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Chapter 13: results of the work and proofs of its genuineness

From the minutes of our Chaplains' Association (now in my possession, by the kind courtesy of the accomplished secretary and chaplain, Rev. L. C. Vass), the estimate of other chaplains and missionaries in position to know, and a very careful compilation of facts and figures from files of religious newspapers, and hundreds of letters and narratives from chaplains, missionaries, and colporters, I make the following estimate of the number of men in the Army of Northern Virginia who professed faith in Christ during the four years of its existence. During the fall and winter of 1862-63, and spring of 1863, there were at least 1,500 professions. From August, 1863, to the 1st of January, 1864, at least 5,000 found peace in believing. From January, 1864, to the opening of the Wilderness campaign, at least 2,000 more were added to this number. And from May, 1864, to April, 1865, it is a low estimate to put the number of converts at 4,000.

Add to these figures at least 2,500 who, during the war, found Jesus in the hospitals, at home, or in Northern prisons (for Christ was in the prisons, and there were some precious revivals at Point Lookout, Fort Delaware, Elmira, Johnson's Island, and other points), and we have a grand total of at least 15,000 soldiers of Lee's army who professed faith in Jesus during the four years of the war.

Rev. Dr. Bennett (‘Great Revival in the Southern Armies,’ page 413) makes the following estimate of the number of conversions in all of the Confederate armies:

‘Up to January, 1865, it was estimated that nearly one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers had been converted during the progress of the war, and it was believed that fully one-third of all the soldiers in the field were praying men, and members of some branch of the Christian Church. A large proportion of the higher officers were men of faith and prayer, and many others, though not professedly [391] religious, were moral and respectful to all the religious services, and confessed the value of the revival in promoting the efficiency of the army.’

If these figures are correct, then the estimate for Lee's army ought to be increased to at least 50,000, as fully one-third of the converts were in that army. I am fully satisfied that my own estimate is too low (there were, of course, many professions of conversion which were never reported at all, but ‘whose record is on high,’) but I have been very anxious in all of the statements I have made about this great work not to exaggerate in the least, and I have, therefore, preferred to underestimate rather than to risk overestimating these grand results.

What a noble band of recruits for the army of the Lord! Was not ‘Christ in the camp’ a vital, real power; and was not our camp indeed ‘a school of Christ?’

But figures cannot, of course, give a tithe of the results of a great revival. The bringing back of backsliders, the quickening of the zeal, and faith, and general consecration of God's people, the comfort, the joy, the peace, the strength for hardships, privations, sufferings, trials, temptations—these cannot be counted, but are really of far more value than mere numbers of professed converts. Add to all this, the joy and gladness which these revivals carried to ‘loved ones at home’ who were wont to spend sleepless nights thinking of, and praying for the soldier boy at the front, and the reflex influence upon the Churches, many of which were blessed with great revivals, directly traceable to our army work, and eternity alone will be able to estimate the glorious results of these army revivals.

But I will be asked—have been asked—‘Was this a genuine and permanent work of grace? Was it not a mere animal excitement produced by the dangers to which the men were exposed, and liable to pass off when those dangers were removed? Are not the accounts of this army work exaggerated? Was not there an abounding wickedness in the army, even to the close of the war?’

Most certainly there was. I have been very unfortunate if, in endeavoring to portray vividly the power of religion in Lee's army, I have been understood as representing that the millennium dawned upon us, or that wickedness and vice were entirely banished from our camps. Far from it.

It was not uncommon, even during our most powerful revivals, [392] to see a party playing cards not far from where the preacher stood, and to hear the profane oath or the vulgar jest as you came from the place of prayer, and visitors would be, naturally, greatly shocked at this state of things.

But I suspect that during the most powerful revivals in our towns and cities, now, precisely the same state of things constantly exists, only green blinds or stained glass hide the view, and church walls obstruct the sound. In the camps all was open, and could be seen and heard.

There is no doubt that many of the professions of religion in the army were spurious. This has been true in every revival— from the days of Judas Iscariot and Simon Magus—and it was not to be expected that our army work would prove an exception.

And yet I do not hesitate to affirm—and think that I can abundantly prove—that the revivals in our camps were as genuine works of grace as any that occur in our churches at home— that as large a proportion of the converts proved the reality of their professions as in any revivals which the world ever saw. I content myself with this calm statement, though I believe that the facts would justify my putting it much more strongly.

The very material of which our congregations were composed was a safeguard against undue animal excitement in the meetings.

We had not women and children, but men to deal with—men who were accustomed to go into the ‘leaden and iron hail of battle,’ and to face death every day, and who could not have been ‘scared into religion,’ even if the preachers had tried to do so.

Besides, there were ministers of every denomination and of different temperaments co-operating together, and if one were disposed to get up any undue excitement, or to use improper ‘machinery,’ another would have restrained him.

The Old School Synod of Virginia, in its ‘Narrative of the State of Religion,’ says: ‘The history of the world and of the Church presents few things more extraordinary than the work of God in the army. An army has generally been considered a school of vice. It is the very profession of a soldier to kill and destroy. How can the sensibilities fail to be hardened, and the moral perceptions to be blunted? Removed from the happy influences of the Church, and from the refining, sustaining, elevating [393] society of wife, mother, sister, at home; living a life now of great excitement, and now of dangerous leisure, the soldier, it was supposed, had little chance of being saved. It was fully as much as could be reasonably expected, if those who professed the name of Christ did not fall away, and make shipwreck of their profession. But the extraordinary spectacle is now presented to us, of an army in which there is more zeal, apparently, for God and the salvation of sinners, than there is in the Church at home. Making all due allowance for unconscious exaggeration in the statements which come to us, and discounting not a few cases of spurious conversions, there can be no doubt that the valley of Achor has become a door of hope to our brethren in the field, and that a very large number of them have been turned unto God.’

The Southern Baptist Convention, at its session for 1863, adopted the following resolutions:

Resolved, That it is the sense of this body, that the field opened in the army for pious labor is one of the most important that can be opened at present; and that the providence of God calls loudly on His people to make prompt and vigorous efforts to secure the services of chaplains, and to send forth missionaries and colporters into the field.

Resolved, That the pastors of our churches be, and are hereby, earnestly requested to bring this subject prominently and frequently to the attention of their people; and also the duty of constant supplication of the Divine blessing upon such labors among our soldiers, that we may be obedient to the sacred command, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.”

The Virginia Baptist General Association, the Virginia Methodist Conference, the Virginia Episcopal Council, and other religious bodies bore testimony even more emphatic, and I might quote from some of the most distinguished ministers of all of the evangelical denominations as to the extent, power and genuineness of this great work.

Rev. B. T. Lacy, missionary chaplain in Jackson's Corps, in an address before his Synod, said, in speaking of the genuineness of the revival work in the army:

‘In this matter there is one safeguard in the camp. They are all grown men; even the sick are away in the hospitals. Most of the elements are absent upon which mere enthusiasm operates. [394] He was satisfied the ordinary evil results from religious excitements are less in the army than at home.’

Rev. Dr. Theodorick Pryor, of the Presbyterian Church, who labored in the army with great ability and a burning zeal which younger men might covet, thus gives his impressions of the work:

‘Whilst with the army (a period of about two years) my impressions were most favorable as to the influence and effect of religious truth. It appeared to me that during a career of ministerial experience extending through thirty-four years I had never witnessed more precious seasons of grace, or more signal displays of Divine mercy, than it was my privilege to witness in the army. . . . Never before was it my privilege to preach to as large congregations, or to congregations more respectful in deportment, more serious, and upon whom the truth of God seemed to have more marked power and effect.’

I might quote pages of testimony to the same effect from leading representatives of all of the evangelical denominations.

But, after all, the best evidence of the genuineness of the revival is to be found in the after lives of professed Christians, and of the young converts.

That revival which does not result in more consecration on the part of Christians, and a ‘godly walk and conversation’ on the part of the new converts, is not worth calling a revival.

I might cite hundreds of cases that came under my own observation where lukewarm, careless Christians were stirred up to their duty, and made more zealous and efficient workers for Christ than ever before.

I recall the case of a young lawyer who had borne an outwardly consistent character since he had united with the Church some years before the war, but who (although a ready speaker at the bar or on the hustings) could never be induced to lead a prayer-meeting, open a Sunday-school, or conduct family worship—fluent and eloquent for client or party, but dumb when asked to speak for Christ.

For some time after joining the army his chaplain urged him in vain to take an active part in the meetings. But after his heart was touched by the power of one of the revivals, and just after a great battle, he came to the chaplain and said: ‘I wish you would call on me to lead in prayer at the meeting to-night. I have been persuading myself that it was not my duty, but I [395] have been recently led to think that I might be wrong, and as I saw my men fall around me to-day (he was captain of one of the companies) I was made to feel keenly that I had not exerted over them the influence which I ought to have done, and to register a solemn vow that if God would spare me I would be more faithful in the future.’

He became henceforth one of the most active, useful Christian officers in the army, was spared through the war, and is to-day one of the most efficient laymen in Virginia.

I recall a captain from one of the Southern States who became one of the leading workers in his brigade, and who since the war has been one of the most actively useful and one of the most liberal contributors to every good object of all of the laymen in his State. And yet I learn he was of so little account to his Church, so careless in meeting his Church duties, before he entered the army, that the Church was thinking seriously of excluding him from her fellowship.

The Southern Presbyterian gives the following concerning Colonel Lewis Minor Coleman, of whom I have already had an extended notice.

The following statement by the Richmond correspondent of the Christian Index is only one instance of what may be many times repeated, if we but have faith in God and do not stint our prayers. Out of the army and from the bloody battle-field God will raise up faithful servants and able preachers of the precious Gospel.

This recalls a fact of which I had designed to speak some time since. The Christian character of Lieutenant-Colonel L. M. Coleman, formerly professor of Latin in the University of Virginia, was wonderfully developed by the war. Before going into the field, notwithstanding his rare mental gifts, he was undemonstrative and retiring in religious matters, shrinking even from public prayer, and scarcely, if ever, rising to the boldness of an exhortation. But thrown among his men, under circumstances which would have left them without the means of grace if he had not broken the thrall of this silence, he rose to the height of the occasion; and in the camp, on the march, whatever the weather, he was found at reveille in front of his company, with eloquent prayer invoking the blessing and aid of Almighty God on them and their undertaking. He became a minister in everything except the accidents of the office—licensure and ordination—and [396] he had decided, if his life were spared until the return of peace, to take his place among the ‘legates of the skies’ in the Baptist pulpit. Here, then, was one educated by the Holy Spirit, for the ministry, in the school of this war. Why may we not look with hopeful eyes to the army, therefore, as a sphere of triumph for the Gospel, where believers may be edified in the faith, and faith, the gift of God, may be imparted to sinners?

General C. A. Evans, of Georgia (the gallant and accomplished soldier who succeeded General Gordon in his brigade and then in his division), was a leading lawyer before the war, but became very active as a Christian in the army, and was gradually led to decide that he would become a preacher of the Gospel if spared to see the close of the war.

When on a visit to Athens, Georgia, in 1869, it was my privilege to find him pastor of the Methodist Church there, to fill his pulpit, to renew at his hospitable board the Christian friendship formed in the camp, and to learn from him that three others of his military family had consecrated themselves to the work of preaching the Gospel. General Evans is now one of the leading preachers in his Church.

There were reported at one of our chaplains' meetings twenty soldiers—from the rank of colonel down—who had determined to preach. I received from our colleges and theological seminaries in 1866 some very striking statistics as to the large number of soldiers who were entering the ministry—and I have strong reasons for the statement that a very large proportion of our evangelical preachers, under sixty and over thirty-five, at the South, learned in the army to ‘endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.’

And certainly a very large proportion of our most efficient church-members within the past twenty years have been those who found ‘Christ in the camp,’ or had the pure gold of their Christian character refined and purified by the fiery trials through which they were called to pass.

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