Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Gypsy Finds Jesus - Part 1

I find stories of how people come to Jesus fascinating. I discovered one yesterday in the research I am doing for an article on Gypsy Smith (who became an evangelist in England and later America; he lived at the same time as William Booth and Charles Spurgeon). It is of the conversion of his father, Cornelius.

I’m going to share it on here. First I’ll give some background, and then tell the story in Gypsy Smith’s own words in two parts (though it's even too long for that), pieced together from an online book Gypsy Smith - His Life and Work by Himself (first printed in 1901).

Rodney (Gypsy) Smith was born in England of Gypsy parents Cornelius Smith and Mary Welch, the fourth of their five living children. One day when he was quite young, his oldest sister became sick. The family drove their wagon to the doctor in the nearest town but when he stepped out to have a look, immediately recognized small pox and sent the family out of town.

Cornelius set up a tent for his wife and healthy children in an isolated laneway, then drove the wagon further down the path and spent the next weeks nursing his sick child. The mother prepared food for the two every day and left it midway between the two sites. But she was distraught at not being able to look after her little girl and each day came closer to the infected wagon. One day she must have come too close, for shortly after she became ill herself and eventually died. The grief-stricken father then had to bury his wife and do his best to carry on, mothering and fathering his five young children. We take up the story here as told by Gypsy Smith:

The wild man in my father was broken forever. My mother’s death wrought a moral revolution in him. As he had promised to her, he drank much less, he swore much less, and he was a good father to us. When my mother died, he had made up his mind to be a different man, and as far as was possible in his own strength he had succeeded. But his soul was hungry for he knew not what, and a gnawing dissatisfaction that nothing could appease or gratify was eating out his life.

For years my father had greatly added to his ordinary earnings by fiddling to the dancers in the public-houses at Baldock, Cambridge, Ashwell, and elsewhere. Even after my mother’s death, though his fiddling led him into great temptations, my father continued this practice.

All this time, while my father was living this life of fiddling and drinking and sinning, he was under the deepest conviction. He always said his prayers night and morning and asked God to give him power over drink, but every time temptation came his way he fell before it. He was like the chaff driven before the wind. He hated himself afterwards because he had been so easily overcome. He was so concerned about his soul that he could rest nowhere. If he had been able to read the Word of God, I feel sure, and he, looking back on those days feels sure, that he would have found the way of life.

His sister and her husband, who had no children, came to travel with us. She could struggle her way through a little of the New Testament, and used to read to my father about the sufferings of Christ and His death upon the tree for sinful men. She told my father it was the sins of the people which nailed him there, and he often felt in his heart that he was one of them.

I have seen my father when we children were in bed at night, and supposed to be asleep, sitting over the fire, the flame from which was the only light. As it leapt up into the darkness it showed us a sad picture. There was father, with tears falling like bubbles on mountain streams as he talked to himself about mother and his promise to her to be good. He would say to himself aloud, “I do not know how to be good,” and laying his hand upon his heart he would say, “I wonder when I shall get this want satisfied, this burden removed.”

One morning we had left Luton behind us. My eldest sister was in the town selling her goods, and my father had arranged to wait for her on the roadside with our waggon. When our waggon stopped my father sat on the steps, wistfully looking towards the town against the time of his daughter’s return and thinking, no doubt, as he always was, of my mother and his unrest. Presently he saw two gypsy waggons coming towards him and when they got near he discovered to his great delight that they belonged to his brothers Woodlock and Bartholomew. Well do I remember that meeting. The brothers were as surprised and delighted to meet my father as he was to meet them.

The three men sat on the bank holding sweet fellowship together, and the two wives and the children of the three families fathered around them. Soon my father was talking about the condition of his soul. Said he to Woodlock and Bartholomew, “Brothers, I have a great burden that I must get removed. A hunger is gnawing at my heart. I can neither eat, drink, nor sleep. If I do not get this want satisfied, I shall die!”

And then the brothers said, “Cornelius, we feel just the same. We have talked about this to each other for weeks.”

As the brothers talked they felt how sweet it would be to go to God's house and learn of Him, for they had all got tired of their roaming life. My father was on the way to London, and fully resolved to go to a church and find out what it was his soul needed. The three brothers agreed to go together, and arranged to take in Cambridge by the way.

They drove their waggon to the Barnwell end of the town, where there was a beer-shop. The three great big simple men went in and told the landlady how they felt. It is not often, I feel sure, that part of a work of grace is carried on in a beer-shop, and with the landlady thereof as an instrument in this Divine work. But God had been dealing with the landlady of this beer-house. When the brothers spoke to her she began to weep, and said, "I am somewhat in your case, and I have a book upstairs that will just suit you, for it makes me cry every time I read it." She brought the book down and lent it to the brothers to read.

They went into the road to look after their horses. A young man who came out of the public-house offered to read from the book to them. It was "The Pilgrim's Progress." When he got to the point where Pilgrim's burden drops off as he looks at the cross, Bartholomew rose from his seat by the wayside and excitedly walking up and down, cried, "That is what I want, my burden removed. If God does not save me I shall die!" All the brothers at that moment felt the smart of sin, and wept like little children.

On the Sunday the three brothers went to the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Fitzroy Street, Cambridge, three times. In the evening the Rev. Henry Gunns preached. Speaking of that service, my father says: "His points were very cutting to my soul. He seemed to aim directly at me. I tried to hide myself behind a pillar in the chapel, but he, looking and pointing in that direction, said, "He died for thee!"

“The anxious ones were asked to come forward, and in the prayer-meeting the preacher came to where I was sitting and asked me if I was saved. I cried out, ‘No; that is what I want.’ He tried to show me that Christ had paid my debt, but the enemy of souls had blinded my eyes and made me believe that I must feel it and then believe it, instead of receiving Christ by faith first. I went from that house of prayer still a convicted sinner, but not a converted one."

To be continued...


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