My family were not Christians. We often attended our local Anglican church at Christmas and Easter. My father’s parents had been Baptist Christians but died before I was born. My mother’s parents were Anglican and Roman Catholic. My Roman Catholic grandmother was still alive, but not practising.
I went to a church school where we sang a hymn each day. I began to be drawn to God when I was 9. I had a class teacher whom I did not like, and who was not a Christian. But his father had been a Christian minister. I never met his father, but his witness was mediated through his unbelieving son. For when his son, my teacher, talked about his father, and his father’s values, I thought, ‘Whatever his father had, I want’.
I had a class teacher whom I did not like, and who was not a Christian. But his father had been a Christian minister and when his son, my teacher, talked about his father, I thought, ‘Whatever his father had, I want’.
So I told my parents that I wanted to start going to church every Sunday. My mother was ill at the time, so my father kindly agreed to take me to the local Presbyterian church, which he did for about three months. After that, I went off each Sunday on my own.
I remember my first Sunday School lesson. The teacher told us that God did not like Bibles that were not well used. I had a pristine Bible so I took it home and scribbled in the margins, and loosened a few pages, thinking that God would be pleased with me!
Perhaps as a response to this fit of church-going, my parents decided to have me baptised when I was 10. My two older brothers had been baptised as babies, but my parents had not got around to organising it when I was born.
A few years later my brother was heading off to university to study medicine. We took him to his residential college, where he was a share a room with another student. We opened the door, and this student was sitting on his bed, reading his Bible. He was a theological student, from the country. He was very embarrassed and put his Bible away very quickly. I do not know his name. This had a deep effect on me. I had heard the Bible read in church, but did not know that you could read the Bible on your own. So I began a strenuous program of daily Bible reading, though I found it very difficult to understand.
The same year Billy Graham came to do an evangelistic mission [the famous 1959 Crusade] in Melbourne. The parents of a friend from school invited me to go with them on the final day at the MCG. So I went, and found it very moving. I thought I was already a Christian, so I made a recommitment. I received follow-up material from the Crusade, which I read carefully.
By this time I had moved to the Anglican church in which I had been baptised. I soon began attending church three times a Sunday, became a server at communion services, joined the choir, and played the piano for Sunday School, and learned to play the pipe organ as well.
By the age of 14, I felt called to ordained ministry and thought I was a Christian. My mother gave me a copy of the biography of Peter Marshall, Chaplain to the Senate in the USA, to encourage me.
I had very high standards of daily prayer in the morning, at lunchtime at school, and at night, continued my daily Bible reading, and disciplined myself not to laugh at dirty jokes. My nickname at school was ‘Pury’, for Puritanical! I tried hard to live as a Christian, even though I was well aware of my daily failures and sins.
I thought that Christians were very nice people, friendly and loving, and welcoming of eccentrics and difficult people. I loved going to church. I thought that if I could live this way, I would also be a Christian.
We had a liberal chaplain at school, who attempted to make Christianity acceptable by explaining away the Bible miracles. [Elijah had some kero under his mantle, and this is how he called down fire on his sacrifice … Jesus walked on a sand-bar, not on water etc]. I found his explanations harder to believe than the miracles themselves!
I began putting the letters AMDG [Ad Maioram Dei Gloriam: ‘to the greater glory of God’] at the top of my school essays, to the confusion and consternation of my teachers. I fear that very few of those essays brought any glory to God! I continued to want to be ordained.
I was converted in my last year at school. I was visiting a church [Holy Trinity Williamstown] to play the organ for a Sunday because the regular organist was on leave. The minister, John Moroney, was also away that Sunday, so Harrie Scott Simmons was filling in for him. We both happened to live in the same part of Melbourne, so travelled home in the train together. He soon worked out I was not yet a Christian, so invited me to his home.
Harrie was an Anglican minister, who had worked as a faith missionary with Amy Carmichael at the Dohnavur mission in south India, then as a chaplain at Vellore Hospital, and as a chaplain at Lushington School. He had just returned home, suffering from amoebic dysentery, and had begun to work as Chaplain at Malvern Grammar. I visited him after school on the 3rd June, 1963; he opened his Bible, explained the gospel, invited me to respond, and converted me in 20 minutes! Praise God!
Harrie met with me once a week for 3 years, to pray with me disciple me, answer my questions, help me with my problems, and show me how to live as a Christian.
He then met with me once a week for 3 years, to pray with me disciple me, answer my questions, help me with my problems, and show me how to live as a Christian. What great generosity! He was a gifted personal evangelist and counsellor and had a large number of ‘laddies’ whom he met with regularly and prayed for constantly. He seemed to see someone each afternoon after school, and each evening. And he was a great intercessor. Once you were on his prayer list, he would pray for you regularly, and would not remove you from his list, even if he lost contact with you.
It was my privilege to preach at his funeral in 1999, and St James’ Glen Iris was full of men to whom Harrie had ministered. He had a wonderful combination of high standards, and deep compassion and understanding when we fell short. Harrie had a deep love of classical music, and an outrageous sense of humour. He wrote poetry, developed expertise in Egyptology, and had an attractive simplicity of life. He truly was a ‘Father in Israel’ to many. His life, ministry and prayers are still bearing fruit.
After I was converted I thought that I should put any idea of going into ordained ministry out of my mind. However the idea came back within six months, and Harrie was instrumental in nurturing me towards training at Ridley College under Dr Leon Morris, and then being ordained as an Anglican in 1970.
After I was converted I tried to think who had been praying for my conversion. Neither the Presbyterian church nor the Anglican church I had attended were evangelical. I had a great-aunt who was a believer, and no doubt she prayed for us. God must have used the general prayers of people who did not know me, but who were praying for conversions!
An Encouraging Life
I was recently asked what it was like to live a long time as a Christian. I said that it was very encouraging! My confidence and faith in God and Christ had grown, as had my confidence in the Bible and the gospel. The atoning death of the cross was still the heart of my message. I had seen God answer 30-year and 50-year long-term prayers! I could now see that even when I thought everything was a mess, God had been working for good. I had learned that God could use my weaknesses, as well as my gifts. I had learned that God’s ways were best, and to trust his goodness. I still see new truths when I read the Bible, and am praying that I would continue to grow as a Christian until the day of my death.
Praise our God for his grace and mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ, and for his Spirit-inspired Scriptures.