It was Christmas Eve, 1875. Ira D. Sankey was traveling by steamboat up the Delaware River. It was a calm,starlight evening, and there were many passengers gathered on deck. Mr. Sankey was asked to sing. He stood leaning against one of the great funnels of the boat, and his eyes were raised to the starry heavens in quiet prayer. It was his intention to sing a Christmas song, but he was driven almost against his will to sing 'Saviour Like a Shepherd lead Us.'
There was a deep stillness. Words and melody, welling forth from the singer's soul, floated out over the deck and the quiet river. Every heart was touched.
After the song was ended, a man with a rough, weather beaten face came up to Mr. Sankey and said, 'Did you ever serve in the union army?'
'Yes,' answered Mr. Sankey, 'in the spring of 1860.'
'Can you remember if you were doing picket duty on a bright, moonlight night in 1862?'
'Yes,' answered Mr. Sankey, very much surprised.
'So did I,' said the stranger, 'but I was serving in the Confederate army. When I saw your standing at your post I said to myself, 'That fellow will never get away from here alive.' I raised my musket and took aim. I was standing in the shadow, completely concealed, while the full light of the moon was falling upon you. At that instant, just as a moment ago, you raised your eyes to Heaven and began to sing. Music, especially song, has always had a wonderful power over me, and I took my finger off the trigger.
'Let him sing his song to the end,' I said to myself. ' I can shoot him afterwards. He's my victim at all events, and my bullet cannot miss him.' But the song you sang then was the song you sang just now. I heard the words perfectly:
We are Thine, do Thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way.
'When you had finished your song it was impossible for me to take aim at you again. I thought, 'The Lord, who is able to save that man from certain death, must surely be great and mighty,' and my arm of its own accord dropped limp at my side.
'Since that time I have wandered about, far and wide, but when I just now saw you standing there praying as on that other occasion, I recognized you. Then my heart was wounded by your song. Now I ask that you help me find a cure for my sick soul.'
Deeply moved, Mr. Sankey threw his arms about the man who in the days of the war had been his enemy. And that night the stranger found the Good Shepherd as his Saviour.