THE ASSURANCE OF FAITH
I WAS so filled with enthusiasm over my discovery, that nothing else seemed to me of the slightest importance; and, as I have said, I attacked every friend I had on the subject, and insisted on knowing whether they too had found out the transcendent fact that their sins were all forgiven, and that they were the children of God. I simply compelled them to listen, whether they wanted to or not, for it seemed to me the most pitiful thing conceivable that anybody should fail to know it, while I was alive to tell it. And I must say that nearly every one I spoke to, partly perhaps because of their surprise at being attacked so vigorously, listened with eager interest, and sooner or later embraced the views I so enthusiastically declared. Very many of my friends of course really were already Christians, but had hardly dared to think themselves so; and to them my teaching brought the assurance of faith they so sorely needed.
In fact it seemed to me such a wonderful bit of good news, that I thought if I would go into the street and stand at the corners, and begin to tell it, everybody would open the doors and windows to listen to my story. I felt like a herald marching through the corridors of a prison, with a proclamation from the King, of free pardon to every prisoner. Paul’s message in the Synagogue of the Jews at Antioch, when he spoke to them about Jesus, and said, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” was my message; and the marvel to me was that every prisoner did not at once, on hearing it, open the door of his cell and walk out a free man. It seemed to me superlatively silly for any one, in the face of such a proclamation, to hesitate a single moment. Why should they worry about their sins, when God had so plainly declared that Christ had borne their sins in “His own body on the tree,” and had taken them away forever? Why should they fear God’s anger, when the Bible had assured us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them”? All these wretched doubts and fears seemed then, and have always seemed since, not only irreligious and a libel against the trustworthiness of God, but also as an evidence of a great lack of good sense. Either God is true, or He is a liar. If I believe He is true, then good sense demands that I should accept His statements as the statements of facts, and should rest in them as facts.
One of the most helpful things to me at this time was a tract called “The Fox Hunter” by Caesar Malan. It was the clearest and most logical presentation of justification by faith that I have ever come across, and it proved to me beyond the possibility of question that the “assurance of faith” was at once the only biblical ground any one could take, and also the only common-sense ground as well. The foxes in this tract were doubts, and the hunter was the preacher who caught and killed them. And its whole teaching was, that if God said Christ had taken away our sins, then He certainly had done so, and they were of course gone, and it was not only folly but also presumption in us not to believe it.
I continually asked myself why every preacher did not tell out these facts clearly and fully so that no one could fail to understand them? And I felt this so strongly that, whenever I heard sermons that seemed to leave the matter uncertain, or confused, I thought nothing of going up to the preachers afterwards and expostulating with them, because they had not clearly preached the Gospel of Christ. I am convinced, in looking back now, that I must have made myself a general nuisance to our dear Quaker preachers, whose preaching I confess was not often in those days of this definite sort; but the truth was that what I had discovered seemed to me of such paramount and overwhelming importance, that no other consideration was worth a moment’s notice. To be in a world full of sinners, who did not know that their sins were forgiven, and that they were the children of God, and who might know it, if only some one would tell them, seemed to me such a tremendous responsibility, that I felt compelled to tell it to every one I could reach. The dear quiet Friends could not understand such excessive, and, I dare say, unwise zeal, and my visits at any of their houses were fairly dreaded. Even my brothers-in-law were almost afraid to have me visit my own sisters, and in many ways I went through a sort of persecution, which no doubt I largely brought upon myself by my unadvised zeal, but which at the time seemed to me a martyrdom for the truth.
It is not often, I think, that the story of the Gospel comes so vividly to any one as it did to me. But from the fact that, as a Quaker, I had had no doctrinal teaching, all that I was learning about the salvation in Christ came in a perfect blaze of illumination. The Bible seemed fairly radiant with the “glad tidings of great joy,” and I wondered every one did not see it. As I knew literally nothing of Theology, and had never heard any theological terms, I took the whole Gospel story in the most common sense way possible, and believed it without any reservations. I often said I was like a prisoner who had come out of a dark underground cell into the light of ten thousand suns. And in spite of all the disapproval and opposition of the Elders and Overseers among the Quakers, and of my own family as well, my enthusiasm gained me a hearing, and nearly every friend I had came, sooner or later, into a knowledge of the truths I advocated, and more or less shared my rejoicing; so that gradually the opposition died down, and in the end, while the “solid Friends” could not fully endorse me, they at least left me free to continue my course unmolested.
No doubt the crudeness of my views was very patent to the more advanced spiritual Christians around me, and I feel sure now that a large part of the opposition I met with arose from this fact. But while I might wish my views had been more mature, I can never regret the enthusiasm that made me so eager to tell out to every one the best I knew.
And even the opposition was blessed to me, for it taught me some most invaluable lessons. I came across a book in those days, the name of which I regret to say I have forgotten, which helped me enormously. Its central thought was that one of the richest gifts a Christian could have was the gift of persecution, and that to be like the Master in being rejected of men, was the highest dignity to which a Christian could attain. It taught that he was the greatest Christian who was willing to take the lowest place, and that to become the chief of all could only be attained by becoming the servant of all. I was so impressed by this teaching that I tried to put it in practice; and, whenever I expected in any interview to meet with reproof or opposition, I would always beforehand pray fervently that I might receive it in a true Christian spirit. I was much helped, too, by a saying of Madame Guyon’s, that she had learned to be thankful for every snub and mortification, because she had found that they helped to advance her in the spiritual life; and in time I learned something of the same lesson.
The especial advantage I gained from the disapproval I met with was that it took a great deal of the conceit out of me. I had it so rubbed into me that I was altogether wrong and foolish, and was only tolerated because of the kindness of my friends, that I really came at last to have a sort of instinctive feeling that I deserved nothing but snubs and reproaches, and that any unkindness that might be shown me was only my just desert. In fact I got into the habit of never expecting anything else, and ceased to think I had any rights that others ought not to trample on. This habit of mind has given me the greatest liberty of spirit through all my life since, as I have never been obliged, as so many people seem to be, to stand up for my rights, and have in fact scarcely ever had the sense to see when I have been slighted. If one has no rights, their rights cannot be trampled on, and if one has no feelings, their feelings cannot be hurt. So deeply was this lesson engraved upon my soul by what I went through at the time of which I am speaking, that to this day I am always surprised at any kindness that is shewn me, as at something entirely unexpected and undeserved. I do not know any lesson I have ever learned that has been so practically helpful as this lesson, learned from the opposition I met with in the early years of my Christian experience; although I have no doubt, as I have said, that I brought my trials largely upon myself, by my crudeness and my ignorance.
Crude and ignorant as I was, I had however, as I have said, got a firm grip on one magnificent foundation truth that nothing has ever been able to shake, and this was that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. All was right between my soul and God. He was my Father, and I was His child, and I had nothing to fear. It was no matter that I had got hold of it in a crude sort of way. The thing was that I had got hold of it. There it was—the grand central fact of God’s love and God’s forgiveness, and my soul was at rest about this forever.
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