Young’s second experience of the Presence of Jesus occurred the next year after her “conversion,” when she was grieving the loss of a serious dating relationship. She was struggling with feelings of despair and loneliness and came upon the book Beyond Ourselves by Catherine Marshall. She says, “That night as I read the book, I no longer felt alone. I knelt beside the bed in that sterile room and felt an overwhelming Presence of peace and love come over me. I knew Jesus was with me and that He sympathized with my heartache.” All of this sprang out of Young’s encounter with a book she happened to see while walking aimlessly through the streets of Atlanta one night.
At this point, a couple of comments on the views and influences of Catherine Marshall are in order. Marshall wrote, in Beyond Ourselves that “If a person is a ‘lost sinner,’ it only means that he is temporarily separated from the Good Shepherd who owns him. The Shepherd is bound by all duties of ownership to go after all those who are lost until they are found.” While some might argue that Marshall did not really believe in universalism (that everyone will eventually be saved, even those who reject Christ in this life), the presence of such statements certainly gives one pause about her position. More important as it relates to Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling is Marshall’s view of the Holy Spirit. She believed that the reason many Christians live defeated lives is that they need something more than salvation by grace through faith in Christ, they need to experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
But where does this idea of Holy Spirit baptism come from and how does it apply to Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling? Well, a little bit of research reveals that Catherine Marshall quoted and referenced Hannah Whitehall Smith on numerous occasions. She was very much impacted by the book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life by Smith, a Quaker who was heavily influenced by a group of Holiness Methodists that she and her husband met while living in New Jersey in 1865. Smith wrote that the baptism of the Spirit can be, though it isn’t always, a very emotional and overwhelming sense of His presence. While Smith herself never claimed to have experienced the presence of the Spirit in any tangible way, her husband Robert did. She wrote: “After the meeting my husband had gone alone into a spot in the woods to continue to pray by himself. Suddenly, from head to foot he was shaken with what seemed like a magnetic thrill of heavenly delight, and floods of glory seemed to pour through him, soul and body, with the inward assurance that this was the longed for baptism of the Holy Spirit.” This is not dissimilar to Young’s 3rd experience, which she had 16 years later: “…I was suddenly enveloped in brilliant light and profound peace. I lost all sense of time as I experienced God’s Presence in this powerful way.”
Young’s experience has more in common with today’s modern charismatics, who have theologically descended from the Holiness Movement, than with any New Testament believers. Hebrews 13:5 teaches us that He is always present with us, whether we feel it or not: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
(To be continued next week.)