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1993 by Catherine Millard

Christ Church, Philadelphia
The Lame Beggar

(One of the treasures of Christ Church, Philadelphia, the founding fathers’ church)

A leatherbound book given to Stella Meyers of Christ Church, Philadelphia as a reward for good conduct in Christ Church Infant School.

In a town in England lived a poor lame beggar, unable to walk without crutches. During the day he dragged his weary way about the streets, and at night mounted with great difficulty to his miserable garret, which exposed to all the winds of heaven, contained nothing more than a straw bed and a rickety old chair.

In the same house with this cripple lived a cobbler; and often when he heard the poor man painfully making his way up the dark staircase, he would open his door, and hold out a light to prevent him from stumbling. In this way the two neighbors became acquainted, and were soon on very friendly terms; for there is nothing like helping one another, to create friendship, which is often more sincere between those who have but a crust of bread to share, than between those who can invite one another to rich banquets.

One Sunday evening, as the cobbler sat reading a psalm by the light of his little lamp, he heard the crutches of his neighbor on the stairs. He immediately put down the Bible, opened his door, held out the light as usual, and wished him good evening in a cheerful voice.

On reaching the landing-place, the poor, tired beggar stopped to take a breath, and, with a sigh, exclaimed, "Oh, dear me! It will not be such hard work to reach the cemetery. I wish it would save me from this staircase."

"What are you saying there?" replied the cobbler. "Just step into my room a moment, and rest yourself; yours will be dark now, and mine is nice and light."

The cripple accepted the invitation, and, seating himself in a warm corner near the stove, began lamenting his hard fate. 

"You are a happy man," said he to his friend; "you have the use of your legs, and can work, while on Sundays and holidays you can amuse yourself with a book. But as for me, I’m no scholar, and all alone in the world; so I sit in there in that dingy garret and mope."

"Neighbor, don’t be so cast down," answered the cobbler; "as long as there is a God in heaven we should none of us despair, and besides, reading you know is no miracle; if you’ve a mind, you could learn just as well as I."

"I learn to read?" cried out the poor man, in amazement.

"Why not? You could manage it, surely, as well as those little urchins running about the streets?"

"But where could be find a school-master?"

"Oh, here is one all ready," replied the cobbler. "If you will only let me teach you, we will begin this very evening."

The beggar had nothing to say against it; so they set to work at once.

The cobbler took a piece of chalk, and drew each letter on the table. His pupil had soon learned them all, and by the following Sunday had actually begun to spell. As they had no spelling-book, the shoemaker gave his lessons from the Bible, and began with the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, of which they spelt out five verses. The beggar, surprised at his success, was quite impatient to read more, and asked the cobbler to let him have his Bible sometimes when he was not using it, that he meant to try and make a little out by himself. Until then he had hardly known the existence of a gospel and the history of Mary and Elizabeth seemed to him more beautiful than anything he had ever heard. He quite delighted in each new verse of the narrative; and when he had succeeded in reading one, he was as happy as if he had received a rich gift. Every morning he repeated over what he had learned, so that he soon had the sacred words by heart. Up to this time life had seemed to him little more than a useless load, and as he awoke in the morning he had often shuddered at the idea of having to get through another day; but now it occurred to him he was sent into the world for some other purpose than merely to exist and eat the bread of charity.

One Thursday morning, as he was laboriously spelling out the second chapter of St. Luke, he came to the verses which describe the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple, when the aged Simeon, taking him up into his arms, exclaimed: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." These words rejoiced and cheered the heart of the poor beggar as none had ever done before. They seemed to bring him into the presence of a divine friend, and he felt as if he, too, might find a Saviour in his old age.

All this he confided to the cobbler, who encouraged his hopes, and related to him how he himself had been led to the Lord Jesus. "You cannot do better than come with me to church, next Sunday," added he.

"No," replied the poor man, "that is impossible, for I have nothing to put on but these ragged clothes."

"What!" replied his friend, "cannot you appear before the Lord Almighty without dressing yourself up?" Then, opening his Bible, he read, from the fourteenth chapter of St. Luke, the parable of the great supper, to the words of the master of the house to his servant: "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor; and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind." "Do you really suppose," continued he, "that God would count the holes in your coat? -- and besides, at church we should regard Him alone."

The beggar was persuaded by his friend, and the following Sunday they attended public worship together. The poor man hardly dared enter the sacred building, so unworthy did he feel of such an honor. When begging a morsel of bread at the doors of his fellow-creatures, never had anyone invited him to cross their threshold; he had been left standing without, in the cold or rain; but now that he should be permitted to enter the house of God, the mansion of the King of Kings, as if it were his right, - this thought overcame him. He kept close to the cobber, sat in a back seat, and put up his crutches against the wall.

The pastor took these words for his text: "It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63.) He was not one of those who preach themselves, but Christ Jesus, their Lord; and what he said was therefore full of spirit and of life. It seemed to the poor beggar as if all were addressed to him, and as if he were alone with the preacher while he set before him his state of sin, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the sermon was over, the poor man prayed, for the first time in his life, and the tears trickled down his face. The two friends did not speak very much of this sermon; their hearts were too full of it for words; but in the evening they read the sixth chapter of St. John, from which the text was taken; and when they came to the end of it, the cobbler said, "Let us pray." He felt compelled to do so. Never had they passed such an evening.

That night the beggar laid himself down as usual on his straw pallet, but many an hour went by before he could sleep; in the morning, however, he awoke joyful and comforted. From that day he understood what hitherto had been wanting to him, and felt he could no longer live without the Word of God. He made rapid progress in reading; all that the two friends regretted was having but one Bible between them. How the cobbler longed to be able to give one to his pupil! But he was much too poor. However, he laid the matter to heart, and a bright thought soon came into his mind how one might be procured. Some miles off was a large town, and he had heard of a Bible Society there, which sold the Scriptures at a very low price, and would sometimes even give a copy to those too poor to buy. He told his neighbor of this, and the beggar at once resolved to undertake the journey. The cobbler divided with him his little store of bread before he set out, and soon had the joy of welcoming him back possessor of the desired treasure. But one thought now constantly filled his mind: "I unworthy sinner that I am, have found my Saviour," said he to himself. "I would fain entreat all men to come also to him who alone can save their souls. Oh, if I could procure for but one fellow-creature the happiness I enjoy myself. Alas! How can a poor cripple like me do anything? Besides, I wish to give up begging, and earn my bread honestly, if only I knew how." At length the idea occurred to him that he would go to the pastor he had heard preach, tell him his desires, and ask his advice.

"My friend," said this good minister, "I can put you into a way of being useful. There are thousands still ignorant of their lost condition and of the Word of God, who never enter the house of God, where they might learn something of both; it is to these you might address yourself."

"But how can I do so? asked the poor lame man.

"I will give you some little books which contain the good news of salvation," replied the pastor. "You can distribute them, and try and persuade the people to read them."

"But," objected the beggar, "they will despise and refuse them."

"Do not fear, God can give his blessing to your efforts. Here are twelve of these little tracts; give them away with a good word, and when they are all gone, come back and tell me how you have got on."

The cripple left with a grateful heart; and when anyone gave him a trifle, he took it thankfully, saying, "May God reward you! He sends you something already, for you will find in this book what is better than gold and silver." 

His gift was seldom refused, though some persons looked astonished; a few paid him the value of his tract, and God alone knows how much good these twelve little messengers may have done. When all had been distributed, the poor man returned to the pastor, and gave him the money he had received. "Now I take courage," said he, "for I know God will help me in my work."

The minister bade him relate all that he had done, and when the account was finished, "Now," said he, "You can leave off begging and work for the Lord Jesus Christ, by helping to spread his Word through the world."

He then gave him a knapsack filled with Bibles and tracts, which the happy man long carried about the town and neighborhood, offering the Bread of Life to souls perishing with hunger. He went from door to door, imploring an entrance for the Word of God. He cried to all, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;" and at his voice more than one house and more than one heart opened to receive the Saviour.

Every evening the colporteur and the cobbler would sit opposite to each other on stools near the stove, as they sat for the first time on that memorable Sunday evening; and never did they thus meet without a third friend “in the midst of them.”

(Excerpted from, A Children’s Companion Guide to America’s History, 1993 by Catherine Millard.)

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