THE TRUTH IN PRISON*
* These letters from imprisoned pastors
If anyone can prove to me that one sentence of our Declaration is not in accord with the Holy Scriptures and the Word of God, I am absolutely ready to sign a statement that I will keep silence as regards that sentence. But as regards whatever is in accord with the Word of God, I cannot pledge myself to keep silence, for by so doing I should be denying God and His Word, and I should thereby cease to be an Evangelical preacher and messenger of the Holy Gospel.
Yesterday I received letters - the first time since my arrest. By far the most precious thing for me were thy greetings. They not only tell me how thou didst receive the news (I never had the slightest doubt about that!), but first and foremost they establish the ultimate and deepest union between us, something that no prison walls can interrupt, much less destroy. Thy first short postcard I immediately slipped inside my beautiful new Bible - this Bible with the promise inscribed: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” - and here it lies! It is most wonderful to read the Bible at such a time! How alive it suddenly becomes and how real! It really gives you the impression of having been written specially for prisoners and for prison. And so it is really - in many aspects and senses.
How great a gift to the Christian is this assurance of faith I can appreciate the better through seeing various inscriptions scratched upon the walls of my cell, betraying a wholly different attitude on the part of those who previously had to inhabit it. They convey to one something of the terrible and agonizing days that have been spent here. Other inscriptions speak thoughts of revolution and of revenge brooded over by people politically incensed. How different when one is here as a Christian! Then one is free from despondency and despair just as much as from political embitterment and ideas of revolution and revenge. Instead of all that, one is allowed to thank God, and to praise Him for being in the position to suffer for His cause; and one can pray to God on behalf of those who bring one into such a situation.
In many periods of my life I suffered from depression. Nothing of the kind now. I have had severe pains in my hips and my back caused by the hard bed. But even during the long nights I have been cheerful and thankful - a miracle to myself! I can but attribute it to God hearing my own prayers and the intercession of others - to God’s mercy therefore. I thank everybody from the bottom of my heart. I know now from blessed experience what intercession can do. Now, please, do not let us tire!
What better thing can there be for a pastor than to be shut up for a time just with his Bible and his prayer-book? Never before have I been able to read so attentively as here, and every day brings some new treasure. So I cannot complain in any way except perhaps that there is no singing (because it is prohibited); but in this matter help can be sought according to C. F. Mayer’s prescription: “We sing without voice; with our souls we do the singing, a loud, resounding Deo Gloria!” Particularly nice is the way in which my memory comes to life here. So many happy memories reawaken that this in itself provides one with the best of company. But the best thing of all is, and remains, the congregation with whom my communion cannot be broken. That is how it comes about that I feel so happy, even here, and as far removed from all sense of loneliness or even of imprisonment as one could possibly wish for or imagine.
About the warrant of arrest, I said to myself silently:- “Praise the Lord, Oh, my soul! He has let us know His glorious righteousness and His judgment. God’s mercy alone stands firm and so remains unto eternity.” Remember also the murderers and other people who are imprisoned with us. We all stand beneath the Cross of Him who “was numbered with the transgressors,” May God bless thee in all thy ways and make thee strong.
When, three weeks ago, I was living through the first long Sunday, I read the letters of the New Testament which were written in prison. There is joy and power! It needs, of course, some adaptation to pass from a life of many-sided activity, with every minute crammed, to this infinite abundance of time. It is for me and, no less, for my congregation as it is for my dear friend who wrote me from his prison that he has now exchanged the office of preaching for that of praying. I love Luther’s word:- “God’s Word and the prayers of Christians sustain the world” - more than ever now that the prayers, of these last weeks bind us and make us one.
So once more I write down the word of Calvin for thee:- “We ought not to think of ourselves as miserable in a situation which Jesus with his own mouth has commended to us as blessed” (Matt. 5: 10). I for one am to-day in the mood:- “My heart leaps and bounds and cannot be sad.”* I know for certain that the fountain-head of this strength and joy will not dry up, for in prayer the sluice-gates are open again and again. How is it put in the beautiful Church prayer? “0 Lord, give peace in our time, for there is none other that fighteth for us but only Thou, 0 Lord.” But that He is doing so must be sufficient for us, and how He will do it - that we will leave to Him.
* A line from a hymn of Paul Gerhaerdt.