Whereupon … I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.
Acts XXVI, 18.
It is appropriate at this stage that I acquaint the reader with some details concerning my early life.
My father was heart and soul a Methodist. He was the possessor of a deep bass voice and nothing delighted him more as to use it to the praise and glory of God, as he understood that expression. But as far as I recollect, he was never an actual member of the Church. I never heard the reason for this singular circumstance, but from my observation and estimation of his character, with its thorough hatred of sham and hypocrisy, its firm convictions and vigorous faith, its wholehearted enthusiasm in anything he undertook, I think I could hazard a shrewd guess as to the reason for this anomaly. He never at any time approved of the Church’s support for war and when I was committed to prison, the shameful betrayal of Christ’s cause on the part of the Wesleyan Church was forced home to his mind. One of his apt remarks that perhaps gives an indication of his irreparable estrangement from the church was, “They left off recruiting souls for the King of kings and devoted all their attention to recruiting bodies for the king of England.” After I was released, as far as I am aware, he never entered a Wesleyan chapel again.
My mother was much more reticent and reserved. She also had definite and firm convictions, but the strength of her faith showed itself more in quiet confidence and calm assurance. From my earliest memory, she was a member of the Wesleyan church and remained so until the end of her days, although her final illness rendered her in her last years physically unable to attend her Society Class. Her last words to me were characteristic of the whole course of training that I received from her, “Remember your mother’s God.”
Harold Blake’s parents
I inherited many of my father’s characteristics, in particular his hatred of shams, his sturdy independence of mind and his aptitude for enthusiastic thoroughness. Hence I have an intense aversion to putting my hand to anything that I feel I cannot do well. It is not surprising therefore that in matters of religion, I should develop into a whole-hogger and from an early age, I felt a strong desire to do that which would secure divine approval. Although at times a boyish propensity to mischief or experimental curiosity drew me from the straight course, I was always sorry for my faults. My religious beliefs were augmented by the teaching I received at the Sunday School, which I attended regularly. But I by no means accepted unquestioningly all that was put before me. I was a child with a capacity for deep and penetrative thinking and I had scarcely reached double figures before an insatiable thirst for knowledge developed. I eagerly devoured all books that came my way, irrespective of how ‘heavy’ they were. The Bible did not escape my attention and I became fascinated by the book of Daniel, which I read again and again, striving desperately to understand it. That it contained the key to the future I was certain. The book of Revelation possessed an almost equal fascination and I poured over the two together. I sought out with avidity all the works, which looked to explain these two books, but inevitably there was a sigh of disappointment and a feeling that I had been offered an empty husk.
I therefore gathered the conviction that the Bible itself was the only reliable source of light on the matter and hence commenced to study it in its entirety. The result of this was that I found a number of passages which appeared to conflict with the teachings of the orthodox churches and I found it impossible to reconcile these conflicts. Thus were brought under suspicion, quite a number of the tenets of the Wesleyan Church.
The first doctrine to go by the board was that of the Trinity. Even when I thought that I believed it, it always struck me as being rather an insult to the intelligence. The only light that the church can throw on it is that it is an incomprehensible mystery. While there are many things about the Almighty that we cannot understand, they do not offend our reason. But as declared by the Holy Spirit through Moses, “The Lord our God is one Lord.” Not three Lords, or persons, in one God. This testimony was sufficient to rivet my attention and in my later reading I discovered that the Trinity was a conception that dates from the ancient Greek philosophers and it did not appear in the early Christian church.
The old Wesleyan chapel
Church Street, Luton
Photo: The Luton News
While still quite young, I learned that my parents had not had their three sons Christened and hence my thoughts were directed at another of the Church’s teachings. I wondered why the omission, since the ceremony is regarded in the church as a sort of process whereby one books seats in heaven. My thoughts turned to Peter and Paul’s example and teaching, where I found that a complete submerging in water is required. The sprinkling of water on a child seemed a farcical caricature of a divine institution. My other challenges to orthodoxy were to do with the nature and location of the reward for the righteous, going to Heaven at death, the immortality of the Soul, besides numerous minor points.
This then was my state of belief when I entered Wandsworth Prison for my second sentence. I disagreed with the Wesleyan Church on the above, nevertheless I still regarded it as my spiritual home and the thought of an alternative never suggested itself to me. I violently dissented from its policy of supporting war, yet I hoped against hope that it would yet see its errors and like the Cities of the Plain, it might be saved from destruction, if there were ten righteous men in its midst.
The reader will now be in a position to understand what follows. When the Assistant Chaplain (a Church Army man) came to interview us, as mentioned in Chapter 12, I told him I was Wesleyan. His eyebrows went up in surprise and in the manner of a sarcastic sneer asked, “Are you? This isn’t the attitude of your Church as a body, is it?” He didn’t wait for an answer, turning immediately to the next man, but I could not let it pass at that so replied, “No! But I fail to understand why.”
This flippant question from the Chaplain startled me alarmingly, because I saw in a flash that I was guilty of an appalling inconsistency. I was against Christians participating in war and yet I was on the side of war by being a member of a body, which supported it. The effect on me was so striking that I consider it a divine command sent directly for my guidance and I knew I would never again call myself Wesleyan.
And so it came about that I went into the wilderness, where I spent many years in spiritual isolation. But this was not any especial hardship to me, for it will already be apparent that in matters of doctrine and faith, I had always been a lonely soul within the church.
While in the interim between my first and second sentences, I learned from the outside world that my younger sister had seceded from the Wesleyans and joined the Christadelphians, a people concerning whom I knew nothing. Subsequent correspondence with my sister during my second sentence aroused my interest in this body and I took every opportunity to obtain further information as to their doctrine and practice. I became more and more interested and was astonished at how closely these tallied with my own conclusions, in my cogitations on the Scriptures.
Whose Image and Superscription?
The story of a First World War conscientious objector