In Seven Men, New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas presents seven exquisitely crafted short portraits of widely known—but not well understood—Christian men, each of whom uniquely showcases a commitment to live by certain virtues in the truth of the gospel.
Written in a beautiful and engaging style, Seven Men addresses what it means (or should mean) to be a man today, at a time when media and popular culture present images of masculinity that are not the picture presented in Scripture and historic civil life. What does it take to be a true exemplar as a father, brother, husband, leader,
coach, counselor, change agent, and wise man? What does it mean to stand for honesty, courage, and charity, especially at times when the culture and the world run counter to those values?
Each of the seven biographies represents the life of a man who experienced the struggles and challenges to be strong in the face of forces and circumstances that would have destroyed the resolve of lesser men. Each of the seven men profiled—George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson—call the reader to a more elevated walk and lifestyle, one that embodies the gospel in the world around us.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
And the Secret of Their Greatness
By ERIC METAXAS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Eric Metaxas
All rights reserved.
Let me begin the first biography in this book by saying that even if the seven great men discussed within its pages were not in chronological order, I probably still would have started with George Washington. When it comes to true greatness, Washington's tough to beat. But someone's greatness can sometimes lend him an aura of such outsized fame that we begin to think of him not as a real person but as a cartoon superhero or as a legend. That's often the case with Washington.
As you know, he has a state named after him. (Do I need to say which?) And he has our nation's capital city named after him; he has a soaring obelisk monument in that city; his birthday is a national holiday; and he has a huge bridge named after him right here in my hometown of New York City. And if all these things aren't impressive enough, his face is on the dollar bill! (Perhaps you already knew that.) So who really thinks of him as an actual flesh-and-blood human being who struggled as we all struggle and who put on his breeches one leg at a time? That's the problem with being that famous. People often don't really think about you as a person at all.
If you do think of him, you probably think of George Washington as that old guy with the somewhat sour expression on the aforementioned dollar bill. In that overfamiliar picture, sporting heavily powdered hair and a lace-trimmed shirt, he looks almost as much like an old woman as an old man.
But what I've discovered is that this famous portrait has given many of us an outrageously false picture of who Washington actually was. It presents him as an elderly man with chronic denture discomfort, who looks none too happy for it. But the reality is completely different.
What if I told you that in his day, George Washington was considered about the manliest man most people had ever seen? No kidding. Virtually everyone who knew him or saw him seemed to say so. He was tall and powerful. He was also both fearless and graceful. On the field of battle, he had several horses shot out from under him; on the dance floor, he was a much sought-after partner.
There's so much to say about Washington that it's hard to know where to begin. For one thing, he was a man of tremendous contradictions. For example, the man who became known as the father of our country never fathered children himself. And he lost his own father when he was a young boy. The man who was viewed as deeply honorable actually told some real whoppers when he was a young man, despite Parson Weems's fictitious episode by the cherry tree: "I cannot tell a lie." More than anyone else, he is responsible for freeing American colonists from the greatest military power on earth — the British Empire — and yet he held some three hundred black men, women, and children in bondage at Mount Vernon.
But here's the biggest contradiction: Washington was an extremely ambitious young man who worked hard to achieve fame, glory, land, and riches — yet at a pivotal moment in American history, he did something so selfless that it's difficult to fully fathom. It's principally because of this one thing that he's included in this book.
So what did he do? In a nutshell, he voluntarily gave up incredible power. When you know the details of his sacrifice, it's hard to believe that he did what he did of his own free will. And yet he did it. The temptation not to surrender all that power must have been extraordinary. There were many good reasons not to surrender it, but history records that he somehow did. Somehow he made an impossibly grand sacrifice — and in doing so he dramatically changed the history of the world. Had Washington not been willing to do it, America as we know it almost certainly would not exist. That's not hyperbole.
This is why contemporary memorials to Washington describe him as an American Moses, as someone loaned to Americans from God. He was the right man for his time — arguably the only man who could have successfully birthed the American Experiment. If you wonder whether one person's actions can matter, and if you wonder whether character matters, you needn't look any further than the story of George Washington. So here it is.
* * *
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in what is now Westmoreland County, Virginia, the first son of Mary Ball Washington and tobacco farmer Augustine Washington. George had two older half-brothers, Augustine and Lawrence, and one half sister, Jane, who were children from his father's first marriage. George also had five full younger siblings: Samuel, Elizabeth, John, Charles, and Mildred.
Augustine and Lawrence were sent to England for their educations, but George's father died when George was just eleven, making an English education for him financially impossible. He would regret this deficit in his education throughout his long life. George's brother Lawrence, who was fourteen years older, became a father figure to him, someone whose advice the young George would listen to. In 1751, Lawrence took nineteen-year-old George to Barbados, where Lawrence hoped to be cured of tuberculosis. Alas, George contracted smallpox on this trip. Although the disease was dangerous, it actually turned out to be a hugely fortunate occurrence; George was then inoculated from the disease at an early age, thereby preventing him from future attacks of it when he was a general. During the Revolutionary War, large numbers of soldiers died of disease rather than enemy attacks.
As a boy growing into manhood, George frequently visited Lawrence's home on the Potomac River, which was named Mount Vernon. He also frequently visited Belvoir, owned by Lawrence's in-laws. As one biographer put it, at Mount Vernon and Belvoir, "George discovered a world that he had never known." In particular, Belvoir "was a grand structure, an architectural showcase gracefully adorned with exquisite molding and rich paneling and decorated tastefully with furniture and accessories from England." George "was stirred by the people" in these homes, "people of influence," adults "who were well-read and thoughtful, men who were accustomed to wielding power."
Young George determined to turn himself into one of them — especially someone like Lawrence, who was not only a distinguished war hero but also adjutant general of Virginia, a member of the Virginia legislature, the House of Burgesses, and by marriage, a member of the socially prominent Fairfax family. George threw himself into learning proper etiquette, reading serious books, dressing properly, and improving his character. He also eventually shot up to be roughly six-foot-three, this making him much taller than most of his contemporaries and giving him the heroic, statuesque appearance of a born commander.
Given his future career, it's certainly ironic that George's mother fought his efforts, at age fourteen, to become a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy. She thought such a life would be too harsh for her son, so George decided to learn to become a surveyor. He was fiercely intent on acquiring property and wealth, and a surveying career could lead to quick riches in land and money. By the time he turned twenty, George owned some twenty-five hundred acres of Virginia's frontier land.
But that same year — 1752 — tragedy struck. George's beloved brother Lawrence lost his battle with tuberculosis. Lawrence's wife and daughter also died within a few years. This meant that George would ultimately inherit Mount Vernon — an estate he would ambitiously enlarge and improve during the next four decades.
When he was twenty-one, George once again turned his attention toward the possibility of a military career. Through the intervention of influential friends, and despite the fact that George had no military experience, Virginia's governor appointed him commander of the southernmost military district of Virginia, a post that gave him the rank of major. This was an unexpected development, and it would not be long before George had an opportunity to test his mettle in a dramatic — and ultimately historic — way.
On the horizon loomed the French and Indian War, in which the French and several tribes of native Americans joined forces against Great Britain (including the Anglo-Americans) for what was then called the Ohio Territory — a vast area, much larger than the current US state of Ohio. Both France and Britain claimed this territory, and in 1750, France sent an army there and built Fort Le Boeuf, about fifteen miles from Lake Erie, in what is today the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania. This aggressive move by the French infuriated many Virginians, particularly those who owned territory in the region. What to do? The governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, consulted Crown officials in London, who advised him to send an emissary to the French, letting them know in no uncertain terms that the territory belonged to the English and that they had better remove their troops posthaste.
When young George Washington learned of the need for a messenger to travel through the mountains and wilderness during that upcoming winter, he immediately put himself forward as the man for the job. Governor Dinwiddie accepted Washington's offer and also gave George a number of other responsibilities. He was to spy out the land and the size of the French force. He was also instructed to consult with the so-called "half-king," the chief of the Seneca tribe, about the possibility of their joining with the British against the French, in the event that war should break out. And he was to attempt to find a good location for building an English fort in the area — something that was an absolute necessity if the Ohio Company, a Virginia land speculation company, were to "gain legal title to the hundreds of thousands of acres it coveted in the Ohio Country."
So twenty-one-year-old George left with the governor's letter and six companions. They spent weeks hiking the many miles from Virginia to Ohio, through the endless terrain of winter snow, headed for Fort Le Boeuf.
When they got close to their destination, a French patrol met them and escorted Washington and his men to the fort. The French treated them civilly, as was the custom. They welcomed them, fed them, received and read the letter George delivered, and then gave George their response to take back to Virginia. But as George suspected from conversations that he overheard, the response was not what the English hoped. The French resolutely declared that the land was theirs. If that was true, the two world powers would soon be at war.
George and his men returned home with the letter — in which the French indeed claimed the land as their own — and he prepared an account of his adventure, which was published in colonial newspapers. His fame also spread through London when his memoir was published in pamphlet form under the title The Journal of Major George Washington. It was the first time the British would hear of this valiant young man, and obviously not the last.
Faced with French defiance, the House of Burgesses was forced to take action. The members voted to fund what they named the Virginia Regiment, a three-hundred-man volunteer army. This regiment was to travel to the Ohio Valley to assist in building a fort, which Dinwiddie considered essential to protect British interests. The Virginia Regiment was to be led by an experienced British soldier named Colonel Joshua Fry. The ambitious Washington pressed political friends to promote him to the rank of lieutenant colonel, which they succeeded in doing, and so he joined the regiment with this rank.
But Fry could not immediately leave Virginia, so it was the young Washington himself who was charged with leading 186 men into western Pennsylvania. Upon learning that the French had sent one thousand soldiers to build what they would name Fort Duquesne, Washington was in a quandary. He had far fewer men at his disposal than did the French. He had been urging Indians to join the British, but he had no way of knowing whether they actually would.
He also feared negative repercussions if, in effect, he surrendered before meeting up with French troops. Should he wait for Colonel Fry and reinforcements? Adding to Washington's uneasiness were the stealthy nighttime sounds of men nearby. Were they deserters or French soldiers?
Indian scouts gave Washington a further confusing message. They said that a force of French soldiers was headed in Washington's direction, hoping to meet Washington and attack the English. Washington decided to stay where he was, and two days later he received more news from Christopher Gist, who had traveled with Washington on his previous trip into the Ohio wilderness, that a French party of about fifty men was approaching. These soldiers "had invaded [Gist's] nearby wilderness cabin, vowing to kill his cow and smash 'everything in the house.'"
As one historian notes, the inexperienced Washington made "a crucial decision, and one that violated Dinwiddie's instructions to keep the army within its fortifications." Washington sent half his men ahead and then learned from an Indian ally that the French had been spotted not far away. Washington took forty of his men on a rainy night march, determined to make a surprise attack. What took place the next morning in May 1754 simply boggles the imagination.
On their arrival, Washington discovered thirty-two French soldiers calmly preparing their breakfast. For some unknown reason, Washington ordered his men to open fire, and a dozen of the French were immediately slaughtered. Once the smoke cleared, French ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, attempted to explain to Washington that his troops were on a diplomatic mission. But at the very moment that "Jumonville read this ultimatum, things got immeasurably worse: the Half-King stepped forward, split open [Jumonville's] head with a hatchet, then dipped his hands into the skull, rinsed them with the victim's brains, and scalped him."
Washington would never forget this unspeakably grotesque scene or the demonic horrors of the chaos that ensued. The Seneca traveling with him now viciously attacked and scalped the wounded French, impaling the head of one man on a stake. "Immobilized either by bloodlust or the awful sights that he was beholding for the first time, Washington made no attempt to stop the carnage," writes biographer John Ferling. It's possible Washington did not want to antagonize the Indians by attempting to stop their atrocities.
After it was all over, Washington wrote to Dinwiddie, claiming the French soldiers were actually "Spyes of the worst sort" who intended to prepare the way for an attack by the French. This may well have been true — the diplomatic message may indeed have been cover — but knowing that his French prisoners would have their own story to tell about what happened, Washington warned Dinwiddie not to believe them.
To be sure, Washington had more to worry about than possible condemnation by Dinwiddie. When French leaders at Fort Duquesne learned of the carnage that had taken place against their men, they would certainly seek revenge. Washington immediately ordered his men to begin construction of what he would call Fort Necessity. But the fort's location was rather ill chosen: forests and hills closely surrounded the fort, which meant that the French would be able to get close to it and shoot the English like fish in the proverbial barrel.
This was precisely what happened. Some nine hundred French and Indian fighters arrived under the command of Louis Coulon de Villiers, who was the brother of Jumonville, and immediately opened fire. After they had killed or wounded a full quarter of Washington's men, Villiers asked Washington if he would like to surrender. Washington agreed to do so and — worse from the standpoint of his record — he signed a document in which he confessed that Jumonville had been murdered.
Excerpted from Seven Men by ERIC METAXAS. Copyright © 2013 Eric Metaxas. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. George Washington.......... 1
2. William Wilberforce........ 31
3. Eric Liddell............... 57
4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer........ 89
5. Jackie Robinson............ 113
6. Pope John Paul II.......... 139
7. Charles W. Colson.......... 163
About the Author.............. 211