September 22, 2016
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Nathan Hale was born on June 6, 1755, in Coventry, Connecticut. At the tender age of 13, Hale was sent off to Yale College with his older brother, Enoch. (see ) Hale graduated with first-class honors in 1773 at only 18, with two possible vocations ahead of him. He could become a Christian minister like his brother, or a teacher. Choosing the latter, he took a position in East Haddam and later in New London.
When news of the Battle of Lexington and Concord arrived, (see ) a town meeting was called. Hale was a member of the Connecticut militia though he wasn’t old enough to fight. He stood and declared, “Let us march immediately.” He continued, “never lay down our arms until we obtain our independence.” This was the first recorded time that a colonist spoke a word publicly that they were all yearning for privately - “independence”.
The next morning, Hale arrived at school to greet his students. He spoke with them, prayed with them, and then shook each of the thirty-two young men’s hands before bidding ado.
Despite being elected first lieutenant and actively serving in his militia, Hale’s unit participated in the Siege of Boston without him. It is unknown if his teaching commitments, other military assignments, or his age prevented his personal involvement.
On July 4, 1775, he received a letter from his former Yale classmate, Benjamin Tallmadge, urging him to get into the battle. "Was I in your condition, I think the more extensive service would be my choice. Our holy Religion, the honour of our God, a glorious country, & a happy constitution is what we have to defend."
Hale officially resigned his teaching position and accepted a commission as First Lieutenant in the 7th Connecticut Regiment stationed in Stamford, Connecticut. Hale’s company was immediately sent to New London where they trained for battle. On September 14, 1775, General George Washington ordered the regiment to Cambridge where they fell under his command.
By the following spring, Hale and his unit had followed Washington to Manhattan as the British were threatening to take control of New York City. (see ) Washington desperately needed information regarding the British’s plans for attack. He asked for volunteers to go behind enemy lines and gather intelligence. Breaking the deafening silence of his fellow soldiers, Hale volunteered.
William Hull, another former classmate, tried to talk Hale out of the dangerous, and possibly deadly, assignment claiming he could be executed in disgrace. At the time, apprehended spies were hanged immediately without trial. Hale boldly replied, “I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies (needs) of my country demand a peculiar service, its claim to perform that service are imperious (authoritative).”
Dressed as a civilian with his college diploma in hand, Hale took off for Manhattan on September 12th. He planned to pose as a Dutch schoolmaster visiting New York. Three days later, the city fell into British control.
Hale continued his mission, gathering and recording any information he could come by. On September 21st, the day he was suppose to return to his unit, fire broke out in the city. A quarter of New York City was consumed and destroyed. The British were convinced Americans started it to avoid British seizure. Others contend a group of British soldiers set fire to the conquered city.
In the chaos, over 200 American partisans were captured and imprisoned by the British. While waiting at his rendezvous point in Flushing Bay, Hale was also cornered and captured. It is speculated a loyalist revealed his identity to the authorities. Hale was immediately placed under heavy guard and taken to the British Headquarters at Beekman Mansion where he was questioned by British General William Howe. After documents were discovered in his shoe containing notes and locations of the British invasion plans, Hale’s fate was sealed. His cover was blown. Hale did not try to fight or resist. He just calmly gave them his name and rank. Howe ordered his execution the following morning.
Hale was placed in a greenhouse on the mansion property for the night. He requested a minister and a Bible, both of which were denied. In the morning, Hale was taken to the site of his death. While preparations were being made, Captain Montresor asked that Hale be allowed to sit in his tent. Hale requested writing materials and wrote two letters, one to his mother and one to a fellow officer. After his death, Montresor stated, “The Provost-Marshal destroyed the letters, and assigned a reason that the rebels should not know that they had a man in their army who could die with so much firmness.”
While on the gallows, Hale was allowed last words. It is speculated he had a moving speech as there were several reported accounts of his poignant message. His most memorable, most patriotic, and most inspiring line was, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
Some believe he was actually quoting from Joseph Addison's play Cato, which inspired many Patriots:
How beautiful is death, when earn'd by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.
He was 21 and content when he became the first martyr of the American Revolution.
“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my God.”
As the number of disciples of Jesus Christ increased after his death, Stephen was one of seven chosen as a deacon to the church. Stephen was selected because he was “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” Just as the leaders of the church rejected Jesus, they rejected Stephen and accused him of blasphemy.
After being dragged in front of the high priest to defend their accusations, God filled him with the Holy Spirit. In his last speech, he laid out the Jews' continuous abandonment of God, His commands and the Holy Spirit. Stephen reminded those standing around that while Moses was still leading them out of Egypt, they complained and turned to other gods. Their hearts were seething from hearing the truth of their iniquities. They unleashed their anger on Stephen.
While being stoned, Stephen looked up to Heaven in awe and saw the Glory of God with Jesus at His right hand waiting for him. He died fulfilled, imploring, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and asking "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."
He was at peace and forgiving when he became the first martyr for Jesus Christ.
“I am saved because He gave His one life for me.”
These two men are good examples of honor, courage, faithfulness, and integrity. Hale was not discouraged from doing what he thought was right because it could end in death. Stephen did not shy away from preaching the Gospel because of the threats of the synagogue leaders. Both men pressed on with their duty come what may.
But there was one man, one Holy and innocent Savior, who willingly and purposely put his life in the hands of his enemies so that He could give his life to save the world. While Hale and Stephen were not aware of their death sentence until it happened, Jesus had been preparing for His during His entire life.
Jesus had the power to walk away at any time. He could have remained quite and unnoticed like He did the first 30 years of his life. He could have continued preaching in the pastures with thousands following Him but away from the threat of the Jewish leaders. He could have even called for the angels to remove Him from the cross. But Christ, the loving, compassionate, wonderful Savior that He is, willingly fulfilled His purpose not for His sake, but for ours. While on the cross, waiting for death to come, He too spoke several words. Even while the crowd stood at His feet, mocking and ridiculing Him, Jesus mercifully asked God to forgive them of their sin.
Just before He died, He declared, “It is finished.” This is the most beautiful statement of all. Christ is proclaiming that He has completely fulfilled the Scripture for us and paid in full the price God demands. At this point, Christ simply states, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” as He had completely conquered death. (see )
Liberty, there may come a time when you will be faced with standing for your faith and values, or playing it safe in the shadows. It is not an easy choice. Nathan Hale and Stephen were both faced with that choice and paid with their lives. Though Hale’s actions are seen as more patriotic than faithful, he believed what he was doing was being faithful to God.
Because of Jesus, we don’t have to fear death. It is recorded that Stephen didn’t die, but “fell asleep.” We can take so much comfort in this. Death is final and eternal. Christians “sleep” until they are woken again at Christ’s return and He takes us to live with Him in Paradise.
Liberty, I pray you are never put in a situation like Hale or Stephen. That being said, you must always be prepared to defend your principles. We may not face death like these two men, but there are forces wanting to strip you of your eternal life, liberty, and freedom. You have to know what you believe and not waver from that even in the most critical of times.
It is said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Know yourself, know your heart, know your principles, but most importantly, know your Savior.
And as always, I will conclude with my famous last words: That’s my 2 cents.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS