February Sermon Illustrations

February 23, 2010

It was the eve of Waterloo, 18th June, 1815. The rain was coming down steadily and relentlessly, and round the farm­houses of Hougemont and La Haye Saint the sheaves of corn grouped in stooks looked soddened and spoilt.

Napoleon had ordered Marshall Ney to place picked sentries to patrol these strategic farms, and so prevent Marshal Blucher and the German army from joining their British allies.

Now in the large cornfield outside the wall of La Haye Saint, a tall Corporal of the Old Guard had been detailed for sentry duty. He did his best, up and down, in the pitiless rain. On one side, in the far distance he could see the sullen glow of British camp fires. On the other, no sign of the Prussian. Up and down—up and down! he was getting weary and he was feeling stiff and chilled. The corn stokes looked inviting; underneath them it was dry; one big sheaf turned over would make a good mattress. The foe would not be abroad on such a night as this; not a sound anywhere but the swish and splash of the rain. Oh for twenty minutes' rest and warmth, no officers likely to be about—no one would know! He looked each way—nothing stirred but that monotonous swish of the steady rain. Bien! He rolled up his greatcoat for a pillow, laid down the dry sheaf, and taking off his tall `shako', and placing his long musket with its fixed bayonet by his side, was soon comfortably esconced and clear of the rain, and a few minutes more and he was fast asleep.

Now that night Napoleon was taking no chances in spite of his orders to Ney. So, telling his orderly to bring out his favorite horse, `Marengo', and muffled up in his well-known long cloak, the two started to make a tour of the sentries round the farmhouses. All, alert, challenged these riders till the great cornfield was reached. The rain had at last ceased, the clouds were breaking and scurrying away. Napoleon strained his shaded eyes to find a sentry there and failed. So leaving Marengo with his orderly, he quietly went round the field. No sentry anywhere! A fitful ray of light from a still fitful moon, shines on something bright in the middle of the field. Stealthily he makes for it, to find a musket and bayonet on the damp ground, and a sentry asleep under a stoke! Quietly the Emperor picks up the musket and stands like a statue, keeping guard, yet watching his man. Presently the moon shines on the sleeping sentry who wakes, rubs his eyes, looks, misses his musket, rolls out on hands and knees and, looking up, meets the bent head and the stern eyes of the Emperor.

`Mon Dieu! c'est l'Empereur!' Springing to attention, he stands shaking before Napoleon. Falling on his knees, he falters out, 'Sire, take my bayonet and kill me yourself.' It is said that Napoleon replied, `Corporal! you know your fate tomorrow morning, but listen—I have kept your watch and guard—your life is spared. Resume guard!' What would not that soldier do for his Emperor?—E. Matheson

Subjects: Grace, Forgiveness

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