He had now and then, with a number of other boys about his own age, visited some places where religious services were being held. But their object in going was to have a good time; and they seldom remained long enough to derive any good. On one of these occasions they went to a small school house that was located a few miles from the town of C. The meeting had been widely advertised, and a goodly number were in attendance; and when John and his companions had taken their seats well to the rear, there was only standing-room left. Curiosity was pictured on every face; for the ministers (one elderly, the other young) were two modestly dressed women, and lady preachers had never been heard of in that part of the country.
The singing was beautiful! John thought that the songs were sweeter than any he had ever heard. When prayer was being offered, he listened carefully to every word; and when he heard the ministers address God as their Father, asking Him to direct them in all that they did and said, and to prepare the hearts of the people to receive the truths that they were about to speak, he was instantly filled with wonder and awe.
After they rose from prayer, another song was sung; and then the elderly lady began to address the people. As she read in a clear, sweet voice a chapter from the Scriptures, John listened carefully. The account of the woes pronounced upon the people who would not do right and the promises made to those who would live right and were prepared to die, were truly wonderful. Especially was he impressed with one verse she read, though he realized very little of what it meant: "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh."
When this speaker took her seat, the other lady, a young, sweet-faced girl, arose, and said a few words. After telling of how she had been converted, and of how the Savior had ever since supplied all the longings of her heart and had enabled her by his grace to live a life that was pure and spotless, she spoke of her home in heaven; and then she told the people that God would do the same for others as He had for her -- for everyone who would give up evil habits and forsake sin, and who would love His Son, whom He had sent to the earth to suffer and die that all people might be saved. John listened to every word; and as the girl sat down, he thought, "Why, I would give everything that I have in the world to be able to say such things about myself!"
When making the announcements, the elderly lady said: "This meeting will be continued for three weeks or more, and we want as many of you as can to attend regularly; for there will be many portions of the Bible explained, and we want everyone to learn what is the road to success and to find out how to be truly happy." John at once decided that he would attend every service; but since at the same time he felt an interest similar to that which had inspired him to become a showman, he remembered that bitter experience and ground his teeth. He was about to change his decision to attend the meetings regularly, when he remembered the words, "Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh!"
Instantly he beheld a great panoramic view of his past life, and many of the evils that had never before appeared to him as sin were painted with the blackest dyes. He had not meant to be wicked, but he suddenly realized that his life had been wasted; and he concluded that he was not ready to meet Christ. But John believed that Christ would come to the earth, and he felt that he would give anything to be ready to meet Him.
As John, whenever he was perplexed or troubled, had been in the habit of doing, he reached down into his pocket and drew out a large plug of tobacco and began biting off a piece to chew. But what was the matter? The tobacco did not taste as it had in the past and it appealed to him so differently. It was now actually disgusting and repulsive to him; and he thought: "What a filthy habit! And to think of the time and money that it has cost me! Why have I been so foolish?"
The next instant he resolved that he would never again taste the horrid stuff. And very soon a few scenes of things that happened when he was under the influence of whisky came to his mind, and he shuddered. Never again would he touch that stuff, he determined. In fact, the greater part of the night John spent in reviewing his life; and he found that the larger portion of the things he had been doing were things he would not want to be found doing at the Savior's coming.
The following day John could hardly wait until the time came when he could again return to the little brown school house to hear more of the beautiful story that had so charmed him. And night after night found John in one of the seats in the rear of the building. It was not long until he discovered the pathway to heaven; he saw it bathed with heaven's sunshine and could see that it was for him to walk upon. But the next thing was for him to make the start.
It is one thing to decide that a certain thing is right and quite another thing to take a stand (regardless of what anyone may think or say) for the right. He had heard the preachers telling about the life of a Christian, the Savior's love and death, and God's great mercy, night after night for two weeks; but no invitation to come forward had been given to those desiring to make a change in their manner of living. The ministers desired that each one be given a full understanding of God's plan of salvation so that none would take a step in the dark.
John was fully decided to change his manner of living; but he did not want to make any more mistakes. For this reason he restrained himself from going to the motherly lady to inquire of her what he had better do. His old desire to become a man had revived, but this time he desired to be a man after God's own heart -- pure and holy -- like the one that God created in the beginning.
The time for an invitation to be given to the penitent finally came. Upon entering the meeting house that evening John noticed a slight change in the arrangement of the seats. The long row of chairs supplied by kind-hearted neighbors to help in seating the people had been removed, and a long, narrow bench had been put in their place. John wondered at the change, but did not have to wonder long. An announcement was soon made, stating that the bench was to serve as an altar, where those who desired to be converted and who wanted to consecrate their lives and services to God could gather for prayer.
An explanation was also made to the effect that, though God is pleased to see people humble themselves before Him, there was no virtue in the wooden altar; it was simply a more convenient place to bow for prayer than their seats would be. The services were shorter than usual; and when the invitation to come forward was given to those who desired to yield their hearts to God, John was ready. He longed to go; but although he had learned a great many things, he was still uncertain just what was meant by bowing at the altar; and as he wanted to do the right thing, he decided to wait until he saw how the others would do. He did not have long to wait; for a girl in front of him arose, went forward, and knelt down beside the altar. This was enough for John, because it taught him just what he desired to know; and he was soon kneeling beside her. That night was indeed a wonderful time. One by one the people flocked to the front part of the room; and John afterwards learned that many of his friends and even those whom he thought would ridicule and make fun of him, were among the number that, as himself, had sought and found pardon for their sins.
The invitation lasted a long time; and when it was ended, the ministers knelt down among the penitent seekers, thanked God for the tender mercies he had extended to the lost world, and prayed that those who were at the altar might understand what true salvation is. After praying, they explained carefully what it meant to be redeemed from all sin, and told the seekers how God looked upon the sin-cursed world and its awful wickedness, but also how He was so moved with tender love and compassion that He sacrificed the brightest Gem of glory -- even His only begotten Son -- to be a Redeemer for all who would believe on Him and turn from their evil ways.
The redemption price, they said, was great; but nothing less could have proved so well God's great love for mankind. And they quoted from the Bible, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:16, 17); also, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). These words were as a soothing balm to John's aching heart. Having been fully awakened to his awful condition and made to long for the way of deliverance, he rejoiced as these rays of hope came streaming down into his soul.
One by one he recalled his sins -- smoking and chewing tobacco, drinking whisky and beer, stealing, lying, card-playing, betting, gambling, and many other things; but these he had already given up. One thing only came to his mind that caused him a struggle, and for a few moments it seemed that he could not give that up. John loved to dance, and it had seemed to him that there was nothing wrong with that pastime. Since he knew none of the pleasures that the Christian enjoys, this was not strange. Always he had danced just for the pleasure he derived from dancing, and he considered dancing an innocent amusement. When, however, he was made aware of the evils of dancing and the temptations it causes boys and girls whose characters are weak, he could see how that to some it might mean the loss of virtue; and, too, he found that much of his suffering had been caused by the late hours that dancing and other things had caused him to keep. Then he gladly bade adieu to the dance-hall and all its trivial gaiety.
After he had asked the Lord to pardon him for his transgressions, his simple faith took hold of the promises and he received a clear witness of his acceptance as a child of God. At last, after so many weeks and months -- yes, years -- of dissatisfaction, he was indeed truly happy; and the deep aching in his hungry heart was replaced by the Savior's love. His companions, too, went away from that service rejoicing. Their language, once so rough and vile, was now becoming to any Christian; and the things that they had loved, no longer attracted their attention. In fact, the entire neighborhood was changed; for many haunts of sin and vice were entirely vacated.
John soon found that it was his duty to make all of his wrongs right as far as it lay in his power to do so; and this he gladly did. In many instances he was surprised to see the effect that this act of obedience had upon the ones concerned. Many, with tears in their eyes, exclaimed, "John, I only wish that I possessed the joy in my own heart that I can see written in your face!"