My Testimony
 

1968

I am Presbyterian minister, the father of five children and grandfather of eight grandsons and two granddaughters. My wife Sandy, God’s greatest temporal gift, and I have been married since 1968. I have been the pastor of Grace, in Alexandria, Louisiana, since 1975. Academically, I had the privilege of studying under some wonderful and godly people such as Cornelius Van Til. I once sat at the feet of Professor John Murray, a most remarkable theologian. I wanted to share a part of my pilgrimage to the Celestial City.

May God bless you,
Bob Vincent

It was on July 10, 1966. I had sung in the evening service at the non-denominational meeting in Newcastle in England, and Baptist minister, Robert Middlemas, had preached. He invited me to his home after the service, and we talked at some length. Earlier in the week he had shared with several of us about his fresh experience with the Lord and how out of that experience he had come into a new joy and communion with the Lord Jesus in prayer. As he continued to share with us, he mentioned that he had received the gift of tongues.

Immediately, our doctrinal alarms went off, and we shared with him what we had been taught: the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased to be given once the Scriptures had been completed. But he cheerfully responded to each argument, going to the Bible for his answers. Several days had now passed, and I was alone with him, and God had brought me to a place of openness: I wanted all that the Lord wanted me to have.

The pastor talked with me for some time, answering each question as I posed it. Then he asked me if I wanted to ask the Lord for the gift of tongues, and I said that I did. I prayed and nothing happened. After some earnest prayer on both his part and mine, we stopped and talked. He said to me, “You’re a person who takes great care in how you speak. I think people like you have difficulty in fully surrendering their tongues to the Holy Spirit.”

“You’re right,” I said, “I find that difficult, and I can’t seem to get rid of this skepticism. It’s something that dogs me so much. Even though I’ve known the Lord for almost two years, still I’m hounded by atheistic thoughts at times—particularly at those times when I seem to be closest to the Lord.”

“Just give all that to the Lord. Say to Jesus that you give Him your tongue and your mind. Tell Him you don’t care if you look foolish—you want everything He has for you.”

I did just that. I prayed sitting in a chair; he was praying standing beside me, laying his hands on my head while I prayed. Suddenly, I felt a tingling in my body and my legs jerked—if I had not been sitting in a chair I would have fallen down—then words came out of my mouth, words I did not understand, and I praised the Lord Jesus and worshipped. After some time the pastor drove me back toward the outskirts of Newcastle, where our group was staying. Knowing how my friends felt, I prayed about when to share my experience with them and waited several days before I did.

“This past week I received the gift of tongues.” At some point in the conversation I got those words out and was immediately confronted with the observation: “Well, Vincent, you don’t seem to be any different than you were before.” It was faulty logic, connecting the gifts of the Holy Spirit to sanctification, but it planted significant doubt in my own mind.

My life had been changed—dramatically so. On September 4, 1964 Jesus came into my life, and immediately things began to drop away. I suppose, as I look back on it, that the sins of my youth were not substantially different than those of others. But I was a man in torment: though I appeared to be happy, inwardly I was being ripped apart by feelings of inferiority and worthlessness on the one hand and pride on the other. I was consumed with despair. I felt vile and guilty. Once I heated a small cross on our gas stove and branded myself in the middle of my chest. “Now I will live the way I should!” But mental determination lacks the ability to persevere. The only change in my life after that incident was a small scar which I still have.

Then someone shared the gospel with me: “It isn’t how you live that makes you right with God. It’s faith in His Son, Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, He didn’t just die as an example for a cause. He wasn’t merely a victim of human injustice. He died by the plan of God—He died in your place, as your substitute. He went to hell for you. He actually paid for your sins and removed them. When you put your trust in Jesus, God views you as free from all guilt because of what happened on the cross.”

I thought about that idea a lot, but still my life was as it had been. Then, several months later, four young men shared how they had received Jesus into their lives. That Friday night I became overwhelmed with a desire to know Jesus personally. I wanted that more than anything. While they prayed for me, I began to pray silently but with increasing earnestness: “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus!” And He did just that. I didn’t feel anything—no great surge of emotion or anything like that at all. I simply knew that he did what I begged him to do.

Everything was different after that Friday night. My speech and conduct changed literally in one day’s time. And I felt good about myself. I actually began to like my parents. This was the beginning of my senior year in high school, and I am glad I had a good year with them before I went off to college, because I had put them through a lot of misery with my rebellion and drunkenness for the past several years. I became excited about reading the Bible and began to attend several different prayer meetings in the course of the week. I even began to share what the Lord Jesus had done for me with others.

So my life had changed before that experience in a British Baptist manse in Whitley Bay, Northumberland. And I was not significantly different after I received the gift of tongues than I was before. I still had immaturity; I had not attained perfection. The only real difference was that I experienced a greater joy in prayer when I prayed in tongues.

That joy soon began to fade as doubt wormed its way into my heart. It was not long before those words, “Well, Vincent, you don’t seem to be any different than you were before,” cut off my exercise of tongues altogether, because they echoed in my soul every time I began to use the gift.

At last, I began actually to quench the Holy Spirit himself, and it was only days later that something strange happened. On the morning of August 26, 1966, I came under what seemed to be an irresistible pull to sin against God. (Not that I had not sinned during the past two years, I had. But this was different; it was diabolical and overwhelming.) As I yielded to sin, waves of despair and guilt came over me. After some time I was able to pray, and I repented of the sin. But then this thing would come over me again, and once again I found myself bound, my will in chains, powerless to resist. Time and again this cycle would continue.

Soon I lost my boldness to witness for Christ. Early on in my Christian life I openly shared my faith with others. I not only told my classmates about Jesus, I even shared my faith and handed out literature on the streets of my home town. Now that was gone. How well I remember one incident. I was walking downtown, and a stranger approached me and asked if I knew the Lord Jesus. I hesitated and felt great embarrassment at his question.

In spite of that, I continued to study for the ministry. I grew in my intellectual understanding of Scripture and theology. I graduated from college, then seminary, and was ordained to the gospel ministry. But I lacked a good measure of the joy and fulfillment that I had known the first two years of my Christian life. Not even getting married and having children filled that void.

Once, while watching the film, “Becket,” I commented to my wife how I identified with Thomas’ response to the query, “Thomas, do you love God?” He did not answer that question but another: “I love the honor of God.” Looking back, I can say that I did love the honor of God, that I was willing to defend the Christian faith with my life, and I sincerely wanted to live a godly life, but I had lost my boldness in evangelism, and I was plagued by the cycle of temptation, sin, guilt and despair. This went on for over fifteen years.

Then one day I had had enough; it was March 19, 1982. I was sick in my soul. “God,” I prayed, “Give me victory whatever the cost. I want victory, or I want to die!” I went to my study and while there I came across a booklet with a Bible reading plan. It prescribed ten chapters a day. I thought to myself: “Nobody has time to do that.” Then I thought: “If I don’t have time to do that, what do I have time for?” And I made the commitment.

I don’t know what happened that day. It was only God’s free grace. There is no power inherent in reading large portions of Scripture. Somebody could prescribe it as a formula for victory over sin, and nothing would happen. But God had brought me to a point of desperation—life or death desperation. And God brought about victory that day, a victory that has lasted.

Some time after that other things began to happen, too. Healings began to take place in our church. And I had a new desire to worship Jesus. Then, one afternoon while I was praying with another pastor, tongues simply came out of my mouth. What I had renounced, Jesus had restored. That restoration involved several blocks being removed. The first was my theological objections. Sometime toward the end of the nineteen-seventies I came to the conclusion that the standard arguments for the cessation of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit were so complicated that they were ineffective. That is, I came to realize that they were based fundamentally on logic rather than on the simple exegesis of Scripture. Around that same time I began preaching through First Corinthians and found my thinking changed as I worked through chapters twelve, thirteen and fourteen.

My mind was changed, and I was open intellectually, but I was not yet open spiritually. That opening came several years later, on March 19, 1982. But tongues did not occur then either. That gift was restored almost two years later, early in 1984. It came the second time without my asking for it. God, in his sovereign goodness, simply restored it.

As I look back on all of that, I realize that the gift of tongues had very little to do with any of this. It was what tongues represented—another step in my pilgrimage to the Celestial City. That pilgrimage is unique and special for each believer. God works one way in one, differently in another. For me—just for me—tongues represented a willingness to appear foolish in the sight of others. That’s why my rejecting that gift was so significant. It was pushing God back because I was afraid of what others would think. I did not want to look stupid. So I made intellectual Christianity a substitute for the simple relationship with Jesus, a relationship that began before I ever spoke in tongues, and a relationship that continued even after I rejected the gift. But that relationship was like a marriage after the honeymoon is over—the zest and excitement were gone, but we would never consider a divorce. Then the Bridegroom came and renewed me, and now I can say again not only that I love the honor of God, but I love the Lord Jesus. He is precious to me. Nothing can compare with Him.


Perhaps after reading my testimony you have some questions.  Please feel free to contact me.  For another account of what the Lord Jesus has done in my life, click here.

Bob Vincent

Also, I help to moderate a discussion list for people who are in varying degrees committed to the Reformed faith while at the same time being open to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit.  It is called the Reformed Charismatic list, Reformed, not meaning former, but standing for the biblical ideas expounded by John Calvin in the sixteenth century.  You might find our cyber fellowship helpful:

 

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