Years ago, a colporteur greeted a woman within a forest cottage in France and offered a New Testament for sale.
Jeanne hesitated. Would the priest approve? That was the question. Still, she wistfully eyed the neat little book and at last, producing 50 centimes, she took the book and said: “I cannot refuse, monsieur, but may I be pardoned, if it is a sin. Later, in came Jacques, the charcoal burner; her husband, and Jeanne timidly produced her book. As she rather feared, he was tired and irritable and objected to her spending money in this fashion.“But,” said she: “the money is not all yours, Jacques; I bought my dowry when we married. The half franc was as much mine as yours.”
“Give me the book!” shouted Jacques in anger. He snatched the book from her hands. “The money was half yours, and half mine, you say; very well, the book is the same!” He opened the book roughly, tore it in two pieces, keeping one and throwing the other to Jeanne.
Several days later, Jacques sat in the forest and suddenly remembered the torn book. He would investigate it.
It was the latter part of the New Testament. His rough fingers had divided it in Luke’s Gospel. He began at the very beginning.
“And I will say unto him, father, I have sinned before heaven and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son.”
Amazed, he read to the end of the story, and then a dozen questions presented themselves. What had he done – the poor lost son? Why was he away? Where had he been? What caused him to return? The questions haunted him, but at first his pride prevented him asking for the first part of the book.
Meanwhile, Jeanne lived her monotonous days, occasionally poring over her part and spelling out its contents. She began to delight in it, but when she reached the end, her interest was increased. That younger son – his waywardness, his journey, his sin, his misery, the wonderful change in his thoughts. “I perish with hunger. I will arise and go to my father …. .” There, the story stopped.
But what happened? Did the father welcome him? Her tender heart longed for a pleasing answer. She even cried over the story, but she did not have the courage to consult Jacques.
One day, however, the rain poured down and caused Jacques to come home. He, as usual, had his soup and bread and then blurted out: “Jeanne! you remember the book I tore in two? My part had in it, a wonderful story, but only the end of it. I cannot rest, until I know the beginning of it; bring me your piece.”
“Oh Jacques! the same story is ever in my mind; only I lack the ending. Did the father, receive that wilful son?”
“He did, but what was the sin that separated them?”
She brought her piece and knelt by his chair. Together, they read the whole of the beautiful parable. The Spirit of God who had been working in both of their hearts caused its meaning to dawn on them.
That was the first of many Bible readings by the firelight, after their meal of soup and bread. Both realised their need of salvation and accepted the Lord Jesus as their Saviour.
The story in Luke 15 demonstrates love and grace. By nature we can be wilful and do what we want. Some find that to be to their harm, and it can be to the harm of others as well. Some come to their senses and realise there is a better way. Many have gone astray and ‘come to the end of the road,’ but have discovered there is recovery.
There have been two men who have visited Arbroath and preached the Gospel, because they have experienced the grace of God. They discovered that they did not have to stay in hopelessness. They were lifted ‘out of the mire’ and their feet were set upon a rock. They experienced salvation through learning that there was a person who came to seek and to save the lost. While Jesus was on earth, people’s lives were changed when they met Him. People still have their lives changed through Jesus. There are those who have said: “Jesus, I will trust you, trust you with my soul, guilty, lost and helpless, You can make me whole. That is what was done for those ex – convicts, who came to Arbroath to tell what Jesus had done for them. They go into prisons to tell how there can be a ‘turning point’ in life, even though everything appears hopeless.
There are those in Arbroath, who have come to realise they needed a ‘turning point.’ They did not have to be convicts to realise this; in fact some were religious, probably even classed as ‘good,’ yet needed to come the same way, as those two convicts.