A Pulpit Bible For Sale In An Antique Shop
It was 1972: I was 28, married for four years, and as an environmental heath officer my career was developing well. But then I was struck with an abdominal disorder that meant five weeks off work and needed micro-surgery: the Lord, though I did not know Him, was at work with me, and with time for reflection I felt guilty and concerned over things in my life. I resolved to be ‘a better person’, yet repeated failures to be one made me feel worse, not better.
Months later a former colleague phoned to offer my wife and I their home in Chester while they were on holiday. We gladly accepted. Chester is delightful with its old buildings: the Rows with their covered balconies at first-floor level are filled with shops.
An antiques shop beckoned; my wife browsing among the antiques while I noticed a large old Bible tucked away on a corner shelf. It turned out to be a family Bible with notes by John Brown of Haddington. Whiling away the time I found between the Old and New Testaments the family register of the former owners, Ephraim and Charlotte Miller, married at nearby Rockferry in 1882: then the careful handwriting continued – a daughter born in 1883, another daughter in 1885, and then, sadly, Charlotte herself had died in 1887 aged 28 – just about my own age.
I next found myself in Matthew’s Gospel, and was fascinated by the extensive references in the margins. I knew nothing about the Bible, but suddenly realised that in the gospels we have four contemporary accounts of the life of Jesus, and knew the significance of corroborative accounts in authenticating historical facts. I had just read one gospel writer’s account of one incident in the life of Jesus when my wife, now ready to leave the shop, came saying, ‘If you’re so interested in that Bible, why not buy it?’ I hadn’t thought of that, but for only £2 I came away from the shop as its new owner.
At our friends’ house I spent the rest of the holiday reading the four gospels, cynically looking for contradictions between them when recording the same event: of course I found none, at least none that couldn’t have a rational explanation. But what I did find as I read, first through the gospels and then through the following epistles, was the clear teaching that all men and women are sinners – justly condemned by God’s holy law. I couldn’t argue with that; after all, my conscience had been telling me precisely that for months.
I came to realise from the scriptures that the Holy Spirit convinces men and women of sin, bringing them into repentance and faith in Christ as their Saviour. Jesus hadn’t just come into the world to set me a good example. He had come to act as my Substitute, taking upon Himself the punishment I deserved. As He Himself put it, ‘Whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ I saw the wonder of that promise in the account of the thief on the cross, who having acknowledged that he deserved the punishment he was receiving, put his total trust in the Man dying alongside him, believing Him to be the promised Messiah who had the power to take him to glory with Him. He could never come down off the cross to mend his ways and live a righteous life – but what a gracious promise rewarded his faith. If I wasn’t convinced at that point of ‘salvation by grace alone through faith alone’ I certainly was when I eventually read in the book of Ephesians, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast’ (2.8,9).
When the time came for us to return home, I remember leaving a note for my friend saying that I thought I’d become a Christian. Yes – a rational human being who now realised that it was not illogical to believe that the Creator of all things rose from the dead on the third day, to make the way for His people to be with Him in glory.
God’s dealings with me were not restricted to convincing me of my sin and giving me faith to believe in His Son as my Saviour. Shortly after through the agency of the same friend God led me to a sound gospel ministry at Stanton Lees Chapel, in Derbyshire. There preaching from the same version of the Scriptures that God had used to convert me, the Authorised Version, is maintained week by week, and this is the translation I still use as ‘a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path’ (Psalm 119:105).
The circumstances surrounding a sinner’s conversion may vary widely but it seems to me that there are five elements common to all of us who come to know God in Christ: conviction of sin; repentance; hearing (or reading) the gospel; faith in the finished work of Christ and an evident change of lifestyle. I believe that by God’s grace such a change has been wrought in me, and I give to God the glory for that.
By permission from Cheering Words, October 2005, 22 Victoria Rd., Stamford PE9 1HB
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