The Camp Meeting
And many learned to trust the Lord
From precious truths that here were heard,
While sounded out God’s precious Word
From pulpit, and from altar, too.
By hearing of its meaning true,
They learned to know that God would do
Just as His Holy Word had said,
In leading all that would be led.
—A. B. Gildersleeve
Edwin was faithful to his promise regarding his employer’s interests, and at the end of the month the farm-work was under such good control that both Mr. and Mrs. Miller had decided that they too could attend a part of the meeting. Several times Edwin had visited his friend Mr. Kunz, and upon one occasion he had noticed that, where the roads crossed, there was a large advertisement. It read:
AUGUST 31—SEPTEMBER 7
A series of religious open-air meetings will be held on the
CAMPGROUND AT MAPLE GROVE
Everybody invited. Come and bring your friends.
—Camp Meeting Committee
But as he could not read the words, he was at a loss to understand what was meant by the sign; but when his friend explained that it was a notice of the camp meeting of which he had been telling him, Edwin thought he comprehended, and he felt that it was indeed a wonderful thing.
When at last the morning of the thirty-first arrived, everything about the farm was in excellent condition to leave. Mrs. Miller brought Edwin his clean clothes that she had so carefully mended, and said: “On the campground, Edwin, you will find a large boarding-tent. There you can buy your meals, and there will be some place given you to sleep at night. Of course, you can do as you like, but I wouldn’t take along anything that I didn’t need, for bundles will only be in your way.” So when Edwin set out for the campground, which was a distance of about five miles, he was empty-handed.
The day was perfect, and Edwin, dressed in a neat suit of clothes, straw hat, and colored shirt, appreciated it as such. The little birds and nature had lost none of their charms for him in all the trying scenes through which he had passed, but upon this occasion they were merely passing thoughts, for his mind was upon the meeting and his purpose in going to it.
From his experiences in the prayer meetings Edwin had learned that he could not understand the words that were used in prayer, and he did not know why this was so; consequently the thought was suggested to his mind that now perhaps he would be unable to know when the operation through which he was soon to pass would begin.
Dinner was just over when he reached the grounds, but although the boarding-tent was pointed out to him by a man who was working hard to get his tent-pole in position, Edwin did not go to ask whether there would be a second table, partly from ignorance and partly because of his not being very hungry. He was more anxious to examine the place where the meetings were to be held. Mr. Kunz had given him a description of what to expect, but he wanted to see it all for himself. He soon discovered the crude structure that was to serve as a pulpit, and he found that it was just as his friend had described it. The rows of seats, which were simply some boards laid upon large blocks of wood, were also as he had expected to see them. There were enough of these rude benches to accommodate a large congregation. Only above the stand was there a covering, and Edwin wondered what would happen in case of a storm, but this also was but a passing thought.
Finding, by inquiring of a neighbor whom he happened to know and whose name was James Hass, that the meeting-hour was close at hand, Edwin suddenly realized that if he was to have an interpreter he must make haste in finding one, and as Mr. Hass did not seem to have any special duties, he asked the favor of him. After Edwin had explained that his object in coming to the meeting was to be converted and that all he wanted of Mr. Hass was that he inform him when to act, the two went at once and took their places on the front row of seats very close to the pulpit, and there they waited patiently while the rest of the people assembled. Judging that Mr. Hass would be as anxious to help him as Edwin had himself always been to do kind acts for others, he had no thought of doubting his interpreter’s sincerity. After the bell had rung the minister soon arrived, and the meeting was begun.
The opening exercises were similar to those of the prayer meetings that Edwin had attended and were in the German language. The minister arose and read as his text, Titus 3:7: “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” As he talked upon the hope of the righteous, his words would have been a great inspiration and encouragement to Edwin could he have understood them. The speaker went into detail regarding the sinful state of mankind and endeavored to make perfectly clear why it was necessary that a person should see his lost condition before he could become a Christian by being born again, but of course Edwin did not receive the least light.
At the close of the sermon the minister said, “If any one desires to be converted and become an heir to these promises, let him stand.”
“It’s time to act now,” Mr. Hass whispered in Edwin’s ear, not knowing that Edwin had thus far understood nothing of the sermon; but he explained his meaning by adding. “You must stand up and let him know that you want to be converted.”
Without a moment’s hesitation Edwin arose, and while he waited to be told what next to do, his heart was bounding with joy and bright anticipation, for he was positive that the wonderful operation of which he had been so long dreaming had at last actually commenced. He was sure that they were beginning with him all right, for they were commencing with his case on the very first day of the meeting. And, because he supposed that it would require the entire season of the camp meeting to complete the work, he was very grateful to his interpreter for telling him what to do.
While standing thus in front of the audience, he turned about to see if there were any in the congregation that he knew, and to his surprise he discovered in one of the back seats his mother and a few others with whom he had been acquainted. With a thrill of satisfaction he again faced the minister, wondering if they too had come to the meeting to get converted. He did not know that his mother had lately taken up a “faith,” as she called it, and by her old associates was being termed religious. But he believed that she must have had some good intention in coming to so sacred a place and that she would approve of the step he had taken.
He was still standing, facing the minister and wondering what the next step would be for him to take, when his interpreter explained that he must be seated. Edwin was greatly disappointed, for he desired that since the work had commenced it might go right on to its completion. Still he made no complaint, believing that the minister knew his business and would be faithful to him.
As Edwin sat down beside Mr. Hass, feeling that everything would come out all right in the end, he did not see the expression of disgust that shadowed his mother’s face. Feeling that he was disgracing her by his ignorance, she would have enjoyed punishing him as she was in the habit of doing in his childhood, but this was beyond her power.
It was but a few minutes after Edwin had taken his seat until the meeting was dismissed, and the people scattered out over the grounds, a few to the pump, some to the boarding-house entrance, and others to their private tents. Edwin followed the largest crowd, for Mr. Hass had left him as soon as the meeting was dismissed, and he went to the boarding-house for his supper. He was very hungry, having had no dinner. After the meal was ended, he walked about over the grounds until it was time for the evening service. Very glad he was when he heard the meeting-bell ringing as Mr. Kunz had explained it would, and, finding his interpreter, he was soon again seated in front of the pulpit.
The evening’s discourse was given in the English language, but it was no more enlightening to Edwin than the afternoon’s sermon had been; still, by his expression of reverence and awe the congregation was not aware of this fact. At the close of the service Edwin was surprised to see that the entire congregation arose and remained standing as he had done in the afternoon. By this he supposed that all who were there had come to be converted. Then an altar-call was made, and Edwin’s interpreter whispered, “That means to go forward.”
Now, if Edwin had not already been in front of the entire audience, he would have gone forward; but supposing that the call was for someone else, he remained standing as he had done in the afternoon, but he made no move toward the altar. Still the singing continued and no one came forward, and as the minister’s manner became more and more earnest, all eyes were turned toward him. Edwin became sorely troubled; for he feared that he was not doing all that he should do to get the best results, and he did not want to hinder the operation.
He saw the long vacant bench in front of the pulpit, but he had no way of knowing that “going forward” meant to kneel in prayer before the altar where the spiritual workers might pray with and help him to understand what it meant to be converted. For this ignorance he was misjudged, many supposing that he was stubborn and unwilling to bow before the altar in so humble a manner.
Noticing that Mr. Hass had occasionally spoken to him, no one else thought it necessary to do so. It seemed that night that the singing and invitations were continued an unusually long time, for Edwin’s case was already creating an interest. The fact that he was a subject for prayer and the anxiety pictured upon his face made many long to see him move out and get an experience of salvation. And Edwin, feeling that something was expected of him and that he was losing much valuable time, became more anxious and concerned as the moments crept by.
It was another opportunity for his divine Teacher to act, and suddenly he seemed to feel the pressure of a strong hand placed upon his shoulder, and by an unseen power he was forced downward upon his knees directly in front of the altar. Although he could not have told how or why he was there, he was sure that it was the right thing for him to do, and immediately his worry was gone. Thus, unconsciously and mysteriously he was being led one step at a time, but always he was unable to know just what thing to do next.
Seeing Edwin kneeling at the altar, the minister soon came and, kneeling beside him, began to ask various questions, but to all that he said he received no answer, and he wondered at Edwin’s silence. Then again Edwin was misjudged. Not knowing that it was because the young man did not understand the language, the minister arose, leaving Edwin still kneeling at the altar, and dismissed the meeting.
When Edwin realized that the people were scattering out over the grounds, he too arose from the altar and followed them. Then he remembered that Mrs. Miller had said that some place would be found for him to sleep, and as Mr. Meyer, one of Mr. Miller’s neighbors, appeared among the crowd, Edwin made his wants known, and the kind old gentleman hastened to show him a good bed that he had prepared in his covered wagon. It had been made, he told Edwin, for another brother, but he could share it if he liked.
Edwin lost no time in getting into the place assigned him, but before sleep would come to his eyes, he had carefully reviewed in his mind all the events of the day. Charging his mind with the place where he had left off in the evening, he was determined to commence again right there at the very first opportunity that was offered him, and he was confident that he would somehow discover just what was the next best thing to do. Still he could not help wondering just what that step would be. He was still pondering upon these things when sleep came to his relief, and it was not until the early songs of the little birds peeled merrily forth through the grove the following morning that he awoke from his dreams.
Edwin was soon dressed and out upon the grounds, feeling thankful indeed that he was still permitted to live and enter upon another day of life. Only a few people were in sight, and he began to wonder how long it would be before breakfast would be ready. Then he thought he could hear the sound of singing such as he had heard in the meetings, and he listened carefully. “I can not afford,” he told himself, “to miss anything that pertains to the meeting.” He found that the sound was coming from the tent near where he had spent the night, and, walking up to it, he quickly lifted the flap that served as a door.
The tent was owned by Mr. Meyer, as was the wagon in which Edwin had spent the night, and the occupants of the tent, which were Mr. and Mrs. Kauffman, Mr. and Mrs. Gardner, and the Meyers, were having their morning worship together. To Edwin the little scene that met his gaze was a pleasant surprise; for he at once connected it with the prayer meetings that had been held at the residence of his employer, as he recognized some of the people who had been at the meeting and whose countenances and earnestness in prayer he would never forget.
The worship was over, and the song to which Edwin had listened had been intended for the closing-song. Then they were to separate and each family go to their own tent for the morning meal. Edwin’s appearance in the doorway changed their plans, and Mrs. Meyer, a dear old lady who had felt a deep interest in Edwin from the time she had first seen him in the prayer meeting, arose and, offering her chair to Edwin, bade him enter and be seated, while she found a seat for herself on the foot of a temporary bed. Edwin needed no second invitation, for Mrs. Meyer had spoken in his mother-tongue, and he could understand what she said. Then she said, “Let us once more kneel down and pray,” and they all knelt down, Edwin following the others’ example.
As they prayed, Edwin once more watched their faces and carefully listened to every word, but not a word could he understand. He knew that the people were praying, but he did not know that they were praying for him.
So deeply was Edwin impressed with the earnestness of these people and so sincerely did he wish to join them in prayer, that he decided to watch carefully for small words that he could say regardless of their meaning and to repeat such words as a prayer for himself.
“If I take some words from a real prayer, they will be a part of a prayer, and it will not be as though I had learned the words from a book or from some person.”
Thus, in his ignorance he listened and reasoned, and when he had found three small words, meaningless in themselves, he began to repeat them in audible tones. The fact revealed to Edwin while working among the stones in the field of grass that God had made a provision whereby man could be able in this life to understand upon which road he was traveling toward eternity had never left him, and although he had not as yet discovered anything at all about God’s great plan of salvation, he was still certain that as soon as he was converted he would discover all the things he was longing to know. At that moment it seemed to Edwin that the only way to unravel Frank’s definition of prayer and what it meant to be converted was to use some words from a real prayer until he could form a prayer of his own, and for this reason he had selected the three little words.
God, as a “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12) saw the sincerity of Edwin’s purpose, and the little unintelligible words reached His throne as though they had been an eloquent prayer, and the more he prayed the more desperately in earnest did he become.
Suddenly Edwin felt that his prayer must have taken hold on God, for a burden new and strange and different from anything that he had ever experienced semed to settle down upon him, and as it grew heavier and heavier, he felt that he was being crushed to the earth. Then a feeling of unworthiness that even the earth should hold him up and keep him from instant destruction in hell until God in His mercy would deliver him swept over him, and in his desperate condition he cried out until his voice was heard all over the campground, and the people in crowds came to discover, if possible, what was taking place in Meyer’s tent.
Then a strange and wonderful thing occurred. Heaven in all its beauty seemed to open to his view, and as the great burden rolled away he sprang to his feet, and while leaping about the tent he shouted for joy and thanked God because he was at last sure that he was on the road to heaven.
When at last Edwin could think about his surroundings, he saw that both “flaps” of the tent were open wide and that Mrs. Kauffman, Frank’s mother, was earnestly preaching salvation from sin to an immense congregation. The latter had been drawn together by the sound of Edwin’s agonizing cries, and although Edwin could not understand what she was saying, for she was speaking in the German language, he was sure that she was telling them of God’s wonderful power and goodness to him. And as he looked about him, he wondered why the people and trees had never appeared so beautiful to him before.
When the curiosity of the crowd had been satisfied and Edwin was once more on the outside of the tent, he was surprised to find that all nature was beautified and that the songs of the birds were sweeter and more thrilling than he had ever known them to be. In recovering from his state of rapture, he realized that only one half day of the camp meeting was over and that he not only was converted but had all the remainder of the meeting before him. It was his blessed privilege to enjoy the remainder of the time with all the rest of God’s good people.
Such had been his breakfast, and when the meeting-bell began to ring, Edwin did not look for his interpreter; for he felt that since he had received that for which he had come to the meeting, it was no longer necessary to trouble Mr. Hass.
The all-seeing Father not only had understood Edwin’s ignorance and taught him his need, but had helped him to know how to approach His throne in an acceptable manner.
“For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper…. and precious shall their blood be in his sight.” (Psalm 72:12,14)