My mother heard the gospel for the first time when she was 25. After years of seeking peace through religion and the confessional, she was able to receive it with joy. It was easier for her, she felt, to accept the message, than for those who had known it from childhood. She saw so many of them trying to believe, trying to see something, trying to feel something, to have the assurance of eternal life.
I was one of those people. I knew the facts of the gospel, and did not have to question any of them. I really did believe the Bible without question. If anyone had told me that the work of Christ on the cross was not sufficient for salvation, I would have argued strenuously that it was. I believed it could and would avail for me too – if only I could do what would forge that link with Christ, and lead to God crediting the work of His Son on the cross to me.
Once in my early teens, I thought, for a while that it had happened. Hearing the late Robert Love preaching, I did think of the death of Christ in a more personal way, and for a brief time felt a kind of peace that He had died for me. But then I began to question. “The Lord had done nothing more for me than had always been done, so what had I done that I was saved now?” I told no one about my experience, and although I sometimes went back to it for comfort, I did not have peace.
When Mr. Harold Paisley came to Magherafelt in November 1951, the preaching was different – or at least my reaction was different. I was 21. The most solemn of warnings were given, but what really affected me was the presentation of Christ. Even as I write now, the tears are not far away. I was hearing of a Christ the world rejected, a Christ to whom they gave the outside place and were still doing it. That was what I was doing, and I knew it. The most honest description I could give of what happened at those meetings was that I accepted the outside place with Him. More scripturally, I accepted Him. I knew I had done so, and to this day am assured by the verse, “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12).
About one week before Christmas, I was baptized. Something I was grateful for was that the hall was full, as the gospel meetings were still continuing. To me, my baptism was an acknowledgment, especially before some of my old companions who were present, that Christ was now my Lord and Savior.
When I attended Aughrim Conference on New Year’s day 1952, God spoke to me as a believer just as definitely as he had spoken to me as a sinner. Mr. John Wells (Venezuela) directed his remarks at young men, and called on them to devote themselves to God. I can still hear him saying, “Where is the young man who will forsake all for his God?” I wanted to do that, but what could I do? I could never do what the preachers were doing – standing up there and preaching to all those people. That was certain enough.
But most unusually, twice that day, one hymn was sung. It was “I gave myself for thee.” I had never heard the hymn before, but was arrested by the words:
“I gave My life for thee,
What hast thou given for Me?”
After the hymn had been sung for the second time, Mr. John Finegan asked for the last verse to be sung again, “Bring thou thy worthless all, Follow thy Savior’s call.” The feelings God put into my heart that day have never left. They were to lead to my going to what was then Northern Rhodesia in Central Africa in December 1961, with my wife Betty. But that is another story.