One Hundred Years Ago: Excerpts From Letters 1884

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Note: In the year 1884 the following excerpts from letters were written from Beirut, Syria. The writer was B.F. Pinkerton from Springfield, Illinois who went as a missionary to labor for the Lord in Syria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.
"It is a mighty gap from the dark and Satanic system of Islam into Christianity.... It is very different from the case of a professing Christian who is not real, although the remedy in both cases is the same. for it is Christ. But in the former case you have no Christian foundation to build upon. So far as a missionary's work is concerned, all must be new. You dare not take a single thing, even seemingly good, of his old system, for it is Satanic. The Koran is to us an unclean book, whose authority we dare not admit, even as a witness... I would not quote a single sentence from it as a means of dealing with souls.
"I was puzzled, for a good while, to find some line of truth to meet the state of mind amongst Christians. If you ask a man here, Are you a Christian? he says, `Yes, thank God, I am a Christian.' And he will go on talking as piously as you please. What I finally struck upon was very simple. I say, 'Well, my friend, if you should die today, where would you go to?' He replies, `If my works are good, I should go to heaven; if bad, to hell.' I take him up on that, and insist to know how he estimates his works, if they have been of such a nature as to entitle him to go to heaven at once. It finally comes out that his works are not good. Well, I tell him that he would certainly go to hell, according to his own reasoning. We then go on to the question of man's works, as measured by the law, and from that to Christ.
"Once I was spending a few days in Ramleh, Palestine. People were coming and going. A man of some intelligence came in, and asked me if it were true that the English were going to make a railway from Joppa to Jerusalem. I told him I did not know. `Well,' he said, `it would be a great blessing, and make business good,' etc. `Well,' I said, `we may die before it is completed, and what then?' He replied at once, `That would be far better, for then we should go to Christ.' His remark being unusual, it struck me, and I thought I would probe it. I replied, `Certainly being with Christ would be far better than remaining here. But will you kindly tell me how the like of you and me can attain such a great blessing?' Again he replied promptly, 'By faith and works.' I asked, 'It is by faith and works?' `Yes,' he repeated, 'faith alone will not do."Well, now,' I said, 'my friend, we must look into the matter; for if our getting to heaven depends partly on our faith, and partly on our works, we must look out that our works are of the proper kind and quality. We must have the right measure for them.' He replied, `They must be measured by the law of God.' I said, `You are, doubtless, right; for if any part of our getting to heaven rests on our works, they must be according to God's law. Well, this law says we must love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourself.' `Just so,' he replied. `Now,' I said, `we will admit that part that speaks of love to God, and look into the matter of love to our neighbor. If your house were on fire, and that of your neighbor at the same 'time, you will throw one jar of water on the fire in your own house, and the next on the burning in your neighbor's. If you receive one pound, you will divide it with your neighbor,' etc. He was astonished, and said, 'Well, if that be true, hell is nearer to us all than heaven;' and bade me good-day; and I saw no more of him.
"A talk of this kind never fails to gain the attention of nominal Christians here, but would have no effect whatever on a Mohammedan.... The god the Mohammedan talks about is not the true God at all. His creed is, There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is the apostle of Allah. That is, the god he owns has spoken and revealed himself by Mohammed. But this is not the God I know. Many Protestants seem never to have doubted that Mohammedans own the true God, but are only mistaken in their way of worshipping Him.... The god Mohammed speaks of has neither holiness, love, truth, justice, or any other of the true attributes of God.
"There are many here who are instructed in the dark acts of Satan. One, who says he is Christ, wrote me a letter last year. It was inspired by Satan, and wonderfully adapted to deceive. I burned it. He referred to little things, known only between God and my soul, and I am sure he could only have referred to them by Satanic inspiration."
When we remember the above extracts refer to those very lands where the gospel was first preached—Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—surely there is much room for grave reflection.
And if this Satanic flood of apostasy and iniquity rolls over those favored lands, is not a still worse apostasy foretold, soon to cover the whole of the restored Roman empire? (Rev. 13.) And yet men talk about wonderful days of progress! It is a terrible thing to give up Christ, no matter what may be accepted in His place. The wickedness and darkness of those lands should be a solemn warning to us. May we be aware of his wiles.
Oh, fellow Christians, was there ever a time when we had greater need to cleave to Christ with full purpose of heart? Are there not also many in these favored lands in the same uncertainty and ignorance of a finished redemption, and justification by faith, as the nominal Christians of Syria? Is that your state, beloved reader? Are you nearer to heaven, or hell? Has God proclaimed to you forgiveness of sins through Jesus, and are you uncertain that God speaks truth to you? Do we hear you saying, No, I believe God, I believe that blessed message proclaimed to me. Then we hear God saying, Thou art justified from all things. (Acts 13:38, 3938Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38‑39))
Beirut, Syria; July 1884
"We had a short visit last week from our brother S., who was on his way to the interior, to make a visit to the brethren at Deir Mimas. He had recently been on a tour in the direction of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, finding, here and there, some souls glad to get a book, or a tract, and to hear some words about the Lord. He has been greatly delighted with the translation of Mr. Bellet's Son of God, and has taken three hundred copies of it to distribute. It is a book that brings the Person of the Lord before the soul with peculiar power, and I believe it will be a blessing to many. The Syrian Bishop of Jerusalem, with whom our brother is personally acquainted, was very glad to receive a copy of it, and some other books, I believe. I may remark, that it is often refreshing to us to meet persons in these old churches who really have faith in the Lord Jesus as the eternal Son of God, who suffered, and died, and rose again, and sat down on the right hand of God.
"As an illustration of the way in which light and blessing are scattered, even when we know nothing about it, I will tell you about a man from Mesopotamia who called on me a short time ago. He had obtained this book in his own country, and read it with blessing. Last winter he started with a drove of horses for the Egyptian market—a long distance by land. He brought with him a half-dozen copies of his favorite book, to distribute by the way. He had given all away before reaching Damascus, and expected that he might find more there, but was surprised, when reaching there, to find that the Christians, whom he asked, knew nothing about it. And thus it is, brother, everywhere. Books and tracts you may have written may carry joy and blessing to souls in India, or in Western America, and your neighbors who live within a stone's throw, may never have seen them, or cared aught for them.
"When speaking of books, there is one book I ought to mention, and that is the Word of God, of which we have a good translation in the Arabic—on the whole, it is the finest one I know. The British and American Bible Societies have printed Bibles and Testaments, and scattered them in all directions, almost in such abundance as the leaves of the forest. How thankful we should be that God, in His providence, has multiplied the copies of His Word in so many languages. But, at the same time, there is a very solemn thought that comes to the mind in connection with this fact. The darkness of the middle ages was dense indeed, but there were no Bibles! The darkness of Christendom in our day is increasing and deepening on every hand, while Bibles are available everywhere. If people will go on in darkness, it is because they love it. Hence they have no excuse. Before Luther's day it might have been said, 'True, the darkness is great, but men have no means of light.' As a matter of fact, when the Word of God was preached at that time, thousands accepted it, and got light. But what shall we say of the state of things now? Men translate and publish the Word of God, and scatter it broadcast in the earth, while they themselves are in darkness, all the while claiming 'we see.' What new remedy can we devise? We can devise no other. As J.N.D. remarks somewhere, 'For a gospel definitely revealed, and rejected, there is no
gospel.' " Your brother in Christ,