There are experiences which all servants of God go through that seem almost too personal and too sacred to reveal to the public, and yet some of these incidents might be used of the Lord to strengthen the faith of others passing through seasons of special trial, and so I have decided to share several such episodes with my readers.
Unless my memory is playing tricks with me, it was in the summer of the year 1900 that my wife and I went to what is now known as East Bakersfield, but was then called Kern City, in California, for a tent campaign. It was a venture of faith, because I knew but one family in that district — very dear friends of mine who had found blessing in meetings at Long Beach some time before and who had urged me to come to their town for tent services, particularly because of an interest that had developed among some French Roman Catholics through the quiet ministry of an aged man named Mr. Petrequin.
The meetings went on for about two months and were blessed to the salvation of a few souls, which greatly gladdened our hearts. When the time came to take down the tent, with a view of returning to our home in Oakland, we went over to the station to get our tickets. Just before purchasing them, a very distinct impression came to me that I should not go through to Oakland, but should stop at Fresno.
Now I know that it is a very dangerous thing to be guided by impressions, but this one was of such a definite character that I could not throw it off. I told my wife how I felt, and said to her, "You stay here and pray, while I go outside and talk to the Lord about it." I walked up and down the station platform, asking God to make clear to me whether this was His mind. The more I prayed, the less I could shake it off, so I went to the window and bought a ticket for my wife to Oakland, but a ticket to Fresno for myself.
As we got on the train I said, "If when we reach Fresno I am clear about going on, I will simply step out and purchase another ticket; otherwise I will get off at Fresno."
However, when that station was reached, I simply could not get the consent of my own mind to go on to Oakland, so I handed my wife all the money I had with the exception of a solitary dollar, not telling her, of course, the low state of my finances, and bidding her and our little one good-bye I stepped off the train, not knowing what was before me.
I should perhaps explain that something like a year before I had received a letter from a brother in the Lord in Fresno, telling of blessing received through some literature I had sent him and asking me, if circumstances ever permitted me to come to Fresno, to make my abode at his home and he would be glad to do what he could to find a place for public testimony. I had his address with me, and leaving my bag at the station I took a street-car to the place indicated. What was my disappointment when I got there, to learn from neighbors that he and his family were away for a summer vacation and would not return for a number of weeks! I felt rather rebuffed, and wondered whether I had not made a great mistake in following my impression.
However, I was in for it now, and there was nothing to do but carry on. So back to the station I went, got my grip, and found a palatial lodging at a cost of twenty-five cents a night! The little money that I had would not carry me very far even in so inexpensive a place, so I was very careful not to spend any more for food than was absolutely necessary.
It was now going on toward evening, and I was on my knees asking God to show me if I had made a mistake, or on the other hand to give me some indication if He had a service for me in this city, when I heard the sound of singing outside. I went out to a street corner and listened a little while to the Salvation Army, but when the collection plate was passed I walked away, the state of my finances not being such as to make me enthusiastic about participating.
A block away another street-meeting was in progress, and I went down and listened to that. It was under the auspices of the Peniel Mission of Los Angeles. There was a good ring to the testimonies, and I decided to go on to the Hall for the later meeting. I waited until a large crowd had gathered inside, and then slipped in quietly and sat down by the door. Two ladies were in charge of the meeting. I had hardly taken my seat when I became conscious of the fact that both of them were looking in my direction and whispering together, evidently about me. It was a little embarrassing, to say the least. The next moment one of the ladies walked down the aisle, and coming directly to where I sat, inquired, "Are you the one who is to preach here tonight?" Surprised, I answered, "I do not know. "
She looked at me peculiarly, I thought, and then said, "Well, are you not a preacher of the gospel?" I told her that I was, or tried to be. "And have you not a message for us tonight?" I replied, "I am not sure. Why do you ask?" She answered that the other lady and herself, who had charge of the Mission, had been praying about the message for the evening, and it had seemed as though a voice distinctly said to both of them, I will send My own messenger tonight. You will know him when you see him." And she added, "So we were watching everyone who came in the door, and when you entered, we both were sure that you were the person."
This was more surprising than ever, but it fitted in with my own experience, and I told her how I happened to be in the city that night. She immediately said, "You must be the Lord's messenger. Please come right to the platform."
Accepting it as an opening of God, I obeyed, and after some testimonies, I preached the gospel to the assembled throng. They immediately asked if I would not remain with them for at least a two-weeks' campaign, which I agreed to do.
This, I should explain, was on Thursday night. I preached the next two evenings, looking to the Lord daily in prayer that He would supply my temporal needs, of which I could not, of course, speak to anyone else. But in His inscrutable wisdom He allowed Saturday night to come, leaving me absolutely penniless. I did not even have the required twenty-five cents to pay for my room, so rather disconsolately I said good-bye to my landlord and took my suitcase into a drug store, asking permission to leave it there until called for. The druggist smiled, and said, "If it does not contain dynamite you are welcome to do so!" I assured him that it was perfectly safe, and left it there.
I will never forget how utterly alone I felt as I stepped out into the street. It was getting quite late in the evening, and I had had only five cents' worth of food all day, and I had no place to go for the night. Yet somehow I felt strangely lifted up as I remembered One who had said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. "
I had a large supply of gospel tracts with me in a number of different languages, so I walked across the Santa Fe' tracks into what was then the very worst section of the city, and I spent my time until two o'clock in the morning visiting the vile saloons and filthy dancehalls of the district, until I had distributed about three thousand of these little gospel messages. God gave the opportunity for earnest testimony to quite a number of different people — poor derelicts, far away from their homes and sunk in the depths of sin.
But now even the saloons were closing up. My supply of tracts was exhausted, and still I was left without any place to go. So following the street-car track, I walked out to the end of the suburban line, and there found an empty car into which I crept, and tried to sleep on the benches. The night had turned very cold, and I could not be comfortable. I tried to pray, but I regret to confess that I was not in the spirit of prayer. In fact, by this time I was inwardly complaining, not without bitterness, to God. The scripture came to me, "My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus," and my rebellious spirit exclaimed, "Then why does He not do this? He has promised, and He is not fulfilling His Word. "
I became very much perplexed and distressed. But about four o'clock in the morning I decided that I would find more comfort in walking than in the car, so I went back to the city. In the grounds surrounding the court-house was a large weeping-willow tree, the branches of which hung very low on all sides. I crawled in under them, and found myself in a kind of leafy bower where I managed to get about two hours' sleep where no one could see me.
When I awoke, God was speaking to me in regard to certain things in my life concerning which I had allowed myself to become very careless, and I knelt beneath the tree and poured out my heart to Him regarding my lack of faith and my self-will. The more I confessed, the more things came to my mind which required self-judgment, until I no longer wondered why God had not undertaken for me, but I was amazed to think how very good He had been to me in spite of my many failures.
After a while I went over to the fountain in the court-house grounds and washed a bit, and then walked around until it was time for Sunday School service at the Methodist Church, where I had promised to teach a class of young men.
When I went in to the opening exercises I was much surprised to see a man taking quite a part in the service who had been my own Sunday School teacher years before in Los Angeles. I stepped over and introduced myself, and received a warm welcome from him. Upon his inquiry as to how I happened to be there, I explained that I was holding meetings at the Mission, and had been asked to teach a class. He immediately invited me to lunch with him after the morning service, an invitation which I need not say I was delighted to accept.
I taught my class, remained to hear the sermon, and then my friend and I went out for lunch. I did not dare to tell him anything of my actual circumstances, but it was refreshing to enjoy the fellowship, and a good meal quite set me up.
At the afternoon meeting an interested crowd filled the Mission Hall, and at the close of the service a young osteopathic doctor came up to me to inquire at what hotel I was staying. I told him that I had been staying in a certain quarter of the city, but did not indicate the name of my hostelry. He then asked, "Could you not come and stay with me? I have a nice apartment with a spare room. I am lonely for Christian fellowship, and I would be delighted to have your company.
Well, what could I do but accept? I felt that it was the Lord's wondrous provision. He was eager to come with me to my "hotel" to get my grip, but I assured him that I would attend to that myself. I hurried off to the drug-store where I had left my bag, and having obtained it, I hastened to the doctor's apartment. He noticed that I was rather weary, and suggested that while supper was being prepared — which he himself was to attend to — I should have a little nap. To this I very gladly consented, and I remember so well that about an hour afterward I dreamed I was passing through a fearful earthquake, but I soon found it was the doctor shaking me to get me up! He was amazed to find that I was such a sound sleeper.
We had our supper together, and went down to the evening meeting. God wrought in power, and quite a number of precious souls came forward and were dealt with personally, all professing to accept the Lord Jesus. Then, without the least intimation on my part of a need of any kind, one and another of the Christian friends crowded around me, slipping money into my hands, until when I went back to my room I counted it out and found I had twenty-seven dollars.
How I thanked God for His mercy! On the morrow I sent my wife a good portion of the money, knowing it would be needed at home, but I prudently retained enough to pay my railroad fare if nothing more was received.
A little later I went out to the post office to look for mail, and found a letter from my step-father. He had a way of folding his letters backwards, and as I drew the letter from the envelope I saw a postscript staring me in the face. It read as follows: "God spoke to me through Philippians 4:19 today. He has promised to supply all our need. Some day He may see that I need a starving! If He does, He will supply that."
Oh, how real it all seemed to me then! I saw that God had been putting me through that test in order to bring me closer to Himself, and to bring me face to face with things that I had been neglecting. And so I pass this little incident on to others, hoping it may have a message for some troubled worker who may be going through a time of similar need and perplexity.
From Random Reminiscences From Fifty Years of Ministry by H. A. Ironside. New York: Loizeaux Bros., 1939.
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