My Grandfather, Philip Young (1876-1933) tells some of his own story:
My grandfather, born in February 1876, wrote the story of his conversion to Christ in verse. He tells us that his parents did their best to train him in the fear of God, but in vain. They were “forced to use the rod”. He used to play the fool and disturb the others at Sunday School. In time he came to feel he was too old to continue going to Sunday School, or indeed to “tread the paths of good.” But he sensed that it was also dangerous to “drift out into the world”, and so joined the International Order of Grand Templars, which was a temperance movement.
His enthusiastic nature soon showed itself as he brought more recruits to the movement than others did. They started a children’s lodge to warn them of the curses of wine. He became the Chief Templar.
Then he started to play football. The game itself carried no harm, but he came to feel later, as he looked back, that it had drawn him into bad company. Previously he had never even liked beer, but now he began to drink it.
In 1894 he “had a spree”, as he puts it, whilst his mother was back in County Durham for a week’s holiday. His money ran out, and a friend suggested they should become soldiers. So, the following morning, along with three others, he went to Brynmawr and “got sworn in”. The sergeant gave them each a shilling, and they were told to return the following morning on the 10 o’clock train.
When he arrived home, his father Samuel fell into a dreadful rage: he had wanted his help in the garden for the day, which Philip had been well aware of, and Samuel told him he should be ashamed of his escapade. When he told Samuel he had enlisted and would be away for three months, it caused Samuel to feel that his cares, and his hopes, in Philip’s upbringing had been wasted.
The following morning he went off to Brecon, but he soon found out that army life was not what he had hoped for. He even had to pay for his tea! He also knew that his course of action would bring heartache to his parents – but also that they would be praying for him.
He began to compare army life with home, “where all is bright and free” – where he could be his own boss once the day’s work was done. He wrote home, requesting £1 to buy himself out, and promising to mend his ways.
He received the money on a Sunday morning, with joy to know that he would soon be back home with family, and with freedom. His friends were pleased to see him back too. He determined to try to make amends.
But he did not leave those whom he later came to see as bad company; he seemed to have no willpower to do so. “I drank and drank with all my might… a craving had begun.” The family began to experience a creeping dismay about him.
His craving (he tells us) did not stop at drink, but he “went further into sin, vile passions… lust of the flesh… a low, licentious life.”
In the course of time, his way of life wrecked his health. Yet the more he drank, the more he felt the fire fanned within him.
His parents prayed for him daily, asking God that their son would give up drink and sin and follow Christ. They tried to persuade him – and he promised to start a better life. But he made the attempt only on the strength of his own willpower, without seeking the help of Jesus Christ. A glass of stout one night led to this temptation: I’ve broken my vow anyway now, so I may as well drink on. He drank worse than previously; his parents’ pleas were in vain.
He decided to try his hand at gambling, to win money for more ale. Sometimes he spent all Sunday at cards, and in the evening went to “the tap-room” with his friends. Sometimes he lost all his money, but he thought he would attempt to borrow more. He went to the pawn shop, putting in his watch and chain. He lost the fear of God’s just wrath.
His parents persuaded him to join a band of Templars, and again he formed the intention of making amends for all he had done. For a time things went well. But then: “suddenly I fell. I thought that I could be like some who take a glass and stop.” Very soon, the old craving worked within him again. He would try to stop, but was powerless to do so.
During the six-month South Wales strike, which lasted from 1st April till 1st September 1898, he never took his strike pay home. Ale was twopence a pint, and that is what the money was spent on. He tried to gather and sell coal during the strike, to get money for beer. When this failed, he decided to steal one load from his parents’ cellar – after all, he reckoned, it was coal which his father helped to dig out. He knew Samuel would be very angry when he discovered the theft, especially as the money would be spent on beer. He got home drunk that night, and a major row ensued. Samuel told him to leave. But his mother soothed Samuel’s anger.
Philip himself now felt that Christ was wrestling with his conscience.
Once again he vowed to be a better son when the strike was over and work started again. But though he tried to mend his ways, again it was in vain. Within two months he was worse than he had been before, and he even freely cursed his parents.
They did not turn him out of the home, but they felt they were trying in vain to bring him to see sense. They continued to pray that he would come to recognise his folly.
He felt helpless. Even his wardrobe was suffering from his expenditure on drink. Christmas was spent in a drunken haze. His new year’s resolution for 1899 was to be a total abstainer – but he broke it on New Year’s Day! He felt all hope of improvement had gone, that he would never be good.
Nonetheless, he had been aware for some time that the Spirit of God was striving with him – that Jesus Christ was, as it were, “knocking at the door” of his life, ready and willing for Philip to receive him.
He changed his place of work from Dodd’s Slope to Milfraen Pit, which seemed to offer an opportunity to earn more. He started on a Friday morning, worked till Saturday afternoon, then “started on the spree. I drank all day that Sunday.” On the Monday, there was danger at the pit, so he was not working. He went straight to the pub, stayed all day, got drunk, squandered his pay. His mother came to the pub and asked him to come home, but he said he would stay a little longer. In fact he did not leave till closing time, all his money spent.
Martha was waiting for him; Samuel was in bed. He was too drunk to wash and go to bed, and lay down on the floor. “If only I could quench my thirst, I would never have any more beer!”
One story from (I believe) his daughter-in-law Fan (née Fanny Griffin) may fit here into his own narrative. It tells that he was on the way home one night from Cae Wight (the area which includes the top of Wain Street and the present-day garages) on the road towards Abergavenny, rolling drunk, when he saw a vision of the Devil and went home to plead with his mother for help.
When he did go to bed, he was unable to sleep, and his brain was in a whirl. At midday he came downstairs, wanted nothing to eat, and went back to the pub. But he knew he had to stop. He sat, thinking of his likely fate.
His drinking partners were making fun of him and whispering. He vowed he would have no more: his boozing was over; from now on he would be a different man.
Wednesday found him back at the pit, but his mind was in such a state that he could not work. When he was hoisted up from the pit that night, he remembered all his sins, and knew that if he were to die, he was unprepared to pass through death. One of his workmates felt the same.
He resolved not to go out that night. The temptation pulled at him, but he felt the Holy Spirit “strive mightily”, and he sensed that the time for decision had indeed come. Feeling very weary he went to bed, but thoughts of dying filled his mind and sleep would not come. Yet he seemed to hear the Lord’s whisper: “Cast your burden on me!”
He asked Samuel to come and pray with him, but Samuel, having prayed for him all those years, was too full of emotion to do it. So Philip sent for William Bower, who lived close by. Despite the late hour, William came.
He found Philip with his face in his hands. He felt he had been too sinful, that God would not forgive, cleanse and accept him. But William pointed out that Jesus had said that “whosoever” may come and he would give rest to those who do come. We need only to believe, no other work of merit is required, for God’s peace to come to the heart. Philip could hardly grasp the fact that salvation is that free – that Christ’s blood was shed at Calvary for just such wretches as he felt himself now to be.
He got down on his knees; William prayed; Philip asked God for forgiveness. God heard and accepted his prayer: he always hears and accepts the prayers of truly repentant sinners.
Soon Philip knew that he had truly found the Saviour, and he was filled with a new joy. Assured of God’s favour, he knew his sins were forgiven, and death would be followed with eternal life.
Next morning he went to work feeling a different man – his heart happy and light, a new life within him, his burden gone. His workmates could see the joy on his face; he felt full up with God, born again, a new creation, washed from his sins by the blood of Christ.
He sang hymns, he praised Jesus Christ, he thanked him for what he had done within him. Now he resolved not to go to hell with his former friends, but to heaven where millions praise God, and where is Jesus, the sinner’s friend.
The old temptation came that very day, Satan tempting, the craving pulling at him. But he held fast. At home that night he read the Bible, found strength, and discovered that through trust in the Lord, Satan’s power is overcome. He had come to know that truth of these words: “Jesus died for me.”
* * *
In 1933 Philip was ill for five or six months with congestion of the lungs, from coal dust breathed in when he worked in the South Wales coal mines. The doctor who attended him commented that he wished he might die, when his time should come, with the peace which my grandfather had in dying. On the grave where his and his wife’s mortal remains lie are the words, “Peace. For ever with the Lord”