The next day at one o'clock I went to Mr. Baker's prayer-meeting. There I was introduced to Miss Harris, Miss Gabb, Mr. Coates and others. Everyone kneeled down to pray, and I followed suit. The prayers were supplications to God for various things, according to each person's desire. Thus the usual forms were for the day to be passed peacefully, or for God to open the doors of the heart.
A prayer was now added for my welfare: 'Lord, show the path to the
new brother who has come amongst us. Give him, Lord, the peace that
Thou hast given us. May the Lord Jesus who has saved us save him
too. We ask all this in the name of Jesus.' There was no singing of
hymns or other music at these meetings. After the supplication for
something special every day, we dispersed, each going to his lunch,
that being the hour for it. The prayer did not take more than five
The Misses Harris and Gabb were both elderly maiden ladies. Mr.
Coates was a Quaker. The two ladies lived together, and they gave me
a standing invitation to four o'clock tea at their house every
When we met on Sundays, I used to give Mr. Coates my religious diary
for the week, and discuss with him the books I had read and the
impression they had left on me. The ladies used to narrate their
sweet experiences and talk about the peace they had found.
Mr. Coates was a frank-hearted staunch young man. We went out for
walks together, and he also took me to other Christian friends.
As we came closer to each other, he began to give me books of his own
choice, until my shelf was filled with them. He loaded me with
books, as it were. In pure faith I consented to read all those
books, and as I went on reading them we discussed them.
I read a number of such books in 1893. I do not remember the names
of them all, but they included the Commentary
of Dr. Parker of the City Temple, Pearson's
Many Infallible Proofs and Butler's Analogy.
Parts of these were unintelligible to me. I liked some things in
them, while I did not like others.
Many Infallible Proofs were proofs in support of the religion of the Bible, as the author
understood it. The book had no effect on me. Parker's
Commentary was morally stimulating, but it could not be of any help to one who
had no faith in the prevalent Christian beliefs. Butler's
Analogy struck me to be a very profound and difficult book, which should be
read four or five times to be understood properly. It seemed to me
to be written with a view to converting atheists to theism. The
arguments advanced in it regarding the existence of God were
unnecessary for me, as I had then passed the stage of unbelief; but
the arguments in proof of Jesus being the only incarnation of God
and the Mediator between God and man left me unmoved.
But Mr. Coates was not the man easily to accept defeat. He had great
affection for me. He saw, round my neck, the Vaishnava
necklace of Tulasi-beads. He thought it to be superstition and was
pained by it. 'This superstition does not become you. Come, let me
break the necklace.'
'No, you will not. It is a sacred gift from my mother.'
'But do you believe in it?'
'I do not know its mysterious significance. I do not think I should
come to harm if I did not wear it. But I cannot, without sufficient
reason, give up a necklace that she put round my neck out of love
and in the conviction that it would be conducive to my welfare.
When, with the passage of time, it wears away and breaks of its own
accord, I shall have no desire to get a new one. But this necklace
cannot be broken.'
Mr. Coates could not appreciate my argument, as he had no regard for
my religion. He was looking forward to delivering me from the abyss
of ignorance. He wanted to convince me that, no matter whether there
was some truth in other religions, salvation was impossible for me
unless I accepted Christianity which represented the truth, and that
my sins would not be washed away except by the intercession of
Jesus, and that all good works were useless.
Just as he introduced me to several books, he introduced me to
several friends whom he regarded as staunch Christians. One of these
introductions was to a family which belonged to the Plymouth
Brethren, a Christian sect.
Many of the contacts for which Mr. Coates was responsible were good.
Most struck me as being God- fearing. But during my contact with this
family, one of the Plymouth Brethren confronted me with an argument
for which I was not prepared:
'You cannot understand the beauty of our religion. From what you say
it appears that you must be brooding over your transgressions every
moment of your life, always mending them and atoning for them. How
can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can
never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the
perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement
are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the
burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless
Son of God. It is His word that those who believe in Him shall have
everlasting life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we
believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin
we must. It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And
therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind.
Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace.
Think what a life of restlessness is yours, and what a promise of
peace we have.'
The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:
'If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I
cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of
my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the
very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be
content to be restless.'
To which the Plymouth Brother rejoined: I assure you, your attempt
is fruitless. Think again over what I have said.'
And the Brother proved as good as his word. he knowingly committed
transgressions, and showed me that he was undisturbed by the thought
But I already knew before meeting with these friends that all
Christians did not believe in such a theory of atonement. Mr. Coates
himself walked in the fear of God. His heart was pure, and he
believed in the possibility of self-purification. The two ladies
also shared this belief. Some of the books that came into my hands
were full of devotion. So, although Mr. Coates was very much
disturbed by this latest experience of mine, I was able to reassure
him and tell him that the distorted belief of a Plymouth Brother
could not prejudice me against Christianity.
My difficulties lay elsewhere. They were with regard to the Bible
and its accepted interpretation.