“Ernest Swalm?” asked the Major as Ernie entered the room.
“You refuse to put on your uniform?”
“Yes, sir. I am a Christian. I cannot kill my enemies, for the Scriptures say, ‘Love your enemies.’ Nor can I wear the uniform of an organization whose business it is to kill.”
“You conscientious objectors used to be excused when the other boys were drafted,” the Major said. “Now our Canadian Parliament has passed a bill that says you must serve as noncombatants. We will give you a job where you won’t need to kill anyone. You can be a stretch bearer and help the wounded soldiers. You would really be doing good then.”
“Thank you, sir, but I cannot serve in the army, no matter what the job is. I’d still be part of the army, and its purpose is to kill. I would gladly take care of wounded people, but not as a member of the army.”
“And I suppose you have some Scripture for that too?” scoffed the Major.
“Yes,” Ernie replied. “Saul of Tarsus was a noncombatant. He only held the clothes of those who stoned Stephen. The Bible doesn’t say he threw any stones, yet he was just as guilty of the crime as those who really killed him. He consented to Stephen’s death. That is why I can’t take any of the jobs in the army. They are all part of a plan to kill men. And, as a Christian, I cannot kill.”
Not long after this, Ernest Swalm was court-martialed and sentenced to two years of hard labour for refusing military service during World War I.
He, with other conscientious objectors from many different denominations was taken to the Lincoln County Jail. The boys were to stay at this jail until the provincial sheriff came to take them to the federal prison in Kingston.
They were searched when they arrived. Everything was taken from them except their Bibles. Then they were given jail uniforms and sent to their cells. Ernie’s cell was number twenty-three.
Ernie slept soundly that night. Next morning he did not awaken until the sun was high in the sky. He lay there, staring at the narrow cell of white-washed brick. It was a little room, with not even one nail on which to hang his coat—only the grim iron gates in front.
“I could be out with the rest of the boys if I’d only serve in the army,” Ernie thought. “I wonder if I’m being foolish. . .?”
Just then, the lines of an old hymn came to him:
But prisons would palaces prove
If Jesus would dwell with me there.
During the four weeks that followed, Ernie discovered the truth of these words. Christ became real to him in a new way. He had so much time; he could spend hours in Bible study and prayer.
The name of the jailor was Garley Clinch, a man nearly seventy years old. He hated conscientious objectors and did all he could to make them miserable. He became angry when the men prayed and sang hymns, and sometimes ordered them to stop. Ernie decided to pray for him every day.
Several days later another conscientious objector was brought to jail from camp, and Garley turned him in.
“Here, boys,” he said, “I brought one of your pals. I think since I’m good enough to do that you ought to sing a hymn for me.”
The men were surprised to hear this from one who had been so bitter, but before long corridor two echoed with:
How good is God we adore,
Our faithful, unchangeable friend,
His love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end.
The boys stopped after one stanza, but Garley said, “Please sing another.” By the time they finished, tears were trickling down his face.
“Thank you, boys,” he said. The big iron gates clanged shut behind him.
The men could see that Garley’s heart was softening. Early each morning they gathered together in one of the cells to pray for him. They knew that even a man seventy years old could be saved.
From that time on Garley was a real friend. Instead of persecuting the boys, he granted them many kind favours.
One Monday morning four weeks after Ernie’s arrival at the jail, Garley came to his cell and said, “You’re wanted in the office.” Leading the way to the dressing room he added, “Your release came through this morning.”
Then the boys learned that the Canadian government was again excusing Christian conscientious objectors from army service. They would not need to fight. They could go home! Garley told them the good news.
“Thank you for your kindness during these hard weeks,” Ernie said as he gave a good-bye to the old jailor.
“Don’t thank me. I’m ashamed of the way I treated you when you first came. I’ve never had a set of prisoners like you boys before.”
“When the letter came saying I had to go to camp, I was very unhappy,” Ernie said, “but now I’m glad I was sent to jail. Right here on corridor two I learned to love Jesus better than ever before. I had plenty of time to talk to Him. I’ll be praying for you, Garley.”
Fifteen years passed. Ernest Swalm was holding meetings in Elgin County, Ontario. Just as he was ready to close, he noticed two men coming into the tent. One of them was Allen Morrison, his cell mate of number twenty-three. After the service, Ernest rushed out to greet his old friend. He hadn’t seen Allen since the day they said good-bye on corridor two of the Lincoln County Jail.
“And did you hear that old Garley Clinch became a Christian before I left the jail?” continued Allen as they recalled their experiences of the past years.
“Yes, I heard,” Ernest replied. “Tell me more about it.”
“One day after the other boys had gone home, Garley asked me to pray with him,” Allen explained. “I had the happy privilege of leading him to Christ. That fall, during a Spanish influenza epidemic, Garley took sick and died. He was anxious to go to his Lord. His last words were, “I’m so glad I met the conscientious objectors. They meant so much to me.”
“But I must tell you one more thing,” Allen went on. “Shortly before he took sick, he brought me an old Bible and said, “Allen, I want to give you the Clinch family Bible. It’s been in our family for a hundred years. You’ve meant more to me than any of my relatives, so I want you to have it.”
“You can imagine how happy I was for that, Ernest. And whenever I look at it I remember how learning to love Christ changed Garley.”
“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6
We need to learn to be happy wherever we are. God may place us in difficult places because he wants us to witness for him.
Daniel was a prisoner of war in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar so that he could witness to the heathen king. Joseph was in prison to witness to the Butler and the Baker and all the other prisoners. He was a slave to witness to Potiphar. Job was sick and lost everything to be a witness to his friends and to all the universe. John was on the island of Patmos as a prisoner so that he could write the book of Revelation. Paul and Silas were in prison and they were singing, and the jailer was converted after.
Be happy wherever you are and be a witness for the Lord. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16