The story opens in Iowa with an old farmer by the name of J. Conlee. He was a father of twelve children, six boys and six girls, who grew up with every promise of becoming splendid citizens and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the father was a Methodist of the old school and brought up his family in the church and Sunday School.
Some of the children had grown to manhood. One of the sons had become a lawyer and another a doctor. Still another a professor in one of the seminaries. And when the babe about whom we are to speak, arrived, the father and mother did what they had done with every other child, they dedicated him to the Lord. In his boyhood days the mother said, "I hope my little Joe will be a preacher of the Gospel like two of his brothers are."
The years rolled by and Joe was a good boy and a credit to the home. One day when high school days were over the father came to him and said, "Joe, have you decided what you will be?" "Yes father," said Joe, "the course I have taken in High School has fitted me for civil engineering. I think I will be a civil engineer."
A cloud came over his father's face as he said, "Oh, I am so sorry. We hoped you would enter the ministry. Are you sure you haven't heard the Lord's voice?"
He said he would pray about it, and after two weeks he came to his father and said, "Father, my mind is made up. I will enter the ministry." His father embraced him and kissed him and said he would send him to the University of Iowa .
When he had received his BA degree he went for three years to the School of Ft. Dodge to fit himself for the ministry. One day one of the professors said to him, "You know there is a lot of superstition mixed up with what we originally believed. You are a brilliant fellow. I heard the president say he considered you one of the most brilliant we have. Weigh everything carefully. Apply yourself to the study of books. I want you to read Darwin, Renan and Huxley; every one of them philosophers."
When Joe Conlee came out of that school there was a battle of reason against faith, and reason was winning in the great war.
He accepted the pastorate in a little Methodist Church in Iowa and while there he married a splendid Christian girl, the daughter of a Methodist preacher in an adjoining town. After three years, because of his friendship with the bishop, he was transferred to the First Methodist Church of Santa Ana. He spent two years there but they were years in which he was fighting a tremendous battle within his soul. Greater battles are fought within the confines of the human breast than were ever waged at historic Gettysburg .
He was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity and he progressed in his ministerial aspirations, yet all the time he was drifting into Modernism, looking at the scriptures from the Methodist's standard, interpreting them, not from the basis of faith, but from the basis of reason or intellectualism. He had been told that in order to be well balanced, he should see both sides of the question, and should not be swayed by emotionalism in Methodism. The Methodist Conference met in Los Angeles and the bishop complimented him on his excellent work and he became pastor of the First Methodist Church of San Diego, one of the largest on the Pacific Coast .
A HYPOCRITE STEPS OUT
After two years of successful ministry there he moved to Pomona , California , and it was during this time that he built the lovely Methodist Church of that place, a beautiful example of Spanish architecture. It was there, that the seeds that had been sown in his heart in the past began to bear fruit. So Joe confided to his wife that he was beginning to feel a little hypocritical, that he didn't believe the things his congregation demanded that he preach, and finally he said, "I am going to quit. I cannot stand it." He denied the Virgin Birth of Christ and the miracles, and one day, Joe Conlee went into his pulpit and said, "My friends, I am about to make a confession. I cannot believe the Bible. There has been a battle in my heart for years. Now I feel I will regain some of my self-respect. This is the last time I will preach."
He was a gifted writer and soon got a job. He went back to Santa Ana and became the editor of The Santa Ana Herald. For years his name was at the head of the editorial column. But he commenced to smoke and drink, and gamble a little and went from bad to worse. He left Santa Ana and went to Los Angeles and for some time was editor of the East Los Angeles Exponent. He moved to Covina and here founded his own newspaper, the Covina Argus Independent, a paper that is still in existence. He sold it for a small fortune and became an editorial writer on the Los Angeles Times and then on The Examiner. Both of which positions he lost through drink. His pen never lost its brilliancy. It seemed to be dipped in the very ink of inspiration. There were many days he could not report for work. He worked on The Express but lost that job, as he was intoxicated nearly all the time. Tramping around from one place to another, the man who had been the pastor of the great First Methodist Church of San Diego and of the great church at Pomona became a dissolute, drunken inebriate shuffling around in his rags. You could find him any night in the back of the Mineral Saloon.
Blaming his old life for his downfall, he started, in his antipathy toward God, a series of open-air attacks on Methodism and Christianity. He became the President of the Free Thinkers Association of California, and for almost twelve years he did not miss one night in back of the Mineral Saloon, giving lectures on atheism and drinking himself to death. He would raise his hand and defy God to strike him dead, and, when nothing would happen, say, "You see, friends, there is no God." He would collect a few dimes and quarters and drink himself to death.
He would be carried off night after night to a praying wife, while delirium tremens seized him again and again. He became emaciated, a hollow-eyed, blaspheming, cursing, swearing and carousing, man; he had gone down into the very mud and scum of things, but every night his wife, a daughter of a Methodist preacher, prayed for him. I wonder what the professor who gave him those books would have thought if he could have seen him in Los Angeles, dirty, ragged, holes in the knees of his pants, beard grown and matted, a poor old drunken soak!
One day, going down the street, he accidentally bumped into a man. Dr. Conlee was drunk as usual, and said, "Can you give a fellow a dime?"
The fellow looked at him and recognized his old pastor. He said in amazement, "You are not Conlee, man? Tell me!"
"That is my name, Conlee," said the drunkard.
"My old pastor! What are you doing like this? I cannot believe my eyes."
And the kindly Christian doctor, for he was an MD, took him to his house, gave him a bath, a new suit of clothes and took him to a hotel not far away, explaining to the clerk what he was doing. Dr. Conlee pawned that suit of clothes and spent it on drink. The doctor interested his friends and they tried their best to salvage the old drunk, but could do nothing with him. Every penny he got went for drink until he got as low as a human being could possibly get.
HE IS SHIPPED TO THE YUKON
At last everybody gave him up but the doctor, and he said, "If we could get him away from the Mineral Saloon it might help him to pull himself together."
It was at the time of the great gold strike in Alaska , and men were climbing over the Chilkoot Pass like a lot of ants on their way to the gold-fields in a mad rush for the yellow metal. And his friends thought if they could get him in a change of environment that his life might be changed. The old drunk said he would be willing to go. So they packed his little trunk, bought him another suit of clothes and put him on the boat bound for Skagway .
His wife and little daughter came to see him off. His little girl, Florence, put her arms around his neck and said, "Daddy, dear daddy, mamma put in a little medicine chest that she thought you might need if you should get hurt there, and do not forget, daddy, inside the medicine chest I have put my little book. I wouldn't give it to anybody else in the world but you, daddy. You read it."
That little Bible meant everything to Florence and on the flyleaf she had written the words: "To my darling daddy, with love from Florence ."
"Do not forget, we love you," and the whistle blew and the old steamer plowed its watery way; and in the bottom of his trunk was the medicine chest with the Bible inside.
In a few weeks he was in that great seething, cursing, surging mass of humanity, prospectors en route to the Yukon . The very first place he found was a saloon, the biggest in town. He got a job in that vile hellhole. The Rev. Joseph Conlee was sweeping up the floors and cleaning out the cuspidors, and his pay was "all he could drink" and food enough just to keep him alive.
One day the owner of a big place came to him and said, "Doc, I want you to go over to the 40-Mile. We have struck gold over there and I am the first man to hear of it, with the exception of the man who made the find. I have bought the old log cabin and I want you to go out and hold the place."
"Not me," said Joe. "I will not leave here. You know my little weakness." He wasn't going where he couldn't get whiskey.
But the man said, "Joe, you can have all you want to drink. We will send supplies out for two weeks on the dog team. You'll have nothing to do but sit in the cabin and have a wonderful time."
So Joe Conlee found himself out in the lonely cabin on the 40-Mile, with nothing to do but drink. He had laid in a good supply as winter was coming on and he wanted enough to last. He laughed and laughed as he sat down to drink himself to death. The whiskey barrel was a quarter empty when one day in October there was a knock at the door of the cabin. There stood Jimmie Miller, a Roman Catholic, who said he was cold and hungry.
The latchstring is always out in Alaska . You dare not turn a man away, so Conlee said, "Come in, 'pard. There's grub and a whiskey barrel." Jimmie Miller laughed as he entered the cabin door.
So the two of them sat down to drink. They were there two weeks, drinking themselves to sleep every night, never missed a night, for the drunken orgies in that little cabin were beyond description. Then there came another knock at the door, and Wally Flett, spiritualist medium from San Francisco came in, and when he saw the liquor his mouth commenced to water, and he said, "Wouldn't you like me to stay with you?" They said, "Yes," and there were three of them now in the cabin. Their ribald laughter, their filthy jesting, their obscene storytelling, their drinking and carousing were unspeakable.
November came and went. They made three trips to Dawson with the dogs for whiskey and grub. Then the constant drinking got on their nerves. The three of them drank, drank, and drank, until they cried and cringed in torment with delirium tremens, night after night. Then for fun they had a spiritualistic seance, and Wally Flett, the old medium, told how he used to bunco people, showing them how the slate writing was done, and the tapping. Night after night that was the program for the lonely cabin.
JIMMIE MILLER AFRAID TO DIE
Then one night one of them came near the border of death. Jimmie Miller had delirium tremens and a fever, and in great agony he cried, "Get me a doctor. You cannot let me lie here and die." But they were 40 miles from Dawson City ; it was forty below zero and the snows were deep. The delirious man kept screaming, "Get me a doctor."
Then Conlee remembered that down in the old trunk was a medicine chest, so he brought it out, opened it, and out fell a little black book on the floor. He opened it and read "From Florence to Daddy." Florence ! Florence ! Wally Flett said, "What you got, Conlee?"
"It's a Bible, curse it!" and Conlee strode over to the stove. But as he lifted up the lid to throw it in, Wally Flett shouted, "Don't throw it in, man, don't you know we haven't a thing to read in this God-forsaken country. Your only magazine I have read twenty times," and he snatched it from the hand of Joseph Conlee.
Dr. Conlee said, "If you want to read that you may, but I will not." What was that written on the front page? 'To my darling Daddy, with love from Florence .' He was a little more sober now. "My little girl! I am glad I did not burn the Book my little Florrie gave me."
The medicine commenced to work. Jimmie Miller began to recover and as he was convalescing he started to read the Bible. Jimmie had a habit of reading out loud. Joe used to tell him to shut up, but Wally Flett was interested. He would say, "What was that you read, Jimmie?" Then he would read it again.
Wally said, "I had no idea there were things like that in the Bible. What do you say if we read it just to pass the time away, not to believe it? Joe was once a preacher; he tells us what fools the preachers are."
So they took turns in reading, and all unknown to them a change was coming into the Lonely Cabin on 40-Mile. And the whiskey barrel went down more slowly. Some days they would read five, six and seven chapters, and when they came to the New Testament, the cursing became fewer, the whiskey barrel began to be let alone, and Wally Flett said, "Haven't you noticed a kind of change coming over us? I haven't heard swearing now three or four days. I wonder if it is that Bible that is doing it?"
Christmas came. They read the story of the Birth of Christ. Wally Flett said, "Wait a minute. Do you know what day it is? It is Christmas day. I wonder what the little kids are doing in the states? What is the matter, Joe?"
"Oh, just thinking about little Florrie. She used to hang up a stocking every Christmas before I made such a fool of myself with the drink. There will be some happy folk around their firesides."
January came and they started reading the Gospel of St. John and then there came the eventual day, February 14th. It was Wally's turn to read, "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."
Joe's hand brushed across his eyes.
"What's the matter, Joe?"
"Were you crying, Joe?"
"Yes, go ahead. I am thinking about my little girl. I am not crying because of that Bible."
Then Wally said, "I'd like to know if this Book is true. For the last five days I've been wanting to pray, and I was scared you fellows would laugh at me, but I will not be scared any more. I shall ask God, if there is a God, to speak to me."
Joe said, "Well, since you have committed yourself, I will tell you that my heart has been broken for the last week. I can hear my mother back in Iowa praying - though she is now in Glory. What about you, Jimmie?"
"If you fellows want to pray I will pray with you."
Three old drunken soaks in the lonely cabin on the 40-Mile got down on their knees to pray. Their prayers rose higher and higher. Suddenly Wally Flett jumped to his feet, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Jesus heard me!" While he was shouting, up jumped Jimmie Miller, and then Joe Conlee, the third man in that cabin arose shouting glory.
It was two o'clock in the morning when they arose from prayer. Into that lonely Cabin on the 40-Mile had come the Man with the seamless robe. I can see Him standing in the Spirit by the Yukon stove, as he put His hands on their heads.
BEHOLD THE MIRACLE OF GOD!
Then Joe got hold of the whiskey barrel and rolled it to the door. Wally grabbed the hatchet and the cursed liquor ran out into the snow amid shouts of glory. The angels were looking over the battlements of Glory as they saw what happened in the Lonely Cabin on the 40-Mile; Jimmie Miller, Joe Conlee and Wally Flett were born again by the Spirit of God. Hallelujah!
* * *
I was holding meetings in Eugene , Oregon , and Brother Hornshuh asked me to meet the Dean of their Bible School , and he introduced me to Dr. Joseph Conlee. He was the Dean of the Bible Standard School , and that was the beginning of our friendship.
Just before the end of my campaign, Dr. Conlee asked me to spend three hours with him in his room, to bring paper and pencil with me. He said, "I am not long for this world. I am going home to be with Jesus, but I have been praying and I believe God wants my story written down." He began, "You will have to forgive me if I cry a little, but I want to begin at the very beginning," and he told me the story as I have related it to you. Three times during that interview we prayed together. At four o'clock I embraced him and we wept together.
I went to Yakima for a campaign and during the first week was told by a student, sent from Eugene , that "Uncle Joe" had gone to Glory. When he knew he was going he sent for her and told her to tell me that Jesus who found him in the Lonely Cabin on the 40-Mile was with him. Then he laid his head back on his pillow and was gone. As of this writing Wally Flett and Jimmie Miller are still preaching the gospel.
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast,
unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
(1 Corinthians 15:58)