Many years ago Sovereign Grace found a young man. The Lord in His ways of saving mercy showed in awakening grace the danger from sin which threatened the soul of this young man. This 20 year old did not know at that time in his life what the Calvinists called restraining grace, that grace the apostle speaks of in Rom. 1:24; 26; and 28; but he sensed in his heart that the Lord was holding hack the forces of evil in his soul, and if the Lord turned him loose in his sin, he would be dragged down into the utmost depths of sin.
The young man sought in every way to cast off his fears, but the fears clogged him still. In an inebriation on the Saturday night of that week in hell, as it were, when he was for a time in his thoughts among the damned, the young man had some mental relief from his fears through the effects of the alcohol. The fears subsided for a brief time, but Grace was good in His electing mercy and did not release the young man to the demons which sought his soul. He slept that night because of the drunken stupor. On the morrow, however, the old fears were awaiting him, and more dreadful than before.
The young man was invited that day to enjoy a home-cooked meal with a neighbor, the young man's parents being away those days. The neighbor was a godly man. In the conversations of that day there was a kind of peace on the heart of the youth, but he was not saved and he knew it. He stayed on through the afternoon, and remained an uninvited guest for the evening meal, and then on into the night, until he knew he must be going. The streetcars would quit running at midnight, and he had to make a transfer to reach the place where he was staying.
And so he left. Caught a streetcar. Had not ridden more than about 6 blocks until the demonic forces were upon him, more dreadfully than ever before. They continued to press upon his soul the fear that his soul would be utterly taken over to its ruin in sin. The devils were so confident in their delight and glee. They pressed him thus until the streetcar came to the place of transfer. They continued unabated while he waited for the other streetcar. They vaunted over his soul as he sat among but few on that lonely and dark, spiritually speaking, night, near the midnight hour. Until finally the young man could take it no longer. He made a decision to seek the salvation of his soul.
Peace came with this decision, but he knew that he was not saved.
He went to the place where he was staying. A kindly old lady had given him a New Testament some years before, as she had sought to speak to him about his soul. He had not read the New Testament, but he had kept it because he was intellectually curious about books on various subjects. He took out this Testament. He hardly knew where to read, but thought he would begin at Paul's writing. He had some little knowledge of the Bible, for he had been reared in a home where church and Sunday school attendance were expected of the children.
He knew that the first of Paul's letters was the Roman epistle. He began there and read down to where Paul said:
"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful, who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."
The young man was now a believer. He knew beyond reasonable doubt that his fears were not due to a disturbed mind which had been too long in its studies. He knew that that gnawing dread that God might turn him over to demonic forces, which would find things in his own heart which they could take hold of and drag him down into utter criminality. Though the young man was now a believer, he knew he was not saved. You ask, "Why?" He would not know, but he did know.
He fell at the feet of Him whom he later came to speak of as Sovereign Mercy. What he said in his prayer, he does not remember. This is the only part of that night's experience that he does not remember. He thinks he might have said, "I surrender," but really he does not remember what he said. He only knows that as he knelt, a condemned sinner, really knelt before the Lord, sincerely seeking deliverance from his sin, a Glory swept over his soul which seemed almost physical in its reality.
He was tired, but refreshed in this beauty. He read that night from the New Testament until in fatigue he could read no longer. He fell asleep, the first sober sleep he had known for a week, saved and thankful. The next day he read on through the New Testament. He went up town and purchased an entire Bible. Began with Genesis and read through Malachi. He could hardly lay it down.
Did he understand what he was reading? Not too well. Why did he continue this reading? It was the savor of God which he discerned therein. The glory which was in the sacred pages answered to the glory which was in his heart, and he delighted in that glory. Many years have now passed. The young man is now an old man, old in years, but younger in the strength of the Lord. He reads the Bible with better understanding now. He seems to have acquired a better grasp of the terms, an understanding of which is essential to an understanding of the Bible, but he still delights in the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ, as that glory is reflected in the sacred pages.
Without this key - the work of sovereign grace in the soul of man - THE KEY - the gospel of Christ - will never be found of man. "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." Psalm 119:18.
[E. W. Johnson was for many years the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. An original thinker and a pioneer of the Sovereign Grace movement in the southern states he privately published a few books, one of which he called "Questions Concerning the Bible," and with this unforgettable account of his conversion that little book ends.]