Saturday, 18 May 2013

An Early Evangelical that Didn't Make the Cut--Part V

I had a difficult time deciding which excerpt on John Erskine to include in Early Evangelicalism: A Reader. He wrote a number of interesting works, including his Shall I Go to War With My American Brethren, in which he questioned Britain's fight with the American colonists. Limiting myself to only one excerpt from Erskine, I decided to cut his pro-American pamphlet and instead include his very interesting treatise on the nature of faith. On Erskine, I highly recommend reading Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine :-)

John Erskine
            Over twenty years of corresponding with leading Americans had softened John Erskine’s heart toward the colonists. When America complained that Britain was unfairly trying to extract money through legislation like the Stamp Act of 1765, Erskine and other Scottish evangelicals rose to defend the colonists’ grievances. Erskine was the best known American sympathizer in Scotland. He wrote a total of three pamphlets outlining a defense of the liberties of Americans: Shall I Go To War with My American Brethren? (1769), Reflections on the Rise, Progress, Probable Consequences, of the present Contentions with the Colonies (1776), and the Equity and Wisdom of Administration, in Measures That Have Unhappily Occasioned the American Revolt, Tried by the Sacred Oracles (1776). But of the three, Shall I Go to War was the most controversial. Published anonymously in 1769 and republished in 1776 with a preface signed by Erskine, Shall I Go to War questioned the logic of waging war against the normally loyal North American colonies. With prophetic insight, Erskine hinted that Britain may not win a fight against a nation that God seemed to favor in times of distress. Although critics labeled his pamphlet as treasonous, Erskine claimed the necessity of the work as a last resort for avoiding war between a “mother” and her “child.”

Shall I Go to War With My American Brethren? (1769)
            Judges 20: 28: “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?”
            If the denomination of Christians to which I belong, and my rank in the church, gave me the honor of addressing you from the pulpit, I should remember, that my business there was not to discuss political questions, and to determine the disputed rights of sovereigns and subjects, but to explain and inculcate the great truths and duties of our holy religion; and among these I would not fail warmly to recommend, loyalty to our prince, love to our country, and a willingness to sacrifice pleasure, ease, wealth, and preferment, to the public good. But the sciences are not, as trade and manufactures, confined to particular corporations. If men make conscience of the public and private duties of the offices with which they are invested, it is lawful, nay, on some occasions, it is laudable, in their leisure hours, to unbend their minds by a change of study, to follow where their genius leads them, and to impart their thoughts to the public, if they see cause. The exercise of government, and the authoritatively deciding political questions, must be the work of the few; but to study politics, and to write of them, is the right of every freeborn Briton. Every Christian may aspire after the blessing of the peacemaker. One who has a mean rank in a family, one who has no rank in it at all, is authorized, is obliged, if he sees a house on flames, to call upon those who may have it in their power to extinguish them. My duty as a minister does not annihilate my duty to the best of princes, and to my dear fellow subjects. If a watchman see danger approaching, and blow not the trumpet, the blood of the people, whom he neglected to warn, shall be required at his hand. If we forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if we say, behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart, consider it? And he that keepeth our souls, doth not he know it? And shall he not render to every man according to his works? Shall I then, can I with safety be silent, when my king and country appear to me in the most imminent danger?
            I love and respect my sovereign, not only as the guardian of our civil and religious privileges, but as one, whose virtues would honor and ennoble even a private station. I love my country, and I love the posterity of those brave and good men, who fled from the rod of oppression in their native land, to what was then a waste and howling wilderness; but what now is, and I pray God may ever remain, a fruitful field, a seat of liberty and of true religion. The principles of humanity and universal benevolence, and the warm attachment I feel to British liberty, and to the succession in the illustrious house of Hanover, constrain me, though it may offend many whom I would not willingly disoblige, to sound an alarm. The prudent, I know, will keep silent in such a day, for it is an evil day. But a flame, not to say a dispute between B—n and her colonies, appears to me in so alarming a point of view, that I cannot be easy, without making this feeble effort to prevent it…
            If war with foreign nations is undesirable, how shocking is it to think of war with our own countrymen, connected with us by birth, alliance, or commercial interest, so that we cannot hurt them without injuring ourselves. Shall the friend, the brother, the father, the son, imbrue their hands in the blood of men, by the ties of nature, esteem, or gratitude, dear to them as their own souls? The fancied voice of loyalty or of liberty, calls their respective votaries to rush on, and to risk the consequences, while natural affection whispers in the breast, “Let not the mother country forget her children, let not the children tear in pieces the bowels of the mother. If the child must be sacrificed, let it be by a savage Indian, or a perfidious Frenchman. Let it not be by a parent’s hand. Let not Abraham’s trial be our choice.”
            And what is it, that in some has well nigh extinguished parental compassion? Whence is it, that they can talk with all imaginable coolness, of bombarding the cities of their children, nay, of bringing them to scaffold? It is for claims, which (besides a plausible foundation in charters, the validity of which parliaments and courts of law have ratified, by judging and determining according to them), are supported by more than a hundred and thirty years uninterrupted and undisputed possession. In the opinion of Mr. David Hume, whose authority some of you too much regard, Britain, before the late Glorious Revolution, had no such claim as this, for either her civil or her religious liberties. Do we think our forefathers erred, in deeming a claim sufficient, that had a feeble legal support? Do we wish, they had thought and acted otherwise? Have we such slavish , dastardly spirits, that we would have thought or acted otherwise in their situation/ If we disclaim the charge, let us not be so uncharitable as to do to others what we would not should be done to us.
            Should the colonies acknowledge a power in the British parliament to tax them, whatever confidence they may have in the wisdom and moderation of the present parliament, it is natural to dread, that in process of time, an unequal and disproportionate burden may be laid on their estates and commerce, to lessen the burden on those of the imposers. Plead not, that the colonies being a part of the British empire, a British parliament will naturally consult their welfare, and take as tender a care of their concerns, as of any other part of it. That would be a good argument, if members of parliament, by their property in Britain, had not an interest distinct from, and sometimes opposite to that of the colonies. But as they have such a separate interest, it must strongly tempt them, in raising funds for the support of government, to prefer their own ease to that of the North Americans. The present parliament, however willing, can give no security, that the power of taxing shall not be thus abused, because no rules or limitations fixed by them, can restrain subsequent parliaments from suspending or altering these rules, when they judge it for the interest of the British empire, and from conducting themselves according to these new emergencies, which in their apprehensions may require new laws, new measures of government, and new plans of procedure in the exercise of their acknowledged powers…
            Tell me not, that it is certain, from the wealth and power of Great Britain, that she must prevail, and that her colonies are as yet too weak to give her any effectual opposition. That this is probable, I allow: that it is certain, no wise or modest man will venture to assert. However we exceed them in number, we would do well to remember, that the New Englanders, inured from their infancy to fatigue and hardship, though unable to face a British army in a fair and open field, may yet be the destruction of those, whose education was more soft and delicate, by harassing them with constant marches, and obliging them to be exposed to the open air in the most cold and tempestuous weather. Animated by a spirit of patriotism, or of revenge, one has chased a hundred, and two have put a thousand to flight. It was the brave New Englanders, that in 1745, projected the siege of Louisburg, carried it on with courage, prudence, and unwearied activity, looking up to God to prosper the cause in which they were embarked. Though most of them never before witnessed a siege, or even a battle with regular forces, yet they made themselves masters of that important fortress, and thereby furnished Britain, and her allies, with a price to purchase peace, after a most disastrous and unsuccessful war. This one article, I imagine, fully balances the account of the New England colonies with the mother country. Though some may pronounce it enthusiasm, I must add, that as the first planters of New England honored God, by leaving their estates, their friends, and their native country, that they might worship him, though in a wilderness, according to the dictates of their consciences, God has honored them and their posterity with distinguishing instances of his favor and protection; and often, when they were on the brink of ruin, has interposed in their behalf. When they were but a few men in number, yea, very few, and strangers in a wilderness; when by tyranny and persecution, they were driven from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people; God suffered no man to do them wrong, and reproved the numerous tribes of Indians for their sake. By unusual sickness and mortality, he drove out the heathen, and planted them, increased his people greatly, and made them stronger than their enemies…
            After all, it must be confessed probable, that B—n must prevail in this dispute with her colonies. But if she prevail by harsh and severe measures, may, if not sow among them seeds of animosity, which, when twenty or thirty years have added to their strength, may ripen into a general revolt. I would not entrust my garden to one, who new no way to make a tree flourish, but by lopping off the most fruitful branches. I would not entrust my horse, or my hounds, to the butcherly physician, who is fond of cutting off a limb, in cases where a gentler remedy might be as effectual. A severe chastisement may be justly inflicted, where it would be neither honorable nor expedient to inflict it. Fire and sword are as preposterous arguments to teach men allegiance, as to instruct them in religion. The taking off the heads of a faction by capital punishment, tends to inflame and enrage their deluded followers. The friends, the associates, the well-wishers of those who immediately suffer, conceive, cherish, and transmit to their posterity, a rooted aversion to the men, or to the country, which they consider as the faulty cause of their sufferings. A people thus roughly enraged, will soon find themselves a method: fury will in some cases supply the want of prudence, and mischief shall be done in an hour, which an age shall hardly repair. Through unexpected revolutions, bloody measures are often repaid with usury, on those who advised them, or who assisted in them. Men only restrained by fear, will cease to submit when they find it in their power to rebel, and will eagerly seize the first opportunity of bursting asunder their galling yoke. From the blood of every individual, who in the field of battle, or on a scaffold, falls in the American cause, new enemies to the mother country will spring up, and in process of time, some foreign power, prompted by hatred or envy to B—n, may assist them to throw off their allegiance. It is only gaining the heart, that destroys all inclination to revolt. No victories have such irresistible, happy, and abiding effects, as victories gained by clemency and condescension. Princes and states have been taught this by fatal experience, who would not be taught it by reason. The ten tribes would have remained faithful to the house of David, had Rehoboam hearkened to the counsel of the old men, to be a servant unto the people that day, and speak good words unto them that they might be his servants for ever, and to ease the heavy yoke his father had put upon them. The wholesome severities of the Duke of Alva, lost Spain the seven United Provinces; and probably King James II lived to be convinced, that the bloody western assizes, instead of establishing his authority, contributed to his ruin. It is to be presumed, from what has happened in similar cases, that if we give our colonies terms indeed for their interest, their allegiance will be faithful and perpetual: and if not, that they will renounce it, whenever they can. A small matter may now quench the spark, which, if suffered to kindle into a flame, may consume all our power and glory…
            Say not, that the North Americans are a forward, murmuring people, not to be satisfied. Where were their murmurs, before the unhappy Stamp Act? Where was the corner in his Majesty’s dominions, that open rebellion, or secret disaffection, had less disturbed; and where loyalty to the prince, and a zealous, I had almost said an enthusiastic attachment to the mother country, more universally prevailed? Did they ever dispute the right of the Crown to repeal laws enacted in the colonies, and to determine finally in appeals from their courts of justice; or the right of parliament to regulate their trade and manufactures, so as they deemed necessary for the general good of the British empire? Did they not quietly submit to prohibitions of carrying, to other nations, commodities that might enable them to interfere with the trade of the mother country; to prohibitions of manufacturing hats, iron, and steel; and to many other restraints, very prejudicial to their separate interests? What power of parliament have they ever questioned, unless the power of levying taxes, to raise a revenue for the support of government, in America? And shall we condemn them without mercy, for questioning the existence of a power, which, till a few years ago, never appeared? When were the brave and generous new Englanders backward, called or uncalled, to hazard their lives, and spend their treasure, for the honor and interest of Britain? Have you forgot their heroic, though unsuccessful expeditions against Canada; or their surprising conquest of Louisburg? What had Britain done for New England before that conquest, any way comparable to what New England then did for Britain? Have not the New England colonies, on different occasions, exerted themselves so much beyond their power, that a grateful prince and parliament have seen cause to refund them?
[John Erskine], Shall I Go To War With My American Brethren? (London: G. Kearsly, 1769), 1-4. 9-16, 19-22, 30-31.

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