The Conversion of a Drunkard
There is hope for the drinker, the alcoholic, the drug addict. Though this was long ago, it illustrates hope for the very worst.
Billy Bray was born in the village Twelveheads, Cornwall in 1794. The story of his conversion from darkness to light, from hatred to love, and from death to life, was truly exceptional. The great and gracious change, the reality of which his whole life afterwards testified, Billy Bray here presents: The village then consisted of only a few thatched cottages, inhabited by “tinners” but which had its humble Methodist Chapel, where his paternal grandfather worshipped, and which he had helped to build. He was one of the old Methodists, for he joined the then persecuted and despised people when Mr. Wesley first visited Cornwall. Billy's father was also pious, but he died when his children were very young, who then went to live with their grandfather; and with him Billy remained until he was seventeen, when he went to Devonshire, where, far removed from pious example and instruction, he lived a bad life.
He says— "I became the companion of drunkards, and during that time I was very near hell. I remember once getting drunk in Tavistock; when going home we met a large horse in the way; it was late at night, and two of us got on the horse's back; we had not gone far before the horse stumbled against a stone, and, turning right over, both of us were nearly killed. At another time I got drunk, and while fighting with a man my hat fell into the fire, and was burnt. I stole another to wear home, and narrowly escaped being sent to jail for it." His drunken antics were many, which he could not recall without deep shame and sorrow; but his soul was stained with viler sins than any that have been mentioned. His gratitude was lively ever afterwards because the Lord had saved him "from the lowest hell." "The Lord was good to me," he often said, " when I was the servant of the devil, or I would be down in hell now;" and he felt he must praise the Lord for His goodness.
His narrow escapes from danger made an impression on his heart at the time, and a deeper impression afterwards. He was emphatic in his wish that all the evil should be faithfully recorded, that the great mercy of God might be more fully known. "Once," he tells us, "I was working underground in the coal mine, and I heard a ' scat' (rent) overhead; I ran out, and, I think, forty tons fell down where I had been working just a moment before." But he had not yet reached the lowest depths of evil and misery. Turned away from the mine at which he worked for being disrespectful to the foreman, he moved to another part of Devonshire, and as if to make his damnation sure, went to live at a beer-shop. "There, with other drunks, I drank all night long. But I had a sore head and a sick stomach, and worse than all, horrors of mind that no tongue can tell. I used to dread to go to sleep for fear of waking up in hell; and though I made many promises to the Lord to be better, I was soon as bad or worse than ever. After being absent from my native county seven years, I returned an alcoholic.
The wife of a drunkard, the child of a drunkard, how much they stand in need of help and pity is only known to God. Billy well knew that the wife of a drunkard has reason to praise God when her husband is delivered from its grip. His wife, he tells us, had to fetch him home night after night from the beer-shop. “One time I remember I went to get some coal to heat the home; there was a beer-shop on the way," [a beer-shop is always in the way of some poor drunkard], " and entering in I stayed till I got drunk. My poor wife was forced to come for me, and wheel home the coal herself. A drunkard would rather spend his money in drink than give it to his wife and children. “At one time I had good wages for two months successively, and a large portion of the money went in drink. I sinned against light and knowledge; and never got drunk without feeling condemned for it." His conscience tormented him by day, and dreams terrified him by night. Soon the crisis of his life came. Reading (author of Pilgrim’s Progress) John Bunyan's "Visions of Heaven and Hell" was the appointed means of his recovery.
The book came into his hands, and he began to read the "Visions of Heaven" first, and then the "Visions of Hell." Bunyan wrote of two lost souls in hell cursing each other, for being the cause of each other's misery, and that they who love one another on earth will hate one another in hell. One of Billy's very close friends was also much attached to him. They worked together, and went to the pub and got drunk together. The arrow that pierced his soul was the thought, "Shall Mr. Coad and I, who like each other so much, torment each other in hell?" From that time, November 1823, he had a strong desire for a change.
He had married some time before; his wife had been converted when young, but had gone back from the right way before the marriage. The memory of what she had enjoyed was very sweet, and yet very bitter. She told her husband that "no tongue could tell what they enjoy who serve the Lord." "Why don't you start over?" was his quick response; adding, "for then I may begin too." He was ashamed to fall on his knees before his wife, "for the devil had such a hold of him;" but he knew it was his duty to pray for mercy. He went to bed without bending his knees in prayer; but about three o'clock he awoke, and thinking that if he waited until his wife was converted that he might never be saved ("though he had begged her to get converted first, and then show him how to be saved, for he thought she was so much less a sinner than himself that she would soon be forgiven"), he jumped out of bed and got on his knees for the first time, and forty years afterwards he could joyfully boast that he had never once since been ashamed to pray.
His decision, once formed, was unchangeable, "and I found," he said, "that the more I prayed the more I wanted to pray." The whole morning was spent in supplication. If he had been less resolved and earnest, the day of grace might have passed him by, with blessed opportunity gone forever. Forty years ago, on payday, miners in Cornwall were in the habit of going to the pub to eat, drink, and get drunk. This day, was one of those days, and Billy joined his companions as usual. "I was the worst of the lot," was his own expression. "He was the wildest, most daring and reckless of all the reckless and daring men; and on one occasion so horrible was his blasphemy, that even his wicked friends said that: his oaths must come from hell, for they smelt of sulphur."
His lively disposition, and his wit marked him out from others. These remarkable natural powers, which were used to produce merriment and laughter, and to ridicule sacred things, one day made him popular and useful as a follower of the Savior and a preacher of His gospel. The change in him was noticed by his companions, and one of them cursed. This brought a response: "You must give an account of that some day," when the person mockingly said, "Shall we all go to the Bible meeting?" Billy replied it was better to go there than to hell. Reproached by another "for making such a noise," he replied, "You would roar out too, if you felt my load; and roar I will until I get it off."
On the first payday that he came home sober for many years, his wife was greatly surprised, and asked, 'How is it you are come home so early tonight?' He said, 'You will never see me drunk again, by the help of the Lord.'” And she never has since. Praise the Lord, He can cure drunkards.
Billy says: "That same night I went upstairs, and prayed till we went to bed. The next day I did not go to work but I took the Bible and Wesley's Hymnal, went upstairs, and read and prayed all day. Sometimes I read the Bible, sometimes the Hymn Book, and then I cried to the Lord for mercy. I was glad that I had begun to seek the Lord, for it is said, ' Let the heart of him rejoice that seeketh the Lord.' When Sunday morning came it was very rainy; the 'Bible Christians' had a class-meeting a mile from our house; I went to the place, but because it was wet no one came." This had a discouraging effect on his mind, and his first thought was, "If a little rain will keep the people away from the house of God, I shall not come here."
This hasty decision was soon reversed, for Billy was a consistent member with Bible believing Christians for more than forty years, and died in fellowship with the people of his early choice.
Billy returned home, and alone with God, with the Bible and the Hymn Book as his companions, he spent all that day in reading and praying. He was assailed fiercely by the temptation "that he would never find mercy; "but with the promise, "Seek, and ye shall find," he quenched this fiery dart of the wicked one, and in due time he learned, by blessed experience, that the promise was true.
Monday morning was spent in the same manner. In the afternoon he had to go to the mine, but "all the while I was working I was crying to the Lord for mercy." His sad state moved his fellow workmen to pity; he "was not like Billy Bray," they said. Why? He formerly told lies to make them laugh, and now he was determined to serve the Lord. No relief came, and he went home, "asking for mercy all the way." It was then eleven o'clock at night, but the first thing he did was to go upstairs and fall upon his knees, and ask God to have mercy on him. Everything else was forgotten in the intensity of his desire that the Lord would speak peace to his soul. After a while he went to bed, but not to sleep. All the morning of the next day he spent in crying for mercy, food being almost untasted, and conversation with his "partner" at the mine in the afternoon nearly ceased, that day passed away, and nearly the whole night he spent upon his knees. The enemy hindered him, "but I was glad," he says, "that I had begun to seek the Lord, for I felt I would rather be crying for mercy than living in sin."
On the next day he had "almost laid hold of the blessing," but the time came for him to go to the mine (two o'clock in the afternoon). The devil strongly tempted him while at his work that he would never find mercy; "but I said to him, 'Thou art a liar, devil,' and as soon as I said so, I felt the weight gone from my mind, and I could praise the Lord. So I called to my friends “I am not so happy as some, but sooner than I would go back to sin again, I would be put in that burning mine nearby.'
When he got home on former nights he had not cared anything about supper, his anguish of soul being so great, nor did he this night, because a hope had sprung up in his heart, and with it a determination to press right into the kingdom of heaven. To his room he went.
Beautifully simple and touching are his own words. "I said to the Lord, 'Thou hast said, They that ask shall receive, they that seek shall find, and to them that knock the door shall be opened, and I have faith to believe it.' In an instant the Lord made me so happy that I cannot express what I felt. I shouted for joy. I praised God with my whole heart for what He had done for a poor sinner like me; for I could say, The Lord hath pardoned all my sins. I think this was in November 1823, but what day of the month I do not know. I remember this, that everything looked new to me, the people, the fields, the cattle, the trees. I was like a man in a new world. I spent the greater part of my time in praising the Lord. I could say with Isaiah, 'O Lord, I will praise Thee, for though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away, and Thou comfortedst me;' or like David, 'The Lord hath brought me up out of a horrible pit of mire and clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings, and hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto my God.' I was a new man altogether. I told everyone I met what the Lord had done for my soul.”
He would also say: “I have heard some say how difficult it was to get away from their prior companions in sin, but I sought mine out, and had hard work to find them soon enough to tell them what the Lord had done for me. Some said I was crazy; and others that I would be back with them next payday. But, praise the Lord, it is now more than forty years, and they have not got me yet. They said I was a madman, but they meant I was a glad-man, and, glory be to God ! I have been glad ever since.”
An example of Billy’s afterlife is seen in a touching way he would induce his fellow workers to kneel down with him and pray. He says: “Sometimes I have had as many as six to ten men down with me and I have said, ‘now if you will listen to me, I will pray with you before we go to work (in the mines), for if I did not pray with you, and if any of us should be killed, I would think it was my fault.” Some would say, ‘you pray, and we will hear you.’ When praying I would say: “Lord, if any of us are to be killed today in the mine, let it be me, let not one of these men die, for they are not happy; and if I die today, I shall go to heaven.’ When I would arise from my knees I would see tears coming down from some faces, and soon after some of these became praying men too.”
How is such a change brought to pass? It begins by simple faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who died for Billy's sins, and yours too. He arose from the dead and brings life and hope to the drunkard, the sinner, the lost.
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Note to the reader: Not everyone has a conversion that is dramatic, exceptional, or has such outward interest. The important thing is to ensure you and I are converted to God, though our testimony may be simple or less intense than Billy Bray. It can be a snare for some people who do not have such a dramatic conversion, to think they must. The wind bloweth where it listeth and thou hearest the sound thereof, and canst not tell whither it cometh and whither it goeth, so is everyone that is born of the Spirit.
Dost thou trust in Christ, and Christ alone, dear one?
from a bio about Billy Bray in the public domain