My Spiritual Waterloo
The Easter Holidays of my 18th year were my spiritual waterloo. I had begun to question the reality of God and Christ. I was reading such books as John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism. I had not lost my boyhood faith nor jettisoned it. But I was questioning. If I was selfish, was not God also? Did it not say, “For Thy pleasure we are and were created”? and of Jesus that “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross”? What difference between their self-interest and mine? Yet at the same time as I had my youthful intellectual questioning, I was battling with and had the guilt of my secret moral defeats.
There was a friend in Bournemouth—my father had by now moved to a church in Poole, near Bournemouth—who was a retired Royal Artillery major, an original, interesting fellow, named Major Gartside-Tippinge. He had a lovely home and grass tennis-court. He was also a very keen Christian and especially keen on getting boys to Christ. His wife was a sister of D. E. Hoste, the General Director of the China Inland Mission. He used to invite my brother Harold and me over to tennis, and then, if he could, catch us after in his drawing-room for a talk about our need of salvation, which we called having a “pi jaw.” On one such visit, my brother escaped somehow, but I was caught in the drawing-room. All I remember Tippinge asking me was the pertinent question, Did I belong to Christ?
He had caught me, or rather the Spirit of God through him. If he had asked did I belong to the church of which I was a member, that would have been easy. Wasn’t I the son of a parson, baptized and confirmed in the Church of England? But when he asked me if I had a personal relationship to Christ, I was caught. How could I say I had a personal relationship with a Person whose existence I was doubting? I was embarrassed. With my public school code of hiding our feelings on such subjects as religion, I could lie my way out, say I did, and escape. I did not realize then that our eternal destiny hangs on our honesty; and as Jesus said, in John 3, when light comes to us we either hate it or respond to it, and are either saved or lost accordingly. Somehow I did manage to admit that I could not say He was personal to me. Tippinge got me on my knees, made me pray something, and I got up as I got down, and escaped.
But on my way home on the top of a tramcar, the implication of what I had said got its teeth into me. I knew the gospel, and that, if I could not say Christ was my personal Saviour, I was going to hell. And I knew too, through the guilt of my sins, that I deserved to go there. At last this was real to me; so as soon as I reached my small bedroom at the top of the house, I got on my knees and for the first time in my life meant it when I asked, according to the Lord’s prayer, for my sins to be forgiven.
Immediately there flashed into my mind what I had always been taught but it had meant nothing to me—that that was why Jesus died—to take away my sins. Then, with a strange new sense of joy and relief, I said, “If that is so, I don’t have to go to hell, God is my Father, and heaven is my home.” In succeeding years I may have dug deeper in order to understand in a more complete sense—at least for my own satisfaction—what those simply stated and believed facts really mean; but these were the simple gospel facts by which I, and millions of others, have “passed from death unto life,” and “the Spirit had borne witness with my spirit” that I was a child of God.
The next thought that came into my mind, true again to our school traditions of downgrading emotion, was that this was just a momentary emotion, and tomorrow morning I would wake up thinking football, not Christ. But not so. My first waking thoughts were this new joy, and have been so now these fifty-four years! And two facts stand out to me—first, I am glad there are bold men who go out of their way to seek you out and ask if you are Christ’s; and secondly, that I had had the background years of church and Bible teaching, boring though it was to me, because it had stored my mind with the truths of the way of salvation, ready material for my heart’s need when the moment came. And though this crisis moment stands out to me, and I suppose will do throughout eternity, I really know that it was the background life and love and example of my parents which had prepared the soil and sown the seed, so that I had never been without a sincere faith (even if temporarily shaken), said my prayers, read my Bible, and had moral restraints on me. So April 1914 was the turning-point of my life, and I was eighteen years of age.
I did not realize, as I do now, what had really happened to me, and what happens every time a person gets born from above. My hungry, ambitious, dissatisfied self had found a new centre—not itself. A love for Christ, and for the Father who had sent Him, had begun to supersede love for just myself. It was not really my love for Him, for I am only capable of self-love; it was, as Paul said, “the love of God” (not my love for God, but His own love) “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us” (Rom. 5:5). In other words, an inner unity had taken place, my human spirit with His Spirit, branch to Vine as Jesus said. I had “come home.” I had been one who had lost his way and had lived in the illusion (but real enough to us while we believe it, for we are what we believe) of being a separate little human seeking my own ends and fighting my own, usually losing, battles of life.
By coming home, like the prodigal to the father, I had found my restoration to the One Spirit of the universe, the Eternal Father through His Son; and that restoration is a union, spirit with Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17), by which I am an expression of Him in my human form; and despite my multiple deviations in my free and temptable humanity, the new spontaneous motivation of my human self is loving Him more than I love myself; and in loving Him, loving all. My self-love, instead now of finding its expression in seeking my own self-ends, begins to find a new meaning in pleasing myself by pleasing Him and wanting others to know Him. In place of being basically a self-lover, I had begun to be a God- and other-lover; or should I say, I had begun to be the kind of self-lover God Himself is, who loves Himself by loving His creation. His self-pleasing is His self-giving.
The first simple form that it took for me was a letter to my mother saying that Christ had become a personal Saviour to me—in other words, I now began to honour Christ more than magnify myself. The second was when I returned for my last term to Marlborough. I knew nothing about a “duty to witness” or any such legalistic imposition on my fresh experience; but at least to one intimate friend, Henry de Candole, head of the house (and later Bishop of Knaresborough), I confided what had happened. His comment was, “Well, if that is real Christianity, none of us have it!” (though I am glad that has not remained true of Henry through the years!).