AN OUTLINE OF MY LIFE - CHAPTER 11
AN OUTLINE OF MY LIFE
SELECTIONS FROM A FIFTY YEARS' RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
BY JAMES ANDERSON, EVANGELIST
INCIDENTS CONNECTED WITH LABOURS AT BATHGATE
Bathgate is one of our oldest Churches in the district, but the men who had to do with its formation had all been removed before I knew anything about Bathgate. My connection with the Bathgate Church has, upon the whole, been of a pleasant nature, I have often had good Gospel meetings there. But concerning these I can attempt no details; some of the unusual things I may mention.
Shortly after I became an evangelist Mr. Page Hopps was going over a good part of Scotland lecturing on Unitarianism. He visited Bathgate and lectured on, "The Unitarian Confession of Faith." He had his lecture in print and sold it at the close of the meeting. I heard Mr. Hopps, and bought a copy of his lecture. It occurred to me that a review of that lecture might interest some people, so I advertised accordingly. I had a good hearing and my review helped our Gospel meetings.
That lecture had some fine examples of word-juggling. It declared that "faith" was an article in their creed. "We all," said Mr. Hopps, "have our thoughts on the subject of religion; and our thoughts, when they go deep enough, form our beliefs." This looks well enough until you look into it. Paul says that "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). With Paul faith comes by hearing; with Mr. Hopps faith comes by thinking. With Paul faith rests upon what God has said, with Mr. Hopps, faith rests upon what man thinks. With Paul, revelation is the test of truth in religion; with Mr. Hopps, human opinion is the test of truth in religion. Mr. Hopps claimed that faith was an article in their creed. But he gave a meaning to the word faith that is out of harmony with its general use in connection with religion. This is not reasoning - it is trickery.
I shall have to be content with another example. Mr. Hopps informed us that the Unitarians believed in "Inspiration." But he proceded to explain by saying that he believed in the inspiration of David, and Paul, and Milton, and Channing, etc. This is just another case of the same kind. When a Christian says that he believes in the inspiration of the Scriptures, and at the same time he believes that the writers of the Bible had no advantage over Milton or Channing, he is using the word inspiration in an uncommon manner, and thereby tending to deceive. But playing tricks with the word inspiration is not confined to the Unitarians. Some of our half-and-half Higher Critics use "inspiration" in a sense that is little or nothing above trickery, and only calculated to deceive. I am not blaming the out-and-out Higher Critic at this point. He goes squarely to work and tries to account for the Jew and his Book without God and without miracle. I have some respect for the out-and-out; you know where he is, and what he means. Of course, as far as a man is a Higher Critic at all, he is just so much nearer the goal of the out-and-out, but I prefer the genuine article to any of the "spurious imitations."
Some time after the above lecture, the United Presbyterian minister in Bathgate gave a course of lectures in defence of infant baptism and against the Baptists. The lectures were reported in the local press. I was asked to reply to them. We had a good hearing for our lectures in reply to the minister, and we were also reported in the local press. That did us no harm, but a considerable amount of good.
The old ministers used, once or so in a lifetime, to make an effort like this. The younger ministers are wiser; as a rule, they leave it alone. It is now pretty well known that there is no Bible authority for infant baptism. And the man who tries to bring something out of nothing has more before him that he is a match for, and he is the wiser man who does not try. Infant baptism lives more upon the force of custom than upon sincere scriptural conviction. The force of custom is very great, but after I have made all the allowance I can for that, it still seems strange to me how anyone can have any hand in the christening of a baby in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, when neither Father, Son nor Holy Spirit has authorized anyone to christen a baby in the Divine Name. You would think that anyone would hesitate to use God's Name where he had not been given authority to use it.
Besides the lectures and my replies to them, there was a good deal of corrrespondence in the Bathgate papers in regard to baptism. I had a hand in that correspondence.
I might mention one of my more private experiences in Bathgate. At the time of the lectures referred to, there was a Charles Robertson in Bathgate. Though Mr. Robertson was a business man, his remarks were not always of a polished nature. But no one who knew him could doubt that he had an interest in religion. He came to my lectures in reply to the minister, and after that time we were always on speaking terms. I was spending a week-end in Bathgate, and Mr. Robertson sent for me on the Sunday afternoon. I went. I was not much more than inside the house when he said, "Mr. Anderson, I wish to put a few questions to you." "All right, Mr. Robertson, but you had better not put off much time, for our evening meeting time will be here before long." "Well," he said, "I shall just begin at once. Do you not think that you preach far too much about baptism?" "Yes, Mr. Robertson, I think I do." "You think you do! then why do you not stop it?" "Because I cannot get it stopped." "You cannot get it stopped! How can that be? Explain yourself." "Oh yes, Mr. Robertson, I shall explain myself. You sometimes preach to people, and I am glad that you do. You tell sinners that God loves them, and Christ died for them, and you urge them to trust in Christ. I am pleased that you do all that, but you stop there. You tell them that they only have to believe, whereas Jesus has said, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' You leave the last part of this out, and so do most people who preach in Bathgate. Now if I do not tell the people the rest of it, who is going to do it? I have to preach baptism for myself and you, and twenty other people in Bathgate, and that is more preaching about baptism than I wish to do. But, Mr. Robertson, if you will promise me that you will say a little more about it, I shall promise you that I shall say a little less about it." He paid the best of attention while I spoke, and I expected an outburst when I stopped. But, no, he spoke quite calmly and said, "Mr. Anderson, I never saw your work from that point of view before. I shall say no more against your work in regard to that point."
Some considerable time after the above I was in Bathgate. I was sent for to the house of Mr. Robertson. When I got there Mr. Robertson said, "Mr. Anderson, my wife is dying. You were always one of her particular favourites and she desired to see you before she departed." Mrs. Robertson was a mild, gentle person compared with her husband. She was weak, but could converse a little. I wish to put upon record a small part of what she said. During our conversation she referred to the fact that she was dying. "But," she said, "I am not dying having any regret that I ever spoke too plainly to anyone about their eternal welfare; but I am dying with some regret because I think that I sometimes did not speak plainly enough."
Before I leave Bathgate I may refer shortly to another matter. It is recent compared with the other things which I have mentioned. I had a challenge to debate with a Perfectionist in Bathgate. Though we did not think that much good could come from it, my friends thought that I had better accept and let it come off. We did not put ourselves to much trouble or expense in advertising, still a fairly large audience came together to hear. My chairman had taken the measure of the men we had to deal with, and had proper rules for the debate drawn up and agreed to.
Our friend on the other side held that people were either altogether good or altogether bad. I held that he was wrong with both classes, that the worse of people had some good in them, and in the best of people there was room for improvement. I made a centre point of I John 1:8: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." I called attention to the fact that by the use of the word "we" John included himself, and I pressed my friend to say if he considered himself better than John. The debate did us no harm. It did do harm to the other side. My opponent and his chairman both seemed to feel that they had made a bad job. They would talk after it was time to close the debate. I protested and left the platform. The audience rose and began to go out. My Chairman stood and remonstrated with them for a minute or two, but they would talk though the people were going out. My chairman then left the platform, saying, "That is a fine example of perfection! These men will not keep the rules which they agreed to." We had thus an imperfect finish to a debate on Perfection.
I do not know that we need trouble ourselves much about our Perfectionist friends. They are never likely to do very much harm. Our perfect saints are often absurd sinners. A man may manage to persuade himself that he is perfect, but he will generally have trouble in getting the man next door to believe it. Our of our evangelists was visiting; he got into conversation with a woman who said that she was perfect, she had lived entirely free from sin for three years. He knew that he could not do any good in that case, so he said, "My dear woman, I am glad to hear of it," and then made his way out. That, as a rule, may be the best thing you can do with perfect persons; let them alone, it is not at all likely that many other people will believe in his or her perfection.
JAMES ANDERSON INDEX