5. Conservation

Here is where, perhaps the greatest service can and should be done by the personal worker, and where he most frequently and lamentably falls down. Mr. Saunders brings out the fact that the tendency in some circles to belittle the work of the "revivalist," because he "appeals to the emotions," shows a lack of knowledge of all that is involved in conversion. He writes: "The emotions to which the revivalist appeals are the core of the religious nature of man, and in many of his audience, in whom the will is warped and the intellect stunted, to what shall he appeal except the emotions?" But he then goes on to point out that the trouble with the revival is that it too often stops at this stage. "Sterile emotions are not religion, and suppressed emotion, which is given no opportunity of expressing itself, too often forms a complex which will later express itself in undesirable ways."* Every psychologist understands the danger of an emotional arousal which finds no expression in practical activity. This holds as true of any sermon or religious conference, in which an emotional appeal is made, as of an evangelistic address when conversion is the object. The new convert should receive the most sedulous attention in the days following his conversion, if he is not to prove one more of the sad examples of back-sliders (far less numerous than many believe and usually the result of superficial evangelism or imperfect conservation) who are pointed out in deprecation of evangelistic efforts. It is the testimony of many that just after we have taken some forward step, involving the attempt to live our lives thenceforth on a higher moral level, the Tempter is most powerful and insidious in his efforts to drag us down.

To quote Mr. Saunders again: "The convert knows, perhaps, deeper and more intense joy than the man who has always been religious, but he knows also more profound grief, and a spiritual 'dryness' which is the peculiar trial of those who have come through great religious experiences. God seems for a time to withdraw His Presence. And there are very often desperate struggles in store for the convert; 'those haunting reminiscences of a polluted heart—those frailties, those inconsistencies, to which the habits of the past have made him liable.' "* Dr. Fosdick, in his study of "Faith and Moods," in The Meaning of Faith, makes the point that the acceptance of the Christian faith means the determination to believe the testimony, and live in the spirit of our best hours, instead of allowing lower and weaker moods to dominate our spirits. It is for us to help the new convert to see how he can keep habitually in the higher altitudes of faith, resisting the tendency to give way to unworthy moods,—and how, when dark times of trouble descend upon him, it is true that

"The task in hours of insight willed
Must be through hours of gloom fulfilled."

* Adventures of the Christian Soul, pp. 93, 94.

This will only be possible as he learns the need, for his spiritual as well as for his physical sustenance and development, of receiving continuously air, food and exercise, to quote Sherwood Eddy's suggestive parallel.

We shall keep at our best, as President King, of Oberlin, says, only as we persistently "stay in the presence of the best"—that is, supremely, of Christ. Hence the importance of prayer as a daily exercise and a life-long study. In prayer we breath the tonic air of faith that defies every temptation to doubt and fear. In prayer our souls become assured that while we may fail God, He never fails us, that though we may at times feel no solacing sense of His nearness, it does not indicate that He has drawn away from us, but rather, perhaps, that we have begun to live by feeling rather than by faith. Drummond, in one of his addresses to students, is reported to have said:

"I cannot guarantee that the stars will shine brighter when you leave this hall tonight, or that when you wake tomorrow a new world will open before you. But I do guarantee that Christ will keep that which you have committed to Him. He will keep His promise, and you will find something real and dependable to rely on and to lead you away from documental evidence to Him who speaks to you in your hearts at this moment.

"Gentlemen, He will be your leader, He will be your guide, He will be your highest ideal. He has asked you for your life, and He will make you just as you are at this moment His—entirely His."*


* Life of Drummond, p. 522.

First of all, then, we must guide the convert into a real and continuous and developing prayer life.

In the second place, the new convert must learn to feed his soul, day by day, on God's living Word revealed in the Scriptures; and here, too, he cannot be left to himself, but needs and will usually welcome friendly guidance. Recently one of the most successful and ardent personal workers I know, among women, was telling me of her brother's experience. He was converted in a series of revival meetings during the period of adolescence, when conversion is most natural and hopeful. He was instructed that he must read his Bible daily, and was then left to shift for himself. Boy-like, he began with the first chapter of Genesis, intending to read the entire Bible through in daily portions. He read faithfully for a number of weeks, and then one day tossed the Bible across the room with the remark that he did not believe a single word of it. This was many years ago, he is now a middle-aged man with a family, but from that hour to the present moment his life has proclaimed his later belief that the Bible is a myth, that there is no God, and that the wisest man is he who extracts the largest amount of worldly pleasure from each passing day. He has been impervious to every attempt of Christian relations and friends to move him once more in the direction of religious faith. His sister is certain that, had he been wisely guided in his first Bible study, his infant faith would have grown normally into maturity, instead of very speedily starving to death through lack of the right spiritual sustenance. We must be ready with practical suggestions for progressive Bible study, adapted to the mind and temper of the one for whose building up in the faith we are responsible in God's eyes.

In the third place—and here most of all we are prone to fail in this work of individual conservation—following conversion the new convert must be set to work to win others. This will be both the test of the reality of his new experience and one of the surest safeguards against its soon becoming unreal. He should understand from the first that his prayer and Bible study will ultimately become burdensome, if not actually distasteful, if he regards them only as a means to his own spiritual development, and not also as fundamentally and inevitably the means to his successfully serving and winning others. 'The central pivot around which his life revolves must now be not self but others, not serving his own interests or development but serving and winning others, so that the major emphasis should be placed on the third requirement, exercise, thought of, however, not as "setting up exercises" but as "wearing out shoe-leather" in the interests of God's Kingdom. Let the new convert understand at the outset, what many of us have had to learn after many years, at painful cost, that the only way to live a normal, buoyant developing Christian life is to be constantly a missionary of Christ to others. Says Drummond's biographer of his meetings for students: "One of the finest features of the movement, however, was the large number of the men affected by it who set themselves, often at great sacrifice, to win their fellow-students for Christ."

This brings us face to face with the fact that if we would teach persistence to the convert, we must ourselves have learned its value and attained to its practice. It is one of the first principles of personal evangelism, not only in the period of conservation but at every other stage of our work. Have we the undiscourageable persistence of love that, like Francis Thompson's "Hound of Heaven," pursues the object of its affection "down the arches of the years," until at last, in the poem, man yields to the Divine Lover, to be told:

How little worthy of any love thou art
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
      Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
      Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might seek it in My arms.
      All which thy child's mistake
Fancied as lost, I have stored for thee at Home:
      Rise, clasp My hand, and come!

* Smith: Life of Drummond, p. 364.

So George Matheson's familiar hymn begins, "Oh love, that will not let me go." Has our love for those we have been led to seek to woo and win been a reflection of the divine love in its ardent relentlessness—if need be through many years and countless disappointments?

A story told by Drummond in a public address in America is worth giving in full, to illustrate this point of pertinacity in personal work.

"One night I got a letter from one of the students of the University of Edinburgh, page after page of agnosticism and atheism. I went over to see him, and spent a whole afternoon with him, and did not make the slightest impression. At Edinburgh University we have a Students' Evangelistic Meeting on Sunday nights, at which there are eight hundred or one thousand men present. A few nights after this I saw that man in the meeting, and next to him sat another man whom I had seen occasionally at the meetings. I did not know his name, but I wanted to find out more about my sceptic, so when the meeting was over, I went up to him and said, 'Do you happen to know _____ ?' 'Yes,' he replied, 'it is he that has brought me to Edinburgh.' Are you an old friend ?' 1 asked. '1 am an American, a graduate of an American university,' he said. 'After I had finished there I wanted to take a post-graduate course, and finally decided to come to Edinburgh. In the dissecting room I happened to be placed next to ____, and I took a singular liking for him. I found out that he was a man of very remarkable ability, though not a religious man, and I thought I might be able to do something for him. A year passed, and he was just where I found him.' He certainly was blind enough, because it was only two or three weeks before that that he wrote me that letter. 'I think you said,' I resumed, 'that you only came here to take a year of the postgraduate course?' 'Well,' he said, 'I packed my trunks to go home, and I thought of this friend, and I wondered whether a year of my life would be better spent to go and start in my profession in America, or to stay in Edinburgh and try to win that one man for Christ, and I stayed.' 'Well, I said, 'my dear fellow, it will pay you; you will get that man.' Two or three months passed, and it came to the last night of our meetings. We have men in Edinburgh from every part of the world. Every year five or six hundred of them go out never to meet again, and in our religious work we get very close to one another, and on the last night of the year we sit down together in our common ball to the Lord's Supper. This is entirely a students' meeting. On that night we get in the members of the Theological Faculty, so that things may be done decently and in order. Hundreds of men are there, the cream of the youth of the world, sitting down at the Lord's table. Many of them are not members of the Church, but are there for the first time pledging themselves to become members of the Kingdom of God. I saw ____ sitting down and handing the communion cup to his American friend. He had got his man. A week after he was back in his own country. I do not know his name; he made no impression in our country, nobody knew him. He was a subject of Christ's Kingdom, doing his work in silence and in humility. A few weeks passed and ____ came to see me. I said, 'What do you come here for?' He said, 'I want to tell you I am going to be a medical missionary.' It was worth a year, was it not?"* Drummond himself would often make the journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow just to talk with one man who needed his help.


* Smith: Life of Drummond, pp. 364, 366.

One of the romances of recent evangelism in the United States has been the story of how Professor Henry Wright, with the assistance of young men from Yale University who have summered with him, has changed the entire character of the New England town where most of his summers have been spent, winning, one by one, after ceaseless prayer and varied approaches, the most hostile and godless among the inhabitants. In the spring of 1917, to illustrate this very subject of persistence in personal work, I heard Dr. Wright read extracts from a letter received the preceding week from the man, in the village above referred to, who from the beginning had been most bitter and uncharitable in his opposition to every movement toward better things. Dr. Wright and others had for years been praying for him constantly, and in this letter he expressed his entire surrender to God and dedication of his life to furthering the programme of His Kingdom.

One excuse we often make for failing to follow people up, either before or after conversion, is the fact that we have been separated from them so that we naturally cease further to work for them. The proverb holds true for us, "Out of sight, out of mind." But here enter the possibilities of the great ministry of correspondence, where very often as much can be accomplished as in personal conversation if the writing and sending of the letters is born and followed up in prayer. May I give here a personal experience in my undergraduate days: I was once writing letters in the correspondence room of the Hotel Northfield, during one of the summer conferences, when a man whom I did not know came in, seated himself at the table, drew some writing paper toward him, and then for some minutes remained with his hand over his eyes, obviously engaged in prayer before beginning to write. At that time I do not suppose I had ever in my life prayed about a letter I had written, and that simple act, so natural and unconscious, affected me more, and has been remembered longer, than any of the conference addresses I listened to. Afterward I came to know that the man who had so "unconsciously helped me was the late John Forman, of Mainpuri, whose Christ-filled life has been an inspiration to so many thousands. It was a letter written by a friend in response to the impulse of the Spirit that brought conviction of sin to Dr. Henry Clay Trumbull. Let me give one other personal experience, relating to another preacher of the Gospel who happily is still with us: Eleven years ago I crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the same boat with the distinguished Chicago preacher, Dr. F. W. Gunsaulus. When living in Chicago as a youth I had often heard him preach, and had come to know him slightly. Now, with characteristic friendliness and interest in the individuals around him, he made the six days' journey memorable for me through many conversations, in which he gave lavishly of his rich store of experiences in the realms of friendship, art, poetry and religion, as though he were addressing an audience instead of a single insignificant student in theology. The preceding two Sundays, in London, I had heard him preach three tremendous sermons in the City Temple; and in our conversations he referred, in some connection, to the vast pile of letters which the sermons had brought to his desk. I ventured to suggest that since it was his vacation he could not, of course, think of answering those letters personally. He looked at me a moment, then exclaimed: 'What are we here for?' and turned and walked away up the the deck. Later he told me that he had answered or would answer every one. I remembered then now a letter J. had written him, after a sermon in the Auditorium in Chicago seven years before, brought an immediate and most helpful response.

A certain religious journal once inaugurated among its readers a "League of the Golden Pen," whose members agreed to consecrate their pens to Christ's service, in innumerable ways that thought and prayer might suggest. We cannot read the published correspondence of men like Drummond and Forbes Robinson and Thring of Uppingham without asking ourselves whether we have made the largest possible use of this self-multiplying agency in our work for individuals?

We must close, where we began, with reiterating the statement that the ultimate measure of our successful service in spreading the Evangel can only be the masure of our full appropriation of the Truth as it is in Jesus. As the author of Ecce Homo brought out so clearly, half a century ago, the coming of Christ into the world gave birth among men to a new "enthusiasm for humanity," a new and passionate love for individuals, irrespective of race or creed or social station, a new brotherhood of men who looked upon all other men as their brothers for whom, as for themselves, Christ died. They realised that the debt they owed to Christ could be discharged only as they passed on to others the same privileges of freedom and friendship and hope that had come to them through Christ's life and death and resurrection. St. Paul is the great exemplar for all time and for all men of this new passion and its inevitable effect, stilling the old restlessness of the soul that is without a sense of God's loving companionship, only to awaken a new divine restlessness that would share with all the world its glorious experience of God's love. All this, Myers has caught for us in the stirring lines of St. Paul:

Oft when the word is on me to deliver,
     Lifts the illusion and the truth lies bare;
Desert or throng, the city or the river,
      Melts in a lucid paradise of air,—

Only like souls I see the folk thereunder,
      Bound who should conquer, slaves who should be kings, Hearing their one hope with an empty wonder,
      Sadly contented in a show of things; —

Then with a rush the intolerable craving
     Shivers throughout me like a trumpet call,—
O to save these! to perish for their saving,
      Die for their life, be offered for them all!

Therefore, O Lord, I will not fail nor falter;
      Nay, but I ask it, nay, but I desire;
Lay on my lips Thine embers of the altar,
     Seal with the sting, and fumish with the fire;

Quick, in a moment, infinite forever,
      Send an arousal better than I pray;
Give me a grace upon the faint endeavor,
      Souls for my hire and Pentecost today."