The Family Bible Hour and Old John

The Family Bible Hour
And Old John

J. Boyd Nicholson

I passed by his hospital room every day. He looked to be in his seventies, lonely and miserable. Perhaps he had reason to be unhappy. As he sat in the wheel chair in the corner of his room watching the leaves falling outside, I noticed that one leg had been amputated below the knee. He was always alone. My heart went out to him, and I felt that I should try to make contact with him. For a few days, as I passed his room, I waved and called, “Good morning.” There was no response, unless you would call a scowl a response.

Then, one day I walked into his room, and as cheerfully as I could, I said, “How are you today?” “Terrible,” he growled, “‘n you’d feel terrible too, if you had lost your limb.” “I’m sure I would,” I replied. I was searching in my mind for a positive approach with which to cheer this unhappy old man. “I remember reading of a war-time pilot, by the name of Bader,” I ventured, “who lost both of his legs in a crash. He overcame his handicap and became a famous pilot in the Air Force, and rose to a high rank before the end of the war.”

The old fellow did not even raise his eyes. “Yes,” he spat out the word, “everybody tells me about him.” I could see that I was making no headway, so bidding him good day, I left him to his lonely room and his bitterness.

I asked one of the nurses who the old gentleman was. “Oh,” she replied, “That’s old John M., don’t go near him, he’ll bite off your head.”

Well, I had not lost my head, but I had lost heart a bit at the rebuff I had received; nevertheless, I determined to try again the next day. When I reached his room, I found it empty; the old fellow had gone home, where ever that might be.

The winter came; Christmas time, New Year, and finally another year rolled by until the following December and the Christmas cards began to arrive. There was one addressed to me in large and shaky handwriting. I tore open the envelope and found a very ordinary little card. Opening it, I saw a note written by the same shaky hand. It read, “I often think of the ray of sunshine that came into my hospital room.” It was signed, “John M.” His address was on the envelope so I lost no time in making my way to the street where he lived.

I found the number on an old rambling home. I climbed the steps and rang the bell. It sounded far into the house, like an echo in a cave. It seemed a long time before I heard footsteps approach the door. It opened a crack and an elderly lady peered out. “Is Mr. M. at home?” I asked. “Er, yes,” she replied hesitantly. “May I see him?” I asked. I was shown into a large room hung with old tapestries and filled with antique furniture, heavy and sombre. I sat down on a horsehair couch, the kind my grandmother had, and looked around. Everything seemed to whisper of a past, a wealthy past. My thoughts were interrupted by the re-appearance of the elderly lady. She showed me up a long creaking stairway to the top floor. I was ushered along the hallway to the room at the end. The door was shut, and the lady called, “John, here is Mr. N. to see you”. “Come in,” I heard again the old familiar bark. I went in, and there sat old John, still miserable, and still scowling. Finally, he barked, “Sit down.” I sat down, and tried to break down the wall that seemed to stand between us. This time it seemed a little different. I felt that somewhere in that soul there was a hunger, a hunger that I knew could be satisfied by the One who had met my own personal need, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I tried my best to turn the conversation in the direction of eternal things. Each time I did, old John would cut me off mercilessly. I looked around the room. It was full of old furniture. One standard lamp behind old John gave him the only light in the room. There were no newspapers, magazines, or books beside him; the only speck of cheer was a little bird in a cage at the other corner. It occasionally let out a little chirp. “Poor bird,” I thought.

I rose to leave, and with merely a grunt from old John, I let myself out into the dark hallway.

As I drove home, I felt discouraged at my inability to get the Gospel into this poor empty heart. Then I realized that I had not even left a Gospel tract to read; my mission seemed a failure.

Weeks passed, and then one day the telephone rang. I answered and was surprised to hear the gruff voice of old John inquiring when I would be up to see him again. That evening found me standing on the doorstep of the old home, ringing the bell. I was shown once more into the dull domain of the unhappy old man. This time, however, I had brought some good Gospel tracts which I intended to leave with him, in the hope that if he would not listen to the Gospel, he would be willing to read it.

The visit again was short, as short as old John’s temper. As I rose to leave, I offered him the Gospel tracts hopefully, only to be rebuffed with this rejoinder, “Never read, it makes my eyes bleed.” He just would not allow me to leave the Gospel leaflets anywhere in his room. My heart was heavy as I went down the long creaking stairway, through the cold hall to the heavy door. I was shown out by the old lady, who, I had learned, was John’s sister. She bade me a thin “good-night.” I went out into the street again defeated.

How I prayed that somehow, sometime, somewhere, the transforming Gospel of the grace of God might reach into that poor, empty, hungry bitter soul before it was forever too late. How this was going to be accomplished, I did not know. His mind seemed impregnable to the influences of the sweetest story ever told.

I visited him from time to time, and each visit seemed to end the same way. One evening I again called. There were the same faraway bell, the musty parlour, the long creaking stairway, the dark hall, and the gruff “Come in.” I listened to more of his grumbling, his criticism and self-pity until at last, turning quickly, he patted an old-fashioned radio at his elbow, and said, “Do you know this McIntee fellow?” He took me by surprise. “Which one do you mean?” I asked him. “You know, the radio program fellow. I listen to him every week on the Family Bible Hour.” I gasped with surprise. For years now I had been endeavouring to bring the old man the message of hope, when unknown to me, into that dark and dismal room, uncheered by the laughter of a child, untouched by the warmth of genuine friends, had come the fragrance of the name of Jesus, the Light of the glorious Gospel of the grace of God, the melody of the sweetest sound in Heaven or on Earth, that God loved old John, and that He waited and longed to save him.

Old John M. is dead. Suddenly he was called to leave the dark corridors of his old home for the endless halls of Eternity; but will we meet old John in Heaven? This we do not know.

We do know, however, that where the personal touch failed, and where Gospel tracts were not read, the radio ministry pierced through the barrier to bring an old unhappy man the message that could meet his deepest need and satisfy the hunger of his empty heart.

How many other homes like this are entered every week by The Family Bible Hour? How many weary souls find the answer to their need through the message of this program? These questions will be answered some day, but not now. This we do know, however, that the Christians who sponsor these programs have a part in the great work of reaching into the darkness, not only of heathen lands through the missionary, but of weary hearts right in our own districts, through the radio ministry.

—J.B.N.