The Oberlin Evangelist
June 22, 1859
Letter to the Ohio State Conference.
CUYAHOGA CO. JAIL, CLEVELAND, JUNE 10th, 1859.
To the Members of the O.S. Cong. Conference:
Dear Brethren: - I have long anticipated with pleasurable expectation the session, which you are now holding. I have allowed myself to hope that the profitable spiritual reunion, which occurred at our meeting in Columbus last year would be renewed in the one now going forward, and that I would be permitted to take part in it. It seems, however, that my expectations are not to be realized. Prison-duress restrains me and I cannot, in person, be with you.
But my heart is free and it goes towards you. It asserts its liberty in these lines, which I venture to believe, will not be refused a hearing by you.
Assuming that what I write will be most welcome to you it it enter somewhat largely into matters of a personal nature, I shall allow myself to speak first of thing relating to the condition and prospects of the imprisoned company of which I am a member. These items will perhaps furnish me with a text for discourse upon sundry things relating to the advancement of the cause of God and humanity, which have been illustrated to my own mind by my experience here.
We came here, by order of Court, nine weeks ago this afternoon. We have thus far seen, although we have carefully and constantly looked for one, no opportunity for an honorable escape from imprisonment. We might have been discharged on bail, but, owing to circumstances, which I need not now narrate, it has seemed to us that the giving of bail would be a virtual acknowledgment on our part of wrong-doing of which we know that we have not bee guilty. And while, observing that caution which we have felt to be due from us, we have sometimes been in doubt whether our view of duty as indeed the right one, the case has been uniformly settled by some Providential sign which has manifestly indicated to us the propriety of maintaining our position. Were I speaking to you by word of mouth I would recite to you the history of these teachings from our Great Master (as we have regarded them), and should I do so, I am confident you would agree with me in thinking that God has plainly said to us, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” How long we are to walk in “strait places,” or when or how we are to be delivered I do not know. When the hour appointed by our Divine Father for our relief comes, we shall be free. Till then, imprisonment will be better to us than liberty.
Confinement has been trying to all of us. We are, without exception, person of active, stirring habits, and restraint is not pleasant to us. But we have occasion for thankfulness in the fact that we have all been kept in good health. Nor must I forget to acknowledge that Divine Love has sheltered our families. Our wives and children, the latter numbering nearly forty, have all been protected from sickness and other peril.
But confinement has not been our only trouble. It is perhaps seldom that a company of men is called to encounter such a succession of trials in the way of exhausting suspense, agonizing excitements, latter disappointments and, that worst of griefs, darkness as to action to be taken, as we have passed through. Our nine weeks of prison-life have been drawn out into months, if not years, of ordinary existence. And, withal, we have been detached from many of those helps which ordinarily qualify the trials of life. We have been compelled to “cease from man,” and this has not a little increased nor troubles. I must not allow myself to speak as if our difficulties and afflictions have been great when compared with those, which our Redeemer suffered in our behalf, nor with those which numberless good men have encountered in prisons, nor yet with those which our brethren who are bound in the chains of Southern slavery daily experience. But I may say that the cup we have been drinking, of lat, is such a n one, for bitterness, as we have seldom or never drunk before.
Yet blessing has come to us with bitterness. The officers who have had us in custody have been more than kind to us. Friends have gathered around to cheer us. Consoling letters have come to us from every part of the country. A great cloud of prayer has gone to Heaven in our behalf. The spirit of prayer and confiding lobe has been made to rest upon us. It has been seldom in our whole lives that religious worship, whether public, or private has been so profitable to us as it has been here. I would love to tell you how sweetly God has let Himself down among us as, at the close of days of harrowing anxiety and weighty disappointment, we have opened the Bible to find our usual evening lesson. Often has the word of grace been read amid a breathless silence, which has proved that every soul was making new discoveries of the riches of Revelation. Truly, the Lord has been good to us and His mercies have, I trust, been recognized by us. If the coercion intended by those who put us here ha failed of its purpose, the discipline intended by our Heavenly Father has not been lost upon us. I cannot but hope that, upon our release, we shall to our work truer and better men than we have ever before been.
Resting here the narration of personal matters I wish I could ext exhibit to you at length some of the great facts and truths relating to God’s plan in renovating the world which have been made conspicuous to my mind during my stay here. But I can speak of but few of them and of those but briefly.
First of all, that important doctrine taught by our blessed Lord and well illustrated in his life, “except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit,” has been emphasized to my mind. That there can be no efficiency in any good work except as there is a self-sacrificing spirit and that usefulness will be measured by willingness to submit to any inconvenience and expense – this thought has, of late, at once rebuked the uprisings of the discontent of which I have sometimes been conscious and pointed to results which have mad the future more than bring with promise. Do we, brethren, sufficiently calculate upon trial as a necessary condition of success? Do we go to our labor counting, as we should, on troubles and griefs? Do we oppose sin, do we denounce wicked human enactments as solemnly conscious as we should be that our protest can be of no use if it does not proceed from a heart which will flinch from no afflictions which it may meet in the discharge of duty? Would not slavery, with its dread offspring the Fugitive Slave Act, soon be brought to an end if all of us assailed, it with a resolution, which would cheerfully surrender ease, social position and even life itself, were the sacrifice necessary to conquest?
Again, the meaning of that passage of the Scriptures, “judgment must first begin at the house of God” and its applicability to our Lord’s method upon earth has come freshly before me since I have been here. That the redemption of the world from sorrow is to be accomplished through sorrow and that this redemption is to be speedy and complete, according as the burden of grief is taken up by the children of God’ that, for instance, the release of millions from slavery will make haste when Christians so adjust themselves to the work of relief as that what shall seem to be judgment will begin with them, all this now seems to me, as it never did before, to be true. Is it not true, brethren? Will not the heavy yoke be lifted from galled necks when, and will not the burden be lightened as, we and all others who love our Lord take an actual burden upon ourselves?
And it is clear to my own mind that a time for anew taking up of burdens by us had come. We must toil and endure as we have never done before, or Liberty and Religion in our land will disappear before Slavery and Brute Force. Have we not a call from Heaven to make new endeavors lest the Dred Scott decision should make Slavery co-extensive with our national domain? But I must pause, I pray God to be with and bless you in deliberations, and to quicken your zeal for the truth of thousand fold. I venture to believe you will remember us in your prayers. Fraternally yours, H.E. Peck.