Civil Government, a Divine Ordinance Part IV

This week I am continuing to reprint a sermon made by Pastor George Dana Boardman just prior to the presidential election in 1864 (see Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here).

The section I have reprinted this week Pastor Boardman deals with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Pastor Boardman’s opinion on this matter is made very clear and I don’t think I have any particular insights to add save one. Pastor Boardman views the soon to be freed slaves as his equals which is very unusual for this time. I am currently reading a history of the years leading up to the Civil War called “The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861” and very few people, in the North or South, viewed the slaves as being their equals (this includes Abraham Lincoln). As a Christian, Pastor Boardman gets this one right!

Here is Pastor Boardman:

III. “But this war is not at present waged for maintenance of Government,” I hear some one saying, “It is a war for emancipation.”

What you say is partly true and partly false.

It is true that the Government stands committed to the policy and work of emancipation. And from the very profoundest depths of my soul do I thank and glorify my God for the fact. I hail this Proclamation of Emancipation as God’s own morning star; the brightest promise He has vouchsafed us of our National Redemption. It is a great act of public justice, which the world will yet acknowledge as one of its grandest eras. For, though this Proclamation is based on the ground of military necessity, yet no man can help feeling that its real nethermost basis is a moral one. Stripping the question of all partisan hues, all political associations, all personal prejudices and preconceptions, surveying it in its moral bearings alone, I believe that it elicits a profound response from the general moral sense of the community. And could we get at the secret, honest feelings of the thousands who affect to sneer at it, we are bold to say that, with the exception of those who are utterly given over either to prejudice of color, or to partisan blindness, or to secret, treacherous complicity with treason — could we, I say, get at the secret, honest feelings of the thousands who affect to sneer at this Proclamation, we are bold to affirm that in the depths of their hearts they feel that it is right; emphatically, intensely, gloriously right. It is right that they who have risen in armed conspiracy against their government, should lose their property, or what they call their property, specially when that property consists in the weapons with which they fought against the government. It is right that that which was the primary, fundamental cause of the war should be swept away forever. It is right that they who have been enslaved, not because they were criminals, but because they were dark-skinned and defenceless, should enjoy the rights of manhood as freely as you or I. O, how my heart has been pained, when I have heard respectable, high-minded gentlemen speaking of the poor defenceless negro, in terms of opprobrium, using epithets of vulgar cant, which may befit the lips of barbarians, but which certainly do not befit the lips of Christian gentlemen, who must one day meet these same unfortunate fellow-men of theirs at the judgment seat of Christ.

Yes, I hail this Proclamation of Freedom as a colossal stride in the direction of American progress. It has changed the “whole attitude of the government toward slavery; Formerly, slavery was, as it were, a foster child of the government, and so a national institution; now it is an outlaw, to be exterminated with the rebel outlaws, whose idol it is. It matters not, in this particular, who is elected President on the 8th inst. Retrogression now is impossible. The die is cast. Slavery is doomed. I know not what is before us as a nation. I am willing to trust God for our future. But if the very worst should come, if He, with whom the nations of earth are but as wands of gossamer, hath determined that the Union of our fathers shall go down forevermore, it will be a blessed thing for posterity to know, that, when the American nationality went down, she went down all alone, beneath the direct touch of Jehovah’s finger, without the weight of so much as one single slave-infant dragging at her skirts!

Therefore, let God be praised! The American People, by this act of their Constitutional Executive, stand irretrievably committed to the work of Emancipation. What though the proclamation itself be “but a piece of paper?” It is a glorious thing that at last we have a Government that dares to admit, even on paper, that Freedom is not altogether a question of complexion, and that wherever God has put a human soul, there he has put a freeman. But this proclamation is something more than a piece of paper. It is a weapon of tremendous power, for it is borne on the points of half a million of bayonets, and heralded by the whiz of ten million bullets. Ah! we little know as yet what that piece of paper has accomplished. We little know what is taking place in quietness to-night on those distant Southern plantations. We little know how many hearts are throbbing with wild delight beneath sable skins, or how many eyes are turned heavenward in grateful joy from cabin and pine grove, from cottonfield and canebrake. Poor, oppressed, moaning children of Africa! Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh! The tide of Emancipation, God’s own tide, has set in, and the world’s united forces cannot drive it back. The men of to-day may sneer at the Proclamation; the men of to-morrow will reverence it.

But the good deed, through the ages, Living in historic pages, Brighter grows, and gleams immortal, Unconsumed by moth or rust.

But while it is true that the Government stands committed to the policy and work of emancipation, it is not true that we are fighting for emancipation as an end, but only as a means. And God be praised for the evidences He has vouchsafed us that His own ordinance of Civil Government is swiftly marching on to victory over the glorious highway of that other ordinance of His, the ordinance of universal freedom. Strange, passing strange, it is, that while some of the bitterest opposers of the emancipation proclamation are Northern men, who have no practical acquaintance with the workings of the institution of slavery, the most distinguished among the Southern loyalists, who, through a painful personal experience, have known its paralyzing effects on their own communities, are hailing the proclamation with a feeling approaching to ecstacy. The practical movements towards emancipation of such slave States as Missouri, and Maryland, and Delaware, and portions of Virginia, and Kentucky, and Tennessee, and North Carolina, and Florida, and Texas, and Louisiana — States which understand experimentally the workings of slavery, are worth more than all the theories and arguments ever elaborated by the human intellect. Most significant of all is the intelligence which lies reached us within the past few days, that the very men who are leaders in this atrocious conspiracy against an Ordinance of the Almighty; the very men who deliberately inaugurated this unparalleled war, for the avowed purpose of founding a new, and that a slave-holding empire; these very men are themselves vindicating the military policy of our Government, by proposing to imitate that policy themselves, and proclaiming emancipation to their own slaves. [See note B, page 32.] What a confession this is, that the conduct of the war on our part has been a transcendent success! Verily, the ruler of the land hath not borne the sword in vain! and yet there are those scattered through the north, who are craven enough to assert that “the war is a failure.” To compel these haughty insurgents to cast away the very corner-stone on which they had vauntingly founded their unhallowed Confederacy; to compel these scornful task-masters to confess that White men cannot conquer us, but that black men may; to storm and carry the very citadel of the rebellion — and slaveholding is that citadel — to extort such confessions as these from these swollen Southrons; this do you call “a failure?” If this be failure, God send us many more like unto it!

But this war, I repeat, is not a war for emancipation as such. It is a war for God’s ordinance of Government through emancipation. It is a war for the maintenance and supremacy of Government on the ground that Civil Government is God’s ordinance. If this war is waged for any other purpose; if it cannot be based on that loftiest of grounds, the duty of maintaining God’s ordinance of Civil Government, Heaven forbid that I should have anything to do with it! It is not a war for subjugation. It is not a war for retaliation. It is not a War for avenging the insult to our flag, considered merely as the symbol of our glory. It is not a War for emancipation, as such. But it is a war for God’s ordinance of Civil Government. On this unmistakeable, lofty, Christian, Divine ground, we proudly take our position. Jehovah of Hosts summons us forth to vindicate the majesty of one of His own institutions, to re-assert and forever maintain the supremacy of a Divine ordinance on which rebels with accursed heel have trodden.

I have thus endeavored to set before you, men and brethren, the scriptural teaching concerning the origin and authority of Civil Government. I have endeavored to show that Government, in order to maintain its own authority, has the right to employ physical force. I have endeavored to show that in the war which is now devastating our land. Government, in seeking to re-establish its supremacy, is rightfully appealing to the sword. It only remains for me to make practical application of our topic to the exigencies of the hour.

Accordingly, I conclude as I began. Next Tuesday this nation is to decide whether it will obey God by re-asserting His own ordinance of Civil Government, or disobey Him by ignominiously surrendering it to insurgents and traitors. This is the real question at issue before the American people. Let no man deceive you. The real question, stripped of whatsoever subordinate details politicians have encumbered it with, is simply, nakedly this: Shall we have peace, a true, righteous, permanent peace. Heaven’s own peace, by reasserting with the sword God’s own ordinance of Civil Government? or shall we have a false, treacherous, transient, base peace, by impiously surrendering to traitors an ordinance of Almighty God? That is the question. Two parties are in the field. The one party virtually says: “Government, though of Divine origin and authority, is unable to maintain itself. This war is a failure. Let us have an armistice. Let us- ground our arms. Let us temporize. Let us compromise with the Powers of Darkness. Let us play the coward. It is safer than to fight. Let us make peace with traitors. And let Heaven’s ordinance take care of itself I” The other party virtually says: “The Powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the Powers, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist shall receive unto themselves damnation. For the Power beareth not the sword in vain. Government has been assailed, outraged, defied, trampled on. We have undertaken to re-vindicate its authority, to re-assert its supremacy. God helping us, it shall be done, till the last armed traitor bites the dust. Graciously hath the Lord of Hosts smiled upon us. We have begun re-asserting the authority of Government in the field. We will finish re-asserting it at the polls. Next Tuesday Treason shall die. God save the State!”

Fellow-citizens: — I have done my duty. As the minister of God I have not shunned to declare unto you His counsel as it bears on this tremendous issue. I might have plied you with other motives. I might have spoken of the unutterable shame involved in this proposition to capitulate to the enemy in the very hour of his defeat. But I have preferred to take higher, more Christian grounds. As an ambassador from the Court of the King of Kings, I have, on this Christ’s day, in this Christ’s pulpit, put this question on Christ’s own ground. Beware how you trifle with this ordinance of the Omnipotent! It is the nation’s crisis. It is the turning point in the nation’s fever. Life and death hang on the result of next Tuesday. It is an august hour.

We are dwelling,
In a grand and awful time,
In an age on ages telling.
To be living is sublime.
Hark! the waking up of nations,
Gog and Magog to the fray;
Hark! “What soundeth? Is Creation
Groaning for its latter day ‘.’

I believe it. God hasten that bright Millennial Day! Meantime, let America do its part! Let the land of the Pilgrims, the land of Washington, be true to God and His ordinances!

All will yet he well! O! thou afflicted, tossed with tempest and not comforted! O! land of wailing Rachels! O! land of patriot-graves! Be of good cheer! for thus saith the Holy One:

 Behold! I will lay thy stones with lair colors,
And thy foundations with sapphires:
And I will make thy battlements of agates.
And thy gates of carbuncles,
And all thy borders of pleasant stones.
In Righteousness shalt thou be established.
Thou shalt be far from Oppression,
And great shall be the Peace of thy children.
For brass I will bring gold,
And for iron I will bring silver.
And for wood brass,
And for stones, iron.
I will make thine officers peace.
And thine exactors righteousness.
Violence shall no more be heard in thy land.
Wasting nor destruction within thy borders.
But thou shalt call thy walls Salvation.
And thy gates Praise.
Thy sun shall no more go down.
Neither shall thy moon withdraw itself:
For Jehovah shalt be thine everlasting light:
And the days of thy mourning shall be ended!
I, Jehovah, will liasten it in its time.


Weary, bleeding countrymen! Does that time seem far distant? Lift up your eyes! Faith discerns bright portents in the sky. Watchman! What of the night? Watchman! What of the night? The watchman saith: The morning cometh!


Down the long future, through long generations.
The echoing sounds grow fainter and then cease:
And like a bell, with solemn, sweet vibrations,
I hear once more the voice of Christ say PEACE!

 Peace I and no longer from its brazen portals
The blast of war’s great organ shakes the skies!
But beautiful as songs of the Immortals.
The holy melodies of Love arise!

Civil Government, a Divine Ordinance
Rev. George Dana Boardman
pp. 21-28

Explore posts in the same categories: Divine Institutions, Nations

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