Sunday, May 29, 2011

I must pray...

This from William Phillips Tilden on the agonizing decision to support the American Civil War.
Deeply powerful...

"Autobiography of William Phillips Tilden

Never can I forget the intense excitement and deep solemnity of the day when the news of the attack on Fort Sumter first reached us. It was as if a wayward child had smitten its own mother on the cheek,—-nay, fired a bullet in her heart. Each felt the death-dealing missile as aimed at him. "Then you and I and all of us fell down, and bloody treason flourished over us." Over Main Street the stars and stripes waved slowly and solemnly as if heavy with the tears of a nation's grief. It seemed to me as if I never saw "our flag" till then. The insult offered to it gave it a new meaning and preciousness. As a disciple of Jesus, I had felt myself forbidden to fight even in self-defence. But here something far higher and greater than self was in peril. Not I, but my country, was assailed. I would not fight for my own life, for I would sooner lose that than take another's; but how about our national, or common mother's, life? That was the question now. I could not answer it at once. I had been a non-resistant for years. I could not change in a day. I must be silent, I must think, I must pray. I must go up into the mount alone, and ask counsel of Him who guides nations as well as individuals in paths they know not. All the week I was in mental agony. What should I say to my parishioners on the coming Sunday? The question was yet unanswered when I went into my pulpit, worn with anxious thought, and told them all my struggles. I just opened my heart to them, and let them see how it was torn by conflicting ideas and emotions. My anti-slavery convictions had not been deeper than my anti-war convictions; but here was no question of self-defence, but the defence of great national principles, involving the liberty and highest welfare of millions of people. I must wait till I could adjust myself to the new conditions.
The people received the sermon kindly, for they knew I was honest; and I think they respected me none the less for not being hasty in changing the conviction of years. I did not have to wait long. A new sense of the value and necessity of a just government broke upon me, until I saw clearly that, when our national life was assailed with brutal violence, and especially for the purpose of perpetuating sectional slavery and making it national, violence must be met by violence, or the republic would fall, and Senator Toombs would carry out his threat of "calling the roll of his slaves in the shadow of Bunker Hill monument"
I came to this conviction, which seems so plain to those who had never thought otherwise, only through great tribulation and anguish of spirit. It seemed like going down from some serene mountain height into the valley of the shadow of death. But it was there the great and final battle with slavery was to be fought; and as I heard the bugle-call, and saw our truest and bravest men fall into line, and leave all for the great conflict, not in defence of self, but in defence of national honor and life, I felt that it was right, and that a God of justice would not suffer our cause to fail.
But I was spoiled for the war. I could not enter into it with any heart. I had served too many years under another banner to become enthusiastic. I bowed to the stern necessity, and read the lesson so difficult to learn,— that God has many ways of accomplishing his purposes, and may in great national crises be as truly served on the battle-field as in the house of prayer"


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