I was on my way
up the Great North Road, home to my dear wife and two little girls,
after nearly two months of working with the Lord in Kent, England.
Ahead of me I saw a tramp, unsuccessfully "thumbing" for a ride. By the
look on his face, he was staggered as I braked the Gospel Caravan to a
stop, but when he got beside me, I was even more staggered, for if ever
a man stank, it was this one. I asked him where he wanted to go and he
replied, "Grantham." My heart sank; fifty miles to go with a stench
like that! I felt like scratching myself all over, but decided that
this was one for whom Christ died, so I spent the time telling this man
of Jesus and His mighty power to save. At Grantham, I gave him the
price of a meal and bed, then drove on, heaving a sigh of relief as I
let both the cab windows down.
time after this, as I sat thinking about the incident, the Holy Spirit
spoke to my heart: "Ben Sutton, you were like that man. You stank in
the vileness of your sin; you were unclean in the sight of a holy God;
you were stumbling along the road of ruin. Then Jesus came, and picked
you up, and is now taking you where you want to be."
Acts, we read of the conversion of the Apostle Paul. His story begins
with this description: "Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and
slaughter against the disciples of the Lord . . ." (Acts 9:1). Then
Saul, the Christian-hater, meets the risen Lord Jesus and after a few
days we find him, not Paul the Christian-hater, but preaching Christ in
the synagogues to the amazement of all who knew him. What a wonderful
change when Jesus came!
have before me one of many letters, all in a similar strain, which I
have received from different souls I have been privileged to point to
Christ. This one is from a young lady in Mosborough, Sheffield. It
Dear Uncle Ben,
have so very much enjoyed the children's meetings. The chorus I like
best is 'This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine.'
first night I came to the meetings was Monday, the twenty-eighth of
September, and ever since I have come away with a very warm heart, and
I know now that I love the Lord Jesus, because I have changed in my
ways, so your meetings have helped me in a very great way.
great Paul, from Christian-hater to Christian preacher; the little
Sheffield girl who knows now she loves the Lord Jesus because she has
changed her ways.
And now, may I add my testimony to these, to tell you how Jesus came into my life.
was preaching on Doncaster race course one day when a bystander
ventured the remark that perhaps my father was a parson and that I'd
never known real life. I told that man that if my father had heard him
say that, he would probably have broken his neck! My father was a
hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-hitting miner, and the only other
occupation he had ever known, outside of serving in His Majesty's Navy
in the first "War to End Wars," was when he worked the "Crown and
Anchor" board on the race courses, and when once or twice he tried his
hand at bookmaking. My earliest recollection of my father is coming
downstairs one morning and finding him lying on the kitchen floor,
where he had been all night, surrounded by beer bottles -- empty ones
-- with the black beetles crawling all over him, attracted by the smell
of the beer.
were four brothers and one sister in the family, and if it wasn't one
who was in trouble with the police, it was another. Between us, we had
quite a record of drunkenness and disorderliness, larceny, and even
desertion from the peace-time Army.
there was one touch of sweetness that influenced my early life. That
was my dear mother. I was the youngest of her little brood. She loved
me dearly, and I her. One day I was traveling with her on the bus when
there was a tremendous collision and the next thing I knew my mother
was dying, while the doctor stood shaking his head, saying, "No hope."
Nine years old, and mother gone! Oh, how many nights I lay far into the
morning, sobbing for God to send her back to me again.
after another my brothers left home, while I was left in the care of a
stepmother who was to me just the opposite of everything my dear mother
ever was. I remember one day, after a very unpleasant time at home, I
walked over a mile to the graveyard where my mother lay buried, and
knelt beside that silent grave, and wept till I could weep no more,
just longing for the sound of that beloved voice that had faded away
fourteen and a half, I started work at the coal mine and received
weekly, for my pocket money, the princely sum of one shilling (about
twelve cents) for every six days worked. Then, early in my teens, I
left home with all my worldly goods in a little suitcase. The first
part of my wanderings took me to the home of my brother Jim, who
immediately took me under his wing, until, one day, I signed on a ship
and sailed away to seek my fortune -- or such were my romantic
thoughts. Soon I was in the grip of "the booze." I remember my
twenty-first birthday was spent in the North Atlantic. We had lost the
convoy, and were in the midst of a hurricane in submarine-infested
waters, but I was so full of whisky that my back carried four long
scars, caused by my being so drunk that I could not feel the radiator
burning me as I lay against it.
through the war it was booze, battle, and blood. Some of my best pals
died under my eyes, but never once did my own escapes cause me to thank
God. In fact, I grew more and more calloused and more and more
evil-tempered as the years went by.
the Juno beachhead at Arromanches, not long after "D-Day," I was
longing for a drink, but we had completely run out. I decided that I
would go ashore and find something that would bring temporary
satisfaction to my craving. I dressed the best I could, and went over
the side on to the end of Port en Bressin pier. I walked on toward the
town, passed a German ack-ack ship that still stank with dead bodies. I
could hear in the distance the roar of guns as our boys fought on
toward Caen. Then I saw that the gates were guarded, and the way to the
town was closed. I walked along the dockside till I came to a row of
houses whose fronts were on the dock but whose backs were on the street
outside. A shell had torn a hole clean through one. On either side of
the door was a notice board: one in German with a skull and crossbones;
the other in English which said "Danger -- Booby Traps." I thought to
myself, "Booby traps or booze," and decided to risk it. The hair stood
up on the back of my neck as I made my way through that dark death
trap; then out into the street I went to spend the rest of the evening
indulging in my favorite pastime.
one day a wonderful thing happened to me. I met and fell in love with
the young lady who was to become my wife, and into my life of sin and
darkness came a touch of the sweetness I had known from my mother as a
boy. As the war drew to a weary close, I decided that I was going to
live a new life. I would get a shore job, get married, and settle down
to a decent, respectable life -- or so I thought. I got married all
right and also found work at the mine, but I had reckoned without the
soul-destroying power of alcohol. I came ashore expecting to get one of
those homes fit for heroes to live in that we'd heard so much about
during the war. I found I had to break the lock off an army barracks
gate and live in a squatter's hut.
began to add gambling to drinking, and oh, the shame of it, often stood
on the dog track and watched the bookmaker pocketing the rent which I
had taken from my broken-hearted wife. Sometimes my little home would
be the scene of violent outbursts; the table would be upended, the
windows shattered and crockery broken, as I broke the bounds of common
sanity while the demon of drink raged within me. My little daughter
would fly into hiding and my dear wife break her heart, as Satan had
his way in my life. Often my brother and I would go out to get drunk
together, and frequently we would finish up in a drunken brawl.
one Saturday morning I said to my wife, "I'm going out and I won't tell
you when I will be back." She answered sadly, "It's no use asking you
any more what time you will be in." I commenced to drink at eleven
o'clock that Saturday morning in a public house named "The Winter
Gardens," in the town of South Shields. It was there that it happened.
I had idled the time away until two o'clock. Over on my right, a man
was trying to play jazz on the piano; behind me, a couple of drunks
were singing out of tune and out of time. In front of me, the barmaids
lolled about the counter. Then I looked up at the clock. I noticed that
it was an advertisement for Guinness beer. Now and again around the
clock would appear the words "Guinness time." I began to think about
time. When did it start? When would it end? Then suddenly, like a bolt
from the blue, one word thundered into my mind: "Eternity."
have been in close proximity many times to bursting bombs and exploding
shells, but never felt the shock such as I experienced when the
searchlight of God's holiness shone into my sin-blackened heart, and
into my mind, cobwebbed with evil and dark with nature's Christless
night. I stood for a moment, aghast at my own sinfulness as conviction
flooded like a tidal wave into my being. I slammed my beer glass down
on to the counter, and stumbled out into the cold January afternoon.
All the rest of the day I walked blindly through the streets, afraid to
cross the road in case I should be knocked down by a vehicle and
ushered into the awful presence of the Almighty Being who was even now
dealing with me. Memory after memory crowded into my mind; first, the
wan features of my dear wife; then, the tear-stained face of my little
daughter; the unpaid bills; the awful wartime experiences; the silent
grave of my mother. Then I remembered that, some two years before this,
I had gone to take my brother-in-law out on the town only to be told
that their drinking days were over. I had asked them the reason for
this most unusual decision and was promptly told that they had both
been "saved," and that they were attending church. I remembered how I
had exploded with laughter and had told them that the next thing that
would happen would be their being carried off to the lunatic asylum.
Then, vowing that I wanted nothing more to do with their sort of crazy
life, I had left their home determined never to return. And now, as I
walked the streets and conviction deepened, I remembered how my
brother-in-law had been wounded on the shell-torn, corpse-littered
beach at Dunkirk, and mentioned in dispatches for his gallantry, and
that he had been a drinker like myself; how once he had smashed a beer
bottle over another man's head in a public house brawl. Then I
remembered the remarkable change that had become evident in his life
since he had been, as he said, "saved by Jesus." Suddenly I decided to
go to that house again. By now it was eleven at night.
"Jesus Will Change Your Life."
I reached the bottom of the stairs that led up to my sister's door. A
great battle was raging within me. An insistent voice was dictating to
my will, "Go home: they'll think you're mad. What will you say to them?
You, Ben Sutton, the boozer, the gambler. No one wants you. Quick, you
just have time to catch the last bus home." But another voice, thank
God, one that I have learned to recognize and love, was gently, firmly
went up the stairs, and knocked. When my brother-in-law came to the
door, his face fell. He thought I had come for trouble -- my usual
occupation on a Saturday night. I remembered saying something like
this, "Can you tell me something about Jesus? He woke everyone in the
house, shouting "Hallelujah." And tell me about Jesus he did, till 2:30
in the morning. But I just could not take it in. I just could not grasp
what he so earnestly tried to tell me. I shall never forget his face,
as he looked at me and said finally, "Look, Ben, every Sunday night the
gospel is preached, and tonight (for it was now Sunday) a very sincere
servant of God, Mr. Mallen, of Chester-le-Street, will be preaching.
Now," he said, "I will guarantee, that if you will come and hear for
yourself the preaching of the gospel, Jesus will change your life."
words were like a straw held out to a drowning man. "Brother," I said,
"I will be there, but I want you to do something for me now. I want you
to come home with me and tell my wife what we've been talking about,
because she won't believe me."
taxi drew up outside our front door, and I saw the curtain draw back a
little, as it always did when I arrived. I could just imagine my wife
getting ready for the usual storm that would awaken the neighbors and
start off my little girl screaming with fright.
brother-in-law and I went into the house and, before my dear wife could
open her mouth, I jerked my thumb at my companion and said, "I've been
talking to him about Jesus and tonight I'm going to church." She looked
from me to him. "He is drunk," she said, "I know you too well. We will
wait and see what you are like after you've slept."
a few fitful hours of sleep, I rose and dressed. Still the terrible
burden of sin weighed on my heart. Then, for the first time in my
drunken life, I deliberately refrained from going out for beer on a
Sunday morning. Four o'clock in the afternoon came around and I began
to dress to go out. Silently, thoughtfully, my wife had been watching
me. Then quietly she said, "Where are you going, Ben?" I looked at her
anxious face, and said, in words that are now in the everyday
vocabulary of our household, "I'm going to the gospel meeting."
I walked past the drinking place I knew so well, the time was about ten
minutes to six. Another sixty yards and I had reached the most
uncomfortable spot of all for the uninitiated---the church door. I
glanced quickly up and down the street to make sure no one was watching
me. Then, with wildly beating heart, I dove in through the door. My
first impression, as I passed into the well-lit hall, was of someone
taking hold of my right hand and giving it a hearty shake. Then I found
myself sitting very near the front with an unobstructed view of the
preacher. Oh, the message of that night! I should think I was the only
ex-seaman in the place that night, yet the subject was the storm on
Galilee. The speaker told of seamen and their struggles. He spoke of
the great storm that raged around that little craft, manned by a
handful of helpless seamen. Then he likened that storm to the storms
that go on in the lives of men. All through his discourse, I could see
myself, my sin, my helplessness, my need. Then he came to the part
where Jesus took command, and stretched forth His hands over the
tumult, and said three words, that sped like polished shafts into the
storm center of my soul: "Peace, be still." It was no longer the
preacher that was speaking. It was the Lord Himself, and oh, the power
of those words, "Peace, be still." Oblivious to the faces of those I
passed by, I was on my way to the inquiry room. A few words of
instructions, and there I was, a big foul-mouthed, drunken, gambling,
black-hearted miner, down on my knees at that wonderful place called
Calvary. "O God," I cried, "I'm a bad 'un, but take me, and forgive me,
and help me, please." I felt the hot tears burning my face. I heard
other men praying for me. Then it happened. Suddenly, the burden was
lifted. An exhilaration, such as I had never experienced before came
flooding into my being. For a moment I felt as if I could touch the
ceiling. Then, what joy and peace was mine. One moment I was a
helpless, hopeless sinner, bound in the chains of sin. Then Jesus came
and I stood up "a new creature in Christ Jesus."
I left that night, the world was a new place for me. I felt as if I was
walking on air. The stars shone brighter than I had ever seen them
shine, even in the tropics. The bus I traveled home on that night
seemed no less than a golden chariot to me, and the people in it like
angels. I could have kissed the conductor as he came to take my ticket!
Once off the bus, I ran up the street to my home. Then, as my wife
opened the door for me, I said, "Sarah, I've been saved!" My dear wife
looked at me with an expression of astonishment on her face and
replied, "You've been what?" How strange it must have seemed to her to
hear her big, clumsy, erstwhile drunken husband, telling her of Jesus
and of His power! She heard me in silence for a while, then said, "Ben,
I shall watch you and see if that is true." And watch me she did. She
saw my former friends come to ask me out to the usual round of
senseless pleasure seeking. But again and again she saw the newfound
power at work in my life. She heard me say, "The old Ben Sutton is dead
now, thanks be to God, and I've got a new life to live to His glory."
Soon she knew what a definite and remarkable change had taken place in
my life, and one day, to my great joy, she said, "Ben, something has
happened to you, and I'm going to find out what it is." That evening I
was left in charge of the house to enjoy the happy companionship of my
little daughter. Meanwhile, my dear wife had gone to the place where I
myself had found the Lord.
seemed a long, long time before I heard my wife's knock, but when I
opened the door, she did not have to tell me what had happened; one
look at her face was enough. Her first words were, "Ben, I've been
saved." What joy filled our hearts and our little home that evening! We
tiptoed into the bedroom, and knelt together by the side of the little
cot where slept our little girl. Then, for the first time in our lives,
my dear wife and I bowed our heads and prayed together. While we
prayed, the tears ran down our faces. But those tears sprang from
fountains of joy and thankfulness. I have no words to describe the
bliss that overwhelmed our souls that night, as, together, we began to
live for the Lord.
thank God, as the years roll by, we find the promise of the Lord is
wonderfully true when He says, "I will never leave thee nor forsake
thee." He not only saves, but keeps.
day not long after, two workmates were arguing and I heard one of them
say, "Let's ask Sutton to settle it. He'll tell the truth." What a
wonderful compliment to the power of my Lord. What a change in the life
of a sinner when Jesus comes!
Sutton and his wife Sarah now make their home in Portage la Prairie,
Manitoba. Brother Sutton's preaching and teaching ministry extends
across North America.