TWO OLD MEN
Every Sunday evening, a poor old man, aged eighty-three, may be seen standing at the entrance to the Chapel for the Destitute, waiting that he may carry a small piece of paper, containing the numbers of the hymns, to the conductor of the choir. For nearly two years he has delighted to be employed in this humble office; for old Lawrence Hoyle thinks it a great honour to do anything in the service of the sanctuary.
Fifty-five years ago, this man, with his young, handsome wife, the mother of three children, was struggling hard with bitter poverty; the little work he then had was away from home; and she, besides toiling with her young family, tried to earn a few shillings by hand-loom weaving. She then found, what the poor have often found, that real poverty has little credit; for, on requesting the grocer to let her have a few provisions, until she had finished and carried home her piece, he told her plainly that the score should not be increased. It was a cold Friday evening, and she had the three children with her. She returned home and made the two eldest ones a little very thin porridge. While they were trying to satisfy the cravings of hunger, she gave the breast to the little boy, and, when she had got them all to sleep,Â—two in the bed, and one in the cradleÂ—she lighted the candle, and prepared for weaving all night, that she might take her piece home a day earlier, and obtain a few shillings to buy bread. And, strange as it may seem, that night she sang! in tears she sang, in the lonely cot, and breadless home; lest all hope should die within her, she sangÂ— and the verse that went deepest down into her very soul, she sang with joy,Â—
“Though waves and storms go o’er my head,
Though strength, and health, and friends be gone,
Though joys be wither’d all and dead,
Though every comfort be withdrawn;
On this my steadfast soul relies;
Father, Thy mercy never dies.”
And while she was, with subdued voice, piously hymning her confidence in her heavenly Father, a soft foot was heard on the doorstep. It was that of a friend, bringing a cake and sixpence, and that friend was the grocer’s wife. This was to the young Christian mother the first visible providence. And when, the following Sunday morning, she dressed herself and her children in their cleanest and best clothes;Â—when, to use her own expression, she “crept with the children behind the door in the chapel-bottom,”Â—and while the minister (Mr. Crompton, of Bury), was preaching from the angel’s question to John, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?”Â—her soul was filled with such holy rapture, that tears of joy dropped on the baby boy. That Friday evening, and that Sunday morning, she spoke about, fifty years after, as the beginning of her trials and triumphs.
Both saints and sinners are subject to trials, but there is an immense difference in their real positions. The sinner is without true peace; he is like the troubled sea that cannot rest; but the saint takes his burden to Him who has promised to give him rest. The wife of Lawrence had oft to bring her burden there: for though she enjoyed more of real religion than is ordinarily attained, yet she knew more of domestic sorrow than falls to the lot of one in a thousand. She became the mother of nine children, and had to toil hard to make ends meet; for Lawrence had fallen into bad habits, and she was the wife of a drunkard. In that one word is concentrated almost every trouble. A drunkard’s wife, with a family of half-clad, half-fed children, is a pitiable sight; the wife trying to do her best, and the husband trying to do his worst! What a conflict! what a severe demand on patience! Many a woman has given up the struggle in despair, and lain down in an early grave;
many have lost all self-respect, and lingered through a miserable life of stupid wretchedness. A drunkard’s wife is a woman of sorrow. For fifty-five years, Peggy, the wife of Lawrence, was a quiet, peaceable, consistent member of the Christian church, and, for most of that time, in meekness and patience, she bore with almost every description of wickedness and abuse, from her ungodly husband. And during the whole of that time she sent up her prayers to heaven, beseeching the Almighty not to cut him down in his sins, but to spare him until he saw himself a sinner, and sought mercy by faith in Christ Jesus.
The little boy was brought up to his father’s business, a fulling miller. He married, left home, and went to reside at a place called Ridings. He could play on several instruments of music, but was especially fond of the flute. One Sunday, with the flute in his pocket, he came into the town, and called at the cottage in Gibson-row, to see his aged parents.
“William,” said the old man, “where are you going with your flute?”
“To the Chapel for the Destitute,” William replied.
“Chapel for the Destitute? Chapel for the Destitute? I have heard of that place. I think it is just the place for me, for I am destitute enough, I think I will go with you,” said Lawrence.
“Do, Lawrence do; go and hear William play, you have not heard him for a long time,” observed his wife. The old man put on his hat, and walked to the Chapel in company with his son, to hear him play the flute.
The moment old Lawrence set out for the service, the good old Christian wife crept upstairs, and, kneeling down before the Eternal, besought Him to send conviction to the heart of her husband; pleading for an answer, that night, to the thousands of prayers that had been offered up by her and her children, on behalf of father and husband. She wrestled hard and long, imploring and entreating, that this one long-sought request might, that very night, be granted.
At the chapel, the son, with his flute, took his place in the choir, and old Lawrence sat on a form near the preacher. The text that evening was, “Our God, whom we serve, is able to deliver us.” And while the preacher was describing the presence of the angel with the three young men in the fiery furnace, holding back the power of the flames; and the angels’ presence with Daniel shutting the lions’ mouths,Â—and declaring that every child of God, when passing through affliction, had an angelic body-guard, visible or invisible, the Holy Spirit sent home to the heart of the old sinner the power of gospel truth.
As Lawrence returned home his thoughts troubled him. He sat for a long time with his hands on his knees, silently gazing into the fire; his wife, too, sat silent, anxiously looking at him. At last he said, “If I have an angel for my body-guard, he will be a black one.”
“Whatever do you mean?Â—what are you thinking about, Lawrence?” eagerly asked his wife.
“I mean that I am a miserable man, and I fear eternally a lost man. Never till now did I see what a glorious thing it is to be a child of God. O! how safe they are! God can deliver them! And now I understand how it is that you have so patiently borne with all my base conduct; how you have so meekly submitted to every insult; you have served God, and He has delivered you.”
Lawrence spoke with unusual earnestness and solemnity. His aged partner had risen to her feet, and stood with clasped hands and streaming eyes. For some time her emotion was too deep for words. When able to speak, she said,Â—
“O! Lawrence, my dear Lawrence, you may have a white angel. You too may have a glorious, shining body-guard. For this very purpose God has spared you these many years, and for this I have prayed ten thousand times; and has the Lord in very deed heard by petitions? O! Lawrence, Lawrence, do not, I beseech you, do not despair of God’s mercy. He pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin, when the sinner seeks for pardon through our Redeemer.”
Lawrence still sat gazing into the fire. Deep contrition was evident in his countenance; the power of conviction caused him to tremble, and from the depths of his soul he prayed that mercy might not be utterly gone. For many days he was on the borders of despair; his good old wife read for him out of God’s holy book, encouraging him to cast his whole soul on the merits of Jesus. She knelt and prayed with him day after day; and the old man found, in his truly Christian wife, his greatest help in his struggle for pardon and salvation. He attended all the services at the Chapel for the Destitute, and went to other places where he thought he could receive benefit, till at last light and hope dawned on his mind. But darkness again returned, and the publican’s cry,Â— “God be merciful to me a sinner!” burst from an agonizing, guilty soul. He sought mercy through Jesus, and God, for Christ’s sake,
heard his prayer. And that day an event took place which seldom takes place in this world; the old sinner found mercy and pardon,Â— the hoary-headed transgressor, when over eighty years of age, was made a child of God, by the power of saving grace.
The long looked-for day of happiness had come at last. “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” There was great joy to the children of old Lawrence, when they heard of the change in their father; but there was the greatest joy to his aged partner. She wept for joy; and while telling me how happy they were, now that they could kneel down and worship God together, and how happy Lawrence was all the day, she said, “I believe we shall now be like Zechariah and Elizabeth, serving the Lord together.”
Several weeks after the great change, Lawrence was anxious to have service in his house, for the sake of his wife, who could not walk to the Chapel, on account of weakness in one foot. Now this was one of the evidences of the change; for the family had long had occasional religious services at their dwelling, but Lawrence either walked out at the time of meeting, or doggedly sat in the corner, refusing to take the slightest notice, unless to persecute them. But now he came to make arrangements for my going to preach, not in his own house, for it was too small, but in a neighbouring one he had borrowed for the occasion. It was a winter’s evening, and on arriving at the place I found Lawrence standing at his door, looking for me.
“Here he is!” he exclaimed; then turning quickly round, said, “Come, my lass, put on your bonnet, Mr. Ashworth is come.” I followed him into the house, and there stood his amiable old partner, with the most radiant smiles on her countenance. She held out her hand to welcome me. I took her hand, saying, “I think the scales are turned now; you have hundreds of times wished that your husband would go with you to the place of worship, and durst not ask him; but now he says, ‘Come put on your bonnet!’ What do you think of that?”
“Think! think! Was there ever such a monument of God’s mercy as my Lawrence? O! praise the Lord! praise the Lord!”
“Come, lass,” said Lawrence, “come, it is near the time; put on your bonnet, and take hold of my arm, for we shall walk safer linking.”
She laughed outright at the idea of linking, but took hold of his arm with much evident delight.
“How long is it since you linked before?” I asked, rather playfully. “I think it is forty years since, if not more,” Lawrence replied.
“Then it seems that when a man and his wife are both converted, they begin linking.”
“Yes, it does seem so, for I never thought of such a thing before; but I am sure I now love my old wife better than ever,” he replied.
Lawrence told the truth, for the more a man and his wife love God, the more they will love each other.
The happy old couple walked on before, leading the way to the place; and both seemed to enjoy greatly the service of that evening. On my taking leave of them, Lawrence besought both me and his wife to pray that he might be kept very humble, and hold fast his confidence to the end.
Several months after this, Mrs. Hoyle’s sun began rapidly to set: her afflicted foot affected her entire frame, yet with comparatively little suffering. She triumphantly reached the happy place where the sun never sets, for “there is no night there.” She had selected a hymn to be sung at her funeral, and requested I would be present, read it out, and offer up prayer. On entering the house of mourning, Lawrence again met me at the door, in silence, his face bathed in tears. He took me by the hand, and led me to the coffin containing the remains of the aged Christian. I had never seen so old a person so beautiful in death. Lawrence took hold of her cold hand, and, with choking utterance, spoke to her as if she had been alive, exclaiming, “O! my dear, dear, dead Peggy! would to God I had died with thee. O! how it pains me to think of my past conduct to thee. Bitter, indeed, has been thy cup, but it has been made bitter by me. Thy patience with thy cruel husband has been amazing. For many, many years I greatly increased thy sorrow, and thou hast patiently endured it all. One comfort is left me, for I know thou didst forgive me, and in thy last days didst pray with me and for me, and didst help me in my hour of sorrow for sin. But thou art gone, my best earthly friend, thou art gone, and for a short, very short time, hast left thine aged partner to mourn his heavy bereavement.”
During the old man’s address to his dead wife his daughters stood weeping behind him. Those daughters had often joined their now silent mother in prayers for their erring parent. But, amidst their tears and sobs, they had the consolation to know that their mother was now in heaven, and their father on the way to meet her there.
Lawrence now resides with one of his married daughters. He has had much forgiven, and he loves much. On expressing a desire that he might, in some way, do a little good in his last days, and on asking my advice and direction, I said to him, that when Christ cast out Satan from the man in the tombs. He bade him go home to his friends, and tell them what great things God had done for him. And I thought he would be able to do good by going amongst old men and old women, telling them how he, a hoary-headed sinner, had obtained mercy.
“I am very unfit for such work, but if I knew where to begin I would try,” he replied.
“Well, meet me at three this afternoon,, and I will take you to an old man, aged eighty-five, and you can begin with him, for I believe he is anxious about his soul.”
The old man here referred to had attended the Chapel for the Destitute about nine months. Every one that knew him laughed at the very thought of old Pinder attending a place of worship. Thirty years ago, placards might be seen in almost every street, informing the public that Pinder would worry rats with his hands tied at his back, at such a public house, on such a day. This degrading exhibition was as follows;Â—A nail was driven into the middle of a large table, and a string tied to the nail and to the tail of the ratÂ— the string just being long enough to prevent the rat from getting off the table. Pinder, with his hands tied behind him, caught the rats and worried them with his mouth, for sixpence each; and the spectators had to give three-pence each for the gratification of witnessing this exhibition,Â—all profits, of course, going to the publican. In addition to worrying rats, he could leap over five-and-twenty chairs at five-and-twenty leaps; he would fight any man or any dog, and was the leader at bull-baits or dog races. He was a terrible character, had a strong constitution, and now, in his old age, he has the frame of a once-powerful man. But, strong as he was, he informed me that his brother George was stronger; for he once carried a full-grown donkey from Bury to Manchester (about nine miles), without once stopping to rest.
But Joseph Taylor (for that was his real name) was one of my most regular and attentive hearers; he seemed to drink in every word, and was very willing to be taught the way of salvation. Meeting him one Monday morning, a few months ago, he said, “I wanted to see you, for I am very uneasy; your text last night has made me very ill.” The text to which Joseph referred was Revelation xx. 12:Â—”And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of
those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”
“Are the words you preached from God’s truth? and is what we have done really written down against us?” Joseph earnestly inquired. “Yes, Joseph, so the word of God informs us,” I replied.
“Dear me, if it be so, I have a weary shot on, and I mun have it out some road. Did not you say that the blood of Jesus Christ could wash it out?”
“Yes: Christ shed His blood that sin might be forgiven, man made happy, and made ready for heaven,” I answered.
“I wish you would come and see me where I lodge, and tell me more about it, for it will never do as it is.”
From that day to the moment I am writing, I have felt great interest in Joseph; and that was the reason I was anxious old Lawrence should go and see him. He met me according to agreement, and accompanied me to the lodgings of the notorious old sinner.
The place were Joseph lived was a dark room down a narrow passage. I was glad to find him alone, and he seemed very glad of
the visit. I told him some little about Lawrence,Â—how he had lived a very sinful life, and how he had been forgiven, and would, I thought, be able to teach him many things about the love of God in providing a Saviour for guilty man.
Lawrence placed his hat on the floor, sat down on a rickety chair, laid his hand on old Joseph’s knee, and, looking him in the face, said,Â—”Old friend, I feel for you. I feel for your poverty, for I, too, am very poor, and have known how keen and bitter a thing it is to be poor and dependent in old age. But, though I am poor in pocket, I am rich in my soul; for though I have been one of the worst men ever born, yet, in His wonderful goodness and mercy, He has spared my life, and pardoned my sins. O! my dear old brother. God is rich in mercy, and if you come just as you are, and believe with all your heart on the Lord Jesus Christ, He is able to save you. He has saved me; and if He has saved me, I think no one need despair, for I was the chief of sinners.”
All the time Lawrence was speaking to old Joseph tears ran down the cheeks of both. Lawrence wept tears of sympathy and gratitude, and Joseph tears of sorrow and penitence. Wiping his face with his coat-sleeve, he replied, “You are very good for coming to see me, and I like your talk very well. I have been on my knees many a score of times this last week, but it seems of no use. I feel the great black shot is not wiped off yet. O! I have been such a bad man. I have been very cruel to my family, and wicked every way. I have been drunk thousands of times, and have sworn millions of times. I have been guilty of everything but murder, and it is a wonder I have not done that. I am too bad for hell, never name going to heaven; yet I want to go where Jesus is, for I am always thinking of Him, how He died for sinners.”
This last sentence caused Lawrence to lift up both hands, and he exclaimed with great earnestness, “What! are you always thinking about Him! Why, man, if you are always thinking about Him, He is not far off you. I was always thinking about Him; I thought I was at Calvary, on the spot where He was crucified; and I laid me down, put my arms round the bottom of the cross, and thought I felt His blood dropping on to me; and it seemed in a moment as if everything was changed. I felt so happy, that I began shouting out,Â—O Lord! O Lord! O, glory be unto my Saviour, and my God.”
While Lawrence was talking, Joseph was kneeling down. He buried his wrinkled face in his withered hands,Â—his thin, long, white hair hanging over his fingers, and in deep agony said, “O Lord! O Lord! is there mercy?Â—Is there mercy? Do pray for me. O! do pray for me.” Lawrence and I also knelt down, and I whispered him to engage in prayer for Joseph.
I have heard many strange prayers from the simple and unlearned, but none more simple or more strange, and I believe more earnest than that prayer offered by old Lawrence for his aged brother seeking mercy. After a moment’s pause, he began,Â— “O Lord God Almighty! Thou sees us three kneeled on these flags;
two of us are converted and the other wants to be. Thou did save me, and Thou can save old Joe. I think he is very near saved, but somehow he does not think so; but he will soon think so, if he holds on as he is doing, for nobody ‘at loves Jesus goes to hell. 0 Lord, just do for him as Thou did for me.”Â—”John, you pray, for you are more used to it than I am.”
But Joseph had begun, for his spirit was crushed within him. With heaving breast and choking words he confessed his sins, in bitterness of spirit. He bewailed his past life, and saw no hope that sin and wickedness such as his could ever be forgiven, finishing with these words, “0 Lord, if Thou does not forgive me, there is no chance for me, and I shall as sure be lost as ever I was born;
and what a thing that will be! But I ‘liver myself up to Thee entirely. Thou hast saved this other old man, happen Thou can save me too.”
In consequence of the great distress occasioned by the cotton famine, the person with whom Joseph lodged was compelled to retire to a smaller house. On being informed that he must leave, the old man was greatly affected, and spent most of the following day in tears. Hearing of the circumstance, I repaired to his dwelling, and found him seated by the fire, wondering what was to become of him. He was receiving two shillings and sixpence weekly from the parish,, and paid one shilling for his lodgings. Since he became a praying man, they had been very kind to him; and he feared going to the Workhouse, for then he could not come to the Chapel, and might get among wicked men, who would mock him, and do him “harm in his mind.”
“What would you take for Joseph’s bed, just as it stands?” I asked of the housekeeper. “Well, I think it is worth twelve shillings. There are one long and two short pillows, two sheets, a quilt, bed, and bed-stocks. I cannot sell them for less.”
“I should think not,” I replied: “here is the money; and now I must make a present of the bed to Joseph, and find him a quiet corner to set it in, with some one that will be as kind to him as you have been.”
When the old man saw the money paid down, and heard my promise to find him another home, he lifted up his head, and gazed in my face with a look of inexpressible thankfulness. He wept like a child, exclaiming, “God has done it! God has done it! He yeard me pray et neet, and sent yo to help me awt o’ me trouble. He’s done more nor I expected, an’ aw’l praise Him as long as aw live.”
It is now several weeks since this took place. Joseph regularly attends the Chapel for the Destitute; for he says he gets more light every time he comes, and wishes he had begun at once. Lawrence goes often to see him, and the two old men may be frequently seen praying together. At my request, several experienced Christians and ministers have been to see Joseph, and their uniform opinion is, that the old man enjoys saving grace, but seems afraid of professing too much.
This day, September 29, 1862, I met Joseph in the street. On inquiring, as usual, after his welfare, his answer was, “Bless God, through the love of my Saviour, Jesus Christ, I now enjoy peace! O! how I do love God! And I am sure He loves me, and I feel I shall go to Him before long. Lawrence has been praying with me today, and we have both felt very happy. What a wonder it is, that two such old men as us should be saved so late on!”
Yes, Joseph expressed the right wordÂ—It is a wonder! An old man of eighty-three, only twelve months a pardoned sinner, earnestly, and in the best way he could, urging an old man of eighty-five to trust in Christ, is such a wonder as falls to the lot of few to witness. Here knelt two men, whose lives had been one long course of open iniquity, producing untold misery, sorrow, and suffering in their families, and, probably, by their example and precept, having been the direct cause of many going down to the regions of despair. Yet these two have found mercy and forgiveness!