How I was Born of God, or How I Tried the Five C's.
MY first trial, or, to speak more correctly, the trial of a loved mother to make sure that her darling boy was all right for Heaven, was when, as a little crying babe, I was CHRISTENED in an old-fashioned English Church on the outskirts of Newcastle-on-Tyne. My parents were led to believe, and in Day and Sunday School, I was taught, that "in my baptism, I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven." No greater fallacy was ever foisted on respectable people, for neither by the sprinkling of children nor the immersion of adults, did one soul ever become "an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven." God has declared that "without the shedding of blood, there is no remission" (Heb. ix. 22). With all a mother's good intentions, I was as much a "child of wrath" (Eph. ii. 3), as the darkest heathen in darkest Africa.
My next trial heavenward was induced by the schoolmaster asking one day if any of us boys would like to join the Church CHOIR. Clothed in white surplices, seated in the chancel, singing the praises of Jehovah, the white-robed choristers had often stirred the desire in my heart "to be an angel, and with the angels stand." Never shall I forget that fateful Thursday evening, when on giving a display of my musical abilities, I was promptly placed amongst those "cast out," and all hope of Heaven by way of the choir was gone. Yet such only added to the joy of learning, years after—when thinking of the blood-washed "choir of glory"—that Jesus said, "Him that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out" (John vi. 37). Melodiously musical, or miserably unmusical, all may be welcomed, re-created, moulded, and "made meet" for the endless glory song of the ransomed: "Unto Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever" (Rev. i. 5, 6).
When fourteen years of age, the schoolmaster again enquired if any of us boys would care to be CONFIRMED, as the Bishop of Durham was to hold a Confirmation Service in a neighbouring church. A few of us attended the Rectory for examination and were asked questions from the Catechism. No Bible was opened, no suggestion was made of our being "condemned already" (John iii. 36), of the absolute necessity of "being born again" (John iii. 3), of the simplicity of a present and purchased salvation (Acts xvi. 31). We went forward as we had seen hundreds of others; the Lord Bishop prayed, "Ever living God, who hast vouchsafed to REGENERATE these Thy servants by Water and the Holy Ghost, and has given unto them the forgiveness of their sins," etc., crossed his hands, and laid one on "the head of every one severally . . . to certify them of Thy favour and gracious goodness to them." I left the impressive service under the conviction that in some undefined way, I had moved a step nearer the kingdom of Heaven. Had anyone seen a few of us the latter part of that day, it would have been quite apparent that the Bishop's hands had effected no change, and that we were still manifestly "on the broad road to everlasting woe." Neither that of Apostle, Bishop, Minister, Deacon, or other human hand can usurp the prerogative of the peerless Son of God, who alone can give eternal life (John x. 28), and dispense effectual blessing (Eph. iv. 8).
The rule being that "there shall none be admitted to the Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed;" I was now a proper subject for "Holy COMMUNION." A book giving instructions to young communicants was handed to most of those who had been confirmed, but there was no personal dealing as to the significance and solemnity of the ordinance. Without any pretense to being regenerated, I was free to take "Holy Communion," at which it is said, "then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood; then we dwell in Christ and Christ in us; we are one with Christ and Christ with us." Like myriads more, as an unconvicted, unconverted sinner, I was "eating and drinking judgment to myself" (1 Cor. xi. 29).
A corpse at a feast; a church member, but not a member of "the Church" (Acts ii. 47); a professor without real possession, a deceived soul "in danger of eternal damnation" (Mark iii. 29).
Last of all, and best of all, I found CHRIST (John i. 41). From my youth upward, I had been a devout attender at "Divine Service," a strict teetotaler, and non-smoker, yet I felt there was one thing lacking. What was it?
Meetings were commenced in a farmer's barn by a preacher who made no pretense at eloquence, wore no surplice, used no paper, and feared no man. The first night he preached from the text, "The wicked shall be turned into hell" (Ps. ix. 17). It was resented. The heathen might need such texts, but decent church members were entirely different. Yet conscience answered, "unregenerate churchman, it is true of you." The nights following, a clear testimony was given as to the truth that "All have sinned"; "There is none righteous, no, not one"; "Without faith it is impossible to please God"; "To him that worketh not, but believeth, his faith is counted for righteousness"; "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (Rom. iii. 23; Rom. iii. 10; Heb. xi. 6; Rom. iv. 5; John iii. 36). Realizing that I had the shadow without the substance, religion without the Redeemer, I sat a hopeless, helpless sinner, anxious to be saved. The preacher put the matter like this: "If you had been the only person who had ever lived, and Christ had died, as He could not die for His own sin, He must have died for you." A glimmer of heavenly light shone into my soul. He continued, "As if you had been the only person who had ever lived, stand by faith before the Cross of Calvary, gaze on the dying Lamb of God, say in your heart, 'The Son of God who loved me, and gave Himself for me ' (Gal. ii. 20), and you will be saved." Acting on the advice, in desperate earnestness, I closed my eyes, clenched my fists, and from my heart said, "SINK OR SWIM, JUST NOW I'LL TRUST HIM." There and then, sitting on a wooden plank in a farmer's barn that cold night of November, 1874, I realized that:
"Soon as my all I ventured
On the atoning 'Blood,
The Holy Spirit entered,
And I was born of God."
John v. 24 became my birthday text as I learned its five golden links: "He that (1) heareth My Word, and (2) believeth on Him that sent Me, (3) hath everlasting life, and (4) shall not come into condemnation, but (5) is passed from death unto life." I had heard, I believed; I passed from death unto life; I possessed eternal life, and I should never come into condemnation.
Although cast out from the Church Choir as unmusical, that night I ceased not to make melody in my heart, as I repeated over and over again:
"I've received Him,
And He's received me;
The torment and the fire
Mine eyes shall never see."
Well nigh forty years of happy experience of the reality of regeneration leads me joyfully to witness that "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."
"How and When Do We Become Children Of God?"
Edited by W. Hoste and R, M'Elheran.
Glasgow, Pickering & Inglis, 1912. (Every Christian's Library).