“Con”

This is a long read, but PLEASE take the time to read it and find hope. There truly is nothing new under the sun. With a backdrop of pandemics and violent riots, God has raised up trophies of grace before, and He will again.

This is an excerpt from a book called Mended Crockery. It is made available by Bethesda Free Church, Sunderland, England.

The young man in this story joined a group in 1917 that had these guides for its adherents:

  • “The I.W.W. uses every method which will help to win its fights. One great weapon is sabotage, which means doing anything on the job to lessen the Master’s profits or impede his business.
  • “The I.W.W. has developed the lightning strike (coming out without notice), the irritation strike (coming out and going back, and so continuing), the stay-in strike (folding arms while on the job), and other unique but effective weapons. It abides by no legal findings or capitalist morality, having a legal code and morality of its own.
  • “Its legal code is ‘Labour is entitled to all it can get’ -eventually the earth – and, ‘win by any means, but win.’Its morality is, ‘what hurts the boss is moral; what hurts us (the workers) is immoral, and must be fought.’
  • Membership is barred to police, soldiers (professional or amateur), men-of-war’s men, or any other repressive and parasitical scabs on society. The I.W.W. is for men and women, not slugs or worms without backbone.”

Sound familiar?

Here is his story as recorded by Earnest Bell in Mended Crockery:


He was not a native of the Barbary Coast, but was born of parents who were amongst the most respected members of Bethesda Free Chapel. Brought up in a Christian home, surrounded by everything that would tend to the uprearing of a godly character, the gaiety and temptations of the outside world an unknown quantity, he yet was not happy. Unsatisfied, he yearned to break the bonds that fettered his being. The cut-and-dried, hum-drum, trammeling round of meetings and classes was not for him. He was stifled and strangled with it all.

Liberty! Freedom! The call was insistent; the call of the wild, the urge to cast all from him, if only he might breathe, if only he might live. At the age of seventeen he ran away from home and enlisted in the Army, giving his age as nineteen. With tears in their eyes his people followed him and sought to win him back, but with scathing scorn he mocked their babyishness and impatiently bade them begone. Not to be out done, however, his parents, finding all other means unavailing, disclosed his real age, which, being two years below the standard, he was unceremoniously sent home. This victory was not a success, however. Home ties were shackles he would not endure. Home love found no responsive echo in his heart. Unrestricted independence he must have. He wanted elbow room. There was, then, nothing for it but that he should have his own way, and so, like the prodigal of old, he gathered all together and took his journey into a far country and for long years was lost sight of to those who waited and waited in vain for his return.

Such men have been found in all ages. Men – unlike the missionary and the trader – without any definite aim or object in view, but actuated solely by a restless wanderlust, wholly in submissive to the claims of the social community.

Many and varied have been the theories put forward by thinkers in an attempt to explain this trait of human character.

The evolutionist speaks of such an one as a reversion to type and harks us back to the Great Ice Age, some fifty thousand (or is it millions?) years ago, when his sub-man ancestor, following his migratory instincts, fled before the oncoming frozen devastation. The historian, with a less expansive outlook, talks of the moving spirit of the world pioneer, the inborn endowment of the empire builder.

The Mendelist mentions dominant or recessive characters as factors of his inheritance and finishes “as you were.”

The psychologist refers to his state as a neurotic condition, the reactive outcome of a repressed complex.

But in contrast to all these we have the words of a Teller of Stories, a Man of simple language, yet profound in His knowledge of men. He tells us of one such man, and He says, “He was lost”; nay, more, He says, “He was dead.”

Choose you which you will of these creeds, and let the sequel show its worth.

There’s a land which is fondly referred to by its citizens in moments of enthusiasm as a Land of Hope and Glory. It was to this land that our hero made his journey, and, arriving at length upon its hospitable shores, he at once began to feel the possibility of shaking off the cramps of his earlier life. Here was space, scope, latitude, the place of big things, big aspirations, big talk. He soon found work and joined the labor gangs of the railroads. As this work entailed frequent movements from place to place across the continent, living in the open, among men of most extreme views, unencumbered by ties either of home or conscience, he was at last finding himself in a condition in which he could live.

It was upon a certain dark night that, entering the city of Seattle, he found himself outside an open-air meeting. The preacher was a new thing to him. He was an apostle of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) and was holding forth in terms of lurid vehemence, and with all the violence of one of that ilk, the claims of Red Revolutionary Socialism, urging upon his hearers the momentous necessity of uniting to wage war upon the upper classes, that the masses might have freedom. Ah! that magic word “freedom,” how it struck upon the heart of the interested listener.

But the preacher went further still, and included in his vituperation not only the capitalist but the religionist also, calling down his abusive invective upon all forms of priestcraft, religious beliefs and worship as maneuvers of tyrannous hypocrisy; the whole edifice a gigantic imposture. Down with them! Crush the despots! Put out that Light of Heaven – that mockery – which for so long had blinded men’s eyes. God? there was no God. Man was everything; man was all.

To say that Con was interested is to put it mildly – he was startled. Somehow or other a sneaking sense of moral obligation had always been lurking within him. He had once upon a time had a kind of conviction that there was a something called sin, and although this was something becoming very dim and misty, it nevertheless exerted a certain amount of pressure upon his sub-conscious soul. But now, here was a practitioner who, with the magic of his tongue, could dispel all this illusion. There was no God – ergo there was no Devil. No Heaven, no Hell. No Commandment, no Sin. No Judgement, no Future. Blind Necessity the only Law. Might the only Right. What then? Away with all restraint, all submission; sever all bonds; defy all control. Liberty!Freedom! Emancipation! Surely the goal was reached at last.

He joined the I.W.W. and soon became one of its leading lights, reveling in the utter abandonment of all conventions. Saturated with the frenzy of the uncontrolled – and almost uncontrollable – license afforded by the rules of the movement with its Machiavellian possibilities surging riotously and ungoverned through his being, he upheld to the full the glorious tenets of this noble institution. Down with Masters! Down with Priests! Down with Society! Down with everything that’s up!

In October, 1917, the official organ of the British I.W.W. published the society’s program and plan of campaign under fifty heads. The character of the society can be judged in some small measure from the following selection:

“The I.W.W. uses every method which will help to win its fights. One great weapon is sabotage, which means doing anything on the job to lessen the Master’s profits or impede his business.

“The I.W.W. has developed the lightning strike (coming out without notice), the irritation strike (coming out and going back, and so continuing), the stay-in strike (folding arms while on the job), and other unique but effective weapons. It abides by no legal findings or capitalist morality, having a legal code and morality of its own.

“Its legal code is ‘Labour is entitled to all it can get’ -eventually the earth – and, ‘win by any means, but win.’Its morality is, ‘what hurts the boss is moral; what hurts us (the workers) is immoral, and must be fought.’

Membership is barred to police, soldiers (professional or amateur), men-of-war’s men, or any other repressive and parasitical scabs on society.

The I.W.W. is for men and women, not slugs or worms without backbone.”

and the annals of this society have shown it to be one of the worst criminal organisations that have ever existed.

As we have stated, Con joined the I.W.W. and was soon in theforefront of its activities. His companions were men of note in the annals of anarchy and revolution. Bitter feuds, strikes, riots, accompanied invariably by sabotage and bloodshed, were the order of the day. One of these companions, Vincent St. John, General Secretary of the I.W.W., it was who instigated the great Chicago riots in which the military were involved, when many lives were lost. This affair, occurring as it did on the first of May, was the origin of the now worldwide celebration known as Labour Day. Another of his comrades was Wm. D. Haywood, President of the Western federation of Miners, who was sentenced to penal servitude for life for the murder of Steinberg, Governor of Idaho. Others were Emma Goldman, the notorious Russian Bolshevist, Jack London, the author, and J. P. Thompson, National Organiser of the I.W.W.,from whose “Anarchy” this quotationappears in the September (1929) number of “Dawn”:

“People in ever-increasing numbers refuse to believe fairytales of Gods and devils at war – one sitting on a throne inheaven, the other on a throne in hell. Most members ofthe ruling classes pretend to believe for social andbusiness reasons…

“You ask what we of Labour think of you? We are horrified- horrified at the unnecessary poverty and misery andslavery in the world, horrified at your savage gods, and weare determined to drive all of you from your thrones.”

This, then, was the height and depth, the length and breadth, of the ideal realised by this young man with the instincts and spirit of a world’s pioneer. Conflicts, cruelty, and venomous red ruth the end and goal, the logical outcome, of that urge which men would have us admire.

After some years he made his way into China, where he stayed awhile and then took ship for Europe and in course of time landed once more upon the shores of his native land.His native land!

He owned to no native land – the world was his only country. Mankind his only God. Himself his only hope. The future -oblivion. Such was “Con” when he stood once more in Sunderland amongst his old friends and acquaintances. A stranger in a strange land. Known and yet unknown. His stern and set face speaking of the cast iron nature within. His adamantine heart proof against all coercion.

And then a strange thing happened.It was in May, 1919.One evening, in company with a friend, he paid a visit to an old acquaintance, and entering the door of his house, lo, and behold, he was in the midst of about fifty young men and women. It was Bible Class night! What his feelings were nobody knows, nobody will ever know, the doesn’t know himself. But he stayed. Why? Out of courtesy?Courtesy wasn’t a factor in his scheme of things. Why, then? Nobody knows – nobody ever will know. But he stayed.

The subject was “Sonship” and the text “If the son shall make ye free ye shall be free indeed.” What happened that night in that cast-iron, sin-blackened conscience-seared soul, nobody knows. But when he went out he was a son of God. The Holy Spirit had worked a work beyond all human comprehension. The old restless, violent spirit had ceased to be. A new creature had arisen. A man at rest with himself, at peace with the world, believing in God as his maker, accepting JesusChrist as the only salvation of man, ready and willing to offer himself, yea, and if needs be, to be offered for the service of his Master – mark it well – his Master.

Henceforth caring for nothing but that the Gospel banner be uplifted high and that he be accounted worthy to uphold it. And now for over twelve years he has carried this out with unswerving fidelity, with unflagging energy, spending and being spent, winning men to Christ, plucking them out of the fire as brands from the burning, always persuaded than neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nordepth nor any other creature shall be able to separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus his Lord.

“Con,”

I said to him one day,

“what was it that night that changed you? What note was struck, what process, what connecting link unites the old with the new?”

“Man,”

he said,

“that’s the great mystery of my life. There was no shadow of premeditation, no desire, no seeking. I was converted – but I don’t know how.”

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