The Scripture Reader and Soldiers

An article from Rev E Templeman, Chaplain HMIS in July 1864 edition of Soldiers Magazine about the relationship between the soldier and the Scripture Reader

The value of Scripture Readers in the Army is beginning to be pretty generally admitted.  I have known really good men, and established Christians in the ranks, say “why should not we have our Scripture Reader?”  There may be a very good reason for this; they would like his companionship, and be pleased to have him labouring amongst them and with them.  Soldiers are naturally less shy, at first, with a Scripture Reader, than they are with a chaplain. 

The Scripture Reader is often a man selected from precisely their own rank in life; often one who has been subjected to all the temptations to which soldiers are exposed, he is perfectly familiar with the kind of difficulties and trials which beset them and can thus enter into all their feelings with most perfect sympathy. Often he has had experience of the life and duties of a soldier himself, and his is often the best of all knowledge, because the most practical.  Chaplains by dint of a kindly manner and daily intercourse with the men, come to understand much of their mode of life, their peculiar troubles and wants; and in exact proportion to their knowledge, they soon find out the value to themselves of the Scripture Reader agency.

The day is passing away, we trust never to return, when the soldier was looked upon as little better than a  mere machine; and it is to be hoped the day is not far distant when it will be commonly acknowledged that the country will be best served by a thoughtful, godly and praying army.  It is quite right to grant large sums of money for sanitary purposes, for libraries, for institutes, for gymnasiums and so forth, all this is well in its way, and may do much good; but after all it is but taking the lowest ground and not the highest, and the statesman and political economist may learn if he will, that the greatest saving to government, and to the country will be brought about by providing the means of  making our soldiers, with God’s help, godly, righteous and sober men.  If you can only succeed in doing this, you will have accomplished a most important SANITARY feat; you will see the percentage of deaths fall to an extent almost incredible, the number of invalided men will perceptibly diminish and you will see very few young men discharged as being unfit for further service.

There are those who will say that these are the views of an enthusiast.  But the answer is, has this experiment ever been tried?  Surely not; surely it must be in military as we know that it is in civil life, that in proportion as the influence of practical religion extends, sin, crime, drunkenness – and its consequences, sickness and premature death become less frequent. Even from a sanitary point of view, therefore, the employment of Scripture Readers to the army is much to be commended because their work is all on the side of sobriety, prudence and health.  Directly a man becomes an earnest Christian, we know all thing to him become new; he puts himself at once in antagonism to all sin and evil, bad habits are given up, drunkenness is resisted and forsaken, he no longer follows vicious ways:  consequently his health must improve, his mind must be clearer, his body more fit for active work; he is altogether a better solder and a more useful member of society.  Scripture Readers help men to be true Christians, to conquer their sins, and to be happy and healthy. 

What a mighty lever then is Christianity, when rightly applied; would that all who have the soldiers’ interest at heart would use more liberally this mighty power to pull down the strongholds of the devil!  It is obvious what a great comfort Scripture Readers must be to soldiers in time of sickness or trouble; they write the men’s letters for them, read to them, talk to them and make themselves useful in various ways, and thus are a great blessing to all who put themselves under their care.  They are of very great assistance to Chaplains in India, for since the mutiny of 1857 the number of Europeans in the country has been greatly increased, while a proportionate addition of Chaplains to the establishment has not been made; thus, it not infrequently happens, that one has work to do for which hardly two would be sufficient; however willing he may be to work, he often lacks the physical strength to do all he could desire; he has to contend against an enervating climate, and many influences very depressing, so that in dealing with the men under his care he naturally finds a Scripture Reader (where he can get one) of the greatest assistance; he forms as it were a happy link between the soldiers and himself, who can always help him much in finding access to their hearts, and who can often furnish him with information which will be of much  use to him in dealing with different cases coming under his observation. 

Like Chaplains, Scripture Readers have often many difficulties in their way; there are those who will openly oppose them in their work, or look coldly on them. They must expect this and should therefore encourage in their hearts the growth of a spirit of gentleness, patience and forbearance; on the other hand all of them with whom they have to deal should remember that they are really their friends, though they may not like their work or words, and that they came among them simply with the wish to do them good, and if they do not care to benefit from their kindly offices themselves, that they should do nothing to lessen their influence for good over others; they are engaged in a great and good work, they are trying to save souls and all who resist or oppose them should think that they may perhaps be guilty of the very great sin of fighting against God. 

Scripture Readers too should aim at acquiring a meek and quiet temper, should reflect that they are followers of one who was meek and lowly while on earth and should foster a cheerful and equable disposition, not being too elated at their success, or too disappointed at their apparent failures, and they should never forget, (if they have been soldiers themselves they will not do so,) the many temptations thrown around those among whom they live, to commit sins, and the very many hindrances they have in leading pure, holy, and consistent lives.