Kneeling in the Snow

I love the story of Isaac Potts, the Quaker gentleman who witnessed that legendary scene of George Washington, on his knees in the snow and praying at Valley Forge. And—no—the story behind the painting is not a myth; there was an eye-witness to it: Isaac Potts. 

Everything about Mr. Potts—in fact, the whole Potts family—is interesting. For over a decade the Potts family had owned and operated the forge-works on Valley Creek, near the Schuylkill River in Pennsylvania. There wasn't much there, actually: the forge, a grist mill and one old stone house where the forge-worker lived. The place eventually just became known as the Valley Forge. 

In spite of the family's pacifist Quaker heritage, many of the Potts brothers fought that war! Oh, yes they did, God bless them! (And don't get me started on pacifism!) 

Isaac himself seems to have stayed with the forge, diverting it all to the production of munitions for the Continental Army.  Whenever General Washington and his troops came into the area, Potts would give him the stone house for his headquarters. 

By the time of the notorious Valley Forge winter—1777-'78—the forge had been burned down by the British; the old stone house was in ruins. Washington and his 11,000 troops encamped there for the winter anyway. Isaac Potts cleared out his own home, in the town nearby, for the General to use as headquarters. 

But, by far, this man's greatest claim to fame was the witnessing of that prayer! 

It happened during the darkest days of the American Revolution. It was now all but certain that the American campaign was doomed to failure. The British had flooded New York and Boston with shipload after shipload of the world's most highly-trained professional soldiers and officers. The sad little Continental Army—if you can call it that really: farmers and merchants with old blunderbusses and flintlocks—was completely outnumbered, outgunned, and outclassed by the British. 

Morale was at an all-time low that winter of '77-'78. Desertion rates were still shockingly high. Washington's troops were no longer being paid. Washington himself was in despair. 

But that's when it happened. Nathanael Snowden (1770-1851) gives an account, in his memoirs, of his neighbor, Isaac Potts, explaining what he had seen: 

"It was just in that wood, over there; it was that close in view, that I heard a plaintive sound as of a man in prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling and went quietly into the woods and, to my astonishment, I saw the great George Washington, on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other.

"He was at prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching Him to interpose with His Divine aid, as it was the crisis, the cause of the Country, of humanity and of all the world. Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying there." 1

In another account of the incident, Isaac Potts raced home afterwards and told his wife, Martha: "I have seen this day what I shall never forget...that George Washington is a man of God. And so I know that God is going to do great things for this country." 2

And—oh!—yes He did! 

I do believe this nation owes its very existence to men and women who knew how to do this: who knew how to kneel in the snows of adversity; who knew how to pray through the bleakest of winters. And now, more than anything else, our nation's survival—the survival of our families, our society and civilization itself—will depend upon this: upon whether, or not, we are a people who pray!   

Prayer is the one thing that works for the Christian. We don't have a panoply of weapons  and tools: we have one, basically. The earliest Christians knew this. Take Paul, for example, and those dear Ephesian Christians: "When he had said these things, he knelt down with all of them and prayed." Acts 20:36  A few verses later, and hundreds of miles away, in Syria now, it happens again: "All the disciples, their wives and their children accompanied us out of the city and there on the beach, we knelt to pray." Acts 21:5  

Isn't it beautiful? What a picture of the early Church, with the tsunami of the Roman Empire rising up to sweep them away! And yet, here we all are: the church safe and sound! And where is the Roman Empire these days? Which archaeological dig are they working on now?

Do you pray, dear child of God? "Well, I say a blessing at the table." Really? Is that it? Is the meal the only battle at hand? And how long have you been a Christian now? It's time to get real, dear ones. It's time to enlist!

It's time to survive your Valley Forge; to win your revolution! It will happen when you pray, or it won't happen at all. For "...men ought always to pray and never give up." Lk 18:1

We're doing it every Wednesday and—oh!—how God pours out His favor upon it! Come join us!  

See you Sunday!                          RAS 

1.Nathanael Snowden "Diary and Remembrances".  

2.Isabella James Potts: Memorial of Thomas Potts Jr. and His Descendants. 1847 Cambridge Press, p. 223

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