Burke the Burglar: How the Jailer at Philippi Got Caught [Brochure]

Burke the Burglar: How the Jailer at Philippi Got Caught by D.L. Moody
Gospel Brochure, Large Print, 12-Point Type
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A True Valentine Story

Valentine Burke was an old-time gun-toting burglar. His picture was posted in many rogue’s galleries, because Burke was a convicted criminal with a courage born of many desperate "jobs." He had spent twenty years in prison and he had a terrible tongue for swearing, especially at police officers and jailers. But in spite of all his wickedness the Spirit of God awakened him. This is the substance of the story of Burke the Burglar as told by D.L. Moody to a friend, over a century ago.

Burke the Burglar

Many years ago, when Dwight Lyman Moody was a young preacher, he went to St. Louis to lead a Gospel meeting. One of the big newspapers announced that it was going to print every word he said--sermon, prayer, and exhortation. Moody said it made him shake inside when he read this; but he made up his mind that he would weave in a lot of Scripture for the paper to print, and that might benefit somebody even if his own poor words failed. This he did, and his printed sermons were loaded with Bible verses. The newspaper placed big, startling headlines at the top of the columns. The people were either going to hear Moody, or read what he said.

Burke was in the city jail, awaiting trial for some offense. He found solitary confinement very boring, and he spent his time insulting the guards, or cursing the sheriff on his daily rounds. It was Burke's delight to curse a sheriff. Somebody threw a newspaper into his cell, and the first thing that caught his eye was a big headline like this:


It was just what Burke wanted, and he sat down with a chuckle to read the story of the jailer's frustration. Somehow the reading had a strange look, not the usual newspaper style. It was Moody's sermon of the night before. "What rot is this?" he said to himself.

A Great Earthquake
What must I do to be saved?

"Have the papers gone to printing such stuff?" He looked at the date. Yes, it was the morning paper, fresh from the press. He threw it down with an oath, and paced around his cell like a caged lion. Finally, he picked up the paper and read the sermon. The restless fit grew on him. Again and again he picked up the paper and read its blessed story. It was then a strange something, from whence he knew not, came into the burglar's heart, and cut him to the core.

"What does this mean?" he said to himself. "For over twenty years I've been a burglar and jailbird, and I never felt like this before. What is it to be saved anyway? I've lived a dog's life, and I'm getting tired of it. If there is such a God as that man is telling about, I believe I'll find out, if it kills me to do it."

Sometime around midnight, after hours of thinking about his wasted life, and after many broken prayers, the first he had spoken since he was a child, Burke understood that there is a GodOne Who is able and willing to blot out the darkest record at one stroke. He discovered the wondrous secret of the crosshow that on it Jesus Christ bore his many sins and put them all away forever. That night, God saved the burglar: Burke believed the word of Christ and received everlasting life. Then he waited for morning, enjoying his new life, crying and laughing by turns.

Next morning when the guard came around, Burke had a pleasant word for him, and the man eyed him with wonder. When the sheriff came, Burke greeted him as a friend, and told him how he had been led to Christ by reading Moody's sermon.

"Jim," said the sheriff to the guard, "you'd better keep an eye on Burke. He's playing the 'pious dodge', and the first chance he gets he'll be out of here." When Burke’s case came to trial, it failed through some legal error, and he was released.

Friendless in a great city, known only as a daring criminal, he had a hard time for months. Men looked upon his face when he asked for work, and upon its evidence turned him away. But he was brave; and, sustained by the mighty power of God, he struggled on. Seeing how his sin-marred face told against him, he asked the Lord "if He wouldn't make him a better looking man, so he could get an honest job." And God answered his prayer, for Moody said that a year from that time, when he met Burke in Chicago, he was as fine a looking man as he knew. That was of the Lord, Who did it for him in answer to his child-like faith.

After seeking in vain for a long time to find steady work, Burke went to New York, hoping, far from his old haunts, to find peace and honest labor. He did not succeed, and he came back to St. Louis, rather discouraged, but still kept by the God Who had found him in the prison cell.

One day there came a message from the sheriff that he was wanted at the courthouse, and he went with a heavy heart.

"Some old case they've got against me," he said, "but if I'm guilty, I'll tell them so; I'm through with lying."

The sheriff greeted him kindly. "Where have you been, Burke?"

"In New York.”

"What were you doing there?"

"Trying to find a decent job."

"Have you kept a good grip on the religion you told me about?"

"Yes," answered Burke, looking him straight in the eye. "I've had a hard time, sheriff, but I haven't lost my faith."

"Burke, I had you shadowed every day you were in New York. I suspected your religion was a fraud, but I want to say to you that I know you have lived an honest Christian life, and I have sent for you to offer you a job as a deputy under me. You can begin at once."

From that time, the tide began to turn. He set his face like a flint. Steadily and with dogged faithfulness Burke went about his duties, until the best men in the city came to know and recognize him. Later, when Moody was passing through St. Louis, he took time to visit Burke. He found him in an upstairs room in the courthouse, serving as a trusted guard over a bag of diamonds. He sat with a bag of gems in his lap and a gun on the table. There was $60,000.00 worth of diamonds in the bag [a significant fortune in those days].

"Moody," he said, "See what the grace of God can do for a burglar. Look at this sack of diamonds! The sheriff picked me out of his force to guard it." He cried like a child as he held up the stones.

Sometime after that, the Christians of St. Louis made ready for the coming of a well-known preacher who was to lead a meeting, but he was prevented from coming. There was real disappointment until someone suggested that they send for Valentine Burke to carry on the meeting. He led night after night, and many sinners were saved from lives of crime and shame by the wonderful grace of God.

Burke's gentle and faithful life of service was greatly blessed of God in the city where he had been such a sinner. And when at last his work was done and his life was ended, the rich and the poor, the saints and the sinners came to the funeral. And now Moody and Burke are together again, never again to be separated. It is a blessed story of God's mercy and salvation, of his power to save sinners.

God’s Word says:

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

For He [God] hath made Him [Jesus] to be sin for us, Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

If you have never done so, please read for yourself the original true story about how the Jailer at Philippi got caught, in chapter 16 of the book of The Acts, in the Bible. It was life-changing for the jailer and for Burke, and it could be life-changing for you as well.