Surely the odds were against me in those days, and the lesson that I was to learn was to be learned to the very limit. I was attending a church in the lake district, that many of my friends had been members of for years. To say it was cold and formal would not begin to describe the atmosphere of that magnificent institution. Everything was done in perfect decency and order, but there was no warmth or power of God known there; its atmosphere was refined, but not spiritual; educational, but not inspiring or uplifting to the soul. The preacher was a mighty lecturer, oratorical and brilliant, but one felt like the old lady who could not understand what the preacher was talking about, soaring so far beyond the people in his intellectual flights, that she cried out at last, “Please, preacher, put your cookies on the bottom shelf.” I listened continually to these intellectual discourses, which had nothing of real old time religion or a living Christ about them. I think that church was a great deal like the one the old darky had tried to get in for a number of months, but the preacher, not wanting his membership and yet not wanting to hurt him, had put him off so many times that at last the old darky became suspicious. It dawned on him that he wasn’t wanted. The pastor had told him the last time he saw him, to pray about the matter, so one day he called the preacher on the phone and said:
“That’s all right parson, about my membership in your church. You don’t need to bother about it anymore.” “So you prayed about it, Sam?” asked the preacher. “Yes, sir, I prayed about it,” said the old man, “and the Lord said to me, ‘Sam, don’t you mind about not getting in that church; I have been wanting to get in there myself for about 20 years and I have never succeeded yet.’“ We smile about this as we use it for a simple illustration, but oh, what a heart-rending tragedy there is in the fact that a person can attend some churches week after week for years and never really meet Jesus Christ. No wonder then that a woman with a poor hungry heart left on a “modern” pastor’s desk one day, this little verse of scripture: “They have taken away my Lord and I know not where they have laid Him.” This pastor dispensed his “canned goods” in the most beautiful manner possible. One felt so intellectually uplifted after hearing one of those mighty discourses, but the heart was hungrier and emptier than ever.
Under this influence my poor hurt heart grew colder than ever—literally frozen in formalism, rationalism, modernism. I would like to go back some day and see how the old colored woman’s principle would work on that church. Her name was Martha, and she made the very best ice cream in the whole community. Every time they had a church social, bazaar, or worthwhile affair, Aunt Martha would have to make the ice cream, for no one could make it just like she did. One afternoon her old heart was elated by a call from some of the real aristocrats in the neighborhood. She rocked back and forth on her front porch, entertaining them and smiling happily in her joy at their unexpected visit, when suddenly her joy was turned to suspicion. She found out the real reason for their coming—they hadn’t come to see her at all—they wanted to know how she made her ice cream. “Martha,” said the spokeswoman of the group, “we’re going to have a church social and we want to find out just how you make your ice cream, for there isn’t any in the whole town that can make it like you can.” “Well,” answered the dear soul, “I’ll jest tell you-all how I makes dat dar cream. I takes de eggs and de sugar and cream and banilla extract and I puts dem all in dat dar freezer and stirs em up together, den I puts the lid on the freezer and when it comes evening, den I puts dat dar freezer on my shoulder and carries it over and sits it up against that dar church of yours and when I goes back in the morning it is just ‘friz’ as nice as anything you ever saw.” Well, in that story, auntie described exactly the reaction of that particular old formal church upon my poor heart. How true that verse: “Thou hast a name that thou livest, but thou art dead.”
True, there were churches at that time that had the warmth and power, the very fire of the Holy Spirit; you will find them in every denomination where Christ is lifted up, men’s hearts are blessed, and lives transformed. Had I found such a church at that time, perhaps this story would never have been written.
I am ashamed to tell you that in this condition of heart and soul I went out as National Field Secretary of one of the largest missionary organizations then chartered by the United States government. I traveled from state to state, organizing boards, speaking at mass meetings, and nearly every Sunday would speak in some one of the churches at the morning service. At such times, I always used the Bible, my system of ethics, but I did not believe its fundamental truths any more than any agnostic believes them today. I did not partake of its promises, nor believe they were real and practical any more than any modernist believes them today. An agnostic in the pulpit? But is that so uncommon today? The time was when men stood outside the church and threw mud at the Bible; today we have many destructive critics who stand in the pulpit and throw mud at the most sacred teachings, the fundamental doctrines of the Divine Word. Surely we are living in that day of which God’s Word speaks when it says, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” And that other scripture which says: “And their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men’s persons in admiration because of advantage” (Jude 1:16).