Learning Whether God Answers Prayers
WHERE is the one TRUE Church today? That is the question that still haunted my mind in the late spring and the summer of 1927.
During that six months' diligent research, I had run the gamut of disillusionment, doubt, confusion, frustration -- and finally, the SURE knowledge, proved, that GOD EXISTS, and that the Holy Bible is His revealed Word.
Finally, sadly disillusioned about believing "all these churches couldn't be wrong," I began to ask, "where is the one true Church today?" I read in Matthew 16:18 where Jesus said: "I will build my Church."
Therefore I knew He did build it. He said the gates of the grave would never prevail against it. It had to be in existence still. But WHERE? Which church could it be?
I had been astounded to learn that the BlBLE teaches truths diametrically opposite to the teachings of the large and popular churches and denominations today. I saw in the Bible the real MISSION of God's true Church. But these churches, today, were not carrying on the real work and mission of Christ.
The SOURCE of their beliefs and practice was not the Bible, but paganism! There was no recognizable comparison between them and the original TRUE Church I found described in Acts and other New Testament books. Yet somewhere there had to exist today that spiritual organism in which Christ actually dwelt -- a church empowered by His Spirit -- acting as His instrument -- carrying out His Commission.
I was to be some years in finding the answer.
I still had to sift out the real truth a doctrine at a time!
Mrs. Armstrong and I began to attend many different churches. I wanted to check on each -- compare it with the Bible. I continued almost daily study at the Portland Public Library.
Getting Relatives "Saved"
One must not assume, from what has been written about my surrender to God, and the change that came with God's Spirit, that I had reached spiritual maturity and perfection at one quick bound. No one ever does. A human baby must creep before it learns to walk. It must learn to walk before it can run. And it stumbles and falls many times. But it does not become discouraged and give up.
The newly converted are mere babes in Christ. I had not learned much, as yet. Vanity was far from being eradicated.
Upon surrendering to accept God's TRUTH -- as far as I had then come to see it -- my first impulse was to share it with my family and relatives. Once the natural-born hostility to God and His Law had been crushed, the Bible TRUTH appeared as a glorious light -- the most WONDERFUL thing I had ever known. I was suddenly filled with zeal to get this precious knowledge to all who were close to my wife and me. I wanted to get them converted.
Suddenly I began to feel so unselfish in this new Christian experience that I felt my own final fate was not important, if only I could get those related by blood or marriage ties into God's Kingdom.
But sad disillusionment followed every overture. I had absolutely no success whatsoever trying to cram "my religion" down their throats.
Facing the Tobacco Question
Then, immediately I was baptized, the matter of smoking had to be settled.
Of course the Quaker church, in which I had been reared as a boy, taught that smoking was a sin. But I had been unhappily disillusioned to see that in so many basic points the Bible teaching is the very opposite of what I had absorbed in Sunday school.
"I've got to see the answer to the tobacco question IN THE BIBLE!" I said to myself.
Until I found the answer in the Bible, I decided I would continue as before -- smoking mildly.
I had continued to smoke lightly, averaging three or four cigarettes a day, or one cigar a day. I had never been a heavy smoker.
Now I had to face the question: Is smoking a SIN?
I wanted the BIBLE answer, for I had learned by this time that Christ had said we must live by EVERY WORD OF GOD. The BIBLE is our Instruction Book on right living. We must find a BIBLE reason for everything we do.
I knew, of course, there is no specific command, "Thou shalt not smoke." But the absence of a detailed prohibition did not mean God's approval.
I had learned that GOD'S LAW is His WAY OF LIFE. It is a basic philosophy of life. The whole Law is summed up in the one word LOVE. I knew that love is the opposite of lust. Lust is self-desire -- pleasing the self only. Love means loving others. Its direction is not inward toward self alone, but outgoing, toward others. I knew the Bible teaches that "lust of the flesh" is the way of SIN.
So now I began to apply the principle of God's Law.
I asked myself, "WHY do I smoke?" To please others -- to help others -- to serve or minister to or express love toward others -- or only to satisfy and gratify a desire of the flesh within my own self?
The answer was instantaneously obvious. I had to be honest with it. My only reason for smoking was LUST OF THE FLESH, and lust of the flesh is, according to the BIBLE, sin!
I stopped smoking immediately. This beginning of overcoming was not too difficult, for it had not been a "big habit" with me. Once weaned, I was able to see it as it is -- a dirty, filthy habit. And today we know it is a serious and major contributing cause of lung cancer!
God designed and created the human body. He designed the LUNGS to take in FRESH AIR to fire and oxidize the blood, and at the same time to filter out of the blood the impurities and waste matter the blood has picked up throughout the body. Befouled smoke, containing the poisons of nicotine and tars, reduces the efficiency of the operation of this vital organ.
The physical human body is, God says, the very TEMPLE of His Holy Spirit. If we defile this TEMPLE -- this physical body -- God says He will destroy us! God intended us, if we are to be COMPLETE, to live happy, healthy and abundant lives, and to gain eternal life, to take in HIS SPIRIT -- not poisonous foreign substances like tobacco.
Mrs. Armstrong Stricken
I was now beginning to grow in Christ's knowledge and in His GRACE. His Holy Spirit had renewed my mind. I could now UNDERSTAND God's TRUTH as I studied His Word.
I had come to understand, the hard way, the truth about Law and Grace. I had come to understand the Bible teaching about water baptism. I had come to see that I could not help others unless I, myself, were obedient and practicing what I preached. I had come to see the truth about tobacco. Now God saw fit to teach my wife and me another most important and useful truth. He let us learn it through severe experience, coupled with Bible study.
Along about early August, 1927, a series of physical illnesses and injuries attacked Mrs. Armstrong.
First, she was bitten on the left arm by a dog. Before this healed over, she was driven to bed with tonsillitis. She got up from this too soon, and was stricken violently with a "backset." But meanwhile she had contracted blood poisoning as a result of being stuck with a rose thorn on the index finger of her right hand.
For two or three days her sister and I had to take turns, day and night, soaking her right hand in almost blistering hot Epsom salts water, and covering her wrist and forearm with hot towels, always holding her right arm high.
The backset from the tonsillitis developed into quinsy. Her throat was swollen shut. It locked her jaw. For three days and three nights she was unable to swallow a drop of water or a morsel of food. More serious, for three days and three nights she was unable to sleep a wink. She was nearing exhaustion. The red line of the blood poisoning, in spite of our constant hot Epsom salts efforts, was streaking up her right arm, and had reached her shoulder on the way to the heart.
The doctor had told me privately that she could not last another twenty-four hours. This third sleepless, foodless and waterless day was a scorching hot summer day in early August.
Does God HEAL Today?
On this late morning, a neighbor lady came over to see my wife.
"Mr. Armstrong," she asked, out of hearing of my wife, "would you object if I ask a man and his wife to come and anoint and pray for your wife's healing?"
That sounded a little fanatical to me. Yet, somehow, I felt too embarrassed to object.
"Well, no, I suppose not," I replied, hesitantly.
About two hours later she returned, and said they would come at about seven in the evening.
I began to have misgivings, I began to regret having given consent.
"What if these people are some of these wild-fire shouters," I thought to myself. "Suppose they begin to shout and yell and scream like these 'holy roller' or 'pentecostal' fanatics do? Oh my! What would our neighbors think?"
Quickly I gathered courage to go to our neighbor who had asked them to come. I told her I had been thinking it over, and felt it better that these people did not come. She was very nice about it. She would start immediately, and ask them not to come. Then I learned she would have to walk over a mile to contact them. They were living in some rooms in the former Billy Sunday tabernacle that had been built for Billy Sunday's Portland campaign some years earlier. This tabernacle was out beyond 82nd Street, near Sandy Boulevard.
It was now in the heat of the day -- the hottest day of the year. I began to feel quite ashamed to impose on this woman, by asking her to make a second long walk on that sweltering afternoon.
"I do hate to ask you to make a second trip out there," I said apologetically. "I didn't realize it was so far. But I was afraid these people might yell and shout, and create a neighborhood disturbance."
"Oh, they are very quiet people," she hastened to assure me. "They won't shout."
After that I decided not to impose on this neighbor who was only trying to help us.
"Let's let them come, then," I concluded.
The Meaning of FAITH
That evening this man and his wife came, about seven. He was rather tall. They were plain people, obviously not of high education, yet intelligent appearing.
"This is all rather new to me," I began, when they were seated beside my wife's bed. "Would you mind if I ask you a few questions, before you pray for my wife?"
He welcomed the questions. He had a Bible in his hands, and one by one he answered my every question and doubt by turning to a passage in his Bible and giving me the Bible answer.
By this time I had become sufficiently familiar with the Bible to recognize every passage he read -- only I had never thought of these Biblical statements and promises and admonitions in this particular light before.
As these answers continued coming from the Bible, I began to understand, and to BELIEVE -- and I knew the same assurance was forming in Mrs. Armstrong's mind.
Finally I was satisfied. I had the answer from the Bible. I believed. My wife believed. We knelt in prayer beside her bed. As he anointed my wife with oil from a vial he carried, he uttered a quiet, positive, very earnest and believing prayer which was utterly different from any prayer I had ever heard.
This man actually dared to talk directly to God, and to tell God what He had PROMISED to do! He quoted the promises of God to heal. He applied them to my wife. He literally held God to what he had promised! It was not because we, as mortal humans, deserved what he asked, but through the merits of Jesus Christ, and according to God's great mercy.
He merely claimed God's PROMISE to heal. He asked God to heal her completely, from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet.
"You have promised," he said to God, "and you have given us the right to hold you to your promise to heal by the power of your mighty Holy Spirit. I hold you to that promise! We expect to have the answer!"
Never had I heard anyone talk like that to God!
It was not a long prayer -- perhaps a minute or two. But as he spoke I knew that as sure as there is a God in heaven, my wife had to be healed! Any other result would have made God out a liar. Any other result would have nullified the authority of the Scriptures. Complete assurance seized me -- and also my wife. We simply knew that she was released from everything that had gripped her -- she was freed from the sickness -- she was healed! To have doubted would have been to doubt God -- to doubt the Bible. It simply never occurred to us to doubt. We believed! We knew!
As we rose, the man's wife laid a hand on Mrs. Armstrong's shoulder. "You'll sleep soundly tonight," she smiled quietly.
I thanked them gratefully. As soon as they had left, Mrs. Armstrong asked me to bring her a robe. She arose, put it on, and I walked slowly with her out to the street sidewalk and back, my arm around her. Neither of us spoke a word. There was no need. We both understood. It was too solemn a moment to speak. We were too choked with gratitude.
She slept soundly until 11:00 a.m. next day. Then she arose and dressed as if she had never been ill. She had been healed of everything, including some long-standing internal maladjustments.
We had learned a new lesson in the meaning of faith. Faith is not only the evidence of that which we do not see or feel -- it is not only the ASSURANCE of what we hope for -- it is definite knowing that God will DO whatever He has promised. Faith is BASED on God's written PROMISES. The Bible is filled with thousands of God's promises. They are there for us to claim. They are SURE. God can't lie.
If there is any one attribute to God's character that is more outstanding than any other, it is God's faithfulness -- the fact that HIS WORD IS GOOD! Think how hopeless we would be if God's word were not good! And if a man's word is not to be trusted, all his other good points go for naught -- he is utterly lacking in right character.
A Dumbfounded Doctor
Shortly before Mrs. Armstrong had been confined to bed in this illness, she had taken our elder daughter Beverly to the doctor with a felon on her finger. It had not been bandaged for some days.
The morning after her miraculous healing, my wife arose about eleven, ate a breakfast, and then took Beverly to the doctor's office to have the bandage removed. Incidentally this was the last time we have ever called a doctor for any illness in our family.
"WHAT are you doing here!" exclaimed the doctor, looking as if he had seen a ghost.
"Well," answered my wife, "do you believe in divine healing?"
"I don't believe Mary Baker Eddy has any more 'pull' with God Almighty than I have!" asserted the physician.
"But I don't mean that," Mrs. Armstrong explained, "I mean miraculous healing direct by God as a result of prayer."
"Well -- yes -- I -- do!" replied the astonished doctor, slowly, incredulously. "But I never did before."
Studying a New Subject
This awe-inspiring experience brought a totally new subject before me for study. And remember, I had plenty of time on my hands for Bible study. Only one laundry client remained. We were now reduced to real poverty. Although I had been beaten down and had made a complete surrender to God, giving myself to Him, yet without realizing it much of the self-pride and vanity remained. Of course God knew this. He was yet to bring me down much lower. I was yet to be humiliated repeatedly and thoroughly chastened before God could use me.
In those days we were constantly behind with our house rent. When we had a little money for food we bought beans and such food as would provide the most bulk for the least money. Often we went hungry. Yet, looking back over those days, Mrs. Armstrong was remarking just the day before this was written that we were finding happiness despite the economic plight -- and we did not complain or grumble. But we did suffer.
From the time of my conversion Mrs. Armstrong has always studied with me. We didn't realize it then, but God was calling us together. We were always a team, working together in unity.
And now came a new subject to study, and new enlightenment. We entered into it with vigor and joy. We searched out everything we could find in the Bible on the subject of physical healing. We discovered that God revealed Himself to ancient Israel, even before they reached Mt. Sinai, under His name "Yahweh-Ropha" which means "The Eternal our Healer," or "Our GOD-HEALER," or, as translated in the Authorized Version, "The LORD that healeth thee."
He revealed Himself as Healer through David: "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who HEALETH all thy diseases" (Psalm 103:3). And again: "Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of food; they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Eternal in their trouble, and ... He sendeth His word, and HEALETH them (Psalm 107:17-20).
Then I made a discovery I had not read in any of the tracts and literature we had been sending for and gathering on this subject. Healing is actually the forgiveness of transgressed physical laws just as salvation comes through forgiveness of transgressed spiritual law. It is the forgiveness of physical SIN. God forgives the physical sin because Jesus PAID THE PENALTY we are suffering IN OUR STEAD. He was beaten with stripes before He was nailed to the cross.
Experience of the Crooked Spine
After we had made some little progress in gaining Biblical understanding of this subject of healing, Aimee Semple McPherson came to Portland.
She held an evangelistic campaign in the Portland Auditorium. My wife and I attended once, and then I went alone another time. We were "checking up" on many religious teachings and groups. Unable to gain entrance, because of packed attendance, I was told by an usher that I might be able to slip in at the rear stage door if I would hurry around. Walking, or running, around the block to the rear, I came upon a sorry spectacle.
A woman and child were trying to get a terribly crippled elderly man out of a car near the stage entrance. I went over to help them. The man had a badly twisted spine -- whether from arthritis, or deformity from birth, or other disease I do not now remember. He was utterly helpless and a pitiful sight to look upon.
We managed to get him to the stage door. Actually, I should never have been admitted, had I not been helping to carry this cripple in. He had come to be healed by the famous lady evangelist.
We were unable to gain contact with Mrs. McPherson before the service. And we were equally unable, after the service. I helped get the disappointed cripple back into their car.
"If you really want to be healed," I said before they drove off, "I would be glad to come to your home and pray for you. Mrs. McPherson has no power within herself to heal anybody. I have none. Only GOD can heal. But I do know what He has promised to do, and I believe God will hear me just as willingly as He will Mrs. McPherson -- if only you will BELIEVE in what GOD has promised, and put your faith in HIM and not in the person who prays for you."
They gave me their address, just south of Foster Road. The next day I borrowed my brother Russell's car and drove out.
I had learned, in this study, that there are two conditions which God imposes. 1) we must keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight (I John 3:22); and 2) we must really BELIEVE (Matt. 9:29).
Of course I realized that many people might not have come into the understanding about keeping all of God's Commandments -- he does look on the heart. It is the spirit, and willingness to obey. And therefore some who really BELIEVE are healed, even though they are not strictly "commandment keepers." But once the knowledge of the truth comes, they must OBEY. In this case I felt sure that God wanted me to open the minds of these people about His Commandments, and that SIN is the transgression of God's LAW.
Consequently, I first read the two scriptures quoted above, and then explained what I had been six months learning about God's Law -- and particularly about God's Sabbath. I wanted to know whether this cripple and his wife had a spirit of WILLINGNESS to obey God.
They did not.
I found they were "pentecostal." They attended church for the "good time" they had there. They talked a good deal about the "good time" they enjoyed at church. They scoffed and sneered about having to obey God. I told them that, since they were unwilling to obey God and comply with God's written conditions for healing, I could not pray for him.
Was This an Angel?
This case had weighed heavily on my mind. I had been touched with deep compassion for this poor fellow. Yet his mind was not impaired, and I knew that God does not compromise with SIN.
Some weeks later I had borrowed my brother's car again, and happened to be driving out Foster Road. Actually at the time my mind was filled with another mission, and this deformed cripple was not on my mind at all. I was deep in thought about another matter.
Coming to the intersection of the street on which the cripple lived, however, I was reminded of him. Instantly the thought came as to whether I ought to pay them one more call -- but at the same instant reason ruled it out. They had made light of, and actually ridiculed the idea of surrendering to obey God. Immediately I put them out of mind, and again was deep in thought about the present mission I was on.
Then a strange thing happened.
At the next intersection, the steering wheel of the car automatically turned to the right. I felt the wheel turning. I resisted it. It kept turning right. Instantly I applied all my strength to counteract it, and keep steering straight ahead. My strength was of no avail. Some unseen force was turning that steering wheel against all my strength. The car had turned to the right into the street one block east of the home of the cripple.
I was frightened. Never before had I experienced anything like this. I stopped the car by the curb. I didn't know what to make of it.
It was too late to back into traffic-heavy Foster Road.
"Well," I thought, "I'll drive to the end of this block and turn left, and then back onto Foster Road."
But, a long block south on this street, it turned right only. There was no street turning east. In getting back onto Foster Road I was now compelled to drive past the home of the cripple.
"Could it possibly be that an angel forced the steering wheel to turn me in here?" I wondered, somewhat shaken by the experience. I decided I had better stop in at the cripple's home a moment, to be sure.
I found him stricken with blood poisoning. The red line was nearing his heart.
I told them what had happened.
"I know, now," I said, "that God sent an angel to turn me in here. I believe that God wants me to pray for you -- that He will heal you of this blood poisoning to show you His power, and then give you one more chance to repent and be willing to obey Him. And if you will do that, then He will straighten out your twisted spine and heal you completely.
"So now, if you want me to do so, I will pray for you and ask God to heal you of this blood poisoning. But I will not ask God to heal your spine unless and until you repent and show willingness to obey whatever you yourself see God commands."
They were now desperate. He probably had about twelve hours to live. They were not joking and jesting lightly about the "good times" at "pentecostal meetin'." They wanted me to pray.
I was not an ordained minister, so I did not anoint with oil. I had never yet in my life prayed aloud before others. I explained this to them, and said I would simply lay hands on the man and pray silently, as I did not want any self-consciousness of praying aloud for the first time to interfere with real earnestness and faith. I did have absolute faith he would be healed of the blood poisoning.
I returned the next day. The blood poisoning had left him immediately when I prayed. But, to my very great sorrow and disappointment, they were once again filled with levity, and sarcasm about God's Law. Again they were jestingly talking about having a "good time" at church.
There was no more I could do. It was one of the great disappointments of my life. I never saw or heard from any of them again.