Ethics & Religion
March 22, 2018
Part I of 2 Parts
Men - And the Secret of Their Greatness"
By Mike McManus
Eric Metaxas has written a powerful book:
7 Men - And the Secret of
Their Greatness. He explores what motivated seven of the greatest men
who ever lived:
- George Washington, who twice refused to become a king;
- William Wilberforce, who ended the trafficking of slaves in Great
- Eric Liddell who refused to run an Olympic race he was certain to win,
because it was on Sunday, the Lord's Day;
- Jackie Robinson, the first black to play baseball in the Major Leagues;
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer who surrendered his freedom to fight the Nazis;
- Pope John Paul II, who, though frail at life's end, courageously
continued to speak to many nations;
- Chuck Colson, who voluntarily served jail time for Watergate crimes when
he did not have to.
Each of these men surrendered themselves to a higher purpose, of giving
away that they might have kept. In this, the first of a two-part series,
I will examine George Washington, William Wilberforce and Eric Liddell.
We know George Washington as "the father of our country," after whom the
nation's capital is named. However, he made his reputation as a military
commander - first in the French & Indian War and then in the battle for
American independence from Britain.
Perhaps surprisingly, Washington, at age 21, claimed 300+ French
casualties in one battle, when the real number was only 19.
In 1755 the British sent General Edward Braddock with 1,400 men. The
French and Indians killed 976 of them. However, Washington showed
legendary courage in the battle. He "was unscathed though his hat and
coat were riddled with bullet holes and two horses were shot from
beneath him," according to biographer John Ferling.
After the war, Washington married Martha Custis, a wealthy widow who
he'd been courting. In the 1770 Boston Massacre British soldiers killed
five colonists. In 1773, the British imposed the Tea Act, infuriating
Americans who had no voice in Parliament.
That sparked organizing the Continental Congress which decided to
boycott all British-made goods. The British sent 1,000 soldiers to
Boston - leading to battles at Lexington and Concord. The Congress
decided to create a Continental Army, asking Washington to lead it. Six
long years of fighting followed from Boston to Trenton, Valley Forge and
What's largely unreported is Washington's faith. His nephew, George
Lewis, told a biographer that he "accidentally witnessed (the general's)
private devotions in his library both morning and evening...in a
kneeling position with a Bible open..."
Some urged the General to become king, which he rejected. In doing so,
Washington "became the first famous military leader in the history of
the world to win a war and then voluntarily step down instead of seizing
and consolidating power," Metaxas writes.
Perhaps you saw the 2007 movie, Amazing Grace which tells the story of
William Wilberforce, elected to Parliament at age 20. At age 24 he and a
friend, William Pitt, visited France, where they met Benjamin Franklin,
77, then the U.S. minister to France. Franklin said he was a lonely
voice against slavery in America.
At age 28 Wilberforce wrote 20 words in his 1787 diary that would
genuinely alter the course of Western civilization: "God Almighty has
set before me two Great Objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and
the Reformation of Manners."
Wilberforce's friend Pitt was elected Prime Minister, a very important
ally in his heroic efforts against the slave trade. In 1791 he received
a letter from John Wesley, the great revivalist who at 87 was on his
death bed, praising "your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable
villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human
nature...If God be for you, who can be against you?"
It was a long spiritual battle, but Parliament voted to end the slave
trade in 1807.
In 1981 the British film Chariots of Fire won the Academy Award for Best
Picture. It tells the story of Eric Liddell, the Scottish runner in the
1924 Olympics. His speed in the 100 meter race was outstanding. But the
heats for the race were scheduled for Sunday, the Lord's Day. He refused
to run. The British Olympic Committee was flabbergasted and outraged.
Instead, he signed up for the 400 meter race. In the semi-final he came
in second. He was also given the outside lane - the worst because he ran
in front of opponents who he could not see. Before running, he was
handed a Scripture: 'Him that honors me, I will honor."
With God's help, he won.
What motivated these great men was their faith.
Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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