AN OUTLINE OF MY LIFE - CHAPTER 13
AN OUTLINE OF MY LIFE
SELECTIONS FROM A FIFTY YEARS' RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
BY JAMES ANDERSON, EVANGELIST
COATBRIDGE CHURCH AND MORMON PREACHERS
About the year 1886, some members of the Baptist Church in Coatbridge became dissatisfied and separated themselves from the Baptists, and came into fellowship with us. Since that time we have had a small Church there. I have now and again given a little help there, but considering the size of the town it would require more time and attention than we were able to give. Still that little church holds on faithfully.
For some time we tried open-air meetings on the Saturday evenings, speakers and members from different places coming to help. But we did not do as much good as we wished and hoped to do.
Though we have not done all we would have liked at Coatbridge, I have enjoyed my visits there. I have always had more pleasure in helping a small Church than a large one. In a large Church you have often the feeling that if they would stir themselves, they might do without you, but in the small Church you are generally sure that help is required.
A good many years ago I had a letter from one of the members of the Church at Coatbridge, asking if I would come and have conversation with two intelligent Latter-day Saints. They had expressed their willingness to have conversation with any one. I fixed upon the first evening suitable for me, and wrote that I would come. The friend who wrote for me was employed in a steelwork, and I inferred that the Latter-day Saints would be fellow-workmen. But when I got to the house where I had to meet them I found a large kitchen filled with people, and discovered that the two Latter-day Saints were missionaries from Utah. We were introduced to each other. They asked, "What shall we talk about?" They suggested that faith, repentance or baptism or some such subject be the topic of conversation, and where we differed we would discuss the matter from the Bible. I objected to proceeding in that way. I said, "You believe in baptism and we believe in baptism. I hold that I am a baptized person, but you deny it. You say that I am not baptized because you did not baptize me, no one has authority to baptize but you. I say that I am a married man, but you deny it. I am not married because the Latter-day Saints did not marry me, no one has the authority to marry but you. Thus I might go on, but these examples will do. You profess to come from Utah with Apostolic authority, you also profess to have the same powers which the first preachers of the Gospel possessed when 'They went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following' (Mark 16:20).
"I believe the Bible, but, gentlemen, I doubt you. If you will prove that you are what you claim to be, I pledge myself before this room full of people to accept what you say without further question. I never was presumptuous enough to dispute with inspired men, and I hope that I never shall be. Prove your claims and the thing is finished, so far as I am concerned; begin there, that is the proper place to begin." But I could not induce them to begin there. When I could not bring them up to that, I asked them to decide between themselves which of the two was to be the speaker, and we would each speak ten minutes alternately for two hours. He could lead as he pleased and I would follow him. They agreed to that, and we spent two hours in that way. If there was anything miraculous about my opponent, I failed to feel the force of it.
A good part of his time was taken up with trying to prove that we still ought to have the powers and superhuman gifts of the early Christians. I pressed upon him the fact that he was wasting his time. For even if he could prove that those gifts ought to be possessed by Christians now, that would not prove that he or any of his brethren possessed them. There are two sections of the Latter-day Saints, each declares that they are the people who have the Apostles and Prophets and gifts, and that those who belong to the other section are frauds. Our Catholic-Apostolic friends say that they are the people who possess what the Latter-day Saints profess to have, and that both sections of the Latter-day Saints are frauds.
Now suppose we were sure that these gifts are now in existence, and were also sure that one of these three religious bodies possessed them, how are we to know which of the three? The only way to settle it is, let the party who can work the miracles do it. I pressed this position upon our friends from Utah, saying that if they had the power, giving us a manifestation of it would be better than any amount of talk. I, of course, followed him to all the passages he quoted, pointing out that none of them said that the gifts had to continue, and every time pressing home the fact that though the passage did say so, our friends were in no better a position, for that would not prove that they possessed these gifts.
Mormon officials can be very solemn when they are testifying to the miracles they have witnessed, or announcing their pretended authority. An honest man need hardly try to tell the truth as solemnly and earnestly as a fraud can tell lies; so far as solemn earnestness goes the fraud generally has it, the honest man cannot come up to him. My opponent at Coatbridge was no exception to that rule. In one of his speeches he solemnly said, "You must beware of men. My friend here does not pretend to have any authority; he just took it into his head to preach, and some people took it into their heads to support him, and he does not even profess to have authority, so you must beware of men." In replying I said, "My friend gave you a piece of wholesome advice when he told you to 'beware of men,' but it was awfully nice of him to remove all suspicion from me. He informed you that I did not pretend to have any authority. That is true. I preach from the Bible; I claim authority for the book I preach from, but none for myself. But the man who makes no pretensions can deceive no one. I make no pretensions, so you do not require to beware of me. But my friend is in a different position; he has come here with very great pretensions. He pretends to have been sent from Utah by Apostolic authority, and pretends to have received Divine authority to preach and to work miracles - he pretends all this, and you must beware of men. He pretends to come here with the same power and authority that Philip had when he went to Samaria. The people of Samaria wondered at the miracles worked by Philip. Are the people of Coatbridge wondering at the miracles which are being done by our friends here? No, indeed; when our friends leave Coatbridge, if the people wonder at all, they will wonder that our friends had the brazen-faced impudence to come here pretending so much and doing nothing. It is not a question of being mistaken; they know as well as they know that they are living, that they have not the powers which they profess to have, and you must beware of men." After I made this reply I heard no more about their pretended authority for the evening.
Perhaps I should call attention to another feature of that evening's debate before I leave it. When I was pressing my friend on the other side for proof for his pretensions he quoted, as the Latter-day Saints often do: "A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it" (Matt. 16:4). In my reply I said, "My friend on the other side may have a good character when he is at home, but he has no character here, he is only a wandering stranger. Our friend must be possessed of more than an ordinary share of audacity to come strolling here without a character and impeach decent people with being wicked and adulterous. If he repeats that, I shall press him for proof and he will fail in giving it, as he has failed in the other things which he has attempted this evening.
"The passage which my friend quoted informs us how Jesus acted when the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Him for a sign from heaven, tempting Him. Jesus had before this time given abundant evidence in proof of His claims, but these men were neither honest nor open to conviction. Jesus therefore did not waste time upon them. But when John the Baptist sent to Jesus asking, 'Art thou He that should come? or do we look for another?' we have here an honest man open to conviction and seeking evidence to put his mind at rest. How did Jesus treat John the Baptist? His instructions were, 'Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.' That is how Jesus treated an honest man when he asked for evidence. Now I claim, like John the Baptist, to be an honest man, open to conviction and seeking to know the truth, and I ask my friend on the other side to treat me as Jesus treated John the Baptist, or else let him prove me to be the wicked and adulterous person he calls me. He is in duty bound to do one or other of these two things, but I am certain that he will do neither the one nor the other."
After my reply, we heard no more about the "wicked and adulterous generation." When our time was up I said to them, "I suppose you will be about Coatbridge for a few weeks, so if you are willing I shall meet you for one evening each week, until you go away. You can lead each time as you please, and I shall follow you."
They inclined to meet me again, and the matter ended there, so far as we were concerned.
When we were on our feet to go out one of the audience said to them, "Gentlemen, your position seems to be this. We have to believe in your claims without any evidence but your own word in the first place, then we have to join you, and after we are in among you we shall receive evidence regarding the truth of your pretensions. Most Scotchmen will be too cautions to act in that way."
When I have the Latter-day Saints in hand I may as well tell another story about them. Since the year 1889 we have had a Church in Hamilton. That Church met at Blantyre for some time and afterwards moved to Hamilton. A few years ago a representative of the Reorganized Section of the Latter-day Saints appeared in Hamilton. He was an acceptable open-air speaker and attracted some attention. He got into conversation with one or four members at Hamilton and informed that member that we as a religious body were afraid of the Reorganized Section of the Latter-day Saints - we knew our weakness and kept out of their way. That was news to our friend, he had not heard that before and was not sure about believing it. So he informed the Latter-day Saint that there was one of our evangelists at Motherwell just then, and Motherwell is just about two miles from Hamilton. He said that he had never known that evangelist refuse to have a conversation with any one, and, if the Latter-day Saint would permit him, he would go to Motherwell and try to arrange with the evangelist to come to Hamilton for a conversation. After what the Latter-day Saint had said, he could hardly refuse that offer, so it was fixed that I should meet him in a house in Hamilton, with a few friends on each side to hear the conversation.
At the appointed time we met in the house of our friend who had arranged the meeting. Before entering upon the conversation proper I said to the Latter-day Saint, "Mr. Rushton, though this is to be a conversation, not a debate, still I should like some order put into it. In a conversation each is apt to think that the other is taking more than his share of the time, and this sometimes leads to unpleasantness. To prevent this, I suggest that we agree to take an equal share of the time - say five or ten minutes each at a time." He was willing, so we arranged for five minutes each alternately for two hours. I led, and in substance said: "Mr. Rushton, here is a tract which you gave to my friend here and he gave it to me. I intend to make that tract the subject of my remarks. The tract is written by one of your leading men, and it is written against the religious body to which I belong. The main charges are - we have no apostles, no prophets, we do not perform any miracles, and we do not lay hands on people to bestow supernatural gifts. I plead guilty to these charges. We have no apostles, and I know of no one that I can blame. I know of no person who can make an apostle. A prophet is a person who speaks by inspiration from God. We have no such men, and again I can blame no one. I know of no person who can make a prophet. We work no miracles. I work no miracles because I cannot. I never blame myself for what I cannot do. I know of no person who can give the power to work miracles, I therefore blame no one. We could, of course, lay our hands on people's heads, but I fear those heads would be no better for our hands, we therefore refrain from the empty form.
He did not relish being hauled up to the proof of his pretensions. He tried to turn the conversation in other directions, but I kept bringing him back to this point. Like his friends at Coatbridge, he was anxious to make out that the Bible taught that these offices and gifts should still be in the Church. We reminded him that even if that were true it would not relieve him of his task. It would still be his duty to prove that he was the kind of man he professed to be, and had the gifts and powers which he laid claim to. At the same time, I examined every passage that he called attention to and showed that they did not teach that these offices and gifts should still be here. He seemed to depend as much on Eph. 4:11-14, as any passage, and we spent some time on that portion. It reads: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of man, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."
Mr. Rushton tried to use this passage in the following manner: - "We are here informed that apostles and prophets were given for the perfecting of the saints. As the saints are not yet perfect, we must still have apostles and prophets with us, as the object for which they were given has not yet been attained. Again, apostles and prophets were given until unity of the faith was reached; but unity of the faith has not yet been attained, therefore apostles and prophets must still be here, for God would not withdraw them till the object was attained for which they were sent."
In replying to him I presented the following points: "You Latter-day Saints teach that, on account of error in the Church, apostles and prophets were removed from it shortly after the days of the first Apostles. And from then until the time of Joseph Smith there were no apostles on the earth. That is, for considerably over a thousand years, according to you, there were no apostles. If that were so, any impostor during that thousand years might have reasoned exactly as you are doing, to prove that there really were apostles on the earth during that thousand years. This, from your point of view, renders your argument useless. I agree with you that God would not withdraw the Apostles until the object was gained for which they were sent. But you admit that He did withdraw them and in doing so, you must admit that the object for which they were given was by that time attained, as God would not have withdrawn them until they had fulfilled the end for which they were sent. This proves that your explanation of the passage is a blunder, and we must look for its true meaning in some other direction.
"That apostles and prophets were given for the perfecting of the saints, is admitted on both sides. But that does not mean that apostles and prophets were to continue till all the saints were perfect. There never was a time, in this our mortal state, when all the saints were perfect, nor will there ever be such a time. But the apostles and prophets provide the means by which 'The man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.' This beyond question is what is meant by the perfecting of the saints. Again, apostles and prophets were given 'till we all attain unto the unity of the faith' (R.V.). But that does not mean apostles and prophets had to continue until all who profess faith in Christ are in one mind on every subject. There never was such a time and, so far as I know, there never will be in this dispensation. The meaning of this clause need give no trouble to any intelligent reader of the New Testament. The faith was once for all delivered to the saints by the apostles and prophets. But it was not delivered all at once; still God caused apostles and prophets to be continued until it was all delivered. It was all delivered before God withdraw the apostles and prophets. We could not be said to have attained unto the unity of the faith until it was delivered. Up till that time it was fragmentary, now it is a complete whole - a unit, each part fitting into the other and making a perfect whole. We have thus come or attained unto the unity of the faith. You think that this passage teaches that when the unity of the faith is attained there will be no longer error or division to trouble the followers of Christ. The passages teaches no such thing. But it does teach that when we reach that point we need not henceforth be children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. I am making a present use of the passage in resisting your claims. Claims that you can give no proof for, and that only tend to deceive."
The foregoing gives a sample of what passed, so far as dealing with passages is concerned.
He tried the "wicked and adulterous generation" trick, when I was pressing him for proof of his pretensions; but I stopped him in the same way that I stopped his friends at Coatbridge. Mr. Rushton is a fairly clever man, but that did not make up for his bad case. I did not hear of him repeating the boast that we as a religious body were afraid of the Reorganized Section of the Latter-day Saints. And I certainly saw nothing that evening to cause me to shun another encounter.
JAMES ANDERSON INDEX