No Greater Love
Sadie called Jim and the children to supper. When the scraping of chairs had ceased, and everyone was in place, Jim looked all around the table, his eyes lingering lovingly upon each child, and Sadie. Heads were bowed reverently and little Dorothy asked the blessing. The blessing contained a phrase that was not in the blessing that was said at most tables in the little coal mining town. But then, six months ago, there wouldn’t have been any kind of blessing at all on the food on Jim and Sadie Colton’s table.
“Why thank God for it?” Jim had challenged when Sadie suggested it once. “I’m the one that earned it, ain’t I? Risk my neck for it every day. Got a right to eat it, I reckon.”
Then, what happend one day six months ago had changed the whole course of Jim’s life and thinking, and the concensus of opinon was that it had changed some other lives too.
It had started out to be an ordinary day. The morning shift rode the belt into Hixton’s slope mine as usual. “Big Jim” could hear Bill Jensen’s cheery whistle above the roar of rollers beneath the belt and the huge fans that ventilated the mine. Bill’s whistle irritated Jim. Bill had religion, and was so sold on it that he was sure everyone else would want it too. But “Big Jim” had listened to “Preacher Bill” telling about the Lord and His love for men with the greatest of skepticism.
“Big Jim” declared there wasn’t a man alive who could live the Christian religion. He’d once been double-crossed by a man who called himself a Christian, and he never forgot it. Sadie had tried to keep the children in Sunday School, but “Big Jim” had put a stop to it. “Don’t want my kids to grow up to be a bunch of hypocrites. Rather see them stand on their own two feet and be out and out what they are,” he’d stormed.
Two miles back from the entrance the men left the belt and started for their various jobs. All morning “Big Jim” growled at Bill when he had to work around him. Bill just kept still, or whistled. Finally Bill, started singing, “I am so glad that Jesus loves me.” That was too much for Jim. He dropped his tools and stepped toward Bill. “Why don’t you shut up and work for a change? I’m getting sick and tired of hearing you sing that song. Anyway, whatever gave you the idea that the Lord loves you? Think you’re somebody special to Him?”
Bill finished loading some coal and turned around. “In answer to your first question, I am working. In answer to your second one, the Bible says that Jesus loved me first. Just think of that, He loved us before we ever even knew about Him! He didn’t stop with that, either. He got busy and did something about it. Yes sir. Knowing that we were separated from God by our sins, Jesus laid down His life for us. Once He said, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ That may be as far as man will go, but it sure isn’t as far as Jesus went. Imagine Him being willing to die for people like those men that put Him to death, and you and me -”
As Jim stood there, thinking of the hypocrites he felt the church was full of, and looking at Bill, an unreasonable fury gripped him. “Shut up, right there. I’ll give you to understand right here and now that I’ve had enough of your preachin’. Can’t even ask you a simple question but what you start in on the Bible. From now on when you want to preach your goody-goody doctrine, get away from me - out of earshot. Hear? Down here trying to tell me how to live. Oh, you didn’t say it, but it’s written all over you. Get away from here! Get out of my way!”
Almost everyone within earshot dropped his tools. They’d known it was coming. There had to be a showdown between these two men sooner or later.
But Bill Jensen didn’t want to fight. He took a step or two away as Jim flexed his muscles. “Why, Jim, I didn’t mean to offend you. You asked me how I knew the Lord loved me, and I just started to tell you. Of course, if you don’t want to know-” Bill broke off with a shrug and his funny little grin, and turned back to his work.
“Big Jim” slowly untensed and turned away. You couldn’t win an argument with Bill. And Bill wouldn’t fight. Not that Jim would relish a showdown of physical strength. Bill hadn’t worked underground long enough to feel it yet, but “Big Jim” knew his own strength wasn’t what it once was. Anyway, the foreman was coming toward them, Jim noted out of the corner of his eye.
“Bill, you and Jim knock off here. I think the rest of the men can load coal fast enough for the time being. I need you two to put up some props.” The foreman ignored their silence and led the way toward a newer section of the mine.
The two men worked silently and methodically. The top was bad, and when Jim worked under bad top he was nervous. He thought of Sadie and the children. Somehow Jim always thought of his family when his work was particularly dangerous.
He took a step backward to get a better hold on the big timber they were raising. Suddenly there was an ominous cracking sound overhead. Jim felt a violent shove from behind and stumbled forward. He regained his footing just as a huge chunk of “gob”, that gray mixture of clay and coal, fell where he had stood a few seconds before.
There was a convulsive movement - a scream of pain, and Jim stood petrified. Bill was under all that gob! Jim yelled, and he heard his voice echoing down the corridors. He clawed savagely at the gob that covered most of Bill’s body. Bill moaned. Jim uncovered his face. Other workers were soon beside him and the gob was removed from Bills’ mangled body. “Better not move him till Doc gets here,” they decided.
Once Bill’s eyes fluttered open and Jim kneeling beside him, asked brokenly, “Bill, you saw it coming. Why did you lose your chance for me?” Bill’s face twisted with pain. “You - you weren’t ready. I was. Jesus loves you.” Bill’s voice trailed off indistinctly and he sank into oblivion.
Jim Colton dropped his head into his grimy hands. So this was an example of what a Christian would do for a man like “Big Jim!” What was that Scripture -”Greater love hath no man-.” Sobs shook “Big Jim’s” huge frame. Preacher Bill’s last sermon had been demonstrated.
No one laughed when “Big Jim” prayed audibly to Preacher Bill’s God, asking forgiveness for his sins, including his hard-headedness. They were so far underground, and so near to death. No one laughed either when three times daily “Big Jim” and Sadie Colton and their children thanked God “for the man who died for Daddy, and for Jesus who died for us all.”
“Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” John 6:37.
ELVA M. JOHNSON