We’ve all heard of the famous traitor Benedict Arnold, heralded in our American history classes as one of the most infamous traitors to the United States during the revolutionary war. But did you know that Arnold was first a General in the Continental Army and a war hero? That’s right, he was credited with the victory against the British at the battle of Saratoga and even was wounded in the leg in battle. Yet, that’s not how history remembers the name Benedict Arnold.
After this battle, Arnold had to retire from active combat and settled down into a desk job. He married a British sympathizer, though he didn’t consider it a big deal at the time. He was bitter that the Congress hadn’t recognized his accomplishments and given him a promotion. He also wasn’t a very popular person with civilians, and was accused of using his public office to advance his personal fortune. For this accusation he was court marshaled and found guilty. It was a minor offense and the only thing the board demanded was a letter of reprimand. Washington didn’t even mail it to him, just stuck it in a file, but with all of the other bitterness that Arnold had felt, that was the last straw. His wife was a British sympathizer and she put him in contact with some of the enemy. Arnold could have disclosed some very critical information and was going to do that when the courier taking his messages were intercepted. Washington found out about it and sought to have Arnold arrested, but he fled to British lines. He became a General for the British Army and lived in England for the rest of his days, to the delight of his wife, who desired that more than anything.
One lesson we learn from Arnold’s life is that little things build up into big things. Arnold didn’t get up one morning and say, “I think I’ll be a traitor today.” Gradually, over time, the circumstances of his life wore on him until he felt compelled to act in the way he did. The same can be true for our life. Multiple small annoyances can build up to the point that we lash out at our family and friends. We need to battle such annoyances with contentment and thanksgiving. When we learn to be thankful for everything around us, then we won’t be annoyed at something that doesn’t go our way. When we become content with our circumstances, then annoyances won’t have any meaning as they will be accepted as part of our life. Arnold didn’t understand the value of thanksgiving and contentment. Paul wrote, “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11). We need to be on constant guard that we are not so led into sin.
Another lesson that we learn is that our lives are open books for others to read and we need to be keenly aware of that. Arnold’s use of public funds for personal profit was something that should never have happened. A Christian has a great responsibility to let his light shine to all who are around (Matthew 5:16). This means that our lives are open for inspection at any point and at any time. Christians cannot afford to have “secrets” to which others are not privy. We must learn to “provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17).
Finally, we learn that Arnold didn’t choose his company very wisely when he married a British sympathizer. The people that we associate with and especially the person that we eventually marry, will have more influence upon our lives that we expect. Paul warned of the potential danger of our friends in 1 Corinthians 15:33 when he said, “Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals” (ASV). Arnold didn’t choose his companions wisely and in the end, it cost him dearly.
Arnold’s actions are historically notorious but there were reasons why he came to the point he did. We need to make sure that we don’t have such “reasons” in our lives that will betray our Lord and prevent us from entering heaven. Perhaps the greatest lesson from Arnold is that it doesn’t matter how big of a hero you are, you can still fall (1 Corinthians 10:12)!