By Max I Reich
The story of the pilgrimage of a soul in its Godward journey from the start to the goal is of perennial interest. It illustrates the way in which Divine grace works. Now we dare not assume that grace always works in the same way with all in every particular. Differences in temperament, in intellectual, and religious background have to be taken into account. God certainly fulfils Himself in many ways. But just as the multitude of human faces we look upon daily differ from each other, yet possess certain common characteristics, so it is in the spiritual realm. The operations of grace in the human soul have certain universal marks which are their evidence and credentials.
(1) The Beginning.
The beginnings of grace are wrapt in mystery, secrecy, and silence. All life begins there. The actual life-germ still baffles human research. God has hidden it from the wise and prudent. The soul becomes aware of a touch, a breath, a feeling of something not of earth, nor of man. The touch is so light, the breath so gentle, the feeling so tender, that it is easy to overlook or ignore these quiet beginnings. Yet in this touch, this breath, this awareness of the Divine, Christ comes, as He once came in lowly guise, as a little Babe, laid in a manger. The world then perceived nothing of what had happened, and went on about its business, its pleasure, its politics and its religion. But all heaven was moved to adoration. So are the first buddings of grace in the soul. The darkness of ignorance and corruption within may be dense, but a gleam, a glimmer, a spark of heaven’s light shines, as it is written: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” This gleam is the invitation of Divine love, and we believe it comes to all. “The true light … lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” and every man is held responsible for the use he has made of his measure of light.
(2) The Deepening
Easy as it is to quench those small beginnings of grace, to drown the Divine voice in sin, folly, or neglect, we do know that here and there some stop and ponder what has happened to them. To such the heavenly touch will then become a pressure. The glint of light will grow into steady flame. The Voice will then sound more imperative and clear. Spiritual and eternal realities, once so dim and uncertain, begin then to stand out clearly before the eyes of the soul. It finds itself drawn away from carnal things to the practice of silent waiting upon God, to meditation on the Scriptures, to the society of God’s people. And moreover it feels the strange intrusion into its former self-complacency to be very disturbing. Secret thoughts are brought to judgment. Sin is felt to be sin and not a mere mistake. The spirit of repentance bows the heart in contrition and tenderness. The soul feels as if a Presence infinitely loving yet infinitely holy also, haunts it, follows it, broods over it and scrutinizes it. Read Psalm 139 for the record of this experience. Day and night the hand of God often lies heavy upon the soul, and yet hardly anyone may suspect it. Beneath outward gaiety may be concealed an aching heart which no earthly nostrums can heal. The gentle touch of the Divine Spirit upon the human spirit has now become a pressure that cannot be ignored or easily brushed aside.
(3) The Crisis
The soul thus exercised sooner or later approaches a crisis. Will it withdraw itself from under the hand of God or will it abide the deepening pressure? Those who welcome the judgments of the Light, the piercings of the sword of the living Word, now experience that the pressure of the divine hand now becomes a decided hold, a grasp, a firm grip. Various names have been given this important crisis. The name “conversion” is as good as any. The soul willingly accepts the Divine Visitant now and He claims her as His. The Creator becomes in the Incarnate Christ the Redeemer, and in the inworking Spirit the Regenerator. “Converted” men and women are those who reel that grace has laid hold on them for their salvation. They have taken the way of “repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” They appreciate and trust His death for them, and that by His stripes they are healed. See Isaiah liii. They now “rejoice in Christ Jesus”, He is more than a Teacher or a beautiful Example to them. He has become a personal Saviour. The gospel is more to them than good advice. It is the very “power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”
(4) The Result
Now all is changed. The grasp of the Divine hand becomes an actual Possession. Christ “gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify us unto Himself as a people for His own possession”. But this being taken possession of must come by the soul’s consent. Yielding to the divine pressure, it experiences that His people are “made willing in the day of His power.” They open the door with a glad heart. Their Saviour is their Lord also. He now takes control over the mind and heart. He subdues the unruly passions, the roving imaginations, the inordinate affections. He takes the place of Leader and Commander. He guards the eye-gate, the ear-gate, the thought-gate; placing there the sentinel of peace. Oh! The blessedness of yielding up unto the Grace that has so long laid siege to the soul!
(5) The Consummation
We are told in the Book of Revelation that the end of all the ways of God is the bringing in of new heavens and a new earth in which there are none of the evils that now disturb the harmony of life—neither sorrow, nor pain, nor crying nor death. And then will the tabernacle of God be with men. He and they will dwell together in undisturbed fellowship forever and ever.
Now every human life is a world in miniature, and “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature (or creation), behold, all things have become new. He lives under new heavens, he walks on a new earth. He has a new uplook and a new outlook. He has been “renewed in the spirit of his mind.” And lo! The tabernacle of God comes down into such a life. Christ dwells in the heart through faith. The Father and the Son love him and make their abode with him. The table of the Lord’s Supper is now spread in the sanctuary within.
Perhaps most would shrink from claiming to have reached this state in its perfection. Even an Apostle said: “Not as though I had already attained.” He pressed to the goal, forgetting the things that were behind. Thus, from the humble beginning of a gentle touch has come this “fullness of blessing.”
There is such an experience as “conversion.” It is not a mechanical process or a mere gush of emotion. It is a transaction in the realm of the spirit, where deep calleth unto deep, registering itself outwardly. This paper is meant to encourage disappointed souls to come down to simplicity—to the child-stature—to be willing to begin where God begins with them; to be tender toward the tendering touches of His Grace. Loving His appearing in them in this lowly form they will be like the wise men from the east in the Gospel story, who rejoiced greatly when they saw the star of the Messiah. The star was not the Christ but it led them to the Christ. And having found Him they fell down and worshipped Him.
Max I. Reich joined Friends in 1904. It was through the writings of a great evangelical Quaker, Stephen Grellet, that he was introduced to Quakerism, and he became one of the last of the ministers of the evangelical tradition. His son has observed that “his passing seems to mark the close of an era of evangelical fervor.”
The first seventeen years of his life he lived as an orthodox Jew. Then he heard the words, “he that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Soon after this he found himself on his knees confessing his belief in Jesus before God. “Immediately upon this confession,” he says, “it seemed as if a great weight had been lifted of my heart and mind and I felt as if the Father himself had come forth and kissed me.” This decision meant a complete break with his family and the religious community in which he had been reared.
His message as a Quaker minister was closely related to his knowledge of Judaism and his personal encounter with Jesus Christ. His ministry was always aimed toward gathering to the Lord, and he knew that the God who seeks to gather all men to himself in Christ is also the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.
After he came to settle near Philadelphia, he became associated with the Tract Association of Friends and was an active member from 1918 to 1944. During this time he wrote a number of tracts that were published by the association, and it is fitting at this time that some of these that deal with his testimony for Christ should be republished by the Association that he served so well.
Lewis Benson, 1952.