FACE TO FACE WITH GOD
by Dr Ruben Saillens from France
July 1925, Keswick
IT is a great opportunity for us, as we assemble in these solemn days under these tents, for it might be difficult in years to come to meet in such a peaceful way. We live in very difficult times, and every occasion on which we meet in peace and liberty and joy should be taken as a special favour of God, which we should improve well and as much as possible.
It would be a very great danger if any came in a spirit of holiday-making. Of course, we all enjoy the beautiful sunshine, we love the hills, and the heather on the hills, and the beauties of Nature, which speak of God; but we might find all these things nearer home than this, and it is not for them that we have come together. We come together in order to meet the Holy of Holies in His Temple; even this canvas tent reminds us that the holiest worship of all was offered in the wilderness under canvas. Oh, let us lift up our hearts to God, so that every occasion we have together during this week may be fully improved; that we may lose nothing which the Lord, in His kindness, in His great loving-kindness, is wanting to give to us. He has come first to this gathering. He was here before any of us; He is with us, His hands full of gifts, which we already knew something about, for we have received some of them before; but also with gifts that we have never yet had, good things within good things, riches inside riches, riches in detail as well as in the lump. Let us to-day, and all these days, keep our hearts open, so that all that the Lord has prepared for us may come into our hearts, that we may go back full and overflowing, and that our churche and our congregations, our societies, our families, our homes, our villages, our cities may all be better, happier, holier, and nearer to sanctification and conversion for our having been here.
I do not make any apology for my way of speaking. You detect the foreigner (Saillens was from France, Ed.) in me and yet I do not feel at all a foreigner here; for, after all, we have the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism, the same Spirit, and I do not think that yonder where I shall soon be, if He tarry a little longer — I shall be there, perhaps, sooner than many of you—I do not think we shall speak French or English either. We have all to learn a new language; I know the first word of it already, and you know it too: “Abba.” That is the first word of the eternal language.
I want to bring you to a story that you know very well, which perhaps some of you have used many a time in preaching the Gospel or in addressing children in the Sunday School—the history of Paul’s conversion. It is told us three times in the Acts of the Apostles: a most remarkable thing. The facts of Christ are told many times, but then we have four Gospels in which we find them; each Gospel says something about how He began, and how He proceeded, and how He ended on the Cross, and His resurrection. We have, therefore, four accounts of the Cross and four accounts of the resurrection, but they are in four different books; while the account of which I am now going to speak is found three times in the same book. It is a most remarkable thing that the Holy Ghost should have found it useful, and indeed necessary, that we should have in that small book, the Acts of the Apostles, three accounts of the conversion of Paul. It shows that, after all, the personal fact, the personal experience, is one of the best means of preaching the Gospel to the outsider.
Paul was a learned man; he was a philosopher, if you like to use the word; he was a theologian of the first water, both Jew and Christian; and yet Paul did not find it. beneath him to recount the story of his conversion, before the democracy (lay people) and before the aristocracy (high people). He preached that Gospel before the people at Jerusalem, and he preached the same Gospel before King Agrippa. I think that sometimes we, ministers, might do well to tell from our pulpits how the Lord led us to Himself; it would be well if, under the gown of the minister, you found the soul of a living man, who wants to tell you how the Lord dealt with him.
I shall read in the 22 chapter of the Acts of the Apostles just a few lines. He says: “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner, of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God as ye all are this day.
“And I persecuted this way”—that is, this sect—” unto the death, delivering into prisons both men and women.
“As also the High Priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters, unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there, bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.
“And it came to pass, that as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.
“And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?’
“And I answered, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’ And He said unto me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, Whom thou persecutest.’
“And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of Him that spake to me.
“And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord? ‘ And the Lord said unto me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus ; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.’ ”
I want, first of all, to point you to this fact, that Saul of Tarsus, under that great impression of the apparition of Christ in the heavens, and of that voice which had reproached him for his crime and his folly, being already blinded by that wonderful light which came from God, Saul of Tarsus was so thorough that he was not satisfied even with the evidence of his senses. The Lord had appeared to him, and the voice was heard by others as well as by himself (although he alone detected the words), but with that he was not fully satisfied. He had the impression that if, as he now began to perceive, his life had been altogether wrong, if it were true that he had been going astray from the right path, then he had to change roundabout. He had the impression that his life had been so far a mistake; but he wanted to make it sure. So, instead of satisfying himself with the emotion, the physical impression, the thrill that had taken possession of him, he spoke right out to the Lord Himself, and put to Him a great question, “Who art Thou, Lord?”
There are conversions that are superficial. There are some people who have been under a great emotion in a meeting; that have been moved to tears, even, by the preaching of the Gospel, by some solemn appeal, by some call of God through one of His servants ; and then they realise that their mistake has been great, that so far their life has all been wrong, and that they must change right-about-face ; but sometimes they still have misty ideas about the Master Whom they will have to follow henceforth. Saul of Tarsus was a thorough sort of man: he wanted to make sure. He wanted to have something more than a mere external impression; he wanted to have something that came from the Lord Himself.
There may be some young people here who have professed to be Christians. They have thought that they were converted; perhaps in some way they have been converted, and yet they never went down deep into the question: Who is He Who calls me to follow Him wheresoever He goeth? Who is He Who has arrested me in that way? Who art Thou, Lord, Who art going henceforth to have possession of me, Who art going henceforth to lead me anywhere? I am willing to serve Thee, I am willing to follow Thee, but I must first of all have an absolute certainty that Thou art able and worthy to command my soul, to take possession of my whole life. If Jesus Christ was the best of men; if He was even the Super-Man; but if He was not the Son of God, the Divine Incarnation, the Christ of the Gospel; if He was not what we believe that He was, what the New Testament tells us He was, what all the prophets of the Old Testament showed us that He should be—if Christ is not the Incarnate God, if Christ is not the Atonement for my sins, if His blood has not paid my debt, if I had not a tremendous debt to pay, if there is no hell to escape from, if there is no eternal life, given only through Him and His resurrection, I may have some admiration for Him, but I am not going to surrender to Him.
We are here to make full surrender. We have come to this Convention for that pur- pose: to find a Master to Whom it will be our joy and our duty to entrust our whole lives, and to give ourselves fully, without reservation. Is that so? Have we come for that? In that case we must know who He is; we must be ten times, nay, a hundred times sure that He is worthy of the gift that He claims from us. “Who art Thou, Lord?”
You know Saul of Tarsus was a learned man with a trained mind, and he knew about apparitions, and how one could be deluded into believing as realities things that were only mists, and he wanted to be sure. He wanted to have something in his soul that would make him as certain that He Who had appeared to him had a right to his soul, as he was certain that he himself was in existence.
The first question, it seems to me, we should put to ourselves at the beginning of this Convention is this: What do I think about the Lord Jesus Christ? What is He for me? Do I believe that He is all in all for me, that He is the first and the last, that there is no hope, except in Him; that His incarnation is the only promise that I may have of my own exaltation in heaven; that His coming down is the only reason which makes me hope I shall go up? Is Jesus Christ the crucified, my Saviour, my only Saviour? Am I quite certain about it? Have I met Him, and has He given a reply to my heart-question: “Lord, Who art Thou?” Art Thou the Son of David? Well, then, Thou art the King of the Jews; but I am a Gentile; that does not concern me. Art Thou the greatest doctor, a great healer of men? I do not concern myself so much about the ills of my physical frame. What I need is the One Who shall come from the highest to the lowest, Who shall come down from heaven to my misery, and Who, in order that I may taste forever the sweetness, and glory, and happiness, and love of heaven in fellowship with the Father, has been willing to come down into my very hell, and has spoken on the Cross those words that shall never be fully understood by any human mind, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” I want to have the Christ of the fathers in the faith, the Christ of the Reformers. I want the Christ of the Apostles ; I want the Christ of the New Testament; and (God forbid) if anyone takes away from me any part of the blessed Christ, in so far he makes me incapable to follow Him, even unto the death.
It is a great thing, dear friends, to be a disciple of Christ. To be a disciple of Christ means for some of those Chinese Christians over there that they are willing to be murdered. To be a disciple of Christ has meant for many thousands, and even millions of people throughout the ages, that their tongues have been cut in their mouths, that their eyes have been plucked out of their heads, and that they have been burned at the stake. They must have had a certitude about Christ; they must have been sure that He was worthy of such sacrifice. If I had any doubt of the worthiness, or the mightiness, or Divinity of Jesus Christ, I should give up being a Christian.
As we came along in the train I was cheered by seeing so many young men and young women in the train. I said, “Well, all hope is not lost if the young people are coming to Keswick.” Young people, do not let your minds be troubled by the doubts of the present age; eschew as poison anything found in any book or heard in any pulpit that would diminish, however little, the absolute certainty that I hope you have, that Christ is the One, the only God visible, God tangible, God from the cradle to the Cross, from the Cross to the grave, and from the grave to His Throne back again.
Now for the reply that Jesus made to that bold and perfectly respectful query, Who art Thou, Lord ? “I am Jesus of Nazareth, Whom thou persecutest.” If Jesus had wished to win this man by milk and water, He would not have answered him in that way. He would have told him: “I am Jesus of Bethlehem, the city of David. I am Jesus of Jerusalem, the kingly city and the priestly city too. I am Jesus, the Son of God. I am Jesus in heaven.” And all that was perfectly true. But there was one thing to which the soul of Saul of Tarsus objected more than to anything else; it was that Jesus should be of Nazareth, an ill-spoken little place; it was to the nickname that had been attached to the believers: “Nazarenes”; it was something most despicable; to be called a “Nazarene” was to be insulted. Jesus takes that insult, and He beatifies it, He glorifies it. In the same way that you say Lord So-and-so or the Duke of So-and-so, because the man happens to have won a battle somewhere in Belgium, so we say Jesus of Nazareth, because Nazareth was one of the places where He fought most, where He suffered most, where He was most despised. The people of Nazareth would not have anything to do with Him; His own kindred, living at Nazareth, despised Him, and He could not do anything there on account of their unbelief; yet He glorifies the name, because it is ill-spoken of, because it is thrown into the mud. He makes Nazareth one of the shining stars of heaven; Nazareth has had the great honour of being glorified more than Jerusalem ever was.
That is the sort of logic that we find in the Gospels. If you are not prepared to throw in your lot with Jesus of Nazareth, that is not with a Jesus Who was triumphant, but with a Jesus Who was defeated apparently, a Jesus despised by men, a Jesus hated by Communists, by all sorts of revolting people, whose numbers are getting to be very large; if you are not willing to side with the despised One, and to be one of the despised yourself; if you are not willing to bear the reproach of Christ; if you have never known any reproach in Christianity; if you have so managed your Christian life that you have evaded everything that seems to be a shame and a loss; if your religion so far has brought you no discredit, no poverty, no suffering, no trouble, then it lacks something yet. You do not know the fellowship of the Nazarene as you should.
Jesus, as He looks down upon that little company of the saints, that little company of His frightened disciples, who are meeting in caves and cellars and wildernesses, says to Saul: ” I am one of them; I am at the head of that little flock; I am their Shepherd; I am one with them up in heaven; I am thinking of no one else but them. I am praying for them; I am supporting them. They are My friends and My brothers, and by-and-bye they shall share My glory. I am Jesus of Nazareth. Wilt thou be a Nazarene, thou Saul of Tarsus?”
Think of that! He was a gentleman, that is, a man of nobility, probably a member of the Senate. He was a theologian, a doctor; he might have taken the place of either Nicodemus or Gamaliel at the head of the School. Instead of that, he had now to be a Nazarene, the scum of the world; he had now to be blinded for three days, and led by some servants or soldiers by the hand, like a poor tramp, for the remainder of the journey to Damascus. There he had to wait until someone called Ananias, that he never knew before, a man of no account in the social world, would come, and baptise him, make him one of the hateful company, and a little later he was to go down from the wall of that city, which he had expected to enter on horseback and with a sword in his hand to punish; he had to get away from that city in a basket. The Lord did not mince matters to him, for in another part He says, “I shall show him how great things he must suffer for My name.” The way in which the Lord distinguishes His men, in which He marks His heroes, is to hide nothing from them. He does not tell them it will mean they will have plenty to eat, plenty to drink. He does not say, “Follow Me, and I will make it easy for you every day of your lives.” He says, “Follow Me ; I am the Good Shepherd ; I lead My sheep in green pastures; I have also, sometimes, to lead them up the rugged valley, up to the mountain-top, where the wind blows, where the grass is very scarce, where danger is great; but I am with you. Follow Me. I do not promise you anything on this earth, except My Cross, but I promise you peace, I promise you joy, I promise you happiness in so far as you shall be willing to carry out My programme, to do anything I want you to do!’
Young people, I come in the name of One Who suffered, not that you should never suffer yourselves, but in order that you might be able to suffer for Him and with Him; and I beg you to see that the Lord Jesus Christ is well worthy of the sacrifice of your whole life. He is the God of love; He has exalted the weak in that one name Nazareth; He has taken up the downtrodden, and has associated them with His glory. How glad I am myself that He has come down to me, that He has picked me up and made me a partaker, in a little measure, of His sufferings by the power of His resurrection!
Oh! dear friends, if you have any doubt of His wonderful power, how can you account for the fact that this despised Name has become the most glorious? How can you account for the fact that that Cross on which He suffered has become the most glorious thing in the world? How do you account for the fact that the name of Jesus, the crucified, has become in this world, even for those who do not love Him, a synonym for everything that is great and good? I have proved it over and over again amidst the freethinking audiences of Paris and different parts of France. I have often heard people hurl insults on the ministers, the priests, the churches; but in the hundreds of instances where I have met the worst infidels I never heard a single man or woman say anything against Jesus. It is wonderful. Although the world will not have Him, the world respects Him, and the glory of Christ shines over the whole world.
Will you not follow Jesus as the One that is demonstrated to you, not merely by the emotions that you may have felt at some time or other, but by the evidences, the inward evidences of the Spirit? I would like you to try, if any here have not become fully convinced. I have a friend in France, who, many years ago, was a student in the University of Paris, a free-thinker, yet respectful of anything that was good. But he had no faith in Christ. He was invited by a friend of his to go to America to attend the first conference of the Christian Student Movement at Mr. Moody’s place at Northfield. That is about thirty years ago —perhaps more. This young man knew only a little English, but he thought it would be a nice way of spending a vacation, and he went to America and joined this band of Christian students at Northfield. He has told us the story of his conversion. He said: “I could not understand what all these young people were saying, but I could see a joy on their faces, a light in their eyes, a purity on their countenances, that struck me very much. These young men were not at all like the young men I used to have as my friends in Paris. They were full of fun, and yet had gravity when it was necessary, and they were so desirous to do me good. When we were sitting at table together, one of them would write upon a little bit of paper a sentence in bad French to express his affection, send me a little message across the table, a sort of love letter. How these young men love me! How nice they are! How pure! How happy they seem to be!’ ” He was a scientific man; so he said, “Well, I must try.” He went home to his little room, and for the first time in his life he knelt down and said, “Oh! God, I do not know whether You exist or not, but I should like, if You exist, to be Yours. I should like to be like these young men. I covet their happiness, their purity, their gentleness. Oh! God, if you are the God of these young men, if the God of the Gospel that is preached in this place is a real Being, show it me, and I shall follow You.” He has said to me very often: “I remained on my knees for a while, until all at once I had a sort of inward perception that my prayer was heard. A wonderful, mysterious joy bubbled up in my heart; I felt as if I could sing. I got up, and I wrote down the minutes of the meeting, Such a day, at such an hour, I had the experience; I prayed to God„ and He gave me His answer; I know that He exists, and that He is my Saviour.’ ”
Later on he made progress, and is to-day one of the best professors in one of the French Universities, a simple-minded and yet a very learned man. He is a celebrity in his own line. He is a biologist; he gives lectures on the genuineness of the 1st chapter of Genesis, and, yet he believes in science too. He has discovered some things that have made his name well known amongst the scientists in our country.
My last word is this: see how simple-hearted and sincere Saul of Tarsus was. “Who art Thou, Lord? ” “I am Jesus of Nazareth.” Then he was convinced of the reality of the interview. It is not a dream, it is not a mere vision, it is far from being a delusion, it is a fact. What next? “Lord, what shall I have to do? ” No reservation. “How much money shall I give? ” “All.” “How much of my life shall I give? ” “Everything, every day, every minute.” “What wilt Thou have me to do? Shall I have to go to prison ? Shall I have to renounce the joys of home, and live as a tramp on the streets and on the roads of the world ? Shall I go down to Rome, to be beheaded anonymously? Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
And you may read whatever we have in the New Testament about Paul. Of course, he was a man, he was far from being as perfect as his Master was, and yet I challenge you to find a single instance in which Paul should have done something for his Master that he shrank from. You never find in that tragic life anything that Paul refused, any instance in which Paul said, “No, that is too much; I am not going to do it.” The inward enemy, sin, he vanquished by the power of the risen Christ.
Let us put these two questions together, “Who art Thou? ” and “What shall I do” and let us take the answer and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.