Tolbert Faning–Advocate for Peace in 1861 (Part II)

Abraham Lincoln was elected President on November 6, 1860. Though the Upper South ( Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia) voted for the moderate John Bell, the Deep South–many of which did not even have Lincoln on the ballot–was solidly anti-Lincoln.  South Carolina seceded first in December 1860 and was quickly followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas by February 2. Tennesseans, in February 1861, opposed secession.

In the February issue of the Gospel Advocate Tolbert Fanning appealed for peace. His first article on the question in 1861 is entitled “Duty of Christians in Reference to the Political Crisis of 1861” (7.2 [February 1861] 33-37) which is reproduced below.

Fanning asks for rationality rather than excitement which is consistent with his approach to Christianity itself. One comes to faith through rational argument based on the testimony of the New Testament–faith is not based upon some kind of Emerson transcendentalism; it is based upon “logic and truth.” Fanning had staked out this approach in his controversy with Robert Richardson, that is, the Spirit works through rational argument as one presents the truth found in Scripture.

In the same way, war can be avoided if both sides would argue their case and come to a reasonable conclusion. If slavery is an evil, let it be argued. If the South has, in fact, raised the civility of the Africans, let it be argued. His point is conciliatory as he attempts to appeal to both sides so that they might come to the table for discussion, but he has no interest in settling that dispute in this article. Rather, he pushes the point that the sword is no solution. Controversies should be settled by “moral” and “peaceable means.”

He faults the preachers for the present excitement. They have stirred up the emotions and called for war rather than preaching the gospel of peace. They have abdicated their responsibility as ministers of the gospel.

Rather than sitting on the sidelines, Fanning calls for minister of peace to get involved. This is not about political involvement in the sense of participating in the political machinery, but rather functioning as the conscience of the nation. They should testify about the kingdom of peace, calling Christians to peaceful, quiet lives and making the argument that war would resolve nothing. Christians would win the case since “the world is to be conquered and saved by argument, by love divine.” The present crisis must be “quieted by ministers of God” because “politicians can not accomplish the work.”

Fanning wants ministers to make a public rational argument against war. “The controversy is upon us, and the teachers of religion must meet the issues.” In effect, war would accomplish little except destruction and loss of life.

At bottom, however, Fanning’s witness is that Christians should have nothing to do with the sword or war. The kingdom of God is about peace and its King is the “Prince of peace.” Christians are called to be peacemakers rather than warmonger. No matter what the justness of the cause may be (which he does not argue one way or the other), war is forbidden by the gospel of peace.

He still hopes, it appears, that calmer heads will prevail. He even believes that many (“myriads”) Christians in the North have no interest in the sword. If there is a war to be fought, then let it “be conducted under a King that asks not artillery or infantry, big guns or little ones, in his triumphs, and all will be well.”

*****   Fanning’s Article   *****

From the adoption of the “Federal Constitution” September 17th, 1787 to this date, our country has not been called to pass such an ordeal as the present, and at no period in our history, has there been so great necessity for Christians to adopt a more enlightened and prudent line of policy. We are in the midst of a revolution for weal or for woe, which we dare not ignore, and which demands the serious consideration and prompt exertions of all good men. A storm has been raised by unwise and cruel leaders, which they possess not the ability to control. The intelligent of the people are sound at heart, and they should not lose self-control through the influence of factions, in which exists not the fear of God, or glorious of ship of State, may not only be enabled to breast the raging surges, but be brought once more safely into the port of peace and prosperity.

To be sure, we feel not, that it is our province, at present, to make even suggestions to politicians, or enter into the merits of any political controversy; but the church of Christ has, most innocently become involved, and as a feeble member of this compact, we feel free to speak plainly to our brethren. We deeply regret the necessity, but cannot witness the destruction of the Saints without uttering a warning voice. That our purpose may be appreciated, we state it as a fact that Jesus Christ established a religion which can live and prosper under any form of government,–is addressed to the erring in monarchies, aristocracies and the wildest democracies, and bids them cease from strife and live. A Philippian jailor when dreading the decision of tyranny, cried “What shall I do to be saved,” was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he should be secure and his family.” If christianity [sic] was a protection then, why may it not be now? As a basis of all our future conclusions, we wish to remind christians [sic] of the true spiritual character of the church of Christ. Our Lord said, “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence.” John xviii. 36.

Why is the kingdom not of this world? Because its Author is different from all other kings and his church was built upon principles not like those on which human fabrics are constructed, the subjects are unlike other people, and the operations of his government, differ across the whole heavens from the governments merely human.

The Author of the Christian religion seven hundred and forty years before his birth, was pronounced “The Prince of peace” and it was further said by the Spirit, that “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” Isaiah ix.6-7. At the birth of our Lord, it was proclaimed that, “The day spring from on high that visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke i.78-79. The heavenly host that attended the angel sung, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men.” Of him, it was said, “He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking fire shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory.” Isaiah xliii.2; Mat. xii.19-20. In reference to the preacher of the Gospel, it is written, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace?” Isaiah lii.7. It is also affirmed that, “The Kingdom of God is not meat nor drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The prophet again said, “They shall beat their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning-hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah ii.4. Where are we to look for the fulfillment of these revelations, but in the church? Were these things spoken in regard to Christ, his kingdom and his people? Has not the world, for eighteen centuries been at peace in exact ratio, of the influence of the Christian religion over men? How has the peace of the world been achieved? By the warlike, beating their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Did the Lord ever head a military company, or aid in the organization of hostile armies. He broke not a reed and extinguished not the smoking flax to make his laws victorious. Did the Apostles go forth with swords and staves to reconcile the erring? Jesus wept over the wicked: when buffeted, he threatened not; when he could have called twelve legions of angels, did he not submit quietly and beautifully to wrong? Did not hosts of his disciples yield to a shameful death, rather than take vengeance in their own hands? They submitted to the judgments of a righteous Father, and took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, and cheerfully laid down their lives to establish peace in the earth.

Has christianity [sic] changed? Does the Lord still reign over his people? How then can Christians, north or south, east or west, engage in war, even against their brethren, without a full sacrifice of every principle of the Christian institution? How dare the brethren—the preachers—bring themselves to the fearful conclusion, to plunge their swords into the hearts of their brethren? We enter not into the question of right or wrong, in the present controversy. So far as our present object is concerned, we are not interested either way. Our purpose is to labor to satisfy Christians, that they are not to settle controversies by the sword. The world is to be conquered and saved by argument, by love divine.

Will the saints of God wear the “Blue Cockade,” buckle on their swords, join “Wide-awake clubs” and “Minute-men associations?” We beg them to pause and reflect, before they bring ruin upon the cause of our Master.

We do not deny, that the controversy between the North and South is of an exclusively religious character. Be it so. We as Christians should labor to adjust difficulties by peaceable means. Indeed, we are permitted to employ no weapon but the sword of the Spirit,–the Jerusalem blade. True, extreme men in the North say that holding Africans in slavery “is a damnable sin per se.” What shall we do? Meet the question like men, and Christians. Let us hear their strongest arguments, and if we are committing sins so heinous as to shut us out of the eternal mansion, let us confess and forsake our evil deeds. But if it should appear upon examination, that while we have suffered greatly on account of the slavery that has been entailed upon us by Europe and the North, we have done more in the last eighty years to humanize, civilize, and Christianize the negro race, and enlighten benighted African than all the world besides, has tone to in thousands of years, let the facts be set forth, and let the world see our true position. The controversy is upon us, and the teachers of religion must meet the issues. The storm has been raised mainly by preachers, and it must be quieted by the ministers of God. Mere politicians can not accomplish the work. We must meet the scrupulous on the arena of sound logic and truth, and put them to flight, or yield all that is demanded.

Many engaged in the strife fear not God, and while they are blindly and recklessly plunging us into extremes, it is our duty to say to the troubled waters peace, be still; and to men in their madness, listen to reason and the voice of God. All controversies with the intelligent and sincere may be settled by moral means. Suppose we are forced by our political leaders into desperate and exterminating wars, will they decide the right of parties? If half of our once happy people were slaughtered, would it make the living better friends? Would it establish a better government? Should we have another seven years war, and should our people be slain by the sword, would not our poverty, our deep distress, and our crushing wants, at the end force a truce? The white flag of peace would have to be respected by all, and a permanent peace would have to be secured by treaties, by covenants and by guarantees. Peace measures would have to prevail after the slaughter. Should then, we abandon the cause of the Prince of peace, to settle questions of morality? Questions which must be settled alone by the Bible? Why then employ the fist of wickness [sic]? We profess to be a civilized, enlightened and Christian people. We ought not to Christian men giving their views freely on all questions in their sphere, as Christians, but we enter our most solemn protest against the employment of other than spiritual weapons in the present crisis. “Blessed are the peace makers; for they shall be called the children of God.”

We wish to say in conclusion, that whilst we have clearly seen and deeply deplored, for more than a quarter of a century, the black clouds of death that have been rising under the influence of infidel and higher law teachers such as Theodore Parker, Wendell Philips, Waldo Emerson, Henry Ward Beecher, Orville Dewey, Horace Greely, William H. Seward and others, we now as deeply regret the equally unwise and unchristian course of many of the preachers South. They are attempting to excite the people to meet the fanaticism which is threatening our country, by the sword. Should we be able to exterminate all false teachers, the controversy would not thereby be concluded. There are myriads North sound as to the “The faith once for all delivered to the saints” and ministers of religion owe it to themselves, to their country and their God, to meet error in the spirit of meekness, be it where it may, and to throw light upon the dark waters of strife. Let this war be conducted under a King that asks not artillery or infantry, big guns or little ones, in his triumphs, and all will be well.

3 Responses to “Tolbert Faning–Advocate for Peace in 1861 (Part II)”

  1.   Scott Budlong Says:

    Very Cool! Certainly the Gospel Advocate article is well reasoned, but I enjoyed the poetry that enlivens the entire speech. Great Post!

  2.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Do you know what, if any, response his readers had? It is too bad that his view would be laughed at by some Christians and congregations, as though his view were completely illogical. In fact, I have met a few Christians who won’t even give consideration to such a view because their mind is already made up that such a view is illogical.

    Grace and Peace,



  1. this went thru my mind |

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