I met with Bishop Elliott for the last time at the General Council in the autumn of 1865. Great changes had taken place. His fondest earthly hopes had been crushed, and his most sanguine predictions had been unfulfilled. He bore it all as became him. Strength and greatness never seem so attractive as when chastened by heavy affliction. Sorrow gives that softness of coloring which the painter is wont to use in his last touches when toning down the picture. There was the same winning smile, the same loving recognition, but withal, there was an undertone of indescribable tenderness which bespoke a great sorrow encountered and endured. “We should ask”—thus ran the tenor of his discourse— “not what will gratify our pride, and please the world, but what the interests of the Church demand, and what Christ would have us to do.” This selfsame spirit pervaded the action of the General Convention, which had closed its session a few weeks before at Philadelphia.
The blessed Spirit of God, the Holy Comforter, in answer to the prayers of the faithful, was moving upon the heart of the Church,—deep calling unto deep under the impulse of His mysterious power,—and the waters flowed together as do the waves of the sea which a passing vessel has for the moment parted asunder.
There is nothing upon this earth so beautiful as the spectacle of an heroic soul struggling manfully with adversity, yielding at last to manifest destiny, and bowing to the divine will in unquestioning submission. There are faithful men in these latter days, who have illustrated their faith by sacrifices greater even than that which the patriarch Abraham was preparing to make upon the mount. There are some things dearer to a man than the life of his child, and when sacrificed at the divine command, through faith, are most precious offerings in the sight of Heaven.
It was one of my first thoughts, when I realized that all was over, “How does Bishop Elliott bear all this?” so long and so thoroughly identified had he been with that cause for which we were hoping and struggling. He bore it all most beautifully, as the permissive will of God without which not even a sparrow falleth to the ground. The faith which had waxed so strong in the time of action, rose to sublimity in the hour of submission. Most worthily did his demeanor illustrate the motto upon his official seal: “In utrumque paratus agere et pati.” [“Prepared for either—to act or to suffer.”] Mysterious indeed to all of us were the providences of that hour, but what room for faith, if sight and reason had not altogether failed! It should be our delight to lose ourselves in the depths of the divine mysteries, because in the darkness and cloud God dwelleth, and there His children find Him. Thanks be to God that we have a Father so wise that we cannot always comprehend His ways, and so good that we can never distrust His love.
Not by the power of reason do we solve divine mysteries, and turn all our sadness into rejoicing, but by the application of faith. “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”
From The Recent Past from a Southern Standpoint: Reminiscences of a Grandfather (New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1887), pp. 233-236.