Georgetown, Ky., November 28,1861.
BROTHER BEEBE: - I believe that today has been set apart by twelve or fifteen of the Governors of this Government as a day of thanksgiving and prayer. I desire not to indulge myself in an unbecoming censoriousness or an unjustifiable fault-finding disposition in relation to the appointments and exercises of the day, but one thing is certain, and that is, that "the preparations of the heart in man and the answer of the tongue is from the Lord;" and another thing is equally certain, which is, that where that preparation is lacking the requisitions of the civil magistracy will never supply the deficiency. And, as it is impossible to please God without that faith, which is his gift and a fruit of the Spirit, all the outward forms and words of the professed worship of God, in the absence of that gift, is but solemn mockery, a delusive counterfeit; and however well that counterfeit may be executed, it is none the better, unless that it is better calculated to deceive the simple. When the time drew near for the commencement of the appointed service in our town it was made musical with the chiming of bells, twirling notes of the fife and the rambling roll of the drum in annunciation of the occasion. I had learned in the morning that a sermon was to be delivered at the Methodist Church to the "Home Guards," a military company in this place; and soon the martial procession was seen wending its way to the place of worship, with fife playing, drum beating, banner flying and muskets shouldered, with bristling bayonets "pointing heavenward." Inside, a majestically imposing looking "Rev. Gentleman," with sanctified appearance, occupied the "sacred desk;" and the soldiers, after placing the flagstaff beside the sanctum, clad in martial uniform, took their seats on his right hand and on his left hand. The well arranged "prayer" of the operator, as well as his lecture during the service, would seem to prove to all competent judges that he was one of the "wise and prudent" ones of the earth. While he was addressing the "solemn audience" one of the militant officials walked along the aisle with sword upon his thigh, as though he "went forth conquering and to conquer." I felt solemn while gazing upon the wild contrast before me. There stood the professed minister of the mild, gentle Lamb of God, with the sacred oracles that proclaim "peace on earth and good will toward men" before his eyes. On his right hand and on his left were arrayed the representations of war on earth and ill will toward men, and that ill will so exasperated as to call to its aid the deadliest weapons to do the dreadful work of carnage. Recorded upon that hallowed register is found the language of the Prince of Peace, "I came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them." On either side of the minister the representation would seem to suggest, "We come not to save men's lives, but to destroy them!" In the centre it is said, Put up thy sword; they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. On either side it is exhibited, Draw out the sword; we that take the sword must cause others to perish with the sword. There it is written, "Our weapons are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong-holds." On either side it is portrayed, Our weapons are carnal, but mighty through men to the building of strong-holds. There it is said, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you." On the right and on the left the signs would say, Hate your enemies, curse and destroy them that offend you, do evil and deal destruction to them that hate you, and instead of praying for them that despitefully use you, give them the contents of your muskets, the points of the daggers on their muzzles and bathe your swords in their blood. Thus we might pursue the contrast almost ad infinitum, for there in a professed house of worship was the Bible, representing Christ with the messages of life, peace and joy; and there, too, in the same house, were specimens of this sin-stricken world with the missiles of death, war and mourning. But let this suffice for the contrast for the present. The reader is not to suppose that the writer of this article would intimate that men should under no circumstances take up arms for the defense of their lawful rights, or that he would by any means deprive those who bear arms from attending to and enjoying their religious privileges. But why all this hostile array while professing to worship the God of Peace? Why those instruments of cruelty where the God of mercy should be adored, as though it was necessary to mingle human blood with the sacrifices? But I am glad that it was not an Old School Baptist demonstration. The church of Christ has no use for the weapons of death in their houses when she approaches the throne of grace. She hopes there to obtain mercy and find grace (not muskets and swords,) to help in time of need.
Dear brethren, let us not wait for an annual requisition of civil magistrates to call out our thanksgiving and prayers to the God of providence and grace once in three hundred and sixty-five days! Every day should be a day of thanksgiving and prayer with those who are born of God, who know our Lord and Savior, whom to know is life eternal. No day is a day of acceptable thanksgiving and prayer with those who know him not, though called to the formal observance of it by the Governor or President. Surely, my brethren, we are bound to give thanks always to God for mercies extended to us, blessings received and privileges enjoyed; and most assuredly it is our happy privilege to pray without ceasing for the perpetuation of those mercies, blessings and immunities. We should remember, too, that we are dependent upon the Lord for the true spirit of prayer; and also that we are often led by our carnal nature to ask, and receive not, because we ask amiss; and that it is often the case with us that we know not how to pray as we ought, but should rejoice that the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered; and that, too, according to the will of God. But, further, while we appreciate the privilege and are sensible that this is a time that should call us to the throne of grace to pour out our thanks and prayers to the Lord for his favors, we should recollect, too, that it is a day of deep humiliation; that our sins have brought upon us the sore evils under which we mourn, the sad desolations that meet our eyes, and the reports of which cause our ears to tingle. Should not this consideration humble us before God and urge us to deep and hearty repentance in dust and ashes? My dear brethren, are we thus repenting for our sins? Can we? If not, let us humbly call upon the Lord to give us hearts of repentance. But, above all, let us endeavor to forsake our sins, for it may be that we are all more or less guilty. Let us strictly scrutinize our every word and every act. Have we said any word, done any deed to engender the strife, and bring about the desolations that afflict us? Let us speak and act thus no more. Shall we, can we bear to add fuel to the flames that are so terribly consuming all our earthly enjoyments? How appalling the scenes that surround us! The son stands ready to hurl the shaft of death at his father, his brother, and even at his own son. The dearest ties of consanguinity are relentlessly torn away, and fraternity, in many instances, has yielded the empire of the heart to an unnatural malignity. Who can look upon the heart-rending scenes that surround us without feeling some of the emotions of the prophet Jeremiah when he plaintively cried out, "O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people."
O, my brethren, while we mourn for the dissolution of those natural ties that bind father to son, son to father, and brother to brother, let us give thanks unto the Father of mercies that he has united the saints to each other and to him in more enduring bonds. But, alas! were it possible for our carnal nature to sever and destroy them, they too would soon give way. We have seen them tried, racked and wrenched to the utmost tension to which carnal nature could expose them. Have not some of us been made to forbear and strive and pray that their perpetuity might be preserved when our brother has seemed determined to destroy them? The fleshly passions appear at times to insinuate themselves between the affections that should bind us together until they become so callous that we are almost insensible of their force. But, thanks to the Lord, where those heavenly bonds have once existed, though smothered for a time by the fogs and mists of passion that conceal and render them dormant, their Author will revive them, and we shall feel all their force renewed and increased, if not in this weary wilderness of sin, in that brighter, higher, holier, happier clime.
"There bound by those eternal ties,
We all shall see the top-stone rise,
And grace shall crown the song.
No more the dreadful tyrant's art,
The flesh shall vex no more;
Pure love and peace shall bind each heart,
In bonds forever sure."
The works of discord, contention and confusion are conjoined with and constitute a part of our carnal nature. May we then, dear brethren, be prepared to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, and "live to him who died for us and rose again." Let each one of us endeavor not to mar the work of peace or hinder the exercise of love. We look around us, and see with heart-felt grief that the sweet angel of peace has spread her wings and flown from our once happy and prosperous, but now distracted and afflicted country. Shall she be driven, too, from the abodes of the saints? O God, forbid. What a sad scene must inevitably follow her exit! May we endeavor brethren, to cultivate and court her stay in our midst. Shall the church of God, around which clings our last lingering hope of peace on earth and good will towards men, strive to urge from her embrace the heaven-given messenger, to mourn over the loss and repent in sable sackcloth and ashes? No, never, never! While Jesus, the author of peace and love, lives, as a few gleaning grapes and berries were to be left in the former vine and olive, (Isa. xvii. 6) so shall a residue of the fruits of the Spirit be left with the few that find the strait gate and the narrow way. If the ties of flesh and blood relationship must be snapped asunder, if our enemies are to be those of our own household, may we not disturb the work of brotherly love. A precious sister lately, when nearing the portals of her final rest, observed to a brother, "I wish that brotherly love could continue more." When her earthly career was fast hastening to a close, when she had but little more to see, or know, or wish for beneath the sun, and when she was about to enter into the plenitude of its enjoyment in a happier sphere, she forget not her relatives in Jesus here below, but sent up one of her last petitions for the perpetuity of brotherly love. O, that blessed principle, brotherly love! We too, like her, must soon leave these mortal shores. Our earthly preferences and perplexities must soon be laid aside. What then, will be their value when compared with that eternally enduring principle of brotherly love? If no earthly ties or earthly interests are sufficient to bind us together, let us cling to our dear brethren and sisters in the Lord. May we enfold and hold them in the arms of our christian affections with an undying embrace, until it shall please our God and Father to gather us to our blissful home in one bundle of eternal life, love and peace, where we shall realize all the force of that eternal bond of union, where the lovely cords shall never more be tried by the torturing touch of our depraved nature or by time's blighting influences, but where peace shall flow like a river, love abound as a wide-spread ocean, and joyful songs of harmony and concord regale the saints in ultimate glory forever and forever.
That grace, mercy, love and peace may abound in the household of faith is the sincere desire of your brother in the midst of trials,
J. F. JOHNSON.