Paths of Righteousness
To the dear ones whom we had served these five years, the news caused a stir. We had served these folk and they had become dear to us. They were shocked when they heard of our decision. A wave of deep emotion went through the congregation, although some were pleased and satisfied about the latest development.
A suggestion was made that we should start a church of our own and appropriate the property of the local church as we were in the majority. We never even for a moment entertained such a thought.
While some of our dear friends understood our real motives, others were befogged about the whole thing. One of the church elders asked, ‘You once dropped the hint that you found it hard to accept a salary if some only give grudgingly. Is that the reason you are leaving us?’
Indeed, while still on the mission field we had chafed under this fact. Payments were so often made to the church under compulsion instead of being a joyful sacrifice of practical praise in the form of freewill giving. Now we felt this weighing on us even more heavily. How could we live by funds not given in gladness, but often under duress.
Can a servant of the living God not be sustained simply by trusting Him alone? Does the New Testament anywhere lay down rules and regulations for salaries? God neither builds His kingdom with forced labour nor does He find pleasure in legality.
We had made our decision. In this matter we would henceforth look solely to the living God. We would tell no man of our needs. Instead we would bring them to Him in believing prayer. We were not only resolved to do so, but covenanted with our God to live in future on that basis alone. He has set His seal upon this step and has met our every need in His faithfulness ever since.
The financial issue was indeed one of the reasons why we had to withdraw from the service of the mission, but only one of the many others, as this account reveals.
Numbers of people shook their heads in those days saying, ‘How is that going to work? How are you going to get through – how are you going to get a house? Where are you going to get food and clothing?’
These are weighty and valid questions. They did not come to us only from other people but they also rose up within our own hearts, testing the reality of our committal – not that we ever wavered or regretted our choice. There were however, times of severe and desperate conflicts headed in my own personal experience by an unspeakable fear. At these times everything seemed black and menacing.
An assault of this nature sought to overwhelm me shortly before we left. With the threatening hand clutching at my heart I turned to the Bible looking for comfort and help. For a long time I found none. Verse after verse I read without seeing a ray of light. My soul was sick and wounded. Suddenly a word stood out. It seemed to come to meet me, it laid hold of me and did not let me go. It held my eyes with a quiet personal authority which came, obviously, from above. There it was written, ‘Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed; neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame.’
How often in coming days we referred back to this word and this hour, reminding the Lord, ‘Lord, Thou Thyself didst promise, we should never be put to shame. Behold, we are at the end of our resources, there is no escape from this great trouble and affliction. Now is the time for Thee to redeem Thy word.’ We never met a refusal. God always proved in His own time that He is faithful and true.
One day, a young man, a church member, approached me. His face was earnest and troubled. He could not understand why we were planning to leave at so critical a time.
‘Only in these past few months have we learnt to read our Bible,’ he said. ‘You know,’ he continued, becoming quite intimate and calling me ‘uncle’ which warmed my heart, ‘You know, that it never occurred to us formerly to search in the Book. Today we cannot live without the Scripture. We take it with us to work and read it whenever and wherever we find an opportunity. You must have heard that Harry buried his little New Testament when he was ploughing. It dropped out of his pocket. Now he has ploughed it up again.’
The weather tanned man looked at me solemnly and trustingly and said, ‘No, you cannot leave us now. Surely that cannot be the will of God. The opposition of the others is making you tired. Isn’t that true?’
Were we really being driven by impure motives? There was still time and opportunity to retrace our steps and to stay. Should we do so? The pleading eyes of that young man disturbed my rest.
That evening, I was reading in the book of the prophet Micah. All was still in the house. Everybody had retired for the night. The crickets outside were performing their well known evening concert. The moon, on the wane, hung heavily on the eastern horizon. My eyes must have wandered out there and when they returned to the Bible, I knew I had come home to the father’s heart. Suddenly I was struck as by lightning. Twice over I had to read the word before I could take it in, ‘Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest…’
There is a way of handling God’s word which is dangerous and which comes near to augury. But there is no doubt it was God who spoke that night. His speaking set aside all the living pleas and urgent protests of our dear friends and fixed our eyes upon the future – unknown, and yet, known.
There was now no doubt, the time had come to bid farewell. This was His way for us and we accepted it. Nevertheless we could not restrain a wave of sadness as we thought of the parsonage in which so much had happened. Here we had laid many a brick and driven in many a nail. How small and leaky it had been when we moved in. The friends had enlarged it, and had joined the farmers in the work, taking up trowel and spirit level. Yes, there had been happy co-operation.
We had to bid farewell to the simple little church with its quaint weather cock (since broken off) – farewell to the vestry in which many a prayer had ascended to God’s Throne on behalf of the people. A people so beloved, but so blinded.
We had to bid farewell to the right to proclaim His Word in this church. We knew that. The doors would now close behind us for the last time, never to open again. Who would have guessed with what bitterness and implacable hatred these same doors would be slammed in the face of our dear ones.
We had to bid farewell to the school house. What a privilege it had been to sow the seed of the Word in young hearts. There were already signs of growth. In the Scripture lessons we had searched together, they and I. Many a thrill of discovery had been waiting for us in God’s word. I would miss it a great deal.
We had to bid farewell to the farms under the great big trees and in the woods and the fields. Farewell to those whom we had loved and sought in vain, who now stayed behind angrily complaining, ‘You have torn our church asunder.’
With sore hearts we bade them all farewell. We asked them not to dismiss us with the usual coffee, cake and speeches; instead when I had finally divested myself of the clerical robe, we met once more in the church for a time of friendship round the Word. It had been in this church in one of those Bible readings, that Jacob had presented to the Lord all his possessions. Like the child with the five loaves and two fishes, he had given Him all he had. In this church many a one had given his heart to the One Who, alone, had the sovereign right to it.
The Bible reading came to an end. For the last time I locked the door of the church, and for the first and last time I handed it to the church elder who had changed from a bitter enemy into a faithful friend. He took it with tears in his eyes and climbed silently into his car.
We now returned to the empty house. The furniture van had already left. But one thing we had forgotten to do. We had not read in the daily motto book. The much cherished book of the Bohemian Brethren was lying on the window sill and seemed to beckon to us. We picked it up, opened it as that day’s date and as we read our hearts were deeply moved, ‘And every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold…’ Hushed and grateful my wife and I looked at each other. The Lord had lovingly stooped down, addressed His children, and cast a radiant light upon their way.
We clambered into the blue American car and left behind for the last time the yard and cedar avenue – and the past. Before us lay the future. But the events of the last two years in this place belonged to the future and to eternity. We kept them hidden in grateful hearts.
God in His faithfulness had already gone before and had prepared houses for ourselves and for our dear brother Jacob. We moved to the big city. It is a long way from the little house at the foot of Table Mountain to a residential area of the capital. It is a long and difficult way for the little ‘House of the Widow’ in the peaceful heather land of Germany to the garden city which is the seat of South Africa’s government.
We moved to Pretoria because it seemed the obvious thing to do. The evangelist, Brother Helper, to whom I owed so much, lived there. I could not imagine that our commission could be different from his. He knew that his part was to minister to the German speaking people of South Africa. We presumed – or at least I presumed – that my mission was the same.
But this assumption had been born out of anxiety. There was in me a timidity of having to walk the way of the Lord alone. Thinking of the work, I felt apprehensive and looked for support. In the meantime the dear brother had been praying for a long time – for a fellow worker. It seemed that God was now answering his prayers.
I had taken the first steps of faith in this city and had learned to love her. There she lay nestling in green hills and valleys, bidding a warm and friendly welcome to her guest. Although a city, it had a measure of African placidity and African cordiality and soberness. There it was that I had been set free and yet become a prisoner, a bondslave of Jesus Christ. This was home. About my boyhood home the pigeons had sought refuge in the high clefts of Table Mountain’s rock. But here I had found a far greater refuge – the Rock of Ages.`
The plan to move here had been made after a quiet hour of prayer with my wife. It had been back there in the parsonage which now stood empty. There, one day, she had been gazing into the distance, pondering, when suddenly she said, ‘Are you quite sure we should move into the city? Are you quite sure?’
While I kept silent, taken aback and disturbed in mind, she continued, ‘It seems to me we should live near our dear ones here, maybe close to our own town…’
Fear drove me to answer, ‘But we must most definitely go to the capital! For, you see…’ My agitation should have made me suspicious of myself. But fear, my true nature, now drove me on, preventing me from taking anything else into consideration.
But God had taken all that into account. He foreknew, made allowance for it and guided us in His lovingkindness. We found a house which became home as no other had done before. But it did not remain our home for long before the faithful Guide in His own and glorious purpose led us on.
Jacob lived in Fox Street (not symbolically though!). Brother Helper lived nearby and we spent many a blest hour together in fellowship and prayer.
Of the way in which the loving father met His children’s need I shall tell later. What we needed, we received. Whatever we asked for in faith, God in His faithfulness provided.
In this city our youngest child was born. We called her Friedeburg. Her name (which means Fortress of Peace) symbolically enshrines for us the overarching protection that had become so manifestly real in our lives. With her joyousness and great courage, her golden hair and clear perception she gladdened our hearts more and more. The Lord had given us in our seven children a precious love-gift. To us, each one was a special treasure. And, like all things of great value, they stand in constant danger from the one who seeks to break in and steal God’s precious jewels.