Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Piety of "Stonewall" Jackson: Part One: Submission to Pastoral Authority

Image:  Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson equestrian statue at Court House Square,
Charlottesville, Virginia

I have been reading through R. L. Dabney’s Life and Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. Thomas J. Jackson (Stonewall Jackson) (Sprinkle reprint, 1983).

In the opening chapters, Dabney gives attention to the formation of Jackson’s spiritual life and habits. Jackson had no strong spiritual influences as a child. It was while serving in the Mexican War that a devout officer, Colonel Frank Taylor, became “his first official spiritual guide” (p. 55). At war’s end, Jackson was stationed at Fort Hamilton, New York where the Episcopalian garrison chaplain baptized him and admitted him to his first communion. When Jackson went to Lexington to teach at VMI, he visited the various denominational churches and settled on seeking membership in the Presbyterian Church. Though Dabney relates that Jackson was initially (like most new converts) an Arminian who had difficulty with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, he eventually became “one of the firmest though least bigoted advocates of the Calvinistic as distinguished from the Arminian scheme” (p. 85). Jackson was eventually tapped to serve as a deacon in his congregation. Dabney observes, “He was the best deacon the church had” (p. 97).

Submission to Pastoral Authority

Dabney then relays some of the characteristics of Dabney’s disciplined spiritual life. One aspect was his submission to pastoral authority. Here are a few excerpts:

The prominent trait of his mind was the sentiment of reverence directed supremely to God, as the standard of perfection, the rightful source of all authority, and the embodiment of infinite greatness. It was this sentiment, in its lower aspects, which constituted his remarkable spirit of subordination. As God’s nature and will were to him the standard of that which is right, and the fountainhead of obligation, so, whenever he found a fellow-creature clothed with the sanction of right, with legitimate authority over his conscience, he honored and obeyed him within his proper sphere, as a bearer of a delegated portion of the majesty of heaven; and his respect became a religious sentiment. Hence as a soldier no man was so prompt and exact in his military obedience; as a citizen none cherished so sacred a reverence for the law, and for the offices of its magistrates. As a Christian layman, he honored and obeyed the pastor who had care of souls; and, while there was no man so little priestridden, there was none who so punctually paid to the ministers of religion, the captains in God’s sacramental host, however humble in person and talents, deference for their work’s sake (pp. 87-88).

Thus his pastor was to him the spiritual officer, under whose ‘orders’ he was, and whom he therefore felt duty bound to obey, in all his admirable commands, for the sake of the authority and discipline of the spiritual host (p. 90).


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