Converted In His Cell
( Originally Published 1902 )
CHAPLAIN MUNRO, of the New York Tombs Prison, tells this story of the conversion of one of the prisoners :
Seldom have I seen the hand of God more clearly manifest than in the experience of a young man, who, I have reason to believe, was converted in prison through the instrumentality of a copy of The Christian Herald. When I visit a prison, I make it a point to hold up Jesus Christ and him crucified, for it may be my last opportunity ; I may never see those I meet in this way a second time. The young man of whom I speak was between thirty and thirty-five, of more than the average intelligence and ability, and withal a ready conversationalist. He had passed through a checkered career, had embarked in many wild schemes, and failed in all. He was still on the stormy sea of life with-out a pilot, without hope and without God. Like thousands of other young men, he started out on a career of drinking and gambling, went on the rocks, and became a total wreck. Poor soul ! He never expected to come to such a sad end. But then the way to hell is paved with good intentions. His wild career brought him, at last, to a felon's cell, where he drank the bitter dregs of a misspent life. I had many interviews with him on the subject of personal religion, but without apparent result. While I sought to point him to Jesus Christ, the sinners' friend, he thought only of the troubles which he had brought upon himself by his own misconduct. I could see he had no desire to forsake his sins and turn to God.
As the weeks passed by, I became deeply interested in him. In going over his past life, he mentioned that he had been in business in New York City for several years, during which time he had made his home in Brooklyn. Though he had made no profession of religion during those years, yet he was a frequent attendant at church, and was often greatly impressed, perhaps, like King Agrippa, " almost persuaded " to be a Christian ; but when he came to decide the great question, business absorbed his attention, and he delayed, hoping for a more convenient season. But God's gracious spirit did not leave him, even in prison ; and I know from the conversations I have had with him that his heart yearned continually for something more than this world could give. This young man came from a Christian home, and had had a praying mother, who taught him the Word of God in his earliest days. Often in the prison night-watches, promises from the Word of Life would come rushing to his mind like an Alpine torrent. How he came, finally, to trust in Jesus and become a child of God was little less than a miracle. I will allow him to tell the story in his own words :
" I came to the conclusion that I was a lost young man on the brink of a hopeless despair. That I ever should have come to a felon's cell. I had never for a moment expected. In passing my cell one morning, you gave me a copy of The Christian Herald. I looked it over carefully, as I had done on many previous occasions, and in due season I laid it aside, where it found the same resting-place as other exhausted literature, viz, the floor. Being at constant war with myself, I would alternately pace my narrow cell until fatigue would seize me; then throw myself on my cot again to lose consciousness in sleep. But, instead of finding sweet rest, I was often dashed back into the gulf of my own unfathomable despondency and doubt.
" As I turned on my bed in almost hopeless despair, I stooped to pick up the paper from the floor, where it lay with others. One of the pictures seemed familiar to me; it was that of Dr. Talmage. The text of his sermon published in that issue of the paper was : ` A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver' (Prov. 25: II). This sermon I read, and re-read many times. It fitted my longing heart exactly, and took a deep hold upon me. What a solace those words became to my soul ! My burden rolled away ; my anxiety ceased; the troubled waters within became calm; and out of chaos and despair proceeded order and courage. From that moment I was a changed man, fully determined to live the rest of my life for Him who died for me, and saved me by his blood. That I may remain steadfast is my sincere prayer, and when I am again a free man, I will strive to ever keep before me the guiding hand of God; and the fact that, through his mercy and the instrumentality of the sermon, I became a saved man in the New York Tombs prison."
He is now a free man, and I have the best reason for believing that he is " holding fast " to his faith and living as a humble and exemplary Christian.
How great is the power of a live preacher! How wonderful is the influence of a Iive newspaper. Neither the preacher nor the editor knows the one millionth part of the good his message will do; it will go on in ever-widening circles to eternity.