The Doctrines of Grace in Personal Experience
Until the age of twenty-six I knew nothing of vital religion, although I lived an outwardly religious, moral and respectable life . . . Brought up under sacramental teaching, I was totally in the dark concerning the grace of God, although . . . I realize that he was leading me all the time. To him alone must the glory . . .
At the age of fifteen I was confirmed, and for a short time went regularly to Holy Communion. One day, however, the inconsistency of my presence at the Lord’s table came home to me as the minister gave out the invitation:
You who truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; draw near with faith and take this holy sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees.
I realized that I was neither penitent, nor humble, nor truly anxious to lead a new life; nor did I know how such dispositions could be obtained. What a hypocrite I felt as I repeated the words of confession:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, against thy divine majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
These were solemn words indeed! But when I proceeded further:
We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings: the remembrance of them is grievous unto us, the burden of them is intolerable,
I felt that such statements were lies on my lips, and that I was a total stranger to such feelings.
This decided me, and I did not venture again to the Lord’s table until by grace I was enabled to see my lost estate, and to hope in the mercy of God through the blood and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . in due time the Holy Spirit enabled me by sovereign grace to place my trust in Christ alone for salvation, and to enter into life that is life indeed.
Since that time it has been my lot to come into contact with various movements that are regarded by many as Scriptural . . . In the absence of a definitely Evangelical ministry in the National Church, I was at first in danger of being drawn into Brethrenism. I walked with the Brethren for some distance, but realized at length the unscriptural nature of their views on the righteousness of Christ, the Second Advent, the Ministry and other matters. By this time the corruptions of my evil heart had become so patent that I readily sought relief in so-called ‘Keswick’ teaching, which seemed to offer the deliverance that I desired. Having studied numerous books on the subject of sanctification, I was able to persuade myself that, having ‘surrendered all,’ I had reached higher ground. This experience, which I now recognize to be psychological and not spiritual, made me appear to my friends as one who had attained a state of sanctification for which they longed. But although for a period I outwardly maintained this position by sheer fleshly effort, I was shamefully conscious that my hold on it was weakening . . . I now came in touch with what is called Pentecostalism. The fact that several well-known writers held identical views regarding the supposed Pentecostal blessings without being associated with the movement encouraged me to embrace its tenets. The teaching of the Japan Evangelistic Band next presented itself, and appeared to transcend that of other Holiness movements.
Through all these wanderings I was in grave danger of falling into the Wesleyan heresy of Sinless Perfection. The only thing that prevented me from persuading myself that my old man was really defunct was the fact that I felt him to be very much alive. In questioning those who claimed the’Second Blessing,’ I discovered that their old man was also very much alive. I now realize that the claims of those who boast of spiritual experience superior to that of ordinary Christians are unscriptural and God-dishonouring. The thought that he had allowed me to taste these heresies without being fatally poisoned by them, in order to disillusion others, encourages me to preach a Gospel that will glorify him alone.
Out of such a state of spiritual ignorance I was brought by the tender mercy of God without the instrumentality of any man. With regard to the doctrine of election, I did not deny it, but knew practically nothing of its glorious meaning. An old lady who had attended a sound Calvinistic ministry in the Church of England often spoke to me of the great truth of sovereign grace. She gave me several publications of the Sovereign Grace Union and left me a copy of Calvin’s Calvinism in her will . . .
One winter . . . being at a loss as to what weekly Bible reading I should give my congregation, it occurred to me that it would not be amiss to commence with the Fall of Man. Had I been able to foresee the resultant opposition and the false accusations which this move was to provoke, I might not have ventured upon it. I had, however, no inkling of where the Lord was leading me. The totality of the Fall I had believed, but I had never realized it as I did in giving these readings. The scales fell from my eyes when I saw as never before that God’s sovereign election was the very basis of the salvation of his people. The doctrine that a man by his own free will can turn to God became repulsive to me as I gloried in the fact that ‘salvation is of the Lord.’
Very soon the storm broke. I had turned Calvinist, the cause was being ruined through my preaching. Persecution rose high, so that my opponents even went to the extent of trying to defame my character. Many, however, found in the doctrines of sovereign grace a balm to their stricken hearts and an anchor to their sin-tossed souls.
This opposition, instead of causing me to keep silence for peace’s sake, led me to study the subject more closely. I brought out the publications of the Sovereign Grace Union, and discovered to my astonishment that not only living men of God, but Puritans and Reformers in every age, had held these glorious truths. All this happened several years ago, and as time goes on, notwithstanding a certain coldness on the part of some who had been closely associated with me in the days of my ignorance, I feel more firmly convinced than ever that there is only one Gospel – that of the sovereign grace of God.
I found that my library required drastic expurgation, and rather than fall into the temptation of selling books that taught error, I made a bonfire of them! I have never kindled a fire with so much pleasure, and to this day I do not regret my action. ‘The dangers of Calvinism’ have been pointed out in my presence by those who in their wisdom eschew ‘extremes,’ and who thus escape all persecution. If Calvinism means that all the glory for electing love, reconciliation through precious blood, the effectual calling, sanctification, final perseverance and glorification of God’s people must be ascribed to him alone, then I am not ashamed to be called a Calvinist. I desire to quarrel with no one unless he avows himself to be a worse sinner than I am. Apart from any human agency the Holy Spirit led me into these great truths, and by divine grace I wish to publish them abroad, and I hope, when freed from this mortality, to find in them a restful pillow and to join the ransomed in the everlasting song:
Unto him that loved us, and washed us in our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
The above slightly edited account bears witness to the wonder of God’s sovereign grace. Also it testifies to the fact that the Sovereign Grace Union was blessed by God to further his truth and confirm souls in the faith of God’s elect before any modern Reformed publishing houses were founded. The fuller unedited account of the above appears in Peace and Truth Volume 23, Number 85 (January-March 1939), page 22. John Brentnall is the editor today of Peace and Truth from the 2008:4 issue of which the above stirring testimony of Walter Brehaut of Guernsey was taken.
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