A Spiritual Autobiography by Jessie Penn-Lewis
The Leading of the Lord
This is a testimony from a servant of God who had a fruitful through the Welsh revival and deeper Life devotional writings. She was born in 1861 in South Wales; even decades after her home-going, thousands of her books are sold yearly. In spite of her gender [in turn-of-the-century culture] and poor health, God used her to teach His Word in distant lands such as Russia, India, and North America. To what spiritual lessons did she attribute her usefulness to God’s Kingdom? What can we learn from her ministry?
I was brought up in the very heart of the religious life of Wales, for my grandfather was a Welsh divine, well known throughout the Principality in his day; and my father’s house was a rendezvous for the ministers as they passed hither and thither on their Master’s work. My childhood’s memories gather round their visits and the great meetings of the Sunday-schools, when often I sat as a tiny child in the midst of the grave elders in the “big pew”, listening with intense interest to the “howl” of the minister.
“The mercy of the Lord is … unto children’s children; but as it is often with children brought up in the midst of religious surroundings, the true inward change of heart did not come until I had married and moved away to England. Then it occurred without the aid of any human instrument, but the day — New Year’s Day — and hour are imprinted on my mind.
Only a deep, inward desire to know that I was a child of God; a taking down of my (too little read) Bible from the shelf; a turning over the leaves, and the eye falling on the words, “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]; again, a casual turn of the sacred pages, and the words, “He that believeth hath eternal life”[John 6:47].
A quick facing out whether I did believe that God had laid my sins upon the Lamb of God on the Cross; a pause of wonderment that it really said that I had eternal life if I simply believed God’s Word; a quick cry of “Lord, I do believe” — and one more soul had passed from death to life [John 5:24], a trophy of the grace of God, and the love of Him Who died. The Spirit of God instantly bore witness with my spirit that I was a child of God [Rom 8:16], and deep peace filled my soul.
The new life bore fruit in that I sought to conquer my besetting sins, whereas hitherto I had found myself at their mercy, as I feebly attempted to restrain them. But my attempts still ended in abject failure, and the succeeding few months were a record of bitter repentance, and many tears over sins I could not conquer. At this point we removed to Richmond, Surrey, and found our way to Holy Trinity Church. The first sermon I heard from Rev. Evan H. Hopkins was an opening of heaven to my soul. I learned the secret of victory, and it was not long before I proved the power of God to deliver from the bondage of sin through the precious blood of Christ.
Under the Spirit-lit teaching of Mr. Hopkins, and the earnest, loving help of his noble wife, I learned the joy of full surrender and the possibilities of a Spirit-filled life [Eph 5:18]. But active service for Christ seemed far away from me, for from childhood my health had been frail, and now winter after winter was spent in increasing suffering from bronchial and lung attacks. It seemed as if my life was slowly ebbing away. Nevertheless, in 1890, with apparently only a brief span of life before me, I ventured to take the hon. secretaryship of the Richmond Y.W.C.A. Institute — “If only for six months”, I said, for my whole heart was drawn out in service for the King.
Gradually I learnt to draw upon the Lord for strength for His work, so that in spite of continued ill-health and suffering, I worked, and organised, and laboured incessantly. But after a time I became conscious that the spiritual results were not equivalent to the labour of the work. I began to question whether I knew the fulness of the Spirit. Without doubt I had received Him, and had “entered into rest” as concerned my own life and fellowship with God [Heb 4:10]; but, when I compared the small results of my service with the fruit given to the apostles at Pentecost, I could not but own that I did not know the Holy Spirit in the fulness of His power.