God Holds the Key
By Geoffrey T. Bull
"He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts,
and shuts and no one opens... ” Revelation 3:7
As a youth, Geoffrey T. Bull longed to share the gospel with Tibetan Buddhist. Instead, he was imprisoned by Chinese Communists during the 1950s. Whether confined in dirty, crowded cells or in dingy solitary confinement, God's promises sustained him. And week after week, in the darkness of his cell, he would write the devotional notes that eventually were printed in this book.
For more background information, please read When Iron Gates Yield. Keep in mind that Communist brainwashing strategies used by prison guards and communist mentors to conform his mind to Marxist collectivism is still used in China today. More sophisticated versions of this Marxist-Hegelian process are used in American schools, corporations and churches around the world today. See note.
Never has there been greater need for models such as Geoffrey Bull, who shows us how to resist mind-dulling indoctrination and reminds us to stand firm in Christ no matter how great the pressure to compromise. [See The Triumph of Truth]
Chapter 5: Until the Day Dawn
"Peter said, ‘Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now?
I will lay down my life for Thy sake.’
Jesus said, ‘Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake?’" John 13:38
Peter understood that the quality of the follower was measured in his willingness to die. He could not understand, however, how he was disqualified from going immediately to death with Christ. The Saviour’s question filled his heart with fear. He had underestimated his will to live, and the news of his approaching denial troubled his heart deeply.
I had known these moments. I had gone to China with a heart’s desire to serve Christ to the uttermost. To me there was little or no sacrifice in this. I wanted to do this more than anything else in the world. I felt no possibility of retraction. Others might fail but I would not. Others drop from the ranks but I would be loyal. I would go on to the end. I rejoiced in the way opening up across the breadth of China, journeyed happily up the Yangtze, flew into Chengtu, trekked through the foothills of the Central Asian plateau to the Tibetan border.
It was not hard. It was easy. It was the kind of thing any young person in their twenties would have loved to do. Then, after many months, events so transpired that I sat alone in my little log cabin hundreds of miles from the outside world, one Christian missionary among the Buddhists of Tibet.
Outside the little window the immense country stretched away westward. Most of it was unexplored by white people. Intruders were easily shot. Vast grasslands, high ridges and desolate passes. Deep snows. Night would come on early. The only light a little butter lamp. I would be alone now till the day-break.
My future was to go on into that terrain, face up to that hostility, sow God’s seed; preach Christ’s Gospel, and build with Him that Church against which the gates of hell should not prevail. Others had come into the borderlands, laboured, died. There were graves in the mountains — memorial services in homelands. Around me there was intrigue, behind me the Red army of China, before me the will of God stretching on into the mountains. Could I do it?
My avowal surely was, ‘Lord, I will lay down my life for Thy sake’? Yet the words of the Master still come back: ‘Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake?’ ‘Wilt thou..., wilt thou..., wilt thou?’
The days slip by and I become a prisoner of the Communist army. It is now a question of indefinite solitary confinement. After days and days alone I am taken out by a young official and he talks to me seriously about the question of execution. He is quiet but firm. He seems to be in earnest. I am young and it is hard to think of dying alone out there in the hills; and I go back to the dark cell and fight on, kneeling in the dust and the darkness, trying to still my heart-beats and keep back the tears.
"Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake? Wilt thou...?"
Months pass. It is very tense. It looks as if the end cannot be very far away. I am told that I am waiting to die.
I am fiercely interrogated and then called by an official and he speaks quietly and confidentially to me. He tells me that whilst I may not be shot immediately, eventually, if I will not yield, I shall be. And he speaks apparently so sincerely and seems to want to help me. In fact, as a man, he appealed to me immensely. I could almost feel in one way he was sorry for me. It only made the ordeal harder to bear.
So then I was going to die and all I know is, that I was not saying any more, ‘Lord, I will lay down my life for Thy sake.’ Not that I would not if I had to, He knows —but only if I had to. It was not my will really to die for Him. The will to live was much stronger.
Why was it? Simply that I was facing reality, now, and not the make believe of my daydreams....
We talk about living for Christ. It is more profitable to speak of dying with Him. There are probably too many of us today still living, who should have died long ago. We have shunned the Cross and passed the evening of our little day in the world’s firelight. Our great aspirations have fallen before the simple pressures of ordinary folk expressing surprise that anyone should be one of His disciples. And so the old story of the denial in the courtyard is re-enacted, and before the laughter of a girl and her pointed questions, or the scorning of the men, the would-be-follower of the Christ sells out again, until he weeps without, broken by the Saviour’s eyes.
This then is our heart’s trouble, that in the conflict of the Cross, we should fall to die. That we should still be in good health and able to answer questions, when we should have nails in our hands and feet. That we should have survived to face our shame, rather than died in the promise of His glory. That we should be accepted, when we should be outcasts. That we should be accounted friends, when we should be spurned as foes.
"Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake? "
To my captors, the threat of death was as far as they could go. If this failed they could only return to the threat of life. Life labour, life imprisonment, life wretchedness under the circumstances of confinement they imposed.
As far as I could tell, the Communists did not exult in execution. To them it marked a negative achievement. They would describe it as merely one more reactionary trampled underfoot, by the onward march of the masses. The shots in the courtyard might mean one
enemy less on earth, but on the other hand, it could hardly be reckoned to increase their friends. As far as they were concerned they executed the men that they had failed, to gain.
The unreformables must be eradicated. They were far more interested in the men they had partially subdued and, after the first major purges were over, they concentrated on all individuals who showed hopeful signs of reformation in the Marxist indoctrination. We were informed that if we had not been shot, then the Government of People’s China was still ‘striving’ for us. Even if a person were sentenced to death, the sentence could be suspended for two years, if he would only show signs of ‘progress’. [See Dealing with Resisters]
They thus put all their hopes on the instinct of survival. They believed that all men basically wanted to live. On that they depended and on that basis they worked. Whenever a prisoner by reason of excessive pressure on the part of the authorities wilted, and began to lose the will to live, generally speaking, tactics would be changed. The moments of victory for me were when they saw that I was no longer anxious about death. ...
We are all too keen on living, holding, grasping, and reigning. We forget our business is to die. Paul says ‘I die daily. . . .‘ Is this negative?
It is the most positive attitude we can possibly adopt, for it implies a right recognition of ourselves, first as having been dead in sins and now, by reason of identification with Christ in His death, dead to sin. Henceforth the only life we can know is the life of Christ.
"I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Galatians 2:20
If this is our daily attitude, then it will be our final attitude at the moment of departure. If we flinch from death now, that is, retain ‘our’ life, then we shall of course be holding on to it at the last.... As slaves bought with a price we have forfeited all rights to ourselves; yet in the acknowledgement of His rights over us there is the very fullness of joy.
‘Ye are not your own’, says Paul. Departure is really only a transfer... by the Master who knows what He is doing and who never errs. If we understand at least something of our task here, we shall not resent the change of duties but co-operate right up to the threshold of this sovereign act of His translation. In that meek submission we shall enter into our inheritance. Then when the days of our patience are fulfilled we can say as Simeon did,
"Lord, now let thou thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for my eyes have seen Thy salvation." Luke 2:29
See also Search me, O Lord ~ When Iron Gates Yield ~ His Names
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