This is my version of a sermon illustration used by the famous and fiery evangelist, Billy Sunday. Sunday was seen by many as the heir of D.L. Moody, and was probably the most popular American preacher during the first two decades of the twentieth century. This story was told to him by a churchman in Iowa, Major Whittle, who was the leader of the militia and commander of the firing squad.
At the time of the Civil War, there was a band of organized outlaws in the Midwest called Quantrell’s Raiders. They would sweep down upon an unsuspecting community on the frontier to rob, pillage, burn, and then ride away before help could come. The situation became so desperate that some people in Kansas formed a militia to search out the desperadoes. They had orders to execute without delay any of the raiders that could be found. Not long afterward, a group of these men was captured in Iowa. A long trench was dug; they were lined up, hands and legs tied, and eyes bandaged. The firing squad was forming. Suddenly a young man rushed out of the underbrush, crying out, “Wait! Wait!” Covered by the guns of the firing squad, he approached the officer in command [Major Whittle]. He pointed to a man who was waiting to be shot, and said, “Let that man go free. He has a wife and babies, and is needed at home. Let me take his place. I am guilty.” It was an extraordinary appeal, but the stranger insisted that it not be denied. After a long consultation, the officers decided to grant the request. They cut the ropes and released the condemned man. The volunteer was put in his place, and fell dead before the firing squad.
Later the redeemed man came back to the awful scene of death, uncovered the grave, and found the body of his friend. He put it on the back of a mule and took it to a little cemetery near Kansas City, where he was given a proper burial. At the time, he marked the grave with a rude wooden slab. Later, however, the grateful man erected a 15-foot marble monument inscribed with the words:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
HE TOOK MY PLACE IN THE LINE
HE DIED FOR ME
Billy Sunday’s comment: “Sacred to the memory of Jesus Christ. He took our place on the cross and gave his life that we might live …”
Nebraska Christian College