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The Course of Time

March 4, 2014

Those who make New Year’s resolutions often break them by February and forget them by March, but eighteen-year-old James Garfield did not forget what he had written in that first hour of 1850.  In a four-stanza poem he welcomed the new year, made a few observations about hope, and considered his own tenuous situation.

On Thursday February 28 he wrote in his diary: “…I find myself reading Pollok’s Course of Time.  Candor requires me to admit that it has a sensible effect upon my feelings and tends to raise my [mind] to nobler and sublimer thoughts than the mean and groveling scenes of earth.”  The Course of Time is a book-length poem on redemption, and it made Garfield “feel disgusted with low vulgar company and expressions.”

On Sunday March 3 he attended a Disciples of Christ meeting where he heard a sermon and observed a baptism.  That night he wrote in his diary: “Determined to obey the Gospel.  Signified my intention of so doing.”  The next day he was baptized.

Garfield’s conversion was authentic and profound.  It changed his entire perspective and eventually led him to consider the evils of slavery.  During the Civil War he became the youngest major general in the Union Army.

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