Readers will enjoy this latest addition to the Leaders in Action Series. Like the others, All Things for Good: The Steadfast Fidelity of Stonewall Jackson, contains a biography of the subject, followed by an examination of the individual’s character and leadership attributes. Author J. Steven Wilkins also includes numerous life applications in the book’s latter section. George Grant is editor of the series.
Contemporaries in Jackson’s childhood would not expect to see his biography included in a leadership series. Jackson grew up in poverty. His father loved to gamble, and his family suffered greatly because of bad financial decisions. Jackson’s mother was widowed when he was only six. A subsequent marriage led to his mother sending the children away to relatives. This separation had long-lasting effects on the young boy. Nevertheless, God’s hand of mercy and kindness was on Thomas Jonathan Jackson.
Through God’s providence, Jackson received a late appointment to West Point. Because of his limited educational background and social contacts, he found the work at the academy to be almost overwhelming. Yet, critical childhood lessons in the areas of work, duty, perseverance, and self-denial served him well.
After graduation he gained the respect of military commanders through brave conduct on the battlefield in the Mexican War. Subsequent assignments ultimately brought him to the Virginia Military Institute. As a professor, his focus on diligence and duty were essential as he worked hard to master and teach difficult academic subjects.
When Virginia seceded from the Union, Jackson was swiftly called into military service for his new country. His valiant and virtuous leadership set an example for all to see. On the battlefield he desired the total defeat of the enemy whether by means of surprise attacks, vicious hand-to-hand combat, or persistent chasing of the retreating foe. Yet, Wilkins is careful to present another side of Jackson off the battlefield. Jackson evidenced great love, devotion, and concern for his family and other acquaintances. The author correctly shows how Jackson’s character was rooted in and was an outgrowth of his love for Jesus Christ.
Wilkins illustrates Jackson’s great love for the triune God by quoting his personal letters, along with anecdotes and testimonies of contemporaries. Of course, such devotion was by God’s grace. In Jackson’s difficult early years, he had a number of Christians in his life. His mother was a believer. On the Mexican assignment, God provided Christians to nurture him and hold him accountable. In Lexington, Virginia, God provided a sound church, which he joined and where he grew spiritually under the preaching of the Word. Needless to say, his first and second wives were great spiritual assets.
These spiritual blessings served him well in the course of his difficult life. His earthly father’s poor example did not deter him from an exemplary childlike trust in his heavenly Father even at the death of his first wife, in military miscues, or when wounded by his own troops. He deeply believed God’s promise that all things do work out for the good of His people.
Jackson was greatly concerned for the lost. He is fondly remembered for his work with the children of slaves each Lord’s Day in Lexington. His desire was to teach them the Bible and see them repent and become new creations in Christ. Surprisingly, a major concern to Jackson when the War commenced was its effect on the advance of the gospel. In the camps Jackson promoted preaching and prayer meetings for his soldiers.
There are many character traits that need to be studied by us today. The author includes these in the book’s second part. Some subjects are “Forgiveness,” “Duty,” “Respect,” and “Popularity.” Wilkins also adds chapters devoted to Jackson’s idiosyncrasies and his views regarding slavery.
The book concludes with two chapters devoted to practical aspects of leadership.
The pages of this volume bring to life battlefield strategy and skill. More importantly, Wilkins has painted with his pen a portrait of Jackson as a human being. Although far from perfect, he was an individual whom God saved, sanctified, and used until Jackson’s number of days were, humanly speaking, cut short. Thankfully, he had lived his life preparing to die. He was faithful unto death.
Christians, young and old, can profit from reading this volume. The major stress is not on military valor or victory. Throughout, Wilkins focuses on God’s sanctifying work in Jackson the individual and Jackson’s faithful desire to serve the God who continually worked in his life. The Christian is to be reminded that Jackson’s God is our God in life and in death.
- Byron Snapp
Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia. He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina. He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren.