Side by side with the conviction of our freedom and responsibility there goes the evidence of something, or Some One, beyond our own life and its choices. In the great railroad stations you can see a metallic pencil come out and write in huge characters on the wall the time of the arrival or departure of the trains. The metallic pencil seems to write of itself; but we know that, hidden in an office somewhere, the mind and hand of a man are operating the pencil. So in our own life we note our own deliberations and choices and decisions, and yet in the fabric of our destiny there seems to be other strands—strands not of our own weaving.
Contrary to the opinion of those who held that Abraham Lincoln was fortunate in his death, Horace Greeley thought him most inapt for the leadership of a people involved in a great struggle for self-preservation but that few men were better fitted to guide a nation's destinies in time of peace.
Greeley says: "I sat just behind him as he read his inaugural on a bright, warm, still March day, expecting to hear its delivery arrested by the crack of a rifle aimed at his heart. But it pleased God to postpone the deed, though there was forty times the reason for shooting him in 1860 that there was in 1865, and at least forty times as many intent on killing him or having him killed. No shot was then fired, however, for his hour had not yet come."
In that sentence, "His hour had not yet come," Horace Greeley gives us his philosophy of history. Lincoln was not assassinated in 1861, because his hour had not yet come.
In the first book of Samuel we have a curious, and in some respects a very extraordinary, story of how the people of a nation and of a city made an experiment to see whether or not God was in their national life and in the disasters that had befallen them. The Israelites had been defeated in a great battle into which they had taken the Ark of the Covenant with the hope that its presence would insure victory over the Philistines. But in the battle the army of Israel was beaten and the Ark was carried off in triumph by the victorious Philistines.
But wherever the Philistines took it or set it up, in the Temple of Dagon or elsewhere, the presence of the Ark was accompanied by grievous disasters and plagues. The leaders resolved to get rid of the Ark, but in doing so they determined to ascertain, if possible, whether the disasters which had fallen upon them had anything to do with the Ark of Israel and Israel's God. This was the plan they devised: The Ark was placed on a cart to which were hitched two cows whose calves were in the stalls. The cows were started along the road northward leading in the direction of Israel. If, obedient to the strong, maternal instinct of all animals, the cows turned backward toward their offspring, the conclusion would be that the misfortunes which had fallen upon the Philistines just happened by chance and that there was nothing really dangerous about the Ark. But if, on the other hand, going contrary to their natural instincts, the cattle went on northward, disregarding the calls of their offspring, the conclusion would be that what had happened to the Philistines in connection with the Ark was a judgment of God.
The whole population turned out to watch the experiment and to see what would happen. Instead of turning around to go back to the stalls where their calves were, the cows went lowing along the highway straight in the direction of Israel. The Philistines knew that what had had happened to them was not chance but the judgment of God.
In his anxiety to know whether or not he had faith, John Bunyan was tempted to work a miracle; and one day between Elstow and Bedford he was about to lay to the puddles that were in the horse path, "Be dry," and to the dry places, 'Be you puddles." If he had faith he ought to be able to work miracles. But just as he was about to speak, this thought came into his mind: "Go under yonder hedge and pray first that God would make you able." When he had prayed he concluded that he had better not try the experiment, because if he failed he would have to look upon himself as a castaway. "Nay," thought he, "if it be so, I will not try yet, but will stay a little longer."
This incident reminds one of what Rousseau says in his Confessions about his anxiety concerning election. He determined to decide the matter as to whether or not he was of the elect by throwing an apple at a tree. If he missed, he was doomed to be lost. If he hit the tree, he was of the elect. He tells us that he hit the tree—but confesses that he had chosen a tree of considerable diameter!
John Burroughs, the famous naturalist, said of predestination: "It was an iron-clad faith, and it stood the wear and tear of life well."
This generation is too light and frivolous for such a heroic creed; the sons of the old members are not men enough to stand up under the moral weight of Calvinism and predestination.
When the ship on which Paul was traveling to Rome was nearing the rocks off Malta, the seamen, under cover of paying out the anchors, were lowering the boats, intending to desert the ship. Without their help the necessary subsequent navigation of the ship was impossible, and Paul said to the centurion, "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved" (Acts 27:31). With that the soldiers drew out their swords and cut the ropes which held the boats. Yet only a little while before the angel had definitely informed Paul that everybody on board would be saved. Paul believed that, but his belief did not make him so great a fool as to neglect the ordinary precautions in a shipwreck. The decree of God was that the ship's company should be saved, and the decree took in the free and courageous and skillful activity of the seamen. Their freedom and responsibility were not curtailed by God's decree.