One of our Rochdale doctors, being asked by a friend if some of his doings were not likely to exclude him from heaven, replied :
“When I die, I shall take with me an old book I have, which is full of debts owing to me by the poor, whom I have never distressed for payment, and show it at the gates of heaven; when they see it they will say, ‘Admit him, he is a decent fellow’.”
This shocking expression of the doctor’s reminded me of one of my neighbours, who, with several others, attended our village shaving-shop, on the Sunday mornings, to talk politics, read the newspaper, and rule the nation. His name was Adam Schofield. Adam, like the doctor, may be taken as a fair type of many persons found in almost every part of the country. He believed in eating, working, sleeping, and grumbling, and lived as if these were all for which a man was born. Once or twice in his life-time he went to Town Meadows chapel, to hear Mr. Stephens; but his opinion was, that church and chapel-going people must be rather bad, to require so much preaching and praying to keep them right.
After finishing his day’s work, Adam often found his way to our fireside, to have what he called “a chat” with my father. One evening, addressing my mother, he said, “Do you not think a man may get to heaven without going to either church or chapel?”
“I do not think that any person wishing to go to heaven would ask such a question. They will be very glad to go to either church or chapel, if it would help them one step on the way,” replied my mother.
Adam was silent a few minutes, and then said, “Well, I think God takes the average of men’s actions, and I shall have as many good deeds to show as will get me out at the right end.”
This was Adam’s estimation of himself, though he then confessed that he sometimes got drunk, and. when in a passion, could swear a round oath, and sometimes tell an untruth.
For many years after I had left the village, I often thought about Adam; for ever since I understood the Bible’s teachings of how a sinner must be saved, I had regarded him as far from the kingdom of heaven.
I, somehow, became so concerned about him, that I set out purposely to pay him a visit, though his house was two miles from mine. He was seated by the fire, and alone. He seemed glad to see me, requested I would take a seat, and asked if “there was ought fresh or new”.
I began to tell him what my errand was;Â—how concerned I had felt about his soul;Â—and how I had often heard him talk in a way that convinced me he was not a Christian, and, having much respect for him for my father’s sake, had come all the way expressly to see and converse with him about his salvation.
For several minutes Adam looked into the fire without speaking; at last, he said,Â—
“I think, John, you might have found hundreds, between here
and your house, a deal worse than I am. I don’t know why you should be so concerned about me; I think I am as good as many that pretend to be better.”
“That is what I expected and feared you would say, Adam, and it is what makes me so concerned about you. If you felt yourself a sinner, you would seek for a Saviour; but so long as you think you are not a sinner, there is no hope for you. You are very like several persons that I have seen and heard of, and if you will allow me, I will tell you about some of them, Adam.”
“If it will not take long you can go on,” he replied.
“Well, I will give you the case of an old man. One Sunday, as I was going to Shaw, near Oldham, on ascending the rising ground leading from Buersill to High Crompton, I saw him slowly toiling up the road. On overtaking him, and after the usual observations about the weather, I fell into the old man’s speed, observing,Â—I can walk up this brow much better than you, my old friend.
” ‘Wait until you are seventy-two years of age, and then see what you can do,’ he replied.
“How much further have you to go ?
” ‘Not far. I am coming from church, but it is getting a long way for me to go now, and I think I shall not be able to go much longer.’
“I am glad to hear you say you have been to church this morning, and that you are preparing for your latter end; for I never see an old man, or an old woman, but I think they are not far from either heaven or hell.
” ‘Well, as for that, I think I shall stand as good a chance as most folk, for I’ve attended church, at times, for forty years, always paid my way, and I don’t know that I’ve done onybody ony harm;
what more done yo’ want ?’
“Then, during forty years, every time you have attended church, you have told a lie, or missed that part in your prayer-book which says, ‘We have done the things which we ought not to have done, and left undone the things which we ought to have done . . . Lord have mercy upon us, miserable sinners,’ because you have just made it out that you are no sinner, but a decent sort of a man ?
” ‘I cannot walk up this hill so fast, you had better go on without me,’ he said, leaning his arm on a gate to rest. I, too, leaned on the gate, and looking him in the face, said,Â—My dear old brother, I know why you want me to leave you, but I dare not until I have warned you of your danger. The Bible says all have sinned, and if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and unless we repent we shall be lost for ever! A man must be born again or he can never enter heaven. And here you are, an old man of seventy-two years of age, attending the church, at times, for forty years, and yet you are as blind as a bat, and as surely going to hell as you lean upon that gate. The moment you spoke of
your goodness, you made me miserable, for I then knew that you are what the Bible calls a Pharisee, and Pharisees never go to heaven. The Lord have mercy upon you, for you are a miserable sinner.
“During my short speech, the old man seemed amazed and restless, and begged I would leave him, for I had made him uneasy. I did as he requested; but before leaving I again told him, as kindly as I could, that he was a sinner, and unless he repented he would never see heaven. That is one case, Adam.
“Another case, somewhat similar to this, occurred about the same time. I was sent for to see one of my neighbours. When I went upstairs I found him propped up in bed, and looking very poorly.
” ‘I am glad you are come, Mr. Ashworth, for I wanted to have a little talk with you; but you know I have not been as bad as some.’
” ‘No, John,’ said his wife, ‘there are thousands worse than you are.’
” ‘I have never been much of a swearer,’ continued the man.
” ‘No, John,’ said his wife, ‘nobody can say that about you.’
” ‘I have not been a drunkard; I have been drunk, but not as often as some.’
” ‘No, John,’ said his wife, ‘you have been anything but a drunkard, as some are.’
” ‘I have had thousands of pounds passed through my hands belonging to others, but have always been honest.’
” ‘Yes, John, you have always been honest to the penny.’
” ‘I have sometimes gone to church,’ continued the man, ‘or I have sat in the house and read, for I never could bear to see people wickedly spending the Sabbath.’
” ‘Yes, John,’ again said his wife, ‘you have stopped at home many a time, and read the newspaper, or a book for me, instead of going out when any of your companions have called.’
“During the whole of these observations I had not spoken one word. But when they had finished, I quietly took up my hat, and said. Well, I will go home, there is no need for me here; Christ did not die for you.
” ‘Christ did not die for me ! How so ?’
“I mean what I say. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners only, but according to the statement of you and your wife, you are no sinner, but a very good man. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; and as you make it out, and your wife confirms it, that you are a very righteous man, then Christ cannot have died for you, so I must bid you a good day, for I can be of no use if I remain.
” ‘Do not go, do not go, for I have been very miserable for several days, and I want something.’
“Yes, John, you want those rotten props knocking down, and if they are not knocked down you will as sure be lost as you are in that bed.
” ‘Well, what must I do ? I am willing that you should tell me, for I cannot bear to think that Christ did not die for me.’
“Well, John, just answer me a few questions. Have you ever taken God’s name in vain ?
” ‘Yes, many times, many times.’
“Then the Lord declares that swearers cannot enter heaven. Have you ever been drunk ? I think you have.
” ‘Yes, I have, many a time.’
“Then the Lord declares that no drunkard shall enter heaven. Have you not had wicked thoughts, such as lust, envy, malice, hatred, or revenge ?
” ‘Yes, thousands of times.’
“Well, then, the Bible tells us that only the pure in heart shall see God. So, you see, all along you have been deceiving yourself, and depending on your good works. You admit you have broken the law, and unless you get forgiveness through Christ, you perish. That is another case.
“You knew old James Nuttall, Adam, did you not ?”
“Yes; I knew old James,” he replied.
“Well, good old James, who for many years went about visiting the sick and relieving the poor, once had two shillings given to him to take to a sick dressmaker. On knocking at the door a feeble voice called out, ‘Come in.’ Old James walked in, and in one corner of a large room of a very clean house, he found the sick dressmaker confined to bed. He told her he had got two shillings, sent by a friend, for her. She soon stopped him by saying,Â—
” ‘Old man, it is not me you are seeking, it is someone else, so you had better take it to the right place.’
“The old man, thinking he was right, asked her if she was a dressmaker, and if there was any other person of the same name in the neighbourhood.
” ‘Yes, I am a dressmaker, and the only person in the neighbourhood of that name.’
” ‘Then it is for you, and I will leave it on the mantelpiece;
and I always like to pray, both with sick people and healthy ones, if they will let me.’
“While old James was saying this, he took off his hat, and laid it on a chair. He reared his stout walking-stick in the corner, near the sick woman’s head, and, kneeling down, prayed that the Lord would bless the sick and poor, that He would pardon the woman all her sins, and make her happy. While he was praying, the woman took hold of the stout walking-stick, and lifted it up, intending to bring it down on his smooth, shining, bald head with a crash, for daring to call her a sinner; but her hand was withheld by the old man’s God, and the self-righteous dressmaker was, probably, saved from being a murderer. When he rose from his knees, she began to abuse him, saying, ‘Who told you that I was a sinner. I am as good as either you or them, and I do not thank
you for either your prayer or your money. Me a sinner, indeed! Where you find one better you will find a thousand worse, and I hope you will not call here again.’ Old James, looking at the woman with surprise and sorrow, replied,Â—
” ‘The money was given to me for you, and I will leave it;
and I will pray for you when I get home, that the Lord will open
your blind eyes, and soften your hard heart, for you need both, I am sure.’
“This woman recovered from her sickness, and became a member at Hope Chapel; but she told a different tale about her goodness the day she was admitted into the church.
“One more case, Adam, and then I have done.
“One evening, a rough character came to my house, urgently requesting that I would go with him to see an old woman who was very poorly. I at once went, and, on entering the house, found her sitting up in bed, moaning and very restless.
” ‘You have sent for me to come and see you,’ I observed to the old woman.
” ‘Nay, I have not, nor did I want you. I am not going to die, I have only got the colic, and I shall soon be better; I will have none of your talk, nor your prayer,’ said the old woman.
” ‘Old Mary, you should not talk that way to Mr. Ashworth, he comes for your good,’ said the man who had fetched me.
” ‘Hold thee thy noise, thou scamp; I am as good as thee, thou devil, or as anybody in this street, or the next street to it. I will send for someone to pray with me when I am going to die, and not till then; half an hour will do for that.’
“The old woman was soon better, and walking about as usual. But one night, when she had got to the top of the stair, she lost her balance; there was one wild scream, and a crash, and she lay dead at the bottom of the stairs. A regard for the feelings of her son and daughter prevents me giving the name.”
After giving the above cases, I waited to hear what Adam would say, but he made no reply. When on the point of leaving, I felt very nervous, and thought. Shall I ask Adam to let me pray with him, or would it be more prudent to leave him without doing so ? I asked him, but his reply was,Â—
“No, John, what little I do in that line, I can do for myself.”
“Will you have this little book, then ? It is good print, and, I think, you will find something that may interest you.”
“Well, yes, you may leave the book, and I can see what it is about.”
I laid the little book, called “Come to Jesus”, on the table, bidding Adam goodnight, and for many weeks saw no more of him. Having to pass through the village, however, on some business matters, I again called, and found him, as before, alone. On the table near him lay the little book, but backed afresh with some blue sugar paper. The moment I saw the book had been covered afresh, I felt convinced that there was a change somewhere else
beside the book back. “So you see I have called again, Adam. How are you getting on since I last saw you ?” He pointed to a chair, requested me to sit down, and at once began to tell me he had long wanted to see me, for he had spent some very miserable hours since I last called, and had come to the conclusion that he should be lost.
“I am glad such is the case, Adam. Now I have hope concerning you; for Jesus Christ came to seek and save that which was lost.”
“So this little book says. There is no nonsense about this book; it is all out of the Bible. I have been like the man you mentioned, all my life resting on rotten props, but this book has knocked them all down, and I am now almost in despair.”
I drew my chair nearer to where Adam sat, and, laying my hand on his knee, said,Â—”Do you now think that you are better than others, and that your good deeds outweigh your bad ones ?”
“O dear, no, I feel ashamed that ever I talked that way, to you or anyone else.”
“Do you still think there is too much preaching, praying, and Bible reading, as you once did ?”
“O dear no, I have read the Bible more, and, in my way, prayed more the last two months than I have done for twenty years before.”
“Do you now think you are a sinner, Adam ?”
“I am sure I am, and a great sinner. Whatever shall I do ?”
“Do you feel you are a sinner ? For there is a vast difference between merely believing we are sinners, and feeling we are sinners.”
“Yes, I feel that I am, and feel it so keen that it sometimes makes me sweat.”
“Well, now, do you feel that Christ can save you ?”
“Why, He has saved millions, and He”Â—
Here Adam burst into tears, in which I could not help joining him.
“Do you believe that He will save you, Adam ?”
“I hope He will,” was his reply, still weeping.
He held down his head, and seemed in great trouble. When I rose to go, he begged I would pray with him, and ask God to have mercy upon him. We prayed together, and not without hope that God heard our prayer. I then shook hands with him, and, at his request, promised to call again soon, thankful in my heart that the once self-righteous Pharisee was now the humble penitent, pleading for mercy.
Adam still sought pardon, still studied the Bible and read the little book called “Come to Jesus”, attended the house of God regularly, and the week-day prayer meetings held in the neighbourhood, and before I saw him again he was a sinner saved by grace, and a very happy child of God. His regular attendance at the means of grace, and his consistent Christian life were strong evidence that the change was real. Speaking with him on one occasion about his former self-righteous views, and the difference
betwixt those days and the time he was seeking pardon and mercy, he exclaimed,Â—
“When I saw myself, what I was and what I had been, on the day I obtained mercy, I believed and felt that if my sins of heart and life had been spread out, they were enough to damn all the people in Rochdale.”
The evidence of saving faith is a life of holiness, and Adam endeavoured to live that life; he was indeed a brand plucked from the burning, and his sun was going down in a clear sky. He loved his Bible, loved to talk with religious people, loved the house of God, and, with child-like simplicity, spoke of his entire dependence on Christ as the only foundation of his hope.
One fine Sabbath morning I was going to my engagements, and had to pass the house at Cutgate where Adam still resided. My old friend Niff was looking out for me, for he was anxious I should call to see Adam, who was now very poorly. On entering his poor, but clean cottage, I was very glad to find that I was not too late, for on approaching his bed, he still knew me, and our hands were soon locked together. With a feeble whisper, and with great effort, he spoke of his great joy and peace, and thanked me that I had ever come to tell him of his danger, saying, “It was the best day’s work you ever did. Had I remained a self-righteous Pharisee I should have been lost, but now, by the grace of God, and faith in Jesus Christ, I am just entering heaven.”
On returning in the evening. I again called to see my dying friend, but on entering the house found the spirit had winged its way to the invisible world. I laid my hand on his now cold forehead, and, while my breast was heaving with emotion and my eyes rained down tears, I thanked God for His goodness and mercy in opening the eyes of the poor old man, and blessing him with saving grace.
That day Adam went to where there are millions of converted publicans and sinners, but where there is not one self-righteous person, for there is no Pharisee in heaven, nor ever will be while heaven is heaven; but amongst the millions of sinners saved by grace around the throne of God will now be found the soul of my happy friend, Old Adam.