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It is our duty and our privilege to remember you continually in our prayers.
The Church of God is a Missionary Society, commanded by its Divine Head to preach the gospel to every creature, "beginning at Jerusalem," or with its neighbors and kindred according to the flesh; and if you were not bound to us by the dearest ties of nature we would still be under the strongest obligations to exert ourselves for your spiritual welfare.
The fact that you were raised up in our midst invests us with a responsibility for you at the Bar of Heaven; and to these considerations is to be added the important one that you are our kindred, bearing our names, and inseparably connected with all our earthly hopes and fears.
We, therefore, address you with the freedom of the most intimate and sacred friendship and with the earnestness and affection of christian love; and we feel sure that the object and source of this Letter will commend its contents to your most careful consideration.
You have left the comforts of home and are hazarding your lives for one of the most noble of worldly causes; and while this endears your memory to all the true friends of our country, it greatly enhances the interest and the anxiety of the christian in your behalf
While you are exposing yourselves for our common rights and interests, your countrymen at home are laboring for the subsistence and comfort of those in the tented field; and they are at the same time mindful of the manifold dangers which beset the soul as well as the body of the soldier.
The very importance and urgency of the cause in which you are enlisted increase the difficulties of your spiritual condition; and without farther introduction we will suggest at once, and
as briefly as possible, some considerations which we pray, that God would impress on your most serious attention.
We address ourselves first to all, to the members of the Church; and to those who have never made a profession of faith in Christ; and with a profound sense of our obligations to our Common Lord, we solemnly remind you that nothing will avail us in the eye of Heaven but repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
No species or amount of good works on our part will constitute a ransom for our souls; nothing but an interest in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, will entitle us to a pardon for our sins, and only the favor of the Holy Spirit can wash out the stains of guilt, and fit us for the Society of holy beings.
We are born in a state of depravity, and prone to actual sin; and we have the express authority of God for saying that unless we are born again, entirely, radically changed in our spiritual nature, we can never enter the kingdom of Heaven.
We may spend our time in devotion to the interests of our fellows, and offer our possessions and our lives a sacrifice for the public welfare--but while such a cause should win the gratitude of those concerned, it will not and cannot reconcile us to God, nor fit us for the enjoyment of Heaven.
We may do all this, and still be hostile in our hearts to our Maker; and we are opposed to Him, whatever we do or say, as long as we trust to any other means of salvation than that of His own appointment.
He has told us that Christ is the way the truth and the life, and that no man can come to the Father but by Him: that all who repent and believe on Him shall be saved, and that all who do not shall be damned.
He that hath Christ, hath God: He who denies the necessity of Christ's atonement opposes himself to the Almighty.
To believe in Christ is to have no faith in ourselves or in any of our own works--to know and feel that we are, in ourselves, sinful and helpless, to be broken and contrite in spirit, and to accept of life as the free and undeserved gift of God for Christ's sake alone.
These are simple but great Truths; and we state them now with the more earnestness from a knowledge of the proneness of our fallen nature to seize upon any pretext rather than
seek for salvation in that way which lies through the crucifixion of our self-esteem, and of our innate passions.
To follow Christ is to turn from men, and from all creature aid; to be in Him is to cast away all our own righteousness as filthy rags and to humbly receive of Him, and as His unbought and unmerited gift, all that can make us good or worthy in His sight. Let us then most kindly but solemnly entreat you to remember this; and never for one instant to harbor a hope of salvation from the character of the cause in which you may offer up your lives.
It is, in one sense, easier, far easier to enter the kingdom of Heaven, through the way of God's appointment, than by any other means; for we have not to travel to find the Saviour, we are required to bring no price of His favor in our hands, and called on to do nothing that is laborious or really afflictive to our bodies. It is, therefore, not a hardship if we give ourselves to lives of toil and privation for our Country, and dying in its defence, are lost forever; for God has fixed a way of escape from His wrath, always open to us, and if we choose to rely on another it will not alter the course of His immutable Justice.
This High-way of life is accessible to every class: it is so plain that none can miss it, and it runs by the mansions of the rich and the cottages of the poor, by the laborer in the field and by the soldier's tent.
And this brings us to a few suggestions which we would affectionately make to those whose names are recorded with ours on the books at Alamance as followers of a crucified Saviour.
We know, dear brethren, that you are now placed in the midst of great and severe temptations--but it is by the trial of your faith that its character is proved.
God will safely keep that which we have committed to His care; and He will, with every trial, furnish to all His true children a way of escape.
Fire consumes only the dross that may be mixed with pure gold--and trials will but test the Divine origin of our faith.
God does not permit us to lay aside His service in any place; and though we cannot in some situations devote ourselves to Him with the same time and means that we can in others, we can still, in all places, bear effectual testimony for His truth.
The real christian, in any part of the world, is a stranger and exile: he is always, while here, in the midst of the enemies
of His Master, exposed to persecutions for His sake, and assailed by temptations. This world is essentially opposed to him, and to his christian sympathies and affections; but he is kept here simply and solely to preach to his fellows, and to be a co-worker with God in the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom on earth. The christian element of society is its salt that preserves it from corruption; and this salt of the earth is scattered through it for beneficent purposes.
Wherever there is most moral corruption there is most need of this purifying element; and the christian, while kept in this world, serves the cause of Christ, if he only preserves the savor of his religion. He is, therefore, properly termed a witness for Christ; for while on earth he is always among the enemies of God, and if he merely lives up to his faith he convicts the world of lying in wickedness.
You need not deliver sermons or discourses in order to serve God where you are--nor is it necessary to call assemblies for devotional exercises, nor to dedicate whole days to this purpose. You may have no opportunities for public expositions of the truths of scripture, or no gift for leading in public exercises; but one thing you can do, and this will be an eloquent and effective sermon.
You can display the holy and saving character of your faith in your daily walk and conversation: you can, by the whole tenor of your lives admonish the world, convince the gainsayers, and win souls to Christ.
Suppose that a Confederate soldier should be taken prisoner, and carried to the country of our enemies and there detained: what would you think of his loyalty or patriotism if he should join in the popular denunciations of his own country and his own cause merely because such things were common?
In what estimation would you hold his moral courage and his fidelity if he should become ashamed of the very name of Confederate because it might be odious to the enemies of his cause among whom he was living, should lay aside his uniform, and wear that of the Federal army, and should join in rude jests at the expense of his country and people, and countenance if not take part in slanderous reports in regard to them?
Would you permit such a person to return to your ranks again? would you not disown him as a coward unworthy of our cause, as an enemy not to be trusted in our service?
And so, dear brethren, the fact that there is little religion among those with whom our lot is cast, renders it the more important for us to be jealous for that Great and Divine Cause to which we owe our highest allegiance.
We are soldiers of Jesus Christ, solemnly dedicated to His service; and if we be true and brave and loyal, the numbers and boldness of His enemies will only stir our spirits to more courageous and fervent strivings for the honor and interests of our glorious Kingdom.
We cannot be released, under any circumstances whatever, from our obligations to make the name of christian respected wherever we are--or at least to cause it to be identified with all that is pure, and honest and truthful.
If we live according to the precepts our Divine religion, we will do much for Christ; and the darker the region in which we are placed, the more important will be the light of our example. Christians are required to shine as lights in a wicked world; and in no place on earth can a follower of Christ effect more by his mere example than among those who are exposed to the temptations of a life in camp.
Such living illustrations of the power of godliness are the most convincing appeals to the conscience and judgment of your associates; and you thus have it in your power to serve your God and your country to more advantage than those who are less exposed to trials.
You may be the means of delivering your homes from the oppressions of a ruthless invader; and you may also, be instruments in the hands of God of rescuing the immortal souls of your brave companions in arms from eternal burnings.
Your position is one of severe hardships, but of corresponding privileges; and while you can make your names illustrious as the defenders of your country, you may, for turning many to righteousness, shine as the stars for ever and ever.
Behold the spiritual destitutions of many of the brave and generous men about you; and think of the immense importance to them of the line of conduct you pursue in your most responsible position as representatives of Christ on earth!
The idleness, cowardice or treachery of an army might cause the destruction of those inestimable rights for which you are contending; and the failure of one man, in an important post, might jeoperdize your lives and our liberties. Infinitely
worse consequences may flow from the example of professing christians in the camp; and each person, so situated, is occupying one of the most dangerous but honorable and responsible places in the service of God. Let us then entreat you to walk worthy of your high vocation; to remember with reverence the great and holy name by which you are called, and to maintain by your conversation and example the interests and honor of that Heavenly Kingdom in which your inheritance lies.
It should be ever borne in mind that the popularity of any vice does not render it the less sinful and pernicious; and the fact that an evil habit is generally tolerated by our acquaintances and fellows will not make it the less odious in the eyes of a Holy God.
The desertion of our cause by your comrades in arms will not shake the loyalty or lessen the ardor of any true patriot; and when professed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ fall away to the great Enemy, it only renders it the more important that his real servants be vigilant, sober and steadfast.
Permit us affectionately to admonish you to be careful how you yield to the insidious influence of general custom--to avoid indulgence in any species of oaths, and in habits of jesting in regard to sacred things, and to manifest on all occasions a becoming respect for every thing connected with religious matters.
Lose no opportunity of reading the Scriptures, converse freely with your fellow christians about the affairs of your souls and when it is possible, have meetings for prayer and the interchange of views on religious subjects; and never permit a day to pass without serious self-examination and private or secret devotions. Prayer is the christian's vital breath--and you can pray when on the march, when engaged on picket or sentinel duty, and in the very fiercest shock of battle.
Be examples of patient endurance in the discharge of duty, and of cheerful obedience to the commands of superiors and let your conversation and manners be such as become the servants of Jesus Christ, and your daily walk be a living illustration of the power of godliness
And what shall we say to you, dear friends, who have never yet professed a saving faith in Christ ?
Need we to remind you of the danger of your situation?--
Life is always uncertain--but oh! in how many ways may the brave soldier be speedily sent to the awful realities of eternity!
As your kindred and friends we grieve for the hardships of your position, and we listen with trembling interest for tidings of your condition.
It is painful to us to be separated from you even for a season, and we contemplate with constant anxiety the possibility of seeing you alive no more on earth: this is in itself a sufficient source of sad and tender interest to relations and neighbors, but with what keen agonies will their hearts be pierced if they hear of your fall without any well-grounded hope of meeting you in a better world?
We give you freely to our country's cause: we are ready to submit to separations in all time from the dear objects of our heart's affections, but oh! how can we bear the idea of parting with you forever?
We know that in peace or war we must all meet with trials, and that sooner or later each of us will pass from this scene of action; these certain afflictions we are prepared to meet, but we can never be ready to hear of your everlasting ruin!
Dear Friends, we may see your faces no more on earth--or if we do, it may be when you are to be laid in the old grave yard at Alamance. This may be our last communication to some of you in time; and with a full and solemn sense of the awful realities of your situation and of ours, we beseech you, in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God! Do not delay a moment: hasten, oh, hasten to secure an interest in that Atonement which God has made for the sins of all who come to Him through Christ. The interests of one soul are infinitely more important than the temperal affairs of all the nations on earth; and how sad it is to think that you will do and endure so much for to secure rights that are to last but for a season, and yet neglect your own eternal welfare!
In the name of your own best interests--in the name of that blessed Saviour whose sufferings for sin were infinitely greater than all the afflictions of all men, in every age, in the name of that Almighty and Righteous Judge who has commissioned His Church to proclaim that He has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, we entreat you to fly at once for refuge to the hope set forth in the gospel. God is ready to
hear your prayers at any place, and under any circumstances: you can send up your hearts in earnest supplications whatever may be your position and engagements, and Christ is as able and ready and willing to save you in the army as in the house dedicated to His service.
There is no formal method of prayer or worship prescribed, no difficult ceremonial rite by which you are to seek deliverance from the wrath to come: behold in Christ the open door to the kingdom of peace and righteousness.
You are now in the midst of war's rude alarms: but in the name of God we offer you peace, peace more full, satisfying and enduring than mere deliverance from the warfare of nations.
Christ has come and preached peace to all that are far off and to all that are near: peace of conscience, peace with God, peace of which men and devils cannot rob you, peace in time and peace in eternity.
Accept this free salvation and nothing can harm you: seek an interest in Christ, and wherever or however you fall, and wherever your mortal bodies repose, we can all be assured of a joyful meeting again at the ressurrection of the just!
If these are to be our last words to you in time, let us affectionately entreat you to prepare to meet God in peace: let this sentence continually sound in your ears and linger in your hearts, "behold the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!"
Assuring you all of our abiding interest in your welfare in time and eternity, we subscribe ourselves your friends and kinsmen. Signed, for the Church by
C. H. WILEY,
J. W. GILMER,
J. W. MCMURRY,
W. L. MILLER, Pastor elect.
March 15th, 1863.
Ingold & Clendenin, Printers: Greensboro N. C.