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Henry Sloane Coffin (80 years ago)

80 years ago — October 29, 1941

Presbyterian minister, Henry Sloane Coffin, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York from 1926 to 1945 and moderator of the 115th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1943) was an influential pastor. As war approached, Coffin wrote of the difficult times drawing from the life of the prophet Habakkuk. “Weapons change from age to age, but the temper and methods of men of violence remain terribly the same.” Habakkuk looked at the devastation wrought by invading armies and asked God the hard questions: why and how long? He waited for God’s answer. Habakkuk came to the conclusion that the difficulties faced were the result of both individual and national sin. Coffin saw the same in world events. “If men think themselves safe, if circumstances, however hard upon others, are not pinching them, they will not disturb themselves to deal with oppression.” Just as Habakkuk saw the ultimate destruction of the invaders in their own pride, so too did Coffin. “There are times when the horizon is black like midnight. There are no hopeful lights anywhere. Believing souls must trust the righteousness of God. … All history declares that in the long run iniquity shall not flourish. God is a consuming fire.” Our founding documents express ideals never realized, but we must strive for them. In order to be a force in the world we must examine ourselves “to uproot injustice, to repair neglects, to do away with causes of bitterness. God’s judgement calls us to repentance.”

Reprinted from the Presbyterian Tribune