Chapter 17: At the Crossroads—a Momentous Decision
It was humiliating to have to admit my wife had been right, and I had been wrong, in the most serious argument that ever came between us.
But to my utter disappointed astonishment, I found that much of the popular church teachings and practices were not based on the Bible. They had originated, as research in history had revealed, in paganism. Numerous Bible prophecies foretold it. The amazing, unbelievable truth was, the source of these popular beliefs and practices of professing Christianity was, quite largely, paganism and human reasoning and custom, NOT the Bible!
I had first doubted, then searched for evidence, and found proof that God exists—that the Holy Bible is, literally, His divinely inspired revelation and instruction to mankind. I had learned that one’s god is what a person obeys. The word “Lord“ means master—the one you obey! Most people, I had discovered, are obeying false gods, rebelling against the one true Creator who is the supreme Ruler of the universe.
The argument was over a point of obedience to God.
The opening of my eyes to the truth brought me to the crossroads of my life. To accept it meant to throw in my lot with a class of humble and unpretentious people I had always looked upon as inferior. It meant being cut off from the high and the mighty and the wealthy of this world, to which I had aspired. It meant the final crushing of vanity. It meant a total change of life!
It meant real repentance, for now I saw that I had been breaking God’s law. I had been rebelling against God. It meant turning around and going the way of God—the way of His Bible—living according to every word in the Bible, instead of according to the ways of society or the desires of the flesh and of vanity.
It was a matter of which way I would travel for the remainder of my life. I had certainly reached the crossroads!
But I had been beaten down. God had brought that about—though I didn’t realize it then. Repeated business reverses, failure after failure, had destroyed self-confidence. I was broken in spirit. The self in me didn’t want to die. It wanted to try to get up from ignominious defeat and try once again to tread the broad and popular way of vanity and of this world. But now I knew that way was wrong
It was truly a battle for life—a life-and-death struggle. In the end I lost that battle, as I had been losing all worldly battles in recent years.
In final desperation, I threw myself on His mercy. If He could use my life, I would give it to Him—not in physical suicide, but as a living sacrifice, to use as He willed. It was worth nothing to me any longer.
Jesus Christ had bought and paid for my life by His death. It really belonged to Him, and now I told Him He could have it!
From then on, this defeated no-good life of mine was God’s. I didn’t see how it could be worth anything to Him. But it was His to use as His instrument, if He thought He could use it.
JOY in Defeat
This surrender to God—this repentance—this giving up of the world, of friends and associates, and of everything—was the most bitter pill I ever swallowed. Yet it was the only medicine in all my life that ever brought a healing!
For I actually began to realize that I was finding joy beyond words to describe in this total defeat. I had actually found joy in the study of the Bible—in the discovery of new truths, heretofore hidden from my consciousness. And in surrendering to God in complete repentance, I found unspeakable joy in accepting Jesus Christ as personal Savior and my present High Priest.
I began to see everything in a new and different light. Why should it have been a difficult and painful experience to surrender to my Maker and my God? Why was it painful to surrender to obey God’s right ways? Why
Somehow I began to realize a new fellowship and friendship had come into my life. I began to be conscious of a contact and fellowship with Christ, and with God the Father.
When I read and studied the Bible, God was talking to me, and now I loved to listen! I began to pray, and knew that in prayer I was talking with God. I was not yet very well acquainted with God. But one gets to be better acquainted with another by constant contact and continuous conversation.
A Doctrine at a Time
So I continued the study of the Bible. I began to write, in article form, the things I was learning. I did not then suppose these articles would ever be published. I wrote them for my own satisfaction. It was one way to learn more by the study.
I had been reared of Quaker stock. The Quakers do not believe in water baptism. But now I wanted to prove, by the Bible, whether I ought to be baptized. So I began to study about baptism—and receiving the Holy Spirit.
As this study of the Bible continued, I was forced to come out of the fog of religious Babylon a single doctrine at a time. It was years later before I came to see the whole picture—to understand God’s purpose being worked out here below, and why, and how, He is working it out. Like a jigsaw puzzle, the many single doctrinal parts ultimately fit together, and then, for the first time, the whole picture burst joyfully into view.
It was like being so close to one tree at a time I could not see the forest. I had to examine every doctrinal tree in the religious forest. Many, as I had been brought up to believe them, were felled on close examination in the Bible. New doctrinal trees came into view. But finally, after years, I was able to see the whole forest of truth, with dead doctrinal trees removed.
That is why students at Ambassador College today are able to learn the truth much more rapidly than I could. That is why the readers of the Plain Truth, the regular listeners of the World Tomorrow program, and the students of the Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course are able to come to mature knowledge of the truth so quickly. The pioneer work has been done. The weeds have been removed. The very trunks of the trees of false doctrines have been chopped down and uprooted.
But I myself had to check carefully and test every doctrine, one at a time.
And so next, after repentance and surrender to God, came an intensive study of water baptism.
Disillusioned About Preachers
During my initial six-month study, I had studied not only the Bible, but every book, booklet or tract I could get on the religious subjects under study. On the Sabbath question, I had sought out eagerly and studied avidly everything I could find against the Sabbath and supporting Sunday as the “Lord’s day.” But I had tried to be fair, and searched also the literature on the other side of the question. But always the Bible was the sole authority. Thus I became quite familiar with Seventh-Day Adventist literature.
Never, however, did I attend any Seventh-Day Adventist church service.
Also I checked over carefully the literature of the Church of God, with headquarters at Stanberry, Missouri.
Upon surrender to God, I had lost all sense of animosity toward Mrs. O. J. Runcorn, the elderly lady who had started my wife on the religious “fanaticism” which proved to be God’s truth. We even came to call her and her husband our spiritual parents. Mrs. Armstrong and I visited with her frequently when in Salem at the home of my parents. Through her and her husband we became acquainted with a small group of “Church of God people” in Salem and near Jefferson, Oregon.
One day when we were in Salem we learned that a preacher of this Church of God had just arrived from Texas, an Elder Unzicker. He and his wife were staying at the home of a neighbor, member of the Church of God. Mrs. Armstrong and I walked across the street to this neighbor’s house to see him. I wanted to ask him questions about water baptism.
Questioning Other Ministers
Next I went to a Baptist minister in Portland to learn why Baptists believe in baptism. He was courteous and patient, glad to explain his church’s teachings.
I went to a Seventh-Day Adventist minister. He, too, was courteous and glad to explain his belief, according to the Bible.
Then, finally, I went to see a minister of the Friends Church.
I asked him why the Quakers did not believe in water baptism. He explained the Quaker belief. They believe in spiritual, not water, baptism.
“Well, Herbert,” he said finally, “I’ll have to confess I can’t honestly justify our church position by the Bible. This very thing bothered me a great deal when I first felt called into the ministry. At first, I felt I could not consistently become a minister in the Friends Church because this stand on water baptism really bothered me. But then, I looked at some of the great preachers of the church (naming several, including my own great-uncle Thomas Armstrong), and they all seemed to be holy men of God. And so I decided that if such great and holy men could preach against water baptism, so could I.”
To me, this was disillusioning and discouraging. It showed me that ministers are human, like other people, after all. As a boy, I had somehow come to assume that ministers of religion are different from other people. Preachers were holy. Other people were sinners. Other people had human nature. But preachers were above the temptation and weaknesses of mortal humans. They were a sort of special species, about halfway between ordinary humans and God. I had looked on ministers of religion with a sort of embarrassed awe. I think many people think of the clergy in similar manner.
Of course I was not a minister, and at that time did not ever expect to be. In my Bible study up to this point I had become painfully aware that “the heart [human] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is true of every human, and I had to realize it included me. But I had to come to see that clergymen are human also—and perhaps have even a harder fight against temptation than laymen.
My Experience Utterly Unique
Actually, though I didn’t realize it then, I was, myself, being literally thrust into the ministry of Christ, though not at all of my own seeking. And I know now that my experience was, in all probability, utterly unique! Most certainly the manner in which I was put into it was unlike any other I had heard of.
How does the average minister come to enter the clergy? I’m sure most choose the ministry in the same manner that other young men choose medicine, law, architecture or science as a life profession. So, naturally, they enter into whatever course of preparation is provided by their particular religion, church or denomination. Probably they enter a theological seminary. There they are taught the doctrines of their particular religious organization.
But I did not belong to any particular religion, church or sect. I did not choose the clergy as a profession. Actually, that would have been the very last choice in my case. But, though it was not yet realized, the profession I had chosen, after thorough self-analysis and survey of professions and occupations—journalism and advertising—provided the very background, training and experience to fit me for what I was now being drawn into.
I did not enter the course of study of some particular religion or church. I was not being taught by man! I had entered on the in-depth study of the Bible to prove my wife was wrong in a new religious belief. Being challenged also on the theory of evolution, my research led me to question even the existence of God and the authority of the Bible. And I had accepted the reality of the existence of God, and the authority of the Bible, only after finding incontrovertible proof.
How do most people come to believe what they do? The philosopher C. E. Ayres commented that few indeed ever stop to inquire in retrospect how they come to believe what they do, or why they believe it. Most people believe whatever they have been taught, or what they have read or heard, or whatever their particular group, religion, church, political party or area of the world believes. They simply “go along.” They carelessly assume, because others do.
Our system of education encourages this. It fails abysmally to teach growing children to think for themselves, to question, to seek proof before believing. In school and college, students are taught to accept and memorize whatever is in the textbook or given in the lecture. They are graded on how well they have accepted and memorized what has been thus funneled into their unsuspecting minds. And I know of no seminary that departs from this process or encourages students to thoroughly question whether their sectarian doctrines are true.
Of course, too, people usually believe what they want to believe. That is to say, they refuse to believe what they don’t want to believe. But in my case I was forced, on thorough examination and research, to believe what, prior to that research, I had definitely and vigorously not wanted to believe. I was forced to accept, on proof, that which I had started out to prove false. I was forced to admit, under most humiliating circumstances, on proof, what I had hoped to disprove.
And what I was forced, on proof, to accept was probably the most unpopular belief and the hardest for most people to accept. But I had, against my wishes, found it to be true, and once proved true, I did finally come to embrace it with gladness and joy!
In no other manner, I believe, could the mind of anyone have been opened to see the most basic, vital truths of the revealed message of God to mankind—the most important knowledge of all—utterly overlooked and unrealized by this world’s religions, churches and sects.
It was in this unique manner that I was brought to discover the missing dimension in education—the truth about why humanity was put on this Earth—the true purpose of human life—the cause of all the world’s unhappiness, unsolvable problems and evils—the difference between the true values and the false—the way that can be the only CAUSE of peace between nations, groups and individuals—the only cause of true success in life with happiness, peace, prosperity and abundance.
No, I know of no one who was thrust into the ministry of Jesus Christ, untaught by man, but by the living Christ through His written Word, in the manner in which I was. I didn’t realize it yet, but I was being brought into His ministry by the living Christ in a manner utterly unique and totally unlike any other of which I know!
But back, now, to my study in regard to baptism.
Begotten of God
Finally the study of the subject of baptism was completed. There was no longer doubt. Peter had said: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 2:38). To Cornelius and his house, who already had received the Holy Spirit, Peter said: “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy [Spirit] as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord …” (Acts 10:47-48).
It was a command. There was no promise of receiving the Holy Spirit until after being baptized—although Cornelius, the exception to the rule, had been begotten by the Holy Spirit prior to baptism. Yet even he was commanded to be baptized in water. What I had learned in this study on baptism is recounted in our free booklet All About Water Baptism.
And so I was baptized forthwith and without delay.
Immediately upon coming up out of the water, I definitely experienced a change in attitude and in mind generally. I had already repented and surrendered to God’s rule over my life. The natural carnal hostility to God and His law already had gone.
Yet now, for the first time, I felt clean
For the first time in my life I experienced real inner PEACE of mind! I realized, as never before, how futile and useless and foolish are the ways of this world on which most people set so much store. There was a quiet, wonderful happiness of mind in the sure knowledge that now I was actually a begotten son of God! I could really call God Father!
There were no excitable physical sensations or exhilarating feelings running up and down the spine. Nothing of the nervous system. That is physical—not spiritual. Nothing of the senses—nothing sensual, as some people, diabolically misled and deceived claim to experience. But there was a knowing! There was an unmistakable renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2).
For six months I had struggled night and day, with a carnal mind, to learn the truth about one single doctrine in the Bible. Prior to that my wife and I had read the Bible clear through—but I had not understood a WORD of it! Most of the time I asked my wife to do the reading, because she could read faster. We got through quicker. But it was like reading or listening to a foreign language. I simply could not UNDERSTAND the BIBLE!
But now, from this point of baptism on, a strange, wonderful, delightful new thing took place. I could read the Bible and understand what I read! Of course I could not understand the whole Bible in five or 10 minutes. I still had to study it a doctrine at a time. But it was understandable
It was like a miracle! And indeed, it WAS a miracle! The very Holy Spirit of God had come into and renewed my mind. I had been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the true Body of Christ, the Church of God—but I did not realize that fact literally. I was still to search earnestly to find the one and only true Church which Jesus founded, before recognizing fully He had already placed me in it!