D.H. Hill on the Three Cardinal Graces

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“We have men of science, too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.” — General Omar Bradley, Armistice Day Speech, 1948

Military men, confronted with issues of conscience, have often been at the forefront of addressing matters of ethics. One example of this is found in the religious writings of Daniel Harvey Hill, best known for his military service for the United States in the Mexican War and later as a Confederate general, who also served a professor of mathematics at the Presbyterian college of Davidson, in North Carolina, and was a devout Presbyterian. In 1858, he authored A Consideration of the Sermon on the Mount.

It is from this remarkable volume, discoursing on the Beatitudes, that we can read what a mighty man of war has to say about what it means to love one’s enemies. Further on, speaking of the Lord’s Prayer, he again takes up the subject of love, or charity, in conjunction with “the three cardinal graces of the Christian character.”

The prayer, too, in its very language presupposes the existence in the heart of the utterer, of the three cardinal graces of the Christian character — Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Faith. For he says “Our Father.” “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. xi. 6.

Hope. For he uses the language of expectation, “May thy kingdom with all its blessings come. May my daily food be given,” &c.

Charity — Love to God and love to man. For he uses a sublime ascription of praise to the Triune God, and he asks only for pardon from God, upon condition of his own universal good-will to his fellow-creatures. “Forgive me my debts, as I forgive my debtors.”

The graces spoken of by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13 are well-known. But here Hill connects them specifically to the Lord’s Prayer, and in so doing, he reminds us to exercise these graces in our prayers, as well as to seek for the grace to exemplify them in our lives. Consider these thoughts today from Hill, who, although he was a man of war at times during his life, or perhaps because of that, understood that these are the virtues that should shine in every Christian — and “these greatest of these is charity.”