Today is Sunday March 28th. It was 56 years ago today, on Sunday March 28th 1948 that I first came to know the Lord Jesus as my Saviour. Seldom do I mention myself in the articles I write, simply because my desire is to point my readers away from myself to the Lord, to His word, to His creation and purposes. So please forgive me if I depart from my usual practice today, because I feel so full of gratitude to my Lord for His wonderful sustaining power over these many years. I wondered whether perhaps a few words of reflection might touch the heartstrings of others as I speak about that day, over half a century ago.
It was just a few days before my 17th birthday as Bob and I cycled down through London to Hildenborough Hall inKent. We had been to a couple of evangelistic rallies in the Royal Albert Hall in London, run by Tom Rees. It had been quite a thrill to listen to this dynamic preacher as he thundered out the Gospel of Jesus Christ to crowds of 9,000 in that great arena. And as people filed down afterwards to receive further instruction on how to receive Christ as Saviour, I remember thinking to myself, “That man’s doing a fine job.” I saw the Gospel for others, but for some reason it never occurred to me that I ought to be amongst the enquirers myself!
As I was saying, Bob and I were on our bicycles, and were nearing Hildenborough Hall, Tom Rees’s home and Conference Centre. It was Friday afternoon, and we had booked for the Easter weekend, having heard about these conferences at the Albert Hall. Bob was already a firm believer, and he knew that I wasn’t. It was because of his invitation that I agreed to accompany him to the Conference. Unknown to me he had conferred with the leaders of the Crusader’s Class we attended, and they had made me a focus of prayer, that during the conference I would find the Lord for myself. I didn’t know anything about that!
During that first evening we sat in the spacious lounge with 150 other guests and were initially entertained by Tom Rees and his wife Jean, who were both larger-than-life figures, and helped everyone to relax. They then introduced their guest speaker for the conference, Dr. W. E. Shewell-Cooper, a well-known horticulturalist, one of the founders of the Crusader’s Union of Boys’ Bible Classes, and horticultural consultant to His Majesty King George VI.
The morning meetings were all to be taken by Dr Shewell-Cooper, and on Saturday he began his talks, all based on aspects of horticulture, and how the Lord used such home-spun parables to drive home His teaching. I do not remember the subject of Saturday’s talk, nor of the final one on Easter Monday, but my memory serves me well for the Easter Sunday talk, which was about the True Vine of John chapter 15. Somehow the message got through to me, and I was riveted to the Doctor’s address. When the meeting was over it was nearing midday, and I said, “Bob, I’m going back to the bedroom for a few minutes. See you shortly.” I think he must have hoped that his persistent prayers were about to be answered.
In the bedroom, which was in a converted stable block about a hundred yards from the main house, near the gatehouse entrance to the property, no one else was about. The silence helped me. I knelt down by the bed and thought about the True Vine. I remembered the clear thrust of the talk. One was either in the Vine, or out of the Vine. There was no half way house. Likewise he emphasised the fact that one doesn’t drift into the Vine. To be joined in union with the Lord, to become one of His sons, required a step of faith in response to His call. And I knew “instinctively” that the Lord was calling me. I say “instinctively” because that’s how I would have spoken about it just then. I hadn’t a clue about the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing men to the Saviour.
There was no emotion. I knew what I had to do. I spoke to the Lord directly as though He were there by my side. Never in my life before had I experienced a real meaningful prayer. My mother taught me to say the Lord’s prayer as a lad, and had ordered me off to Sunday School, which I found quite unpalatable, and stopped going. Neither of my parents went to church, but mother thought I ought to go. I did, on about two occasions. It was never followed up. That was my background. But today was different.
“Lord, I’m not in Your Vine, and I want to be. I have heard Dr Shewell-Cooper’s message, and know that I’m a sinner. I now understand that Jesus died for me, and today is the anniversary of His resurrection. Please forgive me and graft me into Your Vine.” That was about it, as best as I can remember. Looking at my watch I saw that it was exactly 12 noon. I got up from my knees and sat on the bed for a short while. I knew something had happened, but was not in a position to understand it. What I experienced was a sense of peace, quietness, and other-worldliness, which would take time to comprehend.
On Monday evening, Tom Rees asked the assembled company if anyone would like to say a word about the conference, what it meant to them, what they had learned, or experienced. After a few had spoken, I turned to Bob, and he encouraged me to speak. I did so, and was very embarrassed, being amongst the youngest present. However, Tom was very encouraging, and helped me as my throat dried up and I cast around for words. I didn’t say what I ought to have said. I was too scared. It would have been so helpful to others if only I could have told them what happened in the bedroom, but I passed up the opportunity by saying something of a more general nature. I don’t think it had fully penetrated my mind exactly what had happened to me, even though I had asked the Lord very directly about the Vine. The concept of New Life being within hadn’t hit me fully.
However, that was the beginning of my Christian life, and the “new life” within me quickly took hold, and the Holy Spirit enlightened my mind about spiritual things in a way that showed me how blind I had been before. I began taking others to the Albert Hall, and to Conferences at Hildenborough, getting parties together from my school, and having the joy of seeing many of them coming to know the Lord as well. It was a thrilling experience. Then Tom Rees asked me to help with the personal work at the Albert Hall, and I had the thrill of acting as “spiritual midwife” to many others at the end of the meetings.
I could go on and on, telling out the glories of those early days in the 1950s, but that is not my purpose. Life through the ensuing years has been varied, colourful, difficult, oppressive under persecution, and yet joyful as we have seen Satan progressively dethroned in our own sphere of service. In concluding, let me say that I want to utter a very deep and meaningful “Thank you” to the Lord today for His hand upon me through the years. He has never let me down, even though I have nightmares sometimes when I think of the things I have done. I have found Him faithful to His promises, ever forgiving my least trespass, upholding me in times of trial, and ever expanding my knowledge of Himself. To anyone who as yet has never made a commitment, has never known the joy of sins forgiven, and the beauty and love of God, I pray that they may find in Him the Life Eternal, the only Life worth knowing, the richness of His love, and the joy and peace in believing. Thank you for spending time reading my story. May God bless you.