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 prayers did
not take more than five minutes.
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 Sunday.
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
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
'No, you will not. It is a sacred gift from my
'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
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
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
out 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
'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
To which the Plymouth Brother rejoined: I assure you,
your attempt is fruitless. Think again over what I have
And the brother proved as good as his word. he
knowingly committed transgressions, and showed me that he
was undisturbed by the thought of them.
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
My difficulties lay elsewhere. They were with regard
to the Bible and its accepted interpretation.