AN OUTLINE OF MY LIFE - CHAPTER 16

AN OUTLINE OF MY LIFE

OR

SELECTIONS FROM A FIFTY YEARS' RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE

BY JAMES ANDERSON, EVANGELIST


CHAPTER 16

PREACHING AND DEFENDING THE TRUTHS OF THE GOSPEL IN BELFAST

During all my evangelistic life I have been considered the evangelist of the Slamannan District. I never gave up my connection with that district as long as I was fit for evangelistic work. Still, I have done a lot of work outside of that district. But this was reckoned special work, and I always left on the understanding that I returned to our own district when the special work was over. The city of Belfast got more of this kind of work than any one place. I have twice laboured in Belfast. Each time I went away expecting to labour there for six months, but each time I stayed there for twelve months. About twenty years ago our General Evangelistic Committee thought of giving some help to Ireland. I was glad to hear of it, for I had some warm-hearted Irish friends in Scotland.

In conversation with one of the G.E.C. I expressed my pleasure with the news that they were going to try and send some help to Ireland. I also informed him that if they had not a suitable man to send there, and thought that I would suit their purpose, if they could send some one to take my place at Slamannan for a time, I would go to Ireland. My hint was acted upon, and I was left free to go to the Green Isle. Their plan was to send two men together; they were to select a young man, if they could get one, to go with me. They arranged with Mr. John Straiton, a native of Slamannan, to go with me to Belfast. We got ready as soon as we could, and took boat for that city. We did not know any of the brethren there, but Mr. Joseph Paterson was to meet us at the boat when we landed. We had a pen-and-ink portrait of him, written by Mr. Geo. Collin. We spotted our man before the boat stopped. Mr. Straiton and I were both sure that if Mr. Paterson was there, that that was Mr. Paterson. We were right, and in less than five minutes we were at home in Ireland.

There were, I think, about twenty-two members in Belfast then, and we were soon upon the best of terms with them. Mr. Straiton was as good a helpmate as I could have got for Belfast. We knew each other well to begin with, and that was an advantage. Whilst pleased with the Belfast brethren generally, I remember that one small matter troubled me for a week or two. In small Churches, where all know each other, they are apt to get into the habit of waiting for one another; and suppose you are a few minutes late, well! it does not make much matter. But when you are advertising and doing your best to get strangers to come to the evening meeting, and a stranger comes a few minutes early, and he finds very few there, and the few who are there are straggled all over the place instead of all sitting together and all well forward near the speaker - I say, when this happens, it makes both you and the stranger feel like wishing that you were somewhere else. What a difference it makes to both speakers and hearers when the members come early and go well forward and sit compactly together; then a stranger coming in is more apt to go freely forward and take his seat beside the others, and feel more at ease than he otherwise would do. And though an audience is not large, if they sit compactly together, what a difference it makes to the speaker! Some of our Belfast friends did not think about this at the first, and it annoyed me a bit. But I could not expect them to alter, if I did not let them know how I felt about it; so I gave a few broad Scotch hints about the matter, and it soon came all right. But it is painful when a Scotchman has to give a broad hint. A broad hint from a Scotchman is often a good bit too broad. We are very clumsy, as a rule, at giving a delicate hint as to what we want. It was an Irishman who said, "God bless your cows, mistress, would you give us a drink?" A Scotchman could not have got round it like that. However, my Belfast friends did not take it badly, and we got on well together.

We all worked hard, but we made no immediate progress. It was about three months before there was much sign of increase. After that things moved on a little. There never was any great rush; we did not manage all we wished by a long way. Still, when I left at the end of a year's labour, the membership was three times as great as when we began. I dare not attempt anything like an outline of that year's work. Most of it may be described as ordinary gospel work. Many different shades of religious belief are aired on the Custom House steps on a Sunday afternoon, and when weather permitted we generally had a meeting there. As a rule, I got a good audience at the "steps." An unusual experience grew out of that. The Christadelphians began to hand round tracts at our meetings. I did not like that, and lest we should be mistaken for Christadelphians, I decided to deliver an address in our hall on a Sunday evening that would make it clear that we had no sympathy with the literature that was sometimes given away at our outside meetings. Mr. Straiton managed the advertising. As that discourse was to be a little unusual, he suggested spending double the usual amount on advertising it, and he would try and make it more noticeable. I consented, and he got the space which he bargained for; but they moved his advertisement out of the usual columns for advertising religious meetings, with the result that very few saw our advertisement that week, and some wondered if for some reason we were to have no meeting that Lord's day evening. Mr. Straiton did not care to be done in that fashion. To pay more money than usual and get less than usual value for it did not go down well with him; so he was at the newspaper office early on Monday forenoon to call their attention to what they had done. He said, "You ought in some way to make up for your mistake. I observe that you print a sermon by one and another in your columns now and again. You should print the substance of Mr. Anderson's sermon when you helped to deprive him of an audience last night." They promised to do so, if he could have it in their hands that afternoon or evening. I seldom write what I am going to say, and that sermon was not written. But we set to work, Mr. Straiton giving a hand, and it was at the newspaper office inside the time specified, and appeared next day. If we were disappointed on Saturday, we were more than pleased on Tuesday. The object I had in view was attained beyond my expectations. But when the sermon appeared in the papers it stirred our Christadelphian friends. I had preached from Matt. 10:28, and though I did not deem it wise to spend all my time on points of difference, I ran counter to them on the nature of man and the future of the wicked. About a week after my sermon appeared in the papers, I had a letter from our friends informing me that on a certain evening one of their members would read a paper criticizing my sermon. It would take about half an hour to read the paper, and if I cared to attend I would be allowed half an hour to reply. The person who was going to read the paper was named in my letter. I spoke to a man who knew the Christadelphians fairly well, and asked him what age the person was who was going to read the paper? "About the age of Mr. Straiton," he said. I then consulted with Bro. Straiton, and suggested that he should reply to the paper, as the writer and he were bearer the same age. He was willing, and I wrote asking them to allow Mr. Straiton to fill my place on account of the age of the writer. I got an answer advising me to despise no man's youth, but accepting Mr. Straiton in my place. When we got to their hall on the night appointed, we found that a mistake had been made. Our friends had two men of the same name, and the man who was to read the paper was much nearer my age than Mr. Straiton's. As soon as I knew, I went to their leading men and explained how the mistake had taken place, but asking them to accept Mr. Straiton when the arrangement had been made. The person who read the paper seemed to be a very fine man. Bro. Straiton's reply gave general satisfaction. Even the other side had to admit that at some points it was very good.

We got to know afterwards that they had planned their work to the best advantage. The man who read the paper was the best man they had for that kind of thing, but he was not their best debater. We were informed that the meeting would go on for an hour after Mr. Straiton's reply to the paper, but the writer of the paper would take no further part in the meeting. Another man, however, would make a twenty minutes' reply to Mr. Straiton, then twenty minutes would be granted to some one on Mr. Straiton's side of the question. After that the man who spoke for the twenty minutes would take other ten minutes, and the closing ten minutes would be given to some one on Mr. Straiton's side. We found that the man who did the speaking on their side after the paper was their best debater. I replied to his twenty and ten minutes' speeches. At the close of his last speech, he gave a challenge to any man in Belfast to debate the subject they had in hand. At the close of my last ten minutes I said that I was still willing to leave the defence of my sermon in the hands of John Straiton against any man in Belfast, and I was willing to defend it against any person that they cared to bring. So a night's debate was arranged for on the spot between Bro. Straiton and the person who gave the challenge.

I was not feeling well, and had made arrangements to go to Scotland for a week before all this took place. That would take me away from the city before the debate came off. I thought it best not to alter my plan lest they should say that I had stayed to help Mr. Straiton. So I went off, and the debate was over before I came back. Our people were well pleased with the manner in which Bro. Straiton acquitted himself in that debate. At the close of the debate there was again a challenge given to continue the debate for one or more nights, the propositions to be arranged by letter. When I returned I found a correspondence going on that was not likely to result in anything satisfactory. They had learned that in a fair field they were likely to get the worst of it, and they were in for their old game of catch; neither Mr. Straiton nor I was willing to let them play that game. So we advertised a public meeting at which Bro. Straiton read the correspondence. He then read two propositions covering the main points in my address, and offered to meet any one in debate on these propositions. It was a large meeting, and that cleared the air. The people saw where we were standing, and that we were open and willing for a fair defence of our position. That meeting did a lot of good.

After the correspondence and the propositions were before the meeting I said, "There is still forty minutes to spare. I am now going to make a fifteen minutes' attack on Christadelphianism. Any of its friends can have fifteen minutes for a reply. We can then have five minutes, each and close." The gentleman who debated with Bro. Straiton filled in the two replies to me. During his last five minutes, when I had no opportunity for a reply, he said, "At death the soul of man is absorbed into an ocean of energy and loses all individuality as a drop of water does when it falls into the sea." The Christadelphians often say something like this. I thought I would like to press him on that point. So I wrote to him next morning, quoting his words, adding, "If you think you can prove this in public debate, I shall provide you with an opportunity of doing so. Please let me know if you are willing to try it?" He wrote his answer that night, and I got it next morning. I think I can give it in almost his own words; it was to this effect - "Mr. Anderson, Dear Sir, - After your treatment of me last night, I refuse to have anything more to do with you in regard to religious matters." I considered that a very satisfactory answer. It let me know that the battle was ended, so far as he and I were concerned. I was also next to certain that he would not meet Mr. Straiton again on a fair and pointed proposition. I was right, he did not take up Bro. Straiton's propositions. We did nothing to keep up the friction. Our object was to remove an obstruction; that being done, we went on with our usual work again.

I may mention another experience of a like nature which came our way in the city. It was more indirect, and again Mr. Straiton had more to do with it than I had. A small Church - some eight or nine members - almost identical with us existed in the city before we went, but we did not know of its existence. Bro. Straiton was passing the Custom-House steps one Sunday afternoon when he heard two men debating. One was a shipyard labourer belonging to the little Church just mentioned, and the other was a young doctor belonging to the "Brethren". The subject in dispute was the design of Baptism. The labourer was holding that Baptism preceded by faith and repentance is for the remission of sins. The doctor was teaching that justification was by faith alone. Mr. Straiton was surprised to find that the labourer was at one with us on the point that he was contending for. This caused him to inquire about both men. Bro. Straiton informed me as to what had come under his notice. I said, "Well, John, we shall have to know more about that little meeting. And though you say that the labourer held his ground well, still it is hardly an equal match. You cannot interfere between the two men, of course, unless you get a natural opening, but if you do get a natural opening you must take hold of that young doctor. The men will then be more equally matched." Shortly after this Bro. Straiton was informed that at their meeting at the Custom-House steps the previous Sunday the young doctor had given a public challenge offering to meet any one and debate the point of difference between him and the labourer. Bro. Straiton inquired as to their time of meeting, and went to their meeting at the steps on Sunday, and publicly accepted their challenge. They were not willing to go on with a public debate after Bro. Straiton did accept. All they were willing for then was a debate in a parlour with a dozen friends on each side as hearers. We accepted that rather than nothing. We half gained our object in publicly accepting their challenge. We knew that that would so far put a check on. We met at the time and house agreed upon. The young doctor seemed inclined to talk to me before the debate started. He said, "I suppose that this is taking place according to your wish, Mr. Anderson." "That is so," I said. "I would rather have met you than Mr. Straiton." "If you had been an older man, you would have met me. But you and Mr. Straiton are more like each other." "What was your object?" he asked. "Well," I said, "you knew that we and the labourer that you were disputing with, believed the same thing in regard to the point in dispute. When you were opposing him you were throwing stones at us round the corner, and my object was to stop you, if I could. I may say that we are not inclined to interfere with others any more than we can help, but we believe what we preach and believe it is our duty to defend it; so it is part of my purpose to let you know that if you swagger while Mr. Straiton and I are in Belfast you will fight; if you don't wish to fight don't challenge, and we shall not be likely to disturb you."

There could hardly be two opinions as to Bro. Straiton having the best of the debate all the way through. This brought us to the end of public opposition, so far as our friends were concerned; and we went on with our usual work again. We thought that duty pointed in the direction of knowing more of the little gathering which had been the cause of the experience we have just recorded. Bro. Straiton took an active part in the matter, but we both got into touch with them, with the result that, after a good deal of come and go, they cast in their lot with us. One of them has been an elder in our connexion in Belfast from shortly after that till now.

I have said enough to give some idea of my work in Belfast during my first visit. I left at the end of the year, Mr Mortimer came to fill my place, and Mr. Straiton remained with Mr. Mortimer. I made many friends in Belfast, and I left with the conviction that I might have spent a pleasant and useful life in Belfast. I left with the best wishes of those among whom I had laboured. I found the people upon the whole, cheerful and warm hearted. If a man is a sincere lover of peace, and does the best he can for peace, and is all the time ready for war, he can get along very well with the people of Ireland.

When I have Belfast in hand, I may make a few remarks about my second visit. It took place a number of years after my first visit. There had been a lack of harmony within the Church, and that always does harm. The meetings had suffered as a consequence and were small to begin with. The brethren suggested that I might try some lectures on controversial subjects on the Sunday afternoons, with a view to helping our Gospel meetings in the evening. I took their advice, and advertised a lecture on the "Kingdom of God," leaving myself open to questions at the close of the lecture. The Christadelphians think that they know all about this subject, and a section of them came out in some force to hear the lecture. Not the same men, however, that we had been in touch with during our first visit. These men went on briskly putting questions for an hour after the lecture. They grumbled when the time was up because they had not got all their questions put. I let them know that I was willing to continue the subject on the following Sunday afternoon. And I would then only take ten minutes to open up the subject, and would give all the rest of the time for questions. This meeting was a fairly large and interesting meeting, and the next meeting was larger and showed more interest. The Gospel meetings began to grow from that time, and continued to improve. On the second Sunday afternoon also our friends kept at it with their questions all the time. But at the close they did not feel that they had gained anything; the feeling was in the other direction. They expressed their dissatisfaction. They admitted that they could not say that I had been unfair in any way, but they thought that if I would accept a challenge for a regular debate for an evening they could present their case to more advantage. I said that if they would take a week-night for the debate, they could have it, but I would not consent to it on the Sunday. That was agreed to. They said that they were anxious that I would consent to questions and answers during the debate. I said that I was willing that each man used his time as he pleased, he could ask questions all the time or speak all the time, or speak part of the time and ask questions part of the time, just as he pleased. They seemed to be surprised that I was just as willing for questions as all that. In making the arrangements, however, they limited the time for questions, and I accepted what they suggested. It took some time to arrange for the debate, but it came off in due course. My friend on the other side was pledged to prove that at Christ's second coming all the dead saints would be raised from the dead and all the living saints changed; and that Christ and these glorified saints, with the angels, would reign over men and women in the flesh for a thousand years, births, deaths and marriages going on then as now. I was pledged to deny this. It was a large gathering and very orderly. We had each a half-hour to open with, and short speeches or rounds of questioning after that. I felt myself in fairly good trim for that evening's work. Some of my friends were of opinion that my first half-hour was one of the best speeches which I have delivered in Belfast. I am putting it tamely when I say that my friends were pleased with that debate. As I am only giving brief outlines of work, I cannot attempt to give the substance of the debate. But I may record one incident.

Mr. Robert Fleming was my chairman. During the debate he said to me, "Bro. Anderson, I can understand people holding these notions as matters of opinion, but to make our eternal salvation depend upon believing them - it is awful. Press him hard on that point the next time you put questions." I considered it might be wise to do as my chairman wished. So when I next put questions I said, "You think that I should be punished with everlasting destruction because I differ from you on this subject?" "Yes," he replied. "Now before you hurl a person into everlasting destruction you should be very sure that you are right. You ought at least to have one passage which puts it beyond all question. Can you quote one such passage?" He gave Rev. 20:1-10, as proving his case. I asked, "Are you sure that this proves your case?" "Yes." "You believe that there will be compulsory religion during that thousand years? that is, Christ and the saints will compel people to do right, or remove them?" "Yes," he replied. "Well you get on all right with your compulsory religion as long as the devil is chained, but when he is let loose you have no show, you get beat. Do you believe that?" The Christadelphians do not believe in a personal devil, so instead of answering me, he asked, "What do you mean by the devil?" "Oh," I replied, "I shall let you make your own devil, and then you should be pleased with him. But do you believe in any power from anywhere that is able to defeat the Lord Jesus Christ and all the saints and angels, when they are ruling by force? Do you know of such a power at all?" He replied, "I do not." "Then," I said, "whatever may be the true meaning of this passage, yours is absurd. Do you still believe that I should be punished with everlasting destruction for not believing as you do on this subject, when you can only support it in that absurd fashion?" But again his reply was "Yes." I then called his attention to 2 Thes. 1:6-10, and said, "These verses teach that when Christ comes with His mighty angels he will punish with everlasting destruction whose who know not God and obey not the Gospel. That will move them all out of a flesh-and-blood state. At the same time He is going to glorify all those who believe. That will in like manner move the saints out of this mortal state. Now if these two things happen when the Lord comes, where are you going to get people in their natural state to inhabit the earth after that? Where are your births, deaths, and marriages to come from for a thousand years after that?" He did not relish that question, but after hesitating he went on. "It is those," he said, "who know not God who are to be destroyed. But that expression implies some degree of responsibility. There may be left those who are not responsible, such as infants, idiots and conscientious heathens." "But," I said, "in your first speech you told us what a glorious kingdom Christ was going to have when he came the second time. Has your glorious kingdom shrivelled up to this? Have we to picture to ourselves the glorified Christ with all the saints that ever were or ever will be also glorified, and in addition to all the angels of heaven coming to this little world of ours to take charge of a few infants and idiots and irresponsible heathens? Is that your conception of a glorious kingdom?" I got no answer, and perhaps I should have let it stand at that, but I put another question "Are you sure," I asked, "that the angels would make good wet-nurses for these infants, even if you had them here?" Neither did I get any answer to this. And believing that I had done enough in the direction indicated by my chairman, I let it rest there. We had a member whose leanings were to the side of my opponent on this subject. In the conversation afterwards he said, "You were perfectly fair, I have no fault to find now, but the other side was bound to feel your strength and their weakness at that point in particular, though it was evident all the way through."

The Sunday afternoon lectures went on and were well attended, but I do not think that I saw my opponent or his chairman after the debate. There was no lack of interest and no lack of questions at the close of the lectures, but the Christadelphians could not be said to be to the front in any particular way after the debate. Our evening Gospel meetings also kept up well, the one helped the other.

When the weather got better we decided to try the Custom House steps instead of the afternoon lectures. At the close of my last lecture, I asked the audience, "Would you advise me to leave myself open to questions at the close of my address at the 'steps' just as I have done in this hall?"

A Presbyterian who had attended nearly all the afternoon lectures and had often put questions, and always in an intelligent and good-natured way, rose and said, "No, Mr. Anderson, you must not leave yourself open at the 'steps' as you have done in this hall. That may do on Glasgow Green, but it is not safe on our Custom House steps. Scotchmen can discuss religion in the open air, and though they differ it ends in talk; but we have not got that length yet. When Irishmen discuss religion in the open, it is apt to end in something else than words. You have had the best of order in this hall, but you must not try it outside." He added, "Would you allow me before I sit down to thank you for your lectures. I have enjoyed them. You have clearly stated positions where differences of opinion are held. You have frankly taken your own stand and allowed any who pleased to oppose you. I question if any of the clergy in the city would care to do that. I thank you for the manner in which you have done your work. I have put questions freely, I have passed through your hands a number of times, often to my disadvantage, I have to admit, but even then your replies were of such a gentlemanly character that it was a pleasure to pass through your hands." I thanked him. I had the conviction at the time, and have it yet, that we have something to learn from our Irish friends. A Scotchman could hardly pay a compliment in the style that our Irish friend did it.

We had good meetings at the "steps," and our inside meetings also kept up very well. In this manner I got to the end of another year in Belfast. I have been back a time or two to see the friends there. But something unusual will have to take place if I visit them again. There is something naturally sad in thinking that you have paid your last visit to friends at a distance. Maybe that is wrong; it would perhaps be better to pay more attention to the brighter side, and thank our Father in Heaven that He was pleased to allow us to visit them as often as we did.


JAMES ANDERSON INDEX