Thank God and Take Courage
What more glorious reason for thanking God and taking courage than the prospect of the Lord bringing eternal victory by the salvation of souls. How desperately we need such a work in our present spiritual nightmare. There is good hope, for the Lord delights to show His mercy in the darkest hours. Our ancestors witnessed it, and we, their descendants, may likewise call upon the name of our God and seek the blessing that saves souls and, in history, has restored nations.
In a letter written near Petersburg, October, 1, 1864, Confederate Chaplain, J. William Jones, closed his report to A. E. Dickinson, General Superintendent of the Baptist Army Colportage, with these words: “In reviewing the past, I am constrained to ‘thank God and take courage’” [Jones, Christ in the Camp, 355; see Acts 28:15]. The letter summarized a year’s activities in the chaos of warfare. Chaplain Jones preached 161 sermons, baptized 222 soldiers, distributed Bibles, Testaments, tracts, and religious papers. He conducted prayer meetings and secured the appointments of twelve chaplains. When the struggle became too intense for religious services, he visited the hospitals, “pointing the sick and wounded to the great Physician.” He said, “I might relate many incidents illustrating the eagerness of the soldiers to hear the Gospel, and its abundant success amongst them” [Jones, Christ in the Camp, 355]. In the midst of the bloodiest war in our country’s history, he thanked God and took courage. The Gospel was taking root in the hearts of Dixie’s warriors.
Thankfulness and courage also came to General Stonewall Jackson. His successes in battle brought unending renown, but he gave God all the glory. At First Manassas, occupying the strategic high ground, his brigade of 2,600 bayonets along with a combined force of 6,500 stymied the Federal advance of 20,000 [R. L. Dabney, Life of Gen. Jackson, 221]. For almost four hours, lying behind artillery pieces, Jackson’s infantry withstood the enemy’s fire and provided desperately needed time for the Confederate reserves to enter the battle. With the Federal attack closing on the right and left sides, and Yankee hordes charging the front, Jackson gave the order to his gallant men, “Reserve your fire till they come within fifty yards, then fire and give them the bayonet; and, when you charge, yell like furies!” Robert L. Dabney said, “Like noble hounds unleashed, his men sprang to their feet, concentrating into that moment all the pent-up energies and revenge of the hours of passive suffering, delivered one deadly volley, and dashed upon the enemy. These did not tarry to cross bayonets with them, but recoiled, broke, and fled headlong from the field” [Dabney, 224, 225]. General Jackson wrote his wife, “Yesterday we fought a great battle, and gained a great victory, for which all the glory is due to God alone” [Dabney, 229.]
The South’s hero also was thankful and took courage in seeing the Gospel advance among the men in gray. He devised a plan for chaplains to organize and unite in the proclamation of the Gospel. There arose a mighty, spiritual army spreading the Glad Tidings. This onslaught was the means of bringing tens of thousands to repent of sins and to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Robert E. Lee, perhaps the greatest general in American history, was a humble Christian, dependent upon the Lord’s blessing. Rev. Dr. T. V. Moore, remembered a conversation with the chieftain:
About the middle of the war, when the horizon looked very dark, I spent an evening with him, at the house of a friend, and he was evidently, in spite of his habitual self-command, deeply depressed. Happening to be alone with him, as we parted for the night, I endeavored to cheer him with the fact that so many Christian people were praying for him. I shall never forget the emphasis with which he grasped my hand as, with a voice and eye that betrayed deep emotion, he assured me that it was not only his comfort, but his only comfort, and declared the simple and absolute trust that he had in God, and God alone, as his helper in that terrible struggle[Jones, 51, 52].
General Lee, General Jackson, and many other officers along with numerous warriors in the ranks, were thankful and took courage when they saw the Gospel conquering souls and the camps becoming places where the name of the Savior was exalted. Chaplain Jones said:
Let us go some bright Sabbath morning to that cluster of tents in the grove across the Massaponax, not far from Hamilton’s Crossing. Seated on the rude logs, or on the ground, may be seen fifteen hundred or two thousand men, with upturned faces, eagerly drinking in the truths of the Gospel. That reverent worshipper that kneels in the dust during prayer, or listens with sharpened attention and moist eyes as the preacher delivers his message, is our loved Commander-in-Chief, General R. E. Lee; that devout worshipper who sits at his side, gives his personal attention to the seating of the multitude, looks so supremely happy as he sees the soldiers thronging to hear the Gospel, and listens so attentively to the preaching, is “Stonewall” Jackson; those “wreaths and stars” which cluster around are worn by some of the most illustrious generals of that army; and all through the congregation the “stars” and “bars” mingle with the rough garb of the “unknown heroes” of the rank and file who never quail amid the leaden and iron hail of battle, but are not ashamed to “tremble” under the power of God’s truth. I need not say that this is Jackson’s headquarters, and the scene I have pictured – one of frequent occurrence [Jones, 95, 96].
What more glorious reason for thanking God and taking courage than the prospect of the Lord bringing eternal victory by the salvation of souls. How desperately we need such a work in our present spiritual nightmare. There is good hope, for the Lord delights to show His mercy in the darkest hours. Our ancestors witnessed it, and we, their descendants, may likewise call upon the name of our God and seek the blessing that saves souls and, in history, has restored nations. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
– Mark W. Evans, Chaplain-in-Chief, SCV Chaplain’s Corp, Sons of Confederate Veterans