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TUESDAY, JUNE 2, 1846.
Dr Candlish on the part of the committee appointed to prepare a letter to the Presbyterian Church of the United States, in answer to the letter received from them, read the draft of the proposed answer to be transmitted in reply, as follows :
Draft of Letter to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States
After preamble, the letter proceeds thus :
It is not with a view to a prolonged and exciting discussion between you and us, far less with any thing like a desire to bring about ultimate severance, that we again return, in a few sentences, to a subject which has already forced itself into our communications with one another. But we feel assured that you, as well as we, would be ashamed of any unmanly shrinking, on either side, from a free exchange of sentiment on such a topic; and in faithfulness, but with all affection, we must express to you our views.
Upon most, if not all, of the general principles upon which you, as a Church, appear to regulate your conduct, you and we are very much agreed; we are agreed in our sense of the evils of slavery, as well as in the conviction that masters may not "regard their servants as mere property, instead of human beings, rational, accountable, immortal ;" and that “every Christian and philanthropist should seek, by all peaceable and lawful means, the repeal of unjust and oppressive laws respecting slavery,"'and we presume, also, the abolition of slavery itself. We learn also, with satisfaction, that “the ministers and churches in the slaveholding States are awaking to a deeper sense of their obligation to extend to the slare population generally the means of grace.” That you" by no means countenance the traffic of slaves for the sake of gain; the separation of husbands and wives, parents and children, for the sake of. filthy lucre,' or for the convenience of masters, or the cruel treatment of slaves in any respect,"—We firmly believe, and indeed never doubted. On the other hand, we do not concur in opinion with those who think that the mere fact of slaveholding should in itself, under all circumstances, be considered 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 have 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."
At the same time, we cannot conceal from you, that in some particulars we are con. strained to differ from you. You will permit us, we are confident, to address you with all frankness, and you will bear with us when we express our fear, that you may possibly have been led, by the circumstances in which you are placed, to conteniplale, with some
what diminished abhorrence, a system which no Christian man or christian church can fail to condemn. It is the unhappy tendency of such a position as you occupy–in the midst of the institutions of slavery—that it almost inevitably leads to a less sensitive tone of feeling in regard to them; and we are fully aware that the extravagant and extreme opinions of some of the abolitionists in your country have compelled you to make explanations upon this subject, which may be easily perverted into an apparent apology for the system. We suffer with you in this respect, and we have not been moved, nor will we allow ourselves to be moved, by mere clamour, from what we believe to be a Scriptural, as well as brotherly position in our relation towards you. But looking on from a distance, and out of the reach of some of the influences to which you are exposed, we may suggest for consideration, whether more might not be done for the great cause of the abolition of slavery, by yourselves, in whose hands it would be safer and more successful, than in the hands of many of its present advocates.
You seem to us to take a view different from ours of the duty of the Christian church in dealing with the civil and domestic regulations of the state, one of which you say is slavery. Like you, we disclaim all right, on the part of the church, to legislate for the commonwealth, or dictate to its rulers, and we hold that, ordinarily, the alternative upon which Christians, as such, have to decide, is between obeying the law, if the Word of God permit obedience, or if not, taking the risk of disobeying it. We believe, however, that it is often the church's duty to testify to the state, and remonstrate with it, in regard to evils which it may be sanctioning or tolerating. More especially when these evils are so flagrantly in violation of the spirit of the gospel, and so inconsistent with the due discharge of its duties,—as slavery, in every form, is. We cannot but think that the church and its members, as such, lie under an obligation to aim strenuously at their mitigation and removal. There are some things connected with slavery, as it is alleged to exist among you, which, so far as we could judge, would render it almost impossible to abstain from moving against it. We refer to the legal obstacles interposed in the way of teaching the young, the frequent, if not customary, violation of the marriage relation ; and the difficulty or impossibility, as the law now stands, of the practice of emancipation. Thus, if the law forbids the teaching of the young, is the Church, we would respectfully ask, to obey the law or break it? In either case it is surely alike her duty and her right to seek an alteration of a law so tyrannical and antichristian. So also in regard to the marriage relation. We cannot but regard the position of your ministers who are called to perform the marriage ceremony among a population liable to have the marriage tie so loosely formed, and so cruelly broken, is one demanding on the part of the church whose ministers they are, most vigorous and persevering exertions, in dealing with the legisla. tures of these states, with a view to have the abominations of such a system speedily brought to an end. And considering the obstacles interposed in the slave states to the voluntary manumission of slaves by their masters, or the purchase of their liberty by other parties, and the necessity thus laid on many to continue against their will in the relation of masters of slaves, we confess it seems to us that the churches of America ought to lift up their voices more loudly, and put forth their energies more vigorously, than now they do, for the abolition of a system which not only is in itself contrary to the spirit of God's Word and the natural rights of man, but, as it would appear by the practical confession of its very supporters, can be upheld only by perpetuating ignorance, tampering with the domestic charities, and virtually prohibiting the influence of those enlightened and Christian feelings of benevolence which otherwise might speedily lead to the breaking of every yoke, and the letting of the oppressed go free.
It is not for us to dictate to you as to the way in which the discipline of a Christian church ought to be brought to bear upon the holding or the having of slaves. While we
are by no means prepared to say, that the mere fact of a man's standing in the legal relation of the master or owner of a slave is in itself, and without respect to circumstances, an offence to be visited with censure, we are inclined to regard it as in every case a position requiring to be explained and justified, on the part of him who is placed in it, by a clear plea of necessity or mercy. Wherever there is slavery there is sin; and the party who holds, or possesses, or owns a slave, must be presumed to be a sinner, unless it can be shown that it is not tlırough his fault that he is a slave-master, and that he cannot, consistently with his duty, cease to be so. We are clearly of opinion, also, that no Christian man, however in the eye of the law he may stand in the relation of a master to a slave, can consider himself as really standing in that relation, either in the eye of conscience or in the eye of God; and we feel assured that a professing Christian holding himself entitled, or acting as if he held himself entitled, to regard and treat his fellow. immortal as if he were,—what the law may make him in the judgment of human tribunals, but never in that of God,-a piece of goods or chattels, sins grievously, and ought to be subjected to discipline of kindness first, and the discipline of utmost severity at last. These principles we pray you to excuse us for humbly bringing forward on this occasion, that we may stir up your minds by way of remembrance, and that we may exonerate ourselves in this matter.
In conclusion, allow us to suggest, with all tenderness, for your consideration, the fear. ful and appalling risk, as it appears to us, that indecision and delay in such a crisis must involve. Were the great cause of emancipation in your country at once and promptly taken up by Christian churches and Christian men, not on any minute question of ecclesiastical order or ecclesiastical relations, but on the broad general principles of religion and humanity, upon which, in our country, the contest was waged and the victory won,were those who cannot adopt extreme views on the subject to rally around them a noble band of the true friends of the slave, and make a grand united movement against this monstrous national iniquity, your legislative bodies might yet listen to Scripture and to reason, and a peaceful settlement of this agitating controversy might yet be possible. It is not for us to anticipate the opposite alternative of the violence of unwise friends of the cause, making prudent men inactive, and goading the oppressed to madness. May the Lord himself show the path of light! and may he so raise up and qualify witnesses for his truth, and champions of the poor and needy, that the field may be taken and the banner unfurled, by them that fear him, so as to leave neither room nor occasion for that wrath of man which worketh not the righteousness of God.
The answer was approved of and adopted, and the Moderator was authorised to subscribe the same in name of the Assembly.
Edinburgh : Ballantyne and Hughes, Paul's Work, and 3 Thistle Street.