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Sunderland to Reed, 15 November 1872

Washington City, Nov. 15th, 1872.

Rev. Jas. A. Reed:

Dear Bro.—It was in the last days of 1862, about the time Mr. Lincoln was seriously contemplating the issuing of the Emancipation proclamation, that I, in company with some friends of the President, called upon him. After some conversation, in which he seemed disposed to have his joke and fun, he settled down to a serious consideration of the subject before his mini!, and for one half-hour poured forth a volume of the deepest Christian philosophy I ever heard. He began by saying—

"The ways of God are mysterious and profound beyond all comprehension—'who by searching can find Him out?' Now, judging after the manner of men, taking counsel of our sympathies and feelings, if it had been left to us to determine it, we would have had no war. And going further back to the occasion of it, we would have had no slavery. And tracing it still further back, we would have had no evil. There is the mystery of the universe which no man can solve, and it is at that point that the human understanding utterly backs down. And then there is nothing left but for the heart of man to take up faith and believe and trust where it cannot reason. Now, I believe we are all agents and instruments of Divine providence. On both sides we are working out the will of God; yet how strange the spectacle! Here is one hall the nation prostrated in prayer that God will help them to destroy the Union and build up a government upon the corner-stone of human bondage. And here is the other half equally earnest in their prayers and efforts to defeat a purpose which they regard as so repugnant to their ideas of human nature and the rights of society, as well as liberty and independence. They want slavery; we want freedom. They want a servile class; we want to make equality practical as far as possible. And they are Christians, and we are Christians. They and we are praying and fighting for results exactly the opposite. What must God think of such a posture of affairs? There is but one solution—self-deception. Somewhere there is a fearful heresy in our religion, and I cannot think it lies in the love of liberty and in the aspirations of the human soul.

"What I am to do in the present emergency time will determine. I hold myself in my present position and with the authority vested in me as an instrument of Providence. I have my own views and purposes. I have my convictions of duly, and my notions of what is right to be done. But I am conscious every moment that all I am and all I have is subject to the control of a Higher Power, and that Power can use me or not use me in any manner, and at any time, as in His wisdom and might may be pleasing to Him.

"Nevertheless, I am no fatalist. I believe in the supremacy of the human conscience, and that men are responsible beings; that God has a right to hold them, and will hold them, to a strict personal account for the deeds done m the body. But, sirs, I do not mean to give you a lecture upon the doctrines of the Christian religion. These are simply with me the convictions and realities of great and vital truths, the power and demonstration of which I see now in the light of this our national struggle as I have never seen before. God only knows the issue of this business. He has destroyed nations from the map of history for their sins. Nevertheless my hopes prevail generally above my fears for our own Republic. The times are dark, the spirits of ruin are abroad in all their power, and the mercy of God alone can save us."

So did the President discourse until we felt we were imposing on his time, and rising we took our leave of him, confident that he would be true to those convictions of right and duty which were derived from so deep a Christian philosophy.

Yours truly, Byron Sunderland.

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