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Lessons From History--"Character"

"Do not be mislead: Bad company corrupts good character."
1 Corinthians 15:33


How much does character matter? A story from the American Revolution comes to mind, about General Charles Lee. General Lee was one of the top four generals on the American side of the Revolution. He was a brilliant military man--superior even to George Washington (who would freely admit so)--yet he had no character. He was described as careless, impolite, ill-mannered, and a "crabbed man."

On December 12, 1776, Washington waited on the American side of the Delaware River, despairing that the Revolution was lost and praying for a miracle--a miracle that could have come in the form of General Charles Lee and his 2,000 soldiers. Lee, however, led his troupe into Vealtown, New Jersey. He didn't care for the homes he found there, calling them "pious holes"--really, he was frustrated that they were mostly Methodist and Lutheran homes, which meant they had no liquor. He was looking to get drunk, and so he rode 3 miles away to an inn in Baskinridge, taking only 6 guards with him.

In the middle of the night, a Tory woke him to complain that a deserting American soldier had stolen his horse. Lee threw a barrage of curses at him and tossed him out of his room. Later, a Major Wilkinson arrived and woke up Lee, who gave him "a furious out-pouring, well-spiced with four-letter Anglo-Saxon words." Wilkinson gave Lee a letter intended for General George Washington. Lee read it, without questioning the propriety of either man's actions, then told Wilkinson to get the devil out of his room. At 6:00 a.m., Lee woke up and came downstairs to the inn, dressed very inappropriately for a General--wearing slippers and only a coat over his gown; filthy and unshaven, his hair uncombed and unwigged. Lee began making snide comments regarding Washington's intelligence and qualities as a leader. He saw some soldiers he didn't like, and drove them out of the inn; he then started yelling at his own guard, who also stepped outside. A Colonel then came from the regiment of 2,000 troops left at Vealtown, asking for orders…and Lee yelled at him! Lee then started parading his intentions to defy General Washington's orders, and furthermore started broadcasting military secrets--to an inn! It was 10:00 before Lee was dressed for breakfast, and he was still making comments about Washington. Wilkinson had had orders to find Washington, but Lee countermanded those orders, telling him to instead deliver a message to General Horatio Gates--in essence spitting on George Washington's authority.

In the meantime, the Tory who had been cursed earlier that night rode 18 miles to a British encampment, informing them of Lee's presence in Baskinridge. The British approached the inn, and Lee suddenly found himself abandoned by every soldier who had suffered his indignities and listened to his insubordination against George Washington. They weren't willing to die for this man. On the other hand, George Washington--who, by all accounts, was indeed an inferior military man to General Lee--was able, through his fine character, to inspire men to risk their lives for him, thus eventually winning the Revolutionary War. Had character not been an issue, Lee probably would have been in command of the American forces. Yet, had Lee been in command of the American forces…we would probably today wish that character had amounted to something in those days. Fortunately, it did.

Remember to stand strong in your character. It affects not only the choices you make, but also the decisions that are made about you. The repercussions may affect not only yourself, but countless others around you.


In Christ,


--Pastor Dan


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Last modified date:
May 28, 2004