The story is told of the consecrated old elder, who, when his pastor resigned, presented him at the farewell reception with a neatly wrapped package, saying: “This will doubtless be a little different from any of the other farewell gifts you have received.” Naturally the pastor was curious, and without waiting, opened the parcel at once, only to discover the worn faded cover of a Bible with all the inside removed. Rather taken back he inquired, “Is there some mistake? Is this the gift; or perhaps I have the wrong bundle?” “No,” replied the old elder, “that’s all you have left me of the Bible and I thought you might as well take the cover also. You see, whenever you told us something was not for today I would immediately tear it out, and other passages that you said were myths and allegories, misinterpretations, etc., I also removed along with any references that referred to them. This is the result. The covers were all I had left; you took all the rest, so I thought you might as well have them also.” Well that is just the way I felt about my Bible when I had finished my work at the university. I can remember as if it were yesterday, my little room in the dormitory where my things were spread out ready for packing. School was over and I was ready to go. I had discarded a number of things that I could not take with me, and the thought came to my heart, “You may just as well discard that Bible, for you haven’t any more faith in it as being divinely inspired; it is no longer to you the ‘Word of God’, for like the old elder, all you have left is the covers.” I did not actually throw the Bible away, but in my heart I discarded it. However, I still believed that it was the best system of ethics given to the world, and that Jesus Christ was the greatest teacher humanity had ever known. I had studied the teachings of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Diogenes, Buddha, and Confucius, but there was no mistaking that the teachings of Jesus Christ were far beyond any of these. So while every vestige of faith in the infallibility of the Scriptures was torn away, I still studied its pages faithfully, striving to live according to its great principles, and taking it as my code of morals. I was nothing less than an agnostic; religion was an outward form, and prayer only a pious reverie that had a subconscious effect upon the one who prayed.
I was much like a prospector I heard about (and many of you have doubtless heard the story before) who was sitting one evening by his camp fire in Alaska when his companions suddenly asked him, “Jim, if you should ever strike a gold vein, what would be the first thing you would do when you could go back to the United States?” “Let me see,” said Jim, “well, I believe I would buy a good meal of fresh food—fresh vegetables and fresh meat. I am so sick of canned beans and canned sardines that I can hardly look a bean or sardine in the face any more.” Well, the day did come when Jim struck a gold vein and, his pockets loaded with money, he landed in San Francisco and made his way to a well-known cafe. The waiter brought him the menu and, smilingly Jim looked up and said, “I would like to have some of this turkey and cranberry sauce, with all the fixings.” The waiter cleared his throat and answered, “I am sorry, but the turkey and cranberry sauce are all gone. There were a great many more people here today than we expected. Perhaps there will be something else?” Jim scanned the menu again and answered, “Well, just bring me some of this chicken and dumplings; sounds like home to me. That will just satisfy.” Again the waiter cleared his throat and replied, “I am truly sorry, sir but you see we had a couple of delegations come in here on the way to the ferry and they ate up all the chicken and dumplings. Perhaps you would have something else?” This time Jim’s face fell and, frowning a little, he said, “Sure I understand. Well just bring me a good juicy steak, and have it smothered in onions. That will be fine.” Quite embarrassed this time, the waiter said, “That’s just too bad, my friend, but you see that big fat traveling man over there—well, he ate the last steak we had. Truly I am sorry.” “Well, what could you give me,” Jim asked rather tartly. “Oh, we can open up any canned goods for you,” replied the waiter. “No you don’t open up any canned goods for me,” replied the quickly departing Jim, as he grasped his grip and hat and made for the door, to where they had something besides canned goods.
I quite agree with Jim, and the application made by many preachers, of this story, is so true to my own experience that it seems the illustration was written just for me. That teacher had told my hungry heart that there was no more turkey and cranberry sauce, so far as the new birth was concerned. A real genuine born-again experience? Why that was eaten up a long time ago. And the baptism of the Holy Spirit—a real enduement of power from on high? That was eaten up a long time ago by the disciples and there was not more chicken and dumplings of this sort to satisfy my needy soul. And Christ’s healing power?—Why, that was only to usher in Christ’s ministry; that was just a juicy steak that the early disciples at every vestige of, and there wasn’t even any of that gravy left. And Christ Himself?—Why, it was certainly to be understood that He was not the same today, for said, they, He is no longer the miraculous Christ, and all that is left of the generous feast that He spread in those days is just a little canned goods—canned goods that bears the labels of rationalism, formalism, modernism, etc.; but God’s pantry shelves are empty so far as any real power and fire of the Holy Spirit, and marvelous manifestation of the Miraculous Christ, any supernatural experience that would utterly transform the life. No wonder some of us cannot look any of this canned goods in the face any more. It has so poisoned souls, and turned us, that we want nothing more to do with it; only real food will satisfy us. No matter how attractive the label on the can, we are afraid of it; only the genuine will satisfy our souls.