Let Us Cross Over The River

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, July 27, 2014 0 comments

by Michael Homula

I was planning to share this writing next May on the anniversary of the event but something happened in my life this week that prompted me to share it now. I learned that an old friend had died rather suddenly. He was not a Christ follower, in fact he pretty much rejected Jesus and God, so my heart was broken over where he will now spend eternity. I learned that in his final moments he was frightened. That too broke my heart - severely if I am being honest. I am still hurting.

But it got me thinking of a Civil War (though not Gettysburg specific) related event that serves as a lesson for those of us who follow Christ and hope for those who don’t and are uncertain about death and heaven and eternity and things of that sort.

On May 10, 1863, less than two months before the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson would breathe his last earthly breath in a plantation office in Guinea Station, Virginia. He was the South’s finest tactical commander and a debate rages today about what difference he may or may not have made at Gettysburg had he been there. Eight days earlier, at Chancellorsville on May 2nd, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded (shot by his own men as he rode between the lines in the dark looking to press the advantage he had gained during the daytime fighting) and carried to a hospital where his surgeon, Hunter McGuire, amputated his left arm in an effort to prevent infection and save his life. Jackson was a Christ follower of enormous faith and never was it on display more clearly than in the final days and hours of life in his “earthly tent” (2 Cor. 5:1-10).

The following brief overview of his last days is taken from the detailed notes of Dr. Hunter McGuire and the eyewitnesses to General Jackson’s last days and moments on this earth.

Sometime after sunrise the morning of May 3rd, after having his arm amputated around 2 a.m., General Jackson was awake, alert, and in good spirits. Captain Smith read a note that was sent over from General Robert E. Lee: "I have just received your note, informing me that you were wounded. I cannot express my regret at the occurrence. Could I have directed events, I should have chosen, for the good of the country, to have been disabled in your stead. I congratulate you upon the victory, which is due to your skill and energy." General Jackson, always cognizant of where proper credit is due, replied: "General Lee should give the praise to God."

Due to the battle that had re-ignited around the hospital tents, General Lee gave orders to move Jackson and his medical team to Guinea Station, VA where they would occupy a small plantation office on Thomas C. Chandler's 740-acre plantation named "Fairfield."

Dr. McGuire wrote:
He expressed great satisfaction when told that his wounds were healing, and asked if I could tell from their appearance how long he would probably be kept from the field. Conversing with Captain Smith a few moments afterwards, he alluded to his injuries and amputated arm, and said, “Many would regard them as a great misfortune; I regard them as one of the blessings of my life.”

Captain Smith replied: “All things work together for good to those that love God.” (Romans 8:28)

“Yes,” General Jackson answered, “that's it, that's it.”

By mid-week General Jackson worsened and he began to develop severe pain in his side – the product of pneumonia the doctors believed – and it did not seem he would survive. But by Thursday he seemed to be improving and Dr. McGuire wrote:

Towards the evening he became better, and hopes were again entertained of his recovery. Mrs. Jackson arrived to-day and nursed him faithfully to the end. She was a devoted wife and earnest Christian, and endeared us all to her by her great kindness and gentleness. The General's joy at the presence of his wife and child was very great, and for him unusually demonstrative. Noticing the sadness of his wife, he said to her tenderly: "I know you would gladly give your life for me, but I am perfectly resigned. Do not be sad. I hope I may yet recover. Pray for me, but always remember in your prayers to use the petition, ‘Thy will be done.’"

By Saturday, nearly a week after he was wounded and his arm amputated, General Jackson’s condition worsened again. Dr. McGuire described the situation and the scene in the plantation office:

Dr. Tucker, from Richmond, arrived on Saturday, and all that human skill could devise was done to stay the hand of death. He suffered no pain to-day, and his breathing was less difficult, but he was evidently hourly growing weaker.

When his child was brought to him today he played with it for some time, frequently caressing it and calling it his "little comforter." At one time he raised his wounded hand [his right hand had also suffered a severe gunshot wound] above his head and closing his eyes, was for some moments silently engaged in prayer. He said to me: "I see from the number of physicians that you think my condition dangerous, but I thank God, if it is His will, that I am ready to go."

It seemed that the Lord was indeed calling His dearly loved General Jackson home. There would be no daring flanking maneuver around an earthly death – something the warrior leader Jackson was so adept at executing on the battlefield – but Jackson was not searching for a way around the “enemy’s” flank. He did not need it for He had Christ as His redeeming Savior, and Jackson was well prepared for his real home. My words would be inadequate to describe Jackson’s final moments compared to those who were there and witnessed the brave warrior go into glory.

Doctor McGuire shares the final moments:

About daylight on Sunday morning Mrs. Jackson informed him that his recovery was very doubtful, and that it was better that he should be prepared for the worst. He was silent for a moment, and then said: "It will be infinite gain to be translated to Heaven." He advised his wife, in the event of his death, to return to her father's house, and added: "You have a kind and good father, but there is no one so kind and good as your Heavenly Father." He still expressed a hope of his recovery, but requested her, if he should die, to have him buried in Lexington, in the Valley of Virginia. His exhaustion increased so rapidly that at 11 o'clock Mrs. Jackson knelt by his bed and told him that before the sun went down he would be with his Saviour. He replied: "Oh, no; you are frightened, my child; death is not so near; I may yet get well." She fell over upon the bed, weeping bitterly, and told him again that the physicians said there was no hope. After a moment's pause he asked her to call me. "Doctor, Anna informs me that you have told her that I am to die to-day; is it so?" When he was answered, he turned his eyes toward the ceiling and gazed for a moment or two as if in intense thought, then replied: "Very good, very good, it is all right." He then tried to comfort his almost heart-broken wife, and told her that he had a great deal to say to her, but he was too weak.

Colonel Pendleton came into the room about 1 o'clock, and he asked him, "Who was preaching at headquarters to-day?" When told that the whole army was praying for him, he replied: "Thank God, they are very kind." He said: "It is the Lord's Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on Sunday."

His mind now began to fail and wander, and he frequently talked as if in command upon the field, giving orders in his old way; then the scene shifted and he was at the mess-table, in conversation with members of his staff; now with his wife and child; now at prayers with his military family. Occasional intervals of return of his mind would appear, and during one of them I offered him some brandy and water, but he declined it, saying, "It will only delay my departure, and do no good; I want to preserve my mind, if possible, to the last." About half-past one he was told that he had but two hours to live, and he answered again, feebly, but firmly, "Very good, it is all right."

A few moments before he died he cried out in his delirium, "Order A. P. Hill to prepare for action! Pass the infantry to the front rapidly! Tell Major Hawks," then stopped, leaving the sentence unfinished. Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face, and he cried quietly and with an expression as if of relief, "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees;” and then, without pain or the least struggle, his spirit passed from earth to the God who gave it.

This is the kind of peace, a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7), one has when their eternity is secure in Jesus Christ alone. When we trust in Jesus we need not fear earthly death, whether it comes suddenly or after many years of a life well lived, but rather look forward to it with anticipation as we cross over the river to rest under the shade of the tree’s with the One who created us and loves us more than our heart or mind could ever fathom.

Have you trusted Christ alone for your salvation?