Today we conclude the presentation of this 1837 article from the Reformed Presbyterian.
The universal distress which pervades the land, from south to north, is a loud and renewed call to national repentance. A third time, during a very brief period, God has thus stretched over the land the rod of an avenging and warning providence; saying, "hear ye the rod and who hath appointed it." But, there is no general conviction in the community that sin is the cause of this evil; those who are most deeply involved seem disposed to attribute it to any but the real cause. By one class, the evil is wholly ascribed to excessive speculation; by another, to the maladministration of the executive government. We have no doubt that business has been overdone by excessive speculation; we know that there have been gross acts of maladministration on the part of the executive of the United States. To consider these as the causes of the present calamity is by no means meeting the case: they may, and doubtless have had their influence as means: but the unseen hand of the Almighty has directed the machinery of means for the accomplishment of his own righteous judgment. "O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, but can ye not discern the signs of the times." Matt. xvi. 3. "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city." Have wisdom to understand it! True wisdom lies in making a suitable improvement of the judgment, by returning unto him in the exercise of repentance and reformation.
The love of the world – the acquisition of wealth has been rapidly growing for some years past, till finally it has assumed the character of an all-absorbing passion, governing and directing nearly the entire community. At Mammon's shrine, the national homage is paid: while the worship of God is awfully neglected. The god of this world hath blinded the understanding so much that the mass of the population act as if the only end of their being was the acquisition of riches and personal aggrandizement. The things of sense have well-nigh possessed the minds and desires of the present generation to the exclusion of those that are spiritual. Time is thus preferred to eternity; and its passing pleasures to the realities of a blessed immortality. The consequence of such a state of things is a prevailing profligacy of manners—an increase of immorality. Christianity with its duties and obligations, is despised; over-reaching speculation, and fraudulence in business, are practiced or countenanced by the most influential of the community; violence and force assume the authority of law, and not infrequently end in deeds of blood; Sabbath-breaking, dueling, gambling, and theatrical amusements, are common characteristics of the times. And shall not God visit the land because of these things? Will He permit prosperity to be always abused without calling the guilty to an account? Infidelity has obtained a wide and welcome reception, throughout the land; infidel principles are avowed and acted upon, by legislators and rulers, while the truth of God's word is trampled upon by both. The instrument which binds the United States together as one nation is such, as far as religion and morality are concerned, as might be found among a people who knew nothing of the existence of the divine law. The constitution of the United States is infidel; it contains no acknowledgment of God—the Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ, over the nations,—the truth of the Christian religion,—or the obligation of the Holy Scriptures. The United States have by this Compact placed themselves in the fearful condition of being a people without God.
While referring to national sins as causing judgments, it would be highly culpable to overlook the sin of slave-holding. This is properly a national sin: and one, we are persuaded, that has an intimate connection with the present commercial and other distress. W e shall not no w enter upon the evidence that slave-holding is a national sin ; we only remind our readers, that slavery is recognized the Constitution of the United States, “by bestowing upon the domestic tyrant who holds hundreds of his fellow creatures in bondage, an influence in making laws for free-men proportioned to the number of his own slaves." This alone, would be sufficient to bring home the charge of national guilt. Congress has admitted into the Union slave-holding States; and thus recognized the lawfulness of slave-holding. Congress, which is the national legislature, has full powers over the district of Columbia, and the Territories; yet slavery exists in them; nay more, the district of Columbia is the great slave-market of the United States. And, as if in solemn mockery of the sacred names of justice, liberty and humanity, man—man made in the image of God, is within the very sight of the Capitol, brought under the Auctioneer's hammer, and bid off, like cattle, for dollars and cents! If slave-holding is sinful; and none will doubt it who is not under the influence of interest or prejudice; then, verily is the United States guilty, exceedingly guilty: and God by his providences seems to indicate clearly, that the nation shall not pass with impunity. The crime seems written on the punishment; and cannot be misunderstood by an attentive observer of passing events. The sin of slavery stands pre-eminent among the sins of the land; and to it the present dispensation of Providence has an especial reference.
The friends of humanity have for some time been calling upon the slave-holding states to abolish slavery; the national legislature has been petitioned to exercise the power with which it is invested; to abolish it in the District of Columbia. And what has been the result? The south has been maddened into rage; and Congress has virtually denied the right of petition on the subject. The door has thus been shut against all constitutional redress. The self-interested, and the sycophantick in the north, have made common cause with southern slave-holders. The calls of reason and religion; have been met with passion and brutal violence. Neither southern taskmasters, nor their northern abettors, can now plead ignorance; duty has been set before them, and they have been urged to perform it: yet have they not repented. As God, in his providence, as well as in his word, has been commanding them to let the oppressed go free; and as they have not done it, He is now visiting them with calamity. The cotton crops of the south have failed; the unrequited labors of the slaves have so far, not enriched their masters: when they "looked for much, lo it came to little." The product of those crops was anxiously looked for as the means of liquidating their debts. The northern merchants as well as others who had advanced monies on them have suffered, and are suffering with the planters. Slaves who were readily bought up, at from one thousand to fifteen hundred dollars each, only a year ago, are now selling at four hundred. The immediate consequence of the failure of the crops raised by slave-labor is one general insolvency, from New Orleans to New-York. A few months ago, one firm in the former city failed, and that has been followed by a crowd of others in both cities to the amount of hundreds of millions of dollars. This rapid change from prosperity to adversity ought not, and cannot with safety be overlooked. It has added another, to the many warnings of providence: it is a loud call to the duty of national repentance. If this call is treated as former ones have been, we know not whether God may give another: He may say of this nation as he did of Ephraim; "He is joined to his idols, let him alone" till the cup of iniquity be filled. Nothing but repentance and reformation can save the nation from this doom. Let every Christian know that he has a duty to perform to his country and to his God, in this crisis; it is, to give a public testimony against prevailing national sins.—To proclaim, to all, the duty of repentance. The morals of the people need reformation; prevailing vices must be curbed and put to shame: — the infidelity which has so deeply imbued the civil institutions of the country, both the general and state constitutions, must be eradicated; Christian principles must take the place in these, which they ought always to have occupied, and give a renovated character to the laws and their administration. Public offices should be filled with men of religious character and integrity ; men who instead of taking the lead in immorality should be a terror to evil-doers and a praise to them that do well.—The national disgrace of slave-holding must be wiped off by letting the oppressed go free. The safety of our country and its permanent prosperity depend upon our national repentance and reformation: Sin must be forsaken or the avenging justice of God shall overtake us. "The irreligion of our nation and of our rulers is the source of all our dangers. Other means may become the instruments of our punishment and ruin, but, it is sin that brings them to bear with fatal effect upon us, and which gives its poison to the sting of every earthly calamity. As long as the rulers and the people forget God, He will forget them. Since He is not in all their thoughts, to their own devices they shall be given up, and shall eat abundantly of the fruit of their own evil ways." (The Prospects of Britain, James Douglas) But, repentance, may not yet be too late "Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye unto me with all your heart, and with fasting and with weeping, and with mourning. An d turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil."