Bishop John Taylor Smith was the Chaplain General to the British Forces during the First World War. He was often to be found at the front line talking to officers and their men. He wanted to understand the conditions in which they lived, fought and died.
Taylor Smith was deeply concerned for the spiritual and moral welfare of soldiers, both in the training camps and at the front. “His job”, writes his biographer, “was to see that no man went into the trenches without having close at hand some word which would help him in the hour of danger and in the close approach of death…”. His chief question to prospective chaplains was: “What would you say to a man fatally wounded but conscious, and with only ten minutes to live?”
Bishop Taylor Smith had been a member of the council of the Scripture Gift Mission (SGM) since 1910, and later was to become the President of the mission. During the War, he ensured that each soldier was given two pocket-sized, durable booklets: one a copy of the Proverbs and the other a copy of the gospel of John. They were well received and valued by most troops.
As they read the life-giving words of the gospel, “written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31), many found the Saviour.
Forty three million items of Scripture were distributed during the course of the war. Each New Testament and each gospel concluded with a decision form based on the words of John 1:12,
‘Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
As the war proceeded and tens of thousands of men were killed, their simple belongings, as far as practicable, were returned to their loved ones. Many letters were received at the office of SGM indicating that men had written their names at the end of the decision form with the date, in some cases only a few days, or even a few hours before their death.
In this, the centenary year of Anzac involvement in WW1, SGM Lifewords has reproduced a replica of the gospel of John that Bishop Taylor Smith shared. Over half a million copies have been distributed in the UK as the nation paused in sombre remembrance of the sacrifices made a century ago.
It is our hope and plan in 2015 as Australia and New Zealand remember the Gallipoli landings, and the epic battles on the Western Front in the years following, that we may be able to get a copy of this gospel booklet into the hands of many who may not otherwise read it. You may find our article on “7 ways to use the War Gospel” helpful in sharing it in your own context.
If you would like a sample copy or to order multiple copies, please contact the office, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Reeve, Chairman SGM Lifewords Australia-NZ