Drawn by God’s grace

Drawn by God’s grace
Nicholas Applebee
01 December, 2013 4 min read

My father was a volunteer Sapper in 1939 and, by the end of the war, a ‘convinced atheist’. I was born in 1948 and brought up to question what religion had to offer.

I attended a CofE church for a while as a choirboy, where I developed a sarcastic view of the church in that I believed it only existed for old people and those afraid of dying. As I didn’t fit into these categories, church was irrelevant!

Royal Engineers

I left school and worked on several farms, which I enjoyed, before realising that this was not getting me where I hoped to be in the future. At this point I considered HM Forces and applied to join the army.

I passed the Regular Commissions Board and got stuck in to Mons Officer Cadet Training. Apart from church parades, religion did not enter my thoughts, that is, until posting time. At that point, having been accepted by the Royal Engineers, I was warned by a fellow officer cadet that the regiment I was to join had a ‘Bible puncher’ as second-in-command.

I felt sure I could handle that situation — ‘I had met them before!’ — and gave (then) Major (now the late) James Wilson a natural wide berth, but found myself strangely impressed by the Christian life of senior troop commander in the squadron, (then) Captain Richard Sandy.

To my shame now, I not only disregarded almighty God as irrelevant in my life, but took delight in blaspheming his Son’s name to demonstrate my contempt.

This was my condition when the late Admiral Sir Horace Law came as a guest to speak to the regimental officers in the mess. I tried to avoid it, but got caught. The talk he gave, on the Christian life, impressed me. ‘Perhaps there may be something in this after all’, I thought.

Preparing soon after for a tour with my squadron in Northern Ireland, I disregarded any notions of looking into Christianity for the time being, but determined to sort this out when I returned.

Four months or so later, I remembered my pledge. Strangely, during the tour, I was presented with a gift (it was Christmas) by James Wilson, on HMS Belfast, which was being used as the regimental HQ.

Seeking God

On unwrapping it I found myself with my first Bible. He had thoughtfully quoted Joshua 1:8 in it for me. This gift came as a shock, as I understood that only people who were dying had need of a Bible!

Little did I know that, as an unrepentant sinner, I was destined for hell with God holding my very next breath in his hands. However, once back in the garrison, I began my search for God.

I visited the building used as a church, but this proved fruitless to me. My mind was now in an anxious state. Would I ever find what (or who) I was looking for? As has been said by the Puritan Thomas Brooks, ‘The Spirit of God had stirred an hungering, thirsting and longing after the great concerns of eternity’.

My colleague, Richard Sandy, had left for a course, before being posted. It would not have been considered appropriate to call on his wife (I also realised Mrs Sandy was a Christian) with no excuse, to ask about her beliefs.

Within a day or so, the chief clerk surprised me with the request to take a few men round to Mrs Sandy’s flat to seal up her packing cases ready for moving. An unusual request, but one I jumped at. It was this opportunity I was hoping for.

I was soon able to knock at her front door and ask if she would tell me about this faith she had. She directed me to John 3:16 and also told me that my question was not so dramatic, as a lot of people had been praying for me (another shock!).

She kindly invited me to join a group meeting for Bible study at their home that evening. Such was my desperation to know God, I accepted gratefully.

At the end of the meeting I was asked if I believed or not. At that moment I felt if I said, ‘No’, that would be the finish for me. I said sincerely, ‘Yes’, and that night prayed to the Lord, who I believed would hear my prayer.


Some time after leaving the army I bought a small dairy farm in Pembrokeshire. It is normal practice to take a newborn calf away from its mother at about 36 hours old, before much bonding can take place. From then on, the cow is milked for human consumption.

On one occasion I had two cows calve together. They were particularly calm cows, so I decided to leave their calves running with them until they were ready to go to the local market.

At the end of the three weeks, I took the calves, put them in my covered trailer, milked all the herd, put the cows into the field for grazing (three fields away from the farm) and set off for the market with these two good-looking calves.

When I returned home, three hours or so later, the two cows were back in the yard, calling for their calves they had last seen near the milking parlour. They had returned, desperate to find their calves.

They had crossed four barbed wire fences and were considerably cut about in their quest to find their babies — the bond between cow and calf is immensely strong.

I can identify with the desperation of their search and also am reminded of the power of God in drawing sinners to himself. I believe that an irresistible power draws each of us who come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. For a while after my conversion, I spoke of my decision to turn to Christ, but now have become aware that my personal condition was such that I could never have made this decision for myself.

It could only have been our Heavenly Father drawing me, by the Holy Spirit, to the Lord Jesus that brought me into the way of salvation. To God be all the glory. He saves unworthy people!

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