How Houston became a true believer in Christ is inextricably bound up with the marriage to his third wife. Badly wounded in the battle of San Jacinto, Houston was evacuated by boat to New Orleans for medical treatment. He arrived there in terrible shape, his dreadful appearance shocking the well-wishers gathered on the dock to welcome him. In the crowd that day was a 17-year old girl from Marion, Alabama named Margaret Lea. In her girlish naiveté, she soon began telling--almost prophesying--to family and friends that someday she would personally meet the great Sam Houston. That meeting took place more than three years later when Houston, having served one term as President of Texas, was in Mississippi buying horses. At a social gathering, he was introduced to Margaret, then all of 20, by her younger sister Emily. Business soon took Houston away but in a matter of months, he was back in Alabama and the couple became engaged, over her mother’s strenuous and understandable objections. In May 1840, they were married, he 47, she just 21. Together they would have 8 children.
Margaret set out to “reform” Sam Houston, and saw herself as God’s instrument in this. She was a devout Baptist (her late father had been a Baptist pastor, and she herself had been converted at a girl’s academy at age 19). Of course, strictly speaking, she had no Biblical grounds for marrying Houston--he was an unbeliever (to say nothing of his two divorces, neither of which seems to have been within Biblical guidelines). Sometimes God in His mercy over-rules our sinful follies (and sometimes He doesn’t--the two wives of Thomas Alvah Edison were both devout Christians, one the daughter of a Methodist bishop; both inadvisedly and unbiblically married Edison, a lifelong unbeliever, skeptic, and virtual atheist. He never came to Christ, though he might have, had they refused marriage out of Biblical convictions).
Margaret transformed Houston’s life, greatly restricting his alcohol use. For the first several years of marriage he was irreligious and disrespectful toward his wife’s faith, refusing to attend church at all, even at Christmas. But because of his wife’s Christian character and consistent testimony, Houston did finally begin attending church with her in 1846, and thereafter led family prayers at home when he wasn’t away on business or politics. Margaret set as her chief purpose in life the conversion of Sam Houston.
When Houston went to Washington, D. C. as senator from Texas, his wife and growing family remained behind. Out of respect for his wife’s faith, Houston regularly attended E Street Baptist Church where G. W. Samson was pastor. Samson befriended Houston and loaned him books on Christian apologetics.
The separation from his wife and family made Houston very introspective. Letters from home were precious; Margaret filled her letters with Bible verses aimed at his conversion. Each evening, he read from the New Testament. While in Washington, Houston took a temperance pledge.
Back in Texas, Houston and family moved to Independence, then home to Baylor College. In November 1854, Houston publicly professed faith in Christ (his actual conversion came some while before), and was immersed in a creek by Baylor president Rufus Burleson.
Thereafter, Houston was a transformed man--in habits, in language, in outlook. The evidence of both his subsequent life and his words prove that his conversion was genuine.
A diversity of factors led to Houston’s conversion. No doubt the early thorough Bible training he received as a child was crucial. So, too, were the prayers of his mother. The consistent Christian conduct of wife Margaret (in spite of her blameworthy act of marrying the unconverted Houston), was essential, as was the faithful preaching of the Gospel by various pastors, and also Houston’s own personal reading of the Bible. Houston, a sinner profane, drunken, immoral and blasphemous, yet gloriously and unquestionably converted--and transformed--at age 61, is testimony to the abundant mercy and grace of God. Charts and demographics about the odds of being converted at such-and-such an age are irrelevant. God does not save sinners by demographics; He saves them one at a time, whoever they are, whatever they are, when they come to Christ. We dare never presume that a particular sinner is too far gone in sin or age so as to be beyond the reach of the Gospel.
Houston’s last years were not those of a much admired, much venerated hero; rather, because he opposed secession, and later refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy, he was considered a traitor, and was first refused a third term as senator in 1857, then removed from the governorship of Texas in March 1961 (he had been elected in 1859). He retired to his farm and watched with knowing eyes as the Union began to strangle, ultimately to crush, the Confederacy, bankrupting Texas, the ill-advised war leaving only ruin in its wake, as Houston foretold it would. Houston’s death in 1863 spared him from seeing the full extent of the ruin secession would bring.
---Doug Kutilek (As I See It from Feb. 2004, see The King James Only Resource Center Link at left)