THE WANDERER’S RETURN (1)
“Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying. This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this
parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in he wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentence” (Luke 15.1-7).
In recording certain events in my life, it is my prayer that you may have your attention fixed not on the sinner but on the Friend of sinners. I would take you first of all to a Galilean hillside. There on the 7th April 1961 as I sat gazing over the still waters of the lake of Tiberias to the distant hills of Syria, these words penetrated into my soul – “The peace of God.”
I had long sought peace, not with God, but in the world of nature;
in music, poetry, mysticism and idealism. That day I was on foot to he Kibbutz of Degangia, celebrating its 50th anniversary, as the first collective settlement in Palestine. By that still small voice the lord was gently turning my soul from idealism to Himself.
In order to realize how much was involved in this work of God, I must take you back into the mists of my childhood and youth. Truly as Solomon says – “Childhood and youth are vanity” – and mine was no exception. I was born in 1938 into a world shortly to be plunged into war: a world that for a child was full of dreams and dread, fears and fantasy. The world of gas-masks, air-raid sirens and blackouts. n that world and in the home where I was brought up, religion had very little part. Sunday was a day for reading newspapers, listening to the radio, visiting relations and the weekly drive in the family car. My contact with the church was mainly through the Scouting movement. It was a Scouting friend who, when I was nineteen years old, told me that each man had a living soul. This to me was a new truth, and my youthful mind set upon a search to discover some meaning and purpose to life. To discover what my destiny was, I looked, not into the Word of God, but into the philosophies of men.
Having no Gospel light, I turned to blind guides. My reading took me into the world of Tolstoy, Ghandi and Hugh McDairmid (the Scottish Marxist poet). Led by such teachers it is no wonder I ended
in the labyrinth of error. Thus my mind was being well prepared to reject all revealed religion. While at sixteen I was incensed that one of my friends was commended by a teacher for giving, as a definition of God, that He is an ideal. My notions of God were soon reduced to an even lower level.
The minister of my mother’s Church to whom I turned for guidance could only commend salvation by works. He recommended that I become a Sunday School teacher. Along with many other young people who showed no evidence of repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ, I joined the Church and took communion. None of these things, however, stopped the mouth of a guilty conscience; and soon I was directed to the mystics. There I would find peace. All this proved of no avail, and in my despair I turned from these vain attempts to put myself right, to the far easier task of putting the world right. Politics provided a far more realistic world than mysticism.
How sad it is to think of the many young people who are set up as teachers and yet are themselves desperately in need of teaching and guidance.
However, God, in His perfect providence was soon to remove me from this influence. Being one of the last to be called up for National Service, I set off for the Recruiting Station with the “Life of Thomas Aquinas” as my travelling companion. I was to return two years later with the sermons of George Whitefield.
How did God effect this great change from rationalism to evangelical faith, from darkness to light, from death to life, the world to Christ?
My first companions were of the play-boy, sociable type. Then I formed a friendship with two other Scotsmen, whose influence was to demolish my natural religion. Both had a Roman Catholic upbringing. One was a member of the Communist party and the other a dissolute University failure. Gradually I succumbed to these infidel forces and set out with the latter for a tour of duty in Cyprus, to feast on the pleasures of sin for a season. Soon my Bible was sent home and the “Soviet Review” took its place, the cabaret not the church, the world not the saints, was the company I delighted in. Yet Christ had not abandoned me. He “sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God.”
After the mockery of midnight mass and the foolery of hogmanay, I was determined to turn over a new leaf, and attended for the first time services in the Garrison Church at Episkopi in January 1961. It was the same religion to which I had been accustomed at home. At that service there was an announcement of a united Christian Fellowship. Imagining that this gathering would be the same sort of thing I was used to at home, where young people
gathered to discuss, in a vaguely Christian way, social and philosophical questions, I went along. Yet to my disgust on arriving late I heard mission hall hymns inside that little nissen hut. I can still picture myself standing outside trying to decide whether I would cross the threshold. In the end I was drawn in and listened and observed the proceedings, which I utterly despised. After the service was over I remember walking down the road of the cantonment, disputing with the leader of this little group, a Royal Air Force Corporal, whose dogmatism about the inspiration of Scripture aroused my ire and animosity. This very person was to become my closest spiritual companion after my conversion. Thus when my affections were most powerfully entangled in the pleasures of sin: my mind thoroughly schooled in infidelity, the Lord had brought me amongst His lowly disciples. From them I was to hear the Gospel for the first time. By their life and testimony the Good Shepherd drew my affections to Himself and enlightened my benighted understanding.