Though we with Giants Fight
Lives and Testimonies from the Battlefield
CH Malan, Officer and Evangelist. A Soldier’s Experience of God’s Love and Faithfulness (Part Two)
In PART 1 I mentioned two of Malan’s desires in prayer; to win men to Christ, and to be placed in command of a body of men in a position of great danger. The final incident, which I will examine, was not one that he desired, but one that his Heavenly Father arranged. Although we are instructed to pray that God will not, “lead us into temptation” - Matthew 6:13, our loving Heavenly Father considers our long- term good and that eternity lies ahead. Malan himself described this trial as the, “Lord’s last act of love to me as a soldier,” referring to Hebrews 12:9-10,
But if you are without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then you are illegitimate children, and not sons. Furthermore we had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness – Hebrews 12:9-10.
The Final Act of Love to a Soldier
While the Regiment was in Hong Kong a complaint had been made against Malan. It was alleged by a Roman Catholic Chaplain that Malan had treated two soldiers unfairly. Although it seems that the two soldiers bore a grudge against Malan having been disciplined by him, Malan’s Commanding Officer was required by military law to refer the matter back to the Army Headquarters in England for investigation. After some months a decision was reached and sent in writing to the Regiment now serving in South Africa.
Malan was greatly assured of God’s help in this time of trial. First, Malan was serving in a garrison commanded by a Christian. Therefore, “a friend told me that a letter had come...a friend’s voice prepared me for its contents, and a friend’s hand gave it to me to read.” Secondly, as God’s sovereignty directed, Malan was able to preach the Gospel to his soldiers on one final occasion just before he received the decision.
The Sunday before it arrived I had gone, as was my wont, to visit the sick of my regiment in hospital. As I went through the wards, I told the men that I would read in a ward in which there was a man very ill of consumption. Several came; among them two Roman Catholics – an old soldier, and a recruit. They walked across the hospital square, to come and hear me read God’s Word. They sat close to me, using the Douay Testaments which I had supplied for the hospital. I read the account of our Lord’s visit to the sisters at Bethany. Well do I remember my closing words on that, the last occasion I ever read the Word of God to my fellow-soldiers until after I had resigned my commission: ‘Yes, my dear comrades, if we do what Mary did – if we believe in the Lord Jesus as Saviour and Lord – if we sit at His feet and hear His words, the world may do what it likes. We may lose health, wealth, or position; we may lose friends, or whatever we hold most dear on earth – we have chosen, by God’s grace, that good part, which shall not be taken from us.’ Little did I think that in a few hours I should have taken from me that which I then valued most on earth, - the privilege of telling British soldiers of the love of God and the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Later the same day Malan attended a church meeting and took comfort from the text reached by a visiting missionary, “It is the LORD: let Him do what seems good to Him” – 1 Samuel 3:18.
Two days’ later, the decision arrived from his headquarters.
I have to request that Major Malan may be informed that it is not within his province to impart religious instruction to the soldiers under his command, and that he must discontinue the distribution of tracts of any religious tendency among them.
Malan was to cease from any mission work amongst the soldiers, and should he not obey the order, he would be subject to military discipline. His Commanding Officer described his predicament precisely:
I presume it is now a matter for very serious consideration whether, with hands tied, you remain in the service, or devote yourself to the better work.
A door to ‘the better work’ had just opened. Malan had been invited to visit a mission station where he had been struck by the remarkable response that the Gospel was having and of the ‘urgent need for labourers.’ The missionary who Malan was visiting was called back to Scotland to visit his aged father, and he asked Malan to stand in for him in his absence. These things led Malan to conclude that God was calling him out of the Army to a new work and he resigned his commission. However, the story of his service does not end here.
The Tenderness of God
There are times when God will not permit His ambassadors, as this is what Malan was indeed, to suffer public reproach without His own tender and at times public and immediate vindication.
A few weeks afterwards, the General commanding the forces at the Cape of Good Hope came to inspect the troops in the garrison. I need hardly remark that I now committed my cause to the Lord in earnest prayer. My dear friend the Commandant and I met for special prayer, that the Lord would give us good success, and prosper our work.
The day of the inspection I was enjoying a Psalm as usual before breakfast in the garden of our mess-house, when in the portion for that day I came upon this verse, “I cling to your testimonies: O Lord, do not put me to shame” - Psalm 119:31.
I closed the book with a shout of joy. It was my Lord’s assurance that He would not now fail me. Lieutenant-General Hay, an officer who, by his indefatigable exertions in the rifle instruction of our army, had done so much to improve its military power, was the inspecting General. He had commanded a regiment nineteen years as a Lieutenant-Colonel, and was very strict in his duty. He inspected the men by companies under arms. The wing was then put through the usual exercise of an inspection by myself, and other officers. The General told the men before they marched off parade that he was extremely pleased with all that he had seen. ‘As to cleanliness on parade, steadiness in the ranks, and when moving under arms, there is nothing to be desired.’
Following this, there was the inspection of the books and barracks. The companies were upwards of a hundred strong. After looking at the books of the first company, the General asked the Captain how many were in debt. The debt was under three pounds. ‘How many depositors have you in the regimental savings bank?’ was the General’s next question. ‘Fifty- nine, sir,’ was the reply. ‘What?’ said the General. The officer repeated what he had before said. ‘Well,’ said the General, ‘I never saw anything like this before in my life.’
And now I must go back a little...Brandy in South Africa is cheaper than beer in England. The drunkenness on the arrival of regiments in that country is awful. I did all that I could to stop it, but it seemed as if the Evil One had it all his own way. At that time my physical strength was failing: work all seven days for the two years at Singapore had exhausted it. But “God is able”, and I cast myself upon Him. After three days’ earnest prayer that He would give me bodily strength, and bless my example, I went round the barracks and addressed the men by companies, begging them to abstain from drink, and giving them an example in my so doing. To Him I committed the result for myself and them. It was not until the inspection that I had any idea how greatly He had blessed me. When the wing came under my command from Hong Kong that year, there were only 81 depositors in the regimental savings bank; now there were 216 in a total strength of 417.
The General asked the same question of the officer whose books he next inspected. The company’s debt was very small, and the number of depositors 53. The General again expressed his astonishment, and turning to his aide-de-camp, said ‘_______, did you ever see anything like this?’
Thus he began: ‘I have never been more surprised in all my life than by what I have seen to-day.’ At this a laugh went down the ranks. ‘I expected to find a lot of sickly, rheumatic old men, instead of which I find a body of young and healthy soldiers.’ The men now fairly laughed outright. As for myself, my heart was too full to think much, and tears choked my eyes.
We walked across the parade ground alone. I was silent. I could not help thinking of all that the Lord had shown me to-day. ”You shall not need to fight in this battle”, is His word to His servants in all their trials; “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord who is with you” – 2 Chronicles 20:17.
‘Well, Major, I must honestly tell you that I have never been so mistaken in any man as I have been in you.’ Thus began the General. ‘I came up here thoroughly prejudiced against you. The Horse Guards’ correspondence, reports I had heard about you, etc., made me expect to find another state of things. I assure you I think very differently now.’
‘I thank God it is so, sir.’
‘Yes. I had expected to find everything in confusion, your officers discontented, and your men – why, I find everything in perfect order; everybody happy. I never saw such a happy body of men before in my life.’
...We then walked for some time in silence. At the length he began once more. ‘You will excuse me, Major. I have no wish to intrude in your private affairs; but after what I have seen today, knowing as I do why you are leaving the service, I consider it my duty, in the position I occupy, after what I have seen today, to request that you will, for the sake of the country, reconsider the step you have taken and withdraw the resignation of your commission. I will write to the Horse Guards, and explain the real state of the case.’ He added more than this, urging me not to leave the service.
It was some time before I could make any reply. Could I have ever expected to hear such language from a General of our army? I was reminded of Daniel’s words, “Forasmuch as before Him innocence was found in me; and also before you, O king, have I done no wrong” Daniel 6:22. Love of country and of my comrades urged me to remain. But I had made up my mind a few days before that it was God’s will I should go to the heathen. I had told a magistrate, among whose people I proposed to work, that it was my purpose to come and live for Christ among them. I could not, therefore, now retreat, and I had no wish to do so.
‘Thank you, General, very much. It is too late now. I have passed my word that I will go with the Gospel of Christ to the heathen north of the Kei, and, God helping me, I will do so.
A Better Work
I was told by an elderly Christian that, “there is no greater honour than to be a servant of Christ. It is a greater honour than even to be a Field Marshall in Her Majesty’s Army.” Malan chose this honour. The London Gazette records that on 17 July 1872, Major CH Malan retired from military service and little else is recorded in human history of his work preaching Christ to the South Africans.
We should conclude by reflecting first on Malan’s conversion in the storm and learn that salvation is a free gift to be received. It was when Malan put his faith in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, and called on Him, confessing his sins, that he was forgiven and saved from the fierce anger of God.
Secondly, Malan’s wish in writing the book was that we might see the wonderful character of God and be encouraged to serve Him wholeheartedly. He wrote, “It is my special desire that these notes of God’s dealings with me as a soldier may be useful to old soldiers, whether they served either as officers or in the ranks.” It is most fitting that we should reproduce some of his words in this article. Scripture says that, “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” – 2 Timothy 3:12. It was a mark of Malan’s exemplary character that he felt obliged to resign his commission. Through it all, God comforted and strengthened him, and caused all things to work together for his good. How faithful God is indeed; more faithful than our closest friend or parents.
Finally, Malan is undoubtedly an example of wholeheartedness; he sought every opportunity to preach The Gospel; he laboured with all of God’s energy, he was grounded in Scripture, fervent in prayer, and holy in his living. He counted it his greatest privilege to tell others of the, “unsearchable riches of Christ” – Ephesians 3:8.
We will finish with Malan’s own concluding words:
And now, how can an old soldier close a book better than with the prayer of Queen Elizabeth’s loyal subject, the godly Jewel: ‘Thou, O most merciful Father, be our defence in these dangerous times. Give thy grace to Victoria, Thy servant.’ And with the prayer which the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour taught us: “Hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – Luke 11:2
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
NEXT – The Testimony of Duncan Campbell.
Known as a revivalist but not well known for the fact that he was a soldier with a fine testimony.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Since his conversion in 1995, Philip Bray has served the Lord at Stroud Green Christian Assembly, London, most recently as an elder and in the work of Christian Alliance Ministries. He is employed as an infantry officer in the British Army and has served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and most recently in Afghanistan. He is a member of the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Scripture Readers Association, whose object is to encourage personal evangelism in the Army and Royal Air Force.