AN OUTLINE OF MY LIFE - CHAPTER 7
AN OUTLINE OF MY LIFE
SELECTIONS FROM A FIFTY YEARS' RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
BY JAMES ANDERSON, EVANGELIST
CONVERSATION AND DISCUSSION WITH THE (PLYMOUTH) BRETHREN
When we lived in Braidwood, there were a number of churches in the district of the people known as Plymouth Brethren. William Christie and I visited some of the leading men in these churches to see if we could not come to an understanding and have fellowship with each other. We made little of it, still we considered it to be our duty to try, and were more contented with regard to them after we did try. On these visits we always made it known that we were willing to accept or do anything that was clearly revealed in the Bible, and we were willing to give up anything that was not clearly revealed, and we expected them to do the same. We could not get them to consent to these terms. One of the points which lay between us in practice was: all those meetings, at that time, admitted the unbaptized to the Lord's Supper. We could not prove that any of the New Testament churches did this, and we therefore objected. They would not give way on this point and we could not honestly give way, so this point itself was enough to bar us from each other's fellowship.
It may be as well to give the substance of one of those conversations. In this case we were sent for by one of the "Brethren" to talk over matters with a view to fellowship. We touched upon the open communion question, but found that he could not prove it nor was he willing to give it up. We called his attention to the second chapter of Acts, and said, "Now there is an example of how we proceed. We preach; the people hear, become anxious, repent and get baptized; and then continue steadfastly in the Apostle's doctrine and fellowship and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." "Now," we said, "there is a model of how we act as a Church. If you should come to Braidwood would you have any objections to meet with us, seeing that we can give you a plain example from Scripture for all that we do?" "No," he said, "I do not think that I would object to meet with you." "Well," we said, "will you take the New Testament and read us a plain description of your practice as a Church, so that when we come to Lesmahazow we may have no reason for objecting to sit in fellowship with you?" He said, "It is not very long since I became a member here, and in some things I am only groping my way yet." "But," we said, "you admit that you can see what we practise in the Scriptures. We dare not give up what we see, to come and grope along with you. Would it not be better for you to do as we do when you can see it, and as soon as you have groped out anything else we shall be as ready to accept it as you are, and we would act together still." But we could not move him, and we had each to go our own way. He was a very earnest man, and we always remained good friends though we could not act as he did.
We at times came less or more into conflict with the "Brethren." About the time concerning which I am writing just now, I had a rather unpleasant experience with them. I had gone on a Sunday afternoon to hold an open-air meeting in the mining village of Overtown. I generally give opportunity for question or remark when I finish an outside address; I did so then, but no one took advantage of it. I went to drink a cup of tea with a friend before I started on my five-mile walk home. We had a brother living in Overtown at that time who was blessed with more zeal than prudence. Before I was finished with my tea this brother came to inform me that a debate had been arranged for between a Mr. Steel and myself, the debate to take place on Wednesday evening. I said, "James, this is out of the question. How can I take part in a thing like that? I am not at your call, nor any other man's, to debate when and where you may think fit. Has Mr. Steel been consulted?" "No," he replied, "Mr. Steel knows nothing about it as yet." "Then what tempted you to act like this?" "I do not see that I could have done anything else," he said. He then told me how it happened. "After you went away," he said, "a good many people remained talking among themselves, and a man said, 'If Mr. Steel had been here, Mr. Anderson would have been called in question for some things he said, he would not have got away as he did.'" "I spoke then," said James, and I told him: "If you know where to find Mr. Steel, I know where to find Mr. Anderson, and I am sure that he will be willing to defend what he has said." "We were both alike sure, so we fixed a debate for Wednesday night, and quite a lot of people heard us do it." "This will never do, James," I replied; "the other man seems to be as rash as you are, to say the least of it, so you must come with me and see that man." We went to the man's house and saw him. I told him that I considered that they had both acted rashly; that they should have seen Mr. Steel and myself before they fixed anything; that he should go and see Mr. Steel, and if Mr. Steel thought that it would do any good for him and me to meet and talk over matters, then, they might arrange, but it would never do to rush into things like this. To my surprise our friend said, "I understand you; you have been caught more suddenly than you expected. You feel that you are not in a position to meet Mr. Steel, and you are pleading for time to prepare yourself. But Mr. Steel will have sympathy with you; he is a fine Christian man, and I have no doubt that he will grant you whatever time you ask. But as for Mr. Steel, he does not require that, he is always ready." I could not persuade that man that I was pleading for order; he would believe nothing but that I was feeling my weakness and was pleading for time. So I had just to ask him to let Mr. Steel know that I was not pleased with this way of doing things, but I would be at the place appointed, at the time fixed, but that I would not blame Mr. Steel though he was not there.
Our friend and Mr. Steel both belonged to the "Brethren." I had said that baptism preceded by faith and repentance was for the remission of sins. That was the point they found fault with.
I went to the appointed place on the Wednesday evening, and found it filled with people. Mr. Steel came, but a bit late. I tried to make some arrangements with him when he came. I said that we would require some one to preside over the meeting, but he said, "Oh no, the Holy Spirit will preside." I said that we might trust each other as to time and order, but there would have to be some arrangement, there would have to be a time fixed for stopping before we started, and there would have to be a fixed time for our speeches. We agreed to ten-minute speeches. He suggested that he should open with prayer and I should close. I agreed.
Mr. Steel had more than a common amount of sanctimonious affectation, even for one of the "Brethren." He assumed great knowledge, and talked down to you all the time. In his opening prayer he poured out his complaint about "flesh desiring to have a chairman." When a man insults you in a speech you may reply, but when a man insults you in a prayer it is not so easy knowing what to do. He sent his insult to heaven, and I left Heaven to deal with it; I took no notice of it. He spoke longer than his time every time he got up. I did not deem it wise to take notice of that; I thought it might spoil the effect of the meeting, and I had the impression that I could make it up another way; I could make a better use of my time than he could. I took care not to follow his bad example; I always sat down at my time. We were coming to closer grips before the finish, and I thought a few more meetings might do good; so I said to him at the close, "Mr. Steel, you preach and I preach. We have a larger audience here than would come to hear either of us preach; I suggest that we continue these meetings weekly till one of us convinces the other or the people stop coming." But Mr. Steel would have no more of it. When I came out, one of Mr. Steel's friends followed me down the street. He wished to know what I thought of the meeting. I said, "There is one thing that I have made up my mind upon, that is, your 'Spirit' will never be Chairman for me any more. If ever I have anything more to do with you people, I shall have some spirit in the chair that will make your man sit down when his time is up."
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