Shut Up With A Bible
When Nicholas I became emperor of Russia, his first task was to put down a formidable sedition among the aristocracy of his realm. Many nobles, detected in guilt, and many who were simply suspected, were thrown into prison. One, who was innocent, was by nature a man of fiery temper; his wrongful arrest infuriated him, and he raved like a wild animal. Day after day, brooding over his treatment, he would stamp shrieking through his cell, and curse the emperor and curse God. Why did He not prevent this injustice?
No quiet came to him save in the intervals of exhaustion that followed his fits of rage. A visit from the venerable clergyman on the ninth day of his confinement, produced no softening effect. The good man’s prayer was heard with sullen contempt. The divine words, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," sounded like mockery to the embittered prisoner. The aged minister went away, leaving a Bible in the cell, which he begged the prisoner to read.
As soon as his visitor was gone, the angry nobleman threw the Bible into a corner. What to him was the word of a God who lets tyrants abuse him?
But when the terrible loneliness of succeeding days had nearly crazed him, he caught up the volume, and opened it, and his first glance fell on the middle of the fiftieth psalm: "Call upon me in the day of trouble: and I will deliver thee." The text surprised and touched him, but his pride resented the feeling, and he dropped the book.
The next day, desperation drove him again to the only companion of his solitude, and from that time he read the Bible constantly. Then he began to study it, and commit whole chapters to memory. The story of the Savior’s life and death totally changed him. He saw himself a fellow sufferer with Christ who was unjustly accused and slain.
Revengeful rage gave way, and the spirit of a martyr took its place. Like the persecuted Christians shut up in the Roman catacombs, he forgave his enemies. An unworldly joy took up the time he had once spent in harsh thoughts and words. The shadows of wrong and death vanished in the new light that shone upon him from beyond.
The company of the book—the one Book in all the world that could have done it—had given the proud noble another heart.
Madame Dubois, once a beloved prison missionary in New York, from whose writings this story is taken, was in Russia when the condemned man’s aunt and sister, with whom she was visiting received a letter, which was believed to be his last. It was the outpouring of an exalted soul superior to fate.
He had undergone his trial; and, unable to prove his innocence, had been sentenced to death.
On the day set for his execution, while the ladies of his mansion walked in tears through the crape-hung parlors, suddenly the sight of their doomed kinsman himself astonished them at the door!
It was an unhoped for deliverance at the last moment. When the jailer’s key unlocked the prisoner’s cell, instead of the messenger of death, the czar of Russia stood before him. A conspirator’s intercepted letter had placed the innocence of the suspected nobleman beyond question, and the czar made what amends he could by bestowing on him a splendid castle and a general’s commission.
Seventy-five years have passed since then, and with them the life of the almost-martyred Russian; but the fruits of his devout fidelity and kindness among his fellow men, the hospital he built for the sick and friendless, and the very Bible he was shut up with in his own distress, still bear witness to a consecration that was worth all personal cost, and infinitely more.
The Youth’s Instructor, January 3, 1901.