Sixty Years ago Today
On October 31st 1955 I had the greatest spiritual experience of my life. Driving in my car from Palmer, Tennessee (where I was pastor) to Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville (where I was a student) I had what I might call a “Damascus Road” experience. As I drove there appeared the Lord Jesus Christ at my right – interceding for me to the Father. I never felt so loved. But I could not tell what Jesus was saying, only that He was putting His whole authority on the line with the Father in my behalf. I burst into tears as I drove – on old U. S. 41 between Monteagle and Manchester, Tennessee.
Two Scriptures had come to my mind as I was praying: 1 Peter 5:7 (“Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you”) and Matthew 11:30 (“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”). Before the vision of Jesus appeared I was laboring in prayer, asking the Lord to enable me to cast all my care upon Him so I could say that my yoke was “easy”. I had felt a deep burden on me to pray. Normally I would play the radio all the way on a trip from Palmer to Nashville but that morning I wanted only to pray.
The next thing I remember – over an hour later – was hearing Jesus say clearly to the Father, “He wants it”. The Father replied, “He can have it”. In that very moment there came a peace into my heart – with warmth – that is impossible to explain. It was not merely the absence of anxiety but the presence of rest in my soul. A moment later I saw the face of Jesus looking at me. This lasted for less than a minute. Then I was at Trevecca and went to my first class at 8:00 am.
What happened to me that day? What was “it”? I heard Jesus say, “He wants it” and the reply came back, “He can have it?” Over the last sixty years I have asked what was – what is – “it”?
I have come up with several answers: peace – that’s for sure. The “it” was peace. I immediately connected it at the time to the “rest” described in Hebrews 4:9-10. The “it” was certainly “full assurance” (Gr. plerophoria) of my salvation. I knew beyond any doubt that I was eternally saved. The “it” was the earnest of my inheritance. It was surely the baptism of the Holy Spirit (although I did not speak in tongues at that time). When I get to Heaven I will inquire further what “it” is!
The calm peaceful presence in my heart transformed me. Things did not bother me. What people said about me had minimal effect on me. I did not get easily upset. The person of Jesus was so real to me.
A month later I had my first vision. Among other things, it indicated I would have a wide ministry but outside my old denomination. Three months later as I was driving from Kentucky into the Tennessee border I felt a well inside that wanted to come out; the only way to let it out was to utter unintelligible sounds. I did it. I kept this to myself; speaking in tongues is more offensive to Nazarenes than Calvinism. I told only two or three people over the following twenty years, one of whom was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He affirmed to me that what happened was real.
But there was more. My theology changed immediately after that experience of October 31, 1955. I knew I could not lose my salvation. Before the day was over I was acutely aware of the sovereignty of God. This led me to believe in predestination. For a while I wondered if I was the first since the Apostle Paul to experience anything like this!
Seeing Jesus at the right hand of God made me see how real the resurrection of Jesus was. I was amazed to discover that He really is a man. I was attracted to the verse that there is one mediator between God and men, “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim.2:5). One of the most overwhelming realizations was that Jesus is my elder brother. Also, his death on the cross became real. Furthermore, the literalness of the Second Coming was real. The Bible began to speak to me as it never had. I saw things in the Scriptures I had never seen before. I was attracted to Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious”.
“You are going off into Calvinism”, my professor Dr. W. M. Greathouse said to me. And what is that? “We don’t believe that”, he said. I replied, Then we are wrong”.
I have never put down in writing (until today) a summary of doctrinal convictions that immediately followed this experience. I emphasize: what immediately followed – as in hours and days – not what I came to embrace many years later (which would build on what I state below):
- How literally true the resurrection of the person of Jesus is.
- How true it is that Jesus is truly a man.
- The fact of Jesus interceding for us at the Father’s right hand.
- The historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus.
- The full assurance of my salvation = my unconditional eternal security.
- The utter reality of the Second Coming: so real as if it already happened.
- A sense of sin inside, although I was possibly as sinless as one could be.
I remained a Nazarene a good while, but I eventually left my old denomination. I am grateful for my background. “That is what has saved you”, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say to me. By that he meant that my Nazarene background (he seemed to know a lot about it) is what preserved me from being a cold “perfectly orthodox, perfectly useless” Reformed minister. Those are his words.
However, I’m afraid Nazarenes today are quite different from the days in which I was influenced by them. A few days ago I had lunch with several Trevecca professors (retired). Not one of them appeared to believe that the sun standing still in Joshua’s day was literally true. One of them unashamedly espouses “open theism” – the notion that God does not know the end from the beginning; indeed, God does not know the future and looks to us for wisdom what to do next! I left that lunch sobered. But thankful.
It is the experience of October 31, 1955 that has preserved me from liberalism. I think I was the only one at the table that day who believes in the infallibility of the Bible. Some orthodox people poke fun at the idea that “a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument”. Cold, dead orthodoxy often depends on argument or reason to support Scripture. But I have both – thanks to the Holy Spirit unveiling truth in the Word of God. I can defend what I believe; I would go to the stake for what I believe. This is why we need the Word and the Spirit together.
Thank you, Lord, for what You did for me sixty years ago. I hate to think what I would have become without Your coming to me as you did. I might well have become a liberal while staying in my old denomination.