The Salvation of the Canteen Sergeant

Canteen Sergeant B— of a famous Yorkshire regiment had come through several fights in the Boer War without a scratch, but he did not feel like congratulating himself on this; he sometimes wished that the fate of many of his gallant comrades whose blood had been drunk by the rough country in the Tugela district had been his, for he had lost all joy in life. Drink and worse things had diseased and shattered his strong frame; he was notoriously wicked and as wretched as a man could be.

One day in camp, as the war came near its close, he seemed to reach the very depth of misery; but instead of blaming himself and his sins he cursed God with a flood of curses as though He were the cause of it all. And almost instantly God, who is not far from any one of us, gave an answer to his curses.

The day will never be forgotten by him, for each incident of it left an indelible stamp upon his memory. With the oaths hot upon his lips, and red rage against God flaming up in his heart, he went into a tent. Lying upon a table in it was a small leaflet; he did not know what it was or who had put it there, but he took it up and read it. A blow between his eyes, delivered by an unseen hand, could not have startled him more than what he read in that leaflet did; it was God's answer to his rage, an answer so strange and unexpected that the sergeant's glib tongue could find no words with which to express his astonishment. These were the words: "You may be a great sinner, but God loves you, for God commends His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). B— had never thought of God in that way before, and as the meaning of the words entered his very soul he broke down and wept where he stood.

Outside the tent was a group of his comrades; they would have laughed at his tears had they seen him, and he did not feel like meeting them then; he wanted to be alone in order to think this matter over, and so he crept under the canvas at the back side of the tent, and away into the gathering night.

What an astounding thing this was; God loved him, a drunken, immoral, dishonest, blaspheming canteen sergeant! It seemed impossible, and yet it was true, and the truth of it folded him in its warm embrace; like the light of the morning it shone in his heart, and as he thought about it he sobbed like a child. Then he came face to face with the one man in his company that he had disliked, a Christian soldier, who also that evening wished to escape the company of his comrades. It was a dramatic meeting. "What's the matter?" asked the Christian. Through his sobs B— told him what had happened, and how he had read that God loved him. And they wept together, those two men, and knelt beneath the open sky, and there the great sinner realized the pardoning grace of God and the peace that follows the realization of it. Those comrades in arms, brothers in Christ now, for they were saved by the same Saviour, talked and prayed and praised God together for a while. They talked of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us in order to prove that God loves the sinner, who shed His precious blood that the worst of sins might be washed from our souls for ever, and who died and rose again that we might have eternal redemption in Him.

They praised God for the grace that had pardoned their sins, and prayed that He would help them to confess the name of the Saviour boldly and at once.

To confess Christ before godless companions does not seem an easy thing to do. Many a man who would have no fear were a hundred Germans charging down upon him with bayonets fixed has become the worst of cowards when he has thought of the jeers of his comrades in the camp. But the converted sergeant had believed in a great Saviour, who had died for him and risen again, who had delivered him from the power of the devil and sin, and of that Saviour he would not be ashamed. Straight to the canteen tent he went; there were many men there, some of the worst, and they all knew the sergeant. It mattered not to him what they knew or thought; he was now a forgiven man, and he was full of the fact that God loved him, and plainly and bluntly he told them the truth, and owned before them that Christ was now his Saviour.

It was no passing emotion that swept over him that night out in distant South Africa. The Saviour he found then has proved well worth knowing, and one year ago when I met him, twelve years after his conversion, Sergeant-Major B— was a happy, healthy Christian, zealously serving the Lord amongst the men of his company.