Page images

churches of America an earnest remonstrance in reference to the sin of slavery, so generally practised in the Southern States of that republic. Accordingly, a committee was appointed by the assembly; and on the 11th of September, that committee gave in a report, couched in the mildest possible language, and concluding with a declaration that the question of slavery should be no bar to the subsisting intercourse;' but that, on the contrary, 'all opportunities of drawing closer the bonds of fellow. ship ought to be embraced.' This report was transmitted to America by Dr. Henry Grey, the moderator, and was answered by the General Assembly of the United States, from Cincinnati, May 27th, 1845. This answer was never read to the Assembly of the Free Church at its late sitting in Edinburgh. The clerk announced the letter, and was about to read it; but Dr. Candlish stepped up to the table, and took the document out of his hands; and it was merely intimated that an answer had been received. It was remitted to the committee, with instructions to prepare a 'reply. A short extract from the American document will not be unacceptable. After commending the • Christian candour'!! of the delegates to America, the question of slavery referred to in the report of the Free Church already alluded to is taken up, and thus disposed of:

• We are gratified exceedingly with the spirit of candour and enquiry which pervades your document on the subject of slavery, and leads us to hope that we shall soon be able to acquaint our noble brethren in Scotland with the true position of the Presbyterian church in this country.

That responsibility for the evils of American slavery is shared by our brethren of Great Britain to some extent—that you are restrained from peremptory decision on the question of our particular duty, by ignorance of facts and circumstances, and that you appreciate so much the difficulties of our position, as to admit that a different course from that of the British churches may be justified among us for the present, are generous sentiments and enlightened Christian moderation, which prove to us that the Free Church of Scotland is as much ennobled by elevation above the prejudices that surround her, as by a memorable Exodus from the oppression that enthralled her. Could we allay excitement, and restrain impatience, and correct misunderstanding among our brethren of the British churches, we have no doubt that our course in this most delicate and difficult subject would be so entirely approved, that no intimation of ultimate severance on this account would any more alloy the happiness which your correspondence affords.'

Accompanying this answer was the deliverance of the American Assembly on the subject of slavery, at the same sitting. We cannot refrain from giving an extract from this document, and also the resolutions adopted on the same occasion, which were, likewise, a part of the communication to the Free Church Assembly.

That slavery existed in the days of Christ and his apostles is an admitted fact. That they did not denounce the relation itself as sinful, as inconsistent with Christianity; that slaveholders were ad. mitted to membership in the churches organized by the apostles; that whilst they were required to treat their slaves with kindness, and as rational, accountable, immortal beings, and if Christians, as brethren in the Lord, they were not commanded to emancipate them; that slaves were required to be obedient to their masters according to the flesh, with fear and trenbling, with singleness of heart as unto Christ, are facts which meet the eye of every reader of the New Testament. This Assembly cannot, therefore, denounce the holding of slaves as necessarily a heinous and scandalous sin, calculated to bring upon the church the curse of God, without charging the apostles of Christ with conniving at such sin, introducing into the church such sinners, and thus bringing upon them the curse of the Almighty.' The resolutions are as follow :

Resolved, lst, That the General Assembly of the Presbyterian church in the United States was originally organized, and has since continued the bond of union in the church upon the conceded principle that the existence of domestic slavery, under the circumstances in which it is found in the southern portion of the country, is no bar to Christian communion.

“2nd, That the petitions that ask the Assembly to make the holding of slaves in itself a matter of discipline, do virtually require this judicatory to dissolve itself, and abandon the organization under which, by the divine blessing, it has so long prospered. The tendency is evidently to separate the northern from the southern portion of the church; a result which every good citizen must deplore as tending to the dissolution of the union of our beloved country, and which every enlightened Christian will oppose as bringing about a ruinous and unnecessary schism between brethren who maintain a common faith.' These resolutions were carried by a vote of 168 to 13.

The Rev. James Macbeth, of Glasgow, in an admirable pamphlet on the proceedings of the late General Assembly of the Free Church, thus comments on the keeping back of these documents from the Assembly, in May last.

"Mark the circumstance,' he says, that though two very important documents had come to band-they were both kept out of sight; and the debate closed without their being seen—the letter, namely, or reply from the American Church to us, and the deliverance of the American Presbyterian Assembly, which accompanied it. Let this be pondered, and kept before the mind. It may admit of explanation, and I do not lay very great stress on it. Surely, to ask the As. sembly to approve of the report, very meagre, as Dr. Candlish well called it, while two chief facts on which the report necessarily proceeded, were kept out of view, was something like asking the As. sembly to take a leap in the dark. The committee had in its hands a reply from the criminated party, giving some insight into that party's state of mind-containing evidence that the charges brought against it were wholly unfounded, or at least greatly exaggerated; or, on the other hand, establisbing against the party at the bar a dogged resolution to hold on in its improper course : unquestionably these two documents were necessary parts of a judgment in ac. quittal; yet, wonderful to say, they were both, I shall not say concealed, but kept back. No excuse whatever was assigned for this. An excuse was made, indeed, for the committee not being ready with a reply to the letter; and very likely it was found difficult to reply to such a communication. Now, sir,' said Dr. Candlish, I feel that this report is somewhat meagre. When you are to answer a formal letter from a church, it plainly must be done by a little circumlo. cution, and the usual phraseology of friendly intercourse, and therefore it will take some pains ! This evidently was no reason for not reading the letter that had come to hand. Is it possible to avoid believing that the reply from across the Atlantic would have been read, if it had been creditable to those from whom it came ; if it bad contained any avowal on their part of a resolution to break the slavelaws; if it had not been such as would have strongly tended to sway the Assembly's conclusion, and to convince the house that the moment for excision had fully come. It is impossible to drive the suspicion from the mind that there are expressions in that letter which could not well bear the light of a Scottish sky, nor be read on the floor of a Free Assembly previous to that debate.'

A short extract from the reply sent by the Assembly of the Free Church to the letter and deliverance from America, thus carefully concealed from the Assembly, will show the ground taken by that church in May, 1846.

. We do not concur in opinion with those who think that the mere fact of slaveholding should in itself, under all circumstances, be con. sidered as a heinous sin, calling for the discipline of the church, and who would require us to renounce all friendly intercourse with you, and to offend and insult you, by rejecting the tokens of your sympathy with us in our trials, because you do act upon that principle in your government of Christ's house according to his Word. We bave reason, also, to apprehend, from recent experience in our own country, that the indiscriminate denunciations' of which you speak, have a tendency only to perpetuate and aggravate the evils wbich they profess to remedy.'

The Assembly which adopted this reply was edified by speeches from Drs. Candlish, Cunningham, and Duncan, in

defence of continued communion with slave-holding churches. Their revised speeches are before us, and we find it hard to resist the temptation to enter upon an examination of them. They exhibit lamentable ignorance, or, if not ignorance, a wilful perversion, of the facts relating to the state of the American churches, and a fearfully bold determination to wrest the Holy Scriptures for the purpose of vindicating the Christianity of shareholders.. To exclude shareholders from ecclesiastical fellowship is, in Dr. Candlish's opinion, an extreme position,''a new pitch of perfection in morality never before dreamt of.' The relation of the church in America to slavery, 'is somewhat similar to the relation in which this church (the Free Church) might stand to an alleged abuse, said to be prevalent in some one portion, or corner, of our territory.' Dr. Duncan enlightened the Assembly, by defining the distinction between slave-holding and slave-hiring; the former he declared a sin, but the latter, not only innocent, but laudable. He hoped this distinction would be pointed out in the Assembly's deliverance. Dr. Cunningham waxed very bold, and said, I have not the slightest hesitation in stating my decided conviction, that the apostles of our Lord and Master admitted slaveholders to the table of the Lord, and to all the privileges of the church-that is to say, men standing in the legal relation of masters to servants, and entitled to treat them with legal impunity as slaves, if they chose, and even to put them to death. I say these men were admitted to the Lord's table, and to the enjoyment of all Chris. tian privileges. These and similar sentiments were loudly cheered by the Assembly..

The Rev. Mr. Macbeth moved for the exclusion of slaveholders from the pulpits and communion table of the Free Church, but could find po seconder for his resolution--so overwhelming and absolute was the authority of the three personages we have named. Such in brief is the course of the Free Church of Scotland in the subject of religious fellowship with slaveholders. The leading members of that church were among the originators of the Evangelical Alliance, and will be found attending the earliest meetings convened for the purpose of bringing about the conference finally held in London in August last. We need not attempt to show the deep interest the Free Church had in the decisions (if any were given) of the Alliance, on the question of slavery.

Let us now trace the course of the Alliance on this subject. No reference appears to have been made to the topic during the sittings of the committee at Liverpool; but at the meeting of the aggregate committee, held in Birmingham, April, 1846, the following resolution was carried, viz. :

That while this Committee deem it unnecessary and inerpedient to enter into any question at present on the subject of slaveholding, or onthe difficult circumstances in which Christian brethren may be placed in countries where the law of slavery prevails; they are of opinion that invitations ought not to be sent to individuals who, whether by their own fault or otherwise, may be in the unhappy position of holding their fellow-men as SLAVES.'-Minutes, &c., p. 6.

It strikes us as somewhat singular, that this extraordinary resolution should have for its proposer the Rev. Dr. Candlish. We can account for the fact of a resolution on the subject of slavery being submitted to the committee, for we know that a remonstrance against the admission of slaveholders was sent to it by the Glasgow Emancipation Society, and that the London Anti-slavery Society also addressed an earnest and faithful letter to that body; but how Dr. Candlish could reconcile it with consistency to refuse to invite those whom he had openly fellowshipped in Edinburgh, and whom he had represented as 'standing in a position, in some respects, of high superiority,' even to the Free Church, we cannot so easily understand. We have heard it said, and have reason to believe, that if Dr. Candlish had not brought forward the resolution we have just cited, another, and a much stronger one would have been introduced ; and that knowing this, the doctor came to tlie rescue. To get the Birmingham committee to take the ground of the Free Church, and openly to recognise the Christianity of the slaveholder as unexceptionable, was what the Scotch divine would have liked, but was clearly impracticable. To prevent the committee from passing a resolution which would have been a virtual condemnation of the Free Church, was what the Doctor above all things else desired to avert; and hence the resolution referred to. It was the tertium quid. We shall not stay to criticise this resolution. Like every similar attempt to please all parties, it pleased no party. We have heard men of all opinions on the subject of slavery, condemn it. The mover's great ally, Dr. Chalmers, treats it with little courtesy, and no commendation. In a pamphlet, the title of which we have placed at the head of this article, he says:

We regret the resolution at Birmingham of April the 1st, of withholding invitations from those who, whether by their own fault or otherwise, may be in the unhappy position of holding their fellowmen as slaves.' If not by their own fault, the laying on of such a stigma is an act of cruelty and injustice to those ministers, of whom we doubt not there is a number in the southern States of the American Union, who mourn over slavery and all its abominations. These form the very class who were the most likely to send over their representatives to this country. But even as to those who are in fault, though

« PreviousContinue »