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ARTICLES REFERRING TO THE AMERI.
CAN TRACT SOCIETY.
I. Dr. Smyth, OF CHARLESTON, S. C., on Dr. WAYLAND'S LETTER.
Messrs. Editors: I was glad to see the argument sent by Dr. Wayland to the Investigating Committee of the Tract Society, published in your paper, although I differ altogether from the venerable writer. If any man could by subtle argument make out a case against the officers of the Society in refusing to publish Tracts or Books offensive to christians of fifteen States on the subject of Slavery, Dr. Wayland is the man; and if he has failed to do this, we may conclude that it cannot be done, and that they have pursued the only course which they could either constitutionally or properly adopt.
The object of Dr. Wayland's paper is to prove that the Tract Society should publish “the whole will of God," on the subject of slavery, "and the consequences which must follow from obeying or disobeying it."
In order to reach this conclusion he lays down the premise that if the constitution of the Society does not allow this to be done, then "the constitution itself would require emendation and amendment.” He proceeds, however, to show that the constitution of the Society imposes no such restrictions, and he concludes, that as Slavery deeply involves "the interests of vital godliness and sound morality," as this is one of the most practical questions known to ethics, and as the wrongs and sufferings of the slaves extend to "hundreds of thousands who are our own christian brethren," this, therefore, is one of those questions concerning vital religion and sound morality, the treatment of which comes fairly within the objects for which the Society was constituted."
THE ARGUMENT INCONCLUSIVE.
1. The Tract Society is an incorporated body, and bound to act in strict accordance with its constitution, which limits its publications to those "calculated to receive the approbation of all evangelical christians." To reform and amend the constitution so as to require the Society to publish Tracts on the subject of Slavery, offensive to its Southern constituency, it is not enough that mere resolutions requiring the issuing of such
Tracts should be passed. To do this the constitution itself must be altered, and that in a legal way, or else the law of the State will by an injunction restrain the Society from such a perversion of its funds, and such an abrogation of its original principle.
2. The Tract Society is not a Northern, or Eastern, or Western Society. It is not sectional in any respect. It is a National Society. It is a Southern Society just as much, and as truly, as it is a Northern Society. Christians from the South as well as from the North united in its original formation. It was founded and incorporated as THE AMERICAN Tract Society. By the eighth article of its constitution it is required that "the benefits of the Society" "shall be as far as practicable the same in all parts of the United States," and by the seventh, the second, and the third articles of the constitution, "any person," and "any Tract Society,” may, in the prescribed way become a member, or an auxiliary of the Society. Neither does the constitution prescribe any one place for the location or the annual meetings of the Society. It is therefore most evident, that the Society can only represent views and opinions, and objects, which are of common interest and approval "in all parts of the United States."
3. It is manifest from these facts imbedded in the very foundation of the Society, that it never was designed, and never could be adapted to publish everything which any body of evangelical christians believe to be a doctrine pertaining to "vital godliness.” Dr. Wayland says: "The interests of vital godliness are to be promoted by setting clearly before men the WHOLE will of God." Yet he knows as well as I, that what "the whole will of God” on the subject of vital godliness is, is to some extent a matter of dispute among evangelical christians. The Tract Society, therefore, can only set forth in its publications "the whole will of God,” so far as, and to that extent, in which evangelical christians "are agreed," and "mind the same thing." On the general doctrines of christianity, “all evangelical christians are (as Dr. Wayland properly expresses it) in harmony.” But on some doctrines pertaining to vital godliness, as each denomination of evangelical christians must consistently believe, each denomination of evangelical christians differs from the rest. Whether the peculiar doctrine be of baptism; or of the Church, with its ministry, and ordinances and liturgy; or of psalmody; or of close communion; or of the five points of Calvinism, and the opposing five points of Arminianism; or of any other doctrine or point of discipline that separates one denomination of evangelical christians from another, each must justify its existence as a denomination upon the belief that said doctrine pertains to the interests of vital godliness.
And it is equally evident from the same facts, that the Tract Society never was designed and never could be adapted, to publish the whole will of God respecting "sound morality.” On this point, also, there are different "minds” among evangelical christians, so that what is considered as contrary to sound morality in regard to eating and drinking, to dress and equipage, to personal and household expenditure, to the Sabbath and the mode of its observance, to education, secular and ecclesiastical, to the various modes of conducting business, to the factory system, to manufacturing establishments, and an indefinite number of other matters, evangelical christians in different parts of the country and viewing them from different points, hold different sentiments. For the Tract Society to set forth the whole will of God respecting all these points; to publish on whatever subject has, as Dr. Wayland expresses it, "anything to do with the interests of vital godliness and sound morality;" to set forth clearly whatever it is important that any should understand, and "whatever is at variance with vital godliness and sound morality, whether at the North or the South, at the East or the West, in city or in country, among the rich or the poor”—this is clearly an impossibility.
What is thus "at variance with vital godliness and sound morality," the Tract Society cannot determine beyond what evangelical christians in all parts of the United States agree in so considering, and hence the Society "does (not) seem called upon in view of the object for which it was constituted to bear a decided testimony" on subjects about which there is a difference of opinion among evangelical christians. “The Society cannot go behind," nor before, nor beside, nor above, nor contrary to what is agreed in by evangelical christians united in the Society. This is the constitutional and imperative limitation put upon its publications. And the only discretionary power given to the Society itself and exercised under solemn responsibility by its officers, who are amenable to the constitution sanctioned by the incorporating charter and seal of the state, is to decide what tracts, in their judgment founded upon a knowledge of their views generally and as made known in various
ways, are "calculated to receive the approbation of all evangelical christians” “in all parts of the United States."
The Tract Society was not therefore intended to set forth (as Dr. Wayland sophistically paraphrases its constitution), "the whole will of God," nor "whatever" that is, everything that "is at variance with vital godliness or sound morality," and to "exhort the wrong-doers to repentance.” The Society is a union of many men with many minds, on the basis of those truths of God respecting vital godliness and sound morality wherein they are agreed. It is a compromise. It is a partnership entered into by all evangelical christians who are willing to become partners, not for every object, but for a specific object carefully limited and defined. It implies and recognizes differences of views as to what concerns the interests both of vital godliness and sound morality, and it excludes from its sphere of operations all such differences. It recognizes also— and this is its benign and blessed characteristic—one faith, one Lord and a common salvation; and in the spirit of christian love and of ardent zeal for the salvation of souls, "the object of the Society," the one and only object, was, ever has been, and ever should be, to "diffuse a knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of sinners and to promote the interests of vital godliness and sound morality.” It was not intended to set forth the whole will of God and to discuss whatever is at variance with that will, and thus publish on any and every subject which any and every evangelical christian may consider as a part of that will, or at variance with it; but to "promote" so far as unitedly they can, the interests of vital godliness, that is what they unite in believing to be vital, and of sound morality, that is, not politics, not sectarian or sectional schemes of morality, not "questions of doubtful disputation,” not every thing that may by many be regarded as “having to do" with sound morality; but all that, and only that which "is calculated to receive the approbation of all evangelical christians."
4. Dr. Wayland therefore encourages a very dangerous spirit and puts into the hands of unbelievers a two-edged sword, when he represents such a limitation of the object and publications of the Tract Society as “presenting a mutilated view of christian duty and placing in the hands of unbelievers an argument against the divine origin of Revelation, difficult to be answered.” It is only doing what the Bible enjoins, when it requires of all christians, "whereto ye have already attained let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing." By the very nature of its object and the careful limitation of its sphere of operations, the Tract Society is preserved from the very danger thus pointed out. It makes itself responsible only for holding forth the truth in reference to Christ as a Saviour of sinners, to vital godliness and to sound morality, so far as evangelical christians are agreed and can agree harmoniously to co-operate in publishing and circulating. So far it is responsible and challenges the objections of unbelievers. But as to all other questions it is and must be silent. It says nothing. It publishes nothing. It neither condemns nor approves. It leaves all points wherein evangelical christians are not agreed to the individual or denominational opinions of evangelical christians, to promulgate and to diffuse them according to their individual and denominational convictions. As well, therefore, might an unbeliever cavil at the Bible Society for not publishing all other kinds of works, and at the Sunday School Union for not teaching theology and the whole will of God, and at every humane association which is formed for "the promotion" of some specific good for not attempting to accomplish every other good work, as to cavil at the Tract Society and its officers, for doing the only work which they were ever intended to do, and for not doing some other work which they were not intended to do—which they were carefully withheld from doing.
Dr. Wayland confounds the duty of churches, ministers and christians in their individual and separate capacity in reference to the whole word and will of God, with the duty of officers who are appointed in trust, under a limited and carefully guarded constitution to perform a specific and limited duty, the only object for which the Society was constituted.
So far from this limited object and operation of the Tract Society being any ground for objection or unbelieving cavil, it is the very characteristic which has always and everywhere commended it to the hearts and affections of all who love our Lord Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of sinners, and who are anxious to promote to the widest extent the interests of vital godliness and sound morality. This is proved by the whole history of the Society. “Every year,” to use Dr. Wayland's own language, "on every platform and in every pulpit of the land, this restriction has been held forth as the crowning excellence of this catholic institution."