Robert E. Lee, General, Educator
[12 October 1870]

"Help me to be, to think, to act what is right because it is right;
make me truthful, honest, and honorable in all things;
make me intellectually honest for the sake of right and honor
and without thought of reward to me."
[Robert E. Lee]

"Teach him he must deny himself."

Psalm 144 Benedictus Dominus.

BLESSED be the LORD my strength : who teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight:
My hope and my fortress, my castle and deliverer, my defender in whom I trust : who subdueth my people that is under me.
LORD, what is man, that thou hast such respect unto him : or the son of man, that thou so regardest him?
Man is like a thing of nought : his time passeth away like a shadow.
Bow thy heavens, O LORD, and come down : touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.
Cast forth thy lightning, and tear them : shoot out thine arrows, and consume them.
Let the righteous rather smite me friendly : and reprove me.
But let not their precious balms break my head : yea, I will pray yet against their wickedness.
Send down thine hand from above : deliver me, and take me out of the great waters, from the hand of strange chhildren;
Whose mouth talketh of vanity : and their right hand is a right hand of wickedness.
I will sing a new song unto thee, O God : and sing praises unto thee upon a ten-stringed lute.
Thou hast given victory unto kings : and hast delivered David thy servant from the peril of the sword.
Save me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children : whose mouth talketh of vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of iniquity:
That our sons may grow up as the young plants : and that our daughters may be as the polished corners of the temple;
That our garners may be full and plenteous with all manner of store : that our sheep may bring forth thousands, and ten thousands in our fields;
That our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no decay : no leading into captivity, and no complaining in our streets.
Happy are the people that are in such a case : yea, blessed are the people who have the LORD for their God.

[From the most-worn page in Lee's first prayer book [1789 edition], which was marked with small strip of paper at Psalm 144, the appointed psalm for Morning on the Thirtieth day of each month, see photo below]

Ecclisiasticus xliv.

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us. The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning. Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies: Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions: Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing: Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations: All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times. There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported. ... these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant. Their seed standeth fast, and their children for their sakes. Their seed shall remain for ever, and their glory shall not be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace; but their name liveth for evermore. The people will tell of their wisdom, and the congregation will shew forth their praise.

Extract of Chapter 28, The Pattern of a Life
R. E. Lee: A Biography
by Douglas Southall Freeman

Simple and spiritual — the two qualities which constitute the man cannot be separated. The strongest religious impulse in his life was that given him by his mother. After that, in youth, he probably came most under the indirect influence of Reverend William Meade, later bishop, the clergyman who did more than any one else to restore the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia from the ruin that had overtaken it during and after the American Revolution. Mr. Meade was rector in Alexandria for only eighteen months and then at a time when Robert was too young to heed his sermons; but he preached there often during Robert's youth and his spirit dominated the Episcopal Church in Virginia. He was a picturesque personality, one of the prophets of his generation. Holding to the beautiful forms of his faith, Mr. Meade breathed into its worship an evangelism as ardent as that of the younger American denominations. In his eyes, religion concerned itself equally with acts and with beliefs. No reformer was ever more uncompromising in his denunciation of cards or more unyielding in opposition to the old habit the barons of the Northern Neck had of staging races and of backing their horses with their dollars. None excoriated the stage with warnings more sulphurous than did Mr. Meade. Had he been sent to idolatrous Israel, he could not more solemnly have proclaimed the day of the vengeance of the Lord or have portrayed more darkly the fearsome punishment visited on the sinner for his hardness of heart. Yet he spoke "comfortably to Jerusalem." He gave the promise of forgiveness to the repentant, pictured glowingly to the faithful the bliss of hard-won Heaven, and somehow planted in the hearts of the dominant class in that section of the Old Dominion a religion of simplicity, vigor, and sincerity.

It is a singular fact the young Robert Lee was not prompted by the exhortations of Mr. Meade or of like-minded clergymen to submit himself to confirmation. The reason cannot be surmised, unless it was that the theology of his youth had a vehemence and an emotionalism alien to his nature. He was content until he was past forty-five to hold to the code of a gentleman rather than to the formal creed of a church. The experiences of the Mexican War, the gentle piety of the Fitzhughs at Ravensworth, the example and death of Mrs. Custis, the simple faith of Mrs. Lee, and, more immediately, the purpose of his daughters to enter into the full fellowship of the church induced Lee in 1853 to renew his vows. After that time, first his sense of dependence on God for the uprearing of his boys during his long absences from home, and then the developing tragedy of the war, deepened every religious impulse of his soul.

And what did religion imply for him as he sent Pickett's men up Cemetery Ridge, as he rode to the McLean house, as he read of Military District No. 1, and as he looked down from the chapel platform at the scarred faces and patched garments of his students?

To answer that question is to employ the terms of a theology that now seems to some outworn and perhaps archaic. It was, however, the credo of a man who met the supreme tests of life in that he accepted fame without vanity and defeat without repining. To understand the faith of Robert E. Lee is to fill out the picture of him as a gentleman of simple soul. For him as for his grandfather, Charles Carter, religion blended with the code of noblesse oblige to which he had been reared. Together, these two forces resolved every problem of his life into right and wrong. The clear light of conscience and of social obligation left no zone of gray in his heart: everything was black or white. There cannot be said to have been a "secret" of his life, but this assuredly was the great, transparent truth, and this it was, primarily, that gave to his career its consistency and decision. Over his movements as a soldier he hesitated often, but over his acts as a man, never. There was but one question ever: What was his duty as a Christian and a gentleman? That he answered by the sure criterion of right and wrong, and, having answered, acted. Everywhere the two obligations went together; he never sought to expiate as a Christian for what he ahead failed to do as a gentleman, or to atone as a gentleman for what he had neglected as a Christian. He could not have conceived of a Christian who was not a gentleman.

Kindness was the first implication of religion in his mind — not the deliberate kindness of "good works" to pacify exacting Deity, but the instinctive kindness of a heart that had been schooled to regard others. His was not a nature to waste time in the perplexities of self-analysis; but if those about him at headquarters had understood him better they might often have asked themselves whether, when he brought a refreshing drink to a dusty lieutenant who called with dispatches, he was discharging the social duty of a host or was giving a "cup of cold water" in his Master's name. His manner in either case would have been precisely the same.

Equally was his religion expressed in his unquestioning response to duty. In his clear creed, right was duty and must be discharged. "There is," he wrote down privately for his own guidance, "a true glory and a true honor: the glory of duty done — the honor of the integrity of principle." He probably never summed up this aspect of his religion more completely than in that self-revealing hour before he started to meet General Grant, when he answered all the appeals of his lieutenants with the simple statement: "The question is, is it right to surrender this army? If it is right, then I will take all the responsibility." It was a high creed — right at all times and at all costs — but daily self-discipline and a clear sense of justice made him able to adhere to it.

Humility was another major implication of his religion. So lofty was his conception of man's duty to his Maker and to his neighbors, so completely did his ambition extend, all unconsciously, into the realm of the spirit, that he was never satisfied with what he was. Those who stood with him on the red field of Appomattox thought that his composure was due to his belief that he had discharged his full duty, and in this they were partially correct; but he always felt, with a sincerity no man can challenge, that he had fallen immeasurably short of his ideal of a servant of God. "So humble was he as a Christian," wrote Mrs. Lee on the day of his death, "that he said not long ago to me he wished he felt sure of his acceptance. I said all who love and trust in the Savior need not fear. He did not reply, but a more upright and conscientious Christian never lived."

Born of this humility, this sense of unworthiness in the sight of God, was the submission to the Divine will that has so often been cited in these pages to explain his calmness in hours that would have wrecked the self-control of lesser men. There was nothing of blind fatalism in his faith. Resignation is scarcely the name for it. Believing that God was Infinite Wisdom and Eternal Love, he subjected himself to seeming ill-fortune in the confidence that God's will would work out for man's good. If it was a battle that had been won, to "Almighty God" he gave the glory; if it was a death that had brought grief to the family, he reminded his wife that their "Heavenly Father" knew better than they, and that there was eternal peace and sure reunion after life. Nothing of his serenity during the war or of his silent labor in defeat can be understood unless one realizes that he submitted himself in all things faithfully to the will of a Divinity which, in his simple faith, was directing wisely the fate of nations and the daily life of His children. This, and not the mere physical courage that defies danger, sustained him in battle; and this, at least equally with his sense of duty done, made him accept the results of the war without even a single gesture of complaint.

Of humility and submission was born a spirit of self-denial that prepared him for the hardships of the war and, still more, for the dark destitution that followed it. This self-denial was, in some sense, the spiritual counterpart of the social self-control his mother had inculcated in his boyhood days, and it grew in power throughout his life. He loved the luxury that wealth commanded. Had he been as rich as his Grandfather Carter, he would have lived in a style as hospitable. Fine horses and handsome clothes and lavish entertainments would have been his; Arlington would have been adorned, and his daughters would have enjoyed travel and the richest comfort. But Arlington was confiscated, its treasures were scattered, each stage of his sacrifice for the South brought him lower and lower in fortune until he was living in a borrowed tenant house and his wife was husbanding the scraps from a pair of trousers a farmer's wife had made for him. His own misfortunes typified the fate of the Confederacy and of its adherents. Through it all, his spirit of self-denial met every demand upon it, and even after he went to Washington College and had an income on which he could live easily, he continued to deny himself as an example to his people. Had his life been epitomized in one sentence of the Book he read so often, it would have been in the words, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." And if one, only one, of all the myriad incidents of his stirring life had to be selected to typify its message, as a man, to the young Americans who stood in hushed awe that rainy October morning as their parents wept at the passing of the Southern Arthur, who would hesitate in selecting that incident? It occurred in Northern Virginia, probably on his last visit there. A young mother brought her baby to him to be blessed. He took the infant in his arms and looked at it and then at her and slowly said, "Teach him he must deny himself."

That is all. There is no mystery in the coffin there in front of the windows that look to the sunrise.


Prayers of Lee

"What a cruel thing is war, to separate and destroy family and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness you have granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbor, and to devestate the fair face of this beautiful world. What a beautiful world God, in your loving kindness to your creatures, you have given us! What a shame that men endowed with reason and knowledge of right should mar your gifts. How good you are to us! Oh that I could priase you and thank you as I ought. You alone can save us from our folly, selfishness & short sightedness. Our hope and refuge is in you merciful Father. Upon you is my whole faith & reliance."

"One of the miseries of war is that there is no Sabbath, yet I hope with a humble, grateful, and pentitent heart, that my earnest prayer will be acceptable to you Heavenly Father. I have endeavored to give thanks to you for all your mercies to me, for your preservatioin of me through all the dangers I have passed, and all the blessings you have bestowed upon me."

Robert E Lee's Religious Views


Copyright Order of Centurions Reviewed 11:06 AM 1/22/2014

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