THE LORD GOD GATHERING THE OUTCASTS
I have been accustomed, during a pause in the duties of the afternoon of the Lord’s Day, to go out into the street and seek to win some stragglers to the school, and bring them in under the teaching of the Word, if only for the hour which remained to us. This day I was returning, after an unsuccessful search, when I was attracted by a child, not far from the entrance to the school-house. Her arms were interlaced in the palisades which surround the enclosure, and her pale face pressed against the ironworkÂ—a child, such as may be seen more frequently in the crowded haunts of our great cities than elsewhere, born amidst vice and disease, dwelling in some dark cellar or hidden den, from which the light of heaven is excluded, as if it bore pestilence rather than healing on its wings.
I have seen many children, and older persons too, in dirt and rags, but I never saw such abject wretchedness as was conveyed in the old-looking wrinkled face and listless form before me. She seemed, in attitude and expression, to have neither interest nor lot in the life around her. I thought she might be about nine years of age, but I subsequently learned she was upwards of thirteen. I spoke to her, and asked her if she would come in with me, and hear the children sing. She looked vacantly in my face, as if scarcely comprehending my question: but, on my repeating the invitation, she followed me without a word.
The little stranger sat silently listening to the hymn of the children, the simple discourse, and the few words addressed individually to the scholars. The school over, she departed; but on the morning of the following Lord’s Day, I found her of her own accord seated in the place she had previously occupied.
I know not how it was, I seemed to be used this day as I had never been used before; I felt myself a child speaking to children. The Holy Ghost was very present with me; tears were on the cheeks of many of the little ones; I was myself so engrossed with my subject (the parable of the Prodigal Son) that it was only at the close of the discourse that I turned to glance at the new scholar. Her eyes were fixed eagerly on my face, as she breathlessly drank in the words which fell from my lips. I proceeded to make the application of the parable, and she drew closer and closer to my side, and, gathering up the hem of my dress fold upon fold, she held it firmly clenched in her long thin fingers, as if she feared to lose me before she had heard the fulness of Gospel grace extended to sinners.
Our parting hymn was sung; the children went away; but this child did not move. We were left alone. Then I spoke to her of Jesus. As she was leaving, I said to her, “Will you come and see us again next Lord’s Day, and hear of the Good Shepherd, of whom I will tell you?”
“I dare not,” she replied. “Father will beat me if I do; he won’t let me go to church.”
“But this is a school, not a church,” I suggested.
“It’s like one, though; he won’t let me come here butÂ—I will come,” she added quickly, in an impetuous and determined manner.
I tried to show her that she must previously seek her father’s permission; and I offered to endeavour to obtain it for her, if she would tell me where she lived.
A gleam of satisfaction crossed her face, and she minutely described the way to the street, and to the cellar in which I should find them. Accordingly, during the week following, I discovered their miserable lodging. The father of the poor girl was absent seeking for work, and the woman I found there, and whom I at first thought was her mother, reluctantly consented for the child to attend the school.
I had scarcely taken my place the next Lord’s Day, when the gaunt-looking little stranger again appeared. Her earnest attention and evident pleasure increased. In the afternoon, my new scholar was again in the place she had chosen, silent and absorbed; but the next Lord’s Day I missed her. The week had nearly closed, when the woman with whom she lived called at my house, and told me the child was very ill; that she had taken a bad cold, in the first place, from attending the school, and adding, I had better go and look after her. I knew it was not likely to be true that her illness could be attributed to the cause she was so eager to blame.
Again I entered the miserable cellar which these poor people called “home;” so dark was it, that on leaving the day-light of the narrow street, all objects within were indistinct.
The occupation of the family was that of rag-sorting. On a heap of the larger rags, which formed her bed (though the room itself had many other nightly occupants), lay my little stranger scholar, more wan and wasted than I could have imagined possible in the short time that had elapsed since we had parted. I approached her, and, after waiting a few moments to see if she would recognise me, I spoke. She knew my voice, and motioned me to go closer to her, eagerly exclaiming in a shrill voice, “Oh, come! Come hereÂ—and tell me of Him!”
“Tell you whatÂ—of whom?” I enquired, wishing to discover if she had retained anything of the truth. She looked at me half reproachfully, puzzled at the possibility of my forgetting what I had taught her, and in a subdued voice she replied, “WhyÂ—you know. Tell me of HimÂ—that you called Jesus!”
Motionless she listened, with her eyes fixed on my face, while once more I opened to her the wondrous story of a Saviour’s love to sinners, and how He came to seek and to save the lost. I pointed to the one sacrifice for sins for everÂ—to the blood of the Crucified, is the sinners perfect plea. I told her Satan and our corrupt hearts would strive to induce us to trust anything rather than free grace
and a Saviour’s righteousness. The love of Jesus Christ to sinful men was the fountain of living water of which this poor wanderer desired to drink deeply; she longed to follow the Good ShepherdÂ— she to whom the Gospel of the Kingdom had never been preached, and who three weeks ago knew nothing of the treasures laid up for all who feel their lost and ruined state and are led to Jesus. Her vacant countenance brightened with intelligence, her very features seemed altered, while she listened with increasing satisfaction to “the good tidings of great joy.” Many might have marvelled at her indifference to all outward things, but it was not strange to me; she sought for life eternal, and drank in the Lord’s loving invitation as one who heard Jesus passing by.
The following day, when I visited her, I was painfully struck by the swift progress of her diseaseÂ—the flushed cheek and restless eye which ceaselessly wandered around, as if in search of some person or thing she failed to find, the uneasy tossing from side to side, the rapid meaningless question, all convinced me that the delirium attendant on the fever had set in, and filled me with anxiety lest I had come too late to hear her speak to me again, and tell me of her hope.
I bent over her, and asked her if she knew me. She gave me no intelligible reply. In my distress I fell on my knees, and prayed earnestly for one more opportunity of speaking to her of a Saviour; and He, who of old stood by the fever-bed, was beside this also, and that to calm and to sustain; for while I was pleading with Him for help in my helplessness, the poor sufferer’s restlessness abated. In less than an hour she recognized me, and her face turned towards me in expectation, as if still thirsting for the water of life.
I took my place by her bed, and went on to repeat to her, in a low voice, the parable of the Prodigal Son, which at our first meeting had so deeply impressed her. The little pinched face became calm and composed, and the distressing excitement gave place to eager but profound attention. At that touching passage, “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him,” she exclaimed, in a short decided manner, a manner peculiar to these neglected little ones, reared in the very hot-bed of sin and strifeÂ—
“Ah! that was just like me!Â—that’s goodÂ—say it again. A great way off? . . . What, ever so far? Away . . . away . . . like me with the devil? That must be far from God and the Lamb!”
After a pause to moisten her poor, black, parched lips, she continued,Â—”Yes! I was a great way off. But the father saw him before he saw the fatherÂ—that’s like me again!”
I tried to make her understand that the Father put away the filthiness of sin for His sake alone who had died for sinners, that they might be made holy in His precious blood.
“Oh! how good!Â—how kind!Â—But” … she hesitated, and covered her face with her long thin fingers, as her tears flowed fast, and sob after sob almost choked her utterance. “I am afraid I have been worse than that bad son. I have told lies! and you said no liar could enter the beautiful home. I have used bad wordsÂ—
awful bad wordsÂ—worse than you know of; and God said no one should take His name in vain … I have had a book, too, full of wicked songs, and I have sung them . . . and . . . don’t turn away your head, I have . . . stolen too . . .1 thought of all this when I came home, and for a long time I felt frightened to go to God;
but all at once I remembered about the thiefÂ—that poor thief who died with Jesus, you know; and as soon as everybody was fast asleep in our room, I got up very softly and I went over into the corner there by the fire, I took my song book and tore it into little pieces, cover and all, though I once thought it so pretty. I struck a match, I burnt it every morsel to tinder! Then I said, ‘Dear Jesus! I want very much to love youÂ—I want to get away from the devilÂ— please help me! Take away my naughty thoughtsÂ—please do, dear Jesus’? I think He heard meÂ—I know He did!” she added, with animation, “for I felt somehow different ever since; I am not afraid now!Â—no, not one bit!Â—and I love HimÂ—oh! so much!”
Much passed between us that I cannot accurately record. She grew in grace, as those alone grow who are taught of the Holy Spirit of God; and I was permitted to witness it, evermore to keep in thankful remembrance this landmark of my own spiritual life, and the love of my heavenly Father.
During the night it was necessary to keep her very quiet. Afterwards I read, and prayed, and talked with her, as simply as I could; asking her once or twice if she quite understood me, to which she quickly repliedÂ—”Yes! yes! don’t stop; we haven’t long.”
She remained perfectly calm and peaceful, and about eight o’clock fell into a doze. After an absence of some hours, for the discharge of other duties, I returned, and found sleep had given place to a sort of stupor. This, however, did not continue long; but her restlessness for a time was excessive, and her throat was so parched and painful that it was with difficulty she could speak to be understood.
I spoke to her of her Saviour’s sufferingsÂ—of His thirstÂ—;
adding, “And all this He bore for sinners like you.”
The upturned eyes and glance of intense gratitude I cannot describe, but I shall never forget, as she whispered “Thank you;
I watched her for a few minutes in silence; but she looked at me wistfully, as if she had something more to say, but could not express it; nor could I understand what she wanted for some little time when I said, “Do you wish me to thank God for you?” “Yes, yes! Oh, that’s it!” was the reply.
During the next two hours, which were spent in reading or repeating to her portions of the Word, or in prayer, she was frequently slightly delirious; but even then out of the abundance of the heart the mouth spoke, and the often-repeated words, “Father, I have sinned! . . . Saw him a great way off;Â—ranÂ—not the son, the Father ran . . . Oh! God, grant me Thy Holy Spirit. Wash me! make me clean in the blood of Jesus!” proved that the parable which first attracted her attention was constantly in her mind.
Night came, and it was evident that the poor tenement would not much longer be required, and that this fair new-born, blood-cleansed soul was about to join the countless host of the redeemed. Death damps stood upon her face, which yet beamed brighter in the valley of shadows, than it had ever shone in the valley of tears;
her feet were cold, and the hands also, though they continued folded in prayer.
I whispered a few words to her in reference to the glory she would so soon behold face to face with Jesus.
It was a solemn hour. One mightier than the mightiest of this world was there, and I felt his awful presence; but, thanks be unto the God of all grace! a Mightier than he was there also, his Conqueror, my Refuge and Strength, her Ransom and Deliverer.
For a time all was still, even laboured breathing ceased, when, with sudden energy, and far greater power than I could have supposed it possible for her to have retained, she raised herself up, and with her earnest eyes fixed on my own, she said in a clear distinct voiceÂ—”Fetch them in! Oh! be sure and fetch them in, and tell them of Jesus! . . . Tell them ofÂ—Jesus!”
Again there was silence,Â—she scarcely breathed,Â—a slight spasm crossed her face,Â—all was nearly over … I said, “Dear child! Jesus has gained the victory for you!”
She caught the word, and with a shout of gladness, such as never rang from those pallid lips before in the fourteen years of her sorrowful life, she cried, “Victory! victory!Â—I am washedÂ— and made cleanÂ—Glory!”
The rest of the song was sung with the happy children of her Father’s house, “who hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall see the sun light on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
The dead was alive again! The lost was found.
The Little Gleaner.