To the PIT! More than Conquerors!
I would give all the world to have a faith like that!
I was crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a giant liner. It was a late fall evening and we were schedule to arrive in New York the following morning. The passengers had nearly all gone to bed for they knew they would be called before the dawn.
I sat alone on a deck chair on the upper deck enjoying the brilliance of the harvest moon that hung low in the heavens, casting its silvery beams like shattered glass across the dark bosom of the ocean. Soon an aged friend with whom I had made acquaintance on the voyage came along the deserted deck and, noticing me there, pulled up a chair and sat beside me. It was such a night whose strange enchantment made for easy conversation. In the uncertain and fitful moonlight my aged friend with his snow white hair and prominent profile took on a statuesque elegance that was somewhat- both elegant -and grotesque.
Knowing from previous contact that I was somewhat given to story telling, my aged friend said suddenly to me as we sat in the night silence, "I think you have had some great spiritual experience. I want you to tell me about it." My story was more than he bargained for and it affected him deeply. This is the true story I told him:
Strangely enough the event took place exactly on the stroke of midnight. On New Year's Eve, just as the old year vanished and the new one came in, it happened. But I must tell you in sequence the events that led up to the astonishing occurrence.
It was in a quaint Scottish seaport town where cold east winds blow, and the bleak landscape rises abruptly in ungainly terraces from the sea-girt muddy strand. Our home stood high on a hill, an unpretentious dwelling, but, if you had watched during the winter, you would have seen a light burning in the window the whole night through. We were six children in all, and the oldest of us, a girl of 21 years, lay on a bed in the front room, her face blanched like the white sheet about her. She had been sick for several months and the wise doctors who had consulted together had pronounced her case hopeless. For several weeks now it had been accepted, first of all by herself, then by the whole family, as an established and understood fact that she was going away. Her departure was spoken of as familiarly in the home as one who would speak of the departure of a much loved guest. Around the scarce food in the kitchen at mealtimes, many a stray tear, furrowed its way down the cheek of sorrow, but in the front room there was little semblance of grief, but rather an air of expectancy..of something much desired. Her name was Mary, and the music of its sound seems to re-echo with the melodious sweetness in the chambers of my soul even now after these many years.
There had been some five weeks of constant and re-occurring farewells. From the time Mary had announced with easy and quiet grace that she was going "home," there had been a regular trek of invited guests to the sick room to say goodbye. I was a boy of only 12 then, but, somehow, I was caught in the tide of the emotional storm and I recall, as if it were yesterday, how I stood in the dark shadows of the little bedroom that recessed from the long lobby, and watch the procession of the scattered visitors who came and went in ones and twos of this strange pageant. The whole affair made a deep impression on my boyish heart, and, to my childish imagination, my little world seemed to have suddenly become somewhat tragic and ludicrous. To sit day by day under the shadow of death itself, yet to hear words of cheer and echos of rejoicing coming from the death chamber, all seemed strangely contradictory to my young mind. One deep impression of those days remains. It was the sustained calm and quiet dignity of my dear mother, of whom a more saintly Christian woman never graced a home.
But it is of the last night that I would tell you. Mary had whispered to our mother, that she would go home tonight and her departure was near. At her request the family had been roused from slumber, and I recall how I dressed with alacrity, with a sense of almost exultation, as if I were going to witness a great spectacle. The grand climax of a long awaited event had come. In half dressed disarray we gathered in an anxious semi-circle beside the bed. Mary smiled her pleasure when she knew we were all there. At her whispered request, my father, whose stalwart Christian faith had made him known and loved throughout the countryside, read two passages of scripture, which had been favorite verses of the dying girl. They were the opening verses of John 14, and the closing verses of Romans 8.
"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." These imperishable words re-echoed in deathless power through the quiet room.
Then from Romans 8 he read, "If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."
When my father reached this verse, and read these words of matchless beauty "in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us" - the dying girl raised her finger as a signal to stop. Terse silence gripped our hearts as we watched and listened. A movement of the lips gave a soundless whisper of something that was repeated over and over with enfeebled effort. Mother bent low to catch the words. They were these: "More than conquerors." Then we could hear it for ourselves. But our loved one was getting weaker by the moment and soon the difficult phrase was abbreviated to one word, "Conquerors." Death lingered very near, but with a return of consciousness ever few moments, there came the inevitable word - "Conquerors."
We watched the blanched countenance with much anxiety as we knew that death hovered close by. Suddenly we were all electrified when we saw our loved sister, come abruptly to wakeful consciousness, and looking wide-eyed straight up to the ceiling as if she suddenly recognized someone yonder, her face lit up with a radiant smile, again the word came from her lips - "Conquerors." A few moments again of blank nothingness, and suddenly the reoccurrence of the same - the radiant smile, the magic word. Again a recession to peaceful and composed quietness when, a third time her face lit up with a smile more radiant than anything that I have witnessed from that day to this, and again the word of triumph - CONQUERORS!" And she was gone! Our beloved guest had departed! She had gone home!
All this took place in September of that year and I little knew then that the next three months were to make history in my own little life. On several occasions before the home-going of my much-loved sister, she had taken me aside as a little lad and spoken kindly to me about the heaven in which she was going to. She had challenged my little heart with the thought that, when it came my time to go, she would like to think I was going to the same home as that to which she was bound.
But I would have to know her Christ! I had not taken unkindly to her admonition, but after she was gone, it became to me an ever present voice. My school days were filled with its echo. My slumbers were uneasy at night because of her challenge to my soul. She had told me of her good reason for knowing that she was going to meet her Savior. She spoke of the Lord Jesus as a person might speak of an old acquaintance, or a trusted friend. She was going to keep a tryst with Him as if by unfailing appointment, that I knew full well that I did not confess her Lord; I did not have her faith, but I wanted to have it.
For three long months God gave me a lingering look at the blackness of my own unregenerate heart and the dark gloomy prospect of an eternity outside of Christ. I was under deep conviction of sin. The glory of that heavenly smile both charmed and haunted me and sleep fled my eyelids. I was in abject mistery!
A young boyhood friend, sensing my despondency, advised me to try such things as the football game and the theatre. The godliness of my humble home had made such entertainment forbidden to our family. Perhaps some will think such an outlook was unsophisticated or rigid, but our parents were much more concerned about loyalty to Christ than sophistication. However, I can well remember I consented to try the theatre. My friend told me it was dark inside and no one would see me, so we went together. I recall going to the box office paying the entrance price. No hunted criminal ever felt more ill at ease than I did at that moment. I looked furtively up and down the street and then darted in.
Along a dimly lit semi-circular lobby, we went to reach what I judged was the main auditorium. As we made our way along, I glanced at an overhead lighted sign. Upon it was an arrow pointing to what I now understand was the orchestra pit, but above the arrow were the three simple words, "TO THE PIT." The expression reminded me immediately, as if by thunder, of hell itself, for in our family understanding "the pit" was the name of the place where Christ rejecters are going. When I saw the startling sign it pierced my conscience like a bolt from heaven, and I fled the premesis in deepened conviction of sin.
Then came the last night of December. I had been to a gospel meeting early that evening and my much loved and revered public schoolmaster, Mr. Dunlap, a devout Christian, had preached the gospel from the one subject which above all I wanted to avoid, namely, the coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had thrown out the challenge at the end of the meeting that this was the last night of the old year, and it might well be the last opportunity for any of us to receive Christ as Savior and be saved eternally.
As his words re-echoed through the auditorium, I was suddenly seized with a strange obsession of foreboding that this night was my last opportunity. Neither man nor angel could have convinced me otherwise than that, if the old year went out without me accepting God's offer of mercy in Christ, I would be lost forever. With trembling knees and sad heart, I went home that night. I hated the thought of going to bed, because I knew only too well it would be to toss on a sleepless pillow, and strangely enough, in the providence of God...it was my portion to sleep that night on the same bed, in the same position, on the same pillow, in which I had seen my much loved sister, now gone to heaven. Full 40 years have come and gone since that night, but I remember it as though it were yesterday. The fitful flames of the fireplace flickered in the grate, casting weird shadows across the bedroom walls. Like words of ponderous importance to my soul, came the recurring challenge - "you must accept Christ before midnight." I was in and out of bed many times, peering in the uncertain light at the the old mantle clock, to see how much time I had to spare. The dogs of sins conviction were hard upon my heels. I knew I had to make a decision. I was well acquainted with the terms of the gospel as any grown man, but I knew equally well the blackness of my own heart.
It was 11:00 and I knew that every New Year's Eve, on the stroke of midnight, the giant cannon that stood in the public park overlooking the town, would bark a resounding salute to the incoming year. It was an old Boer war cannon brought back for sentimental reasons, and mounted in the public park in honor of the local soldiers who had taken part in the war. It fired a salute once a year - on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. During the last hour of the old year the expected boom of this cannon became to me the voice of my earnest school teacher raised to a thunderous roar that would spell either my eternal doom or my eternal safety. I knelt long before my bed.
This to me, was no flimsy, sentimental, transition in my life. It was a downright transaction between me and the living Person whose eye was upon me. I knew that Jesus, the Lord, had died for me on Calvary's cross. I knew equally well that if I died in my sins without confessing Him as my own Lord, I would be doomed. I knew too that the confession of Him, the Lord, meant that He would take charge of my life - I would no longer go my own way, but His way. It was either complete surrender, or rebellion. There would be no compromise, and I realized it to the full. This night the die would be cast for good or ill eternally.
I watched the hands of the clock from time to time. They seemed to race with the fury across the seconds. Every tick of that mantle clock brought my immortal soul closer to the resounding shout of the midnight cannon that would mark the deadline for my choice of Masters. It was yet 15 minutes to midnight; an eternity itself will not erase the agonizing throes of my rebellious spirit during those last long moments. I lay prostrate on the floor before the dying embers in the fireplace. I seemed to lose track of time altogether as I lay there. Then it seemed as though I reached the end of a long trail of my own way, tired, weary of self and sin. In utter spiritual exhaustion I cried to God for mercy to take me as I was. The very instant I uttered the cry of surrender - and it came from the depths of my heart - it seemed as the whole house trembled as from an earthquake, and no thunderbolt ever fell with more resounding crash than did the bark of the cannon, for it was the stroke of midnight. Instead of being the sound of doom, it seemed to me heaven's answer to the cry of a repentant sinner, a salute of welcome from the courts of glory.
The midnight of my soul's distress was over. A new day for me had dawned. What peace and joy filled my heart I can never begin to describe! A great burden had been rolled from my shoulders, and I knew just as clearly and assuredly that my sins were forgiven as I did that I was still alive. That night in heaven there was joy over one sinner that repented.
Rising from the floor, I well remember going through to the adjoining bedroom where my father and mother were. Not knowing the spiritual earthquake that had taken place in the next room, they had only heard the sound of the cannon that had awakened them. I broke the news to them both. It was indeed a happy new year. But mine was another greeting, I told them "I'm converted." As long as I live I shall not forget my dear father's words. He said "Its the real thing." During the many years that have elapsed, I have remembered his words and have sought, by God's infinite grace, although through much failure, to show everybody that it is the real thing. All glory to the Savior Who found me that midnight hour.
As I told my story to the aged friend in the moonlight of the upper deck of the giant trans-Atlantic liner, I could see, glittering in the clear moonbeams, a great tear traverse his cheek downward. With faltering words my white-haired companion said, "I would give all the world to have a faith like that."
I wonder if you too friend, reading this true story, were called to face death without further notice or warning, would be able to stand on the brink of the grave, would be able to look up and say "More than Conquerors, through Him that loved us."