From Rags to Riches in Christ

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 5
The story of Teddy, a London derelict, as told by Harold Begbie, runs somewhat as follows. It does not begin with a godly home despised, a family disgraced, a fortune wasted. Teddy had none of these to regret. He was born in the slums, the child of parents who spent all their money on drink. Life for him had been hard from the start. But in spite of it he grew up smart, active, nimble-witted, and humorous. He came out of the army a hard drinker; and became a rag-and-bone merchant. But as fast as the little money he made came in he drank it away. Fortunately, the woman he married made him a good wife, who was able to exercise a measure of restraint so that Teddy's home, though very poor, was generally happy.
But a terrible catastrophe overtook him. His wife died. He was left alone in the world. It was the death of a wife he sincerely loved which made him a chronic drinker. He drank, laughed and sang to forget his loneliness; and in this he found, what he thought was happiness. But there was no peace.
He became immensely popular. His companions in saloons and taverns laughed at his jokes and cheered when he sang. His good humor was contagious and everybody liked him. In this dissolute course he continued for some years.
But eventually his rag-and-bone business dwindled and failed. He couldn't pay his rent. But he went on laughing and singing to his ruin.
He took to sleeping in back yards, alleys, beneath benches, even in ash bins any place where he could fall or stumble into. Such was his poverty.
He would even take the laces from his boots and go into beer parlors where he was not known and offer them for sale. His eyes were quick to spot salable things in garbage and gutters. Thus he begged and bartered his way through life. But he would not steal. He was too good-natured to commit a crime.
But it became increasingly difficult to make enough money to satisfy his ever-growing craving for drink. His old fans began to lose enthusiasm for his songs and grew tired of his jests.
It was at this point in his career that he discovered an old broken down cart in a yard which was never disturbed by its owner. It offered shelter from wind and rain, so here he established himself. The old cart became his home. People got to know about it and laughed at his "lodging." He slunk into the yard late at night, climbed into the cart, lay in his rags on the floor and slept until morning.
One cold night after a fairly successful day he decided he would treat himself to a bed in a common lodging house. As he ambled towards it, anticipating the warm fire, he met an old tramp of his acquaintance, a piteous human wreck, clothed in rags. This man whined about the bitter cold, said he felt sick, wished he had some place where he could sleep. Teddy told him of the cart and gave him permission to occupy it, for that night only.
After a peaceful night in the lodging house, Teddy emerged into the street with renewed vigor and hope. As he walked someone met him... started... turned pale and stood gazing at him.
“What's the matter?" asked Teddy.
“Why!" cried the man with an oath, "You're dead!”
“Dead!" "What do you mean?”
“D' you mean to tell me you're alive? Everybody in the place is saying you're dead," replied the man. "Hundreds say they saw your corpse. You died last night in the cart. I saw them wheeling your body away.”
The old tramp had died in his sleep. Somebody had seen the body lying there. The crowd saw it taken away in an ambulance, Everybody said, "Teddy is dead.”
The thought that he had been considered dead had a tremendous impact on Teddy. It pulled him up. It made him reflect on death. He considered within himself that the hour surely comes, and for him might come suddenly and soon, when a man's soul passes out of the body and he must give account to God of the deeds done in the body. He saw how very easily the corpse of the old tramp might have been his corpse. He might die one night in his sleep. People would say, "Teddy is dead!" But what of his soul?
He thought, What can I do? He could never more sleep in that cart. He must avoid his old haunts. Best of all he must leave the city behind him. Somehow he must find work. Somehow he must begin again.
So the frightened drunkard, born and bred in the slums took to the road—always regarded with suspicion. He was barked at by dogs; followed threateningly by village policemen; refused not only one helpful word or one kindly gift; but refused work of any kind.
One day on the point of collapse from starvation, he sank down in a ditch and covering his face with his hands, weeping like a child, cried aloud, "O God, give me something to eat!”
A feeling of help came to him in the midst of exhaustion and despair. He took his hands from his face and looked to right and left, not a soul was to be seen. Then he looked ahead. In the opposite hedge he saw a piece of paper. He got up, convinced that there was the help he sought. The paper turned out to be a bag which contained two scones.
Whereupon he tramped back to the city, feeling those who knew him would be more likely to help him than villagers and farmers who took him for a criminal.
One day back in his old haunts, the craving for alcohol became so irresistible that he knew whatever the cost, he must obtain it. Rapidly scouring the streets he noticed the landlord of a tavern in which in past days he had spent huge sums of money, standing at the door. Teddy went up to him. "Trust me till tomorrow for a drink, I'm perishing," he begged.
Strangely enough, as he spoke, the pleading message of a gospel hymn floated softly towards them. To Teddy and the landlord the music suggested two different things.
“Go and ask the army for help," snapped the landlord scornfully.
But denied by the tavern keeper, Teddy suddenly thought of Christ—of His great kindness to the outcast and lost—of His dying love for sinners. It was a beam of light from heaven shining into his dark soul.
“Right, govn'or," said Teddy, "I'll take your tip!" And he walked away in his rags.
He went straight to the Open Air Meeting in the next street. They were just leaving for the hall and Teddy went along. There like the repentant sinner of old (Luke 18:13) he knelt and prayed with anguish for mercy.
“Oh, Lord, Oh Lord," he kept saying, "I want to be born again!”
“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me," is the unqualified promise of God in Psa. 50:15. "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Acts 2:21.
The answer to Teddy's prayer came with his cry. His burden rolled away. The man who a short while before pleaded for drink was saved.
The shepherd had found His lost sheep, and just as He did to the returning prodigal of old, God the Father ran to meet him "and covered him with kisses." For the perfect work of Christ upon the cross has opened the way. God, in the full power of His righteousness and love, rejoices to receive the vilest who believes.
“He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory." 1 Sam. 2:8.
“There's comfort in the memory of a good life," said a visitor to a dying relative. The dying man raised his eyes in wonder, and slowly repeated the lines—
Upon a life I did not live
Upon a death I did not die—
Another's life, Another's death,
I stake my whole eternity.