The Master Enters

The Master Enters

Author Leslie Newman

If the Master entered our lives, what would happen to us and our affairs? In this book He enters the prison, the bomber, the workshop, the public house, the cafe, the morning train, among others. His coming works wonders in the common life of men, such miracles, in fact, as prove His power in the life of men today.

This is a human document of divine Grace and recalls the ‘Broken Earthenware’ of an earlier day.

Prologue

John Opens the Door

He stood gazing out of his study window. In his eye was a distant, perplexed expression. Although he was wearing a padre’s uniform you would never have suspected that John was normally like a human dynmo. Sturdily built and of medium height, he was energy personified, equally at home on the football-field or the platform, boxing in the ring or debating in a crowd. You should have a detailed description of him but for reasons that will be obvious in a moment.

On this summer evening, when the sky over the sea was aglow with crimson light, he looked from his window with unseeing eyes. He was making a great decision. Never before had I seen him so agitated – although our friendship went back over many years. Indeed, as boys we had been together at the same school.

Sitting quietly by his unlit fire I pretended to read, whilst in reality I watched his restless fingers either pulling at each other or plunging into his trouser pockets. For some twenty minutes I had been urging him to tell the world some stories. Now I felt that it was for him to pronounce the verdict.

John did not reply for a long time. He had grown very serious.

Suddenly he turned round. He sat down facing me. The decisive moment had come.

‘No,’ he began, I’m afraid! of being misunderstood. I dislike publicity, and if I send these stories to the Press, people will get the wrong impression. They may think I’m an egoist. You know differently, for we understood one another, but it would be a different matter when a stranger read these adventures in a book. If, as you say, they ought to be told so that others may gain inspiration from them, they shall be told orally. Fortunately folk rarely misunderstand when I speak, but I’ve never been of much use with the pen. You see how it is? Each of these stories has happened in my own life, and anything I wrote would have to be autobiographical. That means the letter “I” would be prominent. But was only the instrument used by the Master, and I’m “dead scared” of people seeing the instrument only.’

He paused and I seized my chance.

‘John,’ I begged, I’II not go over the ground again. You know the stories are true. You know they contain a truth many need to hear. You know your ministry had been quite out of the ordinary. You have been used in remarkable ways, and you must pay the penalty – even though it hurts. What would you think of a soldier who refused to place the fruits of his victory at the service of his king? That’s egotism of the worst type. A nom-de-plume you refuse because that seems cowardly. Is there no other way?’

‘none that I see,’ he murmured.

‘Dare’ I hint that you should allow me to write them for you?’

His blue eyes opened wider. ‘You write them!’ he ejaculated.

‘Oh, you needn’t rub it in. I know that from a literary point of view they would suffer.’

‘My dear boy.’ John hand was on my shoulder now. He is very human for all that he is so strong, ‘I couldn’t let you do that!’ But he was quite excited. The latch on the door of his resistance had clearly been lifted, so I used more pressure.

‘now look, every Friday for months you and I have spent this hour or so together. If for the next few weeks you tell me again, one or more of your adventures, I’ll jot them down and get them written up. You need have no more to do with it than that.’

After many hesitations John issued his terms.

He began, ‘You’ve won the battle, but I dictate the Armistice. In the first place you must take full responsibility for what you write. My name must not be mentioned in any way, and although every word I tell you will be true, and if need be could be proved, I think it would only be kind to alter the names of people and places; and also I insist on the book being published under your name, for if anyone goes to prison it must be you.’

He laughed.

From not one of these points would he move in the slightest. Eventually he agreed that I should write them in the way he told them. So it came about that for several weeks John and I sat either in the garden or in his study, and while he talked I wrote down the following incidents. In order to make every story speak for itself no reference is made to the conditions under which they were told . Each event is picked out and told just as John actually related it. I have endeavoured to do this in a way that would retain its personal nature.

It has been a privilege to do this for one of the most modest Methodist ministers I have ever known. If any shrewd critic should penetrate the disguise, and guess who John is, please do not tell him. Remember that I promised he should be anonymous.

L.A.N.

The Stories:-

1- A Prison,  2- A Bomber, 3- A  Workshop, 4- The Public House, 5- A Home, 6- A Cafe’, 7- St. Margaret’s Home, 8- A Church, 9- A Sickroom, 10- The Eight-Ten, 11- The Ministry, 12- A Theatre, 13- A Club, 14- A Broken Life,  Epilogue.

 

One

 

He enters a Prison

It was ten minutes to eight on a winter’s morning, snow falling heavily. I remember the time well, for prisoners were usually released at eight, and I was astonished to find that although my watch pointed to the hour, hers said we had ten minutes to wait. Her! I must introduce you, for she comes on the scene as unexpectedly as she encountered me that morning.

‘You here!’ We said the words simultaneously. I explained to her that I often came to meet men coming out of prison, and to see if I could help. I added that often when they came out they felt friendless – and had sometimes proudly refused the help of the Prisoners’ Aid Society. There is a cafe’ near the ugly prison gates, and to this I had often taken a man so that we might discuss his future over a simple morning meal. Many a piece of new human geography had been mapped out in that room.

‘But why are you here?’ I asked. ‘I’m more than delighted, for not many are wise enough to meet their friends here at the gate.’

She looked at the ground as she said, ‘After you left the other week I thought over what you said about Mac not daring to come home, and how he felt he had failed us so badly that we should never forgive him. I want to make it easy for him.’

‘That’s fine, but look, I want to make it hard for him. It is out of sheer kindness that I suggest you let him come home of his own free will – rather than take him. I know you want him back! I know you want him to go straight! Now, will you do as I tell you?’ Hastily I outlined the scheme, and then added, ‘You will have to get out of sight quickly for the gate will open any minute now. Go this way round the corner!’

Having pressed my hand his wife was gone.

Almost at the same moment the clock of a nearby church began to strike the hour. I remember that, for it seemed so fitting that it should be a church clock that struck the hour for the opening of a prison’s doors. The small door – a little latchet door forming part of the more massive one – opened, and out stepped Mac.

This had been a dangerous hour for many a man. I was so easy to be reminded by a public-house across the road that in a few hours one might there find old friends – and old ways. The road that leads many a man back to prison starts just outside the gate. What is there to do in the hour of newly found liberty unless someone has made provision? The hour of freedom is always a perilous one, but never more than when the goal gates close behind a man.

Mac looked around and was not a little astonished when he saw me.

‘Just wondering what you ought to do, Mac? I asked cheerily. ‘I thought you might. I’ve made up my mind that the right thing is to have a bite at the little shop across the way. I’d like you to join me. Come on, you’ve all day in front of you!’

To my relief he came along without demur. soon we sat opposite at a little corner table.

As I looked at him it was clear that he was much better than when first we had met. He looked fitter, and the hard work had done him no harm. The words he had first said to me were still clear in my mind. It had been after a service in the prison chapel. The hour had been spent in a very free-and-easy manner which included a frank talk on what God could do with failures, and a period for questions at the end. The warder warned me about Mac – the newcomer.

‘He’s not really new,’ the official explained, ‘this is his third time. He will be sure to ask questions in the hope of making you look soft, so be ready for him.’

Sure enough when questions were invited, Mac was soon on his feet. ‘What you say is all right, mister, only it don’t apply,’ he said with a smirk.

‘How so?’

‘In all the stories you have told us, God found something good to work on. What I want to know is, can He make something out of nothing, can He find something good in what is entirely bad?’

Many of the prisoners were grinning. They all knew he was trying a ‘gag’. So did I.

‘What a babyish question,’ I said defiantly, ‘I’m amazed at an intelligent fellow like you asking it – even a child knows the answer.’

They all glanced inquiringly at me, for they had not expected this reply.

‘To start with, there can be no such thing as nothing. If there was no universe and only God there would be something, and if there were no universe and no God but only Mac to discover their absence, there would still be something! You’ll at least agree with that?’ I challenged. Then I went on: ‘but if you mean you are entirely bad and therefore even God could find nothing to work on, I’, certain you are wrong. You could not even have asked that question without some good in you. Oh! I know you tried to twist me with it, but I’ve seen God make some wonderfully straight jobs out of twisters like you!’

Mac was writhing under this severe treatment. ‘How?’ he growled.

‘May I tell you the case of a fellow who was in here? When he came in he left outside a wrecked home and a brow-beaten little wife. When he went out he found she had pulled the home together and clothed the three children perfectly. To do this had meant working hard all day and coming home in the evening to do yet more. Her husband arrived back while she was away at work, and finding no one there made such a noise that eventually the neighbours came out and informed him how his wife returned daily at five-thirty. At half-past seven that night he opened the door and stalked in.

‘ “Hullo, Jim,” she said looking up with a smile, “I’m just finishing the children’s bath,” and then she carried on as though it were the most natural thing in the world to see him there.

‘ “Now then, children, one thing more and we are ready for bed,” she went on, and while they knelt round her in a little circle, clasping hands and closing their eyes, she looked across at her husband and said, “Jim, we always say our prayers together now – would you mind taking off your hat (it was still on his head) and – and perhaps you would like you join us?”

‘Jim took off his hat, and listened while his small son prayed.

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,

Look upon a little child,

Pity my simplicity,

Suffer me to come to Thee.”

‘ “God bless Mummy and Daddy, me and. . . and make us all good.” There was more to it, but Jim never heard, for he was on his knees.

‘The authorities had regarded that man as a hard nut – bad right through; but because of the gentle strength of his little son, God touched a spring of goodness in him that soon flooded the whole of his life. Today he and his family are among the happiest in this city.’

The men listened while this story was told, and as no one asked another question they were dismissed. On the way out one of the warders called me aside to stay, ‘I think you hit Mac on a weak spot’.

The next time I went into the prison there was a request that I should visit Number 74 in his cell. On opening the door I was a little surprised to find that Number 74 was Mac. He sat there looking gaunt and worried, and after a few general remarks he almost demanded, ‘Why did you tell that story?’

‘You mean the story of Jim and his wife?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well it doesn’t! It only makes it worse!’

‘Then it doesn’t! It only makes it worse!’

After a time I got him to tell me why. This was his third conviction, and his splendid wife, who had twice received him back and tried her utmost to make him go straight, had at last declared that she would have nothing more to do with him.

‘It was she who said I was utterly bad,’ he added.

He had then six months to serve, and during that time two things were happening. Inside the prison, thanks to the co-operation of the Governor, Mac was having psychological treatment to try and cure him of sadistic tendencies. It has long been my conviction that many of our criminals need treatment rather than punishment. There are, of course, a few of the hardened type, but these form a small minority of the men in our prisons. When a man’s deeds are dark we cut him off from the light by putting him into a dark cell, instead of giving him light. Inside a prison you find the same types that are familiar outside – the only difference being that these have been caught. The time will surely come when eighty per cent of our criminals will be regarded as patients who require adjustments in their mental or emotional world.

Anyhow, Mac had responded splendidly. He deeply regretted the past. He had cultivated a new world of interest, and his chief anxiety now concerned his wife. It must be admitted that he had treated her abominably

Little did he know that she had been visited a good deal during that six months, and was now as eager for him to return as he to go. The two or three brief notes he had received from her had been entirely noncommittal. He never suspected that his wife would have written most touching letters but for my dissuasion.

These things flashed through my mind rapidly as I sat there watching him drink his first morning coffee in this regained freedom.

‘well! And what are you going to do now mac?’ I inquired. ‘I don’t know, but I’m going to leave the city and try elsewhere.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, for one thing, it isn’t fair on her for me to remain; and for another I couldn’t stick it.’

‘But supposing she wants you to stay?’

‘Ah, but she doesn’t! She doesn’t. I know.’ He was emphatic. ‘You ask how? Didn’t she know I was coming out this morning? If she had wanted me back she’d have been here.’

‘But, Mac, not one woman in a thousand would come to those gates on a morning like this.’

‘No! But she is one in a thousand. She came the last twice, and I knew if she had forgiven me, she would be here. When I looked round and saw she wasn’t there, I knew it was all up.’

I was delighted with this tone in his voice, and the turn his mind had taken. What a difference from his sadistic bullying of six months ago!

I remarked quietly, ‘Mac, Elsie did come down to the gates this morning! She was not fifty yards away when you came out.’

‘What! But I looked around and saw no one.’

‘Yes, you did! You saw – yourself. You have always seen yourself. You lived with Elsie years, and never saw her except as a servant of yourself. When you came out this morning you were thinking, “If only she is there it will be all right for me”. That letter “I” has been your trouble .’

This last test was successful. He did not rave against me as he might well have done. He knew himself at last, and could eat humble pie.

Pushing back my chair, I said, ‘Will you do one really big thing? I want you to come with me and apologize to Elsie. Then you can tell her anything you like about leaving the city.’

Seeing he was a little hesitant, I employed American hustle tactics, and almost before mac knew what was happening we had boarded a tram, and in less than twenty minutes were standing outside his house.

After tapping the door, I opened it and peeped in. A breakfast for three was on the table and a lively fire burning briskly in the grate.

‘Hello, Elsie! Here’s Mac,’ I called.

‘Oh, do come in,’ she said in her most inviting manner. I pushed Mac in front of me and then said, I’ll be back in ten minutes’.

When I returned (fifteen minutes later) she was sitting on his knee with his arm affectionately around her shoulders. That there had been tears was obvious, equally clearly there had been an apology.

‘Mac has been telling me the story you told them about the family who started life again through the prayer of a child,’ said Elsie. ‘He says that story has changed his life, and  we were wondering if you would. . . if you would. . .’

‘Pray? Of course.’

That prayer was the first of a daily one since offered in that room. Mac and Elsie now have a little girl of their own, and the fingers of this tiny treasure have untied the last of the bonds that had made her father a prisoner.

‘He comes the prisoner to release;

He makes the captive free.’

 

 

Two

 

He enters a Bomber

The excitement was intense, though few were talking. How suddenly this seaside crowd had changed! Twenty minutes before and all had been fun and laughter, but now there was a tense emotion like the hush that precedes a hurricane – as though optimism had suddenly become suspicious of itself. This holiday company became suddenly changed and very human.

The evening shadows were already creeping up from the east and appearing stealthily to chase the departing day. It would be an overstatement to say the sea was rough, but it was decidedly ‘choppy’, and here and there, a few ‘white horses’ were running. Only a minute or so before we became preoccupied, many were commenting on the beauty of the high cliffs to the south of the bay where the departing sun, like a great artist, was mixing colours in the loveliest pastel shades. Three fishing keelers, creeping homewards from the north-east, added a touch of lovely realism to the old harbour as they approached. The air was sweet. In four years I had not known an evening so charged with mystery. Yet all this suddenly vanished as the expulsive power of a new interest surged through us. All this beauty is seared on my mind as a symbolic background to the catastrophe that followed.

It happened so quickly that to be exact is not easy, but it was somehow like this. A giant bomber had just roared over the house-tops, flying so low that everyone looked up in alarm. A man standing near me said, ‘It’s a crime to let those things fly so low: they ought to be stopped.’ Little did he know the drama going on in that plane. As soon as it had cleared the houses and was rushing across the bay we could see smoke pouring from one of the engines.

‘Look, she’s on fire!’ exclaimed voice after voice.

Almost before we had grasped the situation, the plane took a sudden plunge into the sea. We stood transfixed as we watched it burst into flames, and though none spoke we were all thinking of the crew.

Fortunately a rescue launch was near, and almost immediately it was chasing to the spot, circling to the far side of the burning wreck. For a moment we could see the faces of the seamen lit up by the flames. Then they were swallowed by the dusk.

Folk on the beach were speaking in awed whispers. Many imagined they knew just what was happening, though their ideas changed so often that they frequently contradicted each other.

After what seemed an age, though it was probably only ten minutes, there was a cry of, ‘Here they come!’ Sure enough, the boat was turning away from the plane, which by this time, was a dull glowing mass low in the dark water.

We ran, as by common consent, to the pier where we knew the boat would tie up. A few of us were allowed to approach, the police quicky turning back most of the crowd. Among those of us standing waiting were three coastguards, a fisherman, a policeman, a few nurses, and a doctor. A newspaper man was busily taking notes and asking such questions as ‘could you tell if it was a Halifax or a Hampden?’ ‘Was it on operations or practice?’ ‘Was there an explosion when it hit the water?’ His questions rather irritated us, for we were only interested in the approaching boat.

Suddenly the crowd some distance behind us cheered – vigorously and good-naturedly. We, however, who were nearer did not cheer, for we had seen something that kept us silent. Four of the aircraft’s crew were sitting up. Two were pulling hard at cigarettes, as though to relieve nervous strain. Another had his arm around a comrade who was leaning heavily and unconsciously on him. At all this we might have cheered, but it was something covered up in the stern that kept us silent. We knew.

There was little talk when the men were lifted to the quay. A car was waiting to take them away, but they would not leave until an ambulance arrived to take off the badly wounded boy to hospital. One needed neither car nor hospital. I noticed how the boys kept glancing at that covered object still in the stern.

The next day I went early to the hospital.

The young observer was half-sitting, propped up on his pillows. Fortunately his injuries had not been as severe as we feared, and within a few days, it was hoped he would be able to leave hospital. His one concern was for news of the rest of the crew. Having been told by the sister that I might tactfully tell him anything, I explained that all were well except one, the pilot.

‘What, George?’ his voice trembled.

‘Yes, I’m afraid he has taken his last flight, and it has taken him to the heavenly kingdom.’

He was silent for a time, obviously deeply hurt. Then he said. ‘Padre, George was my best pal. Do you really mean he is dead?’

”Well, I don’t believe in death,’ I said. I’m sure what we call death is an illusion. Just as a man’s body goes back to Nature from whence it came, so a man’s spirit goes back to God.’

‘It’s funny that you should say that,’ he murmured at length, ‘because George and I were speaking of these things only a few days ago. He said that if ever he got killed he hoped no one would blame God, for God had nothing to do with it, and in any case he would be all right.’

We talked of other things for a little, but it was clear he was struggling to say something else.

‘You know, Padre,’ he went on, ‘I’m not a good chap; but George was. It ought to have been me, not him. He counted.

Seeing that he was ‘bottled up’, and it might relieve him to have a good talk, I suggested he should tell me something about George, something which I might helpfully out in a letter to his parents.

‘I can only say this,’ he began, feelingly. I’ve been with him for over two years, and have never known him do a mean thing or play double. We all respected him. I’ve known lots of fellows who often, after having played the fool, went and talked things over with him. Somehow one could talk to him; he understood. Before the war I think he belonged to some group or other. Once, when I was drunk, I betrayed a girl. Oh! it was hell afterwards. Some of the chaps treated it as a joke, a few even scoffed, though they were not too clean themselves. George did neither. He took me for a long tramp round the country roads and talked to me like a brother, though actually he was a year younger. We chatted as we leaned over a country gate. Then he said. as though it was the most natural question in the world, “Do you ever pray?” and without waiting for my reply he went on, “Let’s try it”. Standing there by the roadside that evening he prayed nor me. . . . God! I’ll never forget it; it was all so real to him!’

Neither of us spoke for a time.

‘Did he say anything to you on this last trip?’ I ventured.

‘Yes.’

The airman was hedging somewhat, for he went off at a tangent: ‘You know he never went on “ops” without first popping into the little chapel we have at the station. Perhaps only for a couple of minutes, but we knew why. Then sometimes on the way home he’d strike up a hymn over the inter-com. If we chaffed him he only laughed. Mind you, Padre, he wasn’t a bit pi. He could play football and box with any of us. I remember too, he once confessed to me that when over a target he had prayed for those who might be the innocent victims of the cruel necessity of bombing.

I felt all this was defence mechanism on the patient’s part, so I said gently: “What did he say on the last trip?’

He coloured. Then almost grimly exclaimed. ‘We were waiting for the take-off. In the midst of our chat he said, in a way entirely his own, “I know that under this laughter you are really worried. You’d cure all that if you let God take over the controls.” Then he smiled, and we strolled over to the kite. It would be about fifteen minutes before we crashed that he called me up. “Hello. Are you all right? You remember what I suggested? Try it. It will work.” ‘

The last thing the airman said as I prepared to leave the ward was: ‘I almost feel he died to teach me my lesson. I’ll never forget. God, Padre, if I could become a Christian like George!’

He has.

 

 

Three

 

He Enters a Workshop

Yesterday I walked with the works manager round a vast modern factory, agog with productive and distributive machinery, the finished products finding their way to almost every corner of the globe.

As we wandered among whirling wheels we spoke of how all England was a workshop, for the war was then being fought, and the situation demanded that we not only supply our home markets but constantly fill our ships with a flow of goods. The manager, an economic expert, told me how on the purely physical side he was very happy about the output of the factory.

The tone of his voice led me to ask, ‘What would you say is your greatest difficulty?’ not for a moment did I suspect the reply he would give.

‘Preventing men from becoming machines’, he said without hesitation; and then went on, ‘the human factor counts most, and my constant is to create mutual confidence between employee and employer’.

For a time we spoke about the community of interests between these two, and how interdependent they were. Obviously the employers, whether a government department or a group of private persons, could only be successful if the workers enjoyed prosperity and purchasing power; and, equally obviously, unless those in control were successful the workers could not fail to lose their work. His long experience had taught him that resentment on either side was due to failure to understand each other, or to faulty emotional appreciation.

By this time we had reached the staff canteen, and to my astonishment I learned that I was expected to speak, first to the staff, and later to the operatives.

taken by surprise, during the meal, I whispered to an accountant sitting next to me, ‘what ought I to speak about?’

He said, ‘Well, most of these folk don’t go to church. They are hard-headed, and if I were you I’d say little about religion.

‘But,’ I confessed, ‘I’ve little else to speak about. It’s my supreme interest.

With not a little trepidation I shared some thoughts about the difference Christ can make to a man, and the machinery of a man’s working day. Never did a congregation listen with greater courtesy, and nothing could ave been more refreshing than the comment of a man as he went out: ‘Thanks for remembering we are men first and business men second.’

Even more astonishing was the invitation from one of the ‘heads’ to a conversation in his office. When later in the afternoon we were sitting at his desk I was humbled to realize that my simple word had been used to lead this man to speak about the personal needs of his spiritual life. There have been few more intimate talks, even in the confessional, than the one we had. As we were parting he offered to facilitate a meeting for the staff or men whenever a padre could go, promising that he himself would be there.

The works canteen was a never-to-be-forgotten place. Some seven hundred men and girls gathered around long tables. After the noise of serving food died down, and the rattle of cutlery on crockery was less like a hailstorm, I was offered a chair on which to stand and speak. The theme was simply to explain that everyone wanted a new world but that only new men could make one. One cannot make a god thing out of bad material. Then they were told of the Master who alone could change men.

My own timidity had whispered that these people would be hostile, yet when questions were invited they not only revealed how cordially the visit was welcomed, but how eager they were to know more of the subject.

I can best mention two of the many questions. One burly man with the sleeves of his overalls uprolled, started by telling me he thought religion was dope, and all my talk about men being changed was moonshine. ‘What do you mean it – anyway?’ he demanded.

Though he spoke aggressively there was an undertone of sincerity in his voice and this led me to say. ‘Surely you know what it is to be changed. Look at it this way! When I came here I got off one tram at the High Street and took another coming this way. By doing this, instead of going south I came east. I had changed my line of direction. Or put it this way. At the present moment you have the stains of toil on your hands and face, and  are wearing some oil-stained clothes. When you get home you will have a complete wash and change and become very different from what you are now.

‘By being changed we mean taking a new line of direction that will get you where you want to be, nad getting a good clean-up inside.’

before he went back to his work this man arranged for a personal interview that evening.

another man said, ‘I used to go to church, but I found that through living under the self-seeking conditions of modern industry, with what id often an atmosphere of suspicion and resentment, my interest was killed.’

This leads us to see that the Church, for its own sake, must be concerned for the conditions under which men work. Such conditions can kill many of our spiritual efforts. The six days may prove too strong for the one. The only objection any of them had to the Church – and they had none against the Master – was that it seemed irrelevant. We must definitely insist that not only our hospitals and schools and churches, but our factories, be designed to show the sacredness of human life. Otherwise the Gospel will be left on one side. It is not without siginificance that all over the country these factories are opening their doors to us.

On my way home I tried to crystallize what I had learned.

First, it seemed obvious that the Church must keep a very critical watch on all evils in any industrial system. Equally clearly, and at the time, it must be utterly sympathetic to industry. It is not enough to speak in glowing terms of our factory workers. Upon the real success of the workshop depends the nation’s home life, marriage, education, health, leisure, and religion. What happens at the works will react on all these. A man’s work must call out his powers of mind; it must provide him with real self-expression, and if possible his work should give him a sense of wonder. Work makes the worker as well as the reverse, and therefore the Church must be concerned with both.

Then we must realize that every honest worker in the world is a worker with God. Even if he is not aware of it, it is still a fact. The raw materials with which he works and the process of Nature behind them all link his work to God. Surely also just because the worker is a person in whom spiritual energies are at work, God is there. Whether he is making plastics or pastoral calls, God is equally concerned. What new meaning! What release of good-will! What deep vital purpose and joy would come into the life of any worker realizing this! It is his birthright. The world’s greatest Worker declares it. We must proclaim it.

Out of these reflections I found a challenge emerging that drove me to put pen to paper. The thought was insistent. How can you and I and the whole Church set about the great task of transforming both the toil and the toilers? We must show an industrial age that we are interesting in the industrious. The conclusion that we shall require a new type of evangelism can hardly be avoided. This new evangelism will in no way detract from our normal appeal, but will give to it point and extension. Like our Master, we have to call individuals to personal discipleship and preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. Our task is to persuade men to consecrate their industries to human welfare. Having led men to the Cross we must send them forth on crusades as the unselfish leaders of society and industry.

Dr. Jowett tells how he was once deeply impressed with the remark of a gardener concerning his work. ‘I feel, sir,’ said the man, ‘when I am growing flowers or rearing vegetables that I am having a share in creation.’ Every worker, whether administering or producing or distributing, ought to feel that. We are fellow-workers. The Maker of the earth is the Worker with men.

The times are urgent. The world is about to be re-made. We must call the workers of the world to unite in Him. Perhaps the place at which to start is by turning our own religious occupations into divine vocations. Or will it start farther back – when on our knees we offer Him not only our worship but our work?

These thoughts were gripping my mind all that afternoon, and I was still struggling to get the matter clear when a knock at the door announced the arrival of my questioner in the canteen. Now he was smartly dressed and very different from the man who stood up at the midday tables.

After a most sorrowful story of personal failure and domestic chaos, a record which involved attempted murder and separation from his wife and family, he exclaimed: ‘When you spoke about life changing it hit me, for need a clean-up inside and to get back on the right road. Do you think God can deal with such a failure?

Soon we had handed over both our lives to the Master.

His eyes gleamed with a new-found joy as he went away to write a letter of apology to his wife and to restore some money he had stolen. He knew he was changed – and has since discovered he can be kept changed.

When I think of this man, or of the ‘head’ who regularly now goes to worship, or when I remember the men who first told me it was a place where ‘men sweat and toil and swear’ but who later begged for a regular canteen service, I’m ashamed that for so long they had been neglected.

Can we doubt that the Master, who was Himself a working man, longs to enter the modern workshop?

 

 

Four

 

He enters the Public House

I turned the letter over and read it again. Never before had anything of the kind come my way. This is how it went:

Dear Sir

Yesterday I heard you speak at the Brewster Sessions, and although I am a publican and could not agree with much of what you said, I felt sure you were sincere. Many of your mistakes were made because you don’t know us, or what goes on inside a public house. If you would care to come round for a chat I should be glad to tell you the story from our point of view. Some of us are as concerned about the welfare of the town as you are. I would arrange to be in at your convenience.

Yours faithfully

W. Chester

Should I go? It looked like an open door, and the man was right in saying that I knew little about the inside of a public house. Having always been a total abstainer I had assumed that such places were not for me.

Further, I knew what certain people were likely to say. Only a year or two ago I had occasion to visit a publican who was dying. My exit from his house happened to coincide with the arrival of a bus which stopped outside, and from which a number of my friends were alighting. The expression on some of their faces was something I shall long remember, and I heard about that visit for months after. In those months I learned a modern version of the text, ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking and you say, “Look! a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of publican and sinners” ‘. Yes, it might cause a little misunderstanding. Still, it seemed clear that the Master would have gone, no matter what the Scribes and Pharisees said. I must go.

I’m glad you have come,’ said Mr. Chester. I’d have been disappointed if you hadn’t. Sit down and have a glass of lemonade – I won’t offer you anything stronger,’ he smilingly added.

Immediately I felt what a different man he seemed from what I had taken him to be when he had opposed me in court a few days before. Judging from the easy way in which we were soon chatting he must have felt the same about me. He told me something of the difficulty he had in deciding whether a person was old enough to be served, and how many youngsters tried to trick the licensee. Then he explained how he had lost many a good customer because he had refused to serve him when he had had enough.

‘Most folk are as anxious to keep this business clean as you are,’ he assured me. ‘It seems such a pity that we can’t help each other instead of attacking each other. Do you know what most of my folk think of church-goers? They think you are a lot of prigs. I have heard them speak of the pride and double-dealing among some who go to worship – and then, laughing, say, “I’d rather have nothing to do with ’em”.’

While he was saying this I was recalling that many of my friends thought all drinkers of alcohol were bad, and that therefore they would feel that on no account could they come into this place. Of course, both sides were wrong. We are all sinners, some in one way, some in another. But what a pity that we have allowed differences of opinion to break the human fellowship!

‘tell me, Mr. Chester,’ I said, ‘what is it you are really trying to do in this place? Are you doing it simply to make a living, or because you think men like drink and must have it? I’ve heard that your place is usually full of both men and women. What is your aim?’

‘Now, I’ll tell you,’ he began. I’m anxious to make this place a social centre where everyone will feel at home. In this town there are hundreds of people who are lonely and worried. such people won’t go to church. But it seems that as the churches have got emptier we have got fuller. Perhaps it shouldn’t be, but there it is, and we have to cater for more folk in these days. Among other things we have just started a series of talks. Any who are not interested can go into the other room, but most look forward to it. Beveridge Plan, and they were all as keen as a razor edge. Now, if you fellows came in and gave us a few frank, friendly talks, you might do more good than blazing away in the courts or from pulpits.’

‘Wait a minute,’ I interjected. ‘If I did that, you wouldn’t let me say what I liked. I should tell your folk that you cannot drown worry or loneliness or any of life’s troubles in a glass of beer, for the trouble will still be there next morning.

To my surprise he said. ‘If you’ll come and make yourself at home you can say anything you like, and you’ll find that the more frank you are, the more they will like you’.

It was too good an opportunity to miss. That same night I ventured forth, and with many strange feelings, mingled with timidity, I entered. The place was full. All eyes seemed to be looking at me. Soon my eyes got used to the light, and I noticed quite a number of neighbours I had not expected to find. going up to one of these I remarked, ‘It’s a cold night’.

‘I’m surprised to see you here,’ were his first words. Then he added: ‘come over by the fire. What will you have? A whisky?’

‘If I did would finish me off,’ I said frankly. no, I only take a lemonade.’

After a few minutes’ general conversation he said, ‘tell me why you’ve come’. Then he grinned, and assured me it would be all over the town next day.

‘You know,’ I explained, ‘my Master was a friend of publicans and sinners, and although I’m not a publican I’m a sinner, and I’ve got the notion we all are, and that we all ought to know each other better. the fact of the matter is, I want to know you fellows, and I would like you to know me. You call me a parson, and I call you a drinker, and we forget these labels mean very little. The first thing about either of us is that we are men.I feel sure you men can help me, and it may be mutual.’

By this time we were sitting at a table and not a few others were listening. I must be honest and say that on that first visit I did not feel at home. It was as strange to me as it would have been to them had they suddenly dropped into one of our devotional meetings.

Several visits were needed before the strangeness passed, and before the ‘regulars’ viewed me with anything but suspicion. I suppose to them it was an innovation – perhaps an intrusion. Soon, however, friendly discussion on all sorts of tropics was usual.

It was some weeks later that my first real chance came. One Sunday evening some had been playing a game with a fellow whom old regulars nicknamed ‘Beer’ from his capacity to imbibe that commodity. Failure in the game involved surrendering a ‘forfeit’ which must later be reclaimed by giving an item of entertainment. ‘Beer’ had lost. He was told he must either sing them a song or pay for drinks. He had no money and pretested that they knew he couldn’t sing. Still, they pressed and pressed until someone whispered, ‘Why not get the padre to sing for you?’

‘That’s it,’ several declared together. ‘what about it, padre?’

The truth is that I have a poor voice, and I tried to get out of it by saying, ‘You wouldn’t like the kind of thing I should sing’. This however didn’t put them off, and soon I found myself singing the negro spiritual. ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ The silence and respect, given without request, during my poor rendering was so intense that it could be felt.

‘Beer’ escaped his forfeit; but never said a word to me. By a curious coincidence on that very evening, just before it was time to turn out, the proprietor announced that he had bad news. We should all be sorry to learn, he said, that Old George, one of the best-known of the ‘regulars’, had died suddenly. Again that silence crept over us. We all knew Old George, who lived in two little rooms with his ‘missus’. During that quietness the thought came: If they will listen to a hymn, why not a prayer.

Habit tracks run deep, and before I realized where we were, I did what I had often done at a church meeting. ‘friends,’ I said, ‘some of you knew George well, and we all respected him. In the morning I shall go round and see his “missus”. You know she hasn’t much to live on, and if you feel like helping I’ll gladly take anything, and would it not be fitting if we stood for a short prayer?’ No one spoke, but everyone stood. After the prayer scarcely one left without handing me something that they might show their practical sympathy.

The next day one of them said. ‘It was like being in church at the “Dragon” last night; but the folk did appreciate it’.

Eighteen months passed. Then, one day, a rather dirty child came to the manse door, bearing an even dirtier note, a request that I would go at once to an address where a Mr. Smith was very ill, and wanted to see me. Neither the name nor the address conveyed anything to me, but I promised to go at once. The journey took me to one of the poorest districts of the town, and to a very tumbled-down cottage. When climbing the creaking stairway Mrs. Smith told me how the doctor has said her husband could not get well, and how the sick man kept asking for the parson who went to the pub. Mr. Chester had given her my address.

My astonishment was complete when I saw ‘Beer’ huddled up on the bed. Clearly he was very ill. But he could speak, and what he said humbled me.

‘Mister,’ he whispered, ‘you remember that night when you sang for me, and later on said that prayer for Old George? That got me. it did. It got me. I came home and told the “missus”. Mister, I had a good mother. She often said to me that no matter where I went God would be there. I felt shev was right that night.’

Every time I saw ‘Beer’ that week he mentioned that one night, and he used the same words, ‘It got me, it did’.

Clearly the Master had entered.

 

 

Five

 

He enters a Home

The door of the drawing-room was open, and beyond I could see a beautiful young woman of some twenty-eight years, seated by the fireside. She rose as I entered. My interest was immediately evoked, for apart from the attractive appearance that nature had so generously given her, there was a marked look of sadness in the eyes which had clearly been stained by tears.

‘I’m Vera, and you must forgive me for coming,’ she burst out.

‘Vera!’

‘Yes, Vera Brayshaw – Vernon’s wife, you know.’

Slowly I realized who she was, for though I had never seen her before, I had received several photographs on which she appeared, the latest taken two years before when she had been dressed as a bride at her marriage to my friend Vernon Brayshaw.

‘Well’ this is spendid,’ I remarked, ‘I’ve often wanted to meet you, for even allowing for a natural bias on Vernon’s part, if you are only a fragment of what he says you are, it will be a privilege to share your friendship. By the way, where is Vernon? Are you on holiday? It’s just like him not to write and let me know . . . and, incidentally, he hasn’t written for a long time now.’

All this was said smilingly and with a little banter. I ought to have notice a little more quickly than I did that she was finding no pleasure in it. Suddenly she sat down and began weeping.

‘Oh, I don’t know what to say, or what to think. It’s about Vernon I’ve come to see you. I didn’t know to whom I could go, and I think you are the only one who can help him. You will help, won’t you? she added with pathetic eagerness.

‘We’ll have a cup of tea, and you shall tell me all about it.’

While tea was being prepared my mind was travelling over my past associations with Vernon. I had first met him at a village during a ten-day mission. This sturdy boy, with his strong body and tanned face, had immediately appealed to me. During those ten days he had made a public dedication of his life, and everyone had rejoiced that his splendid gifts, so markedly above the average, were to be dedicated to great and good purposes. He had remained in his home village for five years after that, during which time he had done good work preaching around the villages, attracting many by the radiance of his own changed life. Several times during that period I had stayed at his house. We had also shared a couple of holidays together.

Then he had moved to London, and I had lost touch until he fell deeply in love with Vera, and wrote to tell me about it. Since his marriage I had received only one letter, but this, like everything about him, was a positive whirlwind of enthusiasm and high spirits.

From these reflections I looked up at the young wife pretending to sip her tea. ‘Tell me anything you wish,’ I encouraged, ‘and perhaps it would be best if you started from the time of your marriage, for I’ve heard so little since.’

After a pause and one or two interrogatory glances she began, ‘you will help him; you must. There is no one else. He won’t listen to me or his parents, please do something.’

Having assured her that there was nothing humanly possible that I would not gladly do for him. I again encouraged her to tell me the story coherently.

‘There is really very little to tell. We were wonderfully happy for the first six months, happier than I thought anyone could be. Then he began to change. I thought he was getting tired of me, and did everything I could to keep his affection; but in spite of all I did he became moody and morose. He would sit for hours without speaking, and sometimes if I spoke he would simply get up and go out. Then he began staying in town until late at night, and I’m afraid he has taken to drink. Now he often does not come home at all. Yesterday he told me he wouldn’t be home until tomorrow night, and would give me no reason, so I’ve taken the opportunity of coming here to ask for your help.’

‘He doesn’t go to church now, I suppose?’

‘No. I still go, hoping that he will one day feel the old pull and join me, but at present I dare not mention it.’

‘And you have no clue to the cause of all this? From what you tell me I’m sure this isn’t merely a case of a man growing tired. It is so utterly unlike Vernon, and from his earlier letters to me I know he was devoted to you. Have you no possible solution?’

She coloured a little and said, ‘Yes, I know it is something to do with another woman, for one day I steamed open a letter. I had noticed that letters in this hand-writing had come from time to time, and although perhaps I shouldn’t have done it, I felt desperate. the postmark was Ilford. It thanked him for some money received, and ended, “All my love, Marjorie”.’

‘does Vernon know you read that?’

‘No, I dare not tell him. Though I have taxed him once or twice with being in love with someone else. Oh! and I ought to add that since our little baby died twelve months ago he has been worse. Once or twice I have threatened to leave him, but then he breaks down completely and pleads with me not to, and declares he will take his own life if I go. That is what puzzles me. If he wants someone else, why doesn’t he let me go?’

We talked for a long time trying to think out the best approach, and I could not resist asking. ‘Why have you come so far to talk it over with me?’

She explained that he had cut away from all his old friends. ‘You notice he hasn’t written to you, but he has never spoken about you with anything but respect. You are my last hope,’ she added. Rarely have I felt more humbled or thankful.

The next morning, before she left, it was agreed that I should write to Vernon and invite him to spend a week with me in Cornwall. We had both loved camping holidays, and I would tell him that I badly needed a change, and that a few days there with him would set on my feet. I knew a little spot that would attract, for we had spent one of the happiest weeks of our lives there.

Next morning, as the train pulled out, my last words were, ‘Remember, Vera, you are not to tell him you and I have talked matters over until after we see if he will come. It is now May, and I cannot go for at least three weeks. If by the end of June things are not right I will write you fully.’

So it came about that on the last Monday in June I met Vernon in Bristol and we journeyed together.

How he had changed! Instead of the handsome young man with the bright eyes and resolute face I had known, there was one who appeared middle-aged, with lines strongly marking his brow and the dull heavy eye of a defeated man; but of all this I said nothing. My aim was to make him feel as much as possible like the man he had been when we had last camped together. Actually, to keep him from thinking about himself I talked mostly about current events and my own work until we had pitched our tent on the high cliffs.

Before we turned in I recalled that on previous holidays we had taken turns in saying our evening prayer. “Whose turn tonight for prayer, Vernon, yours or mine?’ I asked gaily.

‘Oh,’ he stammered, ‘I ought to have told you I don’t say m prayers now . . . . nor do I go to church . . . in fact I don’t believe in God.’

Instead of appearing shocked I ejaculated, ‘Gosh, that’s a change, old man, and a bad one, but as I still say mine I’m sure you won’t mind if I go outside and remember you as well as myself’.

When we were nestled down in our blankets he tried to talk about himself, but I steered clear by remarking. ‘There’s not much with you except that you want some fresh air inside and some sea water around you. Wait until we have had a few bathes and tramped the moors and you’ll feel a new man.’

The first three days worked wonders. Under the rigour of physical exercise and the spell of the glorious scenery, he emerged from his depression and became almost his old self. Now was the time to offer help if he would receive it. So that night, in bed, I changed our conversation:

‘By the way, Vernon, you’ve never brought Vera up to see us. Don’t you think it’s high time we were introduced?’

‘As a matter of fact,’ he said, ‘I’ve been wanting to tell you that we don’t get on well together.’

‘Oh? What’s the matter? Do you mean you don’t like her or she doesn’t like you, or that one of you is in love with someone else?’

‘No, it’s worse than that. We both love each other, but she knows there is something in my life I dare not tell her. Something which I believe killed baby, and would kill her if she knew.’

‘Tell me all about it,’ I encouraged.

‘No,’ he snapped, ‘I shall tell no one’ – and not even the darkness of the tent would make him confess.

The next evening, just before turning in, we were sitting on a rock and gazing at the sunset. The sky was kissed with living colour and all the cliffs ablaze with glory. It was a scene of beauty which made one feel how illimitable were the possibilities of Nature’s artistry.

‘Do you really mean, Vernon, that you can’t believe in God on an evening like this? I asked quietly.

‘If only life was always like this,’ he murmured, ‘I’m sure I could. There is something eternal in that sky, and being down here this week has been like heaven to me. It has taken me back where I used to be.’

This was the best thing I had managed so far.

After a long pause I felt it was time to do something definite, so, as quietly as I could, I remarked: ‘You see, old man, where the sky and the sea seem to meet? Well, I seem to see two names there – Vera and Marjorie. I can understand the first for that’s the name of your wife, isn’t it, but what about the second?’

He had started violently, ‘Good God, what do you mean?’

‘Won’t you tell me about Marjorie?’

‘Marjorie! What do you mean?’

‘I mean the girl you used to know near Ilford.’

‘you don’t know anything about her.’

‘Have you forgotten that I used to work there?’ I replied evasively. ‘You had better tell me everything – the reason why you don’t pray or go to church or get on well with your wife is all there, isn’t it?’ He nodded agreement. ‘Then tell me,’ I urged, ‘for your health’s sake, for Vera’s sake.’

As he was adamant I took a leap in the dark and said, ‘Well, may I tell you? perhaps I know more than you think. You used to go to . . . . and you used to do . . . and she accuses you of being responsible for something for which you must pay. She demands your money and threatens to tell your wife if you don’t respond. She told you that if you had a child God would not allow it to live, and when your baby died you believed what she had said. You still meet her in London in order to pay what she demands.’

His face was a study, and I could see that although my details might not be correct the main point was.

‘How did you know?’ he gasped.

‘I didn’t, but you have told me now. There is of course, more to it, and I want you to tell me the rest.’

He did. I am not at liberty to give details, but it will suffice to explain that he felt not merely how an exposure would tear his character to pieces, but also that a legal case might be brought against him. We talked on into the night. The barriers were all down now, and I finally convinced him that he was being blackmailed by an unscrupulous woman who had no case against him and dare not invent one. He begged me to keep the whole matter to myself, but I assured him there were three others who must be told.

‘Who?’

‘Vera, Marjorie, and God! . . . Let us start getting this clear with God straightaway. I’ve known from the start that your disbelief and prayerlessness went back to some moral question. Defence mechanism like that you have been erecting has been used so often that it doesn’t deceive me now.’

Never shall I forget that prayer on the sands. The stars were looking down, and the music of the waves formed a background of harmony that made the whole universe seem a gigantic temple. We didn’t need anyone to quote, ‘Whosoever cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out,’ for the earth was singing it. We sat on for a long time, and just before turning into the tent, Vernon whispered, ‘i know now what that boy felt like when he came back from the far country and his father received him’.

Next morning when I awoke, Vernon was not in his bed. Outside I found him sitting on the same rock looking out towards the horizon. He was no more conscious that I was about than I had been that he had risen so early. It was only the call to breakfast that finally aroused him to the immediate world.

I looked at him as we ate out toast. What a change! The old glitter was back in the eyes, a new zest for life apparent.

‘You know,’ he began, ‘I shall hate leaving you at Bristol today, and how I’m going to keep my promise to tell Vera, I don’t know.’

“Bristol! don’t you think you are getting rid of me at Bristol. I’m coming right home with you, for I also have to keep a promise. I told Vera that I’d spend the week-end at your place . . . . you don’t mind, do you?’

‘Mind! Mind? he gasped. ‘But I don’t understand. You have never met Vera.’

‘Oh, haven’t I?’ I laughingly replied. ‘It’s a good thing for you I didn’t meet her before you did.’ Then I told him the whole story, and how his wife cared for him so much that she had travelled north to explain affairs. Vernon is not the type to whom tears come easily, but he wept as only a strong man can.

That evening when we reached his home our various emotions were chasing each other wildly. His wife came to the door. Her eyes were anxious, especially when she saw Vernon hanging his head. Into a cosy little drawing-room we went and after tea, partaken in a somewhat strained atmosphere, I gave Vera a complete account of the camp – no detail omitted.

I had never doubted that she would be big enough to forgive him, but I had hardly anticipated the beautiful thing that followed. After a few moments in which she choked back her own sobs, she put her arms around him, pressed his head against her breast, and said in a voice made tender with two years of suffering. ‘Oh, my poor dear boy, why didn’t you tell me? I had thought it was much worse. I can bear your sin but I could not bear losing your love.’

‘I can bear your sin, but I could not bear losing your love.’ I had heard that before. Didn’t it come from Someone on a jagged tree?

The rest of that evening was too intimate to be retold. At one point Vera even tried to blacken her own character – very unsuccessfully – to make Vernon feel more comfortable!

There is only one more thing that need be related. Next day we took a journey and gave the blackmailer the shock of her life. We dared her to do anything she wished in the presence of us all. The wasp was robbed of its sting.

That evening we went to church, and though some may call it an accident that the preacher took as his text, ‘And there was a home in Bethany . . . Jesus came’, I am sure it was not. That preacher will never know what his words meant to two young folk who were remaking their home anew that day. Whenever they write the word, BETHANY.

 

 

Six

 

He Enters a Cafe’

It was not often we met. For, although we were old friends, our paths through the years had run apart. He, absorbed in politics, represents an important constituency, whereas I had taken the less sensational route of a Methodist minister. Yet whenever we met we felt intuitively that the years had made no difference. Straightway we commenced the old arguments with a mutual appreciation of how different were our points of view. This almost accidental meeting in a London cafe’ proved no exception.

‘Well,’ he said as he put down his cup, ‘you have told me a good deal about what we politicians ought to be doing. You have talked about the new world of tomorrow, and the need for ridding the country of disease, gambling, intemperance, and so on. I wonder if instead of answering you, you would let me return the compliment by telling you what parsons ought to be doing?’

There was, of course, no alternative than to smile agreement. Besides, I was interested to see what he would make of it, having always imagined he knew little or nothing about my job.

He began by saying, ‘You said we were asleep. I’m going to say you people are blind. You seem to be quite unaware of the signs of these times. Oh, I know you see the ominous things, but I rarely hear any of you speak of the good things, and they are equally obvious.’

I interrupted him to say, ‘Just a moment, the trouble is you rarely come to hear what we say, so how do you know?’

‘There you almost prove my point,’ he bantered, ‘for as a matter of fact, I’ve been going to church fairly regularly for the last three years. I have been to all types of churches and listened to many sermons, but am still waiting to hear someone who is alive to the spiritual significance of these days.’

‘Good for you. Then tell me the kind of things we ought to be seeing,’ was all I could say.

I took out a sheet of paper on which to make notes. More than once in the past he had stirred my mind along a new path of thought, and there was something about this keeness that led me to believe I should not be disappointed this time.

‘You’ll agree that the Church has to recapture youth,’ were his first words. ‘Well, I’m certain youth will respond if you approach it rightly. Recently I’ve been putting in some time with the A.T.C, squads in my own constituency. There is not much wrong with this younger generation in spite of all the modern talk about their departure from moral restraints. Of course, they are not saints, they don’t pretend to be and would hate the word. But they are made of great stuff. I’ve been ashamed of myself again and again as these eager lads have told me of the longing to fly and fight, and, if need be, to die for the truth. I doubt if there has ever been a finer generation of youth. Here is the point I want to make: You fellows have been pitching the call of Christ in too low key. you have offered sweet-meats when youth wanted iron rations. If you had offered a cross, as the Master did, they would understand. Show them a road of adventure on which there are footmarks stained with blood, they will know what that means. Youth today is stirring. It longs for the heroic and is prepared to follow a great leader. youth today is calling you fellows back from sentiment to something sterner, and after all, I rather fancy those boys who followed Jesus in Palestine were made of similar stuff. Do you agree?’

It so happened that only that very morning I had heard of one of my boys being shot down over the Mediterranean. This boy had been in the Intelligence section of the R.A.F. and had what he called a ‘safe’ job. He might have kept it right through the war, but had felt it was too ‘cushy’ and so transferred to a fighter-pilot station. ‘I want to be doing things’, were among his last words to me. Yet, a few years before, the only job I could give that boy was keeping a ‘star register’ in a small Sunday School. This was in my mind as I confessed my agreement, for I knew that, even though there were other factors to be considered, there was much truth in what he said. Youth was demanding from us something bigger.

‘Or think of another point,’ he continued. ‘If I were you I would not rest content until I’d preached a modern sermon about the house built on sand which collapsed when the storms came. Actually I did hear an address on this recently, and to my utter astonishment the man never used a single modern illustration. Think of that in a land where we have seen our churches and houses, our business premises and even our House of Parliament, smashed in the storm. Look at that man there’, he nodded across the restaurant to a Merchant Navy seaman. ‘He has probably had a dozen ships sunk under him. This age had seen most of its ships, real and dream-ships, old and new, large and small, sent to the bottom. Never in the history of mankind has any generation witnessed the failure of progress and the recession into the jungle as we have; but I needn’t go on, for you see what I mean. On all sides any man with half an ounce of brain can see how unreliable and unstable are the material things. Humanism and self-culture are played out, too. What is all this but current history preaching a formidable sermon about the sandy nature of the foundations on which life has been built?’

I had been so interested that my notes were unmade. So I suggested he should order a spot more tea while I jotted down a point or two. Of course it would have been easy to argue; but I simply did not want to. It was a time to be receptive.

Having jotted down one or two points, I ventured a suggestion that while his first point had been a good one the second was far too negative. Merely to know that one has been barking up the wrong tree doesn’t make one choose the right. That everyone knew the flimsy nature of so much of our pre-war life was clear, but the indistinct nature of our present ideas about the failure was also apparent.

‘Just a minute,’ he interrupted, ‘I thought you would immediately see the other side of the picture I was painting. You haven’t. The positive side is surely this, that we have discovered that spiritual ideas and facts are basic. Why did France disintegrate and fall while Norway became stronger when similar blows fell upon her? We all know it was the difference of soul power in the two peoples. The one had become corrupt and spiritless, its religion very superficial; the other had a strong Church and a vital people. There is another point. It has been my habit through the war to keep copies of the speeches by world leaders. I’ve a huge pile from people like Churchill, Roosevelt, Chiang Kaishek, General Montgomery, the messages of the King and Queen to their people. When I re-read them it is almost like being at a testimony meeting, for they all say in various ways that the country with most soul will win. Did you know that Montgomery sent a special request for prayers to his chaplains before the Battle of Alamein, and on more than one occasion had declared that he regards his chaplains to be every bit as important as his artillery? No one can doubt that our leaders regard spiritual things as fundamental. See? I heard the Prime Minister call Dunkirk a miracle and a few Sundays later listened to a minister quibbling about the theological meaning of the word. When our great armada was on its way to Sicily, you remember how a storm nearly wrecked the whole show, but suddenly and mysteriously it subsided and left us with a calm sea. Commander Anthony Kimmins described that as a miracle not unconnected with prayer, and again a few days afterwards I heard a clergyman calling it good fortune. I’m not saying these laymen are using the word correctly or exactly, but it does seem as though our leaders are more ready to see the hand of God in our national disasters and deliverances than you ministers. Forgive me rubbing it in, but look at it this way. You folk are supposed to believe in prayer. Well, when the King called for a day of prayer the response was beyond all expectations. Everywhere, in field, factory, on land and sea, folk responded. Why, over ten thousand people gathered for a single prayer-meeting in Trafalgar Square. Ten thousand!’

He paused for a few minutes to let that sink in, and then said, ‘And one of your colleagues at the next service I attended talking the whole thing down as something formal and perfunctory’.

‘And wasn’t it?’ I was testing him.

‘Well, I can only say that it recalled me, and hundreds like me, back to the pathways of prayer; and ever since I’ve been wondering why I ignored them so long.

‘Excuse me a moment. That seaman keeps looking at us, and I feel like asking him to join.’

he went across, and after a few words brought back with him the bronzed, sturdy son of the sea. For a moment or two we talked about general topics, and in particular about his hazardous war-time job. Then my friend told him what he had been speaking about. ‘What do chaps in your job think about religion in these days?’ he inquired.

There was a long pause.

‘I am not able to answer that,’ was the quiet reply, ‘but I can tell you what it has come to mean to me. Before the war I hadn’t much time for that sort of thing.’ – There was another long silence. – ‘But about two years ago a dozen of us were in a small open boat for thirteen days. At the time they were the worst days I’ve ever known, for we had little food or water, and the prospects of being picked up were small; but looking back I regard them as the greatest days I have ever known. We had with us a boy of about seventeen. He had only been out of the Sea Cadet School a few months, but this lad taught us that it’s a man’s faith that makes him strong when he is up against things. Very timidly on the first day he asked us if we minded if he read to us. He knew some were toughs. He read from a pocket Bible. By the end of the week he was both reading and praying with us, and you may explain it how you like, but I know it was only that reading which kept us going. It kept us hopeful and clean.’

This story had so thrilled me that I pressed him to tell me more about this boy. How did it come about that such faith and power?

‘The night after we had been picked up,’ he continued, ‘me and my mate talked to him on the deck. I told him I should be proud of him if he were my son, and confessed that he had something I hadn’t. He told us that he had been a cadet training school in a north-east town, and that while there had attended a mission. One night the preacher had said that God was someone that we couldn’t know everything about but we could know Him intimately as a friend. The first thing was to get Him into your life, and you would find that easiest if you thought of Him as being like Jesus – so the preacher had told him, and he had added that it wouldn’t matter where you were, whether on land or sea or in the air, you could be confident that God was there. Well, it had become so real to this lad that it worked. He was so modest, too. Any one of those men would have knocked you down if you said a word against that boy.’

After some minutes my friend broke the silence by saying, ‘Well, there is the proof of what I was saying. It’s not only the leaders, but lots among the ordinary folk like ourselves, who are finding that only spiritual power will carry us through. I tell you, a new consciousness of God is gripping the hearts of many. If you folk were alive you would both see it and use it to usher in a mighty revival, and the world needs nothing so much. The harvest truly is plenteous but we labourers are – blind,’ he concluded.

A few minutes later we left. The seaman I may never meet again, and it may be years before I get the chance of another chat with my friend, but as I walked along Oxford Street my spirit was exultant. . . . A spiritual cold douche – but in the waters of Galilee!

 

 

Seven

 

He enters St. Margaret’s

‘Tell me, how do you think I can be helpful? I’ll certainly do my best, though I feel far from efficient in this kind of work.’

I sat facing a very kindly matron in St. Margaret’s Home. This woman has spent the whole of her life trying to be a friend and helper to unmarried mothers; and hundreds of girls owe her a debt they can never pay. It was in response to a phone message from her that I had called, and to be asked to do anything for such a fine social servant had always seemed to me a privilege. So I urged her to tell me all she could about the latest case.

‘Joan is quite unlike any other girl I have had,’ she began. ‘She is a well-educated girl who has worked in a bank. She has one of the most sensitive natures I’ve ever come upon, and whenever I talk to her she breaks down. Either she weeps and tells me I’m too good to her, or she turns away from me saying she is sure I have some ulterior motive. Sometimes she bitingly asks what I am getting out of it, for she cannot conceive of anyone doing what I do, merely to help those in need.’

‘But she must come from a good home to have had such a first-rate education,’ I suggested.

‘Yes, and there is the rub. This is how it came about: She was engaged to a young pilot officer, and apparently they were very much in love with each other. When they made the terrible mistake which has landed her here, her parents were so enraged and bitter that they told her she was not fit to be their daughter, and must go. She feels that if her own parents despise her, then, surely everyone else will. But here is the worst point. On the day after she came here we learned that her sweetheart had been killed in action. Her parents tried, of course, to make things right after they heard this, but remembering what they had said about him. It is all very sad. You’ll have to be most careful, but do what you can.’

Entering the ward, I first went round and had a chat with some of the other inmates. Then, casually, I made my way to where Joan sat near the fire. She had a defiant, almost imperious expression on her face which, though cold, had been chiselled with lines of beauty.

I introduced myself and expressed the hope that she would feel at home among her new friends. After a few general remarks I felt we were getting along better than the matron had expected, when she suddenly said, ‘I wish you would go away. You are like the rest – pretending to be friendly when you really despise us.’

‘But you are wrong there. What makes you think like that?’

‘Oh, my father goes to church, and all he can say is that I’m a wicked sinner and unfit to be a woman. But I tell you, we loved each other and now that Dick is killed I’m glad to be the mother of his child.’

‘Joan,’ I said, ‘forgive me if I ought not to use your Christian name, it sounds more friendly. Tell me, would you have married Dick after the war?’

‘Oh course! We should have been married at once if we had had enough money. Often we spoke about the new way in which Russia is making it possible for young folk to marry at the biologically proper age instead of the economically possible one.’

Her tone was bitter as she said: ‘You folk talk about love making life a sacrament, yet you dare not talk of lust on the marriage bed. Your church would say my mother and father can do as they like though there is but little love between them. Do you think a legal service makes folk love each other? Don’t think I’m a fool who doesn’t see that we must have rules or social life would fall to pieces, but you confuse rules and ideals.’ She paused as with blazing eyes she turned on me and said, ‘now, call me what you like!’

‘Joan,’ I said quietly after a pause, ‘I don’t want to call you anything. I came hoping that I might read a most interesting chapter in a book. It’s a very human story that I think you would understand, and although I feel sure you have read the book from which it comes, it may well be you have overlooked this story. May I read it?’

The others all urged that I should, but Joan neither agreed nor disagreed. So I read, in a modern version, that moving story in John, chapter 8, where Jesus tells of a girl who had been victimized by some man, who, as is so often the case, is never mentioned. When the hard legalists of those days insisted that the law be applied, Jesus agreed, providing that the one without sin should cast the first stone. One by one they had crept away until only the Master and the girl were left. ‘Did no one accuse you?’ He asked, ‘No one, was the reply. ‘Neither do I – but, don’t do it again.’

Joan had listened to the whole story, and several times while reading it I was wondering what impression it would have. In the stillness that followed it was she who spoke first.

‘Well, what did you want us to see in that? Why did you want to read to us? she demanded.

‘That is not hard to answer,’ I replied. ‘I was hoping that you would see in that story just where I come in. I cannot throw stones at you because I, too, have made mistakes. They are not the same as yours, but who is to say which are the worst? Jesus definitely saw hardness and spiritual pride as the worst sins. I think if your father read that story he might see where he fits in also, Joan. For myself, I want to think as the Master thought. I hoped, too, that you might see where you come in. After all, it matters much more what He thinks than what I, or anyone else thinks, doesn’t it? When Jesus treated that girl as a friend, she called Him Lord. I wish you could. After she had called Him Lord I’m certain she would never use beautiful things in ugly ways. If you’ll think of it, it is there we have the crux of the matter.

Five weeks later I called again. Joan was now the mother of a lovely little boy. In the matron’s room I had learned how she had changed since that afternoon I had read to her. ‘She is more reasonable and appreciative,’ the matron explained, ‘though still very independent and a little resentful.’

As I entered there was no sign of resentment; indeed, she even gave me a little smile. The baby was near by in a small, attractive cot, and soon she was showing me this little bundle of mystery with a marked degree of pride. I must confess that all babies look alike to me, but I could truthfully tell her that I thought he was wonderful.

‘What name will you give him?’ I asked.

Before she answered I knew what she would say. ‘There is only one name for him. I shall call him plain Dick.’

‘Do you mean that will be his Christian name or just a legal name, Joan?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, you know everyone has two names. A surname which links one to a particular human family, and a Christian name, which most give to the child when it is baptized, and this name is to show we belong to God. Will you forgive me for putting it like this, Joan. I do not believe this child belongs to you and Dick.’ Her dark eyes flashed suspiciously. ‘No, I believe it belongs to God. Every child is a wonderful combination of mother, father, and God, a profound trinity. Are you going to have little Dick christened, Joan?’

There was almost a sneer on her slightly curled lips when she said, ‘He is an illegitimate child’. Looking down into the little cot she murmured again, ‘An illegitimate child’.

I saw clearly what was going on in her mind. The cause of her pride and resentment was that she felt the indignity being done to the child. So I said, ‘Look here, Joan, let’s get this straight. To start with, in God’s sight there are no illegitimate children. Illegitimate parents there may be, that is not for me to judge. The law may talk about what is legitimate, but God is not interested in our little legalities. He has given the spirit of life to this little bairn as truly as to any prince born in a palace. You ought to be ashamed of yourself – God has honoured you be entrusting the care of an immortal spirit into your hands, yet here you are concerned with what is relatively unimportant.’

‘Oh, please’, she said, and the tone in her voice was so different that I immediately looked at her. ‘Please don’t be cross. I’m so bewildered I don’t know what to do. Tell me what you would do in such a case as mine.’

After some conversation about the privilege she had in endeavouring to see that Dick grew up straight, strong, and true, and how she was responsible for seeing that no harm and no strains came upon that little life, I finally urged that if she gave not only the baby, but herself to God in a service of baptism, it would make all the difference to both their lives.

‘But you would only read prayers over us as I expect you have over thousands – and it seems to have made little difference, was her rejoinder.

An idea flashed into my mind, so I said, ‘No! I should only read a prayer that you had written. See, Joan, I’ll tell you what I would like you to do. Will you write a prayer that says just what you would sincerely like to be said? I’ll come in next week and read whatever you have written; and then, if you feel you can sincerely have him christened, I should count it an honour to share the service.’

She hesitated a little, but at length said she would think about it. So I left.

A fortnight later, in the little chapel in St. Margaret’s Home, we gathered for a service of baptism. There were the matron, a nurse, eleven unmarried mothers, Joan, the baby, and myself, but I have never known a service more deep in significance. When we knelt to pray I read Joan’s prayer!

Father

To know we are understood by You makes it easier to pray. We thank You for the sacred gifts You have entrusted to us. Forgive us when we have used them wrongly or indulged them at the wrong times. Let not our mistakes injure little children or lead us from You.

I thank You for the lessons learned in pain and loneliness. Help me to forgive and love my parents as I hope my child will ever forgive and love me. for the sake of my child let not bitterness poison my heart, but may love sweeten it.

Hear my prayer for the future of my child. May he grow up to be a good man and especially chivalrous to all who need help. May my life and the life of my child ever be true to the mysterious life of Yourself that lies more deeply implanted still. I ask for him Your constant care.

Bless, O Unseen Father, every little child born in this place and every mother here. May the little hands and eyes of their children guide them to Yourself, as my baby has guided me. And please, God, will you tell Dick, whose last flight took him to Your world above, that baby is named after him and I will not fail.

Amen.

There was not a dry eye or an unmoved heart in that little chapel. Surely the Master who loved the children was there.

Four years later I called to see Joan. She lived in two beautifully kept rooms. Little Dick is kept at a nursery in the daytime while his mother goes to work. The way they played, the laughter and joy on her face, told their own story. A little child led her to . . . Him.

 

 

Eight

 

He enters a Church

It was one of the toughest problems I had ever met. I was utterly puzzled.

Two months earlier a minister friend had asked if I would spend a holiday in one of the remote villages of his district. The religious indifference of this village had defeated and perplexed him for a long time, and he was anxious to reawaken interest among the people.

To be asked by this man to do anything was to me an honour, but in addition, the natural beauty of the district was enough to turn any hardship into a holiday. So it came about that services were arranged for two weeks.

On the first night I approached the little hillside chapel with some degree of expectancy. There is always an element of adventure in new beginnings. My spirit flagged somewhat, however, when I discovered a congregation of five, and no one could have called the service inspiring. Only one of the two men, and none of the three women, seemed the least interested. It was a bad start.

This village is not large, and it was possible to visit most of the houses next day and give a personal invitation. Never had people been kinder; at nearly every house I was invited in. Many said they would like to come to the meetings. You will readily understand that on this second night I fully anticipated a larger congregation. But again we had five people – the same five.

Next day I continued the visitation and had exactly the same response on the third night. It was baffling.

At length, in desperation, I went to one home and said, ‘please tell me why you don’t come; I’ve been to your home twice. Each time you have said you would like to come, and yet you stayed away – so does almost everyone in the village. Why?’

This quiet little farm labourer, with such sincere eyes that one instinctively trusted him, said at length: ‘I think you should ask Mr. Porter, the society steward. Hasn’t he told you anything about Mrs Shaw or Mrs. Matthews, two of the five who attend regularly? You will never get the village folk while they are there.’

I liked this man. He would say no more about them, and clearly he disliked cheap gossip. ‘You ask Mr. Porter – it’s his business, not mine,’ was his final word.

Straightway I went to the steward’s farm. In response to my question, he said, ‘Well, I didn’t want to tell you, for I don’t like emptying other people’s dirty water down clean drains; it never does any good’.

I agreed, but suggested that sometimes the dirty water choked up the drains in such a way that they must be cleaned. Something of the sort seemed to have happened in this case. He had better tell me. Little had I bargained for the strange story that followed.

He began. ‘You know where these two women live?’ (I had visited them in their small semi-detached thatched cottages about a mile from the chapel, and so I nodded.) ‘Well, they have lived next door for about forty years, but for the last twenty-one years, or thereabouts, they have never spoken to each other. Each Sunday they walk up the same road to the chapel – and avoid meeting each other as much as they can. On a winter’s night you can see their lanterns coming up the road about a quarter of a mile apart.’

‘And they come regularly!’ I interrupted.

‘Aye, and to the weekday class as well – they are members you know. you see,’ he went on, everybody knows about it. We all know each other pretty well in a village. Lots have told me that when we put our own folk right they will come – why, there are some who even walk to the next village for service rather than join us.’

‘But you haven’t told me how it began,’ I urged, now thoroughly interested. ‘Tell me who is to blame.’

‘Oh! I don’t know who is to blame, but it’s easy to tell you how it began. Did you notice an old pump on the opposite side of the road to their cottages? They both get their water from this. One day they were at the pump together, and one said she had been told something about the other’s husband. Straightway the other said, “You are a liar.” Both flared up and said things better left as unrecorded history, and then they went inside slamming their doors. That is all there is to it – and they have never spoken to each other since.’

‘Surely,’ I commented after a brief silence. ‘Surely at the church you have tried to do something about it?’

‘That we have,’ was the forthright reply. We have tried and tried until we know it’s no use trying. Preachers have preached about it and even mentioned their names from the pulpit, but they won’t budge. It is not for want of trying. But, you see, it has become like a blood-feud after all these years. We have done everything except throw them out, and that doesn’t seem right.’

I wondered; though I only said, ‘Then you do not expect our special services to produce any results in the village because of these two?’

He politely said nothing.

The rest of that day I spent quietly in thought and prayer. Here was a situation I had never encountered before – nor have I since.

About an hour before the evening service my mind was clear as to what ought to be done. Only a drastic remedy would be of any use. So, with a good deal of trepidation, I started off for the homes of these two enemies, to do, if need be, what I knew John Wesley would have done with such members of his movement, and what the steward said didn’t seem right.

First, I was admitted into the homes of Mrs. Matthews, a widow who, contrary to what might have been expected, had some lines of kindness on her face. Reluctantly she had to admit that the story was true, and that she had long been unhappy about it. Many times she had contemplated leaving the village to get away from it. Nevertheless, at the suggestion that the simpler thing was to make it up, she sharply added that it was not her fault. Mrs. Shaw had started it, and Mrs. Shaw must end it.

‘I’m not interested in who started it, or in what it is all about,’ I told her, ‘but I am deeply concerned with who is to end it,’ I appealed. ‘The true Christian always takes the initiative to put things right no matter whose fault it may be.’

Her only response was evasive – something about it being the other’s fault. The barrier of the years seemed unbreakable, and there was no alternative but to say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, but I must ask you to stay away from church. The spirit of the Master cannot work where this spirit exists. You must please stay away.’

Then sparks flew. phrases which included: ‘You know nothing about it . . . outsider . . . upstart . . .’ and so on were very prominent. It was a most unhappy experience. To be so unpopular was humiliating.

This encounter had robbed me of any feeling of possible success as I went to the next house. Mrs. Shaw who had seen twice the number of years that had passed over my own head, was very sharp-featured, with thin lips, and her words seemed to splutter forth like bullets from a machine-gun. I said much the same to her. The same queries and evasions were met, and the result was the same. Never before had I told folk to stay away. My constant theme had ever been, ‘Whosoever will may come’.

Half an hour later, at the evening service at which we had four people, the events of the previous hour were told.

The sequel was so amazing that it had never entered my wildest hopes or dreams. News travels fast in a village. During the next day everyone knew that the visitor had dared to tell two leading lights (though dim ones) that they must stay away. This was so revolutionary that many felt they must come along and see what was happening. I had often wondered why ohn Wesley, who was so constantly excluding members, continually had increases, but it is clear now.

From that night things changed. More and more came each night. Soon we were full, and many were finding their way into a new experience of God. The whole village was talking, and as far as I knew there were only two unhappy families in the place.

I, too, was uncomfortable at having told two people to say away from the very place they needed to be, so every day I called at the homes of Mrs. Shaw and Mrs. Matthews. At first I was a very unwelcome visitor, and the first few visits were most unpleasant; but soon, when they heard of what was happening at the church, they modified their anger towards me, though not their attitude to each other. Toward the end of the second week it was possible even to read the Scriptures and having prayer in their homes.

The last day of the special services drew near, and it was decided that we should hold a ‘faith’ tea. What a tea it was! The room was crowded.

On the previous day I spent a long hour in the homes of the two irreconcilables, urging them to come to this tea. For a long time they were adamant, vowing that never again would they enter the place. Every argument I could conjure had to be used, together with the assurance that the whole village would be disappointed if they refused. As I, too, refused to leave their homes until they responded, I think they yielded rather than tolerate my persistence.

However, they did yield. Just to make sure that there was no backsliding, another visit was made about an hour before the tea. I should add that by this time it was clear both would gladly have had the feud ended if only it could be done without appearing to capitulate. They were deeply unhappy, and a hinted suggestion was made that perhaps during the day they would be led to do the greatest thing in their lives.

They came.

It must be confessed that it was no accident that they found themselves sitting facing each other at the tea-table. Surely it must have been the most fearful half specially as everyone else was so glad and gay.

One by one we ceased eating. Many were looking across to indicate that grace should be announced. But nothing happened. I sat quietly and looked at Mrs. Shaw and Mrs. Matthews. The situation grew tense. People stopped talking and wondered why this long pause.

Then the great thing happened.

Unsteadily they rose, one after the other, to their feet, and across the table in a scarcely audible voice that was choked with emotion Mrs. Shaw said, “Mrs. Matthews, the people in this village have long talked about us’. Then she paused and as she proffered her hand she murmured, ‘Let them talk’.

Two hands, that had been apart for twenty-one years, reclasped each other.

No words can describe the feelings of gratitude and joy that filled every heart. We sang. We prayed. An appeal was made not only for a reconciling of broken human friendships, but for a personal closure with the Divine Friend – and many openly responded. That scene is painted on the memory walls of all present. None will ever forget. The evening meeting that followed was among the most joyous I have been ever known.

The last I saw of Mrs. Shaw and Mrs. Matthews – for I had to leave early the next morning – was when they walked together down the country road. My gaze followed them through the tears of gratitude that could not be kept back. The little thatched cottages, built side by side, now have their doors open to each other.

In the last letter I had from the steward are these words: ‘We have had grand congregations ever since. It’s as though the Master had come back into the church.’

Surely He had.

 

 

Nine

 

He enters a Sickroom

‘That is a remarkable picture’, Brian observed as he gazed at Hoffman’s portrait of Christ which hangs over my study mantelshelf.

‘Not so strange as the story behind it. Do you believe in spiritual healing, Brian?

He raised his eyebrows as though he did not see the point of my question. Perhaps I ought to explain that Brian is a very good, generous-indeed clergyman, and that we have been intimate friends over a long period of years.

‘To tell you the blunt truth, I leave it alone because there is so much quackery in it,’ he said. ‘Of course, I know that it worked in New Testament times, and that the Early Church practiced it, but I leave all that kind of thing to the medical profession. Safer, old boy, safer.’

Brian is always so frank; one is never in any doubt as to what he is thinking.

‘Well, would you like to hear the story behind that picture?’ I inquired. ‘It is one I tell to very few, but I feel sure you would not misunderstand. it is a story which proved once and for all to me that we know but very little of the conditions under which healing takes place, and that the curative factor of the Divine Touch is as great today as ever.’

Brian took out his pipe, drew his chair near to the fire, and snuggled down’ his way of saying, ‘Go ahead!’

So I began to tell the following story of a spiritual adventure that transformed much of my thinking.

‘About twelve years ago I was in charge of a flourishing church. One of the finest of its many live activities was a large girl’s class. The girls ranged from about sixteen to twenty-five, and every week they crowded the room for their meeting. You will guess that it took a very remarkable personality to organize and maintain this live concern. The leader, Mrs. Cross, was easily the most astonishing laywoman I’ve met. The girls adored her, and she could do anything with them.

‘After we had been colleagues for about twelve months, this lady was taken ill with some curious internal malady. She got slowly worse until at length she was taken to the local hospital. Specialists took a very grave view of the situation and ordered an immediate operation as the one hope left, and even this was attended by much risk.

‘Two days after the operation I was shown into her small private room. Before entering I asked the sister, as is always my custom, whether the operation had been a success. She shook her head, and sadly said, “I’m afraid there is no hope. Two or three days at most”. This staggered me, for apart from the fact that both she and her husband were close personal friends, there was a small family awaiting her return home.

“Quietly I entered the room, and when I looked at that frail figure, with face like alabaster, and two thin worn arms stretched above the counterpane, I felt that the sister was right – two or three days at most.

‘I imagine my utter amazement when, bending near to catch her whisper, she said, “It’s good of you to come. God sent you. The doctors think I shall not get better – they cannot deceive me – I know what they think, but I shall get better, for I beleive I came into this world to look after my family – and the Class. You do believe God can heal through prayer, don’t you? You will pray for me.”

‘I felt a twinge of conscience, for I had no such conviction then.

‘That night I was troubled. It seemed such a tragedy for so useful a person to be snatched away at the height of her power. Just before going to sleep I read over one or two of the healing miracles of Jesus. doubtless my mind was full of these as I fell asleep. how long it would be before I began to dream, I cannot say, but soon my mind seemed more alive than ever it has been during waking hours. Things seemed so distinct, so vivid, so vital that I do not hesitate to call it a vision.’

Here Brian interjected, ‘Come off it! A dream is a dream! Call it a dream and be truthful.’

‘Well, we must agree to differ there, I continued. ‘It seems to me that a dream is just the working of the subconscious mind when the conscious mind is off duty, but a vision includes not only the contents of the mind, but some element that comes in from outside. A dream quickly fades, leaving little permanent impression, but a vision gives one no peace until something is done about it. By the fruits – the after results – one can test a dream and a vision.

‘Call this a dream if you will, but unlike most dreams it had no confusion about it. It was absolutely clear. I dreamt that I was in that little sickroom, and all around was a Presence that seemed to vibrate power. The Presence slowly materialized until by the bedside was the Master. No words were uttered but I knew what He was saying, “If you shall ask anything in my name I will do it”. I fell on my knees in prayer, and yet I had a curious feelwell, I’m bothered! I’ve known you all these years, ing that I was not speaking, but that the Presence, expressing itself through me, was dominant. I felt possessed.

‘Finally, Mrs Cross, who all this time had been sleeping, opened her eyes, looked across at the Supreme Healer, and smiled. Turning to me she said, “I told you all would be well.”

‘The whole thing had been so vivid and clear that when I awakened I expected to find myself in the sick room. I knew exactly what I had to do.’

Brian still sat puffing at his pipe, a half-cynical look of incredulity clearly expressed on his face. He exclaimed, ‘Well, I’m bothered! I’ve known you all these years, and never knew you were psychic before. What would old “Sniffy” (an old science master) make of all this?

‘At any rate,’ I went on, ‘he always used to say “stick to facts”, and when you hear the sequel I’ll leave you to judge. As I said, I knew exactly what I had to do. I dressed with calm deliberation, early though it was, and it never occurred to me that I was doing anything unusual. I went off immediately to the hospital. The night-sister was just about to go off duty when I arrived. This woman, whom I knew fairly well, was a fine type, and straightway accepted the suggestion that she should come in and join in prayer. Just what happened I can hardly tell. I only know I felt that the Presence I had known in my dream was truly there, and that I found myself speaking without any effort, though what I said I can never recall. It was something or Someone using me. When I shook hands with the sister I noticed her eyes were moist as she said, “If anything can save her it is prayer like that”.

‘Each day for a week we two knelt by that little bed, quietly lifting up the patient to the Presence. I can only say that by the end of the week Mrs. Cross was so much better that it was agreed she had a good chance of recovery. Recover she did, and today she is as well as you or I’.

Having wrinkled his brow, Brian asked, ‘Did you say after twelve years?’

‘Yes.’ Then I added, ‘Just turn that picture round, Brian, and see what is written on the other side. Mrs. Cross gave me the picture, and the writing is hers.’

He reversed the picture and then read slowly the following verses:

‘When in distress to Him I called,

He to my rescue came.’

‘The healing of His seamless dress

Is by our beds of pain.’

‘His touch has still its ancient power.’

And then in red ink: ‘He touched me.’

‘It most certainly is remarkable,’ said Brian as he replaced the picture. ‘Is that the whole story?’

‘No, there is still one other inexplicable fact. On that first morning when I went to the hospital Mrs. Cross was hardly conscious. After we left she fell into a natural sleep, and afterwards declared how she had a vivid dream identical with the one I had a few hours before. Of course, the psychologist might say that by the laws of mental transference the ideas had been conveyed from one mind to the other. That is as it may be. All I know is that it gave her the conviction that he Master was there – and that He saved her life.’

 

 

Ten

 

He enters the Eight-Ten

The train leaving Scarborough for Leeds at eight-ten in the morning is never attractive, but on a winter morning during war-time it is supremely unpleasant. The station platforms are dark, the compartments of the train are cold, and everything combines to make the atmosphere depressing.

I t was very like this when, one Monday morning, I hurried on to the platform, having one minute to spare, and jumped into the first compartment I came to.

Huddled in the opposite corner was a woman whom I hardly noticed at first, for the morning was very dark. Almost simultaneously the whistle blew, and a third passenger scrambled in. Having made a few general remarks about the cold weather, I sat down and began trying to read my newspaper in the tiny streak of light that came from the masked lamp.

After a little time I become conscious that the lady opposite was glancing across to my corner; and having gleaned from the paper all I needed, I put it down in the hope of a conversation. The morning shadows had by this time lifted sufficiently for me to discern the features of my fellow passengers. The man was obviously a workman going off to his daily toil, but the lady I could not place at all. She appeared to be between thirty-five and forty, well dressed and decorated with very heavy embellishments of cosmetics. The little smile she gave me womewhat like the weather outside, frosty, and noly served to augument the straight line of her tight lips. but it was her eyes that one could not fail to observe. they were hard and metallic, though their rich blue suggested they were intended to be warm and full of emotion. For the most part she kept them upon the dismal scene beyond the carriage window.I tried once or twice to start a conversation, but without much success. A plan ‘Yes’, or ‘No’, or ‘I think so, too’, was all I could elicit, and so I turned again to the paper, thinking that would be a little more companionable.

At Malton the workman got out, and it seemed strange to me that although so many more passengers were on the platform none came into our compartment.

‘I’m so glad no one else has come in,’ the woman remarked, looking acrooss as she spoke. ‘I wanted to speak to you, but dared not while anyone else was here for I felt sure I should make a fool of myself.’

I was taken aback.

‘But why?’

‘Oh, I can see you have forgotten me. Well, I’m not surprised, for it is over two years since we used to come to your church. We used to sit in the gallery, on your right, George and I, and,’ she faltered, ‘and my girlie. No, I’m not surprised that you have forgotten, for everyone tells me I am changed. Besides, I’ve been away from Scarboruogh – on war work – for the last twelve months.’

Then I remembered how the three of them had often gripped my hand when they had left on Sunday evenings – a grip that had left no doubt of their friendliness.

‘And how is George?’ I asked.

‘Dead. Killed.’ The words were almost hissed.

She started to cry when I expressed how sorry I was, and then, in very disjointed words between her sobs, told me that it had been bearable until Renee had been taken.

Clumsily I inquired where she was, thinking she had been taken into the Forces or for war work.

‘That’s just it, I don’t know where she is: all I know is she is gone like her father. I can’t believe in the things you used to preach. How can God be a God of Love when He allows such things to happen. I know it was the Germans who killed her father, but why should she be snatched away? After George died I had to go out to work. The work was good for me, too; it helped me to forget, but not so completely that when I came back home in the evening I did not remember. Renee used to be home from school then, and would often be standing at the door with a smile. The fire was always lit, tea ready. While we sat at tea she would tell me of all the things she had done during the day, and I’d been getting on at the works. Oh, we were happy in spite of our loss.’

She paused, and I knew that the most painful part of the story was about to be told. ‘You know she was never a strong child,’ she said, ‘but we had done everything possible to rear her; and then, twelve months ago, during the ‘flu epidemic, she was taken. Taken! Yes, stolen! I’ve nothing to live for now. I wouldn’t mind if a bomb finished me tonight. When I go to my room it is dark and cold. There is no one with a smile’ no lighted fire; no one to talk to. I just feel bad physically and spiritually. During the day I have an ache. I’m always longing for them, and I cannot sleep during the long lonely night because of the longing. Often I wake up with a start from some vivid dream in which I think they are there, and then the cold, bare room mocks me.’

I had not interrupted her for it was clearly a time to listen, but by this time we were on the outskirts of York, where I had to leave the train.

‘Are you getting out here?’ I inquired.

‘No, I’m going on to Leeds. That is where I work.’

It was clear that her trouble had bitten very deeply. Who could wonder?

‘I wish I were coming on to Leeds,’ I said. ‘I would if I hadn’t to catch a connexion here. I’ve never felt more sorry for anyone. you have had more than your share of trouble, but I am most anxious you should not make your trouble worse. I wonder if you would do something for me? In the old days I know that George and you used to trust me. Will you do something now?’

‘If you are going to tell me to start going to church, then don’t, for I couldn’t do it, she said with tightened lips.

‘No, I’m going to ask you to do something much bigger than that. you have been telling me how both George and Renee are gone, though I don’t believe in death. What seems so is only transition, and one day we shall all meet again. It is true that temporarily you have to continue the journey without them, but it need not be alone. I know of One who never goes. Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always”, and I’m sure that is true. Now, why not try doing this; why not talk to Him just as you used to do to them? No, I don’t mean saying your prayers in the old-fashioned way, but simply talking. When you are making your lonely cup of tea, or when you are tidying up your room and feeling it is all so pointless, try talking to Him as you used to Renee. If you awaken in the night, then remember that the darkness and the light are both alike to their great Companion. Perhaps this seems a little unreal to you, but will you try it? I’ve known many to whom He has become a real companion and banished their loneliness. I’m sure if you would learn the simple art of talking to Him, and listening for Him, you would find it worked. Will you try?’

She had been looking at the floor, and she did not reply. Then the brakes jarred noisily upon our thought, and the train pulled up. Though I stayed in the train until it was about to go on again, little more was said. We shook hands, and I invited her to call next time she came to Scarborough. So we left. Neither from those sad eyes, nor from the handshake, could I gather what she was thinking, and although I thought much about her on my way to my appointment, and often during the next few days remembered her in the place where memory counts most, yet such is the multiplicity of life’s demands that in a few weeks the matter had faded from my conscious mind.

that was six months ago.

last Sunday I was astonished to see my travelling companion, sitting in my evening congregation. I recognized her immediately, and saw at once that she was more like her old self. Her use of cosmetics was now tasteful rather than extravagant. Once when we were singing the lines.

To those who fall how kind Thou art!

How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? . . .

I thought she returned my smile’

Immediately after the service I made my way to her.

‘I’m glad to see you,’ I said, ‘and so thankful to see you back in our service again.’

‘I noticed that you recognized me this time,’ she replied chaffingly.

‘Yes, you are more like the person I used to know, and I can see something has changed. Will you come in home for a chat?’

‘Well, I have to get back to work in the morning.’

‘That’s too bad. I’m fixed till late this evening. By the way, you are not going on the eight-ten?

‘Yes.’

‘So am I! Will you look out for me? I badly want to hear all about what has happened.’

Next morning we were again sitting facing each other and while most of the men in the compartment huddled behind their papers, I listened to one of the loveliest things I had ever heard.

‘Has anyone told you how much better you look?’ I inquired

‘Yes, lots; and I certainly feel better. I still miss them both terribly, and shall never lose my longing for them.’

‘Tell me what has happened to have changed you so’, for I had noticed that the lips were less tight and the eyes, though still pained, were much more tender.

‘When you left me that morning in York’s, she commenced, ‘I could not say a word. for twelve months I had known that I must either regain my faith or lose my reason. That was why I wanted to speak to you. What you asked me to do fitted in with the very things I had believed as a girl. You remember I was the only one in the carriage, and soon after we left York I sobbed and sobbed – I just couldn’t help it. Then I knelt down by the seat and said, “Oh, God, if you live, make me sure that you do, for if you live perhaps they do too”. Just what happened I don’t know, but soon I stopped crying, and I felt a strange calm inside such as I had not known for a long time. Then I started doing what you asked, talking and listening in my heart, and although I have my bad moments, yet there have been other times when I’ve felt sure I have not been alone. I’m certain now He is a friend to the lonely.’

Alighting at York I stood chatting at the door for a few minutes, then the eight-ten pulled out, carrying one on whose face there was still pain but also a quiet smile of certainty.

 

 

Eleven

 

He enters the Ministry

Tom was brilliant. none who knew him would say otherwise, and having studied for three years in a room next to his during our college period, I least of all. To hear him speak was to listen spellbound to a natural orator. To follow his reasoning was to marvel at his crystal-clear logic. He was a born leader, and in those days we all felt sure that he was bound to win top place.

Every week-end he was off to some special appointment. His whole mind was aflame with the need for social reawakening, and his constant theme was the Kingdom of God on earth. Eagerly his service were sought for Brotherhood meetings and Youth Rallies, and rumour had it that he contemplated blending a political career with his ministry. His zeal for social reform was as refreshing as it was intense. for instance: I once heard him give a brilliant address on rehousing the people. First, he pointed out how a nation’s buildings reflect on its soul. The Victorians did not build skimpily, for their structures were as solid and ugly as their thinking. Our modern domestic buildings were either attempting to imitate the past, typical of the unreality in every part of our modern life, or were just ugly packing-cases reflecting an age which had pulled up its foundations and had no settled home. Having travelled round the world in glowing word pictures to show how this was true of every age and clime, he left us in no doubt that a nation’s buildings show in solid form its intangible thoughts. He had an especial word of irony for the centuries which lavished their thought in great cathedrals like York, Lincoln, and Ely, on bishops’ palaces and noblemen’s castles, yet remained content to allow the serfs to wilt in hovels. In this were clearly displayed their ideas of God and Man. When mankind sees the value of man he will build every house as though it were a cathedral – a home for a Son of God. Such were his contentions, and of course, they were wonderfully interpersed with references to a Son of Man who lived in a peasant home in Galilee, and who saw so deeply the significance of the ordinary man that all his teaching was saturated with homely stories and domestic realism. to hear such an address was never to forget it. It was typical of many.

A little above medium height, with pointed face and acquiline nose Tom had every gift humanly required for success. His Celtic origin was easily detected in his eyes, so full of emotion, and in his words which tumbled out like a cascade.

For two years after we left college I saw him nut once, and then for only a moment in town. Yet I frequently heard from others how popular he was in the Yorkshire district where he worked.

Imagine, then, my complete astonishment when one morning, I answered the knock at the door and found Tom there. Not the old happy, laughing Tom of two years before, but one whose eyes were tired, and who appeared to be ‘all in’.

‘I know you’ll be sorry to hear that I’ve packed in,’ he was soon telling me.

‘What! You have left the ministry?’ To me it sounded incredible. Then he tried to tell me how he felt. He could not go on. To recall his own words as nearly as possible: ‘I’ve run dry. It’s clear to me that I’ve been a stupid idealist, and the thing won’t work. The message I have been proclaiming I cannot any longer honestly believe, and I won’t be dishonest – so I’ve resigned. Yesterday I rather startled my Super when I told him, and, good fellow that he is, urged me to think it over again before coming to any decision. But it’s no use. I’ve known for a long time that I cannot go on.’

How I loved his honesty! Here was a man who would not tell others anything of which he was not convinced himself. While he felt possessed of a message he had no hesitation in using the pulpit, or the political platform, but he would not do this once doubts had gripped him. could not many a public speaker take a challenge from that? No sense of the professional or merely useful could hold him – only the certainly of a vocation.

Perhaps I may digress to the extent of saying how profoundly sorry I feel for anyone who is forced to work at an uncongenial task – the boy toiling daily in an office yet longing to be in the fields, or the farmer’s boy who longs for the shelter of an indoor job. How unhappy for a maid to have to wash up four times a day when she hates such domestic tasks. I know a sweep who has always wanted to be a minister. Incompatibility is fearful. But of all things, to think of a young man who was aflame with the convictions of a prophet and aglow with a tremendous ideal, suddenly losing his ‘call’, that is surely touching the problem at its deepest. It is like watching a glorious sunset being engulfed by darkness, like standing in bleak winter night and seeing the lights of home go out one by one. Tom had lost his vision, and I had rarely felt any situation so bleak.

We talked until the early hours of the morning, but when he felt, he had no idea as to what he would do.

The following Sunday evening, a great congregation had gathered at the Central Hall. They were singing the second hymn of the service when in walked Tom. What led him to come is not clear to me, for he had decided to cut right away from his old associations. Perhaps it was that habit tracks had cut deep, or that some personal interest or curiosity drew him. Whatever the cause, I will state in sober terms what happened.

Having put his hat and gloves under the seat, he stood  up with the rest, and then noticed the hymn. round him the crowd was singing words which he had sung many times before – sung but never understood.

Jesus, transporting sound!

The joy of earth and heaven;

No other help is found,

No other name is given,

By which we can salvation have;

But Jesus came the world to save.

.       .      .      .      .      .

O unexampled love!

O all-redeeming grace!

How swiftly didst Thou move

To save a fallen race!

What shall I do to make it known

What Thou for all mankind hast done?

He could not sing a word; neither could he take his eyes from the book. Never before had he realized what the words meant. They danced and burned before his eyes. They sounded not only in his ears but awakened echoes in his heart. Then something happened, something which made him pick up his hat and gloves and almost run out of the building. What that something was, cannot be told in words, though thousands have experienced it, and I know it occurred to me many years ago. Those internal revolutions of a person’s life are only understood by those who have experienced them. Whatever happened, it drove him from the building and sent him back to his lodgings to think, to listen, and to pray.

We must notice carefully that all this happened during the singing of a hymn; the minister had not said a word. Neither had anyone spoken to Tom. Who can assess the power of genuine congregational singing? The power of music may lift many upward on the wings of song who would never climb the ladder of reason.

The wiser we are, the more we realize how little we know, and often it is by the suggestions of art that the deepest truths are conveyed, If only congregations realized the vital power they could realise through a hymn sung with heartfelt meaning, we should never have unworthy singing.

A few days later, Tom again came into my home. That something had happened was apparent. He was his old, boisterous self, and though his eyes showed that they had been strangers to sleep for some nights, he was radiant.

‘I’m coming back!’ he exclaimed. ‘I see where I have been wrong. Previously I have not been preaching the Gospel at all, but only its implications. I’ve been preaching the Kingdom and forgetting the King. It’s impossible to have the Kingdom without the Kingship of the Master. Somehow, as they sang that hymn I realized that I had given Christ my mind, but never my heart. I had been telling folk what they must do – now I must tell them what He had done. Something told me I had been acting the Utopian statesman, and when my dream faded I had nothing left. Now I see that the first word of the Gospel is not “others” but something more personal. Of course no piece of social machinery will work unless the right people run it! There has been a new coronation, and how He’s King. Previously I offered my service, now he has my heart! Before I was possessed with His ideals; now I’m gripped by Him.’

Tom, still in the ministry, is proclaiming with great acceptance the Gospel, but with a difference. Now he not only shows people the shape of things to come, but offers a personal power with which alone we can be made the men and women who shape the future.

 

Twelve

 

He enters a Theatre

It was not often in the midst of a busy life that I could have a night off. However, in May I found myself with a free evening and a desire to go to a theatre. It would, I thought, be psychologically sound after a long and strenuous winter to enjoy a complete change.

Having bought an evening paper I chose my play by the simple expedient of selecting the most intriguing title. The fact that at this late hour I found it possible to book a good seat in the dress circle ought to have warned me that the play was not one of the most successful. So it proved, for although I sat down with every intention of enjoying it, the show was so spiritless that my mind frequently wandered from the stage.

I was beginning to regret the waste of time, and realizing how much better employed I could have been at home, when I became aware of an interesting couple sitting in front of me, and I was able to study them at my ease.

The girl first attracted my attention. I guessed she was about twenty-five, though I deduced this from her tall slim figure rather than her youthful face. She was moulded on beautiful lines. The rich opera cloak she wore, with its fleecy soft white fur lining added to her charm. I have usually thought myself not easily attracted by the other sex, but this girl impressed me at once.

Her companion seemed to me about the same age, but appeared utterly unworthy of her. His weak mouth and dissolute face told much of his ways of life, and even then he was clearly under the influence of drink. There were many stains of it on his evening shirt. Neither he nor the girl was taking much notice of the play, but her interest in him was constant, almost pathetic. I was a little too far away to tell what they were saying, but it was evident that she was urging him to pull himself together, and that he was resenting it. Suddenly she rose to her feet, stood with her hand on the back of the seat, and said so that anyone near by could hear, ‘Will  you come?’

‘No, you can tell her I shall never come back,’ he replied.

She turned and walked out without once looking round. he rose unsteadily as though to follow, but it looked as if the warmth of the theatre had so stimulated his inebriation that walking was impossible. He sank back again.

It was impossible not to speculate as to what domestic or human tragedy lay behind this scene. I wondered first if I ought to have followed the girl and offered my help, but I realized it might have appeared an unwarrantable intrusion.

While the play dragged on wearily, scene after scene, I kept my eye on the man who dozed in his seat. Who could he be? What was it he refused to do? To whom would he not return?

The curtain dropped for the last time and I made my way out. Rejecting all offers of a taxi I decided to walk and to enjoy the fresh springtime air. So I set off in the direction of Piccadilly. Before I had walked more than thirty yards I encountered a man carrying a sandwich board on which a prominent text was displayed. What the text was I have forgotten (perhaps because I feel this is not the best form of religious advertisement) and was only interested in noticing that the man knew his job, and that he endeavoured to compel as many as possible to read his message. While I stood looking, who should come staggering along the pavement but my companion of the dress circle. He drew near and stood gazing at the man carrying the board. Each looked at the other.

‘Bah!’ the playgoer was contemptuous. ‘you know nothing about religion – nothing!’ he barked. Then, turning unexpectedly to me he said, ‘What do you think of him?’

‘I think he is just twice the man you are,’ I replied. ‘At least he has courage and conviction, and you appear to have neither.’

This might have made him angry, but instead he laughed. ‘Well I’m damned, that’s what Ursula said,’ he told me with muddled good humour.

‘You mean that beautiful girl you have just quarrelled with in the theatre?’ I queried.

He laughed again, ‘But I like you!’ he volunteered. ‘Come and have a drink with me.; The request was made sheepishly.

By this time I was thoroughly intrigued. I said I would. Indeed, it was impossible not to think that the remarkable coincidence which had led this man to speak to me was more than an accident. The opportunity seemed to be too good to have come other than from God.

We sauntered along to a night club, and it was obvious that he was known to the attendants and many of the members. As we sank into two comfortable chairs he put up two fingers to a waiter who knew exactly what was meant, and in a few moments returned with two glasses of brightly coloured liquid. What it was I do not know, nor can I tell you what it tasted like, for I avoid alcohol on principle. My mind was concerned with the problem of how to get this already drunken boy away from the temptation to take more.

‘By the way, won’t Ursula be waiting for you?’ I began.

‘Ursula?’ He laughed again. ‘Ursula is all right. She came up tonight to try and persuade me to go back – but I’m not going. She thought that by saying she wanted to see the play, she’d have the chance to talk – it was me, not the rotten play she wanted to see.’

‘But,’ I interrupted, ‘do you mean that you are deserting a beautiful wife?’

He grinned, ‘Ursula is not my wife, she’s my sister, and came up to trick me to go back home.’

After a little more talk we exchanged cards, and I noted that he lived in Surrey.

But I was doing no good, for while I talked he drank, and he was clearly getting worse; so at length I remarked that I didn’t think much of his club. My own was much better, and it was only a stones throw away, what about a stroll down to it for a last drink. He agreed.

I was now hard put to it, for of course I was not a member of any night club, nor did I know of one to which we could go. Fortunately he was in no frame of mind to realize where we were, and so I took him into Lyon’s Strand Corner House. By now it was about 11.30 p.m., and we stayed until about 2.30, during which time I continued to press cups of black coffee upon him. Very often have I found black coffee a great ally in sobering a drunk. At first he was too fuddled to understand what I was after, but slowly it dawned upon him that I was talking about playing a straight game and not deserting those who cared for us. While I talked he often interjected with the same remark: ‘I don’t know why you should bother about me – no one else does.’

The invariable reply was; ‘Yes they do, that is why Ursula came tonight’.

After one of his queries I told him that it was because I knew that God was interested in him and was. The name of God seemed to annoy him. Never shall I forget what followed. He half-rose to his feet, and oblivious of the fact that around us were still a number of patrons, he burst into his raucous laugh, and at the some moment drew from his waistcoat pocket a fairly large crucifix. With a resounding bang, which I can still hear echoing in the halls of memory, he flung the silver crucifix on the table exclaiming, ‘You know nothing about religion. There is my religion.’

The silence was vibrant. Everyone was looking at us. It was clear to me that none of my arguments had had any effect.

Our religious backgrounds were clearly very different, but there was something in this weak, spoilt, undisciplined boy that I liked. It made me long to help him. There was only one possibility of success, and the chances were it would not work. However, nothing venture—————-

‘Well, I shall have to be going,’ I remarked as gaily as I could. ‘Unfortunately we are going different ways, so I’ll get a taxi for you, and one for myself.’

Having carefully put him in a taxi and explained to the driver just what was wanted, giving him not the address of the boy’s hotel, but of the home in Surrey, and urging him not to stop until he drove up to the house, I then sought a telephone. Fortunately the number had been on the card he gave me. After a long pause I heard a masculine, saying, ‘Hullo?’

Call it weakness if you will, but the masculine in me could not help asking, ‘Is Miss Ursula at home? I know it’s late, but this is important. May I speak to her?’

After yet another long pause there came a silvery ‘Hello?’

‘You won’t know me, Miss Ursula.’ I said, ‘but I saw you at the theatre tonight with your brother. I’ve been having supper with him since, and he’s now in a taxi on his way home.’ There followed a brief resume of what had happened.

A few days later a letter from Ursula told me the rest of the story: How this youngest son in a fit of temper had left home vowing never to return, and how when the taxi eventually brought him he was fast asleep. On being awakened he was astonished to find himself in the old home – and in his mother’s arms. A rift that might have deepened into an impassable gulf had been bridged.

Today there is a beautiful home whose garden goes down the Thames. There the doors are always open in welcome to me. It was thrilling, in a recent letter from Ursula, to read, ‘We differ about some of the externals of religion, but we all have the same Master’.

We have. One who can dissolve the distance between the far country and the home – a Christ who does not despise the use of even a poor play at the theatre.

 

 

Thirteen

 

He enters a Club

We had been sitting spellbound for nearly half an hour. This speaker certainly knew how to talk, but it was not his oratory so much as his subject and his obvious sincerity that held us fast.  He was not a Christian. He often said so; and not more than five out of the twenty-one who were sitting around the blazing fire had anything to do with a church. We prided ourselves on being intellectuals, and we had come together once a week for years to discuss any tonic we felt worthy of our superior knowledge.

When Jack had announced that he would speak on ‘The decay of the modern home’, we had not expected anything sensational – but we got it.

After giving a brief historic survey of the different ways in which right down the ages mankind had tried to relate men. women, and children – polyandry, polygamy, and soon – he then proceeded to describe the modern situation. Speaking about extreme cases he said that homes had become hostels, and that often the relationship of children to parents was that of lodgers to the boarding-house keeper. ‘We form families,’ he stressed, ‘and so often they disintegrate in divorces or languish in loveliness.’

when he contended that the decay in modern home life is one of the prime factors in the world situation today, he carried all our judgements; but then he added something the very extravagance of which astonished us. ‘When I travelled in Syria’, Jack went on, ‘I learned that a Druse bride makes a present of a dagger to her husband at the conclusion of the marriage and requests that he use it on her in case of infidelity. Have we in this land got to the stage when we should exchange a dagger or revolver instead of a ring?’

Extreme! He saw we thought so, and immediately produced a list of last year’s divorce cases. This sobered us, and we could not but listen to his closing remarks.

‘Gentlemen, I’ll give you my conclusions. We must get back to something simpler, or go forward to something new. In this complex modern age there are so many whirling forces and ideas which tend to sweep our family life apart – not merely geographically but in interest. Everything depends upon the quality of our home life. Then what must be done? The meeting is now open for discussion.’

In our club there are always a few who get on their feet quickly. They have ideas about everything; but the fact that four sprang up together was an eloquent tribute to the importance of the subject.

The first man, who was himself divorced, objected to much of what had been said. He thought separations were not only inevitable but sometimes desirable. People could grow apart as well as together, and it was a crime for incompatibles to be forced to live together for life by a mere legal tie. This was familiar ground and we did not stay long over it.

All this time I was taking notes and was glad to have paper and pencil handy when Tom Whittick rose. Usually Tom was humorous without being pointless, and to look at his face was a pleasure. We all respected him, for although he did not go the church or call himself a Christian, he lived like one, and often said that he owed everythng best in his life to the Quaker home from which he came. The point he laboured was the need for common interests between all members of the family. He had endeavoured to be interested in his wife’s affairs, and she in his business, and they always took the children into the family councils, he explained, ‘The emotion of love is not enough,’ he contended, ‘though without it little can be hoped for; but love cannot sustain itself. Lovers must love many things besides themselves and love them mutually. Let them share their intellectual interests and their recreational pursuits as well as the common round, and this will both lengthen and strengthen their bonds of love.’

How practical aand true this all was – so typical of Tom.

John is a sturdy Yorkshireman, and whenever he gets up sparks fly. He usually starts by saying, ‘Now, I mean no offence, but I’m going to be straight’ you have come here for the truth and you are going to get it.’ John is literally a ‘Son of Thunder’. He always barks, and sometimes bites, but on this occasion I thought he did both.

‘Present-day marriage is a mockery,’ he began contemptuously, ‘a sheer mockery. I went to a wedding last week. The church was half full of folk who never go near it at other times. The parson beamed on the young couple, and told them how nice they were, and that he was sure they would have a grand future – though I’m certain he had scarcely seen them in his church since they were christened. I listened to all they promised to each other about better and worse “till death us do part”. I felt ill. But much more so when the vicar finished by saying, “Whom God hath joined let no man put asunder”. Ugh!’ barked John. ‘Here’s my point. eight out of every ten of those divorces Jack has mentioned went through a service like that. The Church will marry them – then it allows the law to divorce them. The Church says first that God has joined them together and then that no man should part them; but if the Church really believed that, it would either refuse to marry every Tom, Dick, and Dora, or not tolerate divorce.’

This was too much for me so I interrupted: ‘What would you do, John, refuse to marry them?’

He gave me a withering look as he said, ‘If I was a parson like you I’d only marry my members – people I knew to be Christian. The only honest thing is to refuse to be a party to a Christian marriage except for Christians. I’d ask them for a confession of their faith, and then insist that them for a confession of their faith, and then insist that neither side should default on the spiritual contract they make. It is dishonest to marry modern pagans in a Christian service.’

I could see he had read the Sermon on the Mount.

He was almost bubbling as he went on, ‘Oh! I know you’d be unpopular. I know you’d be blamed for sending young folk to a registry office, but in a few years a Christian wedding would be something to be respected. Everyone would know that it stood for something distinctive. It’s the duty of the law to make marriage legal, but it’s the task of you churchmen to bless those who see that it is sacred.’ As he sat down I noticed that the non-churchmen were vigorously clapping.

For an hour the discussion continued and there can be very few points that were not mentioned.

Frequently during the evening I had cast my eye across to ‘father’, as we affectionately call Jim Musgrave. Jim is a local preacher, and that fraternity has no more worthy member. For over fifty years he has travelled the villages around, and everywhere he is loved and respected. If you could see his face and listen to his mellow voice as he puts some profound truth a human way, you would know why.

At length he rose.

‘Gentlemen,’ he started off, ‘we have been deeply interested in this subject, and there are many of the points on which I would like to comment; but instead, would you allow me to tell you something personal?’ This was unlike Jim, who rarely spoke about himself. ‘You know me. You know my boys. You know the kind of home I’ve had. Until two years ago, when my wife went before me into the Great Beyond, I had enjoyed nearly half a century of perfect comradeship. She and I were comrades in a life of struggle, and because of this marriage made us each bigger and richer. My home has been a school in which we have all learned self-forgetfulness. If I had a thousand lives I’d spend them in the same way of life.

‘Well, it all started like this: On our wedding night my wife said, “Jim, do you say your prayers at night/”

‘ “Yes,” I replied without enthusiasm. “Why?”

‘ “Let’s say ours together,” she begged.

‘We were shy, and the only thing we could do was to repeat the Lord’s Prayer. When we rose from our knees she said, “Jim, I often think of those words, Thy Kingdom Come. Couldn’t we start answering that prayer by making our home a part of the kingdom?”

‘Then we talked of how it could be done.

‘I can only say, gentlemen, that it was because my marriage was given such a positive start and had such a definite end as part of God’s purpose, that it has been so deeply satisfying. That’s how a timid lad of twenty not only planted his soul in the soil of a great family life, but has been led to share the secret in a thousand homes since. Never has a night passed without gathering around our family altar, and we never thought of the Master living in Nazareth but at – well, you know my address.’

We said nothing, for we knew that there was nothing in the world so beautiful as a true Christian home. We knew how strong, true, and generous Jim was, and that only on the foundation of such a home as his can the world be rebuilt. As one of the club members said when I bade him good night, ‘I always knew there must be some great secret behind Jim’.

And that secret was that long ago the Master had entered his home.

 

 

Fourteen

 

He enters a Broken Life

Ted Brown sat on the settee. We had not met before, but his doctor had told me much about him over the telephone. The laughing fire, a cup of tea, and a breezy conversation had all attempted to make Ted feel comfortable, but without success. It was now his turn to talk, for it was clear that nothing I could say to him would be helpful at this stage. Instead of speaking, he burst into sobbing, deep heavy sobs that shook his frame. This emotional storm was violent and prolonged, but when at length it subsided he began: ‘I don’t know why the doctor should have sent me. He’s like the others I’ve been to – thinks there is something so wrong that he dare not tell me.’

I interrupted to say that it was nothing of the kind. His doctor had sent him round for exactly the same reason that recently I had sent someone to the doctor. This doctor happens to be a very fine Christian who knows that some troubles are not physiological but originate in the realm of the mind. Sometimes a person comes to a minister for spiritual help when what really need is something to tone up the body. Surely the day will come when doctors and ministers will see how closely their work interlocks, and each will seek to help the other in the service of their fellows. Having briefly said these things I asked him to tell me what some of his doctors had advised.

‘Oh,’ he said, ‘the first told me I was run down and needed a change. He gave me some phosphates. Of course, I was not so bad then. Another tried to cure my sleeplessness by giving me bromide. The present one told my wife that it is just a case of nerves. Nerves! My God, it’s not nerves; it’s a hell!’ He wept again.

One did not need to be expert to see that here was a case of complete inner disharmony. Some would call it a nervous breakdown, but that phrase can so easily be misleading. The nerves may or not be the cause. Usually it is a deeper than that. If the nervous system is the trouble it is a case for the medical team; this time I knew it was not. Organically he was sound but functionally all in pieces.

Suddenly he burst out again. ‘Can you do anything? I’m tired of these people who don’t understand me. They just pass me on from one to another. Fools, do they think I’m smashing my home and ruining my business and going through torture night after night because I like visiting doctors? If you can do anything then do, for God’s sake but if you can’t, say so!’

‘Then let us begin by being frank and clear,’ I warned him. ‘I’m not an expert, and can promise you nothing except this, that I shall not treat your case lightly. I know of two experts who might deal with the matter, the one is very good at taking people to pieces, the other is supreme at putting them properly together. If it is any real comfort to you, I may say that many people who were much worse than you, are now completely fit thanks to these two.’

‘When can I meet them, for something must be done quickly,’ he begged. ‘I can’t go on like this.’

‘I’m sorry,’ I told him, ‘but you can’t meet either of them for a few weeks. Perhaps you won’t need to see one of them. Let me explain the position clearly. Your doctor and I have already spoken about things, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with your body. Neither is there anything wrong with your brain. Your nerves are certainly not as good as they might be, for they have been doing a lot of extra work lately. The trouble is that somewhere deep in the mind something is worrying you. It’s more than likely that you do not know it is, or even that it is there. You know how if one looks at a bottle of “fizz” it appears all right until the stopper is removed. Then a few gas bubbles rise from the bottom. The gas had been hidden there a long time before something happened to reveal it. Years go something was corked up in your mind. More recently something has untightened your controls, and now the bubbles of fear and anxiety are coming up. Unlike “fizz” this doesn’t exhaust itself, but is self-generating, and we have to get that something from the bottom.’

‘Well, I know of nothing like that. As far as I know I have always been straight and decent. I’ve regularly said my prayers – until I found it was doing no good. If there is anything, it’s beyond me,’ he stated quite sincerely.

‘Well, the treatment is simple. If you will come round once or twice a week and quietly relax in that chair while you tell me the story of your life, all kinds of things may come to light. I shall want to hear everything from the earliest things you can remember, on through your schooldays to business struggles. Any ups and downs you had, and sex questions, and any troubles in your home. Your hates and loves and fears and hopes will all have to be looked at. The things you think about in the dark, and those you dream about at night. All I ask is that you will be utterly frank, and if at the end of that we haven’t found out the trouble, then we’ll call in the expert.

‘While you are telling me these things,’ I continued, ‘I shall be making a few notes and listening not only to what you say, but to what you don’t say. The things you take for granted, the assumptions you make, for often these speak louder than our language.’

Mr. Brown had been a keen business man, and I believe had much money. It was impossible not to smile when he said rather bluntly, ‘I’ve heard you psychology chaps charge a lot, what will it cost?’

‘You remember I told you I’m not an expert and I would not call myself a psychologist. It has been my privilege to see some fine work down, and to read a good deal on the subject, but I am only a minister who will gladly use anything to help people to become what God meant them to be. As for cost. Yes, it’s expensive, very – no, not in terms of money, for that won’t enter into it at all – but it may lead you to give yourself away. I hope so.’

For the next few weeks we saw each other regularly. Sitting by the fire he poured out the substance of his mind. Mr. Brown’s story was no worse and no better than most peoples, and it was not difficult to see how most of his trouble went back to an experience then more than a quarter of a century behind him. For all those years it had been bottled up in the mind, slowly undermining his stability.

Years ago the old Methodists used to meet together once a week and confess their faults one to another. Providing the folk to whom one so confesses are true and sincerely desire each other’s welfare there could be no healthier procedure. It is significant that when the priest and the class meeting disappear the psychologist steps in.

It was truly amazing the way Brown changed. Even the process of cleansing his mind of the deep-seated poison brought relief and a return of health, and after four or five visits he felt so much better that he thought he did not need to come again. For two months I saw little of him; then one day he came round to my house. This did not really surprise me, for it is never enough merely to empty the mind and leave it empty; something must be put into the vacuum created. A person who has been analysed needs then to be synthesized. A few co-ordination of the mind is needed, and a fresh vital interest must be given. So, when I saw Mr. Brown back at my fireside, with many of his symptoms returned, I was not, as I say, really surprised.

His tale of woe was that after feeling fine for weeks the old sleeplessness had returned and his depressions had grown daily. It was all most painful to him.

‘You remember’, I began, ‘that I told you of two experts that might need to be called in? It’s the second of those two who alone can give you a permanent cure. You recall how, when last you left, I said to you life would only work God’s way. It’s that truth you have now illustrated. The spiritual life abhors a vacuum. If you will forgive a crude illustration, a few weeks ago we spent a good deal of time down in the cellar of your mind. there was plenty of debris and rubbish to be cleaned out. While we were doing that we were enabled to see because of the light of each other’s friendship – but then we left the cellar bare and dark. Soon the cockroaches of fear and the little crawling anxieties began to come back. Until the cellar is constantly flooded with light and warmth they are certain to. I wish you would let me introduce you to the only one I know who can fill life with vital interests, warmth, and light.’

Mr. Brown looked long before he said, ‘You know, when I first came here I felt sure you would talk to me about religion, and if you had I would have laughed at you, for I’d tried it. It did me no good. I tried to pary but my prayers were only forms of self-inspection. Church was unreal and full of ampty phrases. The fact that you said nothing about religion before, struck me as curious. Why do you start now?’

‘The answer to that is simple,’ I replied. ‘Supposing you had had a cataract, do you think a surgeon would offer you a book to read before he had operated? After the removal of the trouble and the new conditions of sight have been created, then he suggests the lens you need to give balanced vision. The soul needs God as much as the eye needs light – but I tried to remove a cataract first.’

We then talked about the impossibility of a merely human adjustment being sufficient. Men and women are spiritual beings made for fellowship with God. He has made us for Himself and life will only function happily His way.

‘Do you remember I said it might cost you a lot? To become what you want to become will mean sincerely saying to God:

Take myself, and I will be

Ever, only, all for Thee.

‘Here is a curious thing. You will find that when you come to Him you do but come to yourself, and into your true possession.’

The next half-hour was very intimate and beautiful during which a great spiritual transaction was done. The Master specialist took charge.

All that need be added is that today there is no fitter or happier man among my friends than Ted Brown.

 

 

Epilogue

When John read the proofs of this book he rang me up, and asked that I should call. When I did so he took me into the study and shut the door.

‘Sit down,’ he peremptority said.

I waited for him to speak. He paced the room for a few moments and then said sharply: ‘This won’t do’.

‘I know it’s poorly done,’ I stammered lamely.

‘Oh, I don’t mean that. The writing is all right. But have you made the Master prominent enough? What I feared has happened.’

‘Have you forgotten my promise? You are anonymous – but the Master is not,’ I said.

This is John’s only satisfaction.