Since the days of Joshua, Gideon, and David, the pages of history have been adorned with accounts of brave and Godly soldiers. Although the profession of arms naturally is associated with many vices such as gambling, swearing, drunkenness, fornication, and pillaging, there are plenty of noble examples of men of God who have shown the world a faithful example of a Christian soldier.

One name that should be remembered in this class of Godly soldiers is Colonel James Gardiner, a Scottish dragoon officer who served in the British army during the Jacobite uprising of 1745. His life story was of such importance that Philip Doddridge, the famous minister and hymnwriter, wrote his life and testimony as an example for other Christian soldiers. James Gardiner was born in 1688 near the Firth of Forth in the central lowlands of Scotland. His father, Captain Patrick Gardiner, was an army officer who gave his loyalty to William and Mary during the Glorious Revolution. He commanded a company of foot and was killed in battle in Germany during the War of Spanish Succession.

James Gardiner was raised by his mother, Mary, a woman of sincere piety and kindness. She lost her husband, her brother, and her eldest son in battle. She urged James not to enter upon a military life. But the young man, heedless of these entreaties, felt drawn to take up his father’s sword and thus entered the service.

As a young man, he was very hot tempered and was soon, to his mother’s great grief, drawn away into dangerous temptations. He fought his first duel at the age of eight years old! This duel resulted in a scar on his right cheek that was always very apparent throughout his life, a reminder to him in mature days of the follies of his youth. James entered the British service at the age of fourteen. He received an ensign’s commission from Queen Anne. During these days of youthful folly, James Gardiner acquired the very vices that his Godly mother had warned him against. He took up the use of profanity. He began dabbling in immorality and fornication. He vainly thought that he must win respect of his peers by imitating their vices.

Battle of Ramillies

At the Battle of Ramillies in 1706, also part of the war of Spanish Succession, a nineteen-year-old James Gardiner was serving in Belgium under the command of the Duke of Marlborough. The young officer was assigned to the forlorn hope and given charge of an almost impossible assault. He planted the colors of the regiment in advance of his men and called upon his men to follow him into the very works of the enemy. He was shouting a stream of profanity when a musket ball tore into his mouth, sliced through his profane tongue, pierced the back of his throat, tore entirely through his neck, and came out very near the vertebrae in the back of his neck. Amazingly, the ball did not touch his teeth nor sever any arteries.

James was taken from the battlefield and assumed to be dying. The local women who cared for him urged him to embrace the Catholic faith and warned him of the error of his sinful ways. The severe wound, coming into his mouth as it did, sobered the young officer up for a time. But soon James returned again to his life of sin. His bravery in the face of danger soon gave him promotion and he advanced rapidly through the ranks of the British service.

Gardiner was appointed to a military post in Paris after the conclusion of hostilities, and it was while in this city that he gave free reign to his lusts. Occasional checks of conscience would come over him, but he always was able to suppress them. Sometimes he would remember his mother’s tears and prayers. At other times, he would remember his remarkable deliverance from death on the battlefield. But the pull of sin was too strong for him to overcome by his own natural strength.

One Sabbath Day in July of 1719, Major Gardiner (for that was his rank at the time) had spent the day in frivolous pleasures. He had an appointment with a married woman at midnight, but the party he was attending broke up at 11:00. Having a tedious hour to kill, he sought an amusing book to occupy his time. He accidentally got out a book entitled The Christian Soldier that his Godly mother had put into his portmanteau. He began reading to find some diversion or something to mock in the attempt to spiritualize the profession of arms.


While he was reading, Major Gardiner saw an unusual blaze of light fall upon the open book. He lifted up his eyes to see a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in all of His glory. A voice was heard, “Oh, sinner! Did I suffer this for thee, and are these the returns?” The Major sunk down almost lifeless in his armchair and remained so for some time. Missing his adulterous appointment, he agonized over his sins and saw for the first time his sin in the light of the sufferings of the Savior. The words of Scripture, pressed upon him by a Godly mother, came flooding into his memory. There, in Paris, Major Gardiner repented of his sins and was converted to Christ. He rarely told anyone the unusual circumstances of his conversion, and it was only after his death that Philip Doddridge published the narrative for all to hear.

Old things were instantly put away. Major Gardiner astonished all who knew him by the abrupt change in his life. He became sober in speech, pure in personal virtue, humble, kind, truthful, patient, and forgiving. He read his Bible, he attended preaching with attention, he urged men around him to turn from sin to salvation. When a military disagreement with a brother officer resulted in a challenge to a duel, Major Gardiner said, “I fear sinning, though you know I do not fear fighting.”

Gardiner married a Godly young woman named Frances Erskine. The Lord blessed them with 13 children, although only 5 of these survived to adulthood. James Gardiner was a loving husband and faithful father who prioritized his God and his family in all things.

Gardiner’s Christianity made a brave man even braver. He was a model officer, obedient to his superiors and firm but kind to his men. He was eventually promoted to the rank of Colonel and given command of the 13th Hussars, a regiment of light dragoons regarded as one of the most prestigious cavalry regiments in the British service.

It was at the head of this regiment that Colonel James Gardiner was killed during the Battle of Prestonpans during the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. He fell mortally wounded in sight of his own home. He died as he lived, a faithful and committed Christian soldier who left a bright and shining testimony to his children and to his brother officers. He fought a good fight, he finished his course, and he kept the faith.

Drawn from The Life of Colonel James Gardiner  by Philip Doddridge

Monument to Gardiner at Prestonpans. Image by Kim Traynor under CC 3.0 BY-SA.