In the St. Joe Valley
For 87 years Harry Miller lived without God. Not that he had no serious thoughts of God: indeed he had, though only on occasion, but these he had managed to silence by long accustomed ignoring of them. Clearly he recalls today how that, in his early years, soon after marriage, he accompanied his wife to a prayer meeting and was deeply stirred as he heard the very real prayers of simple, earnest Christians. He knew he ought then and there to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour; but resisting the tender pleadings of God’s grace, he made no decision for Christ. Now long years had but increased the hardness of a once tender conscience.
The writer forbears to dwell upon those years of barren ungodliness and guilt, despite his being urged by Mr. Miller, “Don’t be afraid to expose me altogether, Perhaps the story of my wasted life will help others not to waste theirs.” Suffice it to say, however, that just as every unsaved soul is an unprofitable sinner, lost and without hope, so was Mr. Miller. For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And all have need of the same Saviour as did Mr. Miller.
Perched on a mountain-side of the St. Joe River valley in Idaho is the little farm in which he and his wife live quietly alone, at the end of a rugged trail just passable for automobiles. Being afflicted by rheumatism and confined to a wheelchair, he depended greatly upon her constant kind ministrations, which, since she had know the Lord for many of her 77 years, she mingled with many prayers for his soul’s salvation.
One afternoon, as was her usual practice, she set out for the mail-box, which was placed at the roadside on the opposite bank of the river. Descending the steep hillside from which the house overlooks the valley, she crossed the railroad embankment and walked one-half mile across a valley meadow, to the river side. A cold October rain had begun to fall, but accustomed to such discomforts, she began to draw the row-boat nearer the shore in order to step in.
But alas, with a sudden snap the weather-worn rope gave way. Backward she fell, with a sharp, searing pain, and lay with a fractured hip alone on the river bank.
Of human help she knew in that place she could have no hope. But God! Yes, He was near, of that she was calmly certain. Painfully she struggled for some time before succeeding in securing the boat to land. Then with courage and energy borne of a faith that was not crushed by advancing age or the slightness of her frame, she made her way back toward home. Lying on her back, she drew up her legs, aiding the crippled one with her hands; then pushing with her good leg, she propelled herself head first over the sodden ground. Clothing saturated, shivering, weary and racked with pain, still she persisted. Praying trusting, she felt in deep reality the helping power of her Lord her only Resource.
Hours passed by, and her alarmed husband, frantic with distress, had wheeled his chair to the door, there loudly calling, intently listening. But no answer came to his urgent calls until darkness had long fallen. He could do nothing, for he had no telephone to summon help, nor were there neighbors near.
At last, a response from out in the darkness! She had come near enough to be heard. But his anxiety is little relieved when knowing of her condition. Simple instructions she gives him, - to have the stove warm and hot water ready. And now she faced the must cruel part of the dread ordeal, - the crossing of the rail road tracks. Inch by inch she makes her way, with no alleviation of her agony. Time slips quickly by, and a fresh fear weighs upon the anguished heart of her husband: the fast passenger strain is almost due!
What could he do? Where could he turn? There was none but God! And with the very thought, like an overflowing wave there came to him the memory of his many sins, the conviction that he was a guilty and lost man before his Maker. This was anguish greater far than before, and the cry came forth from earnest lips, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Down below, his wife could hear his urgent, pleading prayer, and it was as sweetest music to her ears. And he prayed for her, that strength be given her to reach the shelter of home.
Refreshed and strengthened with strength in her soul, she at last began and completed the ascent of the hillside. Waiting for her at the open door, he reached down from his wheel-chair, drawing her up upon his lap. Then wheeling inside, he helped her into bed, their sorrow now mingled with deep thankfulness to God. It had been 2:45pm when she had left the house: she arrived back just at 11 o’clock!
Graciously the hand of God overruled, for in the morning there were special workers on the railroad, inspecting the rails. From the doorway Mr. Miller waved a large flag of distress, which was quickly seen. Soon a train was stopped, and the aged couple taken to the little town of St. Maries and to capable hospital and medical care.
It was some months before his distressed soul found peace in trusting simply to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His sacrificial death for his sins. He could hardly believe that God could forgive such a sinner as he felt himself to be. But he found this assurance from the Word of God, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), And the sweet story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 became precious to his heart. The son returning to his father to confess his wrong, found the father’s heart more desirous to forgive than the son was to be forgiven. Such is the heart of our God and Father. “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Nor does God forgive merely as a human father would; but He has given His Son to bear the judgment for our sins on Calvary’s cross, so that the one who receives Christ as Saviour is forever free-justified by God.
Now Mr. Miller rejoices in knowing that his sins are forgiven because Christ has borne them in his stead; and the Bible is his most prized possession, as he reads it and memorizes some particular portions. Others who know the Lord have visited them often, finding a joyful welcome as they read and speak together of the One who died for sinners.
As the aged man spoke of how his hardened heart was broken down when his wife was struggling on the railroad tracks, the writer turned to her and asked, “Do you think it was worth it, Mrs. Miller?” With a bright, spontaneous smile came the ready answer, “O, I would gladly break my other leg if it would do so much good again.”
Mr. Miller’s one great regret is his wasted life, - his neglect of salvation while young. Few indeed there are who are saved so late in life, so that he is profoundly thankful to God; but today he has special advice to the young: “Don’t waste your life as I wasted mine. Decide for Christ as your Saviour now while the opportunity is given you.” And to this we may well add the kind advice and invitation from greater lips to old and young alike: “Come now and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Who can tell whether this may be the last opportunity for you, dear reader, to receive this gracious Saviour and be saved?