The New York Times has been reprinting some of its coverage of the awesome Holy Week of 1865, when Lee surrendered on Palm Sunday and Lincoln died on Good Friday. Take a moment to read at least this passage from the April 11 Times 150 years ago:
The most capacious minds of Europe, schooled to the uttermost limit in all the wisdom of the past, called this war a madness. It was a madness, if estimated by any material standard. Eight millions of Anglo-Saxon rebels, compacted as one man, brave to the last pitch, inhabiting a country peculiarly defensible, having the encouragement of untiring faction beyond their bounds, and a moral alliance with nearly every Power in the Old World, according to all the ordinary rules of judging, would surely prevail. But we had a hidden strength which the world did not understand. It was Faith — a faith that first broke upon us with the first flash of Sumter’s guns, and that ever afterward went on widening and deepening. The people came to feel as by an inspiration from heaven, that the moral elements of the national cause made it irresistible. They were penetrated with the feeling, that as sure as there was an Almighty Father, He could not permit the success of a rebellion that was made only for the benefit of human slavery. It was this which carried them through the struggle. Ten times their physical strength would not have kept them up, in the absence of this sovereign faith. The race of Titans could not have maintained this war, if, too, they had been a race of atheists.
That religious faith is fitly followed now by a religious gratitude. It is wonderful to mark the solemn character of the joy that now spreads the land. There are waving flags, ringing bells, booming cannon, and other national tokens of public gladness. But yet it is plain to see that the dominant feeling of the people is no ebullient exhilaration over human achievement, but a profound sense of a Divine blessing. The popular heart relieves itself, not so much in cheers and hurrahs as in doxologies. Never since the hosannas of that Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, has such irrepressible praise rolled up from a city street to the pure vault of heaven as from the great thoroughfare of money-changers in New-York at the tidings that the rebel capital had fallen. Yet that was but the key-note of the universal anthem. The enemies of this republic may talk as they please of its materializing tendencies, may to their heart’s content stigmatize our people as worshipers of the “almighty dollar,” they but waste their breath. Business activities, strenuous as they are, have not stifled the religious sentiment of the American heart. This has been demonstrated in ways without number, but never so grandly as now.
The Times was right back in 1865: the blessings of heaven sustained America through the ordeal of the Civil War, and it was faith in Almighty God that gave the nation the strength, courage and grace to overcome the rebellion and bring slavery down. In today’s world, we need that faith more than ever. Faith won’t tell us which party to vote for, what the marginal tax rate should be, or give us clear answers to many of the other questions that divide us. But it can and will make us into the kind of people who can rise to the challenges of turbulent times.
We would feel much better about the state of our country today if our opinion leaders and media magnates were more conscious of our entire dependency on the providence and mercy of God for the many blessings that surround us. Let us hope and pray that the example of their predecessors will inspire today’s journalists to reflect more deeply on the mysteries of existence and discover or rediscover the transforming power of God in the life of individuals and nations alike.