Gospel Stories

A page containing selected tracts and gospel stories.

THE DESERTER

This story is taken from a book called “Come Home”, based on gospel stories compiled and published by Christian Book Room in Kowloon, Hong Kong. I just thought to share this touching and true story with you in the hope that you will put your trust and faith in Christ as your Saviour, and, if you already know Him as Saviour, the encouragement to draw nearer to Him who is loving and gracious.

On a dark, gloomy day, toward the close of 1877, a pale young man might be seen writing wearily at his desk in a London office. The thick fog had penetrated within, and only by the help of gas-light was work possible. However, with its aid, the row of clerks toiled diligently on in dreary silence, until the one next to our friend, suddenly throwing down his pen, drew to his side and whispered, “I say, Joe, chuck us a half-a-crown; I’m hard up for one.”

“A half-a-crown, indeed!” exclaimed Joe. “You know I’ve none to spare; you must go elsewhere for that.”

“Not so fast,” retorted the other, drawing still closer, until he could almost hiss in Joe’s ear, “I know your secret, young man; it’s worth your while to buy me off, before I hand you over to the police.”

Joe’s pale cheeks became ashen, as he endeavoured to reply calmly, “You know mothing of me. What secret have I got?”

“Well, I should just like to know what business one of Her Majesty’s soldiers has in this office!”

“I am not a solder now,” returned Joe, confusedly; “my regiment was sent on foreign service while I lay ill. It was no fault of mine that I got left behind.”

“No, no, no! – that won’t do; you can’t deceive me. You’re nothing but a DESERTER, a craven, cowardly, deserter,” answered the other tauntingly. “And I’ll take good care to let every one know, if you don’t make it worth my while to keep silence.”

“No more of this; here’s your half-a-crown;” and the now trembling How threw the coin to his tormentor, who, with a fiendish laugh, pocketed it, and resumed his pen. Joe took up his too, but the words swan before his eyes, as, with throbbing head and beating heart, he vainly strove to continue his task. The word “deserter” seemed to burn into his very soul, as the humiliating consequences of his dishonourable act pressed upon him. Alas, for poor Joe! He was proving that “the way of transgressors is hard.” At that moment, he would gladly have exchanged his position of comparative ease and quiet with any of his former comrades. The cannon’s mouth, on the battle-field, seemed now less terrible to him than the constant dread of the policeman’s hand on his shoulder, or the taunts and threats of his fellow-clerk. From that time his life was one of utter misery.

And now, my reader, before I tell you anything more of Joe’s history, let me say a few words to yourself, and explain my motive for recounting his story. It is because I fear you too are a deserter, and of a worse kind than Joe, and that your experience may be much as his.

“A deserter!” you exclaim; “indeed I am not – I am not even a soldier.”

Not so quickly, my friend, let me explain my meaning, and prove to you that your case is worse than Joe’s; he had only left the forces of an earthly sovereign, while you have deserted the ranks of the King of kings, who made you for Himself, and enrolled you in His service. Like the prodigal son, you have used the good gifts of your Creator to take you away from Him, and now, in the far country, my hope is to bring you to yourself, to awaken you to the bitter consequences of your terrible position as a lost sinner before God.

If Joe’s life had become full of forebodings, and of well-grounded fears, as he dreaded the policeman’s clutch at every turn, is not yours infinitely more so – a very hell upon earth (if you allow yourself to think of it), while the judgment of God is hanging over your head, and may fall upon you at any moment?

Let us take another glimpse at Joe as he walks through the London streets rather more than nine years later. His figure is slightly bent, not with age, for he is still a young man, but with the heavy burden of a sin whose consequences he daily reaps, and which has made him prematurely old. A few silvery threads may be already seen amid his dark hair; the pale face has become paler; the brow is more contracted, and the whole bearing is that of a man whose life is one of anxious care and dread. He enters a post-office, and while waiting until one of the busy officials is at liberty to attend to him, stands leaning wearily against the wall, gazing vacantly before him.

A sudden change happens. What is it that suddenly catches his eye, and transforms his whole appearance? His head is drawn up, his eyes flash, and then he reels forward, and catches hold of the counter for support. What can be the cause? It is but a large placard on the wall which arrests his gaze, that the many others present have looked at idly or not looked at all. Why does this affect Joe so keenly? Let us study it. The first words, in large letters, are:

BY THE QUEEN.

A Proclamation

For extending Pardons to Soldiers who may have deserted from our Land Forces.

Ah! We do not wonder now why the sight of such an announcement should alter Joe’s whole bearing, nor why, when he could sufficiently rally from its first sight, he should draw nearer to it, and, with eyes nearly darting out of his head, should devour its contents.

Has there yet, dear friend, come the moment in your life when God’s offer of forgiveness has this affected you – when you have no longer cast listless glances at His Word of Grace, as the idle passer-by, whom it did not concern? Has it become of vital importance to you, as to hoe at this moment, to grasp what has been written about the pardon extended to the deserter?

Joe’s heart beats so loudly that he can almost hear it, as he reads that the queen, to mark the completion of the fiftieth year of her reign, extends her most gracious pardon to all her soldiers who may have deserted before the issue of this royal proclamation, and who should report themselves within two months. That in so doing, they should be released, and discharged from all prosecutions, imprisonments, and penalties. That all men who had been in a state of desertion for a period exceeding five years would not be called to rejoin for service, but would be granted protecting certificates on their so reporting themselves. A list of addresses of commanding officers, to whom deserters were to write, followed, and the proclamation concluded with the words, “and we do hereby make further declaration that every offender herein referred to who shall not avail himself of the pardon we now graciously offer shall be held amenable to all pains and penalties provided under the Army Act, &c. Given at our court at Windser, the 17th day of June, 1887, in the fiftieth year of our reign.”

With a hand that shook so that he could hardly guide the pencil, Joe made a barely legible entry in his memorandum-book of the address of the officer to whom he should report himself; and then, slouching his hat down over his eyes, he left the post-office without the stamps he had come to procure.

“It is all very well,” he reasoned, as he made his way back to his home, “but it’s far too good news to be true. No doubt it applies to less aggravated cases; Her Majesty’s pardon would never be extended to a wretch like me, who deserted in a moment of dire necessity. No, no! having escaped all these years, I won’t put my head into the lion’s mouth; I know better! But I need not trouble myself about it at present, at any rate, for there are yet seven weeks before me, and it’s best never to do anything in a hurry. I won’t worry myself about it now.”

Thus Joe reasoned, and so passed six miserable weeks of delay. Delays are dangerous, especially when it is relating to the soul. Are you likewise, my reader, putting off seeking the forgiveness of your sins, thinking there is yet time enough before you? Or is the enemy of souls whispering to you that God’s mercy cannot be for such as you? And thus your life is passing in uncertainty and fear, when a full, free, and present salvation might be yours.

As Joe tossed restlessly, night after night, on his bed, he vainly tried to put from him the tempting offer of a free pardon. The thought would come back again and again, and he knew that precious time was slipping away, and that now very soon it would be too late. “But it’s no use; I can’t believe that it’s true,” he murmured sadly. “What if it ended in my ruin?” At last came a night on which affairs reached their climax. It was the very worst Joe had spent, not a wink of sleep refreshed his fevered brain. Toward morning he started up, saying, “I must do something, if it’s only to satisfy myself that it’s all a hoax.”

He took out an envelope, and having carefully directed it according to the address which he had taken down at the post-office, he proceeded to write the commanding officer an elaborate explanation as to his regiment having been ordered abroad while he was ill. That he had known nothing of it until too late to rejoin, and so on, proving that not a shadow of blame attached to him for his apparent desertion, though he now applied for the queen’s protecting certificate. He wrote a ‘good letter’.

This letter was written and re-written until Joe thought it so perfect that it could not fail to bring the desired pardon. Having posted it, he walked to his office with a mind more at ease than it had been for many years.

Joe awaited the reply with feverish impatience, and when it came at length, he opened it with a beating heart, eagerly read its contents, and then his head sank between his hands on the table in despair. A few curt lines told him that the commanding officer had nothing to do with his case; his business was solely with deserters. The pardon is for deserters only.

May not many of our readers be making a similar mistake to poor Joe’s, in approaching God with excuses for self, instead of making a clean breast of it? Many rely on good works in order to earn favour with God. As I write, the words of a dying young woman come to my mind, who, on being spoken to of the One who laid down His life for sinners, replied, “I never thought I was a sinner!” Alas! the Saviour has no more business with such than the commanding officer had with Joe. There must be a full confession of sin if there is to be a full pardon. Can you not, dear friend, sufficiently trust the grace of Him who died for you, as to own your utter failure, while seeking His forgiveness>

Hour after hour passed away, and Joe still sat with bowed head fighting a desperate conflict with unbelief. On the one hand, he saw the risk of frankly reporting his own desertion, and on the other, the consequences that might yet follow discovery if he decided upon not doing so; whatever his decision, there seemed, to his doubting heart, nothing but danger ahead. At length, springing up, he exclaimed, “I’ll do it! The die is cast! I’ll trust Her Majesty’s proclamation, and if she won’t pardon me, it’s all up.” He risks all on Her Majesty’s word. Now the queen is a human, and Joe’s reason was that the word can change. However, with God Himself, it is impossible for His offer of salvation to be reversed if we fully rely on His Word and the sacrifice of His Son, the Lord Jesus. It is impossible for God to lie!

The first pale beams of the morning light were piercing through the dust-stained windows of Joe’s room, and he again took up his writing materials. This time, his letter was short, and to the point – a simple confession of his desertion from Her Majesty’s forces ten years previously, on his regiment being ordered abroad. Without venturing to read over what he had written, he closed the envelope, hurriedly seized his hat, and rushing out into the street, dropped his missive into the first letter-box, then returning to his room, he threw himself on his bed, and slept soundly and peacefully for some hours, as he had not done for six weeks, and, to his dismay, awoke to fond he would be late at his office.

The hours dragged their weary length along, while Joe, sick at heart, waited a second time for a reply to his letter, when, at length, one bearing the mark, “On Her Majesty’s Service,” was placed in his hand, he felt almost faint. A cold perspiration broke out on his forehead, and he sank into a chair before he dare venture to tear open the envelope, which would decide his fate. “Of course, my application is refused, and I am a ruined man! What a fool I was to betray myself,” he muttered, as with trembling hands he opened the letter. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw a certificate for a full pardon, drawn out in Her Majesty’s name, and signed by the officer in command. Yes, he was pardoned! And how much that signified to the deserter none could understand who did not know how the consequences of that sin of his had marred all the happiness of his youth, and had filled his life with corroding care.

Joe placed the precious document in his bosom, and with a light step, head erect, and a beaming expression on his face, which had already made him look ten years younger, proceeded to his office.

“Joe’s had some stroke of good luck, and no mistake,” thought his tormentor, who, during those long years, had made a rich harvest for himself by preying on the fears of the poor deserter. “Now’s my time!” and drawing nearer to him, as he had so often done, he whispered, “come, Joe, another half-a-crown; I’ve not had one lately, and you know it’s worth your while to go one buying my silence.”

“No more half-a-crowns you’ll get from me,” retorted Joe firmly, “you’ve had your last, my man.”

“There are two sides to that!” returned the other, menacingly. “I’ll give you up to the police like a shot if you refuse me.”

Joe’s only reply was to draw out triumphantly Her Majesty’s certificate, and to place it open on the desk.

“Oh! Ah! What is this?” exclaimed the baffled persecutor ruefully. “Why, you’re pardoned, Joe!”

“Yes,” replied Joe, his eyes flashing brightly, “I have Queen Victoria’s own gracious word for it that I am pardoned, and never again can the crime of my desertion be laid at my door. You are free to blazon the sorrowful past to the whole world, it cannot hurt me now, and will only add to the praise of the clemency of her who has forgiven me.”

Yes, Joe was pardoned by the free grace of another, the dreaded terrors of the law could not touch him more, how is it to be with you, my reader? Will you avail yourself of the infinitely more gracious offer of forgiveness which is so freely made to you? Once given, that pardon is for all eternity. How priceless its worth!

Let me solemnly press on you once more the important lesson that I am most anxious you should draw from this story.

Mark that, by the terms of Her Majesty’s proclamation, only those who reported themselves as deserters were eligible for protecting certificates; and in the more important question of eternal pardon, only those who own themselves sinners can put in a claim for divine forgiveness. Are you ready to humble yourself to do this? Have you so far come to yourself as to say, with the prodigal son, “Father, I have sinned”? Remember, the terrible alternative is, to suffer the full penalty of God’s wrath, even as the offender who would not avail himself of the queen’s proclamation would be amenable to all the pains and penalties from which it was meant to free him. Are you pardoned? Please read John 3:16, Romans 3:23; 6:23; Romans 10:9, 13; Ephesians 2:8-10. Hebrews 2:3 reads, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” The time of salvation is now (2 Corinthians 6:2).

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