THE ROMANCE OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE
THE disapproval of my own religious society, in these early stages of my new life, threw me very much under the influence of the Plymouth Brethren, who were at that time making quite a stir in Philadelphia, and whose clear teaching of doctrines, and especially of the doctrine of “justification by faith,” was particularly congenial to my new way of looking at things. They were great Bible students, and I soon found under their teaching a fascinating interest in Bible study. It was all new ground to me, and I went into it with the greatest avidity. So delighted was I with the treasures I found in its pages, that at first my one fear was lest, as the Bible was such a short book, I should soon exhaust it, and come to the end of its delights, and I used to stint myself to small portions in order to spin it out the longer. But I soon found that this was not at all necessary, as the more I studied, the more I found there was to study, and each passage seemed to have a thousand continually unfolding meanings. The book was no larger than I thought, but it was infinitely deeper. It seemed to me something as if the truths in the Bible were covered with a multitude of skins, and as if, as I studied, one skin after another was peeled off, leaving the words the same, but the meaning of those words deeper and higher. I can never be thankful enough to the Plymouth Brethren for introducing me to the fascinations of Bible study.
It was a wonderful and delightful life I had now begun to live. I had begun to know God, and I was finding Him to be lovely and lovable beyond my fondest imaginings. The romance of my life had dawned. I cannot say how religion may have affected other people, but to me my religion has been all through a fascinating and ever unfolding romance. If for nothing else, I pity the poor unfortunate Agnostics of the present day for their missing of this most delightful of all romances. They can have nothing I am sure in all their lives to equal it. The nearest approach that I can think of to a like experience is the delight of exploring an unknown science, or a new field of mental research; but even that cannot equal, I am sure, the delights of exploring the Science of God. Imagine it for a moment. To have got on the track of a real acquaintance with the ways and character of God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and to be making continually fresh discoveries of new and delightful things about Him—what scientific research could be as entrancing? All that I had longed for and agonized over in my first awakening, was coming to me in clearest vision, day by day, and the ever recurring delight of new revelations and new ideas was more delicious than words could express. Then too the joy of telling it all to others, and the enormous satisfaction of seeing their faces lighten, and their hearts expand, as their souls made the same discoveries as my own. Ah, no one who has not experienced it, can know the fascination of it all!
I do not mean to say that I discovered everything at once, nor even that all I thought I had discovered proved to be permanent truth. My story, as I continue, will show that this was not the case. Like all novices in scientific research, I grasped many half truths, and came to many false conclusions. But the search of itself was delicious, and the finding out of one’s mistakes far surpassed the mortification at having made them.
My soul had started on its voyage of discovery, and to become acquainted with God was its unalterable and unceasing aim. I was as yet only at the beginning, but what a magnificent beginning it was. God was a reality, and He was my God. He had created me, and He loved me, and all was right between us. All care about my own future destiny had been removed from my shoulders. I could say with Paul, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” I needed no longer to work for my soul’s salvation, but only to work out the salvation that had been bestowed upon me. All the years of my self-introversion and self-examination were ended. Instead of my old fruitless searchings into my feelings and emotions for some tangible evidence of God’s favour, the glorious news, declared in the Bible, that He so loved the world as to have sent His only begotten Son to save the world, absorbed every faculty.
It was no longer “How do I feel?” but always “What does God say?” And He said such delightful things, that to find them out became my supreme delight. I do not mean what He said to me personally in my heart, but what He had said to every human being in the Bible—the good news of salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything said to myself alone might be open to doubt, as to whether it was really myself who was meant, but anything said to the whole world could not help including me, and I greedily appropriated it all.
This went on for several years, during which I had a really glorious time. Between the joys of discovery on the one hand, and the joys of telling others about my discoveries on the other, my cup of the wine of life was full and overflowing. I had plenty of earthly trials, but somehow they were in the background compared to the fascinations of my religious life. Nothing that belonged only to the earthly life could really matter, when one’s soul was daily tasting the blissful joy of reconciliation with God, and of being made a partaker of the glorious salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And yet how little I knew, even of this, compared with what was to come!
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