A minister had been delivering a lecture in a village in Hampshire at a distance from his usual field of labour. His homeward walk led him past a little cluster of cottages hidden amongst some green banks and shady slopes. One of the cottages was a hut, desolate in the extreme, and shewing unhappy evidences, not only of poverty, but of degrading neglect. The thatch was hanging in shreds, leaving ragged holes, through which, if daylight sometimes penetrated, or the glimmer of a passing star, other less agreeable visitors could make themselves felt; for the rain could pass through the decayed reeds, and the snow fall upon the hard pillow beneath. There were two windows, one above the other, for the wretched tenement
owned two storeys; but there were rags and wisps of straw filling the broken panes.
The minister stepped in through the open door, and found himself in the presence of the singular tenant of this miserable home. He was of about twenty-nine years of age; but his withered and distorted limbs were no larger than those of a child of ten or eleven. His head was of unusual size, and his whole aspect and proportions were those of distressing deformity. Poor William! his Creator made him other than this; but he was the victim of a drunken mother’s neglect, who tossed him about in helpless childhood until scarcely a trace of the noble type of humanity remained. That wretched mother’s influence was about him still, and it was her shaking hand which stopped the holes in the windows with some of her mean rags. So revolting was the aspect of everything, that the minister almost shrank from the poor young man, who sat upon the low stool beside the one broken chair and the old ricketty table. There was nothing else in the room, except an
open book upon the poor cripple’s knee, which he was reading intently.
“How do you do? What book are you reading?” said the minister.
“The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” was the ready reply.
The minister determined, before declaring himself, to endeavour to get at the true character of the man. He therefore said, “Do you find it true, as religious people say, that a great deal of good may be
got from reading that book? Do you think it would make me better?”
The young man looked up with an expression of serious gravity and earnestness, full of meaning, and shewing that the ill-formed body was the dwelling-place of a living, thinking, feeling soul. “If the same Spirit,” said he, “that moved holy men of old to write it opens your heart, then it will do you goodÂ—not else; but ‘the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ ”
This was wonderful language for such a man and such a place. The minister thenceforth forgot the rude outside, the rough and ragged husk, and felt that he was communing with one of the “chosen generation,” the “royal priesthood,” the “peculiar people.” He was a brother beloved; and instantly the bonds of that blessed fellowship were felt. But in accordance with his original plan of applying a test to the Bible-reader, he said, “How came you to understand this? You surely cannot be a learned man?”
The poor fellow gave a searching look in the face of his questioner; “I don’t know who you are, sir, nor what brought you here; but this book tells me to be ready to give to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in me; and I pray God I may be able to do it with meekness and fear. You see, sir, what a cripple I am but you don’t know what a sinner I am.”
“How is that? You can’t get about to drink, and game, and carouse, as others can. How, then, have you sinned?”
“I am one of the vilest sinners for all that. I thought, because God had made me such a poor, lame cripple, and punished me so much for nothing as I thought, that therefore I might take liberty to sin;
for I said He would never be so hard as to punish me both here and hereafter. And because it was the easiest sin for me to get at, I took to cursing and swearing horridly. However, about three years ago (and blessed be God for it), one day when I was moving on my crutches over to the door, to catch a bit of sunshine, I was taken with a terrible pain, and I cried out, and fell down. Presently a thought came into my mind, ‘What good have I ever done in my whole life? Why, none at all. Then I shall not go to heaven; and if I don’t go there, I must go to the other place.’ For you see, sir, I didn’t know any other way to heaven than by my own works.”
“Well,” asked the minister, “is there any other way than doing all the good we can in order to gain God’s favour?”
The cripple’s face lighted up while he answered, ” ‘By the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified: for by the law is the knowledge of sin;’ ‘Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour.’ But,” he went on to say, “in this distress I prayed; and they were the strangest prayers, I suppose, you ever heard in your life. But God heard them. Somehow they seemed to please Him. Praying is just telling God what we feel we want of Him. I then took to reading a Testament we had in the house. At first I could find nothing but what condemned meÂ—awful words, about ‘serpents and generations of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?’ Then I took to reading it over again; and when I came to the blessed first chapter of the First Epistle of John, and read these precious words, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ his Son
cleanseth us from all sin,’ I felt that that precious blood healed me, and I seemed as if I were in a new world. I could now repent, I could believe, I could love God; and if I had a thousand lives, I could have laid them all down for Christ.”
“Well,” asked the visitor, “have you never sinned since that time?”
He shook his head with a mournful smile as he replied, ” ‘If we
say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ ”
“But if you were to sin so as to fall away after all this, had you not better have remained in your ignorance?”
” ‘Being confident,’ ” was the ready reply, ” ‘that he who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins.’ ”
This poor afflicted cripple, who had never read any book but the Bible, never heard a sermon, nor crossed the threshold of a house of prayer, was, nevertheless, through the teaching of God’s Spirit, applying His own Word, evidently wise unto salvation, rich in faith, a child of God, and an heir of His kingdom. He possessed spiritual beauty, however great his bodily deformity; and though clothed in miserable rags, he was covered with the glorious garment of the Redeemer’s righteousness.
To test poor William in another direction, his unknown friend asked, ‘Do you think, then, that it does not signify what sins you commit, or how you live, now that He is become your Saviour?”
But a holy indignation rose up in his face while he replied, ” ‘God forbid! How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?’ ‘For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.’ ”
Whilst saying this, in his deep earnestness of spirit, he looked full in his questioner’s face, and saw the sparkle of a rising tear which would come gushing from the hidden fountain. The poor fellow immediately cried out with irrepressible joy, “I am sure, sir, you are more than what you seem. Tell me what you are, and why you come to see me?”
The answer was ready now:Â—”My dear Christian brother, I am a poor sinner who has been led like you, by the Holy Spirit, to trust in that Jesus who died for the ungodly. I have just been telling your poor neighbours that ‘the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ ”
The effect upon William of this confession was almost startling. He eagerly lifted himself from his low stool, grasped both of the visitor’s hands, and then, dropping upon his knees, he uttered a glad thanksgiving:- “O my God, I thank Thee; Thou hast answered my
prayer. I prayed that I might see and talk to one of Thy people before I died.”
Then followed such converse as springs up between lonely travellers who suddenly meet in the way, and find that they are going the same road, with the same home of rest in view; and then prayer and praise to the one Father, through the one Mediator, in the unity of the Spirit. Other visits to William’s hovel followed, and a very short time after he was sleeping in Jesus.
Extracted from Remarkable Answers to Prayer by J. R. Phillips