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Chapter 34

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Woodrow Wilson

Josephus Daniels

in the
Greenwood Press edition,
New York, 1971

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 36
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p358  Chapter XXXV
Spiritual Satisfaction

To the Christian man "old age brings higher hope and serene maturity" — The quest of life is "satisfaction" — Found in spiritual air — "Rather he was Ruling Elder than President," said his father

"Our civilization cannot survive materially unless it be redeemed spiritually." — Wilson

"I do not understand how any man can approach the discharge of the duties of life without faith in The Lord Jesus Christ."

That public confession of faith was made by Woodrow Wilson in a very unusual place. On a visit to Raleigh, N. C., in February, 1919, he had been invited to make the address presenting a portrait of Stonewall Jackson to the Capital Club. The beauty and chivalry of the city were gathered for the annual ball. Preceding the dance, Mr. Wilson spoke briefly on Stonewall Jackson. He dwelt little upon his military achievements, which he said were too well known to need his commendation. It was of Jackson, the Christian, whose faith in God was the dominant force in his life. Then he added his own confession. Solemn pause and impressiveness fell on that company. There was no thought of gayety until Mr. Wilson and party withdrew. The incident lingers still in the memory most those privileged to have heard a statement of that character in so unusual a place.

Mr. Wilson's reticence in speaking of the things that  p359 he held dearest was an inheritance from his father. He once related this incident to some friends: "One time my father was attending a religious meeting when other ministers were relating their religious experience. My father did not join. A minister, turning to him, said: 'Have you no religious experiences, Dr. Wilson?' 'None to speak of,' was the reply."

The President quoted that remark to friends with approval, showing his belief that feelings which were deep and sacred were not to be freely discussed.

One day Mr. Wilson's father dropped in to see his friend, Dr. James Sprunt, in Wilmington, N. C. He was very happy and told Dr. Sprunt the cause. "My son, Woodrow, has been made Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church. I would rather he held that position than be President of the United States."

On his table by his bedside lay his well-worn Bible from which the minister read at his funeral. He knew its contents and walked in its precepts. His addresses and papers show his familiarity with the Scriptures and his belief in their authority. In February, 1913, a few days before he became President, in an address at Trenton, he said:

"The opinion of the Bible bred in me, not only by the teaching of my home when I was a boy, but also every turn and experience of my life and every step of study, is that it is the one supreme source of revelation, the revelation of the meaning of life, the nature of God and the spiritual nature and need of men. It is the only guide of life which really leads the spirit in the way of peace and salvation. If men could but be made to know it intimately, and for what it really is, we should have secured both individual and social regeneration."

 p360  No one can read Wilson's history without feeling, as he himself said once, that Lee had profoundly influenced his life. Probably Wilson never expressed his own feeling about death better than when he told his doctor that it would be better for him to die than remain an invalid; as Lee had expressed his feeling in 1869 in a letter to a friend upon the death of General Dodge: "but those who are gone are happier than those who remain. They are spared what we have to see and meet; but my trust in the mercy of God is so great and my faith in the good sense and probity of the American people is so strong that I know that all things will in the end come right."

In "When a Man Comes to Himself" Mr. Wilson reveals himself perhaps better than in all his other books. It is a small book of only forty pages, but in it is compressed the philosophy that guided his thought and life. He concludes it by saying, "what every man seeks is satisfaction." How shall it be attained? Here is his answer: "He deceives himself as long as he imagines it to lie in self-indulgence — so long as he deems himself the center and object of that effort. His mind is spent in vain upon itself. Not in action itself, not in 'pleasure' shall it find its desires satisfied, but in consciousness of right, of powers greatly and nobly spent. It comes to know itself in the motives which satisfy it, in the zest and power of rectitude."

Then comes the climax of ripe wisdom:

"Christianity has liberated the world, not as a system of ethics, not as a philosophy of wisdom, but by its revelation of the power of pure and unselfish love. Its vital principle is not its code, but its motive. Love, clear-sighted, loyal, personal, is its breath and immortality.  p361 Christ came, not to save himself assuredly, but to save the world. His motive, His example is every man's key to his own gifts and happiness. The ethical code he taught may no doubt be matched, here a piece, there a piece, out of other religions, other teachings or philosophies. Every thoughtful man born with a conscience must know the code of right and of pity to which he ought to conform, but without the motive of Christianity, without love, he may be the purest altruist and yet be as sad and unsatisfied as Marcus Aurelius.

"Christianity gave us, in the fullness of the perfect image of right living, the secret of social and individual well-being; for the two are not separable, and the man who receives and verifies the secret in his own living has discovered not only the best way to serve the world, but also the one happy way to satisfy himself. Henceforth he knows what his powers mean, what spiritual air they breathe, what ardors of service clear them of lethargy, relieve them of all sense of effort, put them at their best. After that fretfulness passes away, experience mellows and strengthens and makes more fit, and old age brings, not senility, not satiety, not regret, but higher hope and serene maturity. Perfect love casteth out fear."

He found spiritual satisfaction.

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Page updated: 16 Aug 08