For Sinners Only
The Book of the Oxford Group
by A. J. Russell
FOR SINNERS ONLY
Into the woods my Master went,
Out of the woods my Master went,
"A BALLAD Of THE TREES AND THE
THE VOICE FROM THE BLUE
This is a book about sinners, for sinners, by quite a big sinner.
You may not like it. You may even hate it, as some are sure to do.
You may dislike the theme, for, though it introduces lovely people, it comes to grips with an unlovely subject. And solves its riddle.
You may dislike the characters as they are limned in print, but not in real life. As they are all living, you may encounter them yourself some day, and discover their excellence. At least one will live on as an historic figure when this generation has merged with the ages. Perhaps many.
Meanwhile, none can disprove the contents of this book or avoid its challenge. The story is true; the challenge is to you.
From the end of 1923 until the middle of 1926 I was Literary Editor of perhaps the most virile and progressive London daily newspaper. During that period certain events happened which drew me into the heart of the most astonishing group of people I shall ever meet. To-day groups of them are sprinkled about the earth changing the lives of those they encounter, giving all they possess and asking no return.
They are not an organization. None can tell their number. For in their own words: "You can't join; you can't resign; you are either in or out by the quality of the life you live."
They are probably the most extraordinary association of Christian adventurers since the first century. It is much too early yet to forecast their destiny. Their movement, in its sweep, may take one of two forms: it may become just another gem or facet of Christendom like those affectionately associated with Augustine, Francis, Luther, Wesley, Booth, and Moody; or it may speed up the reunion of Christendom, even Catholic and Protestant. It may revive first-century Christianity in every denomination, expel compromise from the lives of nominal Christians, make the church a true healer of broken homes, give purpose and direction to purposeless and misguided lives, set aloft to a fiery cross in every office, workshop, and institution, and really start the Christian millennium in this our twentieth-century.
As Literary Editor my job was to provide compelling newspaper features to engage the public interest and expand our circulation. In a surprising manner I stumbled on two unusual means of achieving my purpose, which I found word two cardinal practices of the amazing group I was subsequently to meet. I called these means Inspiration and Confession. They called them Guidance and Sharing.
It was Saturday, my free day, usually spent in my garden at Kent. Not that I enjoyed gardening, but it was a good exercise and kept me from the race-course, where I had spent many more exciting and inexpensive holidays.
I worked on, thinking of nothing in particular. Suddenly a strange experience came to me. There seemed to be a faint electrical crackling in the clear air about me. There was positively nobody else in the garden, but someone or something spoke to me: a voice that was audible and yet (paradoxically enough) quite soundless. That seems the only way to express what I shall always believe was a supernatural experience.
I felt a message impinge on my brain from the air. It alighted softly like the caress of a leaf or the touch of a gentle zephyr. It was accompanied by a sense of exaltation both pleasurable and unforgivable.
As to the message, there was nothing particularly striking about it, though when translated into action it produced phenomenal results. At this stage I do not clearly remember the exact phrase that came. I was just told to get twelve novelists to confess their religious beliefs in our newspaper. Apparently a good idea, but nothing to differentiate it from others that have come to me and thousands of other people. Only -- that queer feeling of its being implanted from without, perhaps for some specific purpose. And the pleasurable physical and spiritual reaction which attended it.
Almost immediately afterwards, both the idea and the incident tucked themselves away in the recesses of my mind and were completely forgotten for several months. Then one day, in early September 1924, I was asked to provide a good series for an autumn circulation-raising campaign on which a fairly large sum of money could be spent in publicity.
I went back to my room and began to think. Then the memory of that spring day in my garden returned. Intuitively I knew that here was the right subject ready prepared. It was fortunate I had forgotten the message until now, the ideal period of the newspaper year to launch a new series. It would just catch the public returning from the holidays for the autumn.
Before then and since, when advocating other ideas on which large sums of money had to be risked, I may have felt trepidation. The arguments for were these; the arguments against were those. But this time I had a subtle confidence that some mysterious force supported the proposal and that nothing could prevent it succeeding. Naturally, psychiatrists would throw doubts on the supernatural origin of this series, and ascribe my experience to an emotional disturbance of the endocrine glands; or something thrown out by the subconscious. Let them. But I wish they could make those same glands work or that same subconscious self get busy whenever I am in need of help.
It is comparatively easy to get a good idea accepted, but far harder to get a company of famous novelists to come in on it, sensitive as they are to their own dignity and status, especially when it means disclosing their private life to the curious multitude. Ten writers of outstanding eminence, all well known in England and most of them well known in America, were intrigued by our extraordinary request and readily agreed to contribute. They were:
I forget why the number of novelist contributors was reduced from twelve to ten, the figure I had been given, but I remember this series ended far too soon, although we added one article from an anonymous correspondent, a second by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and two extra by the Bishop of London.
Giving “an unknown man” a chance to join up with some of the best writers in England was a happy idea (suggested by “The Unknown Warrior”) which proved very popular. Of thousands essayed to air their religious views in conjunction with celebrated novelists. I selected the winning article because It contained an illuminating reference to a common failing of our readers and of myself; and because it was a clear statement of simple Christian faith that the masses would understand.
“The gambling instinct,” said the Unknown Writer, “so often perverted and used for unworthy ends, is one of the most valuable Instincts processed by man, and nowhere does it find a truer or more complete outlet and fulfillment than in religion. . . .” The writer continued: “Religion is betting your life and there Is a God. I decided to bet my life there was a God, and more and more as the years go by I find that in so far as I yield up my will to God and open my heart to His indwelling, in so far as I try to live out my life in the Christ-spirit, the experiment works!”
Here, I thought, was something different for our friend the gambler: the man who was so consistently accused of being in the wrong -- praise from the quarter which usually attacked him. His praises could be used to prove Christianity. God wanted gamblers. Back God and watch Him win your own Derby. Perhaps an old idea to some in the Churches, but to the average gambler it was NEWS.
A born gambler myself, I had indulged a gambling instinct in the City, the casino, on the race-course. Like all gamblers, I had my successes. An occasional brief spell of victory, and then losses. Invariably I ended every gambling bout with a deficit balance, however “inside” the information -- and I was often right inside being “inside” -- however posh is the gamble, however long or short I went or held on. At last I came to believe that some little imp of misguidance had been specially delegated to perch himself at my ear and whisper the wrong advice whenever I gambled.
Curiously enough, I was shortly to find the gambling instinct strongly in evidence among the group of people I am about to describe. They are gamblers all; gambling recklessly with their own lives -- gambling on God.
As only “unknown men” and had been asked to contribute the eleventh article, I was amused to hear a laughing feminine voice at the end of my telephone announce that she was the author of the anonymous article we had just published. To make quite certain, I asked for a specimen of her handwriting. It corresponded with the written article. I asked her if she wanted money. She said “No.” Further proof. And she called -- tall, thirtyish, and attractive, she seemed to me. I asked her who she was. She hesitated. She asked me to promise never to publish her name; and I promised.
There are princesses in the movement dealt with in this book. But without that saying that she is a princess, I can state that her home is an English palace, though she was not living in it. At the time she was suffering from an apparently incurable disease, but had given her life to social work in a London slum. As her illness Her indoors for a good part of the day, I advised her to drop her self-immolation in squalor and returned to the country and sunshine. She laughed at my lack of understanding, and went back to her social service. Some years after, she wrote me a letter appreciating the work of the people described In this book and reminding me of my bad advice. Instead of going to the country for a sunshine “cure,” she had worked on in the slum for her Lord -- and been marvelously restored to health!
She told me a had written her manuscript for “My Religion” under what she believed to be “direct guidance,” although not without trepidation, as she saw the invitation was only extended to men. But she had written a letter of explanation giving her full name, which somehow escaped my notice. Her article came to me interred in a high pile of manuscripts, written on both sides of the paper (sin of sins in journalism). The opinion was more than once expressed that her contribution, breathing as it did the spirit of confident faith and loving understanding of the prodigal mind, was the best of all. I am sure it did the most good.
Contributors to the “My Religion” series were not hampered by editorial restrictions. They could advocate what ever religion gain shows. If they had none, they could let their article explain why, provided there was no blasphemy. Judged by their writings, they were not a deeply spiritual company. Some were believing Christians; some were agnostics; all were honest. Compton McKenzie (a great writer) wrote a strong plea to Roman Catholicism, and the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for Spiritualism. I enjoyed the article by Hugh Walpole, who revealed himself as the typical son of a bishop. His article was well-liked, as was that Rebecca West, who wrote with her usual brilliance. Not one tried to define the word Religion, but that omission was atoned for by Father Roland Knox, who, because of the interest awakened by this and subsequent religious series, which this one evoked, wrote a book dealing with the phenomenon of Feet Street’s sudden interest in religion. His title was uncomplimentary, though he was not unfriendly. It suggested that we were Calibans of Grub Street. There was no congestion that we might be practical mystics.
Father Knox showed us that religion was something which restrained us from doing what otherwise we might do, just as conquered people were restrained by their conquerors, foot on neck, in the bad old days when power was as much synonym for right as money is to-day.
Many beautiful passages were contained in the articles written by these representative novelists describing their religion. Outstanding among them, like St. Paul’s Cathedral, was a marvelous symphony in prose by that delightful playwright, Henry Arthur Jones, which is surely destined for immortality. Its sheer beauty stood out in clear relief as I read the article, and has haunted me ever since. I turned to my little staff and read it over for their delectation. Listen to the song behind the screen of words, the yearning and the heartbeat of a lovable Englishman:
Whatever call to wander in strangely haunted spheres of ether, or fields asphodel, in new moods of being, amid new duties and new pleasure; whatever call to prolong and fulfill its existence my spirit may obey when it has earned its release from the flesh, it is to this earth that it turns and returns and passionately clings to-day; this earth that is the mother of all I’m know and feel, this earth where I have lived and sinned and suffered and loved and fought and stumbled and tramped and despaired and laughed and wept and eaten my fill and drunk deep draughts of pleasure and success and bitter cups of misery and defeat and shame; this earth whose dawns and sunsets and variegated pageantries are nicely suited to my eyes and her harmonies and discords exactly tuned to my years; this earth whose biting winds and angry hailstorms have buffeted me, but whose sunny skies and blue haleyon days have restored me -- this very earth, the only place where my foot finds firm standing and where my spirit feels at home.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Henry Arthur Jones were friends; if otherwise, this article would have made them friendly. For in it Henry Arthur also declared that no future state would be intolerable for him if he found Sir Arthur waiting at the entrance to greet him. In rejoinder Sir Arthur quoted the “asphodel ” passage in a public address and commented: “I have looked upon Henry Arthur Jones as one of the very first -- if not the very first -- prose-writers that we possess. He has that rare gift of rhythm which marks a great artist. For this alone his article would be memorable. There are few living man who can write prose like that.”
Praise indeed of one master by another, both of whom have since “earned released from the flesh.”
“My Religion” ran with smoothness from start to finish, with the staff more excited than I have ever seen journalists excited by newspaper articles. And this by a simple series on religion in a street swarming with Pagans.
As for the public, they leapt for it. During a part of the run the circulation-staff was unable to cope with the demand. Each morning for a fortnight Young England on its way to the office scrambled for, almost fought for, bookstall copies of the morning newspaper giving it something up-to-date in religion. Arnold Bennett tramped the streets of Liverpool vainly seeking a newsstand not sold out on the opening day, the day he led off. Then he returned to his hotel and wrote amusingly to the Editor gently lampooning our circulation department. Yet probably he, too, had not foreseen how vast could be the public demand for the sharing of religious experiences by celebrated novelists.
Arnold Bennett’s opening article gave our church-going readers a tremendous jolt. And no wonder! Had he not been asked to modify his language he would have shocked them more. He only agreed to his article be modified when I pleaded that we might harm the baby -- the newspaper. I said that our church-going readers would think we were turned atheist and leave us. He spoke somewhat peevishly about one whose views counted with us and who might disagree with our request, and then decided to cut his articles lightly, though reiterating he was doing it against his better judgment.
As it appeared, his self-censored article was the worst attack on Christianity I have ever seen in a respectable and popular English newspaper.
“It is curious,” said Arnold Bennett, “how bold some very ordinary statements seem when they are put Into print in a popular newspaper. I do not believe, and never have at any time believed, in a divinity of Christ, the Virgin birth, immaculate conception; and heaven, hell, the immortality of the soul, the divine inspiration of the Bible.”
Quite a comprehensive Cardinal-of-Rheims catalog of fearless belief. No wonder half England rose up to answer him, many to disapprove his opening statements by his later admission of a leaning towards a future life. No wonder that he was vigorously attacked in the religious Press and in the pulpits all over Great Britain. Yet “the Unknown Man” (who spoke in the spirit of the characters of this book) was that among the critics. She understood exactly Arnold Bennett’s attitude, the position he had reached, and the reason why he could not say more. To attack him, she said, was wrong when he was so obviously expressing his true opinion. How could a man who had not been born to this Spirit write otherwise?
The public interest awakened by the unusual feature was early reflected in the Editors mail-bag, which must have been about the largest ever prompted by a straightforward literary series. The letters were opened, but the staff was too small to read them thoroughly. They grew into a vast heap on one side of my room, into which I occasionally dug for interesting contributions.
London’s society was aroused, as never before, by religious articles in popular Press. The provinces read widely and eagerly. Bishops and clergy swung into the debate. A swarm of novelists had invaded their realm. They had a right and a desire to be heard on the same all-important subject. Lake Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Davidson), reluctant to be disturbed by newspaper religion, wagged his statesman’s head and electeid to make a public reference to the series that everybody was discussing.
From the first it had been my intention to give the feature a definitely pro-Christian bias, and the replies of the bishops, clergy and religiously-minded readers, as well as some of the articles, were more than adequate for that purpose.
The same series was afterwards sold to America, where it ran in a chain of newspapers, and it was reproduced in a book form both in England and in the United States. The theme was also adapted for America by the publication of a new series entitled “My Religion” by “Ten American Novelists.”
Echoes of the original stir in London are still heard.
Rebecca West wrote in a London journal for writers saying that the author of “My Religion” had shown himself a journalistic genius. I thought so, too, and wished I could have given her the authors name. But the mysterious voice that came to me from the spirit-world had left no name.
What was the reason for the astonishing success of the series? In the shrewd opinion of the proprietor it was the emphasis on the word “My” in the title -- an opinion I was to hear endorsed again and again when investigating the Oxford Group and their practice of “Sharing” experiences.
We had induced celebrated writers to confess their religious convictions, and in so doing had merely re-discovered a simple truth which religion had learned years ago: there is always a public eager to hear a man’s own story of his search for God, if haply he might find Him.
Four was not a method by which the early Apostles spread Christianity through a Pagan world?
The Three Troubadours
It was January 1931. Seven years had passed since the “My Religion” feature was released on a surprised public. For nearly five years I had held the managerial chair of our Sunday newspaper, to which I had been promoted possibly as a cynical reward for success in religion.
In January 1930 the newspaper was doing magnificently. Good features, bright news stood, bold, original publicity, and the developing momentum of past efforts had combined to double our sales, although the depression had descended upon Britain.
Only once during that seven years did I experience a repetition of the supernatural guidance which preceded “My Religion.” But lest It be assumed that we expanded our sales only by supernatural suggestion, I should say here that afterwards an idea came to me without supernatural accompaniments which gave us a jump of over four hundred thousand in circulation, settling down into a permanent increase of more than one hundred thousand.
But the theme in this book is not the “scoops” that certain newspapers have secured, but the “scoop” that every newspaper missed.
I was still hankering after another series of the “My Religion” order to give the circulation of one of our newspapers a spring flare-up. One Sunday morning I was sitting in a Presbyterian church in Orpington, Kent, when the minister, the Rev. J. M. Fergusson, M. A., subsequently Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of England, dropped a few complementary words about a new religious movement emanating from Oxford University known as the Oxford Group, that he said was spreading rapidly through various countries, including South Africa.
A new religious movement spreading out from Oxford University! That was the only point in the minister’s sermon I remember. Here was a fresh trail of thought. Several flourishing religious movements had started in this intellectual centre the England, as everyone knew. It was about time for another religious revival of sorts in Britain. The last had come from Wales. That the new ones should emanate from Oxford was befitting. Oxford would contribute the dignity so essential to a revival of religion. There was only one Institution in England more suitable as a starting-point when regarded as news, for Cambridge had never yet produced a real live revival. One had pleasant memories of visits to both Oxford and Cambridge, notably as a member of ex-President Roosevelt’s party when “Teddy” was on his world tour, but mostly I thought of Cambridge as the sports University, and of Oxford as the home of new religions. A reversal of that order would be interesting news.
I’ve visualized ”Oxford’s New Religious Movement” with our columns thrown wide open for the views of every Tom, Dick and Harry in the land; yet a wisely-guided feature inculcating much sound and helpful religious teaching. Vaguely I was aware I should again be skimming the cream from both worlds.
But why wait until Monday for the start? That Sunday evening I telephoned the minister and asked for more particulars. He told me all he knew on the subject. Not much, but he believed that the leader, known to his intimates as “Frank,” lived very close to God.
Next day a disappointment. Having sent to our newspaper library, cynically known as “the Cemetery, “ for “clippings” about Frank and his movement, I discovered the Oxford Group had existed for several years; that iit was vaguely known in Fleet Street, and had been casually referred to in our own daily newspaper. Then I remembered reading about the beginnings of the Group in Oxford in newspaper reports distinctly unfriendly which had repelled me at the time. But it had escaped my notice that a number of distinguished Oxford dons had joined in a letter to the Press protesting against the unfairness of these criticisms. Speaking from observation of the results, they said newspaper criticisms distorted the spirit of the work through the misunderstanding and unfounded rumour.
This was a blow! Not much hope of turning this old stuff into a successful religious series to awaken England. The news had already broken, strictures had been passed on the informality of procedure and the emphasis on sin. Now I understood why several years had a lapse and no journalist had been enterprising enough to advise his newspaper to espouse the Oxford Group. Still, I was unwilling to be put off. There could not be much wrong with teaching, or it would not be permitted in Oxford University. They professed to test all they said and did by the standards of absolute love to all, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness, absolute honesty. Surely there was not much wrong with a movement squaring up to those ideals. Old news though it was, when judged by Fleet Streets up-to-dateness, I felt there was a good story somewhere in ancient and is unusual and growing movement -- spreading worldwide from Oxford. And good circulation as well.
The Journal’s thought in a situation in this kind may be, “If you can’t praise, punch.” A lady novelist strongly advised me to attack. But how good one attack a religious movement which had the tacit approval of Oxford University? More than one reckless journalist has attacked this movement without understanding its genius, for the attack is always more interesting copy than the eulogy. There are so many opportunities for the latter and so few to attack in safety. For the English libel law is an inter-presence menace. Merely to ridicule a person in print is to invite an expensive law-suit involving big damages. Rarely do newspapers say all they think, for they may have to pay more than a penny for their thoughts. An occasional target like the Oxford Group, that does not shoot back is sometimes a most welcome discovery.
I had no wish to attack the Oxford Group, for I believed in Christianity, and a closer study of the “clippings” showed definitely that the leaders did too, even if they had a new and perhaps uncomfortable way of putting it over. Moreover, I believed it necessary and possible to modernise the Christian appeal, and perhaps “Frank’s” unusual methods and teaching, already making a great headway in Oxford, might be just the way to do It. One is the been blinded by a little hostility and some ridicule; they were necessary to any new movement, religious or secular with a chance of winning through. Luther had lots of It. So had St. Frances. Wesley had his full share. Booth was ridiculed and pelted. This Group was in the right tradition of successful religious movements. And -- one could not dodge the fact -- it had a foothold In Oxford, the intellectual and cultural centre of England.
I determined to interview “Frank” without delay. Where did he live? No one seemed to know. After some difficulty, I located his quarters at Brown’s Hotel, Dover Street, London.
The last time I was at Brown’s Hotel I was the guest of a gentleman racehorse trainer with whom I collaborated in the writing of some exciting Turf reminiscences. Judging by the remark of “The Unknown Man” in the “My Religion” series that faith is natural to the born gambler, my return to Brown’s Hotel to see a man of God instead of a racehorse trainer was the natural step forward in spiritual growth.
Frank’s address at Brown’s Hotel puzzled me, for it is a good hotel, much used by the aristocracy: the best county families were often to be found there when in town. But hardly the location, I felt, for a modern Elijah. Yet every man of God has to be house somewhere if he up if he elects to live in the English climate. He cannot deliver his message under a country hedge to the cows, or spend his energy preaching to the birds, like St. Francis. No one doubted that the Piccadilly area around Brown’s Hotel needed more of a spiritual shake-up then a country village. Moreover, Frank was a Bishop of Souls, but had no bishop’s palace, not even a vicarage, only a hotel point of contact with those people described as “the up outs,” so often overlooked in the life-changing process, and so useful when changed, whether they be twentieth-century English noblemen or the Roman Emperor Constantine. End Frank was quartered in Brown’s Hotel at specially reasonable terms. Some time afterwards I discovered that he had often worked day and night among the unprivileged and “down and out,” and was ever at home to all men and with all men, in palace or tenement.
At Brown’s Hotel I was told that “Frank” was in South America, though three other leaders of the Group were in London. They accepted my invitation to tea in my office the next afternoon. I was anxious to look them over and take their measurements, and instructed my secretary to use her feminine powers of quick observation and to make notes about them in their presence, for they would not suspect her of doing it. She did.
I have lost her notes, but remember a good point she made -- their strangely natural way of mentioning God and Christ, without that apologetic halting so noticeable with most of us. My three callers were Garrett the I am, John Roots (both clergymen of the Anglican Communion and sons of bishops), and Charles Haines, a bronzed and athletic young Quaker; all in mufti.
Three exceedingly likable young men, smartly dressed and radiating good feeling, kindliness and self- possession.
Evidently “Frank” knew how to choose men.
We talked for two hours, or perhaps three, and they explained what their movement stood for. Their talk intrigued me. They had Intelligence, zeal, culture and good looks. I like to their radiant appearance, their frankness and the way Garrett Stearly beamed at me through his horn-rimmed spectacles. I liked the well-groomed strength of Charles Haines and the boyish enthusiasm of John Roots, son of the Bishop of Hankow. Later I learned that John Roots was a capable journalist and a brilliant writer. Already their coming had brought an unusual feeling, a freshness and tranquility, into the rather soiled and sometimes sordid atmosphere of Fleet Street.
Out to of that strange first meeting came the impression that these men had voluntarily lost the world in order thereby to change the world. They are the exact opposite of the “go-getter” type one habitually encountered in business. Though they were no longer masters of their fate or captains of their souls, they had a quiet strength, a relentless purpose which were already bringing astounding results.
For them nothing was casual God had a plan. They were trying to fit in with It. Knowledge of that plan, God’s guidance and God’s power were available for all who chose to work in with that plan. This guidance is an eye and in every form of self-determination. God-guidance in God’s strength could be the normal experience of everybody at all times, they asserted. When three B.A.‘s arrive with the remark that they were specially guided to accept the invitation one must take the visit as complementary, even though doubting their contention.
Many extraordinary callers had come my way in journalism: a man sentenced to death for the most sensational murder in England and reprieved by Winston Churchill; another, afterwards hanged for a “good murder” -- as Fleet Street would express it; detectives who caught most of the notorious murderers of my time; famous statesmen; the “Man Who Won the War”; boxing champions and best-selling novelists; singers and famous players; the World’s Fastest Motorist; film stars, sporting men, racing men and a galaxy of forgotten celebrities. Once the Prince of Whales walked up the stairs and interrogated that the commissioner on the landing outside my room and was half-laid down the street before he was recognized.
But the radiant Three were the first callers at my office to claim they had been guided my way by God.
When I asked one of the leaders of the Oxford Group who was the founder of the movement, he replied with simple conviction:
“The Holy Spirit.”
So that was the amazing claim which had escaped Fleet Street’s attention. Not a man, but the Holy Spirit, had founded a new religious movement in Oxford University, and here were three of His representatives.
Either the most blatant piece of post-war blasphemy, or a movement that might accomplish anything. And worth investigating, even though it was somewhat late in the day. Moreover, I had unearthed a fresh point. And that was NEWS.
There was nothing fanatical about the way the Three Troubadours stated their case, which they claimed to be strictly Orthodox. True, point for point, and to the New Testament, though for me a new way of looking at the New Testament. They regarded it as not so much a set of rulings are arguments by the careful to observance of which one acquired a safe seat in Heaven, but pictures -- “movies” if you will -- or revelations of what was a bound to take place In any age, in any life entirely surrendered to the will of God.
If they were completely surrendered, as the Apostles were surrendered -- with Jesus Christ the Master in every area of their life -- and inspired others to be likewise surrendered, there must be kindred results. In Coleridge’s illuminating words quoted by John Roots, they were out to restore commonplace truths to their first uncommon luster by translating them into action. They were making a film of first-century Christianity by leaving it. Consequently they are inpatient of preaching without practice. Also they stressed witness before argument, my own method of putting over “My Religion” with the help of ten novelists.
Nothing new, but a view which should give them in favour with the great army of non-Christians who defend their pagan living with the time-worn excuse that Christians do not practice their own preaching (as though confessing another’s sin ever excuse one’s own).
But their point about Witness -- which they happily called SHARING -- was new to me, in so far as it concerned University men. True I once inveigled novelists into the witness-ring, but not necessarily a company of University graduates. They defined Sharing as meaning two distinct things -- further definable as Confession and Witness, one readily passing through the other. The former meant the confession to God and also to any person if guided to do so by the Holy Spirit for one’s own release. It might mean talking freely to some Christian man or woman who could be trusted to keep secrets and to give wise counsel as well. Confession to one another was advocated by St. James and practiced by the Ephesians during Paul’s visit to Ephesus. It was practiced by John Wesley’s Holy Club and “love feasts.” Frankness about one’s faults was also good witness to the world, for when Christians confess, Pagans believe.
The ultimate aim of this Sharing was a right relationship with God. According to my three visitors, we are in desperate need of forgiveness; and in the last resort, whatever aids we may use to help us to reach it, we must come to the one place where we stand before God face to face, confessed to Him our sins, and receive the forgiveness which He so freely gives. There is no other way to fullness of life, and in our hearts we know it. Now ideally such confession as this should be made direct to God without the need of any human assistance, receiving God’s forgiveness then and there; obviously, in fact, this happens time and time again.
But in practical experience, and just because we are not ideal, instance after instance could be quoted to show that there are very many who need the help of Sharing with another, so that they may come directly face to face with God. For them Sharing is a practical necessity. Only so do they grasp that reality of their confession, of the God to whom they confess, and of the forgiveness which He bestows. The forgiveness itself does not depend upon the Sharing; its appropriation by the individual constantly does.
In practice it was found that confession one to another in the Scriptural sense was mutually helpful and the only way to true fellowship. It was one of those fundamental truths of life, like Christianity itself, never fully grasped until it was practiced. From its earliest days the Christian Church had been well aware of the value of such confession. Wesley and the modern Anglo-Catholic were at one in this, and in one sense the psycho-analyst, with his splendid technique with based upon exhaustive experiment, was simply bringing scientific proof to what the Church learned long ago under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, though she has often forgotten to practice the lesson.
The other aspect of this teaching was Sharing as Witness. Those who had been spiritually healed themselves had the necessity laid upon them to hand on the good news to others, for it was every Christian’s obligation -- “By all means to save some.” The Bishop of Leicester said a propagating Christian was a normal Christian; unfortunately to-day the propagating Christian was the abnormal.
Again I was skeptical. Perhaps because there were some persons I had no particular desire to see in Heaven.
That telling phrase of the Three Troubadours, “God has a plan for every man’s life, ” came up continually that afternoon. Somewhere I had seen it stated that when each human being was born, the plan of what he could become was made for him in the next world, and one of his joys or sorrows when he went there would come from a comparison of his past with the original plan of his possibilities.
“Not only has God a plan for every life,” said one of the trio, “but when through sin we spoil the plan, God is always ready with another.” This, too, was a new way of looking at things for me. Unfortunately, most of us refused to follow the plan when we saw its, or, if unaware of it, to pray for the plan to be revealed. Our sin of sins, embodying all other sins, was independence towards God; doubting God’s interests in us, that He had a plan for us, that He would show us the plan, and that He would help us to carry out the plan which was the only satisfactory plan for our lives.
Here was strong teaching. There was much that attracted in the argument. But what about those people for whom there seemed no clear plan, or one that miscarried before the person had the chance to ascertain it? What of the unlucky child who had not even learned the plan of the street-crossing near his house and was killed in his happy youth? Was that part of God’s plan for the child? The answer was: It must be left with God. Who could see more than we.
The New Testament answer, as put positively in the case of Peter and John, was, “What is that do thee? Follow thou me.” Nobody could tell what was in God’s plan for that child or if it was thwarted by the human will of child or driver. But death was only an incident, through a terrible accident, in a life which merely began hear and continued “there.”
The Three Troubadours positively asserted that those who attempted to live without God’s plan, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, were as certain to encounter disaster as those living under God’s daily direction were certain of success. Though this success must not be measured by the purely material results of their activities.
My objection to this argument was human nature’s chronic inability to know when it was being guided. To that the Three offered the answer of two-way prayer: petitions and quiet listening for the reply, especially in the morning when preparing for the day’s work.
They call this early morning listening to God “Quiet Time.” The Oxford Group believes God spoke to them when they needed His guidance. I believe it to the possible that nowadays, as In the days of old, there are man to whom the Lord still speaks.
But I felt to such persons were rare, and to that for a group of men and women to listen-in each morning hoping for a clear message from God on how to run their day was to expect a lot more than they would get. My views on this practice modified considerably as knowledge of the Group increased.
They emphasized to that the condition of clear guidance was complete surrender of everything -- will, time, possessions, family, ambitions -- all to God. Christ had said that if we were unwilling to surrender anything wait most valued we could not be His disciples. Not that Kingdom really took away everything we both light, or ask us to do anything most distasteful; often the things we were asked to do were those from whom they were most fitted to do. Nor was surrender always a humiliating leading thing. It meant a handing over of our little in return for God’s All-Sufficiency. Each morning we lost our petty, disordered life to God and found the Real Co-ordinated Life all through the day. Accepting completely the discipline of God brought not bondage, but the fullest freedom to do what we wished -- and that was always the Will love God.
I learned that it was a practice of the Group to keep a guidance-book and record in it those thoughts which came in periods of quiet listening to God. And Angelic bishop had quoted a Chinese proverb in this connection: “The strongest memory is weaker than the palest ink.” The idea was novel, introducing the technique of the lecture-room into practical Christianity; interesting as news, but not convincing unless confirmed by definite results. Otherwise the practice bordered on the comic. Yet bishops were actually keeping guidance-books, and I, too, had received from supernatural sources (as I suppose) a remarkably successful religious series. “Through guidance,” said the Three.
As our interview developed I elicited news of more interesting aspects of the movement -- just those unusual human things a journalist is always seeking, even when investigating a spiritual subject. Reaching back into the first century for their standards of Christian fellowship, they were ready to scrap any later practices they believe redundant or old-fashioned, and to substitute the earliest customs or something that met modern needs. They did that much of their work through house-parties, where the visitors shared their religious experiences and drew close to God.
was a good head-line, I thought!
Whether intentionally or not, I quickly saw they were working on the lines of true journalism; for one thing, they unerringly sensed the value of the very oldest and the very newest. Yet they are amazingly orthodox, holding sometimes by paradox even the interest of the heterodox. And the so far no journalist had completely uncovered and they real genius. I wondered why.
They were even so orthodox as to believe that everyone, parson as well as prodigal, must at some time come to himself, must experience the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ. In short, the Cross was central and teaching. At the Cross man reached a turning-point when he decided to live as God directed and guided instead of according to his own human standards. Old-fashioned evangelicals called it conversion, but through misuse that word had for many minds lost its original potency, and so they preferred the simpler word “Change.” As Hugh Redwood has it: they were out to change lives on a colossal scale as the one solution of every world problem.
Those who sought to change others were called “Life-Changers” instead of evangelists. While they paid tribute to much that was done by the old-time evangelists, they felt the new age required different words and perhaps less music to galvanize the religious interest. They believed that such phrases as “Are you saved?” were unintelligible to the average man. That the potency of such phrases vanished with a dead age. So did I. They also wished to break free from some of the mass efforts of old-fashioned revivalism. They had much evidence that men and women could be changed effectively without the emotionalism and the noise of a former day.
In fact, they believed in orthodoxy galvanized into new life in modern conditions. Just the same old Christianity, but one so intelligently phrased and sensibly though uncompromisingly presented that it became a fresh challenge to a Pagan world, still almost as far from God as in the days of the disciples.
As Christianity ones will again a minority movement, they believed there it was about time for the Church militant to show a bit of real militancy. My visiting trio made it clear that such a message as theirs must of necessity be both uncompromising and challenging, and so convincing that once more the agnostic would turn to God. They knew opposition would come, and were ready for it. You could never approved a challenge as you could approve the minutes of the last meeting. You had to accept the challenge to go all out for a maximum experience of Christ in the manner of the early Apostles, or you had to dodge it or put It out of the way. That was why a challenging Christ was crucified. The Oxford Group did not expect to be crucified, but they did expect to be strenuously opposed by those who were afraid are unwilling to respond to the challenge. It was inevitable. They challenged the world to turn back to God, to cut out sin, to make restitution for past sins, and to let God take full command of every area of life, just as the early disciples challenged the world.
Such a challenge must this being conscienses. The stung conscience either surrendered are endeavored to sting back. Man under conviction of sin might do anything. This challenge stung Christians as well as Pagans, parsons as well as prodigals. Christians were challenged to be filled with the Spirit and overflowing in love towards their fellow-men so as to change them. Most Christians were unwilling to accompany Christ in His search for the lost lambs, the normal duty and privilege of every child of God. Christians mostly preferred social service to the saving of souls. It was less intimate, more snobbish, socially more correct. While the Group practiced social service, they felt man’s deepest need was not money, but God, for those who truly sought first the Kingdom of Heaven had all other necessary things added unto them. That was their own experience. Men and women were keenly hungry for the true God, who was more ready to manifest Himself to them and they do seek Him.
The work of life-changing was never more necessary than now. Anyone who was pure in the sight of God could become a life-changer. There was no joy In life so great as leading a prodigal home to his Heavenly Father, always half-way down the road to meet him. Men who really had the indwelling presence of God did not need urging to become life-changers; they were naturally so joyous they had to express their enjoy in changing others.
Life-changing was contagious. And it was more effective nowadays than ever before. The greatest piece of social service a man could do in his generation was to change a man into a life-changer. But how? -- seeing that Christianity was again a minority movement. The Group had learned more of the How than a past generations seemed to know or had the necessity for knowing. In their Schools of Life they taught how to avoid saying and doing clumsy things, as Christ also taught His disciples. And always there was a guiding presence of the Holy Spirit to assist and overrule the teaching.
The best answer to the How of both sinner and potential Life-Changer was the Group custom of Sharing. Changed man might go wrong in trying to change others by arguments, but they were on safe ground in recounting their own experiences as the Apostles recounted theirs. Paul’s method of founding a church was to start with this story of his own change. The Group did the same.
The extraordinary fact was that, in an age when, so far as I knew, converts to Christianity were practically nil in the churches, the Oxford Group were continually witnessing men and women being changed into a highly-vitalised Christians. Some of the changes were real modern miracles: big sinners, key-men, intellectuals, aristocrats and commoners alike. Not emotional decisions, as witnessed in some of the old-fashion mass-revivals, but decisions taken in quiet heart-to-heart talks as a result of tactful personal evangelism by educated men and women courageously accepting, as they did two thousand years ago, the high challenge to give themselves completely to the cause of Christ, and telling their own experience of their indwelling Master.
SEX AND MONDAY
My Three Troubadours now announced something which held for me still stronger news interests. They affirmed that most persons -- parsons and prodigals alike -- were facing two cardinal problems for which they possessed the solution -- Sex and Money. They sat in the Manager’s room of a great London newspaper and coolly asserted that to be true. What journalist with his ears wide open for public interest could help wanting to no more?
A tonic band of people who could produce the answer to those two problems, or even thought a could, need worry about little else in the matter of news interests. They had the world waiting.
What were the solutions? They became more interesting and convincing later. My visitors recognized the sex-instinct to be God-given, and while they did not condone any perversion of thought or word or deed, they knew the real problem was not one of suppression, but sublimation.
“What exactly do you mean by sublimation?”
It was something which used sex energy for a higher purpose while producing complete satisfaction. Sublimation (according to Dr. Hadfield’s definition) was the process by which instinctive emotions were diverted from their original ends, and re-directed to purposes satisfying to the individual and of value to the community.
There is no sex problem, they affirmed, nor indeed any problem, when It was surrendered to God. The desire for sin disappeared with the will to obey God. Purity was possible through a cleansing stream of spiritual life which followed a genuine change. As Christ was real and Christ’s Spirit was real, there was no danger of fulfilling the lusts of the flesh when walking in the Spirit. This was psychologically explained as the expulsive power of a new affection.
Good theological and psychological stuff. But how could that satisfy sex hunger? I was to get the answer later.
Then we settled down to discuss the eternal problem of every household. How did the Group propose to solve the money problem? To relieve the anxiety of every housewife, dreading to open a letter which might be just another bill? The Three Troubadours smiled their confidence, for they were solving these problems every day.
“By faith and Prayer.”
Was that old stuff the best the new religious movement spreading out from Oxford had to offer?
They said flatly it was.
That Faith and Prayer did not pay bills.
They differed. They knew what they were talking about, for thirty or forty in the Group were living on that basis.
“What! Trust in God and do nothing else?”
Not at all. Laziness Is a sin. The Group taught that God would guide and provide, but God did not guide healthy, active people to be lazy. Changed man named better word than before they were changed: they wasted less energy and they received extra power from the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the Group did not urge anyone to live on the Faith and Prayer basis, though everyone might have to do so at some time. And I must remember that the Sermon on the Mount was a practical proposition to-day as always. Still the old Faith, but Faith and uncompromising action. Here was news once more -- out of dear old Oxford! For a long time I had wanted to meet a bunch of Christians faithful enough and divinely courageous enough to believe and live the Sermon on Mount, expecting thereby everything needful to be added unto them.
Once, at the request of a millionaire, I evolved the dummy first issue of a new religious weekly: a paper that was to take England by storm because It would offer the solution of every housewife’s main problem -- how to keep her larder stocked with life’s necessaries.
The Sermon on the Mount was to me that editorial policy. Week by week we would tell our readers in a variety of brightly written and up-to-date articles the one simple truth, that if they would seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness all other things would be added unto them; their houses would stand when winds blew and floods came because they were founded on a rock.
There were many other ideas for this new type of religious journal, but on that foundation the publication would be constructed. My millionaire backer asked me to call and expound my views on the project. Together we paced the Green Park, with Birmingham Palace on one side and Piccadilly on the other, and thrashed out the prospects of a new religious paper -- millionaire and a practical journalist discussing how we could sell security to the British public on the strength of “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God . . . and all these things shall be added unto you.”
“If we can put this paper over as we only comprehensive solution of the bread-and-butter problem, which it truly is, we shall have a two sensational success,” I argued, assured that anyone who had the courage to try the Sermon on the Mount would find it on astonishingly practical. He rather liked the idea. He was impressed with the title. He flirted with the proposition. Presently he began to doubt.
“Isn’t Christianity really Bolshevism?” He asked.
“Bolshevism grabs other people’s possessions. Christ says give away your own.”
Why I said that I don’t know. He stopped in amused astonishmtheent, turned full towards me and demanded, “Is that your answer?”
I said it was, and thought it true. We continued our discussion, but the religious journal never materialised. We examined those already established, and the prospects of an adventure in religious journalism did not look encouraging. My proposal was shelved. Perhaps he was right. Yet I was sure that was about the only type of newspaper which would thrive on depression. I have still a hankering to found that new religious journal, which shall bear the title SECURITY. Unless a wealthy backer comes along soon I may have to found it on Faith and Prayer.
And now here were three young religious adventurers bringing me the same thought, telling me that two of them had lived for a long time on Faith and Prayer without asking anyone for money. Confirmation of two convictions: that life on Faith and Prayer was really possible, and that news interest was plentiful in this Group. I pressed the Faith and Prayer men for stories of their experiences. How often to had they gone hungry? No, they had never gone hungry, said Garrett Stearly, who added that mine was the typical question of the newspaper man. John Roots had been reduced to his last shilling in South Africa, but unexpectedly funds came unasked from his brother just when the situation was becoming desperate. One of the ladies in the Group, and Eleanor Forde, had got down to her last penny, but she prayed, and found a cheque in her mail the next morning.
Doubtless this was the ideal life for a believing Christian to live, but a little too jumpy for a married man with wife and children to care for. I preferred a balance in the bank. Better for the nerves. Even though I had been ready to produce a newspaper to show the British public how to support themselves by the Sermon on the Mount. My visitors added that one could keep a family on Faith and Prayer just as well as oneself. The principal was the same. Garrett Stearly and his wife both lived in that way. And of course the immortal George Muller of Bristol had maintained a vast family some two thousand strong, three meals a day, and two suits it each for fifty years, starting with a shilling, and never making a request for a penny.
“Don’t you ever ask for many?” I queried.
Their guidance, said the trio, had been against asking for money. If anyone asked, he was informed of the basis on which they lived, and money offered was gratefully accepted. Those in the Group would sometimes share their needs with each other, as well as their religious experiences and their goods, for they were all one great spiritual family. It once suffered, they all suffered.
The more they talked the more convinced was I there was something brand new about these men, even though they claimed nothing more than primitive Christianity. Their movement might be first century, but it bristled with talking-points. They were not an organisation, for there was no membership; not a sect, for they were interdenominational; not really a new movement, for they were but a continuation of early Christian fellowship; not a church, but aiming at an inner spiritual fellowship in all churches. They settled into my mind as not a noun at all. They were a verb, the verb “to be.” An action! Really a life! They were out to end the twentieth century in a way the first began -- by living the life and by telling stories of other persons who were doing the same. Just as they did in that Acts of the Apostles when Christianity was first projected across the footlights into the darkness of a pagan civilization.
They were also against controversies. “We don’t argue,” said Garrett Stearly, “we leave conviction to the Holy Spirit.”
A battalion of M.A.’s and B.A.’s, with no desire to argue the truths of their convictions anymore then Christ argued His case before Pilot, or Paul before Agrippa! I disagreed with their attitude at sight. But I could see that the Group practice of not arguing their views might be right, seeing that the Holy Spirit gave conviction, even at Christ’s silence before a Pilate was right. Yet there was a time for speech and a time for silence about sacred as well as about secular things, and I preferred argument and so long as I had doubts. Silence might be anything -- sometimes golden, sometimes gilt, and sometimes guilt. To say they just accepted the New Testament and lived it, or tried to, seemed inadequate. My Three Troubadours answered that Christ and Paul thought otherwise. Further, there was no rigidity about anything they did, as the Holly Spirit might over-rule and change plans, as Paul was sometimes over-ruled and re-directed in other directions.
“But how are you going to convince the man who disbelieves the New Testament?”
I guessed what the answer would be, for it was my own answer to the skeptic. I had found it in the Gospel of St. John and in my own religious experience. My three visitors said that if one honestly tried to carry out the teaching of Scripture, one knew miraculously of the doctrine whether It was of God or other man. The Holy Spirit was the Teacher. I believed that myself. In my spiritual egotism, I thought I was about the only one left who did, or had practical experience of “the witness of the Spirit.”
But I still prepared to argue the reason of my belief as best I could: not to remain dumb on the debatable point.
They said it would be better for me to tell my own experience and let the Holy Spirit argue within the other person, as He did in the first century. If Christianity is real, that argument seemed unanswerable.
In their emphasis on knowing through doing intrigued me considerably. In fact, I once contemplated writing a religious novel around the title “You shall know,” keeping as the solution of the mystery the plain teaching of Scripture that certitude can be miraculously discovered by obedience to known truth, which was quite scientific. The Group said that arguments would never save souls. One theological Professor said that the intellectual arguments for God and against God were about evenly balanced. There was not sufficient margin of theological proof to galvanise a man into action. He needed the proof in himself, and the scientific way to get that proof was to make the experiment. Those who obeyed Christ’s teaching knew miraculously of the doctrine, through the witness of the Holy Spirit.
It was difficult to make the schoolboy with no use for love understand that in adolescence he would change his mind; it was just as difficult to convince an unbeliever that by obedience to Christ’s teaching he would have the proof in himself that Christ was the Image and the Word of God.
When talking too late Arnold Bennett about his agnostic contribution, I suggested that he could easily discover the truth of Christianity for himself in this simple way if he chose. I think I said that a fortnight’s intensive practice of the Sermon on the Mount would provide ample proof. “A.B.” gave a start as though a fresh idea had come to him from a surprising quarter. Then he crooked to his forefinger and that odd way he had and shook it decisively.
“Not for me,” he said.
His religion was kindliness.
And now I was discussing the theme again with three modern young men, who are advocating the same ideas as I, but leading a movement to convince the world by those same simple pragmatical means. As they sat in my office that afternoon, I felt they carried a large measure of proof faces. With no argument to justify their belief but their own life, they appeared to have achieved a measure of Christian certitude and Christian radiance far greater than I, though I was treated as the expert on this subject by two important London newspapers.
Again I wondered why. Was it because they had gone all out to win the great game, or because they had not encountered such adverse odds? Perhaps they had found some secret knack of keeping out of the rough, and always driving straight down the fairway. Its so, what was it? They said, “Absolute surrender In all areas to God.” Had I done this? Evidently not.
One had to be honest in sizing up these fellows sitting in his room. Regard them as one would -- the Saints, adventurers, fanatic us, anachronisms -- unquestionably they possessed a good deal more than the ordinary cultured human animal. I had met crowds of the charming unregenerate type. And through many unpleasant experiences I had reached the stage of suspecting everybody until the contrary was proved.
What was there about these fellows which seemed to prove their claim? The answer must again be -- News. My Three Troubadours said it was the natural by-product of true fellowship, which included the most ruthless Sharing. Honest Sharing among surrendered Christians tended to produce the Apostolic glow which Christ left on the faces of him His disciples.
To retain this glow, the principal of Stewardship must also faithfully be remembered: stewardship of time, lands, money, houses, things, family relationships, sex relationships -- in fact, of everything possessed. It might mean giving your time in a Sunday School are helping In your neighbor’s garden if he were too ill or too poor to pay for help. It might mean changing the theme of your novel or modifying you’re attitude towards close or food or drink. It might mean surrendering to God the entire royalties of a play or book, as Hugh Redwood did with his fine story God in the Slums. A great act of stewardship, for the royalties were considerable. The only thing about the book which Hugh Redwood did not give away was the excellent title, which, he told me, was the inspiration of a leader in the Salvation Army. God in the Shadows, the title of its still better successes are, was his own happy Idea.
My visitors explained that stewardship embodied the final answer to those two materialistic philosophies now holding sway -- one, that prosperity is the supreme value of life; and two, that the wealth is necessarily evil and poverty virtuous. The Gospel taught neither of these philosophies, but everything belonged to God, who asks His children to handle wisely His own property according to His wishes and guidance -- the true Christian answer to Communism, and one more complete than mine when I said that “Bolshevism grabs other people’s property, but Christ says give away your own.”
The doctrine seemed to sound. Again there was nothing new in theory, all make in practice. But what would a wife, husband, children, parents say when they watched the responsible person giving away possessions with the excuse of doing it as a steward of God? The Group said that one would give under guidance and that God was more interested in the needs of everyone we were Interested in than we were, and that was why the principle of stewardship was necessary. And a changed man or changed woman would probably have a changed wife or husband. In any case, we would invite the others views.
Pondering these principles, I seemed to be returning to where I was with that projected new religious Journal, only -- that journal was to be a consolation to the worried masses of impecunious England, while this uncompromising Group were becoming a challenge to myself.
I was certainly getting the hang of what they Oxford Group were after. First, there was absolute Surrender, bringing Guidance by the Holy Spirit; then there was Sharing, bringing true Fellowship and shining faces; then Life-Changing, bringing in God’s Kingdom and Joy, in Heaven, in the Sinner, and in the Life-changer; then Faith and Prayer, bringing all things needful and helping toward God’s plan to provide for everybody; also those four standards of Love, Honesty, Purity and Usefulness, on which Christ had never compromised; and, of course, Restitution. Later I was to understand perhaps the strongest principle of all -- Fearless Dealing with Sin. Meanwhile, there were two other principles easier to swallow -- Team-work and Loyalty.
Jesus practiced team-work, said my callers. He and His disciples were a team. He sent His representatives out, not singly, but in twos and threes. After His Ascension the disciples moved about the Roman Empire in small traveling groups. They were doing the same. Great movements had lost their driving force because the principle of team-work was misunderstood. Founders wanted to gather all power into their own hands and retain it, oblivious to the truth that the Spirit bloweth where it listeth. No person can have a monopoly of the Holy Spirit. At some times men are more spiritual land at other times. Men grow and grace, but they declined sometimes in grace. The discipline of team-work irons out human eccentricities. Truth is presented more adequately through a team then through one individual. Half a dozen men recording to their religious experiences cause more heart-searching and conviction than one man giving Christian advice.
Again reality was put before theory; life-interest before head-interest. In the language of Fleet Street, News took precedence over Views.
Then there was the principle of Loyalty. First there must be supreme loyalty to Jesus Christ, but that involved lesser loyalties as well. Those who were being used by Jesus Christ deserved loyal support from those who professed Jesus Christ -- a true welcome enough in theory, though not always so gladly received in practice. It was a strange phenomenon that so many professing Christians could be so disloyal to those trying to live in loyalty to Christ.
Above all, the Group was a Fellowship -- a first-century Christian Fellowship controlled by the Holy Spirit. And it was remarkable how the guidance received by different persons in the Group, when pieced together, made a perfect pattern, showing that the Master Mind of the Spirit was actively at work behind the scenes, not of the Group only, but everywhere that room was made for Him. That exquisite Fellowship of the Spirit, so often talked about, and so little understood, was actually being realised. All barriers in such a fellowship were broken down by loving understanding, leading to greater depths of human experience, more happiness and abiding peace man was otherwise obtainable in human association. That was why their faces shown.
Because the Holy Spirit was the real head of this Fellowship, “Frank” did not arrogate to himself full control. When guided, he would preside at Group meetings. When guided, he would leave the leadership to another. Sometimes he would be seen at the back of the room listening to his colleagues whom he was training for leadership, occasionally breaking in with a quick, clarifying phrase when a difficult question came up. As at Oxford when someone asked the Group leader if she should confess all her faults to somebody, “Frank” interpolated, “Not necessarily. But everyone should be willing to do so if guided by the Holy Spirit.” The decision rests with oneself -- always.
The Group’s emphasis on Loyalty brought home to me one of the faults of my youth when, attending a Church meeting, I presumed to criticize a minister much older than myself and none too happy language. The Group said Loyalty was particularly necessary towards those more experienced in Christian living. And yet even with this point firmly recognized, they encouraged “checking” faults among themselves, in the spirit of loving fellowship, and not allowed to degenerate into the sin of fault-finding. A newcomer to the Christian experience might see a glaring fault in one long on the way. For him outspokenly to condemn the fault before he had earned the right by loving, solicitous fellowship would be sheer presumption.
Undo possessiveness of husband towards wife, or wife towards husband, was condemned by the Group. Either should be free to do as either felt right, for the marriage relationship was not between two, but between three. Just as the advent of a third human being as a competitive factor produced the Eternal Human Triangle for the wrecking of marriages, so the advent of the Third, Jesus Christ, into the home, the non-competitive-guiding factor, requiring each to act towards the other according to God’s standards, produced a new Eternal Triangle which saved marriages from ruin and established the ideal human partnership on earth.
Excellent and theory. But could all this Idealism work? It could and did, the Three asserted. Groups were coming into existence in many places, in many countries: England, Scotland, Holland, Germany, India, South Africa, China, Egypt, Switzerland, North and South America. And South Africa it had taken not in the dimensions of a National movement. As far as possible, the Group were making their challenge through the Churches, and had the sympathetic interest of the Archbishops, and other Angelica and Nonconformist church dignitaries. They were urging Christians, congregations and clergy a like, to expel sin from their midst, as the Apostles did too, stressing the need of surrender entirely to God, and to trust His guidance and support in every circumstance and vicissitude of life. Emphatically were they against being another religious “order” or “cult,” or “sect” or “organisation.” They wished to be an inner church in all churches, irrespective of the domination, or the deepening of spiritual life within Christ’s body and for the carrying of Christianity to its logical and practical limits. In fact, a power-house within and without the churches for encouraging everyone to have a complete experience of Jesus Christ.
There were Groups meeting in churches, Universities, and numerous private homes in many parts of the world. And Johannesburg one Group met in a fire-station. My meeting informally anywhere (not getting church hours) they reached to people who were interested in religion but unready to attend formal church services. Their house-parties where an exhilaration, an astonishingly successful religious advance wherever they were held. No attempt was being made to organize the Groups springing up here, there and everywhere. None would be made. Each group was a separate unit linked to the others only by the Holy Spirit. Their only organization was the great historic churches. These were ample for the Group to worship in as they felt led. Hear they found their theology and their preaching. There could never be a series of Group churches. Is Group thrived, so much the better for the churches in the neighbourhood. If the Group died, that was unfortunate, but only a repetition of what sometimes happened in early Christianity. . . .
Before leaving, my Three Troubadours of God told me they had booked a tourist passage on the Europa, saying the following day for New York. And they had just sufficient money left to cover extras of the voyage and get them safely back to their destination. As for the future, they had no fear. Money would come as it came in the past if they continued to pray and obey. At my Invitation they made a selection from my book-case, tactfully choosing one of my own stories and the life-story of George Mueller of Bristol. Departing, they left me a copy of Life-Changers, by Herald Begbie, which took some remarkable stories of lives transformed by “Frank’s” efforts.
As I returned to my room, one of them dashed Yes to back to invite my wife and myself to their farewell-two-England dinner that night in the Chinese Restaurants in Piccadilly Circus. There we received our first lesson in the use of chop-sticks from members of the Oxford Group who had lived in China and had learned some of the ways of the Orient. A jolly meal it was. “God-guided” life-changers joked, told good stories of their adventures, introduced us to some novel dishes and gave us and entertaining evening.
With Fleet Street’s atmosphere of awareness and suspicion clinging thick about me, I felt I had struck a note of fellowship an octave higher than normal. Too good to last! One would soon descend from that ethereal state of Apostolic fellowship into materialism and mutual mistrust. Then I should discover the snap in the new teaching -- just where the catch was hidden. Most men of the world looked for the catch on the door of them money-box. When the waiter brought our bill, there was a smart to catch. Garrett Stearly grabbed the bill and paid. So their faith and prayer were strong enough to provide for two guests as well as for themselves.
When returning later to Brown’s, I first detected a possible catch. Garrett Stearly and I were discussing varieties of religious experience, and I, rather puzzled, mentioned one or two curiously ecstatic occurrences in my own life, once when studying the Bible, and several times afterwards, during periods of crises. I remember saying that these joyous experiences had ceased with me, and I could not understand the reason. That gave him an opening which he promptly took. Was it possible that I was allowing sin to wall me off from God? Then he quietly hinted that we should need to touch deeper reaches of fellowship before he could give me any helpful advice.
“Hello!” I thought. “Here, then, is the catch in the movement! Here is a man I have known only ten minutes suggesting there is something wrong with my spiritual inside and wanting me to confess the facts. Quite premature, my lad.” Sharing was all right in theory as outlined to me that afternoon. It was a very different thing as practice. “Never tell all you know,” was the sage was a sage counsel once given me by a Scottish girl, which I now remembered. I decided on caution. One never knew. We continued our walk round the block, while I informed him rather guardedly that I knew of nothing particular in my life which might explain this hiatus in God-consciousness.
Garrett Stearly gave no expression of relief or belief. On the contrary, I sensed a mute incredulity in his emanations. “Which means,” I thought, “that you will want me to confess all my short comings to you, a man two-thirds my age. Including those occasional slips which, because you would not understand the circumstances, you might harshly label sin.” So I persisted in declaring there was nothing wrong, omitting to say I was not quite sure about it.
Moreover, there was another reason. I wished to chat with Frank when he came back from South America on a Christian-to-Christian basis. There must be none of the penitent-to-priest attitude about this interview. To disclose a few past sins to one of his friends might, so far as I then knew, be putting the unknown Frank in the position of advantage. Even if my life had not been hundred per cent. perfection, it had been lived for many years on a higher level than before, perhaps higher than that of the average Christian. I felt that was not me or egotism, but simple truth. As for the slips, they were explainable and even excusable. Though I was still not quite sure about them. Anyway, they were no concern of these young fellows, clean and charming though they were, or with my thoughts to link our paper and our movements for our mutual interest.
And it was perfect, anyway? I asked myself. Nevertheless, I wanted to put a long period between past imperfections and my meeting with the legendary Frank, so that if he did challenge me I could say quite honestly I was living his kind of life. Of course, I could say so at any time, whether true or not. In my early days as a journalist I had told more than one lie to secure a good story. Only -- lying was a peccadillo I had long sentence contrived to master.
During the interval which elapsed before I met Frank I was also successful in keeping those other graver faults which were defeating me under control. But you shall hear later how ineffective this trick of the conscience proved to be.
As Gaof the onerrett and I walked on and talked on it, the sex problem suddenly reappeared, as it had done in the afternoon. I wanted a definition of the Group’s view about absolute purity.
I had heard it argued that immorality was excusable in certain circumstances. What of two persons in love with each other and each unhappily mated to an unfaithful partner? What about the one who had an erring partner yet disbelieve the day and divorce? What of the scientific contention that certain types of men and women could never mate, and so must develop wanderlust if they married to the wrong type? Blood tests might even prove that two persons were absolutely incompatible. If a person married one of those incompatible types in some moment of blind love or uncontrolled passion, no amount of compromise could ever make that marriage a melting success. Both were doomed to incompatibility for life, since for such Christianity had still the empty message “Grin and bear it.” To my mind, common sense and human nature joined in revolt against this inhuman creed.
Garrett Sternly said sex had to be surrendered to God. One of the test questions of true surrender was: Am I prepared to let Christ master my sex life entirely?
Than that, I thought, would be a staggerer for Fleet Street.
He reintroduced the thought of sublimation. He sought to lift one to a higher plane of thought, to where (he seemed to think) the freedom of instinct and the restraints of conscience merged into liberty and complete satisfaction: to a level in the realm of grace which I did not believe in, though it was commonly taught in Christianity.
He told me an amazing story, insisting that it was true, of a husband and wife whose seemingly insuperable marital problem was straightened out by the Group message. The husband had suffered injury which took sex completely out of his life. The wife was young, gay and restless. She attended lively reckless parties to balance her barren life at home. Their home-life was about finished when they came under the influence of the Group. Instead of urging a divorce -- the natural thing to do, I thought -- the Group advised the complete submission of the problem to God’s guidance. This advice was accepted, and clear guidance came to the wife to accept a situation, not resignedly as a sacrifice, but cheerfully as a means of grace consistent with God’s plan. So for her, as well as for her husband, the problem was entirely removed from her life. Yet there was no sense of deprivation, for the sex instinct had been sublimated to a higher level of satisfaction on which truly happy souls had lived in all ages. Sex discontent had vanished through the expulsive power of a higher affection.
There were several answers I could have given to the story, for I was very sceptical. I expressed doubts as to her real happiness.
“She is perfectly happy,” affirmed Garrett. “They both are.”
One had no doubts about the husband. This sublimation idea had solved for him every husband’s problem of keeping a restless wife at home contented. From his standpoint it was a satisfactory, if selfish, solution. I felt he should have urged her to seek divorce. That would have breathed the true spirit of on selfishness.
“She loved him,” said Garrett. “God’s guidance, her love and Christian teaching were all against divorce.”
“But human nature is still human nature. And a wife craves for a child.”
Those may not have been the exact words, but they convey the thoughts we expressed or were in our minds. And all the time the young troubadour refused to be moved from his high standard. One wondered what would happen to this sex-mad world if someone who really believed sublimation was a practical possibility could preach so simply and convincingly that others believe it too. The streets of our cities free from solicitation, from men leering at every passing opportunity. Women no longer eternally brushed aside the sex-laden overtures of men. Genuine friendship between the sexes at last. Sex wiles eliminated from every social gathering. Ended the eternal comedy of pursuing men and pursued women.
Of course churches preached sublimation when they mentioned sex at all. But I thought few virile persons ever willingly or consistently practiced it. This way of treating sex was all very well for the naturally stoical or weaklings, but not for red-blooded, vital men and women of the world whom the Group were out to win. Further, I felt rather sorry for the lady described by Garrett Stearly, for she must have settled down to a very bleak sort of married existence.
God’s troubadour again disagreed. He was a married man. He understood the problem. He told further of a lawyer who had been in the habit of making large fees for divorce cases, but was now spending more effort privately showing his clients God’s way to settle their quarrels, and with more success than he achieved In his divorce court practice.
Bad for legal business, but good for the Kingdom of Heaven! And as he was doing God’s will instead of his own will, even if he lost some good fees, he was not injuring his true interests, since God’s will for a man was always the best. Garrett argued doggedly. Fine, lofty teaching. Idealistic and intriguing, and definitely challenging.
I went back to think. How to adapt this extraordinary Group to a new religious series? If these people were right, then we were the newspaper to report their activities. So I thought at that time. I settled down to read Life-Changers, and to delve deeper into the origins, the arguments and the case histories of this remarkable movement.
Frank is a unique character. The story of how his own life was changed, is told by Harold Begbie in Life-Changers, is an absorbing an inspiring narrative. Frank is a character who grows on you -- in a book, and life. After the first chapter you want to meet him. When you meet him you may have reason to wish you hadn’t. But if you remove the reason you will find Frank still there and that you have obtained release from spiritual defeat.
Life-Changers is now in its fourteenth edition. I learned from the publisher, who was well pleased with the sales, that the movement is growing strongly. Though I never met Harold Begbie, the author, I knew him to be a man of fine character and, from his writings, a clever journalist. He was engaged by our powerful rival to write a series of articles to answer our runaway “My Religion” feature. I thought to the series dull. Instead of writing about the new religious movement that Oxford, he contributed a series describing the modern attitude towards God. I have since thought that are rival had in its office the best possible answer to “My Religion” and allowed it to slip through non--recognition. And now, seven years later, the movement had come my way.
Harold Begbie scored several successes before he wrote Life-Changers, in including (so everyone said) Mirrors of Downing Street, a collection of piquant sketches of the man from King George V during the Great War, but hiding his authorship under a pen-name “A Gentlemen with a Duster.” One or two celebrities received a sever ”dusting-down,” possibly not altogether deserved, from the “Gentlemen with a Duster.” I knew some of them.
Not so the founder of the Oxford Group. Begbie, at Frank’s request, masked the name of his hero under the initials “F. B.,” whom he portrayed with a master’s skill. “In appearance,” said Begbie, “F. B. is a young-looking man of middle life, tall, upright, stoutish, clean-shaven, spectacled, with that mien scrupulous shampooed and almost medical cleanliness or freshness which is so characteristic of the hygienic American.”
He might have added, “Which is so characteristic of everyone of the Oxford Group,” as I discovered later when traveling with a well-dressed team, whose leader ran an appraising (or critical) eye over every one of us each time we swung into his orbit.
Frank is still as scrupulous as ever over his appearance. He has a tidy mind and dislikes untidiness at all times. “His carriage and his gestures,” said Begbie, “are distinguished by an invariable alertness. He never droops, he never slouches. You find him in the small hours of the morning with the same quickness of eye and the same athletic erectness of body which seemed to bring a breeze into a breakfast-room. A few men so quiet and restrained exhale a spirit of such contagious well-being.
“A crisp accent marks his speech, and is richly noticeable only when he makes use of colloquialisms. The voice is a low but vigorous, with a sincere ring of friendliness and good-humor -- the same friendliness and good-humor which are characteristic of his manners. He strikes one on meeting as a warm-hearted and very happy man, who can never know what it is to be either physically tired or mentally bored.”
Then the writer strikes the happiest off all descriptions of Frank. “I am tempted to think,” says he, “that if Mr. Pickwick had given birth to a son and that son had emigrated to America in boyhood he would have been not unlike this amiable and friendly surgeon of souls. Fuller acquaintance of ’F. B.’ brings to one’s mind the knowledge that in spite of his boyish cheerfulness he is of the house and lineage of all true mystics from Plotinus to Tolstoy.”
Several odd experiences of my own (as I had mentioned to Garrett Stearly) had induced me to believe that I possessed something of the mystical quality; that “My Region” had come to me in the true mystical way. That made me all the more anxious to meet him.
Frank was baptised in infancy, and later confirmed, without any special religious experience to make the location particularly memorable. But illuminating crises were to come in his life from the time when he was training for the ministry, ardently desiring to make converts and puzzled at his ineptitude, on through humiliating change and mystical enlightenment to extraordinary triumphs among surely the most difficult material of Great Britain -- the undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge.
The first serious crisis came in Frank’s life when a fellow-student at Mount Airy Seminary, Philadelphia, accused him of ambition. This accusation smote him is severely, indeed chose the most difficult quarter of Philadelphia for his initial labors. The invitation to his first church was not without humour. It said, ”The question of salary must for the time the left be unstated.” Meaning there could be no stated salary, because all the money collected for the non-existent church was seventeen dollars, mostly in pennies. But someone gave a new corner shop, and this, under Frank’s vigorous direction, grew speedily into the Church of the Good Shepherd. The locality was residential, but the hierarchy of the place were already well looked after when Frank arrived, so he decided to provide for the spiritual requirements of their servants, who had no shepherd. He set out to collect a congregation by ringing the door-bells of the big houses and getting into spiritual communication with the butlers and the housemaids, with such great success that more than one employer remarked to Frank at dinner that he had to remain friendly with him to keep the cook.
The Church of the Good to Shepherd flourished, and there grew out from it a hospice for young men which developed Into a community of hospices spreading through other cities. After that Frank founded a Settlement House on the lines of Toynbee Hall, though differently Christian, which reached to several hundred persons. Frank still gravitates to this house whenever he returns to America.
Experience with the younger generation at the hospice taught Frank how to handle the grown-ups; especially never to lose his temper, as no one was likely to pick it up. From a child he learned later never to laugh at other people’s faults (“You are just as funny yourself”). Frank’s secret of getting boys up early on Sunday mornings was not to scold but to announce there would be pancakes on the table at nine sharp. After that all were down on time, some before time.
Sometimes boys drawn from the streets went back to the gutter again, or would disappear for days, perhaps to be found in the peanut gallery of some cheap theatre waiting for their stolen show to begin. These prodigals were welcomed home in New Testament style.
And now Frank had trouble. Both hospice and settlement were under the same control -- a committee of clergy and laity. After five years there came a clash, bringing about the second big crisis in Frank’s life, and leading presently to the establishment of the Oxford Group movement. The business committee were strong on balancing the budget, as business committees always are. Sometimes the budget would not balance -- when the young folks were numerous income three. So the Committee requested Frank to reduce the rations. The spirit of Oliver Twist stirred within Frank, who resented the order, and nursed ill-will against the six persons who were dominating him in this respect.
“Here,” he frankly admits, “I’ve failed. I said the Committee were behaving badly. Yet my work had become my idol. All I should have done was to resign and let it go at that. Right in my conviction, I was wrong in harbouring ill-well. I left and came abroad, my health badly affected by overwork. En route I had a vision of ‘Care’ in Horace’s Ode, following be on a charger, always just behind. I could almost hear the horses’ hoofs and feel their breath in the back of my neck.
“Traveling through Italy, and other parts of the Continent, I found my way back to England, and so up to Keswick, where a convention was in progress. And their something happened! Something for which I shall always be grateful.”
That experience was the miracle which changed Frank’s course of life and started a new religious movement that may achieve anything. True to tradition, the miracle did not happen at the big convention, or at some important church service addressed by a notable preacher. Again the old story of dipping in Jordan instead of the spectacular plunge into Abanah or Pharpar, rivers of Damascus. Although Frank attended church regularly, he was satisfied with a rather slim diet, and found comfort in a quotation in a recent sermon he had heard: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” His life had become a big “I” Self at the centre of the picture! The refined sin which the average person condones while it walls him off from power.
A tiny village church. A tiny congregation. A special afternoon meeting. The speaker -- a woman! No thunder, no lightning, no cloud, no supernatural voice, but a simple, straight-forward, conversational talk to a gathering of about seventeen persons, including Frank. The woman speaker spoke about the Cross of Christ, of this sinner and the One who had made full satisfaction for the sins of the world.
“A doctrine which I knew as a boy,” says Frank, “which my church believed, which I had always been taught and which that day became a great reality for me. I had entered at the little church with a divided will, nursing pride, selfishness, ill-will, which prevented me from functioning as a Christian minister should. The woman’s simple talk personalised the Cross for me that day, and suddenly I had a poignant vision of the Crucified.
“There was infinite suffering on the face of the Master, and I realised for the first time the great abyss separating myself from Him. That was all. But it produced in me a vibrant feeling, as though a strong current of life had suddenly been poured into me, and afterwards being dazed sense of a great spiritual shaking-up. There was no longer this feeling of a divided will, no sense of calculation and argument, of oppression and helplessness; a wave of strong emotion, following the will to surrender, rose up within me from the depths of an estranged spiritual life, and seemed to lift my soul from its anchorage of selfishness, bearing it across that great sundering abyss to the foot of the Cross.
“With this deeper experience of how the love God in Christ had bridged the chasm dividing me from Him, and the new sense of buoyant life that had come, I returned to the house feeling a powerful urge to share my experience. Thereupon I wrote to the six committee-men in America against whom I had nursed the ill-will and told them my experience, and how at the foot of the Cross I could only think of my own sin. At the top of each letter I wrote this verse:
When I survey the wondrous Cross
Then I said:
“’ My DEAR FRIEND,
I have nursed ill will against you. I am sorry. Forgive me?
“I received no written reply. But that apologetic gesture meant much to me in a new and complete friendliness when I met them later on. Some of them are now in Heaven -- and some more of us are going there soon.”
Frank continues: “I was staying with some friends who had lately been worldlings that had been changed. They had a son who was not like-minded, a first year man at Cambridge, and now thoroughly bored with the Convention meetings. The family were puzzled to know how to interest him in Christianity. He came in to tea, and I began to share my wonderful experience and tell him how a rapturous joy had come in place of the ill-will I previously harboured with such inhibiting results. I said that all my old caterers had been dropped overboard. The young man was immediately interested. How that It all happened? When I walk with him round Derwentwater and talk further about it? I said I would be to do, Floyd was a whole year since anyone had invited me to that kind of a talk. Before we returned he, too, decided to make the surrender of his will to Christ’s will. He went to church that night, became a good Christian, and later a successful barrister. And again I had the joy of winning a man into Christ.
“A further test of this new experience came to me later on when I returned home. Attending church on Christmas morning, whom should I see in front of me but the person whom I considered to have wronged me most of all. He had a bald spot on his head, and at one time, whenever I sat facing it in committee meetings, I used to think the letter ’I’ was written all over that spot. That morning I forgot even the bald spot itself, as the true Christmas spirit of peace on earth, goodwill to all, rained in my heart. I naturally wished this former opponent on the Committee a merry Christmas, and meant it, though as I did so he was looking on the floor as if seeking a lost pin. But he, too, wished me a merry Christmas, and appreciated the fact that at the Cross I had learnt the great truth never to be resentful against anybody, including committees.”
The foregoing story of the change in his life was told me by Frank himself some time after I read the summarised version in Begbie’s Life-Changers. At first I was not surprised to learn that Frank received no reply to any one of his letters, for it seemed to me that his religious zeal had outdistanced his common sense.
Perhaps the recipients thought so too. Or perhaps they still fostered unpleasant memories of the kind Frank had just torpedoed. But this did not daunt his unbroken sense of divine companionship or his conviction that he had done the only right thing, though it made him understand how impossibly hard it was for a proud heart to enter the Kingdom of Love.
For light and direction had come at last. As Frank puts it, he had turned them Big “I” of Self on to its beam end thus (--) which left him with only a big minus. He saw that Christ must be the Big ”I” to turn that minus back into a mighty (+), and by continuing the line of Christ the symbol was now the Cross (+). Frank’s suffering mind had immediately been healed by a decision to submit his will in future entirety to the Will of God. His crisis was not a crisis of the emotions, but a crisis of the will. Once the will had been surrendered, the emotional experience followed. The will is the root, the emotion the fruit. Frank saw clearly now that all success demands the whole will at the back of it. A man cannot be happy in a life of vice so long as he is conscious of moral scruples; conversely, he cannot be happy in a life of virtue so long as he compromises with vice.
Frank now realised that the demand of both worlds is identical -- the whole heart! And so realising, he found a great happiness through the decision to exert his unified will and the service of One proclaimed the reality of the spiritual world and pronounced the values of materialism illusory. Now he perfectly understood that what hindered him long ago from making this decision was sin, which must be completely excluded from the life of the child of God.
Sin was anything done contrary to the Will of God, as shown in the New Testament or by direct guidance. There was no complete catalogue of sins for everybody, since what was sin to one might not always be sin to another. Sin might be drunkenness or pride, murder or dishonesty, selfishness or refusal to love God or one’s neighbour, coveting and another man’s wife or loving the husband of another woman. It might be over-eating or vain boasting, laziness or over-calling your partner at bridge. It might be wasting money on the racecourse, at roulettes or in a night-club, or refusing to trust God at all times. It might be high-hatting someone poorly dressed, lying about the time you left the office, as to what you owed the butcher or lost at cards. It might be unwillingness to play that Good Samaritan to a broken-down motorist, are being ashamed to offer your seat to a weary char-woman on the streetcar. It might be pride in the pulpit, a desire to make a hit with the congregation instead of to reveal Christ. It might mean graft or greed, pugnacity or fear, waste or meanness, aversion or perversion. Such sins and all others were included in the one major sin of independence towards God, Who should be first, last, and all the time as taught in the Ten Commandments and the New Testament.
In other words, Frank had undertaken a crusade to be absolutely for the absolute: to live the maximum life which all Christians held, but if you constantly essayed. To the average man a decision to let God so deal with sin that He would accompany them every day everywhere is a terrifying thought. To Frank it was the only logical step. It was the starting-point from which Abraham, Paul, Francis, Booth, Muller, Moody and the other religious leaders all moved forward to great achievement. To Frank and his friends this unconditional surrender of everything between them and God meant the grandest adventure of all time: unquestionably the grandest possible adventure in an unadventurous age of dull poverty and depression, unbelief and debasing license. It meant for thrills of a Columbus voyage, pioneering trials it in new countries, risks of going over the top, persistent poverty In the midst of a luxury, living hour by power on faith and prayer with exposure to ridicule inside and outside the churches, misunderstanding and ceaseless misrepresentation. It meant voluntarily facing up to every challenging obstacle that has lured the boldly aspiring and adventurous to triumph or disaster through all the ages.
Moreover, it meant a relentless crusade to induce other men and women not only to believe in the possibility of living the victorious life, but to live it. To found a new community of saints, always ready to be fools for Christ, always care-less and care-free in an age of blank and blind materialism. To call together an interdenominational band of lay friars, Spirit-guided and controlled, who would roam the world with no visible means of income, living on God’s manna as God’s warriors, while out-living, out-loving, out-laughing all in a glorious new crusade to redeem the world from the enticements of sin in a luxury-loving, security-seeking, sensual civilisation.
This Pickwickian life-changer was well aware that he had undertaken a Herculean job requiring wise slogans and wiser methods. He pondered long on the problem of the ages: how to get rid of sin -- sin in black capital’s; sin among Pagans, sin among Christians. He knew that sin was everywhere: in the office, in the factory; in the home, in the pulpit; in the college, In the theological hall. He must atke buddy for granted, because then was insidiously pervasive. Sin, which the preacher opposed perhaps without having mastered. Sin, which the Pagan took as a pleasant drug, while a Christians smiled, shrugged, and publicly condemned. There were few to warn wisely, and fewer still to show both Pagan and Christian how to overcome.
And, pondering, Frank evolved what he for thought was an answer to the eternal problem of sin, “The degree of our freedom from sin is the degree of our desire to be free. If we complain that we are slaves to sin, we are really saying that we love sin and desire it. Sin can only live in the heart that does not love goodness with all its strength. Only a feebleness of desire for God enables sin to be a tyrant. It will disappear as though it had never been immediately one craves for righteousness wholeheartedly.”
Sin happens between the look and the thought. First the look, then the thought, then the fascination, and then the fall. But it may be only the fall in thought, Frank argued. And so knowing that “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” Frank set out on what he believed to be his Spirit-given task of causing people to hate sin so intensely as to forsake it, and to love goodness so thoroughly as always to follow it. Consequently every reasonable opportunity must be used to expose sin as a loathsome cancer in a person’s life, preventing him from self-fulfillment and from becoming a miracle-worker. So Frank insists that one should a sin, confess sin and forsake sin. Confession has a treble effect: it raises an obstacle to repetition of the sIn, since it may mean and another unpleasant confession; it is a warning guide to others, and produces a sense of release and cleanliness of spirit. Though the offense is purged to by the Cross of Christ.
Further, he believes that wherever reasonably possible one should not only confess a sin to the person sinned against, but make restitution. Distasteful though this teaching is, it has a strong appeal to the highest spirits, and has often been used to change the lives of those confessed to as well as of those who confessed. For though it was Christ Who forgave, it was only the convert who could repair the wrong he had done, a duty as plainly obvious for the changed man as for the bellicose country that despoiled an inoffensive neighbour.
Here, and then, was the reason why Garrett Stearly was sensitive to the possibility of a sin that might be in walling me off from God. If I had admitted such, he might have urged me to undertake a few missions of confession or restitution. Instinctively I’d disagreed with the doctrine, which seemed to contain much that was dangerous, particularly on to my own self-esteem. Yet I saw no objection to anyone else making confession of the sins he had committed to or restitution for the wrong he had done -- except myself!
And now let Loudon Hamilton, one of Frank’s friends and earliest captures, formerly a master at Eton, and at present leader of the Oxford Group and Scotland, tell you, as he told me, the inspiring story of how Frank arrived in Oxford guided him to put his challenging convictions into operation in the intellectual centre of England. Especially do I recall the way In which Loudon expressed is feeling a boredom, with a tinge of vague curiosity, at being asked to meet “an American professor from Cambridge.” (Frank had spent a short time in Cambridge at the request of two bishops before coming to Oxford at the request of a third.) The rest of this chapter is in Loudon Hamilton’s words:
“Care to meet a man from Cambridge?”
This somewhat mystifying requests from a Rugger (football)-playing Rhodes scholar floated across this quad one summer evening in 1921. We do have manners, so we said, “Yes.” Our Rhoads athlete brought the foreword a man of middle size with manners and clothes that gave no clue to his job, but his eyes are large and alert. Thus entered Frank to Oxford. There were no announcements, no advertisements. Yet there began then in Oxford an influence admittedly more far-reaching than most of the organized, patronised, and authorised movements in religion.
One man had entered Oxford carrying a vital message, himself In tune and touch with God.
We invited him to attend our Philosophic fortnightly meeting. At first, it was a serious evening -- in the wrong sense. The occasion was a philosophic debate -- we became very profound. Who was it who wittily said that in Oxford we don’t always stop talking when we have finished what we have to say?
Eleven o’clock came -- so far Frank had said nothing. Coming from Cambridge, this was unexpected -- so he had to be asked. Picture the crowd: ninety per cent. ex-officer undergraduates, from majors downwards; men with reputations from the Intelligence Service, from the Navy, veterans of twenty-one or twenty-two with rows of medals never seen or referred to; men who has since gone into important positions in Education, Civil Service, Diplomacy and Empire-building.
There were the man of influence in college. Most of them played games or rowed, some really well. On Sunday if you -- very few -- would go to chapel. Now we were deep in armchairs and the air was delicious with Dunhills. The movement Frank began, the atmosphere changed. He picked up some thread in the discussion and used that to weave his pattern. He began to tell of changed lives. His language was untheological. He described the changes in men so like ourselves that interest was riveted at once.
Howell else could it have been done? By sermons? But uplifting appeals? By philosophic subtleties? All these were familiar, but here was something you. Or was it a new? At least fresh, and therefore interesting. Somehow our debate had been forgotten. We went out saying to one another, “What do you think of this fellow?” A saying of rare courage had been done among men accustomed to courage of another sort. It rather took our breath away, leaving more than a note of interrogation.
One of the man least likely to respond followed it up. He suggested we have Frank to breakfast next morning. Probably, I thought, he would ask us about our souls. That wasn’t done -- certainly not at breakfast. So we ordered a large quantity of food then to keep him busy, a device that was only moderately successful. He began to tell us of a head mistress of the apparently dowager variety who wanted to know what to do with a girl who had stolen.
By way of making a disarming reply he turned to her and said, “When did you steal last?” This story delicately drew admissions from ourselves that we had been similarly delinquent. It suggested a shifted emphasis. Was this where to begin in the search for truth? Maybe it was. I had recent and painful recollections of having gone to New College Commemoration Ball without paying for the ticket, and so I decided to send the money. The surprised committee replied by sending an invitation to the next ball.
A week or two later Frank returned to Oxford with three Cambridge men to spend the week-end. They came to tell us what their contact with Frank had meant to them. Yet they were not speaking about a man. These men were not the type that one generally associates with religious enthusiasm; one of them was a leading Cambridge Rugger Blue (football letter-Man ), the other two were ex-officers of the cultured, attractive type.
More than that, they seemed to have it a radiance, subtle yet distinct, in their faces and manners and a good-fellowship among themselves that were as attractive as they were unforced.
That evening in our rooms these men spoke easily, yet convincingly, of a new power that had come into their lives to help them with their problems. They immediately captured the attention of the Oxford men. Granted that it was doing what was not done -- i.e., talking about personal religion -- yet it was done in a way that could offend no one, but only gain their confidence and sympathy.
Their words were the words of honest men out to share something good to with anyone who had the sense to receive It. The Rugger Blue was walking round to the quad with an Oxford man on either arm. He seemed to get to know them better in one evening than we had in two years. There was something distinctly challenging in the quality of these men’s lives and words.
Following their visit, groups of men would drift together in the quad and discuss this apparently new thing. Discussion rapidly changed to a deeper Interest, even to astonishment, when it became known that some of the atheists and agnostics were different. There was abroad in the College an air of expectancy -- what was this all about?
The opportunity soon came to find out. Word came of a suggested house-party in a Cambridge College during the vacation. It might be interesting to go and see it. A word here of personal explanation. That intervening month was one of those disturbed to periods of my life. Plans had gone wrong and the future was uncertain. I realised that such efforts as I had made in philosophy to find a basis of life that after all proved very largely fruitless.
Going from school of thought to school of thought, I had found each to be a floating island. Already the noise of the cataract was sounding in my years. The cataract for me was the abandonment of all attempt to solve the riddle of the universe and definitely to accept a cynical materialism and is the only solution. We had been caught up in the clouds of philosophic controversy and theological finesse; we had become academic, detached from life, and without any real solution for the questions of peace of mind, happiness, and the freedom from the bondage of temptation and sin.
I had been brought up to believe in the Christian message, and that conviction remained. Yet I had never been able to find out how Jesus Christ Himself might become a personal reality and my older life. I naturally shrank from any such discussion with my friends. Conventional religion had failed; so one was thrown back upon a religion of one’s own manufacture, the product of the code of behavior commonly accepted and in certain respects rigidly enforced in a Public School, the Regular Army, and the ’Varsity.
Yet this self-made religion did not seem to work much better. There were still things wrong in my life and, more serious, getting worse. It was this last the fact which the Group compelled me to face. I took refuge in flippancies and cynicism, yet they only intensified the difficulty. What was life all about, after all?
At this moment an invitation arrived from Frank to go to the Cambridge House-party. Providentially also an aunt sent some money. We had always understood that there was a University at Cambridge, and it might be rather interesting to see it. Also, what would Frank and his friends be doing at a house-party? It was all a little intriguing. We would have shrunk from anything emotional or sentimental, and we were bored with the conventional terminology of religion. The very word “religion” was anathema. Yet there was none of these things at the house-party.
It was a mixed crowd -- sinners, happy and unhappy, saints and would-be saints. They were all men, almost of an age, but with very different backgrounds and points of view. Religion would have been the last thing they would ordinarily have been willing to discuss or agree upon. We introduced ourselves, laughed very genuinely, and began to enjoy ourselves. Their were some thirty men present. Very soon we were entirely ease with each other.
Get the contrast. An older man of a different nationality was able In an effortless, unassertive sort of way to induce men hitherto strangers to one another to talk without affectation or self-consciousness of the things which most deeply occupied their minds. There was a rare freedom from pose or preaching. The language was colloquial.
It soon became clear that one of two things had to happen -- either one remained aloof and left, or else one stayed and was honest. Both these courses seemed equally disagreeable. By the last afternoon the necessity to decide was imperative. Four of us had been playing tennis and tea was just over. The discomfort of my false position had become intolerable. I had decided to be honest, with a full conviction that these men, clean, intelligent, healthy, would never have anything more to do with me.
Then an absurd longing to confess something dramatic or heroic; yet that would have been futile. There was only one thing for it -- to face the facts. To my astonishment and relief, the others were equally honest. False reserve had gone. Quite naturally we knelt down and praying. That was the turning-point. Last there was a rift in the clouds. The meeting that evening was memorable.
The new quality of honesty became infectious. It continued to operate the following term at Oxford. Old friends began asking the reasons for new changes. A group of six met one night. A few nights later another six men were invited. Forty-four men actually turned up, and we adjourned to the Junior Common Room. Four of them in had fortified themselves before coming and were slightly tipsy.
The vitriol of their attacks somehow failed to penetrate the charm and to reality of the atmosphere. We were definitely on this side of the angels. The message had established itself among us, and to oppose it was not primarily a sin against God, but a breach of good form. Prayer was offered publicly from a University pulpit thanking God for the illumination that had come to Oxford.
THE FIRST HOUSE-PARTY
The scene is the Chinese Legation in a South American country. The speaker is the Chinese Minister, tall, angular, intellectual. After giving an official dinner, he is on his feet telling his extraordinary life-story, and of how he risked his head being carried on a pole down the streets of his native city (of which he was the Governor) rather than give up Christianity and behest of an all-powerful Soviet agent, just installed to communise his native providence. But he said met Frank before he met the agent. Having imbibed Frank’s message, he informed of the communiser that he was quite ready to have his head taken down the streets of his native city on the pole, but unready to give up Jesus Christ, his personal Friend.
What is so changed a Chinese Minister, one of the foremost men in his country, that he risked death rather then alter his basis of life, and incidentally gave the first house-party of a new movement that is developing largely through house-parties? Here Is the Remarkable Story.and
Frank was working in the mountains of China when one day a friend said that, since he was so concerned about changing people, why did he not try to change a friend of his. The future Chinese Minister was then described -- a fine diplomat and a great lawyer, in the foremost rank of the profession, and the legal adviser of the former President.
While studying abroad, this lawyer had become a Christian. On his return he was made a member of the Church Vestry and Treasurer of the Y.M.C.A. He surmised that it was because he would meet any debts when the financial year ended. He knew the church-people were criticising his habits at the club. But as they failed to meet his deepest needs and were caustic about some of his practices, he kept to his club and Mah-Jong.
One day that Chinese diplomats invited Frank to this house to tea. The host brought cocktails to entertain the foreigner, and Frank said “No.” A charming tray of cigarettes was likewise waived the way with thanks. But Frank noticed the lawyer’s hands were stained and his nerves and shocking condition through too much nicotine and other things. His hands shook. The Chinese lawyer-diplomat talked a lot about himself and of his vast interests, while Frank thought that here was another of the poor, for rich men, and tried to find some common bond of interest. His roving eye spotted a tennis-rackets, and they had a game. This led the lawyer to invite Frank to a feast. Frank had long since decided always to accept an invitation to a Chinese feast. (Long dinners of thirty or more courses beginning with eggs twenty years old, “tasting luscious, like cheese,” followed by seaslugs, fish, fowl, and so on and on and on, until the chrysanthemum leaves dipped in marvelous sweets arrived.)
With the twenty-year-old eggs tucked safely away and the knowledge that he could skillfully dip his chopsticks into the great central dish, Frank began to feel happy. As his host took a different wine for each course, and as there were thirty-seven courses, he grew talkative as the evening advanced.
Frank had no need of his host’s offer to send him home in a chair carried by six coolies; but he accepted. Next morning’s Quiet Time told him to send his new friend an invitation to a return dinner, which was accepted too: just an English meal of soup, joint, cabbage, sweets, with no wines. A bishop and an archdeacon were present, and after the mail some of them began to share their religious experiences for the spiritual benefit of the visiting lawyer-diplomat. He, however, held aloof, sitting in one corner and looking like a huge question-mark.
Frank’s story that evening was of an experience when crossing an American town and feeling impelled to accost a well-dressed man whom he sensed to be in deep need. Not being quite certain of the guidance, he decided on a compromise test. If the stranger stopped at the next lamp-post he would speak to him. The man stopped!
The Chinese lawyer-diplomat now grew interested as Frank told how he went up to the stranger and asked him if he was in need.
“Of course I am in need,” he said anxiously.
“Then I think God must have sent me to you,” said Frank.
“Of course it was God,” he said, and told how his mother was at that moment dying in a near-by hospital. He had come out for a little fresh air.
Together they walked along with that sense of deep fellowship which comes when God drives one man into another man’s life. Frank shared with the stranger the story of his own fathers and brothers home-going, and how he was convinced of the life beyond the grave.
The stranger said he had heard preachers talk about these things, but not ordinary people, and was grateful for the consoling conversation. His seven brothers and sisters were waiting at the hospital yonder. Would Frank come and cheer them up? Frank went. The stranger begged him not to leave the hospital until they had prayed together In the chapel. Frank agreed.
At Easter that came to him a card, then a wire announcing the mothers home-going; and later a letter of deep gratitude.
The lawyer-diplomat was now intrigue. Frank says it is marvelous how all things fit in when working with God. At that moment a baby typhoon was raging outside, though not enough to raise the roofs, and there were sheets of rain. Frank invited his guests to stay the night. The visitor protested that he must go: his wife was waiting for him.
“You kept your wife waiting many times,” hazarded Frank, and the guest smiled agreement.
Then he pleaded the coolies: they must get home. At Frank said that coolies, too, would be glad to stay, as three had been eaten by tigers over in the valley recently. But where could the visitors stay ? was the next objection. There was a spare bed in Frank’s room, and the offer was accepted, none too eagerly. When they entered the bedroom, Frank reached for his Bible and invited his guest to read his favorite chapter. Most Christians, according to Frank, try to read the Bible to other people.
“That is the wrong way. Have them read to you.”
The visitor went all through the Old Bible, as he called the Old Testament, trying to find his favorite chapter, and failed to find any familiar reading. He went through the New Testament with similar bad luck. The second time he went more cautiously, hoping circumstances would favour him. But luck was still against him. Then he did what a good many do -- try a lucky bit. The luck Is still went against him. He turned up a chapter in the Old Testament full of a hard names and plentifully sprinkled with begats, but did what every good lawyer always does -- read it through from beginning to end. Frank suggested prayer. He replied:
Frank prayed, and they went to sleep. Morning the boy brought tea, but the lawyer was unwilling or unable to wake. The host made many attempts to wake him, but he was unresponsive. Presently, after a great deal of yawning and stretching, the Chinese guest opened his eyes and slyly asked Frank if he thought reading the Bible had put him so soundly asleep.
“Perhaps so,” grinned the host. “Shall be read another chapter?”
“I did,” says Frank, “and his eyes almost popped out of his head, though I read only three verses.”
The lawyer-diplomat asked for the verses to be read again, saying they just fitted him. Frank read them again. They were out of the sixth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. The reader may guess what the verses were. At this stage the lawyer revealed why he did not want to stay the night. It was because he had not brought his little pill. His doctor provided him with a pill to put him to sleep and another to wake them up.
“You are the only one to whom I’ve told this little secret,” confessed the visitor, showing that the mask was beginning to come off.
After breakfast Frank told the boy to bring tea, the Chinese sign that the guest is now at liberty to depart. But the visitor was now eager to stay and talk. Frank had a meeting at 1030 at a friends house, and the lawyer decided to go with him. Frank’s theme at this meeting was “Having too much of the good things of life.”
“Those words apply to me,” said the lawyer.
“That’s why you heard them,” said Frank.
“Then you planned the meeting for me?”
Frank believes in saying the right things to people who hear him. The lawyer was now Intensely Interested and asked Frank to lunch next day. Should it be English food or Chinese?
“Chinese,” said Frank.
The other said he preferred foreign food, as Chinese was too rich, so that was not the real reason. Frank’s Quiet Time that morning had solved for him the problem of what to say to this man in need should they lunch together. The two things which had come to him were that the lawyer would be a great force in changing the life of another man, and that they would pray together before lunch was over. They had three minutes before lunch for a chat, and during that time Frank told him what his guidance had been. Whereupon the lawyer pulled out his notebook and told him that God had given him more guidance than Frank, for he had written down the name of the person whom he wanted to help. And he read out to Frank the name of a big industrialist. They prayed.
Then came lunch, at which were present the lawyer’s Christian wife, Confucian mother, his children and governesses. During the lunch lawyer shared with his wife and family some of the thoughts which had been in his mind, and said that when he married he led his wife to believe he was a real Christian. He had not succeeded in living the life, though the real hunger to do so was always there. But during the last few days he had made up his mind that Christ was going to have the first place in his life. Some of the things he did not want to do he was going to ask permission to do. One of these was to be a Chairman of the Religious Work Department to help the Chinese.
His mother was as deeply impressed as his wife, though she was a Confucian and took to her little cruse of olive oil and incense taper every morning as a votive-offering tube in gods. She too became a Christian is a result of that memorable lunch.
The lawyer-diplomats had become a leading figure in China’s Naturalist movement when Frank next met him.
And that time Frank and his team were helping a great Christian forward movement which added some four hundred members to the cathedral church of the city, and so astonished the Bishop that he became Frank’s friend and admirer for life, his own son joining the Oxford Group as one of its leaders. The novel condition of entry for one cathedral service at this time was that each Christian brought a non-Christian with him. An official disregarded this stipulation, thinking himself privileged, and so was turned away. Instead of feeling indignant, he returned with three “tickets,” his only comment being: “Why didn’t you ask me to do this before?”
The Bishop’s observation on this service was that he had now learned to see that every person in his diocese must be a force and not a field.
Next there came the first of a long series of house-parties through which the Oxford Group does much of its work, held in this country home of the lawyer-diplomat-Governor, who made a splendid host. Some of the eighty persons attending came from long distances necessitating six days of travel, and all brought together by the miracle of one changed to Chinese lawyer-diplomat. From that gathering there sprang the first Chinese missionary society undertaking to man one of the unoccupied Chinese provinces with Chinese life-changers one supported with Chinese money. And further, before the Governor departed for his high post as Chinese Minister the abroad, he was instrumental in changing the prominent industrialist concerning whom he had his first guidance.
Those early days of Frank’s in the China are still a talking-point for Christian workers in all parts of the world. The late Bishop Lewis of China wrote saying the work Frank and his team did in the Far East had meant more to foreign and Chinese leadership than any single movement during his twenty-eight years in the China.
Everywhere Frank goes he leaves behind him a trail of converts of all nationalities, which may open up for him a wider work, as in the case of the boy Victor. Picture the Hanchenjunga Range of the great Himalayas, white tents of Abraham hanging in the heavens. Here and his wonderful country was being held a schoolboy’s camp, including many who needed help. One of the helpers was a master from a well-known English public school. He invited Frank to assist him in the case of one Victor, the real problem of the camp. Victor refused to attend lectures, preferring to skylark about, releasing the tent-pegs and making himself happy at others’ expense. The masters had met and decided that Victor must go home, but they thought he should first have a word with Frank.
“Have you talked with the boy?” Frank asked.
“No. We’ve talked about him.”
Frank observes that some persons talk about another, but never with him. He suggested that was the first thing to be done, and promised he would see the lad at 10:30. The time came, but no Victor, and at tiffen (the mid-day mail) the master asked if Frank had had an interesting conversation with Victor.
“No Victor,” said Frank.
“Oh, but he promised me.”
“Victor may have said ’yes,’ but he meant ’no,’” observed Frank.
Another appointment was made at 2:30, usually the hot period of the Indian afternoon when everybody wants to be asleep under the cooling punkah. Two-thirty came.
“Well, they do have a pleasant chat with Victor?”
The master received the same answer.
“He promised me,” repeated the master, which suggested a rather wooden approach to a boy.
The master then invited Frank to address the meeting that evening, which he agreed to do, but could not guarantee to make his address just personal to Victor, as there were so many other needs requiring to be met in a variety of boys. That night he spoke in a beautiful little chapel, and in the middle of the talk in came the master, following an unsuccessful effort to lure Victor away from a boat on the canal on a liquid moonlight night.
“And who could blame Victor for staying away?” is Frank’s aside as he tells the story.
The master was in dead earnest, for Frank observed him later praying for Victor and himself and for light on how best to deal with the errant lad.
On the following Sunday morning, at about eleven, the master came running in to Frank, announcing: “I’ve got Victor!” Frank must come at once. He went, expecting to find Victor seated in a chair already to be Interviewed. Instead he was shown a little knoll and Victor and another lad playing a farewell game before leaving on the two-thirty train. How the master expected Frank to lasso the elusive Victor and draw him back to the camp he did not know. But he stealthily approached, for Victor -- whose conscience was busy about those dodged interviews -- was very wary. The boys were playing with bamboo canes, which they twirled with cartwheel affect, requiring much practice and dexterity. As Victor twirled, Frank’s cheering voice rang out:
Victor was completely surprised, and Frank followed up his advantage. “You do that jolly well, Victor. I wish I could do it.”
“You try,” said Victor, quite naturally.
Frank tried unsuccessfully, and Victor enjoyed his confusion. Frank turned to Victor’s friend and said:
“Do you mind excusing us?”
The other lad walked away, looking regretfully back, like Lot’s wife.
Frank and Victor went into a tent, and as they were sitting down Frank said: “I went two a camp wants and didn’t like it a bit.”
Victor grew brighter. “Were you like that?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I am, too.”
“What’s the reason?”
“I suppose,” said Victor, “because there’s something wrong inside. I feel rebellious.”
“Was that why you pulled up to tent-pegs?”
“Yes. I felt I’d be in trouble, and so I didn’t want to see anyone or be bothered with people.”
Frank told the boy he understood and hated most things he hated. They yarned along. Then the boy said he was sorry.
“How much are you sorry? You know what remorse is?”
Oh yes, I know. That’s sorrow for sin when you go ahead and do it again.”
“Then when do you think you need?”
“Oh, that’s when a fellow’s sorry enough to quit!”
The boy’s destinations so impressed Frank that he has used them ever since. He began to talk to the lad about having so interesting a companion that he always understood and so compelling a friend that he never wished to run away from him.
“I know who that is,” said the boy. “That’s Christ. I like to be a Christian, but I don’t know how.”
Frank said he would try to show him. He explained that his difficulty had begun with the letter “I,” which was the middle letter of sin. “Sin blinds, binds, multiplies, darkens, deafens, deadens. What we need is faith. When we are perfectly willing to forsake sin and follow Christ, then joy and release come. What we want to do Is to get In touch with Him and turn our lives over to Him. Where should we go to do it?”
At once lad replied:
“There’s only one place -- on our knees.”
The lad prayed -- one of those powerful, simple prayers which are so quickly heard by Him Who made the eye and ear: “O Lord, manage me, for I cannot manage myself.”
They rose and talked about development in the Christian life, Frank insisting that the real way to grow was to help other people. As lad said he felt as though a big burden had fallen off him, a lot of old luggage that was no good had rolled away. He wondered why it had not happened before. The new feeling just suited him, and he must go and tell his friends.
The master had gone to the railway station, and so Frank accompanied Victor there. On their way they saw a man being taken off to prison. As Frank saw the rope binding him to the red-capped guards, he exclaimed: “Oh, that’s a sad sight! That man’s a slave.”
“I was a slave until this morning,” volunteered the changed boy. “Now I’m free.”
“Is that how you feel?”
“Yes, I’m as light as air.”
While Victor was buying the ticket, the master came up, saying he had observed a wonderful change already in the lad. He looked different. What had happened?
Frank said: “Ask Victor. We believe in keeping confidences.”
But what was Victor doing at this moment? As Frank looked down the platform, his curiosity got the better of him. Moving down, he saw Victor talking in a friendly way to the shackled prisoner, who had become communicative.
“What did you say to him?” asked Frank, as Victor came up.
“I told him I was sorry about him and that I was like him once. That I was a slave to sin and a prisoner. I told him that Paul was a prisoner too, though he was really a free man. And that he could be a free man. And that I hoped to see him when he came out to tell him about it.”
Victor had made a quick start.
As the man was hungry from his dusty walk, Victor bought him a curry and rice, which he gratefully accepted.
Several weeks later Frank was staying with friends in Victor’s home-city and was Invited to go for a Sunday afternoon drive. He said he preferred to stay In the city to see a young fellow who had experienced a real change. His host thought it a poor programme for a hot afternoon. Frank went to the college and asked for Victor, and was elated to find he was down in the Mohammedan quarter conducting a religious service. That evening Frank told his host the full story, and found him so interested that It was difficult to get him to bed. He thought it incredible that so great a change could be wrought in a modern boy. It was like the miracles of the New Testament over again.
“Why not try it yourself?” suggested Frank. “People are hungry for someone to come along and do it.”
Next morning Frank went early to breakfast with Victor, who brought in some of his changed college friends to whom he had passed on the message.
A few weeks later Frank was in a distant part of the country when he encountered a Bishop with whom he was to stay for a few weeks. The Bishop’s first words were:
“I don’t need any introduction to you. I’ve seen Victor!”
Because of Frank’s success with Victor, that Bishop invited him to interview an undergraduate at Oxford; and that interview, in turn, developed into the Oxford Group Movement.
THE OXFORD GROUP
Frank is that part a clean near missionary. A fine linguistic, a happy travel companion, he rarely stays in one country for a long period. Here, there and everywhere he is being used to start groups of changed people; then he hurries away to another town or country, according to they leading of the Spirit. When first I heard of him he was traveling through South America; he knows China like the Chinese; he is thoroughly at home in Germany, the Netherlands, India, America, Africa, and Australia. He has never penetrated to Iceland, and knows what many Englishmen do not -- that Iceland is not part of the British Empire, but a Danish possession.
Sometimes Frank has been dubbed “a missionary to missionaries” because of his zeal and love for the Gospel message and his efforts to help every Christian to achieve maximum efficiency. When choosing leaders to supervise the Groups in his absence, Frank frequently shows himself inspired, as with the leader he left in charge of the Group at Oxford. Ken Twitchell is a handsome young Princetonian with engaging manners who suddenly changed, and later took his degree at Balliol, Oxford. He is one of those charming Americans who delight Englishmen.
One fine week-end In February I ran down to Oxford to see Ken Twitchell and the Oxford Group in action. Ken asked me to dinner, and I found myself in a comfortably-furnished home occupying a corner site just off the Banbury Road. Are some years Ken and his wife Marian and family have been living without salary on faith and prayer, which evidently did not mean they had to reside in a log cabin. For dinner there was no wine A glass of water was placed before me.
“What is the Group teaching about smokes and drinks?” I asked.
“What do you think?”.
That is the characteristic Group answer. The decision is left to you. Rigidity over details is unpopular. There are principals in the Fellowship, but no rigid rules. Throw a question at the Group and it comes back to you. Here are certain facts. Interpret them as you think best under God’s guidance. “Do anything God lets you.” That is the guiding theory of the Group, and that gives freedom.
Garrett Stearly was once a slave to cigarette-smoking. For him It had become a sin which must be surrendered, though not necessarily by others. Not an easy thing for Garrett. He won his battle -- with a struggle.
At another meeting I heard a newcomer ask for a ruling on liquor. Again the reply:
“What do you think?”
A dark, a handsome Englishman said he had been striving to help some friends and into drunkenness. His guidance was to be to cut out liquor himself, or how could he hope to influence them? Unless he was prepared to sacrifice his own pleasure for their sake, he was not completely interpreting the teachings of Christ and His Apostles for which the Group stood. Again the old teaching that Paul enunciated: If meats (or drinks for that matter) caused Is brother to offend he would eat (or drink) no more of the offending food (or drink). Again nothing you In the thought, though a definite transition from theory to practice. And this Is Oxford University, where nearly everybody smoked and drank. Hear again now and had to become the verb: the theory the life. A truth commonplace in Christianity had regained its old uncommon lustre through transition into action.
Ken Twitchell brought out his car -- an aged Morris purchased when the open tourer was an English fashion. He drove me down to Corpus Christi College. It was half-past eight on Sunday evening. The night was beautiful and cold, with a full moon riding above the constellated roofs of the colleges brightly illuminating the great quadrangle of Christ Church -- college of the elect, where Frank had made his debut -- as we passed under Tom Tower across to the flagged cloisters of Corpus Christi. Delicate tracery of college pinnacles made a network of shadows along our pathway to the well-trodden stairs leading us to the Chaplain’s rooms. I was too stirred by the beauty of old Oxford under a full moon to speculate on what awaited me as we entered. Was this a religious meeting, a lecture, or a concert? Very like the lecture-room of the Household Brigade, O.C.B., with the same fine-looking company of virile young man of the Guardee type crowding the room, occupying every chair, or sitting, knees drawn up, on the scanty floor-space. Several sat about the door as we entered; others crowded the dais or tucked themselves into odd corners. A happy, homely meeting. No formality of clothes or conduct; lounge suits, plus fours, coloured ties; good feeling, some healthy laughter, though nothing forced, ribald, or irreverent.
No juvenile Pecksniffs here, but faces that shone. This Oxford Group -- Number One Group of a chain of groups around the world -- was something very fresh and very modern. The atmosphere was religious but not sentimental. These young men were polished and sophisticated. Knowing the world, they had already elected to know only Christ, by deliberate preference. There was a Don or two present. A young man of 20-5 named Francis Elliston, son of an M.P., held open on his knees what I assumed to be his guidance-book, to which he occasionally referred as he developed his story.
A couple of chairs were immediately vacated for our benefit, while the room became more crowded as the trickle of undergraduates continued through the constantly-opening door. All the same cheery type. No roysterers attempting to disturb the meeting. I wished there were. Before the meeting ended we were to hear from one who first came in tipsy with a bunch of gay spirits, to find, not a new entertainment, but a new life!
The leader announced that if there were more arrivals we should have to copy the real-estate people and “move to larger and more commodious premises.” Almost immediately we were ordered to take up our chairs and descend to a bigger room below. When the shuffling had subsided, the leader raised a laugh by giving the limit of accommodation of the new room. “If you get more than that,” he dryly added, “we shall pass the safety factor again. And I would remind you -- the blast furnace Is immediately below us.”
There we sat in our first meeting of the Oxford group poised above a potential inferno, a Dantesque location for a new religious movement. Still the undergraduates swarmed in.
The meeting was thrown open for witness on the usual Group lines. I was doubtful if they would get many of the undergraduates on their feet. A lad on my left jumped up and began to address the meeting. He spoke sensibly, with feeding, while he quietly described his endeavors during the past week to lead a life lived by the early Christians. His story gave me a new thrill. One had heard reformed characters telling the old, old story in the market square, fervent evangelists speaking at revival meetings, old-fashioned orators In village Bethel’s, young women volunteering good advice at Christian Endeavor meetings, and disregarded tub-thumpers in the parks. But this was different. The simple story told here at Corpus Christi seemed to make Christianity more real than before. The life was being lived more earnestly than I had thought it was being lived anywhere. Though the voice was the voice of culture, the words were of true humility. Admissions were made which I had never heard made in any form of beating. Young men were revealing their real selves, those saying nothing that offended good taste. Modesty, but no false reserve. Young aristocrats of Oxford were showing a masked world how to be honest by removing their own masks. They told of their daily fight with sin, indicated some of the sins -- pride, selfishness, dishonesty, laziness, unbelief, impurity -- admitted their slips and showed how, through the indwelling presence of a living Christ, they were achieving victory. Public testimony that life in close personal association with the Holy Spirit in Oxford University was possible. Here was something that was not done being done: intimate personal religion talked openly and joyfully by young men who were happy because they were achieving victory over sin through walking daily with God. And for years I had nursed the conviction that if our religion were true then Christians should lead care-free lives under the constant guidance of the Holy Spirit. News again!
There was no hesitancy. One undergraduate followed another quickly. Each spoke in the same easy style. Not the argumentative arrogancy of youth in the debating society, but simple, compelling witness to personal experience. Each had something different to say. Each gave a new facet to Christian living because he spoke with candour and naturalness, and with many unrehearsed human torches, as journalists say. And as each spoke self-revealing things requiring courage to say publicly, the interest never flagged.
Some of the incidents narrated were, of course, trivial in themselves, but to the understanding hearer were important pointers to new principles animating in the lives of the witnesses. His young man had begun to learn what was rarely taught elsewhere -- HOW TO LIVE.
A well-grown lad to in the far corner was an organist; he had learned to apply himself better to lessons through his surrender to Christ’s teaching. Another, a dark-haired lad with rudy features, had discovered (if I remember rightly) that it was selfishness for the Group to hobnob together in Hall instead of mixing with the others and doing their spare-time best to bring prodigals back to their Master’s Kingdom.
There were no blatant confessions. One tallish led with a fine head did gratefully announced that only through contact with the Group had he been able to overcome impurity, an unusual admission in a religious meeting -- the first time I had heard it made. (Though once I had attended Brixton Parish Church when Dr. Lang, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury, dealt frankly with sex impurities when preaching in a gathering of men only.) One’s sympathies were immediately evoked by this Oxford boy’s frank confession. It was he who gave me fresh understanding of the word grace which I had previously heard defined unsatisfactorily as God’s bounty to the undeserving sinner. This lad, telling of victory over sin, defined grace as God’s strength which, to his amazement, had given him joyous release from his greatest weakness.
God’s grace in action in Oxford University at that moment! What would be the effect of that story on newspaper readers -- if one dared print it? I could only tell the effect of that story on myself. I wondered if the same kind of grace would give me the same kind of victory over another kind of sin. Then -- doubts began. Wasn’t graced another name for self-hypnotism? I had deeper to delve into the movement before I found out.
The words purity and impurity I heard occasionally at subsequent Group meetings. Sometimes the word lust. But though I have attended hundreds of Group meetings, I do not remember hearing anything in bad taste.
Presently I came to learn that spiritual anniversaries were a fashion at these meetings. Hardly one passes but someone rises and announces that just a year ago to-day he decided to surrender his life to God. Then follows a description of change from a life of worry, chaos and discord to one of peace, order and harmony. A relinquishing of every weighty burden and confident resting in the Everlasting Arms. A breathlessly interesting year of working out a new orientation of life, and striving to bring all thoughts and actions into accord with the challenging standards of Christ. And now a grateful testimony to the truth that Christ does change lives and does keep anyone on His narrow white road who wills to let Hareim. These are happy stories of a new and exuberant way of living, sometimes interspersed with references to casual slips followed by remorse, repentance, and re-surrender of the area damaged by sin. But at the end of the year a cheerful and humble affirmation of spiritual growth, conscious progress in the kingdom of fitness which is the Kingdom of God. And a reiterated gratitude at being freed from the old life, which had never given real satisfaction.
One of those anniversaries occurred the night of my first visit to the Oxford Group. A fair-haired, rosy-faced youth, with horn-rimmed spectacles, speaking with a cheery and even rollicking reverence, if our Pharisees permit the description, told a jaunty story of his change from the prodigal life to one of sanity and serenity. Little more than twenty, he spoke convincingly, clearly, and well. Youthful polarity and youthful sincerity blended In the story he told. Weighing it afterwards, I wondered whether the hilarity predominated over the sincerity. Next day that doubt was answered when he gave up his afternoon to my entertainment, taking me for a run in his car, and then for a long stroll over the breezy hills to the south-east, amplifying his religious autobiography as he went with special reference to his victories over drink and impurity. As he reached the summit he stopped, swept out his arm, and proudly named each one of that stirring panorama of spires and domes which is Oxford.
But in his car he declined an invitation to tea for another reason which convinced me that he was the genuine Christian as well as the hilarious convert. He had an engagement with a young atheist undergraduate, who had Invited him to discuss Christianity, through surprise at being frequently offered rides in the hilarious one’s car when overtaken around the outskirts of the city.
“Giving Christianity away to another is the best way to keep it,” said Ken Twitchell, looking after the energetic youngster as he departed once more to cast his life-story at the feet of unbelief.
But what religious experience could these young fellows have to share? is the question which the average man wants answered. By the time a dozen undergraduates had spoken in the first Group meeting I attended, the question had been answered for me. Unquestionably these young fellows had an experience which convinced them, or they would have sat down confused. Later the Group leader of that evening (Francis Elliston) told me his own story of his change. He left school at the age of sixteen to go to Cambridge University, and quickly found that his public-school religion was unreal to him.
Francis always envied ’bus-conductors and other people without inhibitions. He had been jealous, for instance, of his elder brother’s ability to play with children, dimly realising that he ought to live a life that was unself-conscious and purposeful; and was bitterly antagonistic to a religion that seemed to offer an ideal without the power to live it. He was, therefore, ironical at the expense of those who professed to have It. He found an outlet for his energies in sport, amateur dramatics, and University journalism, but felt there was no coherence in his life. In the Group he was challenged by the simplicity of one man, and the peace of his expression. This man, then a medical student at a London hospital and now a doctor, asked him if he had ever made the experiment of writing down on paper what his life was like judged by the standards of Jesus Christ.
He sat down to write to his medical student friend outlining his attitude towards the accepted moral standards of society, calling upon psychological arguments to justify the avoidance of repression. He finished his letter and picked it up to numbered the pages. As he did so his eye was caught by one sentence he had written in which he said: “I have always been perfectly frank about my attitude in any company.”
He was suddenly jolted into realizing that this was a plan on truth, and in a way am of accuracy wrote in the margin: “P.S. This is not true. I have never been frank about this in any company.” He hastily re-read the letter, and by the time he had finished there were a dozen contradictory postscripts. He posted the letter, realising that he was seeing the death-warrant of his own old life. The journey down to the office on top of the ‘bus next morning brought home to him a startling truth of the text “Behold I make all things new.”
Since that time, three years ago, he has been realising something of the freedom of the Franciscan Friars, to whom every meeting on the road was a spiritual adventure, and he no longer envies ‘bus-conductors.
A smallish, alert, and highly intelligent lad from Sunderland told how he came Into contact with the Group in October 1930, when he came up to Oxford, after a boyhood of conscious attendance at a Baptist church where he was baptised at the age of fifteen -- a step the significance of which he completely failed to realise. He had a shy and nervous temperament, a keen and absorbing interest in classical scholarship, a great love for good music, and an extravagantly high set of ideals of the kind typified in Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies. His ideals had been bruised under the rough and tumble of a modern University College, and he took refuge in an academic and the cynical exterior. His religious beliefs failed to stand the strain of intellectual examination, and with the opportunity of coming to Oxford he was glad to escape from a church situation rapidly becoming intolerable, because he was teaching children things which he had ceased to believe.
“At Oxford,” he says, “I hoped to find an intellectually satisfying philosophy. On the first day of my first term I met a South African Rhodes Scholar, who asked me to go along to a religious meeting, and merely warned me not to be surprised that anything I heard. I was surprised at everything I heard. My intellectual vanity was tickled by the presence of a Don as leader, but what interested me most was the indecently radiant happiness of many of those present, and the conviction with which they spoke of the possibility of a life-transforming experience of Jesus Christ. Rather bitterly I wrote to an ancient friend of mine to the effect that I had met a crowd of people who said they had found Jesus Christ and signalised their discovery by laughing uproariously and calling one another by their Christian names. But I went again. At first I approved of a movement which was turning Pagans into decent members of society. Then I discovered that I wanted the power which these people had. Intellectual difficulties became irrelevant under a growing conviction of the sins of my own life -- dishonesty, intellectual snobbery, pride, a biting tongue, and an uncontrollable temper.
“Finally, I was faced by St. Paul’s declaration, ‘I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’ Then for the first time that significance of the Cross came home to me, and I made my surrender. Since then it has meant a growing sense of release and adventure. People have become more important than things. Sarcasm, criticism, and temper have disappeared. I have found that at the foot of the Cross pride, especially intellectual pride, vanishes. I am beginning to learn how to love people who are temperamentally different from myself. I have discovered an increasing victory over what have been my chief real problems -- conceit and fear. It has involved no loss of intellectual honesty. The discipline of reading ‘Greats’ has done nothing to shake the validity of the conviction I have had of the friendship of Jesus Christ, a conviction founded not on feeling, but on facts and on faith. In short, Christ is enabling me for the first time to live, as well as to know.”
Listening to such witness, one passed through curiosity to astonishment, thence into unqualified admiration.
In his book, Religion and Politics, the Stanley Baldwin, the former Prime Minister of the England, said: “I confess that I am not sure, if a Wesley or a St. Francis arose to-day, that to found a body of preaching friars would not be the best thing for the world. . . . . To-day the world to seems more irreligious than it has ever been In the Christian era.”
Yet here were three-score and more young men -- a body of preaching friars -- about to take their degrees, already dedicated to the life of preaching friars, determined to follow Christ and proclaim Him wherever they went, as clergymen, ministers, or laymen, by the simple first-century method of narrating the story of their own changed lives, and reliance on the direction of the Holy Spirit. It will be for the next generation to estimate the results.
At Oxford a luncheon-hour Group meets every day in term in the Old Library of the University Church of St. Mary. Another meets every Tuesday afternoon. There is also a Women’s Group. I attended the one held next day, when Ken Twitchell read a chapter from one of the latest translations of the New Testament. All the old truths came out of that translation with freshened force.
Here I had my first practical experience of the Quiet Time, a first principle of the Group and one of the biggest obstacles to the newcomer, but a principle on which the Group can make no compromise. The Guidance must come in all those who surrender to Gods will. As Ken Twitchell announced the Quiet Time the undergraduates fumbled for pencils and guidance-books and began to “listen in” to God. This was not simple meditation, which may be concentration on some aspect of Christ or the Gospel, but something more: a lessening of definite messages applicable to present needs. As they were committed to doing the God’s will, that could be known for them at any moment of necessity.
Watching them quietly writing, one was divided by two opposing thoughts. There was an element of humour inviting laughter. Surely they were all crazy. Yet the lecture-room method of note-taking in Quiet Time might be a happy idea. In theory what could be better? This inspirational method had all other forms of communication -- wireless, aeroplanes, telegraphs -- clean beaten. If only it worked!
But who would believe that it worked? Most certainly not Fleet Street. Once as a junior reporter I endured some scoffing for returning from an assignment with the story of how a sick girl had been miraculously cured by her own prayers, although I had secured all the facts and interviewed the girl. The She had been ill for many years, had suddenly recovered, and of course had the face of an angel. We printed this story -- with reservations. And now what would Fleet Street to say to this tale? I knew the answer: “Give us the thoughts that come in Quiet Time, and if they are startling enough to convince us we will believe.”
There was nothing startling about the thoughts that came: just such as would come from any young man dedicated to the Christian life, it then seemed to me. I asked Ken Twitchell about this and how one could discriminate between of what might be guided thoughts and what were just floating human thoughts. The Group said the individual was guided by God both during Quiet Time and throughout the day in the following ways
The conditions of effective guidance where the whole-hearted giving of oneself to Jesus Christ. The tests are:
Suddenly Ken Twitchell invited me to speak -- I, the representative of a group of newspapers which once cast a slur on the movement. The undergraduates listened with indulgence, without animosity. They smiled when I mentioned my religious discussions with my vicar at golf; how I won the arguments and he won the golf. I tried to make a point of Father Martindale’s, that whatever one thought of long enough one was sure ultimately to do when the opportunity came. So if one thought of a sin, one would commit that sin. If one thought of goodness, one would do right. Then I forgot Father Martindale’s point.
I said I objected to the phrase “Quiet Time,” as it sounded banal, and preferred “Listening in”; and more trivialities I hope to would be helpful, but which, I sensed afterwards, were rather old-fashioned stuff with these new-fashioned youths. Evidently someone had been giving them such intensive training in a vital Christianity as to leave me standing.
Afterwards I felt there was something elusive in the Quiet Time, and somehow a cleavage between my idea of Christianity and theirs. Twelve months afterwards I heard from my younger son at school that the worst part of college life was the hour for quite and study. I sympathize with the lad, three thousand miles away, feeling that he must be suffering from a family complaint.
Yet in the afternoon of that same day at Oxford I had my first results from the Quiet Time. We were discussing some difficult problem when Ken said, “Let’s try the Quiet Time.” We drew out slips of paper, relaxed, listened; I confident that there was little in it, that inspiration could not be organized to solve a business problem anymore than two discover the name of a winning race-horse before the event. Then, just as we were about to put our papers away, there suddenly crossed my ordinary, tumbled, human thoughts one of an other order which seemed to possess a strong luminous glow, differing sharply from the rest. To describe a particular thought apart from what it expressed is well-nigh impossible. But I know that it had colour, shape, feeding, and luminosity. It told me to do something that I purposely had never done, had no wish to do and, if I had previously thought of doing, I should have humanly rejected as useless and absurd. Yet if the person I was told to see accepted my suggestion, which I humanly knew he would not, my particular problem at that time was solved. And perhaps another problem too: whether there was any sense in this amusing method of writing down your thoughts and kidding yourself they were messages from God!
The new luminous thought had come so unexpectedly and with such a peculiar glow of rightness that I went back to London and tried it. Within a few minutes of the thoughts being transferred to the person in great authority whom it concerned, he rang me up on the telephone thanking me profusely (as he had never previously done) for my splendid help, of which he was taking immediately advantage.
An unpalatable Quiet Time had cleared up one and perhaps two problems. So there was something in guidance, after all.
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