
also at work in the American Tract Society, striving to intimi-
date its officers, and pervert the principles upon which the
Society's operations were based, with the hope of converting
it into an engine for the promotion of their franatical and mis-
chievous designs."

This then makes it plain, that as the officers and friends of
the Society at the North and elsewhere have been for years
endeavouring to prevent the abolitionizing and perversion of
the Tract Society, and have prevented it ; and as the continued
co-operation and hearty zeal of Southern christians can make
such a perversion impossible, I will still love it, and invite all
around me to do so.

4. And ought I not still to love the Tract Society, when I find
its officers and its friends at the North — including some of the
first Judges and leading Journals, are prepared to stand with
us in vindicating the true character of the Society, the limited
object of its Constitution, and the equal privileges and rights
of Southern Evangelical christians;* and when I hear them
calling upon us not to be driven away from them, but to come
up to their help, and to the help of the Lord, and of our whole
country, by a liberal and laborious employment of its tracts

♦That Southern christians have any rights in, and under the Constitution
of, the Society, Dr. Ray Palmer seems to have never conceived. To him
it is a New England Society, and of *'bad and unchristian and purely
selfish men" at the South, he says "it is our high duty to disturb them.'*

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and volumes, diffused by our own Colporteurs, under our own
supervision, for the benefit of our own people, and to the extent
of the utmost outlay of all the money we can raise, and even
beyond it if needful?

In a Circular, published in June, and addressed as to "dear
brethren in Christ," to "Evangelical christians, and especially
to the Society's Colporteurs, Superintendents, and General
Agents, and to the Editors of the religious press throughout
our Southern and South-western States:" it is said

"The almost unanimous voice, not only of the Special Com-
mittee, but of the Society and of its friends and patrons in all
parts of the country is decided, that the Society must carry out
in good faith the sacred compact in its Constitution, and must
convey the messages of salvation through a crucified Redeemer
to every accessible immortal being, in all circumstances and
conditions, throughout all our boundaries, in fulfillment of the
great command to 'preach the gospel to every creature.'

"We most respectfully and in christian confidence ask our
esteemed fathers and brethren in the ministry, and those who
control the religious press, if they will not in kindness and
courtesy, and from love to Christ, and to millions of destitute,
perishing souls, refrain from prejudging the future action of
their brethren of the Committee in whom they have hitherto
gratefully confided.

"And in the name of our blessed Master we would call upon
ourselves and all our brethren, general agents, superintendents
and colporteurs, providentially engaged in this service, to go on
in our work of faith and labor of love, undiverted by whatever
may occur around us ; to confide in God and his people ; to do
all we can to spread the gospel of our Redeemer; to trust in
Him to order all events ; to supplicate Him to remove preju-
dice and open the way before us, to give us love to souls, a
spirit of peace and good will towards all men, and to make our
poor endeavours effectual in winning souls to Him. And may
we not confide in the great body of evangelical christians still
cordially to co-operate in this blessed work?"

5. But it will be said, does not the report of the Committee
of Fifteen, adopted at the last anniversary, including as it does
extra-constitutional and most objectionable resolutions in refer-
ence to publishing on moral duties and evils connected with

Online LibraryThomas SmythComplete works of Rev. Thomas Smyth, D. D → online text (page 45 of 68)