(Article for publication week of 1-16- AD 2013)
“The memory of the just is blessed:” (Proverbs 10:7). This coming week we remember a truly just man, General Robert E. Lee. Robert Edward Lee was born January 19, 1807. His birthday is a State holiday here in the Sovereign State of Mississippi and is observed by law the third Monday of January.
General Lee is honored for his great military genius, statesmanship and work as an educator, but most of all he is honored for his notable and exemplary Christian walk. There have been numerous biographies of this dear saint of God, but two of the best on my shelf are “Call of Duty” by Pastor Steve Wilkins, and “Robert E. Lee, the Christian”, by William J. Johnson. You would be greatly blessed to read them and read them to your children.
General Lee was a faithful member of the Episcopal Church. (In that day and time the Episcopal Church in the South still believed the Bible.) The last act of his life was to attend the vestry meeting of his church. In that meeting he personally pledged the shortage of funds for the pastor’s salary. Though he was noted for his Christian walk, his humble confession of faith was, “I am but a poor sinner trusting in Christ Alone for salvation.”
During the War, he encouraged the observation of the Lord’s Day among his troops, and actively participated in the Christian services conducted in the Army of Northern Virginia. He issued orders prohibiting all but necessary duties on the Lord’s Day, and required quiet and order where services were being held. It is a too little known fact today that during the War, God favored the South with a Great Revival among the Confederate armies. There were thousands of soldiers converted to saving faith in Christ through the instrumentality of the faithful Southern preachers of that day from all the denominations of Christianity. This revival is accounted by several historians, particularly Dr. J. William Jones in “Christ in the Camp.” It would warm your heart to read it. Brother Jones relates much about General Lee and his participation in the camp meetings, prayer meetings, tract and Bible distribution and other Christian work carried on among the Confederate troops. General Lee was a great encourager of the ministry and sought above all the spiritual welfare of his men.
Robert E. Lee was a man of principle, not pragmatism. Lincoln offered him the command of the federal army, but he chose to side with the South believing her Cause to be just. He knew the prospects for Southern victory were slim, but he did not believe that “might makes right” as most do today. Had he accepted Lincoln’s offer, he would have had all this world has to offer- power, prestige, fame and wealth. He would probably have become president after Lincoln. But he chose rather to suffer for righteousness’ sake. He said of the Southern Cause, “ all the South has ever wanted is the Old Constitution as bequeathed by our Forefathers.” During the dark days of the “Reconstruction” he told Texas Governor Stockdale, “Had I foreseen these results of subjugation, I would have preferred to die with my brave men with my sword in hand.”
After the War, he like most Southerners was reduced to extreme poverty. A large insurance company from up north offered him a job at an astronomical salary. When he told them he knew nothing of the insurance business they said, “you don’t have to do anything, we just want your name associated with our company.” Such was the respect even Northerners had for him. He refused their offer saying, “all I have left is my name and it is not for sale.” You don’t find many like that today.
General Lee’s admonition to his sons and the men of the South and everywhere was “ do your duty in all things. You cannot do more. You should not expect to do less.” Would God we had such men today! “The memory of the just is blessed.”