Almost Persuaded: Almost, but Lost

ap

The hymn Almost Persuaded has a distinguished history in evangelicalism. Its key refrain is derived from the Authorised Version’s (KJV) wording of Acts 26:28:

“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

Before analysing the history of the hymn in more depth, we must recognise that the Authorised Version gives an inaccurate representation of what Agrippa says to St. Paul. Commentaries have long noted that the wording of the Authorised Version is misleading.

Charles J. Ellicott, Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, wrote in his 1878 commentary:

At the cost of giving up a familiar and impressive text, it must be admitted that the Greek words cannot possibly bear the meaning which is thus put upon them. The words run literally, in, or with, a little thou persuadest me; and this may be completed by, “with little speech,” “with little labour,” or “little evidence.” So in Ephesians 3:3 we have precisely the same phrase rendered “in few words.”

Agrippa’s words, accordingly, are the expression, not of a half-belief, but of a cynical sneer. Thou art trying to make a Christian of me with very few words, on very slender grounds, would be the nearest paraphrase of his derisive answer to St. Paul’s appeal. 

The Scottish Baptist preacher and Greek scholar, Alexander Maclaren, wrote in his own commentary:

They are very familiar words, and they have been made the basis of a great many sermons upon being all but persuaded to accept of Christ as Saviour. But, edifying as such a use of them is, it can scarcely be sustained by their actual meaning. Most commentators are agreed that our Authorised Version does not represent either Agrippa’s words or his tone. He was not speaking in earnest. His words are sarcasm, not a half melting into conviction, and the Revised Version gives what may, on the whole, be accepted as being a truer representation of their intention when it reads, ‘With but little persuasion thou wouldst fain make me a Christian.’

Modern translations show the nuances of the statement better:

(NIV) Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

(NLT) Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?”

(ESV) And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”

(HCSB) Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?”

Whatever the inaccuracies of the AV’s translation, this hymn has had a powerful effect on many congregations. Sources indicate that when sung after a sermon, it had the capacity to reduce thousands of people to deathly silence, or else tears:

One of the most impressive occasions on which this hymn was sung was in the Agricultural Hall in London, in 1874, when Mr. Gladstone was present. At the close of his sermon Mr. Moody asked the congregation to bow their heads, while I sang “Almost Persuaded”. The stillness of death prevailed throughout the audience of over fifteen thousand, as souls were making their decisions for Christ.

“While engaged in evangelistic work in western Pennsylvania,” writes the Rev. A. J. Furman, “I saw the people deeply moved by singing. I had begun my preparation to preach in the evening, from the text, ‘Almost thou persuaded me to be a Christian,’ when it occurred to me that if Mrs. B-, an estimable Christian and a most excellent singer, would sing, ‘Almost Persuaded’ as a solo, great good might be done.

At once I left the room and called on the lady, who consented to sing as requested. When I had finished my sermon, she sang the song with wonderful pathos and power. It moved many to tears. Among them was the principal of the high school who could not resist the appeal through that song. He and several others found the Pearl of Great Price before the next day. After the close of the sermon, I spoke to Mrs. B about the effect of her singing, and she told me that she had been praying earnestly all that afternoon, that she might so sing as to win sinners for her Saviour that night, and her prayers were surely answered.”

A couple of observations. First, these sources describe a palpable tension among 19th century congregants. The gospel message they were hearing was clearly presented to them as being supremely serious and important. A decision to repent and believe in Christ was demanded and none of them walked away from the service with any illusions that a half-baked confession was going to suffice.

So powerfully was this impressed upon people, that a sad story serves to illustrate just how important the moment of decision was preached.

(Please note: the following story bears the imprint of “cautionary tales of dubious authenticity” that have tended to be common in Christian “preaching lore”. Obviously it is impossible to verify the particulars of this story since no names or specific details are mentioned other than a certain Reverend Young (who could be anybody!). The story, in my opinion, is probably inauthentic since it does not pass the credibility test.

But, the fact that these stories were in circulation at all, and no doubt proclaimed from the pulpit, tell us something about how people saw faith in Christ. It was desperately urgent! Time was of the essence! Delay was foolish and hazardous!)

Said a young man to the Rev. Mr. Young: “I intend to become a Christian some time, but not now. Don’t trouble yourself about me. I’ll tend to it in good time.”

A few weeks after, the man was injured in a saw-mill, and, as he lay dying, Mr. Young was called to him. He found him in despair, saying: “Leave me alone. At your meeting I was almost persuaded, but I would not yield, and now it is too late. Oh, get my wife, my sisters and my brothers to seek God, and do it now, but leave me alone, for I am lost.”

Within an hour he passed away, with these words on his lips, “I am lost, I am lost, just because I would not yield when I was almost persuaded”.

The essence of the story should not fail to make its impression upon us, even if it is not historically true. There is nothing more bitter, nothing more terrible than “to be lost”.

The hymn was written by Philip Paul Bliss. The inspiration was a severe warning he heard at the close of a sermon:

He who is almost persuaded is almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be entirely lost,” were the words with which the Rev. Mr. Brundage ended one of his sermons.

P. P. Bliss, who was in the audience, was much impressed with the thought, and immediately set about the composition of what proved to be one of his most popular songs.

Philip Bliss’s life was cut short five years after this hymn was composed. Both Bliss and his wife were involved in a train wreck. Philip Bliss survived the wreck, but turned back and braved the flames to rescue his wife. Subsequently, both were killed.

Although Philip Bliss died at the age of 38, his life bears the imprint of one who was busy using his talents while he could. He composed 132 hymns, about 38 hymn tunes, and published 6 volumes of hymns, roughly one for each of the years proceeding his death. If only Christians were as active in the world today.

According to one source, he was living the light of eternity, right up to the point of his death:

The night before that terrible railroad accident at Ashtabula… he said to his audience, “I may not pass this way again”. 

Then he sang a solo, I’m Going Home Tomorrow. This indeed proved prophetic of his own home going.

In the past, Christians were much more mindful of the fragility of life in a way that has increasingly become a struggle in our scientifically successful, entertainment saturated, our-best-life-now oriented society.

In the past, people learned to “number their days aright”, make certain their were “fully persuaded”, and took eternity very seriously. They applied their hearts unto wisdom.

Roman Catholics Online

Recently I was watching a Youtube video that showed the closing of an Anglican service. The Anglican Church in question is part of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC).

(For those who don’t know, the ANiC is part of the Anglican realignment that is occurring throughout the Western world. As heretical parent churches wither, their dioceses shrink, and their churches close, a fresh, orthodox, vibrant parallel church is supplanting it and will, by the force of brute mathematics, replace it.)

Wherever such videos exist, you will find a Roman Catholic hovering around. Not any kind of Roman Catholic, however, but a specific sort of hyper-sanctimonious troll whose comments show neither Christian charity nor even the most superficial social awareness.

Usually they will begin by firing a grandiose broadside along the lines of, “Invalid mass! False worship from a heretical church founded to feed a king’s libido!” Or, “This is a mass of demons! Turn to the true mass of Roman Catholicism away from the heresies of sex-crazed Luther’s Protestant “Deformation”.” I kid not. This is literally the sort of stuff they pump out.

Quietly responding to this, even in the most cautious, gentlemanly and kindly manner, will result in escalating hysterics. I tend to imagine them hammering feverishly on their keyboards, “like lab rats on methamphetamine” (to quote Frasier).

Then comes the next phase of wearisomely abrasive posts, as long as your arm. These consist of strips of prefabricated assertions, circular reasoning, or begging the question fallacies in which they assume that all other churches are fallen, heretical, and false. It never seems to occur to them to consider that Roman Catholicism might warrant these charges more than the targets of their rage.

In my experience, any “conversation” degenerates immediately as the Roman Catholic zealot fires zingers, abuse, names, and rank profanity. In fact, somewhere in my Youtube account is a conversation that was so peppered with four-letter words that I was forced to block the man (they almost always are men). As his harassment continued, he informed me that he actually was keeping the commandment of Christ to love. His abuse was love.

More profanity has been directed at me by Roman Catholics than by Muslims. In general, Muslims will be polite, even if they feel compelled to tell you that you will boil in hell for eternity. If you try to be diplomatic, they will be diplomatic in return, eager to call infidels to their faith in a demonstration of sincere, though erroneous, zeal.

One cannot help seeing a tragic parallel between Roman Catholic zealots and the New Testament Pharisees, a parallel that I have seldom seen enacted so predictably and with paint-by-numbers rote by Protestants, although I am certain that self-proclaimed Protestant bigots exist everywhere as well.

Online interactions like these prove something about the root stock from which various believers arise. For Roman Catholic defenders, the pride is palpable. In their minds they are not lowly vessels saved by grace alone, but rather they are the best kind of Christian that exists. They are infinitely superior to Protestants, and thus they obtain enjoyment and purpose from condemning Protestants of any stripe, rubbishing their simple faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Their chief glory must not lie in following the Lowly Nazarene, for if it did, surely they would seek to obey his imperative to love. Instead, they seem to derive more gratification from being submitted to the powerful and great Pope who leads a powerful and mighty church. Even in conversation, they seek to convert people to their church, not to the Lord Jesus Christ who is relegated to a comparatively minor role of being the casual agent, or the machinery beneath the hood. And so their behaviour demonstrates how the pope has supplanted the affections and obedience that properly belongs to Christ alone.

To “James”: I am sorry you deleted our conversation. I write with sadness this final comment, which I hope you will see.

Yes, I certainly agree with you about the errors of Islam. Unfortunately, I can be consistent in my position but it is very difficult (indeed, I would say impossible) for you to be theologically consistent in your accusation that Anglicans are guilty of heretical interactions with Muslims. This is because the church you defend has stated in its own Catechism (s. 841) that Roman Catholics and Muslims adore the same god.

This is not a mere statement of shared monotheism, as you suggest. It is much more. It is an affirmation that the respective deities of Islam and Roman Catholicism are the same – part of a common “faith of Abraham”, despite Muhammad proclaiming things that Abraham never believed and which are antithetical to both the Old and New Testaments.

We agree that the Christian God is triune. The Muslim deity is unitarian. Therefore this cannot be the “same god”, as Rome teaches. Moreover, this represents a clear break with Roman Catholicism’s historic position on Islam and other religious faiths. Nonetheless, since Pope John Paul II allowed himself to be photographed kissing a Koran, your church has accelerated its interfaith experimentation to an unprecedented degree.

It is sad that you were unaware of this. I provided you with links to the National Catholic Reporter showing Muslim art and symbols being displayed in a Roman Catholic Church in the United States. You had previously said that this never happens, could never happen, and has never happened anywhere in the Roman Catholic Church. It is with sincere sorrow that I point out to you the fact that your church has been greatly committed to interfaith experimentation. 

The Gates of Hell

warriors

Shoot us.
Take away our rights.
Imprison us.
Despoil us of our worldly goods.
Banish us.
Force us into the wilderness.
Humiliate us.
Drag us before tribunals.
Regard us with cold, dead alien eyes.

But you do so because we are more powerful than you.
You fear us, for that is why you hound us.
Minds unshackled, otherworldly power on our shoulders.
The cross of Christ, invincible, goes before us.

We threaten your delusion that there is no God.
We remind you of realities you want to pretend do not exist.
We speak of a moral purpose you hate and detest.

Our battering rams are always at your gates.
“And the gates of hell shall not prevail against us”.

Identity Politics, and the Strongholds of Satan

dawkins

Even Richard Dawkins recognises the incoherence of identity politics, and rightly labels it as an “evil”. On the other hand, he does not recognise that he has no foundation for describing anything as evil or good without a moral basis in God.

Identity politics represents the death of a cohesive society. When there is a competition for ultimate victim status, there can be no harmony. The community merely becomes a battlefield for moral supremacy, power, and status between competing interests. Brendon O’Neill also makes the point that identity politics is fundamentally intolerant, as if we needed any reminding of that in 2017.

Identity politics represents the death of free speech and therefore free thought. It traps people in sad little bubbles out of which there is no escape.

The madness on university campuses across the world demonstrates the ultimate atomisation, and the incredible stupidity that identity politics inevitably produces. I would go so far as to suggest that it requires a stupid and passive mind to accept it in the first place, and the only outcome, is further stupidity. As our blessed Lord so rightly taught us, “Disregard them! They are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit.” (Matthew 15:14).

Our social structure is now scotch-taped together by institutions that pre-date identity politics, and which ironically could never have emerged from contemporary political philosophy. That itself shows how far the decline has gone.

In a world where:
1. A person who does not want to bake a wedding cake gets their shop shut down [Link]

2. An Australian Human Rights Commission claims that all Roman Catholic bishops have a “case to answer” for their stance against same-sex marriage. [Link]

3. A university professor is charged for harassment for jokingly referring to female professor’s having a night out as a “girls night out” [Link]

4.  Teachers are advised to avoid terms like “girls” and “boys [Link]

5. Australian political parties fight against having a plebiscite vote on same-sex marriage, because allowing the people to vote would encourage debate, and too much debate, like too much democracy, could lead to hate crimes and suicide. [Link]

Could such a political and social philosophy as that which inevitably results in the above abuses of power and common sense have ever produced concepts like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and parliamentary democracy? Most assuredly, not.

The fight against the mental strongholds that hold men captive is far from over. Indeed, it has hardly begun.