Today’s timely interest in the lives of American founders has sent me again to the record of an auction held in April, 1891, where a remarkable collection of
Washington relics was sold. Among them was found a little manuscript book entitled “Daily Sacrifice,” containing the handwritten prayers of George Washington.
These records of Washington’s personal communication with his Lord reveal the depth of his devotional life during his youth. He was approximately twenty years old at the time of recording the following prayers:
“Increase my faith in the sweet promises of the gospel; give me repentance from dead works; pardon my wanderings and direct my thoughts unto Thyself, the God of my salvation. Teach me how to live in Thy fear, labor in Thy service and ever to run in the ways of Thy commandments.”
A letter to his brother, John A. Washington, dated July 18, 1755 reveals some of the answers to his prayers for increased faith. After a severe battle, he wrote: “I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat and two horses were shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me.”
A recorded experience at Valley Forge, however, may have been the most powerful example of the answer to Washington’s prayer to be Christlike.
A man named Michael Wittman had been convicted of spying and more than once attempting to do great harm to Washington’s forces. On the evening before he was to be executed for his crimes, an old man appeared at Valley Forge asking to see George Washington so his name, “Peter Miller,” was announced by one of the general’s staff.
“Peter Miller?” asked Washington.
“Certainly. Show him in at once”.
Miller had done many favors for the cause of freedom and his name was well known to the commander; now he had come to ask a favor that surprised Washington: he said he had come to request a pardon for the spy soon to be executed.
Upon hearing the surprising plea from his friend, Washington became troubled and said in the light of the prisoner’s crimes it would be impossible to grant the request.
“I cannot pardon your friend,” Washington replied.
“Friend!” the petitioner replied. Why he is my bitterest enemy! He has persecuted me for years. He has beaten me and spit in my face knowing full well that I would not strike back.”
Puzzled, Washington asked why Miller would plead for the pardon of his cruel enemy.
“I ask it because Jesus did as much for me,” was the old man’s reply.
Washington turned silently away and went into another room, soon returning with a pardon for Michael Wittman. “My dear friend,” said Washington, “I thank you for your example of Christian charity.” No wonder this tender and teachable man of faith became known as the father of his country.
Roger Campbell was an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. A new book containing over one hundred of his best columns, “Everywhere You Go There’s a Zacchaeus Up a Tree,” is now available at your local or online bookseller. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org