AFTERNOON IN KESWICK
It began as another conventional journey of the kind which, four years earlier, had led to an 'illustrated lecture on "Travels through Europe" in Overbrook Church, tickets 25 cents, by the Revd F. N. D. Buchman'. Seville, Granada, Monaco, Cairo, Jerusalem, Athens, Constantinople, Vienna - it was a Grand Tour on a grand scale. The only trouble, as he said afterwards, was that 'I took myself with me'. Wherever he went, to the Alhambra, to the Greek islands in their shimmering, pellucid sea, to the Holy Places themselves, he felt harried and burdened by the unassuaged bitterness of his rejection by the Board. Off the island of Patmos, he said to a fellow-traveller, 'I'll never forgive those men.'
It seemed to him as if the Care personified in Horace's Ode - 'Black Care takes her seat behind the horseman' - was riding with him. 'I could feel its breath on the back of my neck,' he recalled. Often he felt more like a fugitive than a tourist. But, on the surface, he appeared cheerful most of the time. He took genuine interest in those around him, and people enjoyed his company. Travelling through the Mediterranean, he met an elderly American couple, the Dulls from Harrisburg in Pennsylvania; and, when Mrs Dull fell so seriously ill with pneumonia that she had to leave the ship at Athens, Buchman abandoned his own plans in order to look after them. He called on the American Embassy to report on Mrs Dull's progress and was invited to an Embassy party. There, a woman who had met him on the ship introduced him to Miss Angelique Contostavlos, Lady-in-Waiting to Crown Princess Sophie of Greece. Miss Contostavlos was interested by his kindness to the Dulls, and told her mistress about him. 'Today', she said, 'I met an American saint.'
'Impossible,' replied the Crown Princess. 'I'd like to meet him.'
Princess Sophie herself was, evidently, also much taken with Buchman: enough, anyway, to express a hope that he might help Greece and Turkey live at peace together and to arrange for him to meet the Turkish Sultan, Abdul Hamid, in Istanbul. Buchman seems to have taken this remarkable suggestion in his stride, and later described how he had been 'sent down in an armoured car - two men on the step, two men on the box' to the Sultan's reception. He also had breakfast with the Sultan.1
The extra expense of his stay in Athens left Buchman flat broke and he had to borrow from a friendly American doctor. His parents hurriedly cabled $150 but were clearly far from pleased. By June, his mother was writing reproachfully, 'I believe the only thing you like to do is travel. You know father's business is not what it was, he is getting older and is not as active as he used to be.'2 Nevertheless, she would send enough money to enable him to stay in Europe until August.
In Germany, still sick at heart despite the outward liveliness, Buchman went to see von Bodelschwingh again. By July he was in Britain and decided to attend the Keswick Convention, an annual gathering of evangelical Christians. His hope was to see the reputed Congregational minister, F. B. Meyer, whom he had met at Northfield and who he believed might be able to help him. Meyer, however, was not there, and Buchman kept himself busy attending meetings and walking the Lakeland countryside.
Then, one Sunday, on a whim, he dropped in on a service in a little stone-built chapel. It was sparsely attended - a congregation of only seventeen - and a woman was leading the service. She was the evangelist Jessie Penn-Lewis, whose husband was a descendant of the family of William Penn. She spoke about the Cross of Christ. It was hardly a new subject to Buchman. He had heard the doctrine of the Atonement expounded on a score of occasions at Mount Airy, taken notes on it, answered examination questions on it, preached about it. This woman, however, spoke so movingly about the Cross that, for the first rime, it became a living and life-giving experience for him. 'She pictured the dying Christ as I had never seen him pictured before,' he recalled later. 'I saw the nails in the palms of His hands, I saw the bigger nail which held His feet. I saw the spear thrust in His side, and I saw the look of sorrow and infinite suffering in His face. I knew that I had wounded Him, that there was a great distance between myself and Him, and I knew that it was my sin of nursing ill-will.
'I thought of those six men back in Philadelphia who I felt had wronged me. They probably had, but I'd got so mixed up in the wrong that I was the seventh wrong man. Right in my conviction, I was wrong in harbouring ill-will. I wanted my own way and my feelings were hurt.
'I began to see myself as God saw me, which was a very different picture than the one I had of myself. I don't know how you explain it, I can only tell you I sat there and realised how my sin, my pride, my selfishness and my ill-will, had eclipsed me from God in Christ. I was in Christian work, I had given my life to those poor boys and many people might have said 'how wonderful', but I did not have victory because I was not in touch with God. My work had become my idol.
'I did not need any other voice than the voice of the Man on the Cross. I thought of the lines, "This hast Thou done for me, What have I done for Thee, Thou Crucified?" I was the centre of my own life. That big "I" had to be crossed out. I saw my resentments against those men standing out like tombstones in my heart. I asked God to change me and He told me to put things right with them.
'It produced in me a vibrant feeling, as though a strong current of life had suddenly been poured into me and afterwards a dazed sense of a great spiritual shaking-up. There was no longer this feeling of a divided will, no sense of calculation and argument, of oppression and helplessness; a wave of strong emotion, following the will to surrender, rose up within me …..and seemed to lift my soul from its anchorage of selfishness, bearing it across that great sundering abyss to the foot of the Cross.'3
The experience was as sudden as that which came to John Wesley in the upper room in Aldersgate, or to Francis at St Damiano when he 'fell before the crucifix and, having been smitten with unwonted visitations, found himself another man than he who had gone in'.
As he left the chapel Buchman's one thought was not so much to forgive those he had hated, but to ask their forgiveness for the way he had behaved. Back at the house where he was staying, he sat down and wrote letters to each member of the Board. One of the letters - the one to Dr Ohl, dated 27 July 1908 - has survived in the archives at Mount Airy.
'Am writing,' declared Buchman, 'to tell you that I have harboured an unkind feeling toward you - at times I conquered it but it always came back. Our views may differ but as brothers we must love. I write to ask your forgiveness and to assure that I love you and trust by God's grace I shall never more speak unkindly or disparagingly of you.
'The lines of that hymn have been ringing in my ears -
When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.'4
Buchman appended the same lines to each of the letters and, each time, felt the weight of the words in a completely new way. 'It's easy to repeat those lines,' he said later. 'I know because I'd done it over and over again myself. But that day those lines had become great realities. And the last line cost me most of all. I almost wrote it in my own blood.'*
(* Buchman used to say that he had received no replies to these letters. Ohl noted on the back of his letter from Buchman,'... you will notice that he gives no address. Had he done so I surely would have written.' Among Buchman's papers is a brief note from Miss F. G. Crafts, the housekeeper, to whom a letter must also have gone. She wrote, 'I thank you very much for your kindness in forgiving me. For my part I have nothing to forgive. P.S. The dear little children missed you very much at the Settlement House'.)
At tea that afternoon Buchman related what had happened to him, and among those who heard the story was a Cambridge undergraduate. 'I want to talk to you,' he said to Buchman. They walked around Derwentwater. Before they returned the young man, too, had found a release similar to Buchman's. 'That was the first man that I ever brought face to face with the central experience of Christianity,' Buchman commented.* From that day Buchman began to help people, not from a position of rectitude but from the reality of knowing that he too was a sinner and that he had been forgiven.
(* Fourteen years later, passing through Liverpool, Buchman telephoned this man, who told him that the talk had 'regenerated the whole principle of his life'. His name is not known.)
From Keswick, too, Buchman wrote to his mother. He told her how he now knew that he was the seventh wrong man.
'I was awfully put out about your letter that you did not know sooner to forgive and forget,' she replied. ‘Put that out of your mind. We are counting the days till you come home.'5 It was some years before she measured the magnitude of what had taken place in her son's heart.
Back in America, the new Frank Buchman faced his first direct test. 'In church on Christmas morning, I saw sitting in front of me one of the very men against whom I had harboured ill-will. He had a bald spot on his head, and sitting opposite him in Committee meetings I used to think the letter "I" was written all over that spot. After the service, I reached out my hand and said "Merry Christmas". He could not meet my eye. But I had been kept from ill-will.'
Fifty years later, John Woodcock, the man who had helped Buchman to decide to resign on the morning after the hospice Board meeting, put the whole matter into longer perspective. 'I think we both felt that we were straight and they were wrong,' he wrote to Buchman. 'We do know now that what seemed to be the breakdown of your life's work was only the opening of the gate which God alone could open, through which we go to our real life's work.'6
1 To Prince Richard of Hesse (Princess Sophie's nephew), July 1961.
2 Mrs Buchman to Buchman, 17 June 1908.
3 Account taken from Russell, and from Buchman's own verbal accounts in the author's hearing.
4 Buchman to J. F. Ohl, 27 July 1908.
5 Mrs Buchman to Buchman, 7 August 1908.
6 John Woodcock to Buchman, 3 June 1958.