It was a cold winter's day in the city of Amiens, and the wind swept along the great Roman road outside the city gates with such an icy blast that the few people who were out of doors wrapped themselves closer in their cloaks, and longed for their sheltering homes and warm firesides.
But there was one poor old man who had no cloak to wrap around him, and no fireside of which to dream. He shivered as the searching wind came sweeping past him, and his half-blind eyes looked eagerly up and down the road to see if any one was coming who might help him in his need. One by one the people hurried past and paid no heed to the beggar's outstretched hand. It was much too cold to stop or to think of giving help, and not even a beggar could expect it on such a day as this. So they left the poor old man hungry and cold and homeless.
Then a young soldier came riding past, but the beggar scarcely thought of asking alms of him, for the Roman soldiers were not the kind of men to trouble themselves about the poor and suffering.
The old man closed his eyes, weary and hopeless, for it seemed as if there was none to help nor pity him. Then in a moment he felt a warm cloak thrown around his shoulders, and in his ears sounded a kind voice which bade him wrap it close around him to keep out the cold. Half bewildered the beggar looked up, and saw the young soldier bending over him. He had dismounted from his horse and held a sword in his hand, with which he had just cut his own cloak in half, that he might share it with the shivering old man.
The passers-by laughed and hurried on, but the soldier did not care if they mocked him, for he was quite happy to think he had helped one who needed help so sorely.
The name of this young soldier was Martin, and he served in the Roman army with his father, who was a famous general. Most of Martin's fellow-soldiers were pagans, but he was a Christian, and served the emperor well, because he served Christ first.
The very night after Martin had divided his cloak with the beggar he had a dream, in which he saw his Master, Christ, among the holy angels, wearing the half cloak which Martin had given away that afternoon. And as he looked, he heard Christ's voice speaking to the angels, and saying:
"Know ye who hath clothed Me with this cloak? My servant Martin, who is yet unbaptized, hath done this."
Then Martin awoke, and he did not rest until Christ's seal of baptism was set upon his brow, and he felt that he had enlisted truly in God's service.
Now Martin knew that to be God's servant meant doing everything day by day as well as it could be done, and serving his earthly master as faithfully and diligently as he tried to serve his heavenly commander. So it came to pass that for all the fourteen years he served in the emperor's army, he was known as the best and bravest soldier, and one who had never failed to do his duty.
But as he began to grow old, he longed to serve God in other ways, and so he went to the emperor and asked for permission to leave the army.
There was war going on just then, for Rome was ever fighting with the barbarians who came up against her, and the emperor was very angry when he heard Martin's request.
"You seek to leave the army because you fear to fight," he said scornfully to Martin, who stood silently before him. "A Roman soldier should scorn to be a coward."
"I am no coward," answered Martin and he met with unflinching look the angry gaze of the emperor. "Place me alone in the front of the battle, with no weapon but the cross alone, and I shall not fear to meet the enemy single-handed and unarmed."
"Well said," answered the emperor quickly; "we will take thee at thy word. To-morrow thou shalt stand defenceless before the enemy, and so shall we judge of thy boasted courage."
Then the emperor ordered his guards to watch Martin that night lest he should try to escape before the trial could be made. But Martin had no thought of escape, and was ready and eager to do as he had said.
Meanwhile, however, the enemy began to fear that they had no chance against the Roman army; and very early in the morning, they sent messengers to ask for peace, offering to give themselves up to the mercy of the emperor.
So Martin was set at liberty, and no one doubted his courage and faithfulness; since they believed that his faith in God had brought peace, and given them the victory over their enemies.
Soon after this Martin was allowed to leave the army, and he journeyed from place to place telling those who had never heard it before the good news of Jesus Christ.
In those days it was dangerous to go among the mountains unarmed, for robbers and brigands made their home there, and would swoop down on unsuspecting travellers and rob or murder them.
But Martin took no companions with him, and with no weapon but the cross, he climbed the mountain roads defenceless and alone.
One day, as he journeyed, a company of brigands appeared suddenly, as if they had started out of the rocks. They seized him roughly, and one of them aimed a blow at his head with an axe. But before the blow could fall, another robber turned the axe aside and claimed Martin as his prisoner. Then they tied his hands behind him and bound him fast, while they made up their minds which would be the best way to kill him.
But Martin sat calm and untroubled, and seemed to have no fear of these terrible men.
"What is thy name, and who art thou?" asked the brigand who had claimed Martin as his prisoner.
"I am a Christian," answered Martin simply.
"And art thou not afraid of the tortures which await thee, that thou dost seem so calm and fearless?" asked the robber, wondering at the peaceful look upon the prisoner's face.
"I fear nothing that thou canst do to me," answered Martin, "for I am a servant of the great King, and He will defend His own. But I do indeed grieve for thee, because thou livest by robbery and violence, and art therefore unworthy of the mercy of my Lord."
The astonished robber asked him what he meant, and who this great King was whom he served; so Martin told him the whole story of God's love, and of the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
No words so wonderful had ever been spoken to this brigand before, and as he listened he believed that what Martin said was true. The first thing he did was to cut the rope which bound his prisoner's hands and to set him free; and after that he led him in safety through the mountain passes, until he reached a road that led to the plains below.
Here they parted, and the brigand knelt and asked Martin to pray for him that he might lead a new life. So there was one less robber on that lonely road, and one more Christian fighting the battles of the Lord.
Although Martin loved to dwell in lonely places, he was always ready to go where he was most needed, and so a great part of his life was spent in busy towns. When he was made Bishop of Tours and could no longer live in the solitude he loved, still he strove to be the best bishop it was possible to become, just as when he was a soldier he tried to be as good a soldier as he knew how to be.
Now Martin was growing an old man, yet he was very little changed since that long ago day when he divided his cloak with the poor beggar outside the gates of Amiens. It is said that one day when he was serving at the altar, in all his beautiful bishop's robes, he saw a ragged beggar standing near shivering with cold. At first he bade his deacon give him clothing, but the deacon was too slow to please the kind heart of the bishop, and so he went himself and took off his gold-embroidered vestment and put it tenderly round the shoulders of the beggar. Then as the service went on, and the bishop held up the holy chalice, the kneeling crowd saw with wonder that angels were hovering round and were hanging chains of gold upon the upraised arms to cover them, because the robe Martin had given to the beggar had left them bare.
Now the Evil One looked with great mistrust and disfavour upon Martin, for the good bishop won more souls by his love and gentleness than the Evil One cared to lose. All the preaching and sternness of other good men were not half so dangerous to the plans of the Evil One as the pity and kindness of Martin. So one day the Evil One met Martin and began to mock at him.
"Thy faith is beautiful indeed," he said scornfully; "but how long do thy sinners remain saints? They have but to pretend a little sorrow for their sins, and lo! in thy eyes they are immediately saved."
"Oh, poor, miserable Spirit that thou art!" answered Martin. "Dost thou not know that our Saviour refuses none who turn to Him? Even thou, if thou wouldst but repent, might find mercy with my Lord."
The Evil One did not stop to answer the bishop, but disappeared with great swiftness. Later on he returned, as we shall see.
The fame of Martin's life spread far and near, and the rich as well as the poor did him honour. The emperor and empress invited him over and over again to come to their court, but Martin steadily refused, for he loved best to work among the poor.
A time came, however, when he saw that he might do great good if he could persuade the emperor to cease from persecuting the Christians; and so at last he agreed to attend a banquet at the palace and to be the emperor's guest.
Everything was as gorgeous and splendid as possible, for the emperor wished to do honour to the bishop, who was the one man who dared to speak truly to him and not to flatter him with mere words.
But Martin scarcely seemed to notice all the grandeur and brilliance of the entertainment. And when, at the banquet, the emperor took the wine-cup and passed it to his guest, expecting him to bless it and respectfully hand it back, Martin turned quietly round instead, and passed the jewelled cup to a poor priest who stood behind. This he did to show the astonished emperor that in his eyes the poorest of God's servants was to be considered before the greatest ruler upon earth.
It was not long after this that the Evil One again visited Martin. But this time he disguised himself that he might not be known.
It was evening and Martin was praying in his cell, when a bright light filled the place, and in the midst of the light he saw a figure clad in royal robes and with a crown of gold and jewels upon his head. His face was shining and beautiful, so that no one could have guessed he was the Evil One. Martin could only gaze upon him in dazzled silence, for his shining beauty was beyond all words.
Then the Evil One spoke, and the sound of his voice was like music.
"Martin," he said, "dost thou not see that I am Christ? I have come again upon earth, and it is to thee that I have first showed myself."
But Martin still gazed silently at him and answered nothing.
"Martin," said the Evil One again, "why dost thou not believe? Canst thou not see that I am Christ?"
Then Martin answered slowly:
"It seemeth strange to me that my Lord should come in glittering clothing and a golden crown. Unless thou canst show the marks of the nails and spear, I cannot believe that thou art He."
At these words, with a horrible thunder-clap, the Evil One disappeared, and Martin saw him no more.
Years passed, and Martin lived a long and useful life; but he was growing weary now, and when God's call came, he gladly prepared to enter into his rest, and to leave the world where he had laboured so long and faithfully.
The night that Martin died he was seen in a vision by one of his friends who loved him more than all the rest. The saint's robe was shining white and his eyes were like stars and, as the friend knelt and worshipped, he felt a soft touch upon his head and heard a voice that blessed him ere the vision faded.
And so Martin finished his earthly work, and went to hear from his Master's lips the gracious words: "Well done, good and faithful servant."