David Lipscomb’s “Thoughts Suggested by the Political Contest”

In 1896, the people of the United States elected William McKinley (Republican) over William Jennings Bryan (Democrat). McKinley lead a voting block of wealthy business people, skilled factory workers, large farm owners and professionals located mainly in the Northeast, Midwest and West coast that defeated Bryan’s Southern and Rocky Mountain constituency. McKinley defeated Bryan 51% to 47% in the popular vote and 271 electoral votes to 176.

Below is David Lipscomb’s editorial comment on the election in the November 12, 1896 issue of the Gospel Advocate. Lipscomb saw this election as a victory for the wealthy and in injustice to the poor. Siding with the poor and the laborer, Lipscomb calls Christians to act justly and remember the poor.

Christians “have duties to fulfill with reference to all questions that arise in society—that is, to stand on the side of right and justice, to study the moral questions that arise in the affairs of the world, and warn as to the principles of right and justice.  These, in the end, must prevail; and he who teaches these benefits humanity.”

 Christians can exert a moral and restraining influence upon the ungodly by teaching moderation and unselfishness.  It is not only their duty to teach right; it is also their duty to teach that persistence in wrong must bring ruin to the wrongdoer. Wrong may run a smooth course for a time, but destruction is sure in the end.  Wrong and injustice cannot permanently prosper….

Jesus taught the dignity and honor of labor.  He would be greatest of all, let him be servant of all.  His sympathies were with the poor, the laborer, those humble in station, not with the rich or exalted.  In the end the dignity and honor of labor must prevail and its rights be vindicated.  Those possessed of riches may deal justly and cease to legislate for capital and help labor.  That is Christian, and would be wise policy, and would prevent violent conflict.  If they pursue a selfish course, then a violent convulsion must be the end.

Christians may do good to the world not by entering into strifes and conflicts over the questions that arise in this contest, but by teaching justice and right and by impressing the lesson that the selfish accumulation of money or the selfish exercise of power, without regard to the rights and needs of others, but lead to a violent end.  Things will be righted.  God gives us the invitation to right them and be blessed.  If we do not right them, he will.  He rights wrongs often by making wrongdoers destroy each other.  Wickedness destroys wickedness.”

Lipscomb is not apolitical in the sense of disengaged from the world. Rather, Christians are to engage the culture in which they live and promote good wherever possible.

Lipscomb’s “Things will be righted” sounds very similar to N. T. Wright’s “put things to right.” They share a similar eschatology, especially about new heavens and new earth. Lipscomb, however, does not think this is simply about eschatology in the sense of a “one day this will happen” (any more than Wright does). God calls us to right wrongs along side of God’s own work. God is active in the world to “put things to right” even now as God permits “wickedness” to destroy “wickedness.”

2 Responses to “David Lipscomb’s “Thoughts Suggested by the Political Contest””

  1.   James Says:

    I believe the shift from the belief that we are to be about the righting of wrongs and ushering ing God’s reign now to the more common (at least in the RM churches of my experience) view that not much is going to change, so just hold on till the resurrection has badly damaged us as a fellowship. We “bury our talents” when we put off to the Resurrection the changes that should happen now.

    This is a fine example of why eschatology matters. I used to be of the mindset that “it’ll all wash out in the end, God’s in control.” But I don’t think we can afford the luxury of such an attitude. Our eschatology has ripple effects that can have incredible affect on our understanding of our mission and purpose as the Body of Christ.

  2.   Terrell Lee Says:

    I agree James. N.T. Wright has helped me tremendously with endtime discussions. And now to have him and Lipscomb whistling similar tunes is interesting. Until just recent years, eschatology wasn’t high on my list, but as my list gets shorter, eschatology rises more.

    Thanks John Mark.

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