Dr. Tholuck informed me that the Continental Society in England intended to send a minister to Bucharest to help an aged brother in the work of the Lord. After consideration and prayer, I offered my services. Despite all my weaknesses, I had a great desire to live wholly for God. Unexpectedly, my father gave his consent, although Bucharest was over a thousand miles away.
I now prepared for the work of the Lord with diligence and pondered the sufferings which might await me. I had once fully served Satan; but now, drawn by the love of Christ, I was willing to suffer affliction for the sake of Jesus. Earnestly, I prayed about my future work.
At the end of October, Hermann Ball, the missionary to the Polish Jews, said that his health would soon force him to give up his work. When I heard this, I felt a strong desire to take his place. The Hebrew language suddenly became exciting to me even though I had previously studied it only from a sense of duty. Now I studied for many weeks with eagerness and delight.
While I still desired to take brother Ball's place and delighted in learning Hebrew, I called on Dr. Tholuck. Unaware of my thoughts, he suddenly asked me whether I had ever had a desire to be a missionary to the Jews. He was an agent with the London Missionary Society for promoting Christianity among them. I was astonished by his question and told him what had been on my mind for the last several weeks. I added that it was not proper for me to consider any other service because I had already agreed to go to Bucharest. He agreed.
When I came home, however, our conversation burned like fire within me. The next morning, all my desire for going to Bucharest was gone. This seemed to be very wrong and fleshly of me, and I entreated the Lord to restore my former desire to labor there. He graciously did so almost immediately. Meanwhile, my earnestness in studying Hebrew and my love for it continued.
About ten days later, Dr. Tholuck received a letter from the Continental Society. Because of the war between the Turks and the Russians, they had decided not to send a minister to Bucharest since it was the center of war. Dr. Tholuck asked me again what I thought about becoming a missionary to the Jews. After prayer and consulting with spiritually mature brethren, I concluded that I should offer myself to the society, leaving my future with the Lord.
Dr. Tholuck wrote to the society in London and received an answer in a few weeks. They had a number of questions for me and my acceptance depended on my satisfactory answers. After replying to this first communication, I received a letter from London. The committee decided to take me as a missionary student for six months probation, provided I would come to London.
One obstacle stood in the way of my leaving the country. Every Prussian male was obligated to serve three years as a soldier, but those who finished their studies at the university only had to serve one year. I could not obtain a passport out of the country until I had either served my time or been exempted by the king himself. I hoped the latter would be the case. It was a well-known fact that those who had given themselves to missionary service had always been exempted. Certain influential Christian brothers who were living in the capital wrote to the king. He replied that the matter must be referred to the government officials, and no exception was made in my favor.
My chief concern now was how I could be exempted from military duty and obtain a passport for England. But the more I tried, the greater the difficulty appeared to be. By the middle of January, it seemed as if my only recourse was to become a soldier.
One more avenue remained untried-it was my last resort. A major in the army was a Christian and on good terms with one of the chief. generals. He proposed that I start the process of entering the army. Since I was still very weak physically from a former illness, I would be found unfit for military service.
I believe that the Lord had allowed things to happen this way to show me that my friends would be unable to obtain a passport for me until He was ready. But now the time had come. The King of kings intended that I go to England because He would make me a blessing there despite my unworthiness. At a time when hope had almost been given up, and when the last plan had been tried, everything began to fall into place. The doctors examined me and declared that I was unfit for military service. The chief general himself signed the papers, and I got a complete dismissal for life from all military duty.
I came to England physically weakened and soon became very ill. In my estimation, I was beyond recovery. Yet the weaker I became in body, the happier I was in spirit. Every sin I had ever committed was brought to mind, but I realized that I was washed and made completely clean in the blood of Jesus. This realization brought me great peace, and I longed to die and be with Christ.
When my doctor came to see me, my prayer was, "Lord, You know that he, does not know what is best for me. Therefore, please direct him." When I took my medicine, my prayer was, "Lord, You know that this medicine is no more than a little water. Now please, Lord, let it produce the effect which is for my good and for Your glory. Let me either soon be taken to heaven, or let me be restored. Lord, do with me as You think best!"
After I had been ill for two weeks, my health began to improve. Some friends asked me to go into the country for the fresh air. When I asked the doctor, he said that it was the best thing I could do. A few days later, I left for the little country town of Teignmouth.
I had a great deal of time to study the Bible while I recovered. During this time, God showed me that His Word alone is our standard of judgment in spiritual things. The Word can be explained only by the Holy Spirit who is the teacher of His people. I had not understood the work of the Holy Spirit in a practical way before that time.
Now I learned that the Father chose us before the foundation of the world. He originated the wonderful plan of our redemption, and He also arranged the way it was to be brought about. The Son fulfilled the law and bore the punishment due to our sins, satisfying the justice of God. Finally, the Holy Spirit alone can teach us about our sinful state, show us the need of a Savior, enable us to believe in Christ, explain the Scriptures to us, and help us preach the Word.
The Lord enabled me to put this last aspect of the Holy Spirit to the test by laying aside my commentaries and almost every other book and simply reading the Word of God. That first evening when I shut myself in my room to pray and meditate over the Scriptures, I learned more in a few hours than during the last several months.
After my return to London, I decided to do something to help my brothers in the seminary. I suggested we meet together every morning from six until eight to pray and read the Scriptures. After the evening prayer, my communion with God was so sweet that I would continue praying until after midnight. Then I would go to a brother's room, and we would pray together until one or two in the morning. Even then, I was sometimes so full of joy that I could not sleep. At six in the morning, would again call the brethren together for prayer.
After I had been in London for ten days and had been confined to the house because of my studies, my health again began to decline. I decided to stop spending the little energy I had left on my studies and go to work for the Lord. I wrote to the missionary Society and asked them to send me out at once. They sent me no reply, but continued to support me while I studied.
After waiting six weeks, and in the meantime seeking to work for the Lord, it occurred to me that I should begin to labor among the Jews in London whether I had the title of missionary or not. I distributed tracts among the Jews and invited them to come and talk to me about the things of God. I preached to them in the places where they gathered and read the Scriptures regularly with about fifty Jewish boys. I had the honor of being reproached and ill-treated for the name of Jesus. The Lord gave me grace, however, and I was never kept from the work by any danger or the prospect of suffering.
Toward the close of 1829, I began to doubt whether it was right for me to be supported by the London Society. It seemed unscriptural to me for a servant of Christ to put himself under the control and direction of anyone but the Lord. The society and I exchanged letters on this subject, and in complete kindness and love, we dissolved our relationship. I was now free to preach the gospel wherever the Lord opened the way.
In December, I stayed with some Christian friends who lived in Exmouth. The second day after my arrival, a brother said to me, "I have been praying for a month that the Lord would do something at Lympstone, a large parish where there is little spiritual light. I believe you would be allowed to preach there." Ready to speak of Jesus wherever the Lord might open a door, and desiring to be faithful to the truths which He taught me, I went. I easily obtained permission to preach twice the next Sunday.
God blessed and encouraged me as I worked for His Kingdom. I began learning to be sensitive to His Spirit. He taught me how to study and revealed more of His Word to me. More opportunities to preach were opened, and I rejoiced to serve my Lord Jesus Christ.