Incidents in Travel and Soul Winning – By Elmer & Julia Shelhamer

Chapter 5

The Pretoria Convention

Pretoria is the beautiful Capital of South Africa. It is also the headquarters of the strong Dutch Reformed Church in the Transvaal, over one thousand miles from Capetown. Here they have a firm building where the Synodical Conference (General Conference) is held. The seats are costly and arranged a little like those in our hall of Congress in Washington. The Dutch Reformed ministers and their wives come from far and near once a year for a Bible Conference none others being invited. On this occasion we had the high honor of being the invited speaker. It was another miracle, that a Methodist, and especially a “Perfectionist”, as they called me, should have this distinction.

Some were biased and did not attend, while others came with more or less prejudice. One of their strong preachers, who had seen me weep while preaching in a previous convention, wrote a special friend of mine, saying, “Do tell him to restrain himself and not weep, for we are hard Calvinists and do not believe in emotional religion.” You may know I did some praying and fasting, realizing that every tone, gesture, and sentence would be scrutinized. God had mercy on me and, after five days with them, a number of their strong men broke down and publicly confessed their lack and sought heart purity. One of the leaders came and confessed that he had been biased, but now he wanted what we had preached. Oh, that they may not stop till they receive the clear witness to heart purity!

In one of our addresses, we said that the moulding of South Africa rested largely with the Dutch Reformed ministers. Most of their congregations number above one thousand and some of them above two thousand members. Their ministers receive large salaries, have a free parsonage, free automobile, and are called for life. We fear that this naturally tends to ease-taking, self sufficiency, and carnal security. Oh, pray for these men who wield such a great power for or against deep spirituality.

We had the honor of working with three strong brothers, nephews of the great Andrew Murray, and found them above the average. One of these, the Rev. Andrew C. Murray, is a great Bible teacher. His esteemed wife has a depth of experience that few possess. She is greatly burdened for their ministry. She was a great inspiration in several conventions. One day she remarked, “Would to God some of our leaders were as afraid of imperfection as perfection.”

If those who call us “Perfectionists” mean that we preach and profess “sinless perfection,” so that we cannot sin, then they misrepresent us. But if they mean that we preach and worship a Perfect Christ, who has provided a perfect redemption from all sin, then we plead guilty. Wesley was likewise misquoted, hence he wrote his wonderful treatise on “Christian Perfection,” wherein he defined it as “loving God with all the mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves.” Is this unreasonable? Andrew Murray wrote a similar book called “Be Perfect”. How sad that many of their followers have gotten far away from their teachings, yea, the teachings of Jesus and St. Paul.

At this convention one of their strong young men had the courage to speak out and deplore the fact that they were too well satisfied in seeing large classes of young people come into the church by “confirmation” instead of regeneration. He said, “We do not make enough of the new birth and the witness of the Spirit.” Sad, but some of them, as in other churches, never saw a soul actually weep and repent, then rise up and praise God for the assurance of sins forgiven. We trust that on this occasion they caught a new vision for soul winning. If so, God shall have all the praise.

In another message we told them that the central truth of the Bible is Holiness of heart and life, and they must preach it or lose some of their best people. Now and then one of their conscientious members seeks and obtains a clean heart. Then possibly he becomes dissatisfied with his infant baptism and desires to be immersed. Next, he is excommunicated and turned out of the church because they do not believe in, or at least they make no provision for, adult baptism. Next, he joins the “Apostolic” or “Full Gospel” Church. Thus the Dutch Reformed Church has lost many valuable members whom they might have retained had they preached full salvation. The same thing obtains in the States and all over the world. Blind and carnal preachers oppose the doctrine of Holiness, hence lose their hold upon many hungry hearts. What a pity!

Just a word about the “Apostolic” or “Pentecostal” people: They seem to swing to the other extreme and make too much of water. I have observed for years that the more one knows about water, the less he knows about fire. There are many excellent souls among the Pentecostal people. Some of them have more true piety than those who abuse them. However, if we ministers had the real baptism of the Holy Ghost ourselves, then led our people into the same blessed experience, there would be no call for them to go elsewhere. We ought to set as good or better table than others.

Personally, I have mingled with and preached frequently for the Pentecostal people in various lands. I do not abuse them, but preach the fiery baptism. I have met many of their leaders and so far (I say it kindly and humbly) have not met any who had received anything better than what God gave me, I still hold that there is something ten thousand times better than speaking in tongues; namely, a death to the carnal mind and an infilling with the Holy Ghost that will forever put an end to all pride, self-will, impatience, fear of man, love of praise and every other evil temper contrary to pure love. In short, 1 Corinthians 13 far surpasses the 14th chapter.

The main thing that occurred on the day of Pentecost was not the sound of wind, or the appearance of cloven tongues, or speaking in tongues. These were the incidentals, not the essential. The real thing, the inward thing, was heart purity. Peter said their hearts were purified by faith. (Acts 15:7-9). Wesley said, “There is nothing higher than love. You can go no higher till you go to Abraham’s bosom. If anyone therefore says he has received this or that blessing, if he means anything but more love to God and man, he is putting you on a false scent, and leading you astray.” If you, dear reader, wish our full views on this subject, they can be had in our booklet, “Five Reasons Why I Do Not Seek the Gift of Tongues.” Price 10c (5 pence) each,

He wills that I should holy be;

That holiness I long to feel;

That full divine conformity

To all my Savior’s righteous will.