Leader Of Murderous Mob Converted
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I WAS appointed to a church in a Western town, near which the "White Caps" operated quite extensively. They were disguised, self-constituted guardians of justice. They treated the neighbors to a "hanging bee" every now and then. A saloon-keeper had killed a man in the town where our church was situated, and was in the county jail awaiting trial. The lynchers concluded that it was about time for another picnic, and with sledge-hammers broke in the doors of the jail. The prisoner, who was a powerful man, fought the mob desperately with a heavy chair, which he found, until he was over-powered by them and hurried to a railroad bridge near the village, where they fastened one end of a rope about his neck and the other to a beam, and pushed him off into Eternity. The excuse the lynchers gave was that the brother of the prisoner, being the most influential politician of his party in the county, would never permit a conviction in the trial, and that they had better take Time by the fore-lock and maintain the security of the community. The hanging occurred a short time before my appointment to the charge. Disrespect for law and order was manifest; I felt it my duty as a public teacher to rebuke it. On Sunday night I preached a sermon on " Thou shalt not kill," in which I charged the mobbers with being as mean murderers as the man they hanged, except that they were more cowardly than he, waiting until the law had shut him up in a cell and tied his hands, and then breaking his neck. I said that if the prisoner had been in the open street, with a revolver in each hand, not one of the lynchers would have dared approach him, but would have been as polite to him as French dancing masters. I did not know at the time that some twenty or thirty members of my congregation had taken a part in the sport of the hanging. If I had known the fact, it would not have changed the character of the message, except, perhaps, to make it more severe. The next day a leading man in the town called on me to give me a word of advice and caution; he said he was my friend, and wanted to talk frankly and affectionately. He said that the temper of public sentiment in the town was such that it would be unsafe for me personally to speak as I had done on the night before ; that some of the best people of the town were in the mob, and that if I continued to say such severe things about them the good people of the community could not be responsible for my safety. I told him I was not afraid of any one of such cowards and that, much as I enjoyed life, I should count it worth very little if, as a servant of God and a guardian of public morals, I failed to protest against the anarchy which threatened the place.
Toward the end of the week a gentleman called at the parsonage and said to me : " I have a matter of grave importance about which I would like to talk." Dropping his voice almost to a whisper, he said : " Is there any one else in the house?" I said, " Yes, my wife and children are in the house, but they are in the back part and will not hear anything you may have to say." He said: " I want to talk to you as a Catholic would to a priest. I wish to make a confession, which, of course, you understand you are not to reveal. I have not slept much since your sermon Sunday night. I was the ringleader of the mob; had more to do with organizing and directing it than any other man. I did not realize the enormity of my crime until confronted by your terrific arraignment. When you said that those composing the mob were murderers and, if unforgiven, they would be settled with at the judgment day, a voice said to me, ` You are a murderer,' and that voice has been sounding in my ear until it has almost set me crazy, and because I cannot stand it any longer I am here to confess to you and ask you what I can do to get peace. I cannot bring the man back to life ; I wish I could. What can I do ? " I said to him, " Make the confession to God which you have made to me and earnestly ask his forgiveness. Give yourself to Christ, who died on the cross that you might be pardoned, and enter upon a life of love, of loyalty to God and to your fellow men." Trembling with emotion, he fell down upon his knees, and I kneeled beside him. In agony of prayer we wrestled until he found relief, and, arising from the floor, he said, " Christ's blood atones for me. My Heavenly Father forgives my sin and accepts me as his child." With a happy face, he exclaimed, " I shall do what I can to undo my awful deed," and he did. He went amongst his old companions, telling them what a dear Saviour he had found, and in a revival that soon followed, fully one-half of those composing the mob professed conversion at our altar and united with the church. It has been twenty-five years since the confession was made, and the ringleader remained ever after a faithful and efficient worker in the Sunday School and church.
In these times of conservatism, when the mild side of truth is emphasized so much, it seems a difficult and unpopular task for the moral teacher to dwell upon the severe side of truth—to rebuke sin as it deserves to be—and yet there are times when there is no kind of preaching which yields such speedy and ample returns or which secures so completely the favor of heaven, as a wise and fearless arraignment of wrong-doing and wrong-doers. A minister has no business, under a false idea of dignity, to go about with a chip on his shoulder, or, with a wrong notion of justice, to walk around with a club in his hand hunting for some one to strike. Such a course would embitter his spirit and sour his people ; but there do come times when it is the preacher's duty to denounce sin with all his might and to warn his people that if they do not forsake the sins which they are habitually committing they will be lost, and lost forever. Short-sighted people thought that my sermon against the mobbers had ruined me and destroyed the work of the church during the year, but, while a question of policy never entered my mind, nothing I could have done could have brought me so many friends or have secured, so manifestly, the favor of heaven, as that sermon. The Holy Spirit sanctified the quickening of the public conscience in an awakening which resulted in the addition of a hundred and fifty new members to a membership of one hundred and twenty in a town of but fourteen hundred people. There are times when there is no Gospel message which is so salutary as the Ten Commandments.