The Conversion of Ernest C. Reisinger
At the age of twelve, I joined a local church of one of the large denominations. Previous to this I had received a lapel pin for memorizing the Ten Commandments and the books of the Bible. These things never completely left my mind, but neither did they save me. I can honestly say that I was sincere when I joined the church, and I believe that all of those who had anything to do with this step in my life were just as sincere. The sad part of all of this sincerity was that we were all sincerely wrong. I had become an unsaved member of a church organization without even realizing that I had missed the first qualifications for becoming a member of the living church of Christ. A person should be saved before he is taken into membership of a church, since that is the qualification of becoming a member of the body of true believers. (‘Moreover, the Lord was adding to the church day by day those being saved.’ Acts 2:47)
I had no interest in the Bible, in any Christian service, the preacher’s long dry sermons, or (probably worst of all) the fellowship of a lot of hypocrites, who were unsaved church members like myself. I soon quit going to Sunday School and church. The excuse I used was the life of one of the ushers of the church. I saw him tipsy on Saturday night and passing the offering plate on Sunday morning.
Although I was unsaved, the influence of the church must have helped to keep me in line morally. After I quit going to Sunday School, I kept getting worse and worse. At first it was just poolroom gambling; then it became drinking, drinking, and more drinking.
I got married at an early age, and for the first few months of married life I reformed mildly, but this did not last. I followed construction work, and I worked, lived, and drank with the roughest crowd. I moved to Maryland with a construction company, and while there I went to work for the government in a carpenter shop. (Thank God for that day because it was there that I met one of the persons God used to point me to his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ).
I moved my wife and son to Maryland with me, but my life of sin was getting worse and worse. My wife was almost ready to leave me because of the miserable life I was living. I was making her life miserable, also. I missed work for days at a time to drink. Yes, those sociable drinks were more frequent now; and there were many more of them. They had a real hold on me.
While living in Maryland, I rode to work with a man named Elmer. He used to invite me to Sunday School every week. He must have asked me nearly every week for a year, and for the same length of time I gave him excuse after excuse. The children used to go across my yard on their way to Elmer’s Sunday School. I could see the building from where I lived. On Sundays, as I watched the children going, I wished that my own son was going, too, but my wife would not take him because of my conduct. As a result, he was never inside of a church until he was five years old.
All this time Elmer was praying for me. He not only prayed for me himself, but he asked others to pray for me. (God answers prayer).
One day I took my son to Sunday School. I don’t remember the lesson, but I know that I couldn’t sing the old hymns and mean them. I could not honestly sing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’ The words of the hymn rang in my ears and for about eight weeks I didn’t go back to Sunday School. During this time the Spirit of God was making me miserable and convicting me of my sin.
It was about New Year’s time, and I had friends in my home – or I should say my house, because it was not a home. We were drinking ‘bootleg’ whiskey, and one of the fellows said that he thought we should turn over a new leaf and go to Sunday School. Up until this time I had made it a practice not to talk about religion or politics, since I thought no one knew anything about either. (If they did, they wouldn’t have been with me.) But this time I welcomed the subject, and one of the men and I went to Sunday School the next day – there to be greeted, with tears in his eyes, by our friend Elmer.
After Sunday School I asked Elmer to come over to my house when he had finished his lunch. Shortly after lunch he came, bringing the superintendent of the Sunday School and another teacher with him. They all had their Bibles with them. All that afternoon they talked to me about eternal things, and I listened earnestly and honestly.
The Sunday School teacher was a Baptist, the Superintendent was a Methodist, and Elmer belonged to the Christian and Missionary Alliance. However, none of them spoke about their denominational affiliations, and I thought it strange that they didn’t ask me to join one of their organizations. The thing that was the centre of their conversation was something foreign to my mind. I couldn’t understand them, so I thought that they must have some type of insanity. They asked me, ‘Are you saved?’ Today I know that this was the most important question that I would ever face in all of my life. Of course, my answer was, ‘NO.’ I didn’t know what they were talking about. (‘The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.’) Nor did I altogether believe them when they claimed to be saved.
When they left that evening, they asked me to go with them to services of the Salvation Army. I quickly refused their invitation because I thought that the Salvation Army was a group of religious fanatics. Thereupon, they left some tracts for me to read and said goodbye.
This business about being saved was much in my thoughts that evening. I decided that if a person could know that he was saved, it must be wonderful. I thought that if it was possible to have this assurance, I wanted to possess it at any cost. Furthermore, I thought that if it was not possible, I should be able to prove that any group that made such a claim were utterly absurd. I decided that I would never work another day until I had gotten the assurance they had or had proved that they were wrong.
On Monday morning, when the fellows stopped to pick me up for work, I told them that I wasn’t going. Then I began to read some of the things those Christians had given me. One tract contained the story of a converted Jew who paid a great price to become a Christian. He too claimed to be saved. By the end of the day, I had a great desire to be saved and know it. That night, after my wife and son had gone to bed, I decided to try the Bible. So I dug out our family Bible and removed the four leaf clovers, the baby’s curls, and all the other things people put in family Bibles. Then I prayed the first honest prayer that I ever prayed in my life. It went something like this: ‘Dear God, If you be or if you exist, let me know something about the thing with which I am concerned.’ I opened the Book at random and read that so and so begat so and so, and he begat someone else, who in turn begat another. I didn’t find anything about being saved.
Finally I opened the Bible to another paper we had stuck in it. I glanced at its title; it was ‘What Must I Do To Be Saved.’ My eyes froze on the title. I could hardly wait to read what it said. I was expecting some difficult formula, but it wasn’t hard at all.
First of all it told me to acknowledge my sin to God. I knelt beside the big chair in which I had been sitting and prayed the prayer of the publican of old: ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I asked him to save me. The tract referred me to a passage of Scripture found in the Gospel of John, chapter 5, verse 24. At this particular place, the Lord Jesus himself says, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.’ I read it again carefully, and said to myself: ‘”He that heareth my word” – that’s me; and “believeth on him that sent me” – that’s me; “hath everlasting life” – that must be me.’ I learned by these words that by meeting the condition of believing on him I had everlasting life – I was saved from condemnation.
All week I read the Bible, and could hardly wait to get to Sunday School that weekend. The next time I was asked to attend a Salvation Army service I went gladly. It was there that I first made a public confession of Christ as my Saviour. I have been thanking and praising God from that day to this for bringing me to a knowledge of salvation through faith in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The place where I lived has become a home. My habits have been changed. My vocabulary has been changed. My desires have been changed. Yes, and most important, my destination has been changed. Truly I have experienced what the Apostle meant in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he said ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.’
My dear reader, may I ask you this solemn question? Are you saved? If not, my prayer is that this may be of some influence in bringing you to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour. To know him who said ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me’ . . . He also said ‘He that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.’ May God help you to trust him, whom to know and trust aright is to have everlasting life.
For more on the story of Ernest Reisinger, see Geoffrey Thomas, Ernest C. Reisinger: A Biography (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002).
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