THE WANDERER’S PATHWAY (2)
To complete the record I will try to give a few details of God’s wonderful dealings in providence and grace after my marriage -. “Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee” (Psalm 31.19). I am very conscious of the danger of attempting to write in an objective way concerning personal experiences. By highlighting certain events and passing over some circumstances the record is distorted. Yet Scripture does encourage us abundantly to utter the memory of God’s great goodness (Ps 145.7).
As recorded in the previous issue*, our marriage was postponed because of my move to Dundee. In the matter of finding a home how clearly we see the over-ruling hand of God who sets the bounds of our habitation. How suitable has been the Lord’s provision for us, although we could not foresee the need we would have for such a large house. As my wife was left an orphan, we had all the furnishing from her parents’ home to provide the basic necessities for this house. Over all the years of our life here we have witnessed the bountiful hand of our God bringing to us, at the right time, the
various things we have needed. My wife could compose a volume out of her gift book detailing the large and the small items which have come to us out of the inexhaustible treasury of the Lord. When I reflect on the wisdom and goodness of God in giving to us a settled home, ensuring that we were kept living in daily dependance upon His provision without a stock in hand, how is blind unbelief silenced! Surely we have a duty and privilege to encourage the rising generation to walk in this blessed path of dependance upon the bounty of God, and to warn them of the misery of following the example and ways of the world, ever laying up treasures for themselves.
It is a common experience for the first year of married life to be difficult especially for a young wife. Our first year certainly fitted that picture. Yet even loneliness and isolation are amongst the all things which God works together for one’s good – to draw us closer to Himself and to one another. We had the great advantage of being able to establish a Christian home without let or hindrance from worldly relations and acquaintances. How easily we could have succumbed to their influence if we had remained in Edinburgh. However it was a deep disappointment to us to find no godly counsel forthcoming from the people with whom we worshipped. How desperately we needed real teaching on all the practical aspects of our Christian life, yet we were left to grope our way towards the light.
While we enjoyed so little profitable ministry or fellowship during these early months in Dundee our spiritual life was sustained by our own study of the Word of God and family worship. The Christian friend who was with me in Cyprus maintained a constant correspondence with us and we were able to share some of our problems. Three of these letters were published many years ago in the Gospel Magazine. I am sure young Christians today need the same type of direction to give priority in their daily life to communion with God. What an avenue of valuable service letter-writing opens up for the Lord’s people, yet like every good work we are beset by many hindrances and discouragements when we attempt to put pen to paper.
In reading over an old diary of this stage of my Christian life I find, with increasing frequency, a sense of absence of Christ and a deepening consciousness of the power of indwelling sin. As I was brought low spiritually I had to grapple more and more with doubts as to the reality of my conversion and the providence of God. Discontent with my daily work I foolishly imagined to be a sign that I was in the wrong job – that I could not do my research projects to the glory of God. Should I retrace my steps and go into teaching as I
had planned? Was the Lord calling me to the work of the ministry as some mature believer had hinted? O how little I knew of the deceitfulness on my heart – the working of pride, presumption and the fear of man.
During this time of spiritual pruning our Blessed Lord, the Husbandman, who ever mingles judgement and mercy, gave to us our first child. Thus my wife became ‘as a fruitful vine by my house’ sides (Ps 128) and found her true calling as a wife and mother – a keeper at home.
One evening in March 1964 I returned from work to find a familiar figure in Royal Air Force uniform seated at our fireside. My friend Peter Johnson had received a signal from R.A.F. Records Office to report to Pitreavie Castle in Fife for an interview with the Air Official for Scotland who urgently required a personal secretary. Shortly after this he was posted north and so was able to stay with us every Friday night until Sunday. Thus he could leave the ungodly atmosphere of the Sergeant’s Mess and we had the benefit of his fellowship.
However, as one godly companion was brought to us another was taken away. The widow who had provided my first home in Dundee left, never to return. We little realize how much we lean on one another until a close friend is taken away. Like a young sapling from which a stake is removed, how soon the instability is revealed.
Shortly after this happened I was given a large sum of money by my father which exactly cleared the debt we owed on our house. Instead of proving a blessing this gift only increased my unsettledness by setting me free from a constant financial burden.
In the summer of 1964 we had our first family holiday. During that time away from home I made the decision to leave my post at the Research Station. Like all false moves I had no Scriptural warrant for doing this yet I imagined it was a step in faith.
Whilst in my confusion and ignorance, I thought my great motive was the glory of God. This foolish step brought only dishonour to the name of Christ, deepened the prejudices of ungodly relatives and neighbours and saddened Christian friends. For eighteen months I had to reap what I had sown in casting off the yoke our Lord had so kindly and wisely provided for me.
Initially I was encouraged by a gift of money from some anonymous friend and attempted to devote my time to preparing for the work of the ministry. Neither pride nor conscience would permit me to apply for any financial support from the State nor did my Father who was at other times very generous, give us any help. Yet, even at this time when I had gone astray, the Good Shepherd ensured that our basic needs were met and that the experience of
relative poverty could be counted amongst the all things which have worked together for our good.
Only gradually did the light dawn and I had to face the reality that I did not have my true call to the Christian ministry and my duty was to return to my secular calling. One of J. C. Philpot’s ‘Answers to Enquirers’, (Gospel Standard February 1857) was a great help to me at that time. It gives me no pleasure to record these events, yet if my fall can be a warning to any other young Christian who may be tempted to give up his job, I will be amply rewarded. The long months of searching for suitable employment have given me some understanding and sympathy with the multitudes today who through no fault of their own are unemployed. I feel very strongly that it is the duty of every Christian to do all in his power to help provide work for those who need jobs.
Realizing the underlying instability of my nature and my impetuosity it is a marvel of God’s goodness and keeping power that He has ensured I have remained in my present employment for the past twenty years, although I have often been tempted to move on for more ‘job satisfaction’ as it is vainly called. So many of the disappointments and the very hum-drum nature of our daily work act as a preservation from idolatry. I had to learn that vital lesson, that the most menial task can be done to the glory of God.
At the same time as I left my post at the Research Station we stopped attending the Free Church in Dundee. The supply system was such that only on rare occasions did we hear a student for the ministry who truly preached the gospel. We could not go to hear those whom we did not believe Christ had sent and there was no one in the congregation with whom we enjoyed real spiritual fellowship. Thus it came about that we resorted to holding services in our own home.
As I have already hinted this was a time when I was brought low spiritually and could often enter into the Psalmist’s words: “What time my heart is overwhelmed and in perplexity…”, “At their wit’s end they be”. Jeremiah and Job were the companions I found most congenial and was made to cry to the Lord to give us a pastor after His heart to feed us with knowledge and understanding. ‘Winter afore Harvest’ by J. C. Philpot, as well as others of his sermons, reprinted by old Mr Watts of Luton were a great blessing to me as I passed through this fire.
In our spiritual infancy we imagine our judgement is infallible, yet true discernment is, of all graces, the slowest to develop and we make tragic blunders in our assessment of ourselves and others. In trying to escape from the danger of compromise with error and worldliness we fall into the snare of censoriousness, arrogance and isolationism, and so forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.
When it is needful to come out and be separate let us be diligent to find out those who truly fear and obey the Lord that we might join with them in worship as Christ has ordained.
Can we not each join with the Psalmist and sing “If thou shouldest mark iniquity who shall stand” (Ps. 130). “He dealt not with us as we sinned nor did requite our ill”. The Good Shepherd may wisely permit us to stray away from the fold for a time, to humble us that we might learn to live at peace with His blood-bought people and be thankful to see the tiniest grain of grace in ourselves and slow to pass judgement upon any of his feeble followers.
In His lovingkindness the Lord answered our request for a true ministry. After spending over two years in Germany, Peter was called to that work and, on purchasing his discharge, came to live with us. Although this was a temporary offer of accommodation the Lord has enabled us to share the same home all these years. Whilst we were blessed by the regular preaching of the gospel, Peter has been prepared in this obscure corner to feed more of Christ’s sheep and lambs.
No doubt many in the Church today would regard these as wasted years yet how different in the eyes of Christ who places the ministry of the gospel as the highest calling any man can follow. Surely He knows best the particular training which each of His servants require. To be used in the conversion of a sinner and to build up God’s people in their most holy faith is a work which shall endure for all eternity. Who then dare despise such workmen though they are entrusted with but a handful of Christ’s flock.
Thus our wonder-working God has set the solitary in families, filling the house He provided for us from top to bottom. Our circle of Christian friends has been enlarged and we have witnessed the beginnings of a Gospel Church meeting in our home. He has indeed brought us to a wealthy place. (Ps. 66.12).
I trust these reminiscences will encourage others to remember all he way the Lord has led them. In the midst of our troubles we little realize how many blessings are couched in them. With what tenderness yet firmness our beloved Physician deals with the deep seated tumours of pride and presumption and fosters the development of humility and true faith.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
*Gospel Tidings Vol. 10 p. 235.