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Covenanters and Slavery - Part Ten: Conclusion - Was the War Between the States God's Judgment on America?

By Angela Wittman

Readers may be familiar with the National Reform Association and the movement for a national Christian amendment acknowledging Christ as Lord in the United States Constitution. This movement has a noble history and was led by men with theological roots to the Scottish Covenanters. Wikipedia reports the movement began during the Civil War:
In February 1863, while the American Civil War was being fought, a coalition of eleven Protestant denominations from seven northern states gathered to discuss the state of the nation. Seeing the Civil War as God's punishment for the omission of God from the Constitution, they discussed a proposed amendment to alter the wording of the Preamble to acknowledge God. The idea that civil governments derive their legitimacy from God, and Jesus in particular, was alleged to be based on Biblical passages such as Psalms 2 and Romans 13.

Raymond Joseph was a senior pastor of Southfield Reformed Presbyterian Church, Southfield, Michigan (February 6, 1987 to January 11, 2002). He was a member of the National Reform Association Board of Directors and a former editor of The Christian Statesman.

[Editor's Note: Pastor Raymond Joseph went home to be with the LORD, February 17, 2006]

Pastor Joseph wrote this about the history of the NRA (National Reform Association) in the Introduction to the 1999 Edition of Messiah the Prince:
In 1864, not long after Symington wrote Messiah the Prince, that awesomely bloody distress in America known as the "War Between the States" (or, "Civil War," or "Great Bloody Holocaust") led the Covenanters to found the "National Reform Association."

Under the heading "Theonomy and Reconstruction," Pastor Joseph writes:

[Bold text emphasis is mine, AW]
For Reformed Presbyterian Covenanters living in 16th century Scotland 200 years before Symington, and for a long time thereafter, it would be carrying coals to Newcastle to find it necessary to enter into an apologetic for the proposition that the societies of men should be built upon the laws of God--like finding it essential to spend time proving that the world is round and not flat. Their reply to the question, "Do you believe that the church is to be active in building Christian societies?" would unhesitatingly be an enthusiastic, "Of course!"

The keen student of theology might well ask: "Is there any significant difference in either principle or practice between what has been termed as 'theonomy' and 'reconstruction' by some, and the historic Covenanter Testimony expounded by Symington?" The answer? Not really. The redoubted Covenanter Blue Banner, "For Christ's Crown and Covenant," has the law of God for society at its core, despite the insistence of detractors.

Unquestionably, some profess to discover significant disparities between them. But, on careful examination, perceived differences between the foundational  "theonomic" teachings and the prevailing Covenanter testimony,  "For Christ's Crown and Covenant,"  have proven to be more matters of semantics than substance.

The similarity of the basic assumptions underlying both of these prevalent manifestations is quite conventional: it is the law of God as found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Both accept the necessity of building the societies of men on the laws of God. They are branches from the same root.

Now, except for Jesus' statement, "All authority has been given unto me in heaven and in earth," all this could be very discouraging. Is there any hope? Are there any encouraging signs, that the Lord of Glory has not cast off His wandering church? Well, yes. In the matchless providence of Almighty God, there is a "new" (but really quite old) Christian ideology arising in our generation which is not only basically friendly to the emphasis of Messiah the Prince, but proclaims it from the housetops!

Identified as "theonomy" or "reconstruction," it teaches us that the nations of this world are to be building their societies upon the laws of God as found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

If you compare the work of William Symington, Alexander McLeod, Raymond Joseph and that of the National Reform Association, you will see a common theme: Jesus Christ is Lord of all, including the nations and our laws should be based upon His Word and Biblical principles. If a nation does not do this, it will face God's judgment.

Please read this article written by Pastor Raymond Joseph a couple of years before his death. He is reviewing the movie Gods and Generals and gives his opinion about the judgment of God upon America during the War Between the States. Please read the entire article for the context:
Which brings me full circle to my original thesis: I am more convinced than ever--as we viewed the Civil War battles realistically simulated by the enactors, and heard the remarks and felt the reproduced emotions--that this horrible war was the judgment of Almighty God upon a nation which had compromised with the Enlightenment and Scottish Rationalism when it came to crafting its Constitution. We were--and are still--a Christ-rejecting nation, yet at the time of the Articles of Confederation prior to 1787 we were a nation in the process of being born, which was inhabited by enough professing Christians to have insisted on acknowledging the King of kings. Yet we didn't, and still haven't.

So, the bottom line is: Who was responsible? Where do we lay the blame for our compromised civil government? My answer: We lay the responsibility ultimately at the door of the Christian churches--specifically, the Christians in the churches! They are the ones in the various colonies who approved of their diverse legislatures ratifying an Enlightenment-influenced Constitution. Taking a backward glance, it is clear that Greek and Roman philosophy was swallowed whole in the context of Christianity, influencing it to its detriment. (Check the Federalist Papers to see the thinking of the Framers; no biblical references there!) There is no recognition of the King of kings as the One appointed by the Father as King of nations (Ps. 2). But when we compare Hamilton and Madison's seeming adulation of the Greeks and Romans in the Federalist Papers--we see fulsome flattery! The pagan republics are considered to be praise-worthy! Hamilton and Madison give abundant credit to man--which is abundant revelation of the thinking of the framers of our Federal Constitution!

So today, let us review our stated commitments. Does Christ Jesus rule history, or not ? Is Christ the Judge of nations, or not ? Was the Son appointed King of nations by the Father (Ps 2; Matt. 28:18-20), or not? If so, then, does King Jesus approve of a purportedly Christian document which de facto gives bottom line authority to "We the People," elevating them to the illegitimate level of Supreme Lawgivers, all the while spurning Him personally? Rather, is He not personally offended, and His wrath aroused? ("Our God is a consuming fire," Heb. 12:29.)

Yes, the Civil War freed the slaves, but through blood and fire and the hellish destruction of men and property and the slaughter of 630,000 men, North and South, who were fighting one another. Unbelievable! Relative against relative, fathers and sons on opposite sides, close friends locked in mortal combat. We are gripped for life by the fascination of the spectacle. Oh, the horror of it all! Yet, like Tar Baby in the story of Uncle Remus, we are stuck in it. Meanwhile, Great Britain accomplished the same objective of freeing their slaves by debating the issue in Parliament, finally settling the issue by signing a piece of paper. Same objective; different methodology. (Yes, preserving the Union was the basic motivation of the North, and freeing the slaves was an "add-on." But both things happened: the preserving of the Union and the freeing of the slaves--both things, through blood and fire and vapor of smoke.)

Unbelievable blunders were committed on both sides--the one which sealed the doom of the Confederacy being ordered by Gen. Lee himself in 1863 when he dictated that infamous frontal assault at Gettysburg, overriding the strong protest of Gen. James Longstreet (Gods and Generals was a prequel to the movie Gettysburg). Longstreet was right; Lee was wrong; and Gen. Pickett never forgave the old man for ordering "Pickett's Charge," resulting in Pickett's whole regiment being wiped out.

The South suffered devastating destruction in addition to losing several hundred thousand of their best and brightest. The blessing of God? Some blessing! May God spare us all from such "blessings."

Yet, none of that fratricide was necessary. If only our Founding Framers had studied their history of the Scottish Covenanters, who had died by the thousands 100 years before to preserve the covenants with King Jesus.

By 1864, if they had only listened to the Reformed Presbyterians who founded the National Reform Association--right in the middle of the bloody carnage--and had been repentant enough to acknowledge that the King of kings and His laws, as the foundation for our laws, had been left out of our founding document, this pastor is convinced that none of this would have happened. We would have settled the slavery issue in the halls of Congress, and that would have been that.

So, what of today? There is yet one more Civil War portrayal to be produced as part of the Civil War Trilogy, and when that third movie comes out, I suppose we will all flock to it, marvel at it, and move on. What I hope we may all pray for is that the Holy Spirit will send conviction of sin to America's churches for the "original sin" of rejecting Christ in our Constitution. To remedy that is the declared objective of the National Reform Association, founded in 1864 during that bloody war. One Christian movie critic was right about the failure of "Gods and Generals" to portray any genuine repentance in America's churches.

Today, following 9/11, we see precious little repentance for sin. How many more 9/11's will it take for us to cry out to Almighty God for mercy upon our sinful land? The Civil War didn't bring lasting repentance, though it did free the slaves. Regrettably, it also brought more federal bureaucracy, which has since then persisted and multiplied.

As Christians, we must intercede for America (Ps. 106:23). Pray for our president. Especially pray for the rebuilding of Christendom, since only then will we see truly lasting freedom! (Source: http://web.archive.org/web/20050206212530/www.natreformassn.org/statesman/03/ggenrls.html )

Anthony Cowley writes in the article "From Whence We Came: A Background of the National Reform Association:"
The National Reform Association was born when this nation was in the throes of a war between its own states. In 1861 the Lakes Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America [RPCNA] passed the following resolution regarding the Civil War:

Whereas, God has come out of his place to punish the nations and this nation for their sins; and whereas, we have on every hand the anxious inquiry, "Watchman, what of the night?" and whereas, it is the duty of faithful witnesses to meet the obligation to testify, imposed on them by providential occurrences: therefore,

Resolved, 1st. That we see in the present civil war God's controversy with this nation for their rejection of his name and authority, the prerogative and law of his Son, and for trampling upon the inalienable rights of man.

2nd. That we call upon this nation so to amend the Constitution, which is the basis of the Union, as to acknowledge God, submit to the authority of his Son, embrace Christianity, and secure universal liberty.1

The Lakes Presbytery of the RPCNA was not alone in seeing the Civil War as a judgment of God upon the nation for disobedience...

And while they did not see slavery as the root of the problem, but "as the natural outworking of the religious defect in the Constitution of the United States," he writes that "many of its [the abolitionist movement] leaders came to denounce the Constitution in the strongest terms. William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the Liberator, publicly burned a copy of the Constitution in 1854, and at other times described it as "a covenant with Hell."2

Mr. Cowley continues to explain:
Their concern, however, was primarily with slavery, and not with the lack of acknowledgment of Jesus Christ in our national law. While some abolitionists and other social reformers came to a position much like that of the Covenanters, they did so in a different direction, and for different reasons than the Covenanters. Covenanters opposed the Constitution primarily because it forgot God and did not acknowledge Christ, and secondarily because it had pro-slavery provisions. They saw slavery as the manifestation of the root problem of godlessness.

Endnotes:

1. As quoted in The Religious Amendment Movement: God, People, and Nation in the Gilded Age (2 vols.), Stewart Olin Jacoby. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI: University Microfilms International, 1984), p. 111.

2. Ibid., p. 51.

He also writes that "the Civil War became the crucible in which the National Reform Association itself was forged."

Conclusion

Clearly, friends, the War Between the States is a horrible, bloody stain upon our nation. Yes, it was the judgment of God upon both the North and the South who had cast His Laws behind them and hadn't acknowledged Christ as Lord and His Sovereignty as supreme. We have much to repent of, including our inhumanity toward each other as evidenced by our past sin of slavery and the present holocaust of prenatal child-killing (abortion). We can also clearly see the wickedness that has branched out in society through the current abuse of children, the infirmed and elderly, the loss of liberty, and the general depravity of mankind.

Let us now put this dark period of history to rest and cease the present dissension between Reformed Christians concerning the recorded history of the War Between the States. May God give us all a heart to seek reconciliation with our Christian brethren - especially those who are of the Reformed faith and to seek His Kingdom first. In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

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