“Presbyterian Morality” The American Sentinel 5, 19, pp. 145, 146.

May 8, 1890

FOR nearly five years the Presbyterian Synod of New York has appointed at each annual session a standing Committee on Religion and Public Education. The object of appointing the committee is that it shall consider and report upon the following resolution:—

Resolved, That the Presbyterian Synod of the State of New York, believing that the lessons of history and the traditions of American liberty forbid the union of Church and State, discriminates between sectarianism and religion, and affirms that so far as public education is concerned, an enduring morality must derive its sanctions, not from policy, nor from social customs, nor from public opinion, but from those fundamental religious truths which are common to all sects, and distinctive of none.

It therefore urges upon its members the imperative necessity of opposing the attitude of indifference to religion, which appears both in public school manuals, and in the educational systems of reformatories, and at the same time, of using every proper influence to secure the incorporation with the course of State and National instruction, of the following religious truths as a ground of national morality, viz.:—

1. The existence of a personal God.

2. The responsibility of every human being to God.

3. The deathlessness of the human soul as made in the image of God, after the power of an endless life.

4. The reality of a future spiritual state beyond the grave in which every soul shall give account of itself before God, and shall reap that which it has sown.

The committee that is appointed at each annual session considers this matter during the year and reports at the next annual session. In the report of the committee for 1888, it says:—

The earliest efforts of your committee were directed towards ascertaining the attitude of the Roman Catholics. Archbishop Corrigan, of New York, and Vicar-Generals Quinn and Preston, besides many leading priests and writers of the Roman Catholic persuasion, were interviewed with the most satisfactory results.

The result of that interview, which the committee pronounced most satisfactory, was that Vicar-General Preston told the committee that the Roman Catholics “could be satisfied with nothing less than the teaching of their whole faith.” The Vicar-General further told the committee that the Protestant denominations, “if they valued their own creeds,” ought to feel on this matter as the Catholics do. And further, he said, “The points you propose, while better than none, would not satisfy us, and we think they ought not to satisfy many of the Protestant churches, while the infidels who are now very numerous would certainly reject them.”

These statements of the Vicar-General to the committee are the substance of the reply to the efforts of the committee to ascertain the attitude of the Roman Catholics, and express what the committee called “the most satisfactory results.” And upon this the committee reported that “the position of the Roman Catholics, upon the question therefore is well defined.” [146]

The results in this case seem to have been so entirely satisfactory to the committee and to the Synod, that no further effort has been made since, so far as we can learn, to ascertain the attitude of the Roman Catholics. And aside from this, not much has been done by the committee up to the present year in any efforts toward ascertaining the attitude of other churches, but the present year a stronger effort is being made than ever before. The Wisconsin Supreme Court decision came quite opportunely to give the Synod a leverage. Consequently the Synod of 1890 appointed influential committees to visit the spring meetings of other ecclesiastical bodies.

Dr. M’Cracken, who is the second in the list of appointees to visit the Methodist Conferences, is very active and whole-souled in the work. Dr. M’Cracken is Vice-Chancellor of the University of the City of New York. The New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church convened April 2. In the minutes of the Conference we find the following statement:—

Vice-Chancellor M’Cracken, of the University of the City of New York, and representing the Presbyterian Synod of New York, was listened to with very great interest as he addressed the Conference on the subject of “Religion and Public Education,” especially criticising with keen censure the already famous decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on the Bible as a sectarian book. A committee was appointed to consider the subject.

We have not yet been able to obtain the full report of this committee, but the closing paragraph has these words:—

We repudiate, as un-American and pagan, and as a menace to the prosperity of our free institutions, the recent Supreme Court decision in the State of Wisconsin, a decision dictated and defended by the enemies of the common schools, that the reading of the Bible without comment is sectarian instruction. In the present state of the controversy, we hold it to be the duty of Christian citizens of a commonwealth, Christian in its history and in the character of its laws, to deny that the Bible is a sectarian book, and claim for it a place wherever the State attempts to educate youth for the duties of citizenship.

The New York Conference is doubtless the strongest and most influential of the Methodist Conferences in the United States. Its action in this matter is of great weight in itself, and doubtless will be of great weight in influencing other Conferences in the same direction.

A Conference in New England has also adopted the Presbyterian view, and so taken its stand in favor of religion and the State. The Christian Advocate, with other influential religious papers, likewise, indorses this position. What The Christian at Work, and the New York Sun think of it, is shown in other parts of this paper. The New York Observer, in a long article, seems to wish to be non-committal, yet it closes with these words:—

If it were possible to secure a universal expression of opinion, we have reason to think that an immense majority of the people would cordially manifest their preference for unsectarian schools, in which belief in God and his word are set forth as the basis of morality and government.

Whether this be true or not, we are not prepared just now to say, but as for the churches of the country, as such, we fear that it is so. There are individuals in all the churches who are strongly opposed to any connection between religion and the State; but to take the churches as such, we seriously doubt whether there is a single denomination, except the Lutheran, amongst all the Protestant denominations which are held to be evangelical, which would not indorse the position of the Presbyterian Synod and the New York Methodist Episcopal Conference. The Lutheran Church we believe would, as a denomination, repudiate the efforts to put religion in the public schools, or to have it connected with the State in any way.

This is a matter of great importance to the people of this country. Religion and the State are both infinitely better off without any such connection. It is impossible for the State to teach religion, of itself, for religion it has none. The State must get religion before it can teach it. The only place that it could possibly get it would be the Church; but so long as the Church has any religion worth the name, the State does not need any such thing, because the Church will be diligent, active, and efficient. And, so long as the Church maintains that position, she will refuse any alliance or connection whatever with the State; but just as soon as the Church loses it, then she is ready and anxious to secure the support of the State. And when the Church has lost the power and the virtue of the religion which she professes, and then undertakes to give to the State that style of religion which she has, the more of it the State gets, the worse it is for the State. This will be seen by taking a glance at the resolution of the Presbyterian Synod, and the propositions which it sets forth as a ground work of national morality.

The Synod insists that there must be a discrimination “between sectarianism and religion;” and affirms that “an enduring morality” must derive its sanctions from those fundamental religious’ truths which are common to all sects and distinctive of none. It therefore sets forth those four religious truths as the ground work of a national and enduring morality. In the four religious truths proposed, the committee has certainly made a success of stating those which are common to all sects and distinctive of none; for there is not one point in the four that is not accepted by nine-tenths of all the people on earth. The Unitarian, the Trinitarian, the Jew, the Mohammedan, and the heathen all accept every point named.

First as to the existence of a personal God. What God it is, is not so much as hinted at. Whether it be Buddha, or Joss or Allah, or Jehovah, it is all the same; all that is necessary is to assent to the existence of a personal God, and everybody on earth except the downright atheist; assuredly assents to that.

As to the second, there is nobody that believes in any kind of a god at all, who does not believe in man’s personal responsibility to that god.

As to the third, the deathlessness of the human soul has been believed by almost everybody since the day that Satan told Eve she should not die; and if a person believes that the soul is deathless, it is not likely to be very hard for him to believe that it is made after the power of an “endless life.”

As for the fourth point, it is already contained in the second and third, and what they want to gain by repeating it, it is difficult to see.

But this is not the worst thing about the situation. Bear in mind that it is as “Christian citizens of a commonwealth, which is Christian in its history and in the character of its laws,” that the Presbyterian Synod sets forth this system of national morality. Yet in the whole statement; resolution and all, there is not a word or a hint about Christ any more than if there were no such person in existence. And this is proposed by a body of professed Christians as a statement of religious truths forming the ground work of an enduring morality!

More than this they make the whole thing but a piece of infidelity by resolving that an enduring morality must derive its sanctions from those fundamental religious truths which are “common to all sects and distinctive of none. The truth is, a person may believe all four of the points named, and yet not have a particle of enduring morality in him. All men have made themselves immoral by transgression of the moral law, and no man can attain to morality except by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. An enduring morality therefore can only be secured by an abiding faith in Jesus Christ and when these men propose to make an enduring morality derive its sanctions from these fundamental religious truths which are common to all sects and distinctive of none, they, in that, set Christ aside and present to men the hope of an enduring morality without him. But such a hope is a spider’s web instead of that “anchor of the soul” which belongs to the Christian.

The morality which is common to all sects and distinctive of none is simply and essentially pagan; it is paganism itself. Whereas that morality which is distinctive of Christianity and peculiar to it alone; that morality which is manifested in the life and character of Jesus Christ, and which is secured only by faith in him,—that morality alone is enduring; and it is enduring because it is divine. He who has this morality will live eternally; he who comes short of it in a single degree, will vanish as the early dew. [147]

The fact that the Presbyterian Church, and the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, are willing to propose to the people of the United States as a national and enduring morality a system which makes no mention Christ, and which is but a pagan system is a fearful commentary upon religion which they hold and set forth as Christianity. The repudiation of the Wisconsin decision as “un-American and pagan” can have but little weight, when done by those who propose the establishment of a national morality which is wholly pagan.

A. T. J.

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