In the long weary months that dragged by I lived with memories. How little some of us realize that the day may come when our only companions and our only source of comfort will be the things we take down off memory’s shelf. Hours at a time I was left alone with only my thoughts as companions. I could not see to read, I was too weak to talk, and lived so much on the borderland of death that I had very little in common with the living; literally shut in with my memories.
During my girlhood my father had insisted that we commit something to memory every week. He believed heartily in a well-stored memory and did all he could to make our young minds a veritable store-house. Some people have the idea that because a thing is in the past it no longer exists—it is only a memory. But I found during those days that memories were living things, and that I had to live with them day after day for years. How different my life would have been if I had only known—only stopped to think that I would some day have to live with them along the way!
Through my parent’s insistence I had stored away a quantity of Scripture which was to be a marvelous blessing, a turning point in my life later, but at this time it meant nothing to me because of a great shadow of unbelief that had darkened my life: What a tragedy that during those fearful days I did not have the comfort of God’s Word, the faith in His promises, and the realization of His presence, that I was to have later! How different those days would have been to me afterwards, but my life was a bottomless abyss of aching void; my soul an empty shell filled only with insatiable desire, for not only did I have a broken body, but broken faith, also—no hope; no God.
Let me take you back through some of those memories, and you will better understand why God dealt with me as He did. I believe I can truthfully say that the only religion I had was “inherited religion”; I inherited it just as I did some of the characteristics of my parents, which I carry to this day; just as one would inherit some family heirloom and while keeping and treasuring it, yet never putting it to any practical use.
I was born in the lap of the church. I was a preacher’s daughter; I never knew anything but the church—its services, its people, its teachings. When about six years old, someone asked me where I was born and I promptly answered, “Why in church, of course.” Why wouldn’t I answer thus? I was born in the midst of a revival, and had spent most of my little life going and coming to church. My preacher father and precious mother always had family worship; from my earliest remembrance a Bible was as common around the house as a chair. Naturally, then, at nine years of age, I walked down the aisle of the church, when the invitation was given for those who desired to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, and putting my hand in my father’s I answered the questions, which were asked me, and became a member of the church.
From that day on I worked in church circles—Sunday school Christian Endeavor, a mission on the Mississippi River front. As I grew into girlhood, and then young womanhood, I prayed, testified and otherwise manifested that I was a Christian believer—an active church member—in fact, quite a religious person. I was religious—but so are some of the heathen of the world; I was an active church member—but so are some of the most ungodly people I have ever known; and certainly I prayed—I had always prayed, as I understood prayer then, but I never really expected the answers to prayer, and did not have a personal acquaintanceship with Jesus Christ. I knew of Him, but I did not know Him; I had no personal dealing with Him; He was a far-away being—silent, rather severe, and altogether uncaring except when I did something wrong, and then He was very angry (which I truly felt was the case most of the time). In fact, if I may put it exactly as I felt, He was a great judge, angry at me for my sins, and therefore had turned His face away and didn’t want very much to do with me. This conclusion had nothing to do with my father’s teaching or my mother’s training, for I was most willful and independent, and I wanted only my own way, and not God’s or anyone else’s. Most certainly I had never been born again, and therefore was not, as the Scripture says, “A new creature in Christ Jesus,” nor had “old things passed away.” When I joined the church I did not have it in mind to unite my life with Jesus Christ—I simply united it with a denominational organization. I had never had a change of heart; when I went down into the waters for baptism, I went down a dry sinner and came up a wet one! The Scripture speaks of “a form of godliness without the power thereof” 2 Timothy 3:5.
As I grew older, my religion was perfect in its outward form, but there was absolutely no power, thereof. Jesus said to the Pharisees: “Ye cleanse the outside of the platter, while the inside is filthy” Matthew 23:25. In outward observance—that is, church-going, prayer-meeting attendance, public testimony, singing, and giving, my religious life was exemplary; inside, like the platter of which Jesus spoke, it was unchanged. Even as a child I watched people very closely, and the idea I gained of the Christian life from some church members, was anything but helpful. The position in which I was placed brought me into close contact with some nominal Christians, that I had, unfortunately, too good a chance to observe not only Dr. Jekyll, but Mr. Hyde. In fact, it was after a Christian Endeavor business meeting in the home of a worker, that unknown to my parents, I first learned to dance; also it was a professing Christian woman (and one whose profession was quite well known) who first put a pack of cards in my hand and taught me their names. I could mention more instances of this kind, but suffice it to say that I saw too much of what is called the “nominal Christian.” Webster says “nominal” means, “in name only.” God’s Word says, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, but thou art dead” (Revelation 3:1). No wonder I told my mother one day that I had come to the conclusion that she was mistaken about it not being right for Christians to do certain things, because I saw a number of the church members whom I admired the most, doing those very things. But unfortunately, I did not know the difference then between Christianity and “Churchianity”; between a “nominal” Christian and a real one; between a “professor” and a “possessor”; between a historical Christ and a living, personal Savior. And this is how the church is divided today—those who know of Him, and those who really know Him. No wonder Jesus said: “I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15). Is it any wonder then, that when my mother died, bitterness entered my soul, and at times I almost hated God for taking her away and breaking up our home. I never talked about these things to anyone, but hid them away in my heart, and there they rankled the deeper for lack of expression.