On the sixteenth day after the battle of Gettysburg, I entered the room where a young wounded colonel was apparently near to death. As I entered, he was roused from his stupor and beckoned me to his bedside, and threw his feeble arms around my neck.
“O my father, how glad I am to see you. I was afraid you would not come till it was too late. I am too feeble to say much, though I have a great many things to say to you; you must do all the talking. Tell me all about dear mother and sister.”
I soon perceived by the appearance of those in the house, that there was no hope entertained of his recovery. But as I could no longer endure the agony of suspense, I at last inquired of the doctor, “Doctor, what do you think of my son’s case?”
“But is there nothing more that can be done to save him?”
“No, sir. Every thing that human skill and kindness can do has been done. Your son has been a brave and very successful officer; has been a great favorite in the army; has won the highest esteem of all who have known him, but now he must die. Immediately after the amputation the gangrene set in, and defies all efforts to arrest it.”
“Well, Doctor, how long do you think he can live?”
“Not more than four days. He may drop away at any hour. We are constantly fearing that an artery will give way, and then it is all over with the colonel. What you wish to do in reference to his death, you had better do at once.”
“Have you, or has any one, told him of his real condition?”
“No. We have left that painful duty for you to do, as we have been expecting your arrival for several days.”
As I entered the room with the dreadful message of death pressing on my heart, the eyes of my son fastened on me.
“Come, sit by my side, father. Have you been talking with the doctor about me?”
“What did he tell you? Does he think I shall recover?”
There was a painful hesitation for a moment.
“Don’t be afraid to tell me just what he said.”
“He told me you must die.”
“How long does he think I can live?”
“Not to exceed four days, and that you may drop away any hour—that an artery may slough at any moment which you cannot survive.”
With great agitation he exclaimed,
“Father, is that so? Then I must die! I cannot. I must not die! Oh! I am not prepared to die now. Do tell me how I can get ready? Make it so plain that I can get hold of it. Tell me, in a few words, if you can, so that I can see it plainly. I know you can, father, for I used to hear you explain it to others.”
’Twas no time now for tears, but for calmness and light, by which to lead the soul to Christ, and both were given.
“My son, I see you are afraid to die.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, I suppose you feel guilty.”
“Yes, that is it. I have been a wicked young man. You know how it is in the army.”
“You want to be forgiven, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes! That is what I want. Can I be, father?”
“Can I know it before I die?”
“Well now, father, make it so plain that I can get hold of it.”
At once, an incident which occurred during the school-days of my son came to my mind. I had not thought of it before for several years. Now it came back to me, fresh with its interest, and just what was wanted to guide the agitated heart of this young inquirer to Jesus.
“Do you remember while at school in ______ you came home one day, and I having occasion to rebuke you, you became very angry and abused me with harsh language?”
“Yes, father, I was thinking it all over a few days ago, as I thought of your coming to see me, and felt so bad about it, that I wanted to see you, and once more ask you to forgive me.”
“Do you remember, how, after the paroxysm of your anger had subsided, you came in, and threw your arms around my neck, and said, ‘My dear father, I am sorry I abused you so. It was not your loving son that did it. I was angry. Won’t you forgive me?’ ”
“Yes, I remember it very distinctly.”
“Do you remember what I said to you as you wept upon my neck?”
“Very well. You said, ‘I forgive you with all my heart,’ and kissed me. I shall never forget those words.”
“Did you believe me?”
“Certainly. I never doubted your word.”
“Did you then feel happy again?”
“Yes, perfectly; and since that time I have loved you more than ever before. I shall never forget how it relieved me when you looked upon me so kindly, and said, ‘I forgive you with all my heart.’ ”
“Well, now, this is just the way to come to Jesus. Tell Him you are sorry just as you told me, and ten thousand times quicker than a father’s love forgave you, will He forgive you. He says He will. Then you must take His word for it, just as you did mine.”
“Why, father, is this the way to become a Christian?”
“I don’t know of any other.”
“Why, father, I can get hold of this. I am so glad you have come to tell me how.”
He turned his head upon his pillow for rest. I sank into my chair and wept freely, for my heart could no longer suppress its emotions. I had done my work, and committed the case to Christ. He, too, I was soon assured, had done His. The broken heart had made its confession, had heard what it longed for, “I forgive you,” and believed it. It was but a few moments of silence, but the new creation had taken place, the broken heart had made its short, simple prayer, and believed, and the new heart had been given. A soul had passed out from nature’s darkness into marvelous light, and from the power of sin and Satan unto God.
I soon felt the nervous hand on my head, and heard the word, “father,” in such a tone of tenderness and joy, that I knew the change had come.
“Father, my dear father, I don’t want you to weep any more, you need not. I am perfectly happy now. Jesus has forgiven me. I know He has, for He says so, and I take His word for it, just as I did yours. Wipe your tears. I am not afraid to die now. If it is God’s will, I would like to live to serve my country, and take care of you and mother, but if I must die, I am not afraid to now, Jesus has forgiven me. Come, father, let us sing—
“ ‘When I can read my title clear,’ ” and we did sing.
“Now, father, I want you should pray, and I will follow you.”
We did pray, and Jesus heard us.
“Father, I am very happy. Why, I believe I shall get well. I feel much better.”
From that hour all his symptoms changed—pulse went down, and countenance brightened. The current of life had changed.
The doctor soon came in and found him cheerful and happy—looked at him—felt his pulse, which he had been watching with intense anxiety and said—
“Why, Colonel, you look better.”
“I am better, Doctor. I am going to get well. My father has told me how to become a Christian, and I am very happy. I believe I shall recover, for God has heard my prayer. Doctor, I want you should become a Christian too. My father can tell you how to get hold of it.”
In the evening three surgeons were in consultation, but saw no hope in the case, and one of them took his final leave of the colonel.
Next morning the two surgeons, who had been in constant attendance came in and began as usual to dress the wound.
On opening the bandage, they suddenly drew back, and throwing up their arms exclaimed—
“This is a miracle! The gangrene is arrested, and the colonel will live! God has heard your prayers!”
“Why, Doctor,” replied the colonel, “I told you yesterday, that I believed I should get well, for I asked Jesus that I might live to do some good. I knew He heard my prayer, and now you see He has. Bless the Lord with me, Doctor.”
Meanwhile, “Our son must die,” had gone over the wires, and made sadness at home. Next day, “Our son will live, and is happy in Christ,” followed, and joy came again to the loved ones.
After his recovery, the colonel returned to the people whose sons he had led with honor through fifteen hard fought battles. They, in return, gave him the best office in the gift of a loyal and grateful people. Among them he now lives in prosperity and honor, he is a member of the church of Christ, and the father of a happy family growing up around him, and consecrated to the service of his Redeemer.
I, too, was made a better man and better minister by that scene, where this dear son, struggling with his guilt and fear of death, was led to Jesus, and found the pardon of his sins. I there resolved never to forget that charge he made me, in his extremity: “Make it so plain that I can get hold of it.”
I have made this the motto of every sermon I have preached, and God has blessed the effort.
Sabbath Readings for The Home Circle, vol. 2, 180–188.