From earliest infancy I was cradled in the doctrines of Adventism. Among the first songs I ever heard sung were those of that faith; in fact, practically all of my people for three generations were Adventists.
I was trained with all the strictness of the Pharisees to believe that there is no hell; and, at the same time, in a measure we pitied those who believed there is such a place. We laughed and made sport of the idea of a burning hell, and joked over the fire and brimstone theory. As Voltaire was damned by his godfather who taught him to scoff at religion, until it is said, "He lisped scoffings as other children lisped prayer," so we were nearly damned by being permitted to scoff at the truth. Some have asked me, "Were you honest in your belief?" My reply is, "I most certainly was," for that was all that I had ever been taught. While I never belonged to the church, neither did I profess religion, yet I sacredly revered the doctrines, and would have fought and died for them. This fact may seem strange to some, but you must remember that childhood teachings are often the most impressive and lasting.
I have long since found, in my study of the Word of God, that the doctrine of Retribution and Eternal Punishment for sin is a very prominent Bible doctrine. Since my vision has been cleared from error, I find that the broken law must be satisfied by a death, and when a soul rejects Jesus Christ's sacrifice and death, he then must pay his own penalty by suffering the vengeance of God in eternal death; or, as Jude tells us, he must suffer the "vengeance of eternal fire."
We were rather like Sadducees in many respects, for we did not believe in the immortality of the soul. We were taught that when a man dies he dies like a beast and that is the end of him until the resurrection. We thought that he not only ceased to exist, but that he dropped into "total uuconsciousness," for we were soul sleepers. How different this teaching is from the real Gospel truth. The rich man, in the 16th chapter of Luke, was conscious enough to see, feel, hear, think, and talk intelligently after he was dead and buried.
I did not get away from this teaching for several months after I was definitely converted and positively sanctified. Some very zealous, but honest hearts came to me and tried to convince me of my error by entering into a heated argument. Brethren, this is a mistake! You never convince or win anyone to the truth by heated discussions. If you cannot quietly and calmly talk it over and show the individual where he is in error, without getting all fired up, you had better leave him alone. You lose your grip and influence on a soul as soon as you enter into a heated argument with him in an attempt to convince him he is wrong and you are right. If you want to get hold of his heart and confidence, first give him credit for everything in his teaching that is worth while. If there is any place you call find an opportunity to say a word of commendation, say that first before you start to show the error, and then be as tactful and sympathetic toward him as possible, so that you do not drive him from you.
How many souls have been driven away from us and lost to the kingdom and cause of Christ because we seemed to think it our duty to set them right, so we began to drive the truth into them as a section hand drives a railroad spike into a tie! If they get angry, we then go away and boastingly say, "I surely stirred the devil that time!" Yes, you did, but did it get you anywhere? Did you win them to Christ, or cause them to lose confidence in you and in everyone else who professes to believe as you do? If I am to be a soul-winner, I want to see souls brought to Jesus. I want to win them from the error of their ways and cover their multitude of sins. That I can stir the devil is no sign that God is using me, or that what I am doing is in the Spirit; for the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19 :13-16) stirred the devil, and they were far from being in the Spirit or used of God. Let us be careful whom we imitate in stirring the devil!
Another thing, unless you are pretty well acquainted with the Adventist doctrine, and know how to correctly and kindly show the error, you had better do as the Apostle Paul did -- testify. If you will notice, every time Paul got into a close place, he gave his experience. He would tell about what he saw on the road to Damascus. You had better follow Paul's example, and tell what God has done for you, and you will accomplish more for God and reach a soul. Your Adventist friend knows how to argue, for this is his strong hold; but be knows nothing about the witness of the Spirit in regeneration and Sanctification, and perhaps the Lord sent him around for you to testify to him. My father did not get converted until nearly three years after I was saved. I have sometimes wondered if he would not have been reached sooner if so many had not so unwisely argued with him on the question of hell and immortality. The time might have been better spent in praying for him, for every argument only made him harder to reach.
On Sunday, March 17, 1912, in a country brick schoolhouse in Buel Township, Sanilac County, Michigan, about 9:20 in the evening, I was gloriously converted. The Lord had sent a very godly man into our community to preach. He was not an educated man, but was filled with the Spirit and carried a burden for lost souls. I had attended only a few services when one night I found myself under desperate conviction. I do not remember a word the evangelist said in his sermon, but when he opened his altar call and began to exhort, every word he said pierced my soul, and in my heart I said, "That means me."
The house was packed with people whom I knew, and when I tried to rise to go to the altar I found myself chained. This was the greatest struggle of my life. After I had struggled for a few moments, God gave me courage to rise to my feet.
As I started toward the altar Satan whispered over my shoulder, "They will make fun of you."
Something rose in my soul and said, "If everybody in this house gets up and makes fun, I am going anyway." I had not been professing religion, although I adhered very tenaciously to the Advent doctrines. I think I had not prayed over twenty minutes when, all at once, the peace of God came over my soul like a flood of glory; I arose, shook hands with the minister, and said, "He saves me!" I did not need anyone to encourage me to believe. I was sure Jesus had forgiven my sins, and his peace was in my soul. My burden of sin was gone. The dark shadows had flown away; the mists had cleared up; and at a stroke the Sun of Righteousness had shone into my life!
I had never heard any preaching on restitution, for the Adventists did not teach that doctrine; but on Monday morning I started to make straight paths for my feet by fixing up my past. About the hardest things I had to fix lip were to pay for a turkey and some watermelons I had helped steal; but God gave the grace.
I was the first in my family to be converted. I went home and began to testify and tell what God had done for me. My father and mother had professed religion as long as I could remember, but I never heard them pray. We lived on a farm at the time of my conversion. One morning while I was turning the cream separator for Mother, I testified to her, telling her how definitely God had saved my soul. Mother looked at me with a hungry look but did not say much. In a night or two she came to the revival, laid all of her years of profession down, came to the altar and prayed clear through to a blessed experience. A few days later she was sanctified. Eighteen years have passed since then, and I have never seen a waver in my mother's experience.
My father was a different type of individual. For the first few months after I was converted he professed to have as much as anyone. He then turned, became sour and bitter in his soul, stayed away from all services, and seemed to take delight in criticizing the Holiness people. It took a great deal of prayer and many tears to reach him; but after we had held on to the Lord for about three years he broke down in his own home and prayed through to victory. This completely changed the atmosphere of our home and, thank God, it has been changed ever since!
In my Adventist teachings I was not taught the way of Holiness of heart, but as soon as I was converted I discovered that the evangelist was preaching a second definite work of grace. He declared that after conversion one needs to be sanctified. All this broke in on me as something new. I kept my heart open, and the Holy Spirit was faithful to send the light. I was very ignorant of some of Paul's terms for carnality, and when the minister preached on the "old man" I wondered whose father he was talking about.
I did not wait until I was half backslidden before I began seeking my Pentecostal baptism, but about three days after my conversion God helped me to die out to carnality, and the Holy Spirit came in to abide forever. Oh, what a rich, blessed experience! How can anybody live without the Comforter? The fight now is all on the outside, for the internal struggle is over.
One would naturally think that such a radical change of heart would at once completely change my views concerning hell and immortality; but, strange as it may seem, this was not the case. It really took months of careful walking with God and studying the Word to rid my mind completely of the old ideas. At times I would seem to rise above them for a while; then they would come back again with all of the vigor and force with which a demon could bring them. It is a great deal easier to learn error than to unlearn it when one is struggling for the truth. The human mind does not usually drop at once an idea that it has held for years; but, as it is convinced, it gradually
relinquishes its hold on former ideas and takes up the new. This was my mental experience in getting rid of the Adventist heresy and taking hold of the truth.
In my transitional period of changing doctrines, I got into a tent meeting where the evangelist made some tests that put me in a corner. I think some one had told him that there was a group of us who had been converted from Adventism, and he took advantage of this fact. In almost every service, at the opening of his altar call, he asked that all those stand up who believed that sudden death would be sudden glory. I knew I was saved and sanctified; and ready for Heaven, but I had not gotten far enough away from my former teaching to know what to do at such a time. I knew if I sat still, my unsaved friends would think it strange; and if I stood up I would feel that I had acted a lie, for I did not yet really believe that when a saint dies he goes straight to Heaven, in order to keep a clear conscience and hold the confidence of everybody, I would watch, and when the evangelist was about to open his altar call, I would drop on my knees in the attitude of prayer, so that no one would think it strange if I did not stand with the rest.
It will be hard for those who have never been chained by the No-hellite or soul-sleeping theory to fully comprehend my position. Even after God had called me to preach, and I was in seminary taking heavy Bible work, Satan would harass my mind at times with those old views and Scripture interpretations, until it was difficult to grasp the truth. Finally, the Holy Spirit led me very definitely to pray and ask God to open my mind to comprehend the truth. I want to testify now that God has blessedly answered and gloriously delivered me from every vestige of the old theory, and for years I have not had the slightest trouble. I believe that lying demons make it their business to follow a soul who is struggling to get rid of heresy, and taunt him with all kinds of fear, in an attempt to hold him back from the whole truth.
Some of our spiritual people have wondered if there really is anything to Adventism. I want to assure you that if there had been any spiritual help in it, some of my people would have found it in three generations.
The Adventists hold their devotees rigidly to the law as a means of salvation; but Paul declared, in Gal. 2:16, "A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. . . . for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." He also states, in Gal. 2:21, "I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." He again strikes a deathblow to the theory of depending upon the law as a means of salvation, in Rom. 3:30, "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." He then shows, in I Tim. 1:9,10, that the law is not for a righteous man, "Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers, and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine." If a man can classify himself as belonging to any one of the above classes, then he should adhere strictly to the law; but if he is a godly man, he is to hold to Jesus Christ.
Finally, Paul shows us, in Gal. 5:4, that the man who depends upon the law for his salvation is entirely outside of grace, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." If the law is not for a righteous man, and a soul cannot be justified by it, how then can Adventists, or any others, be Christians by keeping it?
Thank God, I can now say with the poet, "My bondage is ended forever,"