He goes down and down, and finally reaches the Bowery, where they all go in the end. He is down and out, without a cent in his clothes, walking the streets night after night—–“carrying the banner.” Sometimes he slips into a saloon where they have free lunch and picks up a piece of bread here and a piece of cheese there. Sometimes he is lucky to fill in on a beef stew, but very seldom.
Now, if that isn’t living on husks, I don’t know what you call it! His clothes are getting filthy and he is in despair. How he wishes he had never left home! He hasn’t a friend in the big city, and he doesn’t know which way to turn. He says, “I’ll write home.” But no, he is too proud. He wants to go home the same as he left it. And the longer he waits the worse he will be. No one grows any better, either bodily or morally, by being on the Bowery. So the quicker they go to some other place the better.
But the Bowery draws men by its own strange attraction. They get into the swing of its life, and find the company that misery loves. God knows there’s plenty of it there! I’ve seen men that you could not drive from the Bowery. But when a man takes Jesus as his guide he wants to search for better grounds.
Well, Tom had hit the pace that kills. And one night—about five years ago—there wandered into the Mission where I was leading a meeting a young man with pale cheeks and a look of utter despair on his face, looking as though he hadn’t had a square meal in many a day. It was Tom. I didn’t know him then. There are so many such cases on the Bowery one gets used to them. But I took particular notice of this young man. He sat down and listened to the services, and when the invitation was given to those who wanted to lead better lives he put up his hand.
Now there was something striking about his face, and I took to him. I thought of my own life and dreaded the future for him. I spoke to him, gained his confidence by degrees, and he told me his story as written in the preceding pages.
Here was a prodigal just as bad as the one in the Bible story. Well, he was converted that night and took Jesus as his helper. He told me all about his home, mother, and friends who had enough and to spare. The servants had a better time and more to eat than he. “Tom,” I said, “why don’t you go home?” “Oh, Mr. Ranney,” he said, “I wish I could, but I want to go back a little better than I am now.” And God knows he was in bad shape; the clothes he had on you couldn’t sell to a rag-man; in fact, he had nothing!
I pitied the poor fellow from my heart. I was interested. I got his father’s address and sat down and wrote him a letter telling him about his son’s condition, etc. In a few days I received a letter from his father inclosing a check for $10, and saying, “Don’t let my son starve; do all you can for him, but don’t let him know his father is doing this.”
Can’t you see plainly the conditions? Our Father in heaven stands ready at all times to help, but we must do something—meet the conditions. Tom’s father was ready to forgive and take him back, but he wanted Tom to make the surrender.