THE UNANSWERABLE ARGUMENT
The Pastor’s Study
“Have you conversed with our infidel and scoffing friend,
Mr. RÂ—, upon the subject of religion today?” said the venerable pastor to a neighbour who sat near him.
“I have, and at great length, but was unable to make the least impression upon his mind. You know that he is a man of extensive reading, and is a perfect master of all the ablest infidel writers. He regards the fortress in which he has entrenched himself as impregnable. You know his ready wit, and when he finds he cannot talk you down, he will laugh you down. I can say no more to him. He made my errand the butt of ridicule for the whole company.”
“Then you consider his case hopeless?”
“I do indeed. I believe him to be given over of God to believe a lie; and I expect to see him fill up his cup of iniquity to the very brim, without repentance, and to die a hardened and self-ruined man.”
“Shall nothing, and can nothing more be done for him?” And the pastor arose, and walked the floor of his study, under the influence of deep agitation, while his neighbour leaned over the table, with his face buried in both hands, lost in silent meditation. It was now a solemn time in the parish. The preaching of the pastor for many Sabbaths had been full of earnestness and power. The church was greatly quickened. The spirit of prayer prevailed. Many were enquiring what they should do to be saved. Many, too, were rejoicing in hope, and the whole community were moved as with one silent, but mighty impulse. But unmoved, unconcerned, stood the infidel, amid the many changes of heart and mind which were going on around him, proud of his position, and confident in his strength, and able, as he believed himself to be, to resist every influence, human and divine, which might be brought to bear upon him. The pastor had often approached him, and had often been repulsed. As a last resort, he had requested his able and skilful neighbour, a lawyer of piety and talents, to visit Mr. RÂ—, and endeavour to convince him. But it was like attempting to reason with the tempest, or still the thunder, or soothe the volcano.
The Elder’s Closet
There was a fire blazing upon the hearth in that little room. The wind was howling without, the snow was whirled in eddies, and was swept with violence against the casement. It was a cold night in January. In that secret and retired room, where none but God could hear, was poured out a voice from a burdened soul. The elder was upon his knees. His soul was in agony. That voice of prayer was continued at intervals throughout the night. In that room was a wrestling like that of Jacob, a prevailing like that of Israel. It was a pleading with the Most High for an unwonted
display of His power and grace, with the confidence that nothing was too hard for the Almighty. It was a night of prayer, of entreaty, of importunity. It was prayer, as a man would pray for the life of a friend, who was on the eve of execution.
The meeting was still and solemn. The house was crowded to its utmost capacity. It was a cheerful evening, the song of praise resounds from all parts of the room, and there is a heart in the utterance which belongs not to other times. Now the voice of one and another ascends in prayer, and such prayer is seldom heard except in the time of genuine revivals of religion. The silent tear steals down many a cheek. An intense interest sits on every countenance, and the voice of prayer is the voice of all. One after another arises, and tells the listening company what “the Lord has done for his soul.” There stands Mr. RÂ—, once the infidelÂ— now the humble believer in Jesus. He is clothed in a new spirit. His face shines as did the face of Moses when he had seen God face to face. He is a new creature in Christ Jesus.
“I stand,” said Mr. RÂ—, “to tell you the story of my conversion.” His lips trembled slightly as he spoke with suppressed emotion. “I am as a brand plucked out of the burning. The change in my views and feelings is an astonishment to myself; and all brought about by the grace of God, and that unanswerable argument. It was a cold morning in January. The sun was just rising, the fire was burning, and I had just begun my labour at the anvil in my shop, when I looked out and saw Elder BÂ— approaching. He dismounted quickly, and entered. As he drew near, I saw he was agitated. His look was full of earnestness. His eyes were bedimmed with tears. He took me by the hand. With indescribable tenderness he said, ‘Mr. RÂ—, I am greatly concerned for your salvationÂ—greatly concerned for your salvation’, and he burst into tears. He stood with my hand grasped in his. He struggled to regain self-possession. He often essayed to speak, but not a word could he utter, and finding that he could say no more, he turned, went out of the shop, got on his horse, and rode slowly away.
” ‘Greatly concerned for my salvation’, said I audibly, and I stood and forgot to bring down my hammer. There I stood with it upraisedÂ—’greatly concerned for my salvation’. Here is a new argument for the truth of religion, which I have never heard before, and which I know not how to answer. Had the elder reasoned with me, I could have confounded him; but this was no thread-bare argument for the truth of religion. Religion must be true, or this man would not feel as he does. ‘Greatly concerned for my salvation’Â—it rung through my ears like a thunderclap in a clear sky. “Greatly concerned I ought to be for my own salvation,” said IÂ— What shall I do?”
“I went to my house. My poor good wife, whom I had always
ridiculed for her religion, as I called it, exclaimed, ‘Why, dear, what is the matter with you’? ‘Matter enough’, said I, ‘matter enough’Â—filled with agony, and overwhelmed with a sense of sin, ‘Old Elder BÂ—has ridden two miles this cold morning to tell me he was greatly concerned for my salvation. What shall I do? what shall I do’!
” ‘I do not know what you can do’, said my astonished wife, ‘I do not know what better you can do, than to get your horse, and go and see the elder. He can give you better counsel than I, and tell you what you must do to be saved’.
“No sooner said than done, I mounted my horse, and pursued after him. I found him alone in that same little room, where he had spent the whole night in prayer for my poor soul, where he had shed many tears over such a reprobate as I, and had besought God to have mercy upon me. ‘I am come’, said I to him, ‘to tell you that I am greatly concerned for my own salvation’.
” ‘Praised be God’, said the elder. ‘It is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the very chief; and he began at that same Scripture, and preached to me Jesus. On that same floor we knelt and together, we prayedÂ—and we did not separate that day till God spoke peace to my soul. I have often been requested to look at the evidence of the truth of religion, but blessed be God, I have evidence for its truth here”Â—laying his hand upon his heartÂ— “which nothing can gainsay or resist. I have often been led to look at this and that argument for the truth of Christianity, but I could overturn, and as I thought completely demolish and annihilate them all. But I stand here tonight thankful to acknowledge that God sent an argument to my conscience and heart, which could not be answered or resisted, when the weeping elder came to tell me how greatly concerned he was for my salvation. God taught him that argument, where he spent the night before Him in prayer for my soul. Now I can truly say I am a happy man. My peace flows like a river. My consistent, uncomplaining wife, who so long bore with my impiety and unbelief, now rejoices with me, that by the grace of God I am what I amÂ—that whereas I was blind, now I see. And here permit me to say, if you would wish to reach the heart of such a poor sinner as I, you must get your qualifications where the good old elder did, in your closet, and as he did, on his knees. So it shall be with me. I will endeavour to reach the hearts of my infidel friends through the closet, and by prayer.”
He sat down overcome with emotion, amid the tears and the suppressed sobs of the assembly.