All this time, while my father was living this life of fiddling and drinking and sinning, he was under the deepest conviction. He always said his prayers night and morning and asked God to give him power over drink, but every time temptation came in his way he fell before it. He was like the chaff driven before the wind. He hated himself afterwards because he had been so easily overcome. He was so concerned about his soul that he could rest nowhere. If he had been able to read the Word of God, I feel sure, and he, looking back on those days, feels sure, that he would have found the way of life. His sister and her husband, who had no children, came to travel with us. She could struggle her way through a little of the New Testament, and used to read to my father about the sufferings of Christ and His death upon the tree for sinful men. She told my father it was the sins of the people which nailed Him there, and he often felt in his heart that he was one of them. She was deeply moved when he wept and said, "Oh, how cruel to serve Him so!" I have seen father when we children were in bed at night, and supposed to be asleep, sitting over the fire, the flame from which was the only light. As it leapt up into the darkness it showed us a sad picture. There was father, with tears falling like bubbles on mountain streams as he talked to himself about mother and his promise to her to be good. He would say to himself aloud, "I do not know how to be good," and laying his hand upon his heart he would say, "I wonder when I shall get this want satisfied, this burden removed?" When father was in this condition there was no sleep for us children. We lay awake listening, not daring to speak, and shedding bitter tears. Many a time I have said the next morning to my sisters and my brother, "We have no mother and we shall soon have no father." We thought he was going out of his mind. We did not understand the want or the burden. It was all quite foreign to us. My father remained in this sleepless, convicted condition for a long time, but the hour of his deliverance was at hand.
"Long in darkness we had waited
For the shining of the light:
Long have felt the things we hated
Sink us into deeper night."
One morning we had left Luton behind us. My eldest sister was in the town selling her goods, and my father had arranged to wait for her on the roadside with our waggon. When our waggon stopped my father sat on the steps, wistfully looking towards the town against the time of his daughter's return, and thinking, no doubt, as he always was, of my mother and his unrest. Presently he saw two gipsy waggons coming towards him and when they got near he discovered to his great delight that they belonged to his brothers Woodlock and Bartholomew. Well do I remember that meeting. My father was the oldest of the three, and although he was such a big man he was the least in stature. The brothers were as surprised and delighted to meet my father as he was to meet them. They fell on each other's necks and wept. My father told them of his great loss, and they tried to sympathise with him, and the wives of the two brothers did their best to comfort us motherless children. The two waggons of my uncles faced my father's, but on the opposite side of the road. The three men sat on thc bank holding sweet fellowship together, and the two wives and the children of the three families gathered around them. Soon my father was talking about the condition of his soul. Said he to Woodlock and Bartholomew, "Brothers, I have a great burden that I must get removed. A hunger is gnawing at my heart. I can neither eat, drink, nor sleep. If I do not get this want satisfied I shall die!" And then the brothers said, "Cornelius, we feel just the same. We have talked about this to each other for weeks."
Though these three men had been far apart, God had been dealing with them at the same time and in the same way. Among the marvellous dispensations of Providence which have come within my own knowledge this is one of the most wonderful. These men were all hungry for the truth. They could not read and so knew nothing of the Bible. They had never been taught, and they knew very little of Jesus Christ. The light that had crept into their souls was "the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world." "He, the Spirit, will reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment."
As the brothers talked they felt how sweet it would be to go to God's house and learn of Him, for they had all got tired of their roaming life. My father was on the way to London, and fully resolved to go to a church and find out what it was his soul needed. The three brothers agreed to go together, and arranged to take in Cambridge by the way. They drove their waggon to the Barnwell end of the town, where there was a beer-shop. The three great big simple men went in and told the landlady how they felt. It is not often, I feel sure, that part of a work of grace is carried on in a beer-shop, and with the landlady thereof as an instrument in this Divine work. But God had been dealing with the landlady of this beer-house. When the brothers spoke to her she began to weep, and said, "I am somewhat in your case, and I have a book upstairs that will just suit you, for it makes me cry every time I read it." She brought the book down and lent it to the brothers to read. They went into the road to look after their horses. A young man who came out of the public-house offered to read from the book to them. It was "The Pilgrim's Progress." When he got to the point where Pilgrim's burden drops off as he looks at the cross, Bartholomew rose from his seat by the wayside and excitedly walking up and down, cried, "That is what I want, my burden removed. If God does not save me I shall die!" All the brothers at that moment felt the smart of sin, and wept like little children.
On the Sunday the three brothers went to the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Fitzroy Street, Cambridge, three times...
(Personal testimony from evangelist Gipsy Smith 1860-1947)