“Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
It is not a little singular when the Puritanic pulpits of the North and East, together with those of the New School Baptists and Methodists are ringing with politics, and their religious presses are teeming with sacrilegious interference with the policy of earthly governments - while contributions are taken up in their synagogues in money and in rifles, for the expressed purpose of enforcing their religious dogmas upon the legislatures of the country, and while the legislative and administrative powers of our States and nation are gravely deliberating on the subject of the “higher law” - while petitions are pouring into Congress from ecclesiastical bodies, praying our government to engraft upon our national Constitution the name and law of the Supreme God, that we the descendents of those Baptists who were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, publicly whipped, chopped, and had their tongues burned through with red-hot irons, for dissenting from the doctrines and order of the legally established religion, when we venture to protest against those influences which are tending to involve us in similar, if not in more severe, trials, when we contend for a separation of ecclesiastical from the civil governments, when we attempt to show from scripture authority that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world - that it cannot be aided by human legislation, and that no earthly power or potentate has any divine right to legislate upon the laws of God to define or to enforce them, or to lay down any rules for the interpretation of the laws of God, or to settle by legislation what is or what is not sin - what God does or what he does not approve - that we should be charged by any who have ever claimed the sacred name of Baptists, with devoting our publication to politics. Is it not remarkable that those who can discover no wrong in those anti-christian tendencies, and who, to the extent of their influence, actually sustain them, should be so very sensitive as to object to our presenting what we conceive to be the testimony of the Bible on those subjects on which the scriptures treat, because an aspiring clergy and political demogogues have dragged those subjects into politics? Is it out of place for us to enter our solemn protest against the interpretations given to the laws of God and the religion of Christ, by aspiring politicians, who are laboring to gain a dictatorial guardianship of, and censorship over, our consciences in matters which belong only to ourselves and our God?
In all ages since her organization at Pentecost has the old order of Baptists been remarkable for their loyalty to the governments of this world, under which divine Providence has placed them, so long as such governments have confined their power to its legitimate sphere. But when such governments have attempted to define for us the law of God, and to enforce upon us by pains and penalties their construction of the laws of God, we have said to them in the language of John Leland, “If you can answer for us at the bar of God, and present us guiltless before that dread tribunal, then with some show of propriety may you assume the right to judge us in meats and in drinks, in regard to Sabbath days, and new moons, and tell us when, where, how, and to whom we may pray - how we shall serve him, and what is sin in God’s account. But if you cannot take this responsibility, don’t attempt to deprive us of our liberty to serve our God according to the dictates of our own consciences, at least so long as our religious decisions and actions do not interfere with the equal rights of all other men.” The spirit which now underlies the commotion which agitates our country and threatens the destruction of our dearest rights has, from the earliest settlement of our continent, displayed an unyielding determination to intermingle the things of Caesar with the things of God. This spirit in Cain led him to usurp dominion over the faith of Abel, and to stain his guilty hands in his brother’s blood. The same spirit in the High Priests and Roman governors led them to condemn and crucify the Son of God, and in subsequent ages under Pagan, Papal, and Protestant predominancy, to torture and murder millions, for the pretended good of their souls. The same murderous spirit could banish all dissenters from Puritanic doctrines, from our eastern colonies, and enforce their murderous edicts by penalties of death.
When our national government was organized, the same spirit was perceptible in those who denounced our Constitution, because it made no provision for a national church, a national creed, and a national clergy. This restless spirit has been developed from time to time, under a variety of forms, at one time denouncing the government for allowing the mails to be transportd on their Sabbath, and declaring it a crying sin, for which Heaven’s vengeful bolts would soon be launched. Failing to succeed in intimidating our rulers, they mounted the alcoholic hobby, and protested that God was angry because the fruit of the vine yielded wine, and declared that God regarded it as a damning sin that men should manufacture, sell, or drink, however temperately, of wines or strong drinks.
At the present time all other of their national and crying sins have dwindled into insignificance compared with that of domestic slavery. And although from his awful throne God has expressly authorized it, and in the kingdom of his saints enjoined the rules by which the relationship of masters and servants shall be recognized; still they protest that God abhors it; that it is a sin, a crying sin, and that the lowering clouds of divine wrath hang over our country because our Southern neighbors hold now as chattled property the bond-men and bond-women, which we sold them a few years ago.
Now if this be in reality a sin against God, if the immutable God who commanded Israel to buy bond-men, and bond-women of the nations round about them, and to hold them as property, and transmit them to their posterity for an inheritance, (See Lev. xxv. 44-46) has so far changed as now to regard that as sin, which he once authorized and commanded; or if his law has so far changed as to regard that to be sin which was once obedience; if, in short, it be sin now to hold men and women in bondage, by what rule are we accountable for its existence in other States? By what authority shall we claim to be the interpreters of the divine law to those of other States or Nations? Have we no sins of our own to deplore, or answer for? Shall we thrust with side and shoulder, and say to our Southern brethren, “Stand aside. We are holier than thou”?
It was not our design, in this article, to discuss this subject, but rather to reply to some letters which we have received upon the subject, in which the correctness of our course is questioned. We assure our patrons that we have no design or desire to treat upon or meddle with politics in the columns of the “Signs”; but when questions arise upon the subject of the divine law, or on what God approves or on what he abhors, although those subjects may be paraded by wicked men in connection with their politics, it shall not deter us from publishing from pulpit, and from the press, to the extent of our ability, what God has said in his holy word with regard to them. If designing politicians make issues with us as to what is and what is not sin, must we be silent - must we, who profess to be the witnesses of the Lord, hold our peace? If the enemy advances upon us, and invades the sanctuary of God, and usurps the right to define for us the scriptures of truth, and enforce on us their decisions, though it should involve our country in ruin, and deluge our earth with blood, is it then a time for us to sheath our sword, and leave the field in their uncontested possession?
Those who hold their politics more sacred than their religion, and cannot patronize the “Signs” unless we pledge ourself to withhold our testimony on the scriptures, may rest assured that much as we respect their opinions and desire to give them satisfaction in our humble efforts to serve them, we cannot consent to handle the word of God deceitfully. We have attained and passed our three-score years, and feel assured that the time of our departure is at hand, and whatever sacrifice we may be called to make for the truth’s sake, we hope God will give us grace to make it cheerfully rather than shun to declare the whole counsel of our God. It is undoubtedly the right of those who differ from us to withhold their patronage, but if any of our brethren in Christ have become disaffected towards us, for this cause, we beseech such to weigh well the matter before they so decide. Let the question of the apostle be considered, “Am I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”
March 15, 1861
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 471 - 475