Part 2: Miracles of Grace in Changed Lives
Part 2: Miracles of Grace in Changed Lives
“Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:).
The incidences I have chosen under this caption are not isolated cases, but rather were chosen chronologically to remind us of the very perpetual availability of an unchanging God (Hebrews 13:8). The first occurred forty years ago (1932), the second thirty years ago (1943), the third twenty-four years ago (1949), the fourth fifteen years ago (1958), the fifth two years ago (1971), the sixth three months ago (1973), and before this record is complete I expect to add one of more recent date (a seventh was likely written around November, 1973).
The Absolute Reality of II Corinthians 5:17
In the summer of 1932 my family and I visited my parents in Mars Hill, Maine. At that time I was principal of a Junior High School in Massachusetts. While in Mars Hill I was invited to speak at the Baptist Church in Bridgewater, Maine. Due to the Depression it had been closed for financial reasons. I consented to speak and within two months, by God’s inescapable command, I found myself installed as pastor of that church.
Among the twelve hundred or more people in that town there was a man commonly recognized as the most drunken dispenser of obscene profanities in the countryside. What hopeless degradation! Yet hidden in the awful shadow of that one there knelt a godly and humble mother praying for her “boy”. In fact, at the first service she attended she came to me and simply said, “Pastor, you believe in prayer. Will you pray with me for my boy Elwood?” I promised to do so, and again God was to teach me that I had no right to pray for anyone or anything until I was also unreservedly committed to a willingness to be used by God to answer my petition.
Some days later I was out calling one afternoon and found myself picking my way down a very rough and rutty road along the railroad track. Unexpectedly the voice of the Holy Spirit said, “Go into the next house”. “O Lord,” I cried. “Not that place!” But, “Yes!” He said.
Reluctantly I obeyed and at my timid knock the door opened and the above character ushered me into a room, across which I could scarcely see due to smoke. He and his wife were having their after lunch smoke. She excused herself as soon as she recognized me and went into the kitchen, leaving me alone with her spouse.
The conversation was quite hesitant and choppy until it turned to what was apparently his favorite theme: the sins and general cussedness of people. His language was studded with oaths. When he finished he was amazed when I said, “You are perfectly right, for the Bible says we are all born that way. (Galatians 5:19; Ps. 58:3). But you see, God so loved us sinners (John 3:16), that He offers us first to forgive us (I John 1:9; Hebrews 8:12), second to make us His children (I John 1:11-13), and third to provide for us an eternal home where sin, suffering and pain will never come (John 14:2-3; I Corinthians 2:9; Revelations 21:4)”
“But He wouldn’t do anything like that for me,” He said. “Yes He will”, I said, and I quoted John 6:37 and 10:27-29. “Wouldn’t you like to have a Savior like that who can change you into the person you would like to be?” For a long minute he was silent; then to my amazement and joy with whispered intensity he cried, “I would”. “Right now?”, I asked. He nodded vigorously.
“Then kneel down with me right here and tell Him so.” He dropped to his knees beside the old rocker in which I sat and I knelt by his side. I could scarcely pray through my tears. Then I said, “Elwood, God says if you will confess or admit you are a sinner He will forgive you. And if you will receive Him as your Savior and Lord He will make you His child.” At once he began, “O God, you know what kind of a creature I am”. Then through his tears and sobs he laid bare his soul before God with a plea for forgiveness and help.
When we arose from our knees God gave through Elwood’s lips the first unfailing proof of the miracle of saving grace. His first words to me were, “Pastor, don’t you think you and I could get Charlie to be a Christian?” Charlie, a near neighbor, was a drunken reprobate who had run off with his neighbor’s wife. I don’t know whether I knew Matthew 4:19 then, but it was certainly true then just as it is now, that the soul that follows Jesus is by the compassion and Spirit of Christ compelled to seek the salvation of men (Romans 8:9).
Two other evidences of his transformation come to my mind. A few days after his surrender to Christ, I was visiting a lonely man who lived in a log cabin down in the woods two miles from town. I had barely entered the cabin when he said to me, “Say preacher, can you tell me what the matter with Elwood is? I saw him pass by yesterday on a load of hay and he was different”. Well, that was certainly Scriptural. If there is no change, there has been no confrontation with Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:17).
One Saturday morning several weeks later I was in the church where I was studying when Elwood entered with a wry smile on his face. “What’s going on?”, I asked. “I just met Mrs. George P. down at the end of Bootfoot Road,” he answered. “She accused me of leading her son astray. She called me every evil thing she could think of”. “What did you say or do?”, I asked. “Nothing”, he replied. “The strange thing about it was I didn’t want to.”
II Corinthians 5:17 is surely a reality! “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new”.
From Corruption to Coronation
Among the folks in the town of Dixfield, Maine, to which we had moved in 1943 was a woman who might well have been called the queen of pornography. It was the practice in the mill where she worked for all who enjoyed her type to gather about her bench and listen to the smutty yarns, which she delighted in. Since “out of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34), the condition of her heart was quite deplorable.
It came to pass that she showed up one day at the parsonage door seeking the service of the pastor to conduct a funeral service for a young relative who was an accident victim in a neighboring town, some fifteen miles away. I agreed to serve, and since neither she nor her husband drove a car I offered them transportation with me to the service. The three hours we spent together resulted in an invitation for me to call at their home sometime.
The following day I called, finding her at home. After a half-hour of friendly chit-chat she asked a question which made it possible for me to tell her of the wonderful Grace of God which had changed my life and best of all, was available to any or every one who would accept it on his terms –simply as a gift. Her hard cynical manner dropped off and with tearful repentance and childlike simplicity she responded to the Holy Spirit’s invitation to receive Jesus as her Savior and Lord.
But could she be instantly changed? I left her house that day and returned some six days later. It was Saturday and she was at home. We were hardly seated before she asked, “Can you tell me, Mr. Durost, what happened when you were here the other day?” “Why, what do you mean?”, I asked.
“Well, I went back to the mill on Monday and as usual at coffee break time a bunch gathered around my bench to swap stories. When my turn came I opened my mouth and it happened. A voice as clear as could be said within me, ‘you don’t talk that way anymore’. It startled me, but I stopped. And instead of a story, I told them what had happened. They turned and left my bench, and life has been different ever since.”
How different her life really was can be judged by a tribute that was paid to her twenty-eight years later. In September 1972 I received a phone call from a stranger in Brunswick, Maine. She said a friend of hers had been killed in an accident in Dixfield, Maine. She said she had heard her friend speak so many times about me that she felt constrained to let me know that the memorial service would be held the next day at the Advent church in Dixfield. Yes, her friend was none other than the woman of whom I have been speaking.
The next day Mrs. Durost and I drove the ninety-five miles to attend the service. The church was crowded and a sense of personal loss was evident, mingled with an all-pervading sense of victory. It was indeed a coronation service. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing”(II Timothy 4:8).
After the pastor had taken from the Word of God which she had loved words of comfort for the bereaved people, he made this observation: “I don’t know a person in our town, or in our fellowship (Advent Christian) in this State who has influenced so many souls for good as has this humble person”. Kept by the power of God she had indeed become a fruitful branch of the vine of life.
A Miracle of United Intercession
Miracles of grace are not necessarily limited to individuals. In the town of Dexter, Maine in the 1940s, there was a section that was known as the most irreligious, if not the most ungodly part of town. No one from that area attended any church. When the new pastor asked “why?”, their response invariably was “Why should we? No one in there cares about us anyway”.
A house-to-house visitation by me as the pastor over the entire section of town did not change the situation, for as they said, “That’s the preacher’s job. He gets paid for it”. There was in our church then an elderly couple whose hearts God had touched with compassion for the lost, whether at home or on fields afar, where a nephew served as a missionary. When physical infirmities made it no longer possible for them to come to church, they embraced the idea of inviting to their home each Thursday afternoon a group of sincerely concerned women of the church to pray. Their foreign concern was widespread, but their domestic concern centered in the neediest district in our town.
Before long the Spirit began to move. Three young men in one home accepted the Lord and came to church. The movement spread. To shorten the account, the last Sunday I served as pastor, I baptized eleven persons. Ten of them were off that hill. That once neglected section became known as “Baptist Hill”.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
The woman who came into the morning service looked disturbed, almost tearful. At the door when the service had ended, she said to the pastor, “I would like to talk with you. I have some questions.”
“I would be glad to call at your home,” I said. “Oh, no,” she quickly said. “You see, my husband is a Catholic.”
“That doesn’t make any difference. He has as much right to be a Catholic as I have to be a Baptist.” “But he drinks heavily,” she protested. “Really? Then I can truly sympathize with him.”
The final result was the following evening I called at their home. The man of the house was home. After exchange of amenities I said to the husband, “Your wife has some questions for which I can help her find answers, if you do not object. However, when I call to study with her, I would like you to be present.”
So it was arranged that I should spend one evening each week with them. Starting with, “In the beginning God”, we did our best to make clear the way a lost soul can be saved, stressing the absolute necessity of complete obedience to the known will of God. When finished I asked for commitment to what they knew to be God’s will. They both responded affirmatively.
“What about baptism?”, they asked. I answered, “That is God’s part. When He tells you that it is His will and your time to be baptized, you will ask for it, if you have truly received Him as your Savior and Lord”. “He wants me to be baptized now,” his wife declared positively. “How about you Mike?”, I asked. “No,” he said.
At the next baptism she was baptized into the fellowship of the church. Six months later in an evening service, in response to an invitation, Mike walked down the aisle and said to me, “When are you going to have a baptism?” “When God has someone ready,” I replied. “I am ready,” he said. “I want to be baptized. I don’t want to go to Hell.”
“You know better that than Mike,” I replied. “You know baptism has nothing to do with salvation, except thereby to confess to the world that you have been saved by the grace of God through faith.” “Yes, I know”, he replied. “But I am ready, for God wants me to be baptized.” He was, and within the year his two teenage daughters followed his example.
From Law to Grace
One Sunday morning in January 1971, a man came into the Men’s Bible Class, which I was teaching in the Kennebunk Baptist Church. At the end of the hour he and I found ourselves the last to leave the room. I extended my hand as I introduced myself and expressed my pleasure at his presence. In a matter-of-fact way I asked if he had ever accepted Jesus Christ as his own Savior and Lord. He replied, “No, but I am interested.”
Before we parted I had received his earnest invitation to visit his home, which was about three miles from town. He told me that he was a Catholic, a disillusioned churchman who could no longer agree with or participate in the doctrines or practices of that church.
I called, and for an hour or more I listened to his questions and sincerely tried to present not the doctrines of any particular church, but rather simply what the Bible said about man, sin, and God’s plan for saving man from the penalty, power, and eventually from the presence of sin. Promptly at nine I left, bearing his most urgent request that I return the next Tuesday night.
I kept the appointment, and for two hours I did my best to convince him that if he really wanted eternal life he could have it, but only on God’s terms. I explained that first he must confess or admit to God that he was a lost sinner (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30). Secondly, he must submit himself to God’s plan of receiving Christ as his own Savior and Lord. And thirdly, he must commit himself unreservedly to doing the will of God as He chose to reveal it to him (Matthew 7:21-22). Finally, I explained that if he would have the assurance of God’s fulfilled promises he must transmit the Good News to whomever God would send to him. I also explained that his ultimate authority for truth and power must henceforth be God’s unfailing Word, the Bible.
When the time came for me to leave I simply asked, “Gerry, would you like to have eternal life and that kind of a Savior?” “Yes”, he answered. I asked, “Right now?” Again he replied, “Yes”. Together we knelt and quietly asked God to forgive him and to come into his heart and abide forever as his Lord and Savior. And God did.
The following day I went to Florida for two months. When I returned I found our friend had imbibed more of the Word of God than any person I had ever met in a similar length of time. In fact, a short time later the pastor asked him to lead the mid-week prayer service. Consenting, he spoke for 35 minutes, quoting almost verbatim from the Word. When the pastor said, “I guess you will have to stop now,” he looked at the pastor with a surprised look and exclaimed, “My! I was just getting warmed up!”
When I returned home from calling one afternoon in August 1973 Mrs. Durost informed me that someone had been trying to contact me by telephone. When I called the number they had left I discovered it was a French Catholic family in Saco. A tearful voice answered me saying, “Mr. Durost, my husband is dying and he wants you to come”.
Ascertaining their address I left immediately. Upon arrival at his home I found a man of about sixty years of age paying the price for smoking two packs a day for too many years. He had emphysema. After getting acquainted I said to him, “Would you like to have a perfect body without aches or pains?”
“Would I?!”, he exclaimed. “I can tell you how and where to get one,” I said. His face lighted up with a wistful eagerness. Then I explained. “You see, our sickness, suffering, and death is due to sin (Romans 6:23). Only when we get rid of sin will we get rid of its by-products, and there is only one way to do that (Acts 4:12; I John 1:9; Hebrew 10:17). If we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, God gives us the power to become His sons, for whom He has prepared a place (John 14:2) where there will never be any pain or tears (Revelation 21:4). The Bible tells us (Philippians 3:20-21) that our bodies will be changed like unto His perfect body. Further, because I have trusted Jesus’ unfailing Word for over sixty years I can guarantee the certainly of this plan.”
At first it seemed to him, as it had to so many people, that this was too good to be true. But after I had repeated the assuring words, adding that the promise of John 6:37 surely included him, he cried out, ‘Oh yes, I am a sinner. Lord, save me!”
And God did. How do I know? Six days later when I returned to his home, he smiled at me from his bed of pain and suffering and said, “Mr. Durost, when you were here you made me into a preacher.” “Tell me about it”, I replied.
“Well,” he said, “When I got back from the hospital where I was taken the day you were here, I told my wife and son and some neighbors that were there that they ought to take Christ into their hearts as Savior and Lord and He would forgive them and give them a peace and joy beyond words.”
“That is what I expected,” I said. “You see, God says that if any man follow Him, He will make him a fisher of men (Matthew 4:19). You were just giving the first evidence that you were truly following Him.”
After a few minutes he paused and said, “God must have done something the other day, for I find myself loving a man now whom I hated so badly I wanted to see him dead.” Again I reminded him that this too was exactly what God’s Word promised (II Corinthians 5:17). Three days later his daughter called me and said, “Last night Dad went home to be with the Lord, and wasn’t he happy!”
Isn’t Our Lord Wonderful?
Not all miracles of grace are affected in those who were moral or social wrecks. In fact, the greatest miracles of grace are found in the lives of those who had refused to admit or believe they were in need of grace. I think of an example of that fact.
She was an attractive young lady of fourteen years, the youngest member of a family of two sons and three daughters. If there was any one fact of which she was perfectly sure it was that she was not interested in being a religious fanatic as were her sisters.
Nevertheless, one summer day she was one of a group of twenty or more teenagers in a truck bound for Aroostook Valley Park and summer school. The ride and not the destination was her chief concern, which was revealed by the fact that during the afternoon I found her seated on a log all alone near the outer edge of the camp grounds. The particulars of the conversation I do not recall. I only know that when the invitation was given that evening, she was the first to respond.
The reality and significance of her decision was expressed to me in the words of her mother a few days later. She said when her rebel daughter arrived home that night about 10:00 p.m., she dropped her things on the kitchen table, rushed through the dining room and sitting room into her parents’ bedroom, threw her arms around her mother’s neck and cried, “Oh mother, I’m saved. I am saved, and I would not have been if it had not been for Rev. Durost.” The joy bells of heaven rang in that home that night.
Forty years later, when I was divinely led to be visiting that town, her mother’s body arrived that same afternoon and I was privileged to share in the memorial service. It was after the service that that girl, now a mature retired schoolmistress, came to me and with eyes glistening with tears of joy she said, “Oh Mr. Durost, isn’t our Lord wonderful?!”