Down by the river-side, in an out-of-the-way and unsavoury neighbourhood, George Aspel and Abel Bones went one evening into a small eating-house to hav_upper after a day of toil at the docks. It was a temperance establishment.
They went to it, however, not because of its temperance but its cheapness.
After dining they adjourned to a neighbouring public-house to drink.
Bones had not yet got rid of his remorse, nor had he entirely given u_esiring to undo what he had done for Aspel. But he found the effort to d_ood more difficult than he had anticipated. The edifice pulled down s_uthlessly was not, he found, to be rebuilt in a day. It is true, the work o_emolition had not been all his own. If Aspel had not been previously addicte_o careless living, such a man as Bones never could have had the smalles_hance of influencing him. But Bones did not care to reason deeply. He kne_hat he had desired and plotted the youth’s downfall, and that downfall ha_een accomplished. Having fallen from such a height, and being naturally s_roud and self sufficient, Aspel was proportionally more difficult to mov_gain in an upward direction.
Bones had tried once again to get him to go to the temperance public-house, and had succeeded. They had supped there once, and were more than pleased wit_he bright, cheerful aspect of the place, and its respectable and sober, ye_olly, frequenters. But the cup of coffee did not satisfy their deprave_ppetites. The struggle to overcome was too much for men of no principle. The_ere self-willed and reckless. Both said, “What’s the use of trying?” an_eturned to their old haunts.
On the night in question, after supping, as we have said, they entered _ublic-house to drink. It was filled with a noisy crew, as well as wit_obacco-smoke and spirituous fumes. They sat down at a retired table an_ooked round.
“God help me,” muttered Aspel, in a low husky voice, “I’ve fallen _very_ low!”
“Ay,” responded Bones, almost savagely, “ _very_ low.”
Aspel was too much depressed to regard the tone. The waiter stood beside them, expectant. “Two pints of beer,” said Bones,—“ _ginger_ -beer,” he added, quickly.
The waiter would have said “Yessir” to an order for two pints of prussic acid, if that had been an article in his line. It was all one to him, so long as i_as paid for. Men and women might drink and die; they might come and go; the_ight go and not come—others would come if they didn’t,—but _he_ would go on, like the brook, “for ever,” supplying the terrible demand.
As the ginger-beer was being poured out the door opened, and a man with a pac_n his back entered. Setting down the pack, he wiped his heated brow an_ooked round. He was a mild, benignant-looking man, with a thin face.
Opening his box, he said in a loud voice to the assembled company, “Who wil_uy a Bible for sixpence?”
There was an immediate hush in the room. After a few seconds a half-drunk man, with a black eye, said— “We don’t want no Bibles ’ere. We’ve got plenty of ’e_t ’ome. Bibles is only for Sundays.”
“Don’t people die on Mondays and Saturdays?” said the colporteur, for such h_as. “It would be a bad job if we could only have the Bible on Sundays. God’_ord says, ‘To-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.’ ‘Jesu_hrist is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.’ ‘ _Now_ is the accepte_ime, _now_ is the day of salvation.’ It says the same on Tuesdays an_ednesdays, and every day of the week.”
“That’s all right enough, old fellow,” said another man, “but a public is no_he right place to bring a Bible into.”
Turning to this man the colporteur said quietly, “Does not death come int_ublic-houses? Don’t people die in public-houses? Surely it is right to tak_he Word of God into any place where death comes, for ‘after death th_udgment.’ ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’”
“Come, come, that’ll do. We don’t want none of that here,” said the landlor_f the house.
“Very well, sir,” said the man respectfully, “but these gentlemen have not ye_eclined to hear me.”
This was true, and one of the men now came forward to look at the contents o_he box. Another joined him.
“Have you any book that’ll teach a man how to get cured of drink?” asked one, who obviously stood greatly in need of such a book.
“Yes, I have. Here it is— _The Author of the Sinner’s Friend_ ; it is a memoi_f the man who wrote a little book called _The Sinner’s Friend_ ,” said th_olporteur, producing a thin booklet in paper cover, “but I’d recommend _ible along with it, because the Bible tells of the sinner’s _best_ friend, Jesus, and remember that without Him you can do _nothing_. He is God, and i_s ‘God who giveth us the victory.’ You can’t do it by yourself, if you tr_ver so much.”
The man bought the booklet and a Testament. Before he left the place tha_olporteur had sold a fourpenny and a twopenny Testament, and several othe_eligious works, beside distributing tracts gratuitously all round. (Se_eport of “The Christian Colportage Association for England,” 1879, page 12.)
“That’s what I call carryin’ the war into the enemy’s camp,” remarked one o_he company, as the colporteur thanked them and went away.
“Come, let’s go,” said Aspel, rising abruptly and draining his glass o_inger-beer.
Bones followed his example. They went out and overtook the colporteur.
“Are there many men going about like you?” asked Aspel.
“A good many,” answered the colporteur. “We work upwards of sixty district_ow. Last year we sold Bibles, Testaments, good books and periodicals, to th_alue of 6700 pounds, besides distributing more than 300,000 tracts, an_peaking to many people the blessed Word of Life. It is true we have not ye_one much in public-houses, but, as you saw just now, it is not an unhopefu_ield. That branch has been started only a short time ago, yet we have sold i_ublic-houses above five hundred Bibles and Testaments, and over five thousan_hristian books, besides distributing tracts.”
“It’s a queer sort o’ work,” said Bones. “Do you expect much good from it?”
The colporteur replied, with a look of enthusiasm, that he _did_ expect muc_ood, because much had already been done, and the promise of success was sure.
He personally knew, and could name, sinners who had been converted to Go_hrough the instrumentality of colporteurs; men and women who had formerl_ived solely for themselves had been brought to Jesus, and now lived for Him.
Swearers had been changed to men of prayer and praise, and drunkards ha_ecome sober men—
“Through that little book, I suppose?” asked Bones quickly.
“Not altogether, but partly by means of it.”
“Have you another copy?” asked George Aspel.
The man at once produced the booklet, and Aspel purchased it.
“What do you mean,” he said, “by its being only ‘partly’ the means of savin_en from drink?”
“I mean that there is no Saviour from sin of any kind but Jesus Christ. Th_emedy pointed out in that little book is, I am told, a good and effectiv_ne, but without the Spirit of God no man has power to persevere in th_pplication of the remedy. He will get wearied of the continuous effort; h_ill not avoid temptation; he will lose heart in the battle unless he has _igher motive than his own deliverance to urge him on. Why, sirs, what woul_ou expect from the soldier who, in battle, thought of nothing but himself an_is own safety, his own deliverance from the dangers around him? Is it no_hose men who boldly face the enemy with the love of Queen and country an_omrades and duty strong in their breasts, who are most likely to conquer? I_he matter of drink the man who trusts to remedies alone will surely fail, because the disease is moral as well as physical. The physical remedy will no_ure the soul’s disease, but the moral remedy—the acceptance of Jesus—will no_nly cure the soul, but will secure to us that spiritual influence which wil_nable us to ‘persevere to the end’ with the physical. Thus Jesus will sav_oth soul and body—‘it is God who giveth us the victory.’”
They parted from the colporteur at this point.
“What think you of that?” asked Bones.
“It is strange, if true—but I don’t believe it,” replied Aspel.
“Well now, it appears to me,” rejoined Bones, “that the man seems pretty sur_f what he believes, and very reasonable in what he says, but I don’t kno_nough about the subject to hold an opinion as to whether it’s true or false.”
It might have been well for Aspel if he had taken as modest a view of th_atter as his companion, but he had been educated—that is to say, he ha_eceived an average elementary training at an ordinary school,—and on th_trength of that, although he had never before given a serious thought t_eligion, and certainly nothing worthy of the name of study, he held himsel_ompetent to judge and to disbelieve!
While they walked towards the City, evening was spreading her grey mantle ove_he sky. The lamps had been lighted, and the enticing blaze from gin-palace_nd beer-shops streamed frequently across their path.
At the corner of a narrow street they were arrested by the sound of music i_uick time, and energetically sung.
“A penny gaff,” remarked Bones, referring to a low music-hall; “what d’ee sa_o go in?”
Aspel was so depressed just then that he welcomed any sort of excitement, an_illingly went.
“What’s to pay?” he asked of the man at the door.
“Nothing; it’s free.”
“That’s liberal anyhow,” observed Bones, as they pushed in.
The room was crowded by people of the lowest order—men and women in tattere_arments, and many of them with debauched looks. A tall thin man stood on th_tage or platform. The singing ceased, and he advanced.
“Bah!” whispered Aspel, “it’s a prayer-meeting. Let’s be off.”
“Stay,” returned Bones. “I know the feller. He comes about our cour_ometimes. Let’s hear what he’s got to say.”
“Friends,” said Mr Sterling, the city missionary, for it was he, “I hold in m_and the Word of God. There are messages in this Word—this Bible—for every ma_nd woman in this room. I shall deliver only two of these messages to-night.
If any of you want more of ’em you may come back to-morrow. Only two to-night.
The first is, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow, though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool.’ The other is, ‘It i_od who giveth us the victory.’”
Bones started and looked at his companion. It seemed as if the missionary ha_aught up and echoed the parting words of the colporteur.
Mr Sterling had a keen, earnest look, and a naturally eloquent as well a_ersuasive tongue. Though comparatively uneducated, he was deeply read in th_ook which it was his life’s work to expound, and an undercurrent of intens_eeling seemed to carry him along—and his hearers along with him—as he spoke.
He did not shout or gesticulate: that made him all the more impressive. He di_ot speak of himself or his own feelings: that enabled his hearers to giv_ndistracted attention to the message he had to deliver. He did not energise.
On the contrary, it seemed as if he had some difficulty in restraining th_uperabundant energy that burned within him; and as people usually stand mor_r less in awe of that which they do not fully understand, they gave hi_redit, perhaps, for more power than he really possessed. At all events, not _ound was heard, save now and then a suppressed sob, as he preached Chris_rucified to guilty sinners, and urged home the two “messages” with all th_orce of unstudied language, but well-considered and aptly put illustratio_nd anecdote.
At one part of his discourse he spoke, with bated breath, of the unrepentan_inner’s awful danger, comparing it to the condition of a little child wh_hould stand in a blazing house, with escape by the staircase cut off, and n_ne to deliver—a simile which brought instantly to Bones’s mind his littl_ottie and the fire, and the rescue by the man he had resolved to ruin—ay, whom he had ruined, to all appearance.
“But there is a Deliverer in this case,” continued the preacher. “‘Jesu_hrist came to seek and to save the _lost_ ;’ to pluck us all as brands fro_he burning; to save us from the fire of sin, of impurity, of drink! Oh, friends, will you not accept the Saviour—”
“Yes! yes!” shouted Bones, in an irresistible burst of feeling, “I _do_ accep_im!”
Every eye was turned at once on the speaker, who stood looking fixedl_pwards, as though unaware of the sensation he had created. The interruption, however, was only momentary.
“Thanks be to God!” said the preacher. “There is joy among the angels o_eaven over one sinner that repenteth.”
Then, not wishing to allow attention to be diverted from his message, h_ontinued his discourse with such fervour that the people soon forgot th_nterrupter, and Bones forgot them and himself and his friend, i_ontemplation of the “Great Salvation.”
When the meeting was over he hurried out into the open air. Aspel followed, but lost him in the crowd. After searching a few minutes without success, h_eturned to Archangel Court without him.
The proud youth was partly subdued, though not overcome. He had heard thing_hat night which he had never heard before, as well as many things which, though heard before, had never made such an impression as then. Lighting th_emnant of the candle in the pint-bottle, he pulled out the little book whic_e had purchased, and began to read, and ever as he read there seemed to star_p the words, “It is God who giveth us the victory.” At last he came to th_age on which the prescription for drunkards is printed in detail. He read i_ith much interest and some hope, though, of course, being ignorant o_edicine, it conveyed no light to his mind.
“I’ll try it at all events,” he muttered in a somewhat desponding tone; “bu_’ve tried before now to break off the accursed habit without success, an_ave my doubts of this, for—”
He paused, for the words, “It is God that giveth us the victory,” leaped agai_o his mind with tenfold power.
Just then there arose a noise of voices in the court. Presently the sound o_any footsteps was heard in the passage. The shuffling feet stopped at th_oor, and some one knocked loudly.
With a strange foreboding at his heart, Aspel leaped up and opened it.
Four men entered, bearing a stretcher. They placed it gently on the lo_ruckle-bed in the corner, and, removing the cover, revealed the mangled an_loody but still breathing form of Abel Bones.
“He seemed to be a bit unhinged in his mind,” said one of the men in reply t_spel’s inquiring look—“was seen goin’ recklessly across the road, and got ru_ver. We would ’ave took ’im to the hospital, but he preferred to be brough_ere.”
“All right. George,” said Bones in a low voice, “I’ll be better in a little.
It was an accident. Send ’em away, an’ try if you can find my old girl an_ottie.—It is strange,” he continued faintly, as Aspel bent over him, “tha_he lady I wanted to rob set me free, for Tottie’s sake; and the boy I cas_drift in London risked his life for Tottie; and the man I tried to ruin save_er; and the man I have often cursed from my door has brought me at last t_he Sinner’s Friend. Strange! very strange!”