Herculano: A Miracle of Grace



 "Lord, have compassion on a poor sinner!" was the continual wail and cry of a big giant of a Brazilian, as he lay rolling on the floor of his adobe cabin, in an agony of tears, touched by the Spirit of God, realizing, for the first time in his life, the awful, sinful state of his soul in the presence of God.

A day before he had climbed the stairs leading to our preaching hall in Pernambuco. I was preaching about the "Blood of Jesus, the Son of God, cleansing from all sin." Herculano had listened with eyes riveted on me. One could easily perceive that never before had such teaching reached his ears nor his hungry heart.

The preaching over, I went to where the newcomer stood, and, as was my custom, inquired as to his appreciation of what he had heard. He expressed himself highly satisfied, and when asked if he would like a visit to his home, where these truths could be gone over with more care and calmness, he readily assented and a meeting was arranged for next day.

Little did I realize, being new in the field, the danger which I would encounter. I was soon informed that the place where this Brazilian was living was one of the most dangerous in Pernambuco -- a veritable den of thieves and murderers -- which even the police feared to enter alone, and strangers that had ventured there were never heard from again. Imagine my feelings when told about these things; but as I had given my word to meet the man I resolved, after prayer and a renewed consecration of my life to the Master, to go and meet him even at the risk of my life.

At the appointed place and hour I was by the side of this great Hercules of a Brazilian, walking from the street car across a small rickety old bridge made of a few planks, into that dangerous district. People who saw me pass watched with curiosity, and some with pity, imagining the speedy end.

When we reached the small adobe hut, the home of Herculano, everybody inside seemed to disappear, his wife, his children, the dog and the cats -- all seemed to fear his presence and fly for their lives.

Nothing had been said as yet concerning religion, and as I was invited to enter the house and to be seated upon an old kerosene box, I could not help but notice the blood-shot eyes and murderous features of him whose home I had entered for the first time.

Realizing my position and that perhaps this was my last opportunity to speak of Christ and His power to save I made up my mind to speak plainly and clearly and, after sitting down on that dirty, old, rickety box, I expressed myself as follows:

"My dear friend, I really do not know who you are and what you intend doing with me. After arranging for our meeting here I was informed of the danger of coming to this place, of the kind of people that live here and of what has happened to many a stranger who ventured into this district. But as I noticed last night your hunger for something better and your desire to learn more about Jesus and his power to save, I resolved to keep my promise and come and tell you these facts even at the risk of my life. Personally, I may tell you, that I am not afraid to die, because my soul is safe and sure in the keeping of Jesus, my Saviour and Lord. I am more concerned about your soul than about my own life."

The countenance of that man can be more easily imagined than described. He turned pale and his big body trembled to such an extent that I feared that something was going to happen to him. He afterwards confessed to me that he was struggling with himself not to fall on me and strangle me -- but that something, some invisible power, withheld him and would not let him move.

"Tell me more about Jesus and how he saves," he then exclaimed. "What you spoke about last night in that hall disturbed my sleep. I have been thinking and wondering if what you affirmed last night was really the truth. I never heard anything like it."

In simple, plain language I explained to him the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ: How God gave his only begotten Son to die in our stead on the cruel cross, and how we can obtain a full pardon if we repent and forsake sin, and accept this blessed offer. The words did not seem to reach the heart and mind of the poor man, and I was almost despairing of ever being able to reach him when I bethought myself of calling to my aid the Spirit of God, and, turning to the poor fellow who was sitting and staring in a most helpless condition of despair, I said to him:

"My dear friend, I can perceive that my words do not reach your understanding; let us ask God to make these things plain to you. Now if you really desire to know these blessed truths, let us kneel down and ask God, who is here with us ready to bless you -- let us ask Him to pity and save you."

I then slipped to my knees and the big giant who, very likely, had never previously bent his knees before his Maker, knelt down beside me. Then, with a trembling voice, and eyes overflowing with tears, I began pleading with God on behalf of this poor soul.

The answer was not delayed!

Soon I heard a body fall prostrate to the floor and a choked voice, which seemed to come from the bottom of a heart touched by sorrow and despair, pleading for mercy and forgiveness.

"Oh, God! save a poor degraded, miserable lost sinner!" was the piteous, continual, cry of this poor man as he was rolling in agony on the floor.

With tears of repentance, of shame and sorrow, he told of his terrible and miserable life: That he was the hired assassin of one of the most influential politicians of the State; that only a few days before he had returned from the convict island to which he had been sent, sentenced to thirty years' imprisonment, but had been pardoned after seventeen years; and that the day after his arrival on shore he had received orders to do away with a person and had done it.

Herculano, by the power of God, became a new man and a powerful instrument in the Master's Cause. He was afterwards baptized by Dr. W. E. Entzminger. His home became a center of spiritual influences which slowly transformed the whole district, not only into a place of safety, but also prosperity. Every time I went to preach in that district, Herculano would stand by me and none dared to throw a stone at me for fear of the great big giant whose fame was known to all and who, though converted, was still feared by everybody.

In all his difficulties, trials and temptations -- and these, after his conversion, seemed to multiply -- especially with his own family, who would insult and call him a coward because he had given up making a living by murder -- in all these trials he would come to me and open his heart and then both of us would kneel down and put it all into the hands of God, feeling secure in His power.

One day, very early in the morning, while I was in my study, Herculano came in all upset, with his eyes full of blood and his features speaking plainly of murder.

"What is the matter, Herculano? What is troubling you now?"

"Oh, Pastor, I want to kill a man. My heart just tells me to go and kill him," and tears came rolling own his cheeks.

"But why? What has happened, Herculano?" And then he told a pitiful tale of how he had given hospitality to a former companion of his who had just been freed from the prison island and while he was away, very early, and his wife had gone to the market, this criminal had outraged his little daughter, a child of only eight years old.

"Pastor, my heart tells me to go and kill that man ... I know where I can lay my hands on him."

"Let us ask the Lord about it, Herculano," I said. "Let us see what the Lord will tell you to do." With a troubled heart and a bleeding soul in pity and sympathy for the poor father, I laid the whole affair before the Lord, pleading for wisdom and comfort and peace on behalf of this poor brother.

The answer came! We arose from our knees comforted and strengthened. We both went to the chief of police who took the matter in hand and brought the criminal to justice.

Herculano continued firm and faithful to the end. A few days before his death he came again and told me that he had come to say "adeus" for good.

"Why, what is the matter now?"

"Well, you see, pastor, my wife will not look after me and I am going to the hospital to be treated and am sure that I will not come back alive."

"Do not say that," I exclaimed, "you are strong and quite able to survive an operation and we expect a great deal from you yet. Do not be so discouraged. Go and get well, and let us know how you are doing."

Not a word came from him and when a week afterwards I made inquiries I was informed that Herculano had died a few days after his entrance and that up to the last moment he had spoken of Christ and his love and His power to save. To the priest, who wanted him to confess, he replied: "I have already confessed myself to Christ."


From: A Wandering Jew in Brazil: An Autogiography of Solomon L. Ginsburg