A Light in the Distance
Yes, Mother was there—dear, patient, sorrowing Mother—with lines of grief and distress written plainly upon a face that was lighted by a smile of welcome! Byron could now read beneath the smile and was beginning to understand the effort his mother was making to be brave. He noticed that the sleepless hours of the previous night had left their imprint on her features, and as he thought of the hours of mental suffering that she had borne, he wondered if he could ever make atonement.
Almost before the horse had stopped, she was beside the carriage, reaching for her boy, and as Byron threw himself into her outstretched arms, unbidden tears began to flow.
“Oh, tell me all about everything,” she said, when at last she could speak, brushing away the scalding tears. “Tell me how the trial came out!”
Her eldest son said, “Byron is greatly favored, but the other boys have been sent to jail. Go with Mother, Byron, and tell her all about it. She would rather have you tell her, I’m sure.” So while his brother attended to the horse, Byron entered the house with his mother.
“O my son!” she said as she led her boy to an easy chair, “you don’t know how glad I am to have you at home with me again. I prayed and plead last night that God would, if possible, spare you from prison and bring you back to us again, and He has answered my prayer!”
Then, clasping his hand in hers, she listened to his broken account of all that occurred while he was away.
“And, Mother dear,” he added, “I knew that you were praying for me. I felt the influence of your prayers, and I, too, feel that God has heard and answered prayer. I know you have often prayed for me, and I have felt the effect of those prayers many times. Oh, Mother, I feel that I have not only been disobedient and have filled your heart with sorrow, but have brought an awful disgrace upon the family name. Can you forgive it all? I feel unworthy of being called your son any more. My life is unhappy. My sins rise up as mountains before me, and, oh, how I wish I could be free and feel myself the same innocent boy I was when I used to bow in prayer at your knee. The voice that you called the Holy Spirit has spoken to me, and since that time I have found no peace of mind. The things I used to enjoy and take pleasure in I have no desire for now. A change has already come into my life, but, oh, what a burden and weight I feel all the time! How I long to be rid of it! Do you suppose, Mother, there is any help for me?”
“Yes, indeed, my son,” his mother said as she looked earnestly into his eyes, “there is help for you! God has surely been talking to your heart and urging you to forsake your sins. Jesus at this very moment is holding out the life-line to you. The things that have just taken place seem severe and hard to bear, but it sometimes takes severe measures to awaken souls to their condition and danger. You are a great sinner in the sight of God. You have grieved and disobeyed Him, but He is merciful. It was for this very purpose that God sent His only Son into this evil world to suffer and die. It was not possible in God’s plan of salvation for man to be saved without such a sacrifice. His Word tells us that whosoever believes that Jesus is the sacrifice for sin may be saved. Do you believe it?”
“Yes, Mother, with all my heart I believe it!” Byron answered.
“You must listen to the voice of God’s Holy Spirit who has been talking to you of late,” his mother continued. “The work of the Holy Spirit is to pilot you to the Father, where, with groanings that are too deep to be uttered, He will make intercession for you. In other words, the Holy Spirit will plead your case and will open your understanding so that you will see how to consecrate yourself to God. Then God, for His Son’s sake, will pardon and redeem you, and you can live a life that will be worth living.
“But you will find that there is only one way to enter heaven, and that is by forsaking everything that is sinful and doing those things alone that will bring honor and glory to the Lord and His cause. You see, we are not our own. Jesus has bought us, and the price He paid was His own precious blood. When we have done all that our human abilities will enable us to do, we are still unprofitable servants. So it is not our goodness that takes us to heaven—though our deeds must be righteous—but it is through the goodness and mercy of God that we shall be able to enter heaven. When we have done all that is in our power to do, we are still debtors to God and to Christ; for Jesus paid our debt and blotted out the account against us, when He died upon the cross of Calvary.
“You may have had the idea, Byron, that the life of a Christian is a hard one, but this is not true. The Christian’s life is the only life that is truly happy. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to make it so, for upon Him rests the responsibility of piloting us about among the rocks and through the storms of life. Life’s journey is no imaginary voyage. All must take it, and the ocean is wide. How I wish that all would start out upon it fully prepared and see to it that they are aboard salvation’s ship with the Holy Spirit as their Pilot.
“I believe that God has permitted these things to come upon you in order to help you to see your great need of the Savior. Jesus died for everyone in the world, and that includes you. God sees you now through His dear Son and wants to save you, and He will send His Holy Spirit into your heart. All you have to do is to be truly sorry for your sins and to be willing to do what He bids you. God will then do the work in your heart and will give you a right to the tree of life, that was forfeited by Adam and Eve.”
Reaching for her Bible, she then turned to the twenty-first chapter of Revelation and read, “ ‘I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.’ (Revelation 21:6-8)
“Byron, can’t you see by this,” she said, when she had finished reading, “how great God is and how eager He is to give eternal life to everyone who will ask for it, and how glad He is to accept them as His dear children?” Then she read, “ ‘Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.’ (Revelation 22:14)
“And,” she continued, “further on we read that ‘the Spirit and the bride’—the bride is God’s church, or people—‘say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’ (Revelation 22:17)”
As the mother laid down her Bible, her older son came in from the barn, and the conversation was brought to a close.
“I know that you are both hungry,” she said, rising to go into the dining room. “Come and eat your lunch. I prepared it early, but, not knowing when you would arrive, I’ve kept some of it warm.”
Although the brothers had felt no desire for food since the night before, they were soon at the table and eating heartily. It seemed so good to have the great load of anxiety at last lifted. When the meal was ended, Byron slipped away to his room. Dropping wearily down upon his bed, he said to himself, “How could I ever have been so foolish? Why have I been so blind? Thank God that I can see at last how much Mother wants me to do well—and before I have utterly crushed her heart and life I can make amends!”
Sleep finally came to his relief. When he awoke, his mind and body were so rested that he was able to go into the field and spend several hours at hard work before supper time.
As he passed up and down between the long rows of corn, in the same field where he had once planted those beans, he though how he had been punished and admonished for his disobedience. He remembered how carefully he had tried to hide the beans, and he saw that the motive was the same as the one that had been leading him on with the boys. His evil deeds had developed and sprouted just as the beans did, and their growth had been just as rapid and surprising.
He saw not only the advantage of a pure, clean life, but the possibilities of attaining such a standard for himself. Jesus had really died for him, and God was willing and anxious to save him from a life of sin and to give him the Holy Spirit to guide him into all truth. He was anxious to make the start in this new life, but he felt that he must first endeavor to make his wrongs right, and he did not know where or how to begin.
When his brother returned the following day from the post office and laid the local newspaper down upon the table, Byron was not eager to read it as usual. A feeling of fear and shame swept over him. What if an account of his misdeeds was there? He was sure that if it was, they were pictured in glowing colors, and how could he look at it? He had often wondered how his name would look in print and had even wished that it might appear in the paper some time, but now he was really afraid that it was there.
When at last he could muster sufficient courage to do so, he slowly opened the paper and glanced hurriedly over the first page. He was surprised to find that there was nothing there about him and his companions; neither was there in the next few pages; and when he came to the last his fear had quite subsided. He was just about to decide that there was nothing in the paper about them when his eyes fell upon the glaring headlines that told the awful truth. Their arrest, their crimes, and their trial—all had been told to the public. He dropped the paper as if it been a coal of fire, and buried his face, burning with shame, in his hands.
What, oh, what would his friends say and think? How could he ever face them again? He felt that with this thing hanging over him he was disgraced forever.
With many thoughts of this nature in his mind, he tried to keep busy the remainder of the week. He longed to unravel the past, but it was in such a tangle that straightening it out would be no easy task. Many a time the miller’s story came to his mind, and as he pondered upon it he was often reminded of his own duty. As the stolen tenth had grown and become troublesome to the miller, just so the results from the stealing of the eggs had increased on Byron’s hands, and the wrong to his mother had spread to others. But his mother—dear, patient, faithful Mother—forgot that she had been wronged and did all in her power to help her penitent son out of his difficulties. She gladly gave her assistance, both in money and in making suggestions, until Byron could again look even Mr. Davis in the face with a clear conscience.
Some battles, however, Byron was forced to fight alone, for it is the only way that some conflicts can be rightly fought. For his own sake he needed some self-won victories, and they could come only through efforts that were put forth by himself.
The next Sunday morning Byron’s mother was up bright and early as usual, preparing the breakfast for her family. As they came, one by one, into the kitchen where she was at work, she greeted them with a pleasant smile and a word of welcome; but when Byron came she kissed him and said, “Be sure, dear, not to be late for Sunday school. You know we must be there on time.”
Her words confused Byron. He did not want to meet his teacher and much less the other members of his class, and for this reason he had decided not to attend church that day. “Mother,” he said solemnly, “I have decided to remain at home today. I would like to be quiet and alone.”
His mother understood the tone of his voice, but she quickly said, “O Byron, don’t say that—you must go! I know it will be hard, but strive to be brave, and hasten with your work so that we shall not be late. You must meet your friends sooner or later, and the first meeting will be the hardest. Remember how very kind everyone has been to you so far.”
So Byron was persuaded to go. But as they came in sight of the chapel, the fight within him increased and the struggle became fierce indeed. Several boys were in the churchyard standing near the hitching rack. Byron was well acquainted with all of them, and he knew that they must have either heard or read the piece in the newspaper. He would have been glad to avoid meeting these boys had it been possible to do so, and although they were looking at him, he did not speak to them as he passed on into the chapel to take his accustomed seat.
The service was especially good, but nothing impressed Byron so much as did the kindness of his teacher. Although she expressed no word or admonition on the subject of Byron’s trouble, he knew that she had sympathy and he appreciated it with all his heart. The boys, too, tried to be kind, though they did not realize the change that had already taken place in Byron’s heart. Byron did not have salvation, but he had found that there was no happiness in a life of sin. If only for his own comfort, he had decided to do right because it is right; but the other boys did not know this. Supposing that he was sorry only because his wicked deeds had been uncovered, they crowded around him as soon as the class was dismissed and began telling him how George and James were getting on in prison.
“They are having a fine time,” one of them remarked. “Bob and I were at the county seat last week, and we made it a point to pay them a visit, and say, boys, listen to what they told us. They said that already they had learned to play several new games with cards, and no doubt they will catch on to a good many new tricks while they are there.”
These words found no response in Byron’s heart. He did not care to listen to them. James and George had passed out of his life, and he wanted to forget, if possible, all the evil that he had learned while in their company. Turning from the boys, he met his teacher’s gaze and saw the troubled look in her face; but it instantly vanished as their eyes met, and an encouraging smile took its place. She, like his mother, seemed to understand something of his burden.
The sermon that day was unusually good. The minister, an elderly man, talked upon the perfect plan of salvation, and the thoughts he brought forth made deep impressions upon Byron’s mind. As Byron had not been in the habit of paying close attention to the preaching, the old, old story of the creation seemed strangely new. He heard of God’s great love for mankind after the fall, and of the day not far distant when the Lord will no longer invite men to accept His proffered love, but will judge them according to the way they have lived upon the earth, and he would have been glad to plead at once for the pardon of his sins. But Satan whispered, “Just wait a little while; you are not quite ready,” and Byron listened.
As they rode home after the meeting, he was still sad, for the burden of his sins was resting heavily upon him; but his finer, better nature was aroused, and he drank in some of the beauties of nature. The bird songs made him glad, and their melody found an echo in his heart. The cornfields reminded him of husking time with its long hours of tedious toil. The chickens running along the roadside and the orchards made him think seriously. He wondered if Mr. Davis’ young trees that George had cut would ever amount to anything, and if Jason would ever steal any more chickens from the tree near Mr. Sibley’s home.
Passing an old farmhouse which was vacant and in which there was a window with a broken pane, Byron shuddered. His mother noticed and asked, “Are you cold, Byron?” but he replied, “No, I was only thinking.” She said no more.
When they crossed the river bridge, the scene upon the foot log farther up the stream came once again to his mind. He could almost hear the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit warning him of danger, and he thought it strange that this voice had not been silenced, since he had so rudely cast the warnings aside. He was still being urged by the same patient, tender voice not only to change his course but to prepare himself for the journey of life.