“Keep your Gospel tracts!” shouted old Mr. Howard, “and don't ever hand me any of that rubbish again. I don't know one Christian who isn't a hypocrite.” Jack Bryce's face went red, and he stammered, “I didn't intend to offend you, Mr. Howard. But I knew that this tract is interesting, and I thought you might like to read it.” But the only reply Jack got was the slammed door.
Mr. Howard was one of Jack's customers. Each day he left the Hamilton Gazette on his veranda. Today was collection day, and as he thought of old Mr. Howard he felt that he should offer him a Gospel tract, for he knew that the old man was not a Christian and eternity was drawing rapidly near. Jack's older brother had been converted by reading a tract, and so he prayed that Mr. Howard might read this silent messenger, and find the Saviour, too. He knew that the old man was generally disgruntled, and no one in town liked him, but he hardly expected such a rude reception. However, Jack prayed that even yet his old customer might somehow find Christ before it was too late.
One morning, as he was on his way to high school with his friend, he noticed that Mr. Howard's paper, which he had left the night before on the veranda, had not been taken in.
“Allen, look at that paper!” exclaimed Jack. “I wonder why Mr. Howard didn't take it in last night?”
“Oh, I suppose he just had one of his gloomy moods again,” Allen answered, “and he couldn't be bothered getting his paper.”
But at noon, as Jack went by Mr. Howard's home again, and saw the paper still there, he knew something was wrong. He knocked at the door, and when there was no response he tried it, and finding it unlocked, cautiously entered. He expected any moment to hear the old man yelling at him, but instead he heard a groan. Jack was thoroughly frightened now, but he kept on going in the direction of the sound. It led him to the cellar stairway, and peering down he could dimly discern the form of the old man at the bottom of the steps.
“Oh, he's fallen down the stairs!” cried Jack. He hurried down and saw that Mr. Howard was semiconscious. “Water! Water!” he groaned. Jack hurriedly brought him a glass of water and holding the old man's head up he helped him to sip sufficient to revive him. He learned that he had taken a dizzy spell at the top of the stairs and had fallen all the way down. He had been unconscious most of the night, and when he had regained consciousness he had attempted to drag himself up the steps, but discovered that both his wrists and one leg were broken. The effort to get up the stairs caused him to faint, and he had finally concluded that his end had come. Jack immediately rushed to a phone and called the ambulance; and soon they had the old man taken to the hospital.
A few days after that, when Jack arrived home from school, his mother met him at the door. “Jack, you had better hurry over to the hospital,” she said, “the nurse phoned this afternoon to ask if you would come over. Mr. Howard wants to see you.”
As soon as Jack walked into Mr. Howard's room in the hospital, the old man's face brightened. “I am so glad to see you!” he exclaimed. “Ever since I've been here, my mind dwells on the terrible way I treated you, when you handed me that tract. Then to think Jack, what you did for me! I am ashamed of myself, and I want to ask you to forgive me.” Mr. Howard's eyes filled with tears, and Jack could see him tremble.
“Of course I forgive you!” said Jack. “Don't you think anymore about it.”
“Thanks, Jack. It makes me feel better to hear you say that. How foolish I was to refuse that Gospel tract!” continued Mr. Howard. “I am an old man, son, and I know I shall never recover from this. I feel, weaker today than yesterday, and soon I shall be leaving this world behind. I know now that there is something ahead, but I don't know what. I have been such an ungodly fellow, Jack, that I can only expect judgment.”
No matter what Jack told him of God's forgiving grace to the chiefest of sinners, and to the thief on the cross, Mr. Howard insisted that after living for the world and Satan, he had not the heart to ask God to accept Him now, that he was on his deathbed. “It would look as though I had wanted to live like Dives and die like Lazarus,” he said. “I have been a mean man, but I don't think I am that miserable.”
The next morning Jack phoned the hospital, expecting to hear the dreaded news that Mr. Howard had passed away, or that he was very low. Great was his surprise to learn that he had suddenly showed improvement, and that if he held his own that day, he would most likely recover. Right after school Jack went directly to the hospital. The moment he saw Mr. Howard he knew that he was steadily improving. His voice was stronger, too.
“Jack, this morning when I woke up I knew that I was going to get better,” he said. “And I know that it is God who has undertaken for me. He has been speaking to my heart all day. I have been thinking of all you told me yesterday, too. God has given me an opportunity to live a while for Him. I know I am His, Jack, for I opened my heart's door to the Saviour. Just as soon as I get out of here I am going to do all I possibly can to make up for that wasted life of mine. And Jack, remember once when I asked you just why you had that paper route (when I thought you had enough to do, with your studies, after school hours, without taking those papers around), and you told me that you were saving your earnings to help you through Bible College. Well, Jack, I am going to stand behind you, and finance your college training. I have lived such a selfish life, that I have more money than I shall ever need! I want to use it now to His glory. I believe that what I have of it, I shall lose. So I intend to use it as God directs. And, know, for one thing, that a young man like you, who was so interested in my spiritual welfare as you were, will certainly find a place of great usefulness in the harvest field.”
Mr. Howard steadily got better. Finally he went home; and his changed life was so striking that everyone in the neighborhood knew that a miracle of grace had taken place in the old man's life. Many were his kindly deeds, and bright and happy was his grateful testimony of God's great goodness to him. “And it was all started from Jack Bryce's handing me a Gospel tract,” he repeatedly told everyone.
So, simple little actions prompted by a love for Souls, often result in far-reaching effects to the glory of God. Let us, then, ever be faithful.
- REV. G.H. Clement