A Professional Burglar Converted
( Originally Published 1902 )
WHILE pastor of the Central Church at Newark, N. J., I was conducting a series of meetings. At the close of one of them, a strange man came up to me and said, "Are you going home? " " Yes," I said. " Then, if I may, I will walk along with you," he rejoined. I consented; but as a part of one of the streets leading to the parsonage was very bad, with its saloons and tough customers, I kept my eye pretty well upon the movements of the stranger.
At last the words that were struggling for utterance found expression, as he said : " I am a professional burglar. My partner and I are here in Newark `cracking' houses. I saw the lights in your church and I heard the singing. Something, calling me by my first name, said to me : ` Why don't you go in? ' I believe now it was the voice of God speaking to me. I cannot understand how I happened to go in, for I have not attended a religious service before in a dozen years. God must have put the sermon in your heart to-night, and put it there on purpose for me. Every word went home. When you said the number of sins or the number of years in sin made no difference to Christ; that he could forgive a million sins as easily as one, and that he could save the worst man on earth as easily as the most respectable sinner, I felt that possibly there was some hope for me, a thief and a murderer. And when you talked so tenderly about God's love for the most wretched and vile in the death of his Son upon the cross, I could not stand it; it melted my heart, and I said to myself, I will never cut another window-pane nor blow open another safe.' And when you said, It is not necessary for us to wait till next Sabbath, nor till to-morrow night, to find the Saviour—not even necessary to wait until the invitation is given to come forward to the altar; you can have Christ as your Saviour just now, while I am speaking, for the asking and receiving,' just at that moment I asked God, for the sake of Christ, to forgive my sins and make me a good man. A sweet peace came to my heart, and I believe that then and there I became a converted man."
By this time we had gotten to a shaded spot, not far from the parsonage. The night was very still, and no people were near us on the street. Suddenly he drew a revolver out of his pocket and pointed it at me. I did not believe the man intended to shoot me, but I was pretty sure he intended to take my watch if he could. Quick as lightning, I thought what a clever trick to tell such a story of conversion and reform. I instinctively clapped my hand on my watch, for it had a value far above the gold case and the fine works on the inside; it was a birthday present to me from my sainted father, and I did not intend that the burglar should have it without a fight. Instead of demanding my watch, he said : " Take this revolver ; I belong to Christ and shall never need it again." Then he took from a pocket some burglar's tools and said : " Take these also. I have opened many a window with this, and door with that, and drawer with that. I am a Christian man now, and I shall never want to use them again."
It is easier to form than to reform character. The Christian Church of this past century has recognized this fact, and has brought a large proportion of its members into the fold through the Sunday School and young people's organizations. The work of reforming character, however, must not be forgotten. Difficult though the task may be, there are enough wrecked men redeemed to encourage the workers, and more bad men would be saved if more diligent efforts were put forth in their behalf.