Never too late

Daily Reading for December 30 • Frances Joseph Gaudet, Educator and Prison Reformer, 1934

As the deputy sheriff unlocked the cell doors and let the men out into the hall where we were locked in, the prisoners not knowing us, eyed us with suspicion. I held out my hand to Murray, and shook hands with him as the sheriff introduced us. I told him we had come to cheer and help him, and recommend to him a Friend who was his only hope now. He smiled and said, “This is new to me, I’ve never had anyone to visit me and pray with me before, and I’ve been in many prisons; but it’s too late now. If some Christian had come into my cell in Mississippi, where I was arrested for the first time, and talked with me as you are talking, I might not be here to-day. I had no one when I was young to urge me to attend church, and when I grew to manhood I never thought of it.”

“Well,” I said, “it is not too late. If you are sorry for what you have done, and ask God to forgive you, He will, and He will give you rest from your care and sorrow.”

He replied, “You may sing and pray, but I don’t know that it will do me any good.”

Accordingly, I sang that good old hymn, “Come ye sinners, poor and needy,” and knelt to pray. Murray stood up a while, but when the prayer was half finished, he knelt on the stone floor at my side and groaned, “It is too late”; then the sobs shook his frame, and tears flowed down his cheeks. When we arose, he failed to get up. Another hymn was sung, “Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole.” Tears were still falling on the floor while the minister prayed. . . .

After the first week I could get no one to accompany me to the prison, so I went alone and held my second prayer-meeting. I found Murray anxiously waiting for me to help him with my prayers and hymns. He said he had not eaten anything that day, and felt heart-sore and burdened. After I had read the third chapter of John and explained it as best I could, we knelt in prayer, and on arising I sang with all my soul. . . . I asked him to help me sing the chorus; he tried, and as he sang louder and louder, his face seemed to shine more and more, until he grasped my hand, shook it with emotion, and said, “Praise the Lord, Oh my soul! It is well, it is well with my soul.” After talking with him for some time, I left him rejoicing. . . .

Two weeks later we went to pay him the last visit and waited for Murray in the prison chapel. The gallows had been erected three days previous to this. . . . As they entered the chapel we sang: “Saviour, more than life to me, I am clinging, clinging close to Thee.” Murray then shook my hand and asked God’s blessing upon me for leading him to a hope in Christ. After singing, as well as emotion would allow us, “God be with you till we meet again,” I took my leave. On reaching the door, I turned to look back; there stood Murray still smiling and waving farewell. Twenty minutes later he was dead.

From He Leadeth Me by Frances Joseph-Gaudet (New Orleans: Louisiana Printing Company, 1913).

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