Seven soldiers die ...

Seven Soldiers die?… singing

 A number of prisoners were under my guard and seven of them were to be shot at dawn on Monday. My men stood at attention with their rifles. The atmosphere was filled with hatred. My soldiers were drunk with success and taunted their prisoners, who swore and beat on the walls with their bleeding fists. Other called for their wives and children who were far away. At dawn they were all to die.

Then something happened. One of the men doomed to death began to sing. «He is mad», was everybody’s first thought. But I had noticed that this man Koskinen had not raved and cursed. He sat quietly on his bench. Nobody said anything to him; each was carrying his burden in his own way. Koskinen sang,

Safe in the arms of Jesus, Safe on His gentle breast,

There by His love o’ershaded, Sweetly my soul shall rest.

Over and over again he sang that verse, and when he had finished everyone was quiet for a few minutes, until a wild looking man broke out with, «Where did you get that, you fool? Are you trying to make us religious?»

Koskinen looked at his comrade with tear-filled eyes as he quietly said, «Comrades, will you listen to me for a minute? You asked me where I got this song. I heard it three weeks ago. My mother used to sing about Jesus and pray to Him». He stopped a little while, as if to gather strength. Then he rose to his feet, being the soldier that he was, looked straight in front of him, and continued, «It is cowardly to hide your beliefs: the God my mother believed in is now my God. I cannot tell how it happened. I lay awake last night, and suddenly saw mother’s face before me, and it reminded me of the song that I had heard. I felt I had to find the Saviour and hide in Him. Then I prayed, like the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), that Christ would forgive me and cleanse my sinful soul and make me ready to stand before Him whom I should meet so soon. It was a strange night. There were times when everything seemed to shine around me. Verses from the Bible and the song book came to my mind. They brought messages of the crucified Saviour and the blood that cleanses from sin, and the home He has prepared for us. I thanked Him, accepted Him, and since then this verse has been sounding inside me. It was God’s answer to my prayer. I could no longer keep it to myself. Within a few hours I shall be with the Lord, saved by grace».

Koskinen’s face shone as if by an inward light. His comrades sat there quietly. He himself stood there transfixed. My soldiers were listening to what this revolutionary had to say. «You are right, Koskinen», said one of his comrades at last. «If only I knew there was mercy for me too, but these hands of mine have shed blood and I have reviled God and trampled on all that is holy. Now I realise that there is a hell, and that is the proper place for me». He sank to the ground with despair on his face. «Pray for me, Koskinen», he groaned, «tomorrow I shall die, and my soul will be in the hands of the devil»?… And these two soldiers went down on their knees and prayed. It was no long prayer but it reached heaven. We who listened to it forgot our hatred; it melted in the light of heaven; for here were two men who were soon to die – seeking reconciliation with their God. A door leading into the invisible stood ajar, and we were entranced by the sight. Let me tell you shortly, that by the time it was four o’clock, all Koskinen’s comrades had followed his example and began to pray. The change in the atmosphere was indescribable. Some of them sat on the floor, some on the benches; some wept quietly, others talked of spiritual things. None of us had a Bible, but the Spirit of God spoke to us all. Then someone remembered those at home and there followed an hour of intense letter writing. Confessions and tears were in those letters.

The clock struck six. How I wished I could beg grace for these men, but I knew that it was impossible. Between two rows of soldiers they marched out to the place of execution. One of them asked to be allowed to sing Koskinen’s song again, and permission was granted. Then they asked to be allowed to die with uncovered faces; and with hands lifted toward heaven they sang with fervour, «Safe in the arms of Jesus». When the last line had died out, the lieutenant gave the word, «Fire»!

What had happened in the hearts of the others, I do not know; but as far as I am concerned, I was a new man from that hour. I had met Christ, and I had seen enough to realise that I too could be His.

Reader, you were not there, but the same One who was there, Jesus Christ, who made it possible for them to face death freed from the guilt of their sin and have «peace with God», waits to make their peace yours as well.

«Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God» (1 Peter 3:18). «Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved» (Acts 16:31).