LIPSCOMB AND SEWELL ON WAR
H. Leo Boles
It is sad that the conditions of society are so often reflected in the church. The confusion, hatred, strife, bitterness, and enmities which are gendered by carnal war find expression among the disciples of him who said: "blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God." Since the recent article on David Lipscomb was published, the writer has received many letters commending it and requesting that more be said about this great man of God. No one in the church today, who is informed, will take what Lipscomb said as authority. If he were living I today he would not want anyone to regard him or what he said as final authority; he would say that the word of God is the only authority for what we should teach and practice. Not many, if any did agree with everything that he said and wrote; neither are there any today who agree with him in everything that he write. Yet everyone who wrote about him and to him while he was living respected him; even his worst enemies held him in high esteem and respected him as a man of God. It is doubted if he were living today that he would give any attention to those in this generation who pervert his teachings and slander his character. Possibly some of his students resent with indignation today with greater force the calumnious statements about him than he would if he were living now. Be this as it may, it is well to look at him as he passed through the great and stormy period of the War Between the States. F. D. Srygley wrote the following about him in "Biographies and Sermons":
"During the war he took strong ground against Christians going to war, and preached his convictions with a boldness that attracted much attention and excited bitter prejudice against him. Zeal for the Southern Confederacy ran high, and impetuous spirits denounced him as an abolitionist, a Yankee spy, an enemy to the South, etc. but none of these things moved him. When Forrest occupied Columbia, complaint was made to him that David Lipscomb was preaching doctrine that was disloyal and he ought to be arrested and stopped. Forrest sent a member of his staff to one of Lipscomb's appointments, where, by special announcement, he was to preach the disloyal doctrine that Christians cannot scripturally go to war. The staff officer took a seat immediately in front of the speaker, and gave close, but respectful, attention to the sermon. During the sermon the military officer was several times moved to tears; and after the audience was dismissed, he remarked to a gentleman in the congregation: 'I have not yet reached a conclusion as to whether or not the doctrine of the sermon is loyal to the Southern Confederacy, but I am profoundly convinced that it is loyal to the Christian religion.' An influential man in his native county publicly and repeatedly expressed the wish that the people would run him and all others like him out of the county, but he continued to preach the doctrine of peace on earth and good will among men. When the Union army captured Nashville and took possession of Middle Tennessee, one of the men who had been loudest and severest in denouncing him fell into the hands of the Federal soldiers, and the rumor went abroad that he would probably be punished and all of his property would be confiscated or destroyed. David Lipscomb heard of the distress of this man and several others of his old Franklin County neighbors who had bitterly opposed him, and he promptly went to their assistance. In explanation of the proof against him he made a speech to the military authorities, setting forth the intense excitement all over the country as an extenuating consideration in their behalf. He earnestly appealed to the officer in command to deal generously and mercifully with them, and, in the light of what he himself had suffered and forgiven, his words had great weight with the military authorities. I had an account of this incident a few days ago from old citizens of Franklin County who were familiar with the facts when they occurred. Many Christians and some entire congregations agreed with him that it was wrong for Christians to go to war; and when the matter was properly brought before the two contending governments, at Washington City and Richmond, the constitutional right of liberty in religious convictions was respected, and Christians who held such convictions were excused from military service and recognized as nonbelligerents. David Lipscomb took an active part in bringing this matter before the proper authorities in its true light, argued the question in person before the military governor of Tennessee, and started to Richmond to press the case to a final termination before the Southern Confederacy administration; but he was delayed by military operations, and the case was heard and settled in his favor by President Davis on the merits of his papers transmitted by messengers. The ability, energy, and persistence with which he worked in the cause had much to do with its final success; and if the truth about it is ever written in history, discriminating historians will recognize him as a factor in the effort which established a precedent in the annals of the government at Richmond and Washington City." ("Biographies and Sermons," by F. D. Srygley, pages 161-163.)
J. D. Floyd, in writing of Jesse L. Sewell, has the following to say about his course during the War Between the States:
"It has just occurred to me that the course he pursued at the beginning and during the war ought to be a matter of record in the forthcoming book. You, no doubt, are familiar with that and it is needless for me to repeat it here, but some things he told me I will here relate. He believed it was unchristian and never allowed himself carried off by the war excitement. He preached his convictions on the subject at all his preaching places. On one occasion, before he left the pulpit, a prominent man came and told him he had committed treason and begged him to get up right there, take all he had said back, and warned him if he did not he would be arrested for treason. In his quiet way he thanked him for his interest in his behalf, but told him be had preached what he believed and could not, for fear of arrest, renounce it. As for being guilty or treason, he knew better than that; that to be guilty of treason he must be guilty of some act of resistance to the government, which he had not.
"A committee, perhaps in Cannon County, waited on him to get him to make speeches through the county to enlist volunteers. They made the flattering statement that he had more influence than anyone else; and if he would make the canvass, the people would be a unit for the war. His reply was in these words: 'Gentlemen, when I get to believe that Jesus is an impostor, the New Testament a fable, and the Christian religion a fraud, then perhaps I might entertain your proposition; but as long as I believe Jesus Christ is divine, the New Testament the word of God, and the Christian religion of divine origin, I cannot, for a moment, entertain it.' Brave words indeed at that time. On one occasion a Christian preacher, who was serving as chaplain in the Federal Army, being camped near, went to see him. When he went into the house, he laid his sword and pistol on the table. Sometime during the day Brother Sewell took them in his hands, quoting, as he did so, Paul's language (slightly changed, though), 'The weapons of our warfare are carnal and mighty through General Grant to the pulling down of the strongholds of Jeff Davis and the casting down of every high thing that exalteth itself against Abraham Lincoln'; and then good humoredly asked if the quotation was correct. Passing through Tullahoma, where Bragg's army was camped, he was asked by some old acquaintances to preach to them, which he did. On telling me about it, I said to him: 'Brother Sewell, I cannot see how you could get along preaching to soldiers. What did you preach?' 'Oh,' he said, 'I preached them the gospel.' How characteristic of the man! While other preachers, who had made war speeches, were compelled to leave home for protection, he traveled and preached unmolested."
These two men of God were respected during the war and after the war by lawyers, judges, sheriffs, governors, and presidents. They had convictions which did not change with popular sentiment. They were willing to suffer for their convictions. The cause or Christ in the South was promoted by such men of God.
(Gospel Advocate, Feb.10 - 44)
The foregoing article, concerning Brethren Lipscomp and Sewell, clearly shows that the position now being held by many of the faithful followers of Christ is not a new thing, but that faithful Christians during all the wars of this nation have bravely contended for the truth on this question, in spite of the criticism and persecution of the world and false brethren.
Brother Lipscomb and others did not have the privilege of the Civilian Public Service Camps, as do our boys now, yet they had families to support just as we do, but they trusted in God and obeyed His word, regardless of consequences. We thank God for the C. P. S., in which conscientious boys may do work of national importance to our country, and we are thankful that even today some Christians have the faith and courage to brave the storm of persecution to take their stand, unpopular as it is, for these camps, instead of being a party to that which they earnestly believe to be wrong. It is not that they wish to be antagonistic to the government, nor disloyal to our country, but they wish to be loyal to Christ, our King.
Just here, I wish to correct a misrepresentation that is being circulated concerning the C.P.S. Some have erroneously stated that those who take the C. P. S. will lose their citizenship, but there is not a word of truth in it. It is only another false statement, intended, evidently, to prejudice and mislead the uninformed.
And, now, may we who are too old or otherwise exempt from military service realize our duty of brotherly love and charity toward them and their loved ones in this their trying hours of sacrifice and faithfulness.
Homer A. Gay