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The Mud Bath

The Thames, flowing through London, was at low tide, causing the freighter to be anchored a distance from shore. The long plank, which led from the ship across the mud flats to the bank, suddenly began to jiggle precariously.

The smallish man who was carefully pushing his barrow across the plank from the freighter to the shore lost his balance and found himself tumbling into the muddy waters. A roar of laughter erupted from the dockers and from the tall worker on board ship, who had jiggled the plank.

The muddied man’s instinctive reaction was anger. The fall was painful; he was dripping wet and knee deep in muck. “This is your opportunity,” a voice whispered in his heart.

The victim, unknown to his tormentors, was a clergyman disguised as a docker in hopes of getting to know how the dockers felt, lived and struggled. Perhaps as he gained their confidence and made friends, he could tell them of the love of the Savior, who died to give them new life and hope and joy.

George Dempster came up laughing. A docker made his way to where Dempster had been dislodged, dropped some empty boxes into the slush and jumped down to help him out. “You took that all right,” he said as he helped Dempster clamber back to the boxes he had dropped. His accent was not that of a cockney. He was no ordinary docker.

Dempster told the story of this unusual docker in Finding Men for Christ. He recounted the ensuing events:

“Did I? Well, what’s the use of being otherwise?” I replied and followed this by a challenge.

“You haven’t been at this game long.”

“Neither have you,” he retorted.

“No! And I shan’t be at it much longer if I can help it. Tell me your yarn, and I’ll tell you mine.”

I was watching his face as well as I could with my eyes still half full of mud. He was trying to scrape some of the slime from me and meanwhile becoming almost as filthy as I was. We agreed to exchange yarns. I therefore proposed that we should adjourn to a coffee shop nearby and over a warm drink exchange the story of our experiences, and how we came to be “down under” life’s circumstances.

Along we journeyed through Wapping High Street, up Nightingale Lane to London Docks and so “To where I dossed” (slept). When we reached the Alley and I indicated the door he said, “Do they let beds here?” “Well,” I replied, “I sleep here, come in and see.” “Oh! I’ve often passed this place but did not know they put men up here.”

We entered and I instructed that a cup of coffee and something be brought for my friend, while I disappeared without explaining to anybody exactly how I came to be so inelegantly decorated. Mud baths had not yet become a prescribed treatment for certain human ailments, but never could such a remedy, however well prepared or appropriately prescribed, prove so effectual as this one. It had been involuntarily taken it is true, but for like results who would not undertake even such drastic treatment daily? “His ways are higher than our ways.” His permissions are all for somebody’s good, and in this instance the reason for His permission was not long unrevealed.

A hurried bath soon put me right. After donning my usual attire, while seeking Divine guidance I hastened to return. “Here we are, now for our yarns,” I began. He was staring in amazement and was for a few moments lost for reply.

“This is your yarn, is it? What do you do this for?” The first part of his question needed no reply, but I did not hesitate to answer the second. “To find you.” He looked perplexed as we sat gazing at each other; then dropping his eyes before my enquiring look, shook his head sadly and rose as if to depart. Restraining him I said cheerily: “Now, friend, a bargain is a bargain. Thank you for helping me out of the river and thus giving me the privilege of meeting you, but you promised, you know, and I want that story of yours. You can see mine.”

He was a tall, well-built man in middle life. There were indications beyond his speech that his years had not been spent in his present conditions and surroundings. His features gave evidence of intellect, and the obvious deterioration was recent. His expression was softening even as we stood facing each other. The previous callous demeanor was giving place to something finer. I pursued the question, feeling certain now that here was the purpose of my adventure..“Come now, tell me if I can be of help to you.”

Very decisively he answered at once, “No, you cannot.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ve gone too far.”

As I prayed silently, presently he looked me squarely in the face as if measuring whether he could trust me and confide. No words came, so I continued. “Does it not appeal to you as a very remarkable thing,” I asked, “that we should be sitting here like this if you have really gone too far?”

No answer.

“Was it an accidental thing that I happened to get a job alongside you at that particular wharf this morning? Was it mere chance that those rascals chose me for their rather cruel joke? Is it pure coincidence that of all the crowd you should be the one to fish me out? Or—did Someone know where to find you and is even now answering someone else’s prayer for you?”

From the pocket he drew hastily two photographs. “These are mine,” he said, laying them gently upon the table. One was the picture of a fine-looking lady, the other bore the figures of two bonnie young girls of nearly equal age, obviously the daughters of the elder woman. I was looking closely at them when I heard a groan and then a sob as my friend again dropped his head upon his arms.

“Yours! And you here like this? Why?”

It was a sad story, but, alas, only too familiar. Bit by bit I got it from him; although several times with an almost fierce “it’s too late,” he would have left me.He was a fully qualified medical man with a fine record. He had married into a well-known family where there was no lack of money. Having conducted a splendid practice in the south of England, all went well for him for years. Two girls were born to them, and it was a happy home with a very wide circle of friends. But as so frequently happens, the allurements proved too strong for the man whose gifts and natural endowments made him a popular and welcome guest wherever he went. He was too busy to continue his regular attendance at church; gradually he ceased altogether and always had plenty of excuses to offer when his wife urged him to accompany her.

The girls were sent away to school where they were educated with a view to following a medical career, but he who should have been their guide and helper failed in his obligations because he had become addicted to drink

At first this fact was hidden, but the habit grew stronger until it mastered him. His practice as well as his home and family were neglected. This naturally led to great unhappiness and depression. In spite of the loving devotion and care of his wife and daughters, he went from bad to worse and finally decided to disappear. So by a number of subterfuges he effectually vanished from the world which knew him and became a wanderer.

After years of wandering in America and Canada, he returned to London. He had never been discovered; he had never communicated with his kin. Down, down he went, living the life of a casual hand, sometimes finding a job, sometimes literally begging for food. He slept out at night, often in lodging houses with those with whom he had nothing in common save a degraded and sinful way of life. When he could get drink, he took all he could obtain to drown his sorrows.

Once he was lodged in the Tower Bridge Police cells but was discharged and warned. He had simply been found “drunk and incapable,” and his identity had not been revealed. Now this thing had happened, and it could not be explained away by saying it was a coincidence. There was more in it than that. “Someone” had known where to find him. Suppose those three whom he had so shamefully deserted had been all the time praying for his recovery? Recovery that he had so foolishly resisted—so often longed for—so often dreamed of.

Suppose it were true that God was now “causing all things to work together for good to them”—those three—“that love Him”? Suppose that He was at this moment giving him another—possibly a last—chance to return

Such, he later admitted, were his thoughts, and he began to pray for himself. He had known in past days the comforts and consolations of worship. Now he began to pray very deeply and truly as he heard from a friend the old, old message. Presently he said calmly, “I see,” and kneeling by the table, he and I talked with God.

Never can I forget his prayer. At first the halting, stumbling petition of a brokenhearted repentant sinner who felt acutely two things. First, his base ingratitude to a merciful God Who had not cut him off in the midst of his sins, and then the cruelty of his conduct toward those who loved him on earth. As he confessed his feelings in these ways, he seemed to become capable of clearer utterance.

How long we thus communed I do not know, but we were both much moved as we stood to shake hands. I seemed to feel again his grip on mine as I now record these happenings.“And you will stand by me?”

“Yes,” I answered, “as well as another man can.”

“Then I’ll prove what Christ can do.”

We then fell to considering whether it would be advisable to write at once to his wife and tell her the news.

“No! Not yet. Please God we’ll try and improve matters before we do that. I must find out more about the position there first. There are the girls to think about. I must not spoil their careers. About now they must be in the midst of their exams. No! Please wait a while until by God’s help I am a little more like a father they need not be ashamed of—then!”

So we planned. With the aid of a friend who had influence in a certain large, well-known company, he was found a berth in the warehouse, packing drugs and chemicals..In a few weeks, the results were surprising. He was found to be so useful that a better paid job was offered him. Soon it was discovered that he knew a great deal about the contents of the packets he was handling, and when he admitted that the work of a dispenser was not strange to him, he was again promoted.

It was then that he agreed to my suggestions to write to his wife and inform her that he was alive and well. Very carefully I wrote, telling her something of the events above recorded and suggesting that if she would like to see me on the matter I would gladly arrange to meet her.

A letter came back, breathing deep gratitude to God for His wonderful answer to prayer and for His mercy. An expression of appreciation for the human agency He had provided, and an explanation that the two daughters were facing some difficult hospital examinations. It would therefore, she thought, be best to defer any meeting until they were through. But would I please keep her informed of his progress. It was a wonderfully understanding and gracious letter considering all the circumstances.

I showed him the letter. He was deeply moved as he carefully and eagerly read it, then returning it to me he said quietly, “I must ask you to honor her wishes. Painful as delay is to me, I must submit. I deserve it and much more. Will you now pray with me that I may prove worthy of her confidence and their love?”

Six months passed, each day bringing continuous evidence of the “new birth” and of his loyalty to Christ. There was no wavering or falling back. Whatever struggles he had with the enemy, no one saw the least evidence of any weakness. In every way he was proving that he was “a new creature,” that “old things had passed away.

Two brief notes had come from the wife asking more details than my letters conveyed. I gladly told her all she desire to learn. Then one day there came a letter asking me to arrange a time for her to visit me. This was soon done, and without telling either of them what I had planned, I made my own arrangements. He was not informed of the impending visit but patiently awaited developments.

In due time the day arrived, and the wife kept her appointment. I instantly recognized the lady of the photograph, and to my intense delight she had brought her elder daughter with her. Both were much affected as I told them as much as I deemed needful of the facts. I felt it would be wise to leave the husband to give his own version of affairs.

Then, at a suitable moment, I said, “Would you like to see him at once?” I had not revealed to them that I had him in an adjoining room. But when the wife and daughter said eagerly together “Yes, please,” I opened the door and led them in to him. The lady had approached her husband with a smile of welcome and had kissed him; the daughter had put her arms about her father’s neck, and I heard just two words, “Dad, darling.”

It was no place for an outsider, so I made for my study and there lay the whole case again before the Father, asking that His will should be done. He heard and answered. For an hour I left them alone. Then he came to fetch me. His eyes were very red, and I thought he walked with a new and firmer step. No word was said, but he looked his deep gratitude as he beckoned me to return with him.

As I entered the room, the wife approached me with an eager look which spoke eloquently of the tense feelings she had. When, after a few moments, she found voice, it was to tell me that it had been arranged to await the second daughter’s examinations, which were just pending. This girl did not yet know the purport of her mother’s visit to London that day with the sister, who now told me on top of her own success in the exams, she was overjoyed at finding her father.

“Do dare not tell Margery yet. She is rather highly strung, and as Dad says, it might interfere with her progress. But won’t she be just delighted. You know she has never ceased praying for this.” So spake the daughter, still holding her father’s hand, as if unwilling to part again. It was a most affecting scene, and one felt that there was Another present, rejoicing with us. “If all goes well we shall, please God, make home again when Margery is through, and oh what a day that will be.”

The mother was now feeling the stress of it all and needed rest and refreshment. A happy little meal was prepared, and thanks were given to Him Who had thus brought His promises to fulfillment. But the best was yet to be. A happy home was restored.

In a certain south coast town, a place famous for its exhilarating air and for many of its citizens who have made history, there is held every Sunday afternoon a Bible class for young men. Sixty or more of the finest young fellows in that district meet week by week. It has been the birthplace of many splendid young Christians. Some of them have entered the Civil Service and today hold important positions at Whitehall, where I have had the joy of meeting them.

Coming one day along one of the corridors in the colonial office, I met a friend who said, “I’m very glad to see you today, because I promised that the next time you came this way I would ask you to come along with me and meet a man who wants to see you. He has another friend in the home office who also wants to meet you. Have you the time to do so?”

I assented and was led to the room indicated. Here was a man holding a responsible position who, upon being introduced, said, “I’m glad to meet you, sir, because I have an idea that you must be the gentleman of whom a very dear friend of mine often spoke. May I ask if you were acquainted with Dr. ______?”

“Yes indeed, I know him very well.”

“Then I guess you are the one of whom he spoke. I owe everything in life after my own parents to Dr. ______. He was a wonderful factor in the shaping of my career and that of many others. How did you come to know him, sir, if I may so question? And do you know his gifted family?”

Of course I could not tell him under what circumstances I had first met the doctor, the beloved physician who had sat in the leader’s chair of that Bible class Sunday by Sunday teaching youths the Way of Life, nor that it was he who had helped me out of the river that day when I had my involuntary mud bath.

Slightly altered from Finding Men for Christ by George Dempster, (London: Hodder & Stroughton, 1935). quoted in Prodigals and Those Who Love Them, Ruth Bell Graham, 1991, Focus on the Family Publishing, pp. 85-94