By Charles Gardner —
A Jewish army surgeon was amazed by the courage of a young soldier badly wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War (1861-65).
Dr Max Rossvally was forced to amputate both a leg and arm in a bid to save the boy’s life.
But it changed his own life. For the 17-year-old Drummer Boy – too young for frontline duty – refused chloroform or brandy to dull the pain.
Charlie Coulson chose instead to trust in Jesus, his Lord and Savior. The doctor – an army major and Orthodox Jew – was understandably stunned by the boy’s bravery, as well as his boldness in declaring his faith in Christ and imploring the officer (whom he knew to be Jewish) to put his own trust in Jesus, since he was also the Jewish Messiah.
Max, however, was shaken rigid, and in a great dilemma, as he had always been taught to hate Jesus. For his people had largely rejected him as an ‘impostor’ and false Messiah.
Charlie died just days later, apparently more concerned for the doctor’s eternal destiny than for his own painful exit from this life.
Ten years later, Max found himself in a barber’s chair in New York once more being urged to trust in Jesus. Having explained the gospel, the barber promised to pray for him and said that, whenever he came in contact with a Jew, he felt it his duty to introduce him to the one who came for “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:6).
The surgeon subsequently boarded a train for a business meeting in Washington, where a newspaper advertisement drew him to a ‘revival’ service where the preacher echoed the messages he had heard from the barber and the boy soldier, leaving him in tears.
He agonized at home in prayer for some time afterwards, struggling most of all with the thought that, if he accepted Christ, he would be going against all the advice and teaching he had known, not to mention the Jewish community as a whole.
But he finally became convinced that Jesus was indeed the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (in particular, Genesis 49:10, Micah 5:2 and Isaiah 7:14).
So he prayed: “O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You know I am sincere in this thing. If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, reveal him to me this night, and I will accept him as my Messiah.”
A long battle ensued, but his doubts were eventually replaced by joy and happiness as he praised God that he had found the true Shiloh, Ruler of Israel and Emmanuel.
He was to pay a high price, however, as do all who follow Christ. His wife walked out on him; his parents disowned him. But he never gave up hope as he constantly prayed and reached out to his family. After 54 days, his wife joined him as a disciple of Jesus and, in time, his daughter also became a believer. But his son disowned him for many years until he was eventually reconciled both with his earthly and heavenly Father.
In an extraordinary sequel some 18 months after he came to Christ, Max met up with Mrs Coulson, the mother of his dying young patient all those years earlier on the battlefield. With great joy, he was able to share how her son had set him on the path to a glorious future in Christ, which was to touch lives across the world, including my home county of Yorkshire in England. In fact, he came to live in Leeds to reach out to the Jewish community there and is buried at Lawnswood Cemetery in the city.
An Irish friend of mine, Colin Nevin, has visited the grave, which includes an excerpt from one of the doctor’s hymns, “I am Coming Soon,” and was able to give a copy of Max’s story to a caretaker, continuing the evangelist’s legacy more than a century after his death in 1892, aged 64.
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A 54-minute movie – Rossvally: From the Synagogue to the Saviour – has been produced on DVD and can apparently be ordered online.