Posted by: Pastor Terry Hagedorn | April 7, 2009

Willie Lear the Substitute

Willie Lear the Substitute

By Major D.W. Whittle

John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Willie Lear lived near Palmyra, Missouri. In 1862 he was a young man of about 18 years of age. Like most of those who lived in his neighborhood, he sympathized with the South in the Civil War, which was at that time in progress. The Union forces occupied Palmyra, and had control of the district. Outrages were committed on both sides, and many indefensible deeds are recorded in the local histories of those sad times. Union soldiers were shot down from behind hedges, and Union men were driven away from their homes, and sometimes foully treated.

To avenge these things, and to check them, the Federal commander arrested and imprisoned a large number of citizens. They were all charged with being “guerillas,” and, after trial by court martial, were all sentenced to be shot. Willie Lear was among the number. After this condemnation, the general decided to select ten of the number of those condemned for immediate execution, and reserve the remainder under hope of pardon if outrages in the neighborhood ceased, or for future punishment if not.

These ten men were drawn by lot. Willie Lear was not of this number. A neighbor of Lear’s who was among the number to be shot, was terribly distressed at the thought of his situation. He was the father of a large family, a poor amn, and thought of the hepless condition in which he would leave his loved ones was very distressing to him. Lear saw this, and it deeply moved him. He stepped forward to the commanding officer and offered to take his neighbor’s place. The officer had no objection. The order had been issued that ten men of the number should be shot, and if that number was made up, the law would be satisfied. The neighbor with the deepest gratitude accepted Lear as his substitute: and so, by the acquiescence of the three parties concerned, the representatives of the law, the condemned by the law, and the satisfier of the law by substitution, the matter was settled.

Willie Lear took the place of his friend in line with the nine men drawn up before a detachment prepared with loaded rifles, and at the command, “Fire!” he with the others fell, riddled with bullets, his blood soaking the earth. As the man for whom Willie died looked upon the blood, and beheld that mangled body, what would be his thought? Would he say with streaming eyes: “He died for me, I owe my life to him. O that I could do anything to show my gratitude to the one who has done so much for me!”

If he were asked, “How is it that you are delivered from the sentence that was hanging over you?” would he be apt to ignore the work of the substitute by magnifying the importance of some fancied work of his own in the acceptance of the substitute? Would he say, “Oh, I was saved by my faith, and by my determination to live a better life? It is all by faith and the development of character.”? Would he have been so ungrateful as to leave out all mention of that noble young man in his stead as the alone cause of his escape? If he would, he was not worth dying for, and it was a curse to his family and the community, that he was spared. But no, he never returned such answers. He could not treat the act of his friend with such indifference. Men for whom Christ died on the cross talk that way; but this man never did. He never tired of telling of how Willie Lear had saved him, and gladly acknowledged his obligation to him.

Reader, do you believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins? Do you believe that because He died for your sins, and you have (repented and) accepted Him, your sins are forgiven? Believing in Him, are you confessing Him, and striving to show your gratitude by a life consecrated to His service? Oh! let us who are Christ’s never tire of telling the story of redemption by His blood; let us never rob Him of His glory as our personal Saviour and Redeemer, by attributing our salvation from sin and our hope of eternal life to anything else than His death upon the cross for our sins. We greatly err when we think that any other gospel, or any other form of the gospel, will be more successful in reaching men, no matter what they are or who they are. No man can be saved without the power of God being put forth to save him; and, as God has decreed that “the preaching of the cross is the power of God,” we must, if we would see men saved, preach the cross. And the meaning of that is, “This is my blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Christ is the sinner’s substitute. 1 Peter 2:24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

Taken from Gospel tract distributed by Pilgrim Tract Society, Randleman, N.C.


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