About the year 1867 a small boy, nine years of age, began life in a mine in Durham County, working for no less than fourteen hours a day. He had no schooling, and grew up hardly knowing his right hand from his left, save that he knew how to use both in fighting. Thus he began a life of sin and crime, and at nineteen years of age he found himself in Durham jail, serving a six months’ sentence for manslaughter. George Morton was his name.
One of his companions in crime, who himself had murdered a policeman, said to him, “Well, George, I might go to heaven, but you are sure to be in hell.” This struck home to his heart. The words, “Sure to be in hell,” haunted him, and he started trying to improve himself, joining societies, signing the temperance pledge, etc. All was to no purpose. Seventeen weary years passed, when he was taken to a humble little gospel meeting, where two verses were emphasized:-
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16).
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
For nearly forty years he lived to preach the Gospel in his original and unconventional way. Often he held an open-air meeting at the pit – head before going down, Regularly he went to the well known Bigg Market in Newcastle-on-Tyne; so regularly, in fact, that before now a large crowd of about four hundred people has been found standing in a ring awaiting him.
One night a man in the crowd shouted out, “You’re mad, George!”
He replied, “You should have seen me twenty years ago, running about in my unconverted days with a poker in one hand and a knife in the other, seeking to fight anyone who would stand up against me. You would have had good reason then to say I was mad. But, man, they said the Apostle Paul was mad. So I am glad to be in his company. Only you can never say to me, “Much learning doth make thee mad,” as was said to the Apostle Paul, because I never got any school days; but I have been to the Higher Grade even if I have not been to college. It is where our Lord Jesus says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me” (Matt. 11: 28-30). And, man, He’s a wonderful Teacher and very patient.”
The days of his madness were over, and now he was speaking forth the “words of truth and soberness,” even as the Apostle Paul was, when the accusation of madness was flung at him. His homely and faithful words, spiced with quaintness, suited his hearers, and many were converted, some of whom remain in those districts unto this day; though his life ended early in 1933.
The grace of God that brought salvation to George Morton brings it by the same Gospel message to you. The trouble is very likely that you do knot know that you need it. You are not of his rough type perhaps, your life has been calmer, your outward behaviour more decent, your character more balanced. But just because of this you are in danger of taking up the words of the Pharisee, of whom our Lord speaks in Luke 18, and saying, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are”; and in so saying you commit yourself to a lie on the one hand, and cut yourself off from the mercy you need on the other. Don’t do that!
Be honest with yourself, and with God. Then, whether your life has been like George Morton’s, or whether much more refined, you will just pray the prayer of the publican, and say, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” God will hear you, and justify you. You will be saved.