The Remarkable Conversion of An Officer In The British Army
“By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Of my old respected friend, Lieut. R., I cannot tell you much, so many years having elapsed since he entered into glory, and I never having committed to paper any memoranda of his short though most satisfactory passage from the kingdom of darkness to that of light and immortality.
It was about the year 1812 that in the discharge of my professional duties, I was requested to attend on Lieut. R., who was the subject of a severe, but transient disease. I had been struck by the personal appearance and honourable conduct of this young officer.
I think I never saw a handsomer man of twenty-five, one of more pleasing manners or more gentlemanly feelings. He was universally beloved and respected, and from these circumstances his company was so generally sought after that he became devoted to all
the follies and unsatisfying pursuits of pleasure, falsely so called.
On recovering his usual degree of health, he called on me to request that I would report him off the sick list, and at the same time tendered me some pecuniary acknowledgement for my professional services, stating that he had been accustomed to remunerate my predecessor. My answer was, of course, that which Christian principle and integrity would suggest to any honest man paid by the country.
This seemed to strike Lieut. R., and he exclaimed with an oath, “Doctor, there must be something more than I thought in you Methodists!”* I give you his own words.
(* At that time all godly people were known as “Methodists.” We are not speaking here of the heretical, Weslyian, arminian “methodists” who hate the truths of free and sovereign grace and were nothing more than self righteous, works mongers.)
Early in the afternoon of that day he called at my apartments with a ticket for the theatre, and which I knew he could only have obtained by paying an exorbitant price, there being two celebrated performers from London that night, which for some days previously had raised the box tickets to four times their ordinary value.
On his presenting it to me, I expressed my sense of obligation for his intended favour, but told him that neither my principles nor inclination would permit me to use it.
Being in the act of arranging some tracts, I put into his hand The Death of Altamont, a tract published by the Religious Tract Society, merely observing to him,
“As you seem so anxious to confer an obligation on me, put this little book into your pocket, and read it to oblige me.”
He left me to dress for the theatre, to which place he went early to secure a seat. He sat in a corner box and, as he afterwards told me, merely to pass away some part of the previous time before the play began, he took the tract from his pocket, and began to read it.
So signal and mighty were the operations of the Spirit of God on his mind that he became wholly and exclusively absorbed in the contents of the tract, and at the termination of the play, after midnight, he left the theatre without having felt the slightest interest in the performances.
To use his own words, “Conscience was the only performer before me that night.”
It was about three o’clock in the morning that, after having on his return from the theatre thrown himself undressed on his bed, and in vain attempted to drown the voice of God in oblivion, he came over to my apartments, and loudly knocking at the door, requested to be admitted.
As long as memory retains her seat, I never can forget his haggard look and his tremulous voice. With a look of despair, and in a manner which seemed to carry with it a conviction of irretrievable ruin, he exclaimed, “Tell me, O tell me, is it possible that / can obtain mercy and forgiveness from the offended God of Altamont?
Tell me, O tell me if you really think I possibly can.”
Hastily dressing myself, we sat down together on the sofa, he in a state of restless agony, which expressed itself in incessant weeping and wringing of hands, reiterating again and again the question he had just put to me.
I wrestled long with him at the throne of grace that the Lord would reveal Himself in all His mighty, enlightening and consolatory power, who ever lives to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him. Whilst on our knees, I brought before him the boundless mercy of Jehovah and the freeness and fulness of that salvation which whosoever will may receive without money and without price; and it was worth living for to witness the eagerness with which he listened to the simple tale of redeeming love, and the glad tidings of free and full salvation by the atoning blood of Jesus.
The same day and night he scarcely tasted food or took any rest, and no drowning man could more vehemently call for assistance, nor any famishing man more greedily devour the means of support, than he sought for warrant in the promises of the gospel to lay hold of the hope there set before him.
In a few days it pleased God to enable him to cast himself as a ruined, helpless sinner into the arms of Jesus, and I can never forget the expression of his countenance, pale and languid as it was with groaning and cries, which had been his meat day and night, when on entering his room early on the fourth morning, it became almost illuminated with tears of sacred joy, and he exclaimed, “I have found Him whom my soul loveth, the Friend of sinners, who His own self says, ‘Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out/ Look at it, do look at it in this precious Book which you gave me,” at the same moment holding up a New Testament, in which he had found the Pearl of great price.
I had on the preceding day directed his attention to the following passages of scripture among several others: Luke 2:10; John 3:14-17; John 6:37; Romans 10:4; 1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1-2.
He had committed these and many other passages of holy Writ to memory, and dwelt on them with indescribable satisfaction.
From this hour, having been led to believe the simple declarations of truth, he went on his way rejoicing, knowing in whom he had believed, and that He would keep that which he had committed to His trust to the solemn hour when he should be called to appear at the dread tribunal of a righteous God, where inflexible justice would be satisfied with nothing short of that robe which hides and cancels all our sins.
Within a month he was called to embark with his regiment for the West Indies, and scarcely had he reached that unhealthy climate, even before disembarking, when it pleased God in His mysterious providence to arrest him by yellow fever, and in a few days to call him to the realms of perfect purity and bliss. On the day preceding his embarkation, he had supplied himself liberally with Bibles and tracts for distribution to all on board, and his separation from me was one which may be imagined, but which I dare not trust myself to describe.
I was to hear from him on his arrival in Jamaica, but the first account of him was an official report of his death, and this was soon followed by the return of his faithful confidential servant-man, who told me with the deepest sorrow that after a sudden attack of fever, which deprived him of his reason, he recovered his consciousness, and requested the presence of all his brother officers, to whom in his expiring moments he preached Christ crucified as the only refuge from the wrath to come, and the only source of solid happiness.
During this time he held in his quivering hand the identical tract that he had received from me before going to the theatre, and with this messenger of mercy, grasped more firmly as life fled, he died amid the lamentations of those who esteemed him as a man and an officer, and was buried with the tract pressed to his heart.
By an Army Doctor.