London — December 24th, 1859
Sixteen years. It had been sixteen years since Ebeneezer Scrooge turned over a new leaf. Formerly he had been a squeezing, wrenching, clutching, covetous scoundrel, but for sixteen years he was the most generous philanthropist in all of London. Sixteen years, and in that time Scrooge was as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew.
No one knew for sure what had caused this change in Mr. Scrooge. Most thought it was due to the seventh anniversary of Marley’s death. The superstitious supposed he must have seen a ghost. Truth be told, it was all on account of a strange and terrifying dream, produced by an undigested bit of beef, a crumb of cheese, and the fragment of an underdone potato.
Whatever the cause, that Scrooge had changed was beyond all doubt. No longer a miser, he gave liberally to social causes on behalf of London’s destitute. He established trusts for the orphanages, funded greater education for the poor, and even served as chair of the city’s smallpox inoculation committee.
For sixteen years he had cared especially for the Cratchit family, paying all of Tiny Tim’s medical bills and procuring care from the finest physicians in all England. Tiny Tim was not so tiny anymore, nor did he walk with any crutch or need the support of an iron frame. He was a stout, healthy, 21-year-old young man, energetic and gainfully employed. An especially careful observer might detect traces of a slight limp in his gate, but by and large he remained unaffected by the sickness of his early childhood.
No longer a simple clerk, Tim’s father, Bob Cratchit, was being prepared to take over Scrooge’s enterprise and charitable foundation. Scrooge knew his own time on earth was limited. Jacob Marley had already passed twenty-three years prior, and Scrooge was living on borrowed time. There was so much work to be done. Despite Scrooge’s best efforts, it seemed like the poor were getting poorer. There was so much suffering and misery remaining in London, let alone the world. He hoped Bob Cratchit could carry on his legacy. Cratchit must carry on his legacy. And Tim must do so after that. Even with diligent work, it might take decades to finally rid the world of poverty, Scrooge thought.
And as Scrooge thought of ridding the world of poverty, his musings were interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Come in!” he said..
Two middle-aged, portly gentlemen stepped inside the door. They took off their hats and bowed slightly.
“Mr. Scrooge, I believe?” asked one of the gentlemen, referring to his list.
“Yes, you’ve come to the right place. How may I assist you today?”
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are lacking in common necessities; far more are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Indeed they are,” Scrooge replied, “Put me down for five hundred pounds.”
“Excuse me sir, I may be hard of hearing, but did you say five hundred crowns?”
“No good sir, I most definitely said pounds. Five hundred pounds.”
Both gentlemen were floored. In the eighteen-fifties, this was an enormous sum.
“Your generosity is greatly appreciated,” said the first gentleman, “This benevolence is unprecedented and will be of tremendous assistance.”
“Aye, many good thanks, ya Scrooge!” said the second gentleman, betraying his Yorkshire country accent. He was not accustomed to speaking during these appointments.
“Never let it be said of me that I passed up an occasion to serve the needs of my fellow man,” Scrooge concluded. “I wish you good success in raising these funds.”
As the two gentlemen turned and stepped out of the door, they passed Tim Cratchit who was on his way in.
“Tim!” exclaimed Scrooge enthusiastically, “So good to see you!”
“Happy to see you too, Mr. Scrooge!” said Tim.
“Oh please, call me Ebeneezer.”
“No sir, Mr. Scrooge. You have always been kind to me, like a father really, but I’m not about to repay that kindness with any less respect.”
“Very well then.”
“Do you know what day it is tomorrow?” asked Tim.
“Tomorrow? Why of course! Tomorrow is Christmas day!” replied Scrooge heartily. “A day for making merry with friends, for considering the less fortunate, and seeking the betterment of one’s neighbor.”
“It’s the birth of Jesus indeed, Mr. Scrooge, and this year it falls upon the Lord’s Day as well...” Tim paused, trying to get his question out. His heart beat a little faster, and he had a knot in his stomach. “...and you know, I was thinking, perhaps you would like to join me at church tomorrow morning, seeing it’s Christmas, and a Sunday too?”
“I don’t believe I’ll be able to make it.”
“But you won’t be feasting till mid-afternoon. You’ll have plenty of time.”
Scrooge frowned a little. “You’re still going to hear that...evangelical preacher, are you not? The country fellow who always seems to attract a veritable throng of hearers?”
“Yes sir, if it’s Mr. Spurgeon you mean.”
“Then it’s definitely not convenient for me.”
“But tomorrow’s Christmas, the day we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us! And if the Lord Himself could leave heaven’s glory, and come to live among us miserable sinners on this poor earth, is it too much a sacrifice to go a few blocks across London to hear His gospel preached, and on His own birthday no less?”
“If you ask me, that’s a poor excuse for pricking a man’s conscience on the twenty-fifth of December.” Scrooge said.
Tim was at a loss for words. He would have ended the conversation right then and there, if Scrooge had not let go of his tongue: “your Mr. Spurgeon is a bright fellow,” he added, “‘tis a pity he’s wasting his talents in the pulpit. He could do a lot of good if he had a mind to really help his fellow man. With a wit like his he might even find a cure for the cholera.”
“I dare say man has no greater need than to be set free from his sin by the power of the gospel,” Tim replied boldly, “I’d face the cholera any day before I’d try and face the wrath of God!”
“Wrath of God? Humbug!” said Scrooge, “I don’t believe in such things. At the Unitarian church which I attend, we hear of a god who is all love and mercy, but most importantly, we speak of the universal brotherhood of mankind, and the necessity of charity and good deeds.”
“But what of Christ?” Tim asked, “do you have an interest in the Saviour’s blood?”
“Interest? Mankind is my interest. The common welfare is my interest; charity, mercy, and benevolence, are all my interests! And that’s precisely why I abhor evangelical religion. It takes a man’s mind off of the real problems here on earth and gets him all interested in heaven. It’s useless, from a practical point of view. Take your Mr. Spurgeon, for example. Thousands flock to hear him preach. It’s terribly overcrowded, demonstrably unsafe, the room is filled with dirty air, the fire risk is astronomical, there was even that deadly stampede at Spurgeon’s service three years ago. I do read the newspapers, you know.”
“The papers were not entirely fair,” said Tim.
“Fair or not, the facts are that twenty-eight people were sent to the hospital, and seven lives were lost. Seven lives! Seven lives, snuffed out into—”
“—into eternity?” Tim quipped. The point was not lost on Scrooge.
“I still say it isn’t safe,” Scrooge piped up, a bit irritated and trying to recover his point, “and if I had my way, every pastor who put ‘gospel preaching’ ahead of the public health would be locked up until he came to his senses!”
“Mr. Scrooge, you could lock up every gospel preacher in England and you still couldn’t lock up the gospel. That’s why the large crowds come so gladly. It’s not the man, really. It’s just that he’s got a gift from almighty God for explaining the way of salvation in simple terms. And as for the crowds, you’ll find there’s enough room for everyone now that we’re meeting at the Exeter Hall.”
“I still say it’s all rubbish when a man ought to practice charity and liberality.”
“But we do! Love and good deeds flow from the heart of every Christian. We show mercy to others because of the mercy shown us. I dare say if a man doesn’t know how to show mercy, he likely hasn’t received it himself! But all this change in a man is brought about by the power of the gospel. Leave that aside, and you’re putting the cart in front of the horse. It’s useless, in this life and in the next.”
“I live a life of exceptional virtue, dear Tim, and I think God will accept that.”
“If your own virtue was good enough, there wouldn’t need to be a Christmas. And there certainly wouldn’t need to be a cross. Emmanuel came to us because He was the only sacrifice a Holy God could ever accept. And if God’s justice didn’t spare Him, I don’t think He’ll spare you either!”
“I’ve had quite enough of this,” Scrooge said, visibly annoyed, “you serve God in your way, and I’ll serve him in mine. We need not quarrel any longer over matters of religion. For now, I need to get some papers finished, and prepare for tomorrow’s feastings! Have yourself a Merry Christmas, Tim.”
“A merry...a merry Christmas to you too,” he replied, not a little despondently.
Tim Shuffled his feet out into the street. A few flurries were falling as the shopkeepers were wrapping up their final transactions before the holiday. As he walked home, he prayed, silently, “Lord, I can truly make a big mess of things. I know your gospel is offensive to man’s pride, but I can be pretty offensive too sometimes. And sometimes it’s hard to know exactly who’s causing the offense. So forgive me if I’ve dishonoured you at all in this. I know if Scrooge is going to be saved, it won’t be by my wits, even Mr. Spurgeon can’t save people. But save Scrooge, Lord, save him mightily by your own sovereign grace.”
The night fell upon London, and by and large the city fell asleep.
The following morning Scrooge awoke with a merry heart. It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. “What a Merry Christmas it is, indeed!” He thought to himself. “First of all, I shall send a turkey to the Cratchits…” The Cratchits. The thought of them made him remember his quarrel with Tim the evening prior. “I was a bit too hard on the lad. I do believe I owe him an apology. Yes, I do, and I won’t have that hanging over me this whole festive day, I shall make amends with him first thing! I shall head straightway to the Cratchit house, and...” Scrooge looked at the clock. “Oh my, have I overslept? Tim won’t be at home, he’ll already be on his way to Exeter Hall.”
Scrooge opened the window, and called down to a young boy who happened to be passing by on the street. “Young lad, I would be much obliged if you’d fetch me a carriage. Bring it and the driver, and I’ll give you a shilling. Be back here within five minutes, and I’ll give you half a crown!” The boy scurried off in haste.
Within a few minutes, the carriage had been dispatched, and Scrooge was on his way to make amends with Tim. “I shall catch him before he goes into service,” thought Scrooge, “and give him my apology. Then I shall make merry with festivities.”
But alas, by the time Scrooge finally arrived, the service was already well underway.
“I can’t go hunting him in the middle of a service, making a commotion and all that. I’ll wait outside and catch him when he comes out.” But in his haste to leave home earlier, Scrooge had neglected to put on a heavy overcoat, and the winds on the northside of London produced an especially frightful chill. “There’s no use catching my death out here” he thought, “I suppose I’ll have to find a seat inside.”
And find a seat he did, while Spurgeon’s sermon was in full swing. Scrooge couldn’t help but listen in:
“Dear hearer, I cannot tell where you are—but wherever you may be in this hall, the eyes of my heart are looking for you, that when they have seen you, they may weep over you. Ah! miserable wretch, without a hope, without Christ, without God. Unto you there is no Christmas mirth, for you no child is born; to you no Son is given. Sad is the story of the poor men and women, who during the week before last fell down dead in our streets through cruel hunger and bitter cold. But far more pitiable is your lot, far more terrible shall be your condition in the day when you shall cry for a drop of water to cool your burning tongue, and it shall be denied you; when you shall seek for death, for grim cold death—seek for him as for a friend, and yet you shall not find him!”
Scrooge was not accustomed to hearing this sort of preaching in his Unitarian church. He felt as though the preacher was speaking right at him, as if he were the only hearer among the thousands in the hall. Spurgeon continued, and Scrooge hung on every word:
“I beseech you to renounce yourself. You have been resting perhaps in some hope that you would make yourself better, and so save yourself. Give up that delusive fancy. You have seen the silk-worm: it will spin, and spin, and spin, and then it will die where it has spun itself a shroud. And your good works are but a spinning for yourself a robe for your dead soul. You can do nothing by your best prayers, your best tears, or your best works, to merit eternal life. Why, the Christian who is converted to God, will tell you that he cannot live a holy life by himself. If the ship in the sea cannot steer itself aright, do you think the wood that lies in the carpenter's yard can put itself together, and make itself into a ship, and then go out to sea and sail to America? Yet, this is just what you imagine. The Christian who is God's workmanship can do nothing, and yet you think you can do something. Now, give up self. God help you to strike a black mark through every idea of what you can do.”
Scrooge was cut to the heart. He couldn’t explain it, but in that moment, his self-righteousness melted away, and he was undone. “What must I do to be saved?” He thought to himself.
As if in direct reply, the preacher continued:
“Sinner, believe in Christ. Cast yourself on him. Sink or swim, take him to be your all in all!”
Could it be that simple? Yes, indeed it was. The gospel he had so long mocked was now sweet, a delight to his soul. As the sermon concluded, there was no raised hand, no altar-call, no signing of a card, but in that very pew, Ebeneezer Scrooge, by some mysterious power, had truly become a new man. This was no mere turning over of a new leaf, but the imparting of a new heart. As the congregation sang a concluding hymn, Scrooge sang as loudly as ever a man did sing, tears streaming down his face:
"A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On Christ's kind arms I fall,
He is my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all."
Yes, the hymn was his own, for the joy was his own, indeed, the very righteousness of Christ was his own!