Some eighteen years before his decease, Dr. William Swan Plumer was caught up in a controversy—a conflict between his convictions and his situation in a Northern church, in the midst of the Civil War. Plumer was attempting to maintain the doctrine of the spirituality of the church, and it apparently did not set well with some of his congregation. The following article describes the situation, though you will note that the editor, at the end, had to add his viewpoint.
As a result of the controversy, Plumer resigned his pulpit and his chair of theology at Western Theological Seminary. He moved to Philadelphia, where he served as Stated Supply of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church and prepared books for publication. In 1865 he was installed as the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The following year he was called to Columbia Theological Seminary to fill Dr. Thornwell’s chair. There he spent the remainder of his life teaching, writing, and preaching.
To read Dr. Plumer’s farewell letter to the congregation of Central Presbyterian Church, click here.
[HT: Rev. Caleb Cangelosi]
Some two or three months since, a serious difficulty arose in the congregation in Allegheny, Pa., under the ministry of Dr. Plumer, resulting from his alleged want of sympathy with Lincoln’s war policy. He was requested by some of his members to pray for the success of the Federal arms; but he declined, alleging that the whole question of the war, its causes and results, was a political matter, with which the ministers of God had nothing to do, and that he did not feel justified in alluding to the subject at all in his petitions. He was further firm in the belief that no number of battles or victories could bring about an honorable peace, and he could not, consequently, ask God to give our arms success or unite in thanksgiving for the same.
This refusal led to a church meeting, in which the whole subject was discussed at length. Resolutions were introduced deploring the existence of the war and maintaining it as the duty of all good Christians to sustain our Government in putting down rebellion, and securing the proper punishment of traitors and rebels. It was further requested that, in leading the devotions of the congregation, the pastor should manifest full sympathy with the sentiments of his congregation, and give them utterance at the Throne of Grace. An earnest discussion followed, and after a warm debate the resolutions were laid aside and the following “substitute” adopted :