A Personal Explanation
The life of faith has had a fascination for me for over twenty-five years. So far as I remember, this interest was first quickened through the study of George Muller’s life; then by the fact of a clear call from God to join a “faith” mission, which was at that time best known by its earlier name of Heart of Africa Mission, but is now known by its enlarged, though clumsier, title of Worldwide Evangelization Crusade. Obedience to this call meant that fascinating theory must now be translated into action. Straight away the challenge came from the one who had toiled and sacrificed to give me a good start in life: Would I not be wiser to join some society, enter some denomination, which, if ill-health invalided me from the mission field, I might find some guaranteed sphere of ministry and livelihood at home?
But the call had been so clear that adherence to it was not difficult, except for the momentary pain it caused to loved ones, and that was not of long duration, for when they saw that the decision was definite, they gladly and warmly commended me to the will of God.
Twelve years passed, spent partly in the Belgian Congo, partly on journeyings oft as emissary from field to home-end mission matters, and partly in translation work. Not much opportunity was afforded for the practice of faith in any specialized sense, or rather it may be more correct to say that the secret of the application of Scriptural and achieving faith had not yet been seen, and therefore the many opportunities for applying it were not perceived. Personal needs were regularly supplied, mainly through the channel of the mission; and, as I have just said, the meaning and use of faith as God’s instrument of deliverance in all the other problems of life, internal and external, had not yet dawned upon me. The pull of faith, however, its attraction and fascination, never left me. It had become a deep inner conviction. I had glimpsed and tasted. It is my belief that in each member of Christ’s body, from the time of the new birth, the Holy Spirit begins to develop some special characteristic through which God may be glorified in a particular way, some aspect of His grace and truth through which the whole body may be edified and enlightened. Such are the gifts of the Spirit, and in one’s own case I humbly believe that it was God who maintained in one this special thirst and attraction for the way of faith, this readiness to absorb all light concerning it, and to venture one’s life in the exercise of it. Real opportunities were bound to come, as well as real enlightenment, at the right moment, and that moment was when I was ready to see and take them; for the real fact was that those intervening years had first to be spent in internal adjustments: the secrets of faith had to be discovered and applied in the solution of one’s own inner problems, in the satisfaction of one’s own soul-thirst, in the snapping of the chain of one’s own self-centeredness, in the transference of oppressing heart burdens to the One who had given Himself to bear them. These experiences also will be woven later into our whole examination of the texture of faith, for that aspect of the life of faith is antecedent to all others. A faith that works first in our own lives can then, and only then, be applied to the problems around us.
There is a school of faith, and there is a life of faith. At school we are private individuals: we learn, we experiment, we try things out by ourselves and on ourselves, we gradually grasp a technique. In life we take responsibility, we are in the public eye; other lives depend on us; we are supposed to know our job and apply our knowledge; the wheels of our particular industry are kept going by us. My years in the school of faith lasted till 1931, my thirteenth year as a missionary. As I now look back, I can see quite clearly when the transition took place in my experience; the school was left (although in another sense we are very much permanent pupils), the life of faith begun. With the key to my inner problems in my hands through the grace of God and illumination of the Spirit, a clear cut position of faith was taken in a certain matter, under pressure of the Spirit involving my wife and myself to our financial limit. There is no need to go into details which were comparatively trivial. The duration of the test was six months. The day of crisis came in the middle when I almost succumbed and was only saved by walking to the post office and sending off a letter which once again staked everything on God’s faithfulness. The deliverance actually began to come to me within ten minutes, on the pavement outside that post office, starting with a trickle and rising to a flood. It was all very mundane but to me it was a landmark. Schooldays were nearing their end. The master key which could open a very little material door could just as easily be applied to great gateways of world-wide opportunity in the Kingdom of God.
Then followed three years of great illumination in the way of faith. It was as if that which had been seen dimly as a series of separate peaks of faith which might occasionally, with much effort, be scaled, was now seen to be a broad high road in the uplands, a route of the Spirit, a way of life to be steadily traversed, and no range of rugged peaks at all. The Scriptures were marvelously opened up: Hebrews 11 especially became alive, and faith was seen to be the permanent element in which the men of God lived, men who themselves had first to pass through the school into the life of faith–Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, and so through all the list into New Testament days. They were days of great revelation; it was like the thrill of a new discovery, the exaltation of the explorer whose eyes are resting for the first time in history on some magnificent landscape. Experiments were made, feebly made, but the feet were not firm enough yet on their new road to take one to the destination, and nothing came of it. But the light had truly dawned, Scriptural light, borne witness to by the inner assurance of the Spirit, the consummation without doubt of the gropings and inner preparations of years. Failures could not quench those certainties. All that was needed was a firmer grasp of method, and, above all, those special sorts of circumstances in which living faith through all history has thrived, those necessary conditions for its healthy growth–difficulties, frustrations, impossibilities, for “when I am weak, then I am strong”: “in hopeless circumstances he hopefully believed.”
And they came. There is no need to go into them in detail! Days of agony and darkness. Days when one’s life’s work seemed in ruin around one, when the mission one loved seemed collapsing, when the hand of practically all friends and fellow Christians seemed against a tiny remnant of us. And I myself, with my wife, was called to take a stand completely alone, on behalf of the few on the field, surrounded by criticism and fierce opposition.
Then in the travail, I cannot tell how (indeed I have learned that one usually cannot trace the “how” of God’s deepest dealings), what I had seen and rejoiced in in theory became my own in practice. I saw how to walk the broad road of faith, how to have and maintain that touch with God, that living fruitful union with Him which in infinite grace and condescension He has given us as our inheritance in Christ; and we began to go that way.
Fifteen more years have now passed, years when, by God’s grace, these vital principles have been ever more strongly built into one’s life. Others, many others, have learned them, practiced them, and rejoice with us to see the marvelous truth of them in their concrete result. In the ranks of the Crusade, tremendous transformations have taken place: God’s word has forged ahead, increased and abounded: souls have been saved world-wide: tens of thousands have heard the Gospel who had never before heard the blessed Name: Christians by the hundred have been revived and stirred into action: Christ Himself has become increasingly the all in all; all fresh springs have been found in Him; all hunger and thirst satisfied according to His Word; desire increased beyond measure that He only should be glorified; His Word become the joy and rejoicing of the heart.
Details need not be given, for this is no place for them:; but gradually this truth and that, concerning the inner life abiding in Christ, and the outer life of service in His name, have fitted into place, have been tested, examined, adjusted. Much has been learned by failures, and some things remain inexplicable: until the time seems to have come to try and put on paper something of what one has learned. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” That is the touchstone. We believe that the Scriptures are God’s final revelation to man, the words that He speaks which are spirit and life; and all that we say here is only reliable in so far as it is an exposition of God’s revealed truth. This is not autobiography. It is to be a humble examination of faith, what it is and how it works. It seemed necessary, however, to give this brief preliminary sketch of how and why such as I, who am not a trained theologian but a missionary secretary, should write on such a subject. It is just my contribution, I trust to God’s glory, of one ray of God’s truth which has steadily shone in my heart and on my pathway these twenty-five years.