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Wm F P Burton
No Weapons
So Near, So Far
Ignoring Warning
Night up a Tree
Living Stones
Gaol Bird
Queen of the Night
The Atheist
Out of a Horrible Pit

Wm. F. P. Burton

The Gaol Bird

We were in the midst of a Convention. After the morning meeting, we were on our way to the home of my host for lunch, when we were accosted by a raggedly dressed man. "Beg pardon, Mister, but could you find a hungry man the price of a meal?"

I could have given him a couple of shillings, but something prompted me to put my hand on his shoulder, - there's a wonderful power in the human touch - and to ask him, "Tell me about it, friend. What's wrong?"

He replied, "I'll not hide it from you. I have just come out of gaol. I have been His Majesty's guest for two years."

I asked my host if I might bring him home for lunch, and after the meal we had an earnest talk and a time of prayer with him, pointing him to Christ, the sinner's Saviour.

He came with us to the afternoon and evening meetings, after which I left him and never saw him again.

This man's name was Thomas Tweedie. I learned later that while in gaol he had been thrashed with the "cat o' nine tails" for violent conduct. Apparently, after so severe a punsihment, a man is never strong again. Tweedie was a physical wreck.

He tried to work, but again and again when somebody gave him employment the police would follow and say, "Be careful of that man. He is a violent criminal." So, of course, he lost his job.

It was hard, but Tweedie determined that, come what may, he would not revert to crime, though he was homeless and often went hungry.

One thing he could do. He could play the banjo. Somebody bought him an old banjo, and with it he would stand at the street corners and sing hymns. When the police saw that Tweedie had made up his mind to go strait, they turned to be his friend and helped him.

His conversion was real and by his testimony he won other unfortunates for Christ. As he studied his Bible, he drew around him a number of converts from the lowest dregs of society. At last they got an old army hut erected on a piece of waste land. Tweedie fitted it out, painted in large letters on the side "Mount Calvary Mission," and there he would gather the drunks, the tramps, the discharged gaol-birds and the worst characters of the town, praying over them, weeping with them and leading them to the Lord Jesus, until they had to add another section to the ramshackle old army hut. It was crowded out.

Tweedie was much used in praying for the sick and laying hands upon them in Jesus' Name, so that remarkable cases of healing were reported. Often he was sicker than those he prayed for.

The greengrocers and fruiterers of the city had a great room in the centre of the community. With improved methods of preserving their produce, this store was no longer needed and so they decided to hand it over to Thomas Tweedie. Thus his soul-saving activities were shifted from the outskirts to the heart of the city, where a bold new board announces "MOUNT CALVARY MISSION."

Tweedie could not continue his activities for long, however. He died. In recognition of his splendid services to the down-and-outs of the city, the mayor and councillors and the heads of the police force were at his graveside, to do last honours to the memory of the ex-criminal who, by the grace of God had made good and won so many.

Moreover, beside the coffin they decided to pass round the hat and send a gift to me, working away in the heart of the Congo forests, "as a thank-offering to the man who had pointed Thomas Tweedie to Christ."

I had almost forgotten the conversation of that poor unfortunate, so many years before, when five pounds arrived, as a gift to help us win other souls for Christ, in the Congo.

Of course, the foregoing narrative carries many lessons but I would like to emphasize three of the most obvious:

  1. How amzingly God can change a man so that the most unlikely, the most degraded, can be transformed into a blood-washed, Spirit-filled saint and soul-winner.
  2. How amazingly God can take our simple testimony and use it to the salvation of a vast multitude. All I did was to show that gaol-bird a little love, in order to woo him to Jesus. Yet what a harvest of souls resulted.
  3. How amazing the solemn responsibility which God lays upon us. Just a little apparently chance encounter on the street, yet one trembles to think of the awful and eternal loss, had I not seized the opportunity to win a soul. How was I to know that that poor, unfortunate man would become the spiritual father of those whom I myself could never have reached for God?

Line with three crosses

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