Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Rev. John Joachim Zubly on Romans 13, Calvinism, and Slavery

The most interesting---and liberating---thing about the Protestant Reformation was that each man must read and interpret the Bible for himself. Sola scriptura, the Bible only. The extra words of men have no authority above the Word of God as each man reads it, not the Pope or the "Magisterium" or the "Church" or even fellow Protestants and their churches either.

Friend-of-the-blog Dr. Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, author of the new Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners, sends along an interesting excerpt from his upcoming book for the University Press of New England---about a Founding-era fellow who was apparently in agreement with contemporary Calvinist theologico-historians Rev. John F. McArthur and another friend-of-the-blog, Dr. Gregg Frazer.

Somedays, a "proper" Christian just can't win, but then again, The Bible never said that one will:

Approaching Savannah on February 6, 1778, at Zubly’s ferry by Purisburg, they were surprised to meet Rev. John Joachim Zubly and his son coming away from the city. Zubly had been Savannah’s most renowned preacher, a Presbyterian, and his pamphlets supporting the American cause were read not only in the colonies but also in England.

At the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 he had represented Georgia, arguing for moderation. He demanded representation in Parliament for the colonies, but he hoped for reconciliation rather than revolution.

In a sermon from 1775 to the Provincial Congress of Georgia (published as a tract in Philadelphia), Zubly preached that “A people that claim no more than their natural rights, in so doing, do nothing displeasing unto God; and the most powerful monarch that would deprive his subjects of the liberties of man, whatever may be his success, he must not expect the approbation of God, and in due time will be the abhorrence of all men.”[1]

Moreover, he proclaimed that the idea “that government and tyranny are the hereditary right of some, and that slavery and oppression are the original doom of others, is a doctrine that would reflect dishonor upon God; it is treason against all mankind.”

His audience heard a criticism of the king but did not interpret this as an inexorable call to free their slaves. Zubly wrestled with biblical attitudes towards established authority: “The Christian religion, while it commands due respect and obedience to superiors, nowhere requires a blind and unlimited obedience on the part of the subjects; nor does it vest any absolute and arbitrary power in the rulers.”

Then he remarked, “We should fain obey our superiors, and yet we cannot think of giving up our natural, our civil and religious rights, nor acquiesce in or contribute to render our fellow creatures or fellow citizens slaves and miserable.”

Once again, his listeners understood that as a Presbyterian he opposed the claims of the Church of England to privilege and established superiority, and that as a colonist he objected to laws and taxes unjustly imposed. But they were not inspired to free their slaves, no matter how repugnant Zubly thought participation in enslavement would be to their freedom-loving souls.

In contrast to human laws, “The law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19:7), Zubly quoted, and he repeated that “The Gospel is the law of liberty” – referring to James 2:12 (“So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”) No one, he thought, “can transgress [the law of the Lord] with impunity.” And as a Calvinist believing that the world and all its social hierarchy was predestined to be as it was, he could not avoid a literal application of Romans 13: 1-2 ( “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.”)

Zubly’s unavoidable conclusion was unpalatable to the rebels: “Never let us lose out of sight that our interest lies in a perpetual connection with our mother country.” According to Zubly, a Christian was not permitted to rebel against the king, nor could a faithful Christian “acquiesce in or contribute to render our fellow creatures or fellow citizens slaves.”

Zubly’s fellow citizens of Savannah, in rebellion against the king and not wanting to hear that slavery was sin, had that very day banished him and his son from Georgia and had confiscated Zubly’s property, including his library of over a thousand volumes. The books were eventually tossed into the Savannah River.
[1] This and the following quotations are from Zubly’s sermon before the Provincial Congress of Georgia, 1775 with the title, “The Law of Liberty.” The Law of Liberty. A Sermon on American Affairs, Preached at the Opening of the Provincial Congress of Georgia. Addressed to the Right Honourable The Earl of Dartmouth. With an Appendix, Giving a Concise Account of the Struggles of Swisserland [sic] to Recover their Liberty. By John J. Zubly. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by Henry Miller, 1775.


Jonathan Rowe said...


Mark David Hall said...

Zubly is an interesting person. I am sure they exist, but I have been able to find no other Congregationalist or Presbyterian minister who opposed the Patriot side in the War for Independence. And I have found none who were born in America (Zubly was from Switzerland).

If anyone know the names of other Reformed pastors who opposed the Patriots, I would love to hear them.

Mark Hall

Tom Van Dyke said...

Nice to hear from you, Dr. Hall. I've enjoyed your work tremendously [and am a fellow James Wilson fan].

I'll forward yr info request to Dr. Bangs.


Mark David Hall said...

Thanks for the kind words, Tom. I don't often post comments, but American Creation is the only blog I read with any regularity.



Tom Van Dyke said...

Aw, shucks, MDH. Do you read the comments sections? I've been wondering lately if I've been burying all the real gems down where nobody reads them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, I guess I have been.

MDH, Dr. Bangs' reply is that nobody comes to mind, but he'll keep an eye out for you.

Very interesting observation, BTW.