11. CHRISTIAN CONTACTS
The next day at one o'clock
I went to Mr. Baker's prayer-meeting. There I was introduced to Miss Harris,
Miss Gabb, Mr. Coates, and others. Everyone kneeled down to pray, and I
followed suit. The prayers were supplications to God for various things,
according to each person's desire. Thus the usual forms were for the day
to be passed peacefully, or for God to open the doors of the heart.
A prayer was now added for my
welfare: 'Lord, show the path to the new brother who has come amongst us.
Give him, Lord, the peace that Thou has given us. May the Lord Jesus who
has saved us save him too. We ask all this in the name of Jesus.' There
was no singing of hymns or other music at these meetings. After the supplication
for something special every day, we dispersed, each going to his lunch,
that being the hour for it. The prayer did not take more than five minutes.
The Misses Harris and Gabb were
both elderly maiden ladies. Mr. Coates was a Quaker. The two ladies lived
together, and they gave me a standing invitation to four o'clock tea at
their house every Sunday.
When we met on Sundays, I used
to give Mr. Coates my religious diary for the week, and discuss with him
the books I had read and the impression they had left on me. The ladies
used to narrate their sweet experiences and talk about the peace they had
Mr. Coates was a frank-hearted
staunch young man. We went out for walks together, and he also took me
to other Christian friends.
As we came closer to each other,
he began to give me books of his own choice, until my shelf was filled
with them. He loaded me with books, as it were. In pure faith I consented
to read all those books, and as I went on reading them we discussed them.
I read a number of such books
in 1893. I do not remember the names of them all, but they included the
of Dr. Parker of the City Temple, Pearson's Many Infallible Proofs,
and Butler's Analogy. Parts of these were unintelligible to me.
I liked some things in them, while I did not like others. Many Infallible
Proofs were proofs in support of the religion of the Bible, as the
author understood it. The book had no effect on me. Parker's Commentary
was morally stimulating, but it could not be of any help to one who had
no faith in the prevalent Christian beliefs. Butler's Analogy struck
me to be a very profound and difficult book, which should be read four
or five times to be understood properly. It seemed to me to be written
with a view to converting atheists to theism. The arguments advanced in
it regarding the existence of God were unnecessary for me, as I had then
passed the stage of unbelief; but the arguments in proof of Jesus being
the only incarnation of God and the Mediator between God and man left me
But Mr. Coates was not the man
easily to accept defeat. He had great affection for me. He saw, round my
neck, the Vaishnava necklace of Tulasi-beads. He thought it to be superstition,
and was pained by it. 'This superstition does not become you. Come, let
me break the necklace.'
'No, you will not. It is a sacred
gift from my mother.'
'But do you believe in it?'
'I do not know its mysterious
significance. I do not think I should come to harm if I did not wear it.
But I cannot, without sufficient reason, give up a necklace that she put
round my neck out of love and in the conviction that it would be conducive
to my welfare. When, with the passage of time, it wears away and breaks
of its own accord, I shall have no desire to get a new one. But this necklace
cannot be broken.'
Mr. Coates could not appreciate
my argument, as he had no regard for my religion. He was looking forward
to delivering me from the abyss of ignorance. He wanted to convince me
that, no matter whether there was some truth in other religions, salvation
was impossible for me unless I accepted Christianity, which represented
truth; and that my sins would not be washed away except by the intercession
of Jesus, and that all good works were useless.
Just as he introduced me to
several books, he introduced me to several friends whom he regarded as
staunch Christians. One of these introductions was to a family which belonged
to the Plymouth Brethren, a Christian sect.
Many of the contacts for which
Mr. Coates was responsible were good. Most struck me as being God-fearing.
But during my contact with this family, one of the Plymouth Brethren confronted
me with an argument for which I was not prepared:
'You cannot understand the beauty
of our religion. From what you say it appears that you must be brooding
over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them
and atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you
redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners.
Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and
atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear
the burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless
Son of God. It is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting
life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement
of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It is impossible to
live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for
all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have
eternal peace. Think what a life of restlessness is yours, and what a promise
of peace we have.'
The argument utterly failed
to convince me. I humbly replied:
'If this be the Christianity
acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption
from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself,
or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end,
I shall be content to be restless.'
To which the Plymouth Brother
rejoined: 'I assure you, your attempt is fruitless. Think again over what
I have said.'
And the Brother proved as good
as his word. He knowingly committed transgressions, and showed me that
he was undisturbed by the thought of them.
But I already knew before meeting
with these friends that all Christians did not believe in such a theory
of atonement. Mr. Coates himself walked in the fear of God. His heart was
pure, and he believed in the possibility of self-purification. The two
ladies also shared this belief. Some of the books that came into my hands
were full of devotion. So, although Mr. Coates was very much disturbed
by this latest experience of mine, I was able to reassure him and tell
him that the distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother could not prejudice
me against Christianity.
My difficulties lay elsewhere.
They were with regard to the Bible and its accepted interpretation.