The morning of December 7, 1941, Rev. Peter Marshall addressed the midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, class of '42.
At the last minute, he felt led to set aside his prepared notes and preach a seemingly prophetic message, "Go Down, Death."
Within an hour after he finished his message, news of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor spread across the nation.
Peter Marshall stated:
- “War forces us to examine the very foundations of life itself.”
- "I am one of those who believe that there are some principles worth fighting for and worth dying for, if need be."
- "The trouble with our time is that when we can’t believe there is anything left to us worth dying for, then we’re not sure there’s anything worth living for either ... We all hate and loathe war … It is contrary to all the principles and ethics of Christ. Yet ... there are certain qualities, certain liberties, certain precious heritages for which a man should be willing to fight and even dare to die."
- "What man refuses to learn in times of peace, God teaches him in times of war ... God permits war in order that we might see what sin really is."
At the age of 25, Peter Marshall emigrated from Scotland, arriving at New York's Ellis Island in 1927.
Members of his Sunday School class paid his way to seminary in Atlanta, where he graduated in 1931.
Rev. Peter Marshall pastored a small church in Covington, Georgia, then preached at Atlanta's Westminster Presbyterian Church.
There he met Catherine Wood, a student at Agnes Scott College, and they married.
Catherine Marshall's book on Peter's life, A Man Called Peter, was turned into the movie.
Her novel, Christy, was made into a CBS television series.
In 1937, at the age of 35, Peter Marshall became pastor of Washington, D.C.'s prestigious New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, the same church where Dr. Phineas Gurley was pastor during Lincoln's presidency.
Rev. Peter Marshall stated (20 Centuries of Great Preaching, Vol. 12 Waco: Word, 1971 p. 11-19):
"I have come to know Lincoln better - the heart and spirit of the man - since I met him in the tradition of this church I now serve in Washington, than ever I knew him in history books.
Soon after assuming this pastorate, I happened one day upon an old safe, little used, in the church basement. Fascinating minutes of session meetings were there, dating almost back the year the church was born - 1802.
Among these were some pew rental books, and I flipped open to a page with the inscription at the top: 'A. Lincoln.' The annual rent of the pew was fifty dollars a year, and the notations of payments began in March, 1861, and continued until the President’s assassination four years later ..."
"Upon coming to Washington, Mr. Lincoln had sought the advice of a member of his cabinet on the choice of 'a suitable church home' for himself, his wife, and his three boys. One of his stipulations was that it had to be 'a clergyman who holds himself aloof from politics.' The President’s choice was Dr. Phineas Gurley of this church.
As the clouds of Civil War gathered, increasingly, Mr. Lincoln sought the friendship of the clergyman. He liked to attend the mid-week prayer meetings by sitting on the other side of a glass-topped door, with the door ajar.
On nights when the President would be deeply disturbed by the horror of Americans having to fight fellow-Americans, he would sometimes send a messenger to fetch Dr. Gurley.
Later, Dr. Gurley was to tell how the two of them would walk up and down the south portico of the White House - up and down, all through the night talking … praying until dawn flushed pink in the eastern sky.
For here was a man on the horns of that terrible dilemma: he believed that a nation divided could not stand … that the Union was worth saving … yet he loathed war, all of it from Fort Sumter to Appomattox.
In the end, according to Dr. Gurley who knew Lincoln so well, Lincoln found no way except the route of faith in God:
'After being near him steadily and with him often for more than four years,' Dr. Gurley said, 'I can affirm that God’s guidance and mercy were the props on which he humbly and habitually leaned; that they were the best hope he had for himself and for his country …
He recognized and received the truth that God is the governor among the nations, and that our only hope, in the President’s own words, was 'to humble ourselves … confess our national sins, and pray for clemency and forgiveness.'"
"The biographers who have rather desperately tried to prove that Abraham Lincoln was an unbeliever, have wisely ignored Dr. Gurley’s testimony ...
The minister was present when Willie Lincoln died in the White House, and received from him the little iron bank containing pennies which the little boy asked him to give to the Sunday school.
He was there in the tiny hall bedroom in the red brick house on Tenth Street, keeping an all-night vigil with the leaders of the nation, as the President lay dying.
As daylight broke and the faint breathing died away, the Secretary of War, Mr. Stanton, broke the stillness with words which were almost a sob, “Now he belongs to the ages.”
Then he asked Dr. Gurley to pray."
"The nation needed prayer more than ever – without Lincoln. That was the note of the eulogy in the East Room which Dr. Gurley delivered,
“It is by his steady confidence in God that he would speak to us today. His message would be: Cling to liberty and right, battle for them, bleed for the, if need be, but most important, have faith in God ...”
It is because of those intimate anecdotes - and many more-that we in this church treasure the memory of men like Abraham Lincoln."
While the pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Peter Marshall ministered to Presidents, Cabinet members, and Supreme Court Justices.
Rev. Peter Marshall became a U.S. citizen in 1938.
He was asked to preach the Christmas Sermon to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his family.
After World War II ended and as the Korean War began, the U.S. Senate appointed Peter Marshall to be their Chaplain on January 4, 1947.
On May 22, 1947, during the 80th Congress, U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall offered the prayer:
"God of our fathers, give unto us, thy servants, a true appreciation of our heritage, of great men and great deeds in the past, but let us not be intimidated by feelings of our own inadequacies for this troubled hour.
Remind us that the God they worshiped, and by whose help they laid the foundations of our Nation, is still able to help us uphold what they bequeathed and give it meaning."
Chaplain Marshall prayed:
"O Lord our God, even at this moment as we come blundering into Thy presence in prayer, we are haunted by memories of duties unperformed, promptings disobeyed, and beckonings ignored.
Opportunities to be kind knocked on the door of our hearts and went weeping away."
On July 3, 1947, the day before Independence Day, U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall prayed:
"God of our Fathers, whose Almighty hand hath made and preserved our Nation, grant that our people may understand what it is they celebrate tomorrow.
May they remember how bitterly our freedom was won, the down payment that was made for it, the installments that have been made since this Republic was born, and the price that must be paid for our liberty ..."
"May freedom be seen not as the right to do as we please but as the opportunity to please to do what is right. May it be ever understood that our liberty is under God and can be found nowhere else.
May our faith be something that is not merely stamped upon our coins, but expressed in our lives.
Let us, as a nation, be not afraid of standing alone for the rights of men, since we were born that way, as the only nation on earth that came into being 'for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith ...'"
"We know that we shall be true to the Pilgrim dream when we are true to the God they worshiped.
To the extent that America honors Thee, wilt Thou bless America, and keep her true as Thou hast kept her free, and make her good as Thou hast made her rich. Amen."
Peter Marshall stated:
"The world has enough women who are popular. It needs more who are pure.
We need women, and men, too, who would rather be morally right than socially correct."
"Character is what a person does when he is alone, the decisions he makes away from the persuasions of his friend ...
True character must always be founded upon Christianity."
Just 6 months before he died, June 11, 1948, U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall opened Congress with the prayer:
"Help us, our Father, to show other nations an America to imitate ... the America that loves fair play, honest dealing, straight talk, real freedom and faith in God."
"Most of us never think of death or dying. We act as if we had a long lease on life ... as though we had immunity somehow ...
The first disciples (of Jesus) knew that human personality will survive ... because One who went into the grave and beyond, had come back to say: 'Whosoever believeth in Me shall not perish but have eternal life.'"
Peter Marshall died of a heart attack in 1949 at the age of 46.
He had stated:
“When the clock strikes for me, I shall go, not one minute early, and not one minute late. Until then, there is nothing to fear.”
Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan described Peter Marshall:
“He always spoke with courage, with deepest human understanding, and with stimulating hope.”
Laying of the cornerstone of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, April 3, 1951, President Harry S Truman stated:
"New York Avenue Presbyterian Church has played an important part in the history of Washington. For almost 150 years a Presbyterian congregation has worshiped on or near this spot.
During all that period, this church has preached the Christian message to this busy Capital City."
At the cornerstone laying ceremony, Rev. Peter Marshall's young son, Peter John Marshall, gave President Truman a New Testament, to which the President responded:
"Well, thank you very much for this Testament. I appreciate very much having it. And all I can say to you is, I hope you will grow up to be as good a man as your father."
The son, Peter John Marshall, grew up to become a best-selling author, who, together with co-author David Manuel, wrote popular books chronicling God's Providential Hand in the expansion of liberty in America's early history.
These books include:
- The Light and the Glory; From Sea to Shining Sea; and
- Sounding Forth The Trumpet.
In 1955, the highly successful box office hit was Twentieth-Century Fox's motion picture A Man Called Peter.
It was about the inspiring life of U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall, who was born MAY 27, 1902.
Commenting on movies which portray positive role models, Ted Baehr of MovieGuide.org stated:
"The evidence is abundantly clear. Moviegoers greatly prefer family-friendly movies.
Most people want to see Good conquer evil, Truth triumph over falsehood, Justice prevail over injustice, Liberty conquer tyranny ..."
“They also would like to take their whole family, including their grandparents, to the movies more often.”
U.S. Senate Peter Marshall stated (20 Centuries of Great Preaching Vol. 12 Waco: Word, 1971 p. 11-19):
"Then there dawned the day when ... with our higher education came a debunking contest.
This debunking became a sort of national sport … It was smarter to revile than to revere … more fashionable to depreciate than to appreciate.
In our classrooms .... no longer did we laud great men - those who had struggled and achieved. Instead, we merely ... ferreted out their faults.
We decided that it was silly to say God sent them for a special task ... They were merely ... products of their environments ...
The Constitution, that hitherto cherished charter of American liberties, was drawn up by men who never spoke on a telephone or flew in a plan, therefore, we should change the Constitution to suit modern ways ..."
"Our debunking is ... a sign of decaying foundations of character to the individual and in the national life ...
Time is running out for us.
We are a country plagued by almost continual industrial strife, betrayed and exploited by political expediency, disintegrated by a steadily increasing divorce rate, weakened and sickened by lewdness and immorality, torn by racial and political hatreds.
But I know this ... no nation ever made progress by going in a downward direction. No people ever became greater by lowering their standards, least of all by changing laws to suit the lower standards. No society was ever enriched or improved by a looser morality ...
We fought two World Wars ... only to slip back into the suicidal path of apathy, materialism, and the decay that is eating away the foundations of Christian civilization, turning the world into a vast slaughter house reeking with the stench of human blood, stark with hunger and despair?
Where is America going? You and I - and other ordinary citizens - are the only ones who can answer that.
For the call today is for Christian heroes and heroines ... who are willing to speak a good word for Jesus Christ … who are willing to live by the undiluted values of Christian morality in the pagan atmosphere of our society surrounded by lewdness, pornography, and profanity.
This may be a higher bravery than that of any battlefield: to face ridicule, sarcasm, sneering disdain for what one believes to be right.
To fight for goodness and right ... fighting the battle first in our own hearts and souls ... seeking God’s help to overcome our particular temptations for the sake of peace ... for the sake of America ... for our own sake ... for God’s sake."
On January 13, 1947, U.S. Senate Chaplain Peter Marshall stated:
"The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos, conviction or compromise, discipline or disintegration.
I am rather tired of hearing about our rights ... The time is come to hear about responsibilities ...
America's future depends upon her accepting and demonstrating God's government."