Pharisaism in retrospect...

(Tim) About forty years ago, Dad published this article in his "Out of My Mind" column in Eternity. It's helpful to the godly trying to make sense of the 2-kingdom men in our midst. Where and how ought we to stand as  we watch the oppression, not of negro slaves but unborn babies, today.

No generation of so-called Christians has ever lacked for careful theological distinctions that allow us to feel self-righteous in our cold silence towards the widow and orphan God commands us to love; to feel perfectly justified in looking the other way when we drive past the baby slaughterhouse on South College Avenue; to condemn others who engage in what we love to refer to as "the culture war" while we sleep well at night after leaving the drunk on the sidewalk outside our front door.

Titles and subtitles are precisely Dad's when the article first ran back in May of 1971, the month I graduated from high school...

Pharisaism in Retrospect: A letter written over a century ago helps us see evangelical prejudice in perspective. Is this spirit with us still?

“But you can spare no time to talk about the sin of robbing black men. . . .”

The letter that follows could probably have been written in any century to any organization or denomination of the Christian church.

Actually, it was written to an interdenominational organization in the middle of the nineteenth century—an organization that survived the subsequent Civil War and is still with us in evangelical strength. I include the name for historical accuracy...

not to imply that this particular organization was alone then—or now—in its course of action.

To Rev. R. S. Cook
Corresponding Secretary
American Tract Society

Reverend Sir:

I have been favored with your letter of the last month, setting forth the pecuniary exigencies of the American Tract Society, and suggesting to my “charitable consideration” a donation to its funds. Few persons hailed with more satisfaction than myself the establishment of your Society, or more cordially approved the truly  catholic principles on which it was founded. I long since became one of its Life Directors, and have frequently contributed to its funds. The professed object of the Society was to inculcate Christian faith and practice, and to a very great extent it has been faithful to its profession, and I doubt not that it has been largely instrumental in promoting the spiritual welfare of multitudes. . . .

About a year since, the ministers and delegates of the Congregational Union of Fox River, Illinois, addressed a very Christian letter to the Society. In this letter they forcibly remarked: “We feel sure that the time has come when the continued absence from the publications of your Society of all that relates to slavery will be significant; that silence can no longer be neutrality or indifference; and that a tract-literature which speaks less plainly of slavery than of other specific evils will conduce to a defective, partial, and unsound morality.”

In your official reply of 27th February, 1852, without letting a word escape your pen acknowledging the sinfulness of American slavery, you urge various reasons for not breaking the silence so long observed by the Society respecting human bondage. “It would seem a sacrifice of a greater to a lesser good to engage in the discussion of a topic already exhausted, with the likelihood of satisfying none, and with the certainty of alienating multitudes of our best friends,” etc. Your publications, we are informed, must be of a character “calculated to meet the approbation of all evangelical Christians,” and you seem to think that, amid the anti-slavery agitation, it is desirable “that at least one institution should move forward on the simple errand that brought the Savior into the world—proclaiming Christ and him crucified,” etc.; and you aver that “on no subject, probably, are evangelical Christians more at variance” than slavery; and you conclude with declaring that “the course of duty seems plain before us to adhere as a Society to the simple Gospel in its essential saving truths.”

I am unable to reconcile the position assumed in your letter with the past action of the Society, or with the usually received ideas of Christian obligation.

As far as I can judge, the publications of your Society have been in accordance with the rule you announce on no other subject whatever, except human bondage. You suspend the proclamation of “Christ and him crucified,” to rebuke Christians for mingling in the dance, or witnessing feats of horsemanship in the circus; but you can spare no time to talk about the sin of robbing black men of every civil and religious right, of scourging men, women and children at pleasure, and of driving them in chained coffles from one market to another.

It is no impiety, it seems, to turn for a while from the contemplation of the crucified Redeemer, to expatiate on the sin of selling and drinking wine and rum; but very far from your Society is the thought of wasting a moment on the traffic in husbands, wives, and children. . . .

Your Committee tells us, in their last report, that they “have never lost sight of their responsibilities to those of tender years,” [yet] the Committee knows that in some of our states even a free mother, if her complexion be dark, is by law liable to be scourged on her bare back, should she be caught teaching her little ones to read your Child’s Paper; yet not a word of remonstrance escapes the American Tract Society!

In the very last number of The Child’s Paper I read that there are “between 10,000 and 12,000 children in the city of New York who never enter a church or school, and who can not read the Bible. Here are heathen at home; what is being done for them? These children must be cared for.”

Indeed! And is it nothing to your Society that there are in our country about half a million little black heathen who are prevented by law from reading the Bible? These little heathen have souls as imperishable, destinies as momentous, as the white heathen in New York. Must this half million be cared for? Ah! that is a “point of disagreement among evangelical Christians” and hence the Society must not even recognize the existence of children who do not belong to their parents. . .

It is not desired by any that your institution should be converted into an anti-slavery any more than into an anti-gambling Tract Society. All that is asked is, that this great and influential Christian association should publicly dissent from the impious claim made by the advocates of American slavery, that this vast mass of accumulated sin and misery is sanctioned by the God of mercy and justice, and allowed by the crucified Redeemer; in other words, that American slavery should share in the condemnation you bestow on “the theatre, the circus, and the horse-race.”

(Signed) William Jay

New York City

Jesus said, “But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”[1]

We are heirs of the Pharisees’ herb gardens.[2]

[1] Matthew 23:23

[2] Shortly before his death Dad sent me an article written by the then-president of Wheaton College explaining why Wheaton wasn’t going to take an official position on abortion. With his fountain pen Dad had scrawled across the top of the page, “Can you imagine Jonathan Blanchard writing this about slavery?”


Tim - thought you might find this interesting - what happens when someone decides to call out a congregation: