The Personal Testimony Of Mark Harding

"Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made;

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry;

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Tho' stretched from sky to sky."

- Author Unknown

No words, no matter how poetic, descriptive, or beautifully framed can adequately describe the redemptive work of grace in a human heart. But I cannot help but tell of how God brought salvation to me; for if I keep silent the rocks shall cry out in praise to my God.

I was born in Richmond, Virginia and moved to Memphis, Tennessee when I was in first grade. My parents and older brother joined the Baptist church in town. Soon thereafter, I also joined the Baptist Church and was baptized. I did so, not because of any work of God or because I believed anything, but simply because my parents and brother had joined and I did not want to be left out. Afterwards I continued to be faithfully dragged to church by my mother every Sunday.

I was a fairly good kid. Meaning, I did not get into trouble in school and made very good grades. I lived my pre-teen years as most kids do, without much thought about God. By God's grace he gave me a strong conscience, which kept me from doing many things my friends did. The first time God dealt with me that I remember was on a youth choir trip during the summer of my freshman year in high school. During that trip we took the Lord's supper on the edge of the Grand Canyon and then separated to pray alone. Sitting on the rim of one of God's most awesome creations, one would think I had all the inspiration to pray anyone could ever ask for. Not me. To me, God seemed far, far, away. But I tried as best I could to make his blood and body seem meaningful to me. I concentrated hard on what it stood for. But it was still just a story in the Bible, one which I believed was true, but one which had done nothing for me personally. Although I know now that God had been working on me from birth, it was on this trip that I first felt God drawing me towards Himself. I do not know how, but he placed in me a desire to know Him.

After that trip I became faithful to the church, going of my own volition every time the doors were opened. I attended training union and outside Bible studies. I thought learning more 'about' God was 'knowing'God. So I studied more and more.

In my mind, God was not happy with me nor did I think He loved me, unless I was doing all that he had commanded. So I did more good deeds and quit the bad ones. I did good things such as read my Bible and pray. I did this in order to be accepted by God. I thought that if I lived right, God would be pleased with me. My life was a constant battle to try to be right with God. The God I knew was one who was ready to punish me anytime I did something wrong. Although I never would have made these statements at the time, my thoughts and the motives for my actions spoke them very plainly. It was just a matter of time before God would open my eyes that I might see.

Soon, I was looked upon as a leader in the youth group. With this perceived position came invitations to share my testimony. When confronted with this for the first time, I had a few reservations. The first, being that my testimony was not dynamic enough, for example: no deliverance from drugs, alcohol, etc. It was boring and I felt no one would want to hear it, seeing that I really did not like it myself. II Corinthians 5:17 always presented a problem. It said, "Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." I had never been made new, so I rationalized this verse in this way: "I was never really that bad outwardly, so God did not have much to change about me." But inside, I longed to be able to identify with this verse. The second reservation was that the actual salvation experience was pretty lacking. No conviction, no repentance, no faith, no nothing. I had heard a friend's testimony of 'making Him Lord' years after he had gotten saved. I figured that this is what had happened to me: I had gotten saved when I was seven or eight and had just 'made Him Lord'in the ninth grade. This explanation satisfied me for a little while.

I had frequent doubts about my salvation at the rate of about one every three to six months. Although I never talked to anyone about it, the doubts were always present. The doubts came at the end of services when the preacher would say, "Raise your hand if you know that you would go to heaven if you died tonight."When first confronted with this question I raised my hand slowly to about shoulder level, trying to hide behind somebody, somehow thinking that maybe God would not see me. But as time went by and my good works and my knowledge of the Scriptures increased, my hand went up higher and faster. I had convinced myself fairly well that I was saved. But one thing always bothered me. I could never get away from my sin. I had no control over it, and could never seem to get forgiveness. I kept confessing the same sins over and over, quoting I John 1:9 to myself, trying to tell myself God had forgiven me. There was no reality to forgiveness and the condemnation never left. I had come to the conclusion that this was something I just had to live with.

I would read the Bible and other great preachers of old and it sounded like those men really knew God and had seen him move in miraculous ways. The God I knew was only as great and as real as I could make him in my mind. To me He was still a God who ruled from heaven on high, passively observing my life on earth. To keep my faith in God, I constantly struggled to mentally picture him and told myself that God was real. I figured I could picture Him better if I knew more about Him. Therefore I studied more and more about him. I searched the Scriptures thinking that in them I had eternal life, but they were trying to tell me about Jesus, that I might come to Him. But I would not.

In the spring of my senior year in high school I was still struggling periodically with my salvation. My girlfriend, Temple Stanton (now my wife), called me one night and told me that she had just gotten saved and of how one had to know that they were lost before they could get saved. This was all I needed, for I could not remember a time when I knew I was lost. I immediately kneeled beside my bed, told God I was lost, and began to try to envision Jesus on the cross while asking God to save me. After I had asked a dozen times, I stopped, figuring God had saved me. Nothing miraculous had happened, but I had done all I had been taught to do, so I must have gotten saved.

Instantly, as I had been taught, I jumped up and told everybody in the house. The next day, I told one of my friends that I had found something that had really satisfied me. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, God, in his still small voice, asked, "Did you really?" If I had answered honestly, I would have had to have said that I was just as empty and with no more assurance than before.

When the time came to be baptized, I got baptized, but Temple did not. She said she was still not sure she was saved. This was true for me also, but I had too much pride to admit it. After all, I had already told everybody I had gotten saved. Temple never did accept her experience though.

I saw her talk to dozens of preachers, deacons, and friends; none of whom could help her. Then in June of 1987 she got saved. She talked about how real God was and the work He had performed. It seemed every time we talked she would bring it up. It made me look at my own experience every time. I hated it! She also talked of how Brother Terry Owen had helped her and had told her the truth. This, I did not like, because I knew that Brother Terry had preached for a number of years, had gone lost for several months, and then gotten saved.

My struggles continued. By this time I was teaching a class of seventh grade boys in Sunday school. God used them to bring out my true attitudes. He showed me that I just could not love them. It just was not in me to do. If they did not act the way I thought they should, I could not love them. Then God slew me with the verse in John 13:35, "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye one to another." "What is wrong with me?" I would ask God. His reply was on the way.

In April of 1988, Temple invited me to go to Camp Zion in Myrtle, Mississippi. I went and heard Brother Edgar Pascal preach on 'Plumb Line Salvation.' His text was II Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves, how that Christ be in you, except ye be reprobate." He preached on the ingredients of salvation. I decided then that if God's Word said to examine myself, then it must be okay to look at my experience.

I decided to find out for myself what God's word said about salvation. I threw out what everybody else had said salvation was, and rested wholly upon the Scriptures. I thank God that he gave me enough faith to trust what his Word said. I researched every part of salvation thoroughly, even looking at the Greek definitions. I learned that salvation was a work of God through the Holy Spirit brought on by godly sorrow which works repentance. God then gives faith and quickens a person resulting in peace and rest.

I finally decided to go and talk to Brother Terry. He confirmed all I had studied and he explained scriptures to me which I had never understood before. After comparing my experience with the criteria found in God's Word, I came to the conclusion I was lost. This time I decided I would wait and let God do the work in me. I did not know what he was going to do, but I wanted it to last forever.

Over the next few months God let me see just a glimpse of what would be the 'real'me if his restraining grace was removed from my life. I saw attitudes and desires in me that I had covered up for years with religious garb. I saw that if God left me alone, I would truly go my own way and never seek him again. Nothing seemed to satisfy me. Although I had it all: friends, collegiate success, and a promising career, I had nothing.

Temple had invited me to a camp meeting several days in a row and I finally broke down and went on Friday night. When I walked in the church I knew I would not get saved that night, because I had not been seeking God like I thought I should have been. Temple and I sat next to Brother Terry and listened to the preaching. Brother Mark Tutor gave his testimony and thanked Jesus for praying for him while he was lost. I began to wonder why Jesus would pray for me, for I hadn't been seeking him. Then a preacher preached, "There is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood," and said,"There is someone who needs to get under the blood tonight."

I knew he was not referring to me, because I hadn't been seeking him (or so I thought). At that moment I felt as if God had left me. I could not find him anywhere. Temple saw my look of distress and suggested I pray, to which I replied, "It won't do any good. God has left me." She also suggested I talk to Brother Terry, to which I gave the same response as before. Nobody could help me. I was without hope. In a moment, Temple got Brother Terry to move over next to me. He asked me what was going on. I told him God had quit dealing with me. The words he spoke next came from his mouth, but God spoke them in my heart. He said,"You've been playing around with God. He doesn't have to do anything for you!"

God broke my heart and showed me that I had not wanted him, had not believed him, and had hated his ways all my life. But at the same time, God said, "I LOVE YOU!" As waves lapping on the shore, over and over it came, "I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!" I would look at myself and say, "Why do you love me?" looking for something in me that was lovable. All he would say was, "I LOVE YOU!" Again I would ask why and again he would reply, "I LOVE YOU!" Brother Terry then said, "Just thank Him for saving you." I did as he said, but nothing happened. I was saying, "Thank you," and waiting for him to save me to actually believe it. I did this several more times, trying to believe in just the right way, but ended up with the same result each time. Somehow, God got me to the point where I just gave up, fell on him, and breathed a trusting sigh of, "Thank You."Immediately there came a calm and a peace unlike any I had ever known. One moment I could not believe and the next moment I did. How that happened I do not know. I sat there and laughed for thirty minutes to an hour revelling in the fact that God had come and told me himself that he loved me.

All of a sudden the stories in the Bible were not just stories any more. They were stories about my life. I felt like Jacob, who had met the God of the Universe and lived. I felt like the Queen of Sheba, who, after she had seen all of Solomon's wisdom, said, "Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had seen it: and, behold, the half was not told me: thy wisdom and prosperity exceedeth the fame which I heard" - I Kings 10:7. Although I was told how good God was, I now found myself like the citizens of Samaria who said to the woman at the well, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world" - John 4:42. Psalm 85:10 says, "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." God had showed me the horrible truth about my lost and unbelieving condition, but His abundant and overflowing mercy appeared at the same time to sooth my troubled soul. No longer did I have to make God real, for I had just met him. No longer did I have to convince myself I was forgiven, for He had told me himself that he loved me. No longer did I envy anyone else's testimony, for God had given me the best. Yes, God is alive! He loves sinners and his arm is mighty to save!