By J. Wilbur Chapman
I have the very best of reasons for believing in the power of the personal touch in Christian work, especially as it may be used in the winning of others to Christ.
My boyhood's home was in the city of Richmond, in the State of Indiana, my mother was a devout member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and in the first years of my life in company with my father and the other children of the household, I attended the church of my mother. When she was just a little more than thirty-five years of age she was called home. My father in his youth had been trained as a Presbyterian; many of his ancestors having belonged to that denomination; therefore it was quite natural that he should return to the Church of his fathers when my mother had gone home.
It was thus I became a member of the Presbyterian Church, and my Church training as a boy after fifteen years of age was in that denomination. Because of this special interest in both the Church of my father and my mother, I attended two Sunday Schools. In the morning I was in a class in the Presbyterian school and in the afternoon was a member of a class in the Grace Methodist Sunday School, my teacher in the afternoon school being Mrs C.C. Binckley, a godly woman, the wife of Senator Binckley of Indiana, through all her life from girlhood, a devout follower of Christ and a faithful teacher in the Sunday School. Not so very long ago I heard that she was still teaching in the same school, and I am sure, as in the olden days, winning boys to Christ.
I fear that I was a thoughtless boy, and yet the impressions made upon my life in those days by the death of my mother, the teaching of my father, and the influence of my Sunday School teacher, were such that I have never been able to get away from them.
One Sunday afternoon a stranger came to address our school--his name I have never learned; I would give much to find it out. At the close of his address he made an appeal to the scholars to stand and confess Christ. I think every boy in my class rose to his feet with the exception of myself. I found myself reasoning thus: Why should I rise, my mother was a saint; my father is one of the truest men I know; my home teaching has been all that a boy could have; I know about Christ and think I realise His power to save.
While I was thus reasoning, my Sunday School teacher, with tears in her eyes, leaned around back of the other boys and looking straight at me, as I turned towards her she said, "Would it not be best for you to rise?" And when she saw that I still hesitated, she put her hand under my elbow and lifted me just a little bit, and I stood upon my feet. I can never describe my emotions. I do not know that that was the time of my conversion, but I do know that it was the day when one of the most profound impressions of my life was made upon me. Through all these years I have never forgotten it, and it was my Sunday School teacher who influenced me thus to take the stand--it was her personal touch that gave me courage to rise before the school and confess my Saviour.
In the good providence of God, during my student days, as well as during the first years of my ministry, I was thrown in contact with men who knew God, who were being marvellously used by Him, and who seemed ready and willing to give assistance to one who was just beginning the journey of life with all its struggles and conflicts ahead of him.
When I was a student attending Lake Forest University, not far from Chicago, I was very greatly troubled about the matter of assurance. I heard that Mr Moody was to be in Chicago, and in company with a friend I went in from Lake Forest to hear him. Five times in a single day I sat at his feet and drank in the words which fell from his lips. He thrilled me through and through. I heard him preach his great sermon on "Sowing and Reaping," when old Farwell Hall was crowded with young men many of whom were students like myself.
The impression that Mr Moody made upon me as a Christian young man, was that I myself was not absolutely sure I was saved. I analysed my experience and found that sometimes I was more than sure and at other times dwelt in Doubting Castle. When the great evangelist called for an after-meeting, I was one of the first to enter the room where he had indicated he would meet those who were interested, and to my great joy he came and sat down beside me. He asked me my difficulty and I told him I was not quite sure that I was saved. He asked me to read John v. 24, and trembling with emotion I read: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life."
He said to me, "Do you believe this?" I said, "Certainly." He said, "Are you a Christian?" and I replied, "Sometimes I think I am, and again I am fearful." Then he said, "Read it again." And I read it once more. His question was again repeated, and I answered it in the same manner as before. Then he seemed to lose his patience, and the only time I can remember Mr Moody being sharp with me was when he turned upon me and said, "Whom are you doubting?" And suddenly it dawned upon me that I was doubting Him who said I was possessed of everlasting life because I believed on the Son and on the Father who had sent Him, and in spite of this possession and His sure Word of promise concerning it, I was sceptical. But as I sat there beside him I saw it all. Then he said, "Read it again." And I read it the third time, and talking to me as gently as a mother would to her child he said, "Do you believe this?" I said, "Yes, indeed I do." Then he said, "Are you a Christian?" And I answered, "Yes, Mr Moody, I am." From that day to this I have never questioned my acceptance with God.
For some reason Mr Moody always seemed to keep me in mind. He came into my church in the early days of my ministry, told me where he thought I was wrong and suggested how I might be more greatly used of God. He advised me to give my time wholly to evangelistic work, and when I said to him one day that I was going to take up the pastorate after three years of experience in general evangelism, he seemed disturbed. To him more than to any other man, I owe the greatest blessing that ever came into my life.
Through Mr Moody I met the Rev F.B. Meyer, and one sentence which he used at Northfield changed my ministry. He said, "If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?" That seemed like a new star in the sky of my life, and one day acting upon his suggestion, after having carefully studied the passages in the New Testament which relate to surrender and to consecration, I gave myself anew to Christ and I shall never be able to express in words my appreciation of what this man of God to whom I have referred, did for me by personal influence.
All along the way I have been brought in contact with men whom God has signally blessed, and I am persuaded that there are many to-day whose hearts are hungering for a blessing, who are waiting as I was myself, for someone to speak to them personally, and help them out of darkness into light; out of a certain kind of bondage into a glorious freedom. The personal touch in Christian work, to me, means everything.