I was walking along the Birmingham platform for a few minutes before the train started for Bristol, when my attention was drawn to a deserter, handcuffed, and seated between a private and a sergeant. His features betrayed distress of mind. The thought suddenly occurred to me, if my Master were here, He would take His seat by the side of this man. Yes, blessed Jesus, Thy heart was too full of compassion, ever to pass by a distressed sufferer. These thoughts led me to take my seat opposite the poor man. I sat some time in silence, thinking of the mercy of God, in delivering me from Sergeant Satan, and the handcuffs of sin. Reader, if you are delivered, thank God — if not, then sit down with me a little, and listen attentively. The poor deserter appeared to be about forty years of age. He had been a deserter many years, but had become so exceedingly miserable, that he had given himself up to the authorities. Having been thus severed from those most dear to him on earth, and that probably for ever, I found his heart was too full of sorrow to bear much conversation; but the following, as nearly as I can remember, took place with the sergeant.
"You seem to have brought your captive some distance?"
"Oh yes, sir, from beyond Glasgow!"
"Indeed! It must be very painful to have had the hands in that bound position so far."
"Oh yes, sir."
The man's heart seemed nearly as hard as the bayonet by his side.
"Well, sergeant," said I, "have you got your handcuffs off yet? or are you still led captive by the devil? He knows that sin will handcuff a man, and draw him along to judgment and to hell. — It's sore work, sergeant, to be dragged like that, Eh?"
"Well, sir, I'll tell you, I think a soldier will have less to answer for than anybody. He is not tempted to rob and cheat, like the commercial man; and, indeed, he's a good-hearted follow, only he gets a little sup too much grog sometimes."
"Ah, there you may be mistaken. I think I can show you a greater sin than taking the drink. I will suppose this prisoner, first to have been led to enlist through the influence of drink. Granted, then, that drink has made him what he is. He may cast a look far behind him and say, My sin in drinking has broken the heart of my poor wife, has dragged me from my crying children;" — (here the tears began to run down the face of the poor deserter) — well now, sergeant, if an officer from the Horse-guards were to meet you on your way, say at Cheltenham, with the good news for our friend here, that a great ransom had been paid — that the Queen had sent down his discharge — now, sergeant, which would be the greater sin? the drunkenness that has brought all this misery on himself and his poor family, or the hard-hearted cruel sin of refusing to trust to the ransom purchased at so great a price? O let me tell you, sin has brought us into bondage, misery, and death. Satan has thus handcuffed man to himself. This man might sleep, and dream there was no sergeant here, and no handcuffs; but when he wakes up he finds it is only a dream. You are still there. And men may dream there is no devil, to whom they are bound by sin, and dragged by lust; but, when they truly awake, they find this bondage a terrible reality. But ah! if you knew the love of God, to us poor handcuffed sinners! Even whilst we were yet sinners, God gave a great price for our ransom. Yes; "whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us." The ransom price is paid — God has accepted it, even the precious blood of Christ; for God hath raised Him from the dead, and sends a free discharge to every sinner that believeth. And now, sergeant, how long would it take you to unfasten the handcuffs of this poor man? (Here the sergeant took out a little key, and shewed me how soon it could be done.) That little key is like faith. Yes, even so soon; the soul that believes God's testimony, that on the cross, the ransom has been paid — that through Jesus is preached the forgiveness of sins — that by Him all that believe are justified — yes, even so soon, that soul is free. The chains of sin and condemnation are broken for ever. Now, sergeant, which is the worst sin? — that which brought the guilt and condemnation, and which is hurrying man to judgment and to everlasting destruction; or, that cruel sin of rejecting and despising the wondrous love of God in giving His only-begotten Son? Yes, rejecting the only ransom, even the blood of the Son of God?" The sergeant seemed never before to have heard these "words of life." And oh, how comforting it was to my heart, to see the face of that poor deserter brighten up with joy! The Lord opened his ear at least, to hear the gospel of the grace of God. Reader, are you still a bond-slave of Satan, hurrying on to hell? Let me ask you, Who can deliver you but Christ? The handcuffed prisoner could not deliver himself. I asked him what he could do. Ah, he could scarcely get his hand to his eyes to wipe off the tears. I asked the sergeant what he would think of a would-be officer who should deny the sufficiency of that ransom which had been accepted by the Queen, and should begin to speak thus — "Ah, true, it was a great price; but do not believe the Queen will discharge you, without you do something, to increase the value of that ransom, and when you have done all that you can you may merely hope for liberty. Do not be so presumptuous as to believe that message of the Queen." The sergeant could not endure even the thought of such cruel lies.
Ah, this reminds one of Paul, who said, Let such perverters of the gospel be accursed. It was with this loyal zeal for God he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians. And is not this the great lie of the day? You are virtually told not to believe the all-sufficiency of the finished work of Christ, though God Himself has accepted the ransom, and proved this by raising Him who offered it from the dead. These wolves in sheep's clothing tell you that God will not pardon your sins for Christ's sake only; that He will not give you a free discharge from the power of sin and Satan, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone. Oh flee! flee from such dreaming liars! "Do the best you can"! — best, eh! — when there is no best in a handcuffed sinner. "Keep the law!" — when God Himself says, If that were possible, Christ has died in vain. Away with such lies! Turn to the word of God. Read Romans 3; 1 John 4; Hebrews 10. Believe the testimony of God to the value of the blood of Christ. He is sincere. It is true that he that believeth on the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved.
But you ask, Are there to be no good works? Oh yes! But are the handcuffs on or off? — that is the question. The soul that has really been delivered from the power of Satan, will never forget its liberation. "We love him, because he first loved us." "God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." Believe, then; believe and live.