An Address to President Lincoln

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In the autumn of 1862 (after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22, and before it took effect on January 1, 1863), two Covenanter (Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) ministers met privately with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss some particular priority goals that they wished the Lincoln administration to achieve. The Oval Office has rarely heard such a speech reminiscent of Psalm 2.

The address below to President Lincoln was authored and presented by James Renwick Wilson Sloane and Alexander McLeod Milligan (brothers-in-law as well as brothers in the Lord).


We visit you, Mr. President, as the representatives of the Reformed Presbyterian, or, as it is frequently termed, "Scotch Covenanter," Church, — a Church whose sacrifices and sufferings in the cause of civil and religious liberty are a part of the world's history, and to which we are indebted, no less than to the Puritans, for those inestimable privileges so largely enjoyed in the free States of this Union, and which, true to its high lineage and ancient spirit, does not hold within its pale a single Secessionist, or sympathizer with rebellion, in these United States.

Our Church has unanimously declared, by the voice of her highest court, that the world has never seen a conflict in which right was more clearly wholly upon the one side, and wrong upon the other, than in the present struggle of this Government with this slaveholders' rebellion. She has also unanimously declared her determination to assist the Government by all lawful means in her power in its conflict with this atrocious conspiracy, until it be utterly overthrown and annihilated.

Profoundly impressed with the immense importance of the issues involved in this contest, and with the solemn responsibilities which rest upon the Chief Magistrate in this time of the nation's peril, our brethren have commissioned us to come and address you words of sympathy and encouragement, also to express to you views which, in their judgment, have an important bearing upon the present condition of affairs in our beloved country; to congratulate you on what has already been accomplished in crushing rebellion, and to exhort you to persevere in the work, until it has been finally completed.

Entertaining no shadow of doubt as to the entire justice of the cause in which the nation is embarked, we nevertheless consider the war a just judgment of Almighty God for the sin of rejecting his authority, and enslaving our fellow-men, and are firmly persuaded that his wrath will not be appeased, and that no permanent peace will be attained, until his authority be recognized, and the abomination that maketh desolate utterly extirpated.

As an anti-slavery church of the most radical school, believing slavery to be a heinous and aggravated sin both against God and man, and to be placed in the same category with piracy, murder, adultery, and theft, it is our solemn conviction that God by his Word and Providence is calling the nation to immediate, unconditional, and universal emancipation. We hear his voice in these thunders of war saying to us, "Let my people go." Nevertheless, we have hailed with delighted satisfaction the several steps which you have taken in the direction of emancipation. Especially do we rejoice in your late proclamation, declaring your purpose to free the slaves in the rebel States on the first day of January, 1863, an act which, when carried out, will give the death-blow to rebellion, strike the fetters from millions of bondmen, and will secure for its author a place high among the wisest of rulers and the noblest benefactors of the race. Permit us, then, Mr. President, most respectfully yet most earnestly, to urge upon you the importance of enforcing that proclamation to the utmost extent of that power with which you are vested. Let it be placed on the highest grounds of Christian justice and philanthropy; let it be declared to be an act of national repentance for long complicity with the guilt of slavery. Permit nothing to tarnish the glory of the act, or rob it of its sublime moral significance and grandeur, and it cannot fail to meet a hearty response in the conscience of the nation, and to secure infinite blessings to our distracted country. Let not the declaration of the immortal Burke in this instance be verified: "Good works are commonly left in a rude and imperfect state through the tame circumspection with which a timid prudence so frequently enervates beneficence. In doing good we are cold, languid, and sluggish, and of all things afraid of being too much in the right." We urge you by every consideration drawn from the Word of God and the present condition of our bleeding country, not to be moved from the path of duty, on which you have so auspiciously entered, either by the threats or blandishments of the enemies of human progress, nor to permit this great act to lose its power through the fears of its timid friends.

There is another point which we esteem of prominent importance, and to which we wish briefly to call your attention. The Constitution of the United States contains no acknowledgment of the authority of God, of his Christ, or of his law as contained in the Holy Scriptures. This we deeply deplore, as wholly inconsistent with all claim to be considered a Christian nation, or to enjoy the protection and favor of God. The Lord Jesus Christ is above all earthly rulers. He is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is the one Mediator between God and man, through whom alone either nations or individuals can secure the favor of the Most High God, who is saying to us in these judgments, "Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings! be instructed, O ye judges of the earth! serve the Lord with fear. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that trust in him. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted."

This time appears to us most opportune for calling the nation to a recognition of the name and authority of God, to the claims of him who will overturn, overturn, and overturn, until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. We indulge the hope, Mr. President, that you have been called, with your ardent love of liberty, your profound moral convictions manifested in your sabbath proclamation, and in your frequent declarations of dependence upon Divine Providence, to your present position of honor and influence, to free our beloved country from the curse of slavery, and secure for it the favor of the great Ruler of the universe. Shall we not now set the world an example of a Christian State governed, not by the principles of mere political expediency, but acting under a sense of accountability to God, and in obedience to those laws of immutable morality which are binding alike upon nations and individuals?

We pray that you may be directed in your responsible position by divine wisdom, that God may throw over you the shield of his protection, that we may soon see rebellion crushed, its cause removed, and our land become Immanuel's land.

Another Covenanter minister, Thomas Sproull, reminisced shortly after Lincoln’s assassination about the president’s response to this powerful appeal:

Some time last winter two men connected with the Reformed Presbyterian Church were in Washington City, and called at the President’s house. While in the room that is always open to visitors, the President came in, and got into a conversation with them, in the course of which mention was made,of the Covenanters. The name seemed to arrest his attention, and he remarked: “I know something about these people — they want the Constitution amended by putting slavery out of it, and by putting a recognition of God in it.” To this they assented, and he proceeded to speak in kind and earnest terms of the brethren who had been with him urging the amendments. He added that they had obtained one object of their mission during his first term in office, and he hoped they would obtain the other before the end of his second term.

A Reformed Presbyterian Brotherly Covenant

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Thomas Sproull, in a September 1879 issue of The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, recounted the circumstances of a joint fast and “Brotherly Covenant” subscribed to by James Renwick Willson and himself, both serving as professors at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, located then at Allegheny, Pennsylvania, some three decades previously.

I have in my possession a document written by him [James Renwick Willson], of which I briefly give the history. During the session of the seminary, in the winter of 1842 and 1843, the condition of affairs seemed not to be as prosperous as we wished. On an occasion when he and I were together, this was spoken of and the inquiry was, what can be done to secure the divine blessing, which we realized as the great need. It was his suggestion that we observe a day of fasting, to confess our sins, and seek the favor of God, and unite in an act of covenanting. The suggestion met my cordial approval, and at my request he prepared the confession of sins, as causes of fasting, and the bond which we used in our act of covenanting. On January 5, 1843, we met, spent the forenoon of the day in fasting and prayer, and fervently confessed our sins, and engaged in covenanting, using the following formularies that he had prepared…

In their “Causes of Fasting Prepafatory to an Act of Covenanting,” Willson and Sproull identified seven particular sins for which they confessed and mourned:

  1. Unbelief and mistrust of God’s promises;

  2. Lack of love toward God and the brethren;

  3. Unworthy and carnal ambition;

  4. Backwardsness in the study of God’s Word and in the means of grace;

  5. Relying on their own strength;

  6. Lack of holy and enlightened zeal in carrying forward the attainments of their spiritual fathers; and

  7. Not wisely applying gospel truth, precepts and rebukes to ourselves before we teach, preach and apply them to others.

Following this time of fasting and prayer, the two men together entered into a “Brotherly Covenant” which we give here in full:

Brotherly Covenant Made and Ratified Before the God of our Covenant Fathers, for our Mutual Strengthening in the Faith, by Jas. R. Willson and Thos. Sproull, January 5, 1843

We hereby renounce all reliance on the deeds of the law for our justification; all the errors against which the church has borne testimony; all worldly maxims and practices as contrary to the word of God; and cast off forever all allegiance to the corrupt civil institutions of these United States; and renounce all ecclesiastical fellowship with such churches as own allegiance to these governments; as also everything, both in church and state, that is either against or beside the Holy Scriptures, and not in accordance with the church's past covenanted attainments.

Again, we avouch the Lord Jehovah to be our God, taking God the Father, for our Father ; Christ His eternal Son for our Mediator, as a prophet to instruct us in personal and official duty, as our great High Priest for our justification by his imputed righteousness, and as our King whose mediatorial power extends over all creation, for the sake of his body which is the church, to whom we promise to render obedience in all his commands, and to whom we do look for protection against all our foes; and the Holy Ghost, the Spirit that proceedeth from the Father and the Son, we take for our sanctifier and comforter.

As also, we renew in this our covenant, our engagements to God in baptism, the Lord's supper, our ordination vows, and our solemn self-dedication to God on entering on the professorship.

We likewise promise and vow, that we will constantly and without deviation in one jot or tittle adhere to all the terms of communion adopted by the Reformed Presbyterian church in relation to her doctrines, worship, government and testimony, and that in ministerial and professional duty w e will never teach anything contrary to them, and that we will never withhold any truth, form of worship, government, point of discipline, or item of testimony through fear of man or to avoid trouble.

Moreover, we will cover one another's infirmities with the mantle of charity; we will never listen to tales of detraction; we will protect each other's reputation; promote one another's usefulness, while continuing in life; pray for each other and in all things "strive together for the faith of the gospel."

Likewise; we will discountenance with all our might, all causes calculated to divide the body of Christ, and to cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which we have learned, and we will avoid all such as pursue these divisive courses.

Finally; we rely on the aid of the Holy Ghost, in the Spirit of our most blessed and precious Redeemer, to impart strength for the faithful performance of this vow and covenant, and call on a three-one God in Christ to bear witness to our integrity of heart in making this most solemn engagement.

This “Brotherly Covenant” was a means of strengthening the faith of these two men and the work of the seminary. “Reformed Presbyterians hold that social religious Covenanting is an ordinance of God to be entered into by the individual, the church, and the nation” (William M. Glasgow, History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, p. 56). Here we have a 19th century American example on the individual level.

The Historical Sketches of Thomas Sproull

Thomas Sproull (1803-1892) was one of the nineteenth-century giants of the American Covenanter Church. As both a pastor and a professor (emeritus) of theology for the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, he spent his life in the service of “Christ’s Crown & Covenant.”

A frequent contributor to The Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter magazine, in 1875 he authored a series of 10 articles titled “The Reformed Presbyterian Church in America: Historical Sketches.” This is a valuable history of the RPCNA from the first arrival of Covenanters from Scotland in New Jersey around 1685 up to the regrettable disruption of 1833. In 1876 and 1877, he further published a series of 13 articles titled “Reformed Presbyterian Church in America: Sketches of Her Organic History,” which constitutes an effort to extend the history of the RPCNA during this time period through her official judicial records.

Sproull covers much interesting ground his articles, discussing its Testimony and the distinctives of the RPCNA, its internal strife, the establishment of its seminary, its missionary labors, and its many contributions to the kingdom of God on the earth. The two series of articles were relied upon by William Melancthon Glasgow when he compiled his History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America (1888), and as consolidated PDF files here at Log College Press, they will assist the student of early American Covenanter church history greatly.