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Saved by a Hymn
Photo: Stuart Whitmore
A party of Northern tourists formed a portion of a company gathered on the deck of an excursion steamer that was moving slowly down the historic Potomac one beautiful evening in the summer of 1881. A gentleman who has since gained a national reputation as an evangelist of song had been delighting the party with the happy rendering of many familiar hymns, the last being the sweet petition so dear to every Christian, beginning, “Jesus, Lover of my soul.”

The singer gave the first two verses with much feeling, and a peculiar emphasis upon the concluding lines that thrilled every heart. A hush had fallen upon the listeners that was not broken for some seconds after the musical notes had died away. Then a gentleman made his way from the outskirts of the crowd to the side of the singer and accosted him with a question.

“Beg your pardon, stranger, but were you actively engaged in the late war (the American Civil War)?”

“Yes, sir,” the man of song answered courteously, “I fought under General Grant.”

I Raised My Gun and Aimed

“Well,” the first speaker continued with something like a sigh, “I did my fighting on the other side, and think—indeed, am quite sure—I was very near you one bright night eighteen years ago this very month. It was much such a night as this. If I am not mistaken, you were on guard duty. We of the South had sharp business on hand, and you were one of the enemy. I crept near your post of duty, my murderous weapon in my hand; the shadow hid me. As you paced back and forth you were humming tune of the hymn you have just sung. I raised my gun and aimed at your heart, and I had been selected by our commander for the work because I was a sure shot. Then out upon the night rang the words—

Cover my defenseless head
With the shadow of Thy wing.

“Your prayer was answered. I couldn’t fire after that. And there was no attack made upon your camp that night. You were the men whose life I was spared from taking.”

The singer grasped the hand of the Southerner and said with much emotion, “I remember the night very well, and distinctly the feeling of depression and loneliness with which I went forth to my duty. I knew my post was one of great danger, and I was more dejected than I remember to have been at any other time during the service. I paced my lonely beat, thinking of home and friends, and all that life holds dear. Then the thought of God’s care for all that He has created came to me with peculiar force. If He so cared for the sparrows, how much more for man, created in His own image! And I sang the prayer of my heart, and ceased to feel alone.”

“How the prayer was answered I never knew until this evening. My heavenly Father thought best to keep the knowledge from me for eighteen years. How much of His goodness we shall be ignorant of until it is revealed by the light of eternity! ‘Jesus, Lover of my soul,’ has been a favorite hymn; now it will be inexpressibly dear.”

The incident given in the above sketch is a true one, and was related to the writer by a lady who was one of the party on the steamer.

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Reprinted with permission from Signs of the Times , March 2005. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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