Discovering the Existence of God’s Word
O precious volume! only in thy pages
We read the duty of all our race;
Only thy sunbeams, shining through the ages.
Reveal the wonders of saving grace.
—Daniel S. Warner
Edwin had heard that there was such a book as the Bible, but that the Bible was a good book or of any more value in the world than the almanac or the “Book of Black Arts,” that had been in the home of Mrs. Fitch, had never been suggested to his mind. So of course he did not know that the Bible was God’s great message to the world. It was therefore a wonderful thought when the truth first dawned upon his mind.
The little group that had been present at the time of his conversion were the first to explain the matter to him, and when Mrs. Kauffman added, in words that he could understand, that the Bible contained the story of Jesus, she found that he had never heard that there had ever been any one on the earth by that name. It was a long story, but after hearing a little, Edwin was anxious to hear the remainder, and when his kind friend had finished speaking, he asked simply, “Was Jesus God’s Son and yet a man just as I am?”
“Yes,” Mrs. Kauffman replied; “God made man in the first place, good and pure like Himself, and he was made master of all that was in the world. In return for all these blessings, God demanded obedience and said that death to all the human race would be the penalty for his disobedience.”
Then she related that man yielded to sin and fell from the holy state in which he was created, receiving as his penalty eternal banishment from God’s presence, and she went on to tell of the provision that had been promised at the time of the fall.
“For more than four thousand years,” she said, “this awful blight of sin continued; then Jesus, the provision that God had promised, came into the world to live a life of perfect obedience to God. And God sent to all the world by His Son the message that any and all who would follow Christ’s example and live as He had told them at the first to live, would be forgiven and with His Son would become a part of His own great family [Hebrews 5:8-9]. God in this way formed a bridge across the gulf that had been fixed between the sinner and his Maker. Now it is possible for any one who will, to cross the bridge and to enter heaven, but they must prepare for the journey before they die.”
“Is all that in the Bible?” Edwin asked in astonishment; “and is it so that God’s Son once lived upon this earth?”
“Yes, Edwin, it is true,” Mrs. Kauffman answered. Then she read and explained Hebrews 1:1-3 and 5:8-9: “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”
She then told him that the place where Jesus had lived was far away from there, but that it was a country similar to our own. As she continued to talk about Jesus’ home, Edwin exclaimed, “Oh, if only I could some time go and see that place for myself!” But when he thought of what such a trip would cost, his hope of ever getting there was destroyed. As Edwin considered the wonderful love that had prompted God and His Son to make so great a sacrifice for men and women who had been disobedient to His laws and commands, his heart was flooded with love for his Creator, and he cried:
“I knew that God must have made some way for man to know where he was going to land in eternity! Jesus is that provision. I can see it all now, and the assurance that we are going aright is that we are obedient to God?” he added with a rising inflection.
“Yes, it is obedience to God,” Mrs. Kauffman explained. “But there is more to His plan than that. God wants us to love and reverence His Son for all that He has done. To do this we must ask God to forgive and to receive us back into His family for Jesus’ sake. This is a true prayer when it comes from the heart.”
“Is that the prayer that I prayed when I was converted?” Edwin asked, remembering the three little words that he had selected from one of the prayers in Mr. Meyer’s tent.
“No,” Mrs. Kauffman replied; “your prayer was different. It was really no prayer at all, but you see you did not understand these things or know how to pray. God knew what you wanted, because He understands the heart, and He knew that you would have asked for it in proper words if you could have understood.”
Both Mr. and Mrs. Kauffman were very good to Edwin; for after he had left their neighborhood, they had learned something of his worth. Every day during the meeting they endeavored in some way to help him to understand what it means to be a Christian, and some of the wonderful things that are in the Bible. Much of their effort was lost, however, because of his ignorance, but it seemed that each time he was able to grasp a new thought that would correspond and link on to his own experience.
When the last day of the camp meeting arrived, Edwin was sorry, for he felt that it had been a good place to be; but since he had received the benefit for which he had come, he was ready to return to the farm and fulfil his agreement with Mr. Miller and do all that he could to make up for the time that he had been away at the meeting. The Kauffmans, Itterlys, and Meyers had all given him pressing invitations to visit them in their homes, and with many happy remembrances of the meeting in his mind he was soon well on his way down the dusty road in the direction of his employer’s home.
Again he noted the sweet songs of the little birds, and nature seemed all aglow with her beauty and grandeur; but as before, when he was on his way to the meeting, his mind was too full of weightier things to give outside things much thought or attention.
As he passed in through the open gate, he remembered that Mrs. Kauffman had said that in a certain city not more than ten miles away a Bible could be purchased, and, knowing that Mr. Miller occasionally went to that city to do his trading, he decided to ask him to get him a copy while there.
When he reached the summer-kitchen, he found the old couple partaking of their evening meal, and when Edwin had taken his accustomed place on the end of the bench, he was asked to give an account of the meeting and to tell how he had enjoyed himself while there. It was in glowing terms that Edwin described each little detail and the effect that the entire meeting had produced in his life. When he had finished, Mrs. Miller remarked:
“I’m glad, Edwin, that you have at last found out what it means to be converted. But of course you will have to join the church. You can go with us to our church every Sunday if you want to, and after you go a while they will tell you whether they want you to become a member.”
Edwin gladly accepted the invitation, and then after telling what Mrs. Kauffman had said about the Bible, he asked Mr. Miller if he would buy him a copy the next time he went to the city. The latter said that he would do the best that he could. When the smoking-hour arrived, Edwin remained, but to visit, not to smoke. He cared no longer for his pipe, for the appetite for tobacco was all gone.
Although Edwin was disappointed a number of times because of his employer’s forgetfulness to do his errand, a few weeks after the camp meeting had closed, a little, red-leather pocket Testament in both the German and English languages was placed in his hand, and what a treasure it was! The price that Edwin had paid for it seemed very small indeed, but he did not know that the little volume was only a part of the wonderful book of which he had heard such thrilling accounts.
In the days that followed a great longing to read the sacred pages of his little Testament came into his heart, but even to have the little book in his possession was a great comfort, and very often he drew it from his pocket and pressed it to his heart while he was at his work.
On Sunday, Edwin never failed to go with Mr. and Mrs. Miller to the little church that was on the corner where the roads met and crossed, and he was still as earnest and anxious to learn as he had been at the camp meeting; but the difficulty of the language was ever before him, and his extreme ignorance concerning the Bible was very noticeable.
At last when the subject concerning whether he should be accepted as a candidate for a member of their denomination arose, a lengthy discussion among the most prominent brethren followed, and it was decided in Edwin’s hearing that he was far too ignorant on Bible lines ever to amount to anything among them. It would therefore, they said, be best to drop the matter at once.
“Think of it!” said one, “it doesn’t stand to reason that any one with so little education and knowledge concerning the Bible could be so easily converted. He will be like a wave of the sea—lost and forgotten, in a very short time. Why, he can’t even understand the preaching yet or the things that you try to explain to him! To my mind his case isn’t worth bothering with.”
After Edwin had heard this man’s reasoning and had found that it was the decision of all, he was given an opportunity to speak for himself. He said:
“I’m sure that you are mistaken when you say that I will not stand. I know that I am very ignorant about what is in the Bible, but if you will just give me ten years, I will prove to you that God, who has brought me through all my past difficulties, and in spite of all my ignorance has directed me always in the right way, will never fail to teach me the next best thing to do.”
After Edwin’s speech it was decided that it would be all right for him to attend the meetings, but that they could not accept his name even on probation.
It was with a sad heart the following day that Edwin went about his work upon the farm. He could not understand why the brethren had doubted his ability to stand nor their reason for not allowing him the same privilege that was given to others, simply because he was ignorant and his conversion had not required so long a time as they were in the habit of allowing their more enlightened members. “God surely knew what He was doing,” he reasoned, “and I believe that my life is as precious to Him as that of any other man, though he may know a great deal more than I do.”
All day long he was burdened and sad, and when night came, instead of resorting to the summer-kitchen as had been his habit for so long, he went to his room immediately after the evening chores were done. Falling upon his knees and taking from his pocket his little red Testament, he opened it and laid it upon the chair before him. Then as tears blinded his eyes, he buried his face in his hands and, bending reverently over the little volume, made his request known to God.
“O God!” he cried, not caring by whom he was heard, “You who have been so faithful to me in the past, in helping me out of all my difficulties, help me now! I have learned that this little book is to make me know what You want me to do, so help me to be able to read what is in it.”
To Edwin this task was no greater for him than others had been that he had mastered, and with perfect faith, believing that God would open his understanding sufficiently for him to comprehend the meaning of all that he needed to know, he began the work of learning what he should have known many years before.
With his finger Edwin carefully traced in several words the outline of the letters, until suddenly a few of the characters that he had learned from the school-teacher when, in his early childhood days, he was sent to school as protector of his younger cousins, returned to his mind, and although they had been meaningless then and had been long since forgotten, they corresponded perfectly with those before him. Thus he continued to labor long into the night, and during the days and evenings that followed, whenever there was a moment to spare, a moment that he could feel was his own, he endeavored to locate the same letters in other words. But although he could locate several of the letters, he did not know their names.
Later on, after the corn-husking was done, Mr. Miller decided that he could get along with the work by himself, and Edwin began looking for another place. When the word became circulated that Edwin was wanting a job, several opportunities to get into good families were offered him, but he would decide on none of them until he had spent a few weeks in visiting the kind friends whom he had met at the camp meeting.
During Edwin’s stay with Mr. and Mrs. Miller, Edwin had learned to respect them very highly, and their kindness and sympathy meant very much to him, but he felt that he was sadly misunderstood by them both and that their judgment was not altogether good. He was sad, too, because of the attitude of the church-members toward him, but his only thought was to prove to all that he was sincere, and although so coldly held off by some he continued to attend the meetings regularly.
On the morning of his departure, Mrs. Miller in her motherly way invited him to visit them occasionally, and after thanking them kindly for all their interest in him, Edwin left for the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kauffman. Frank Kauffman was at his mother’s home when Edwin arrived, and when he saw the welcome that she gave to the one whom she had so severely condemned, because of the influence she was afraid he might have upon her son, he could not help smiling. He had heard that Edwin had given up the use of tobacco, and it was not long until he learned from Edwin himself his reasons for doing so. Frank was much impressed by the story and felt that perhaps Edwin was right about the matter, and he would have been glad to give up the use of tobacco himself, but the power of habit was great, and the poisonous nicotine was so working in his system that his strength of decision was limited.
Edwin’s stay with the Kauffman’s was prolonged to several months; for these people, finding that Edwin was so anxious to learn to read his Bible, began at the foundation and taught him both the English and the German alphabets and instructed him how to use them in forming words. Until then Edwin had not understood the difference in the languages, and, finding that the words used in prayer and preaching, were not a heavenly language as he had supposed, but were meant for any one to speak, he decided at once to master them both. He reasoned that what he could not comprehend in the one language he might in the other, and his progress in the undertaking was so rapid that it was marvelous.
When he learned that the Bible was in two parts—a New and an Old Testament—and that his little red-covered book was only the New, he longed for the complete volume and was soon in possession of one.
“Hear me speedily, O LORD: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.” (Psalm 143:7-8)