Benefiting from the Undeserved Kindness of God
As told by Eero Nironen
WHAT a marvelous thing it is that Jehovah God, the Creator of the universe, the One whose greatness is such that the heaven of heavens themselves cannot contain him, shows kindness to lowly men! Lovingly he has allowed men to come to know him and his superlative qualities. He has given us good reason to take courage and have hope and has even invited us to be his fellow workers. What kindness! What undeserved kindness! It is appreciation of this quality shown by God that has given direction to my life.
Ever since my early childhood at the old mansion in Mäntyharju, Finland, the beauties of the creations that God has kindly provided for the enjoyment of man have made me look to the Creator with a sense of awe. Yet the various churches offered me nothing that made me want to devote my life to their activities. Rather, I was fascinated by the learning of languages and by music, and these would have continued to be the main interests in my life if it had not been that I found something of greater importance. What was it?
A WORK TO DO
I had always had a feeling of awe toward God, but in 1910 I began to understand his purposes. It was then that my own brother directed my attention to the truth as it is found in the Bible. He provided me with the first volume of a series of books known as the “Studies in the Scriptures.” I was attending school at the time, but since I did not find it to be difficult, I had plenty of time for other things, and reading the Studies in the Scriptures became my new hobby. Through their pages I came to appreciate that God’s provision for men to gain everlasting life, some in heaven and others on a paradise earth, was an even greater kindness than what I had seen evidenced in creation. “By this undeserved kindness,” declared an apostle of Jesus Christ, “you have been saved through faith; and this not owing to you, it is God’s gift.” (Eph. 2:8) Accepting such undeserved kindness, I could not afford to miss its purpose. There was work to do. I had to share it with others, and, though my school comrades generally opposed, I began by talking to them.—2 Cor. 6:1.
As the years passed, my knowledge increased. The Watch Tower publications and talks by mature ones in the congregation helped me to gain a clearer view of my responsibilities. Then in the summer of 1914, having seen the wonderful Photo-Drama of Creation and its depiction of God’s purpose from the time of creation right on into His new world, I was moved to dedicate myself to Jehovah and I symbolized it by water baptism at an assembly in Helsinki.
Just as it had helped me, so the Photo-Drama continued to be a help to many others. It accomplished a tremendous witness in Finland. For the past four years a good witness had been given about the beginning of the world’s time of the end in 1914, and many people knew about it. As a result, the guns of World War I actually helped to advertise our showing of the Photo-Drama. There were even many Russian officers who came to the exhibitions.
TIME OF WAR
Those were difficult times. Surely, as the Bible had foretold, the world had entered its time of the end. The world war brought with it blackouts, food shortages, pestilence, and a collapse of morals in many different ways. Trenches were dug even in the inland parts, and there were constant disturbances. Amid this uproar I met a Russian officer—German by birth—who was so interested in the Bible truth that he acquired all the Watch Tower publications that were available in German, together with a Bible. Late into the night he would read them, and then the next day he would call on me to get explanations of points he had not understood. But soon he disappeared when there was a shift of troops.
At length the disorder in the country developed into civil war between the Right and the Left, the “Whites” and the “Reds.” At the time I happened to be at home in Mäntyharju, in the territory of the “Whites,” separated from our brothers in the south. There was great tension among the people, and they viewed everyone who was not actively fighting in their ranks as being one of the enemy. There were many who became very angry about my preaching the Bible’s message of peace at a time like that, but God kindly watched over us. In a short time the civil war ended; then regular conscription began.
This afforded me opportunity to explain my Christian neutrality to many of the military officers. Some of them were very kind and human in their treatment of me in spite of the difficult circumstances. One came to me quite often to discuss matters, and there were many opportunities to witness to other officers and soldiers. I recall one officer who, when he learned that I did not believe as those of the Lutheran state church, made further inquiry. ‘I do not believe in eternal torment,’ I explained. That seemed all right to him. ‘Neither do I believe in the immortality of the soul.’ ‘Why, that is what even I have thought,’ he responded. As a result he wanted me to talk about these things to the boys in his battalion, and I was able to do so on several occasions.
LEARNING TO SPEAK
During those years as I attended the meetings I could not help but admire the mature brothers who gave public talks, and I used to think how grand it would be if I could do the same. But I was firmly convinced that that was something I would never be able to do. Yet in 1917 I received a letter from the Watch Tower Society’s branch office asking if I had ever thought of speaking publicly. My answer: ‘Surely I have thought about it and admired the ability in others, but I myself am absolutely incapable of it.’ To that the branch servant replied: ‘Well, we’ll give you just a short lecture tour to start with.’ I was astonished and overjoyed; at the same time I tremblingly asked Jehovah to help me.
I still remember my first public talk. I had written it out and managed to get through it in some way, partly reading, partly improvising. Although it was in a rural village, there were about four hundred present and I was dizzy with audience fear. Yet there it began and, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, I have been able to give well over 1,500 such public lectures in Finnish and Swedish down to this time, most of them on weekends.
In the 1920’s I had the privilege of making several trips to various countries in Europe, attending assemblies and even giving talks. The most thrilling of these experiences was the convention in London, England, May 25-31, 1926. There we distributed a new booklet, The Standard for the People, and I still remember as clearly as if it had been yesterday how happy I was at the end of the day for having had a share in that work. The resolution, “A Testimony to the Rulers of the World,” which was adopted by the assembly, was a very bold one, especially for those days. And Brother Rutherford’s public talk, “Why World Powers Are Tottering—the Remedy,” in the packed-out Royal Albert Hall, was like the thundering of a trumpet of judgment. I sat high up in the gallery filled with awe at the things I was beholding.
In time World War II came. Again Finland had severe hardships. Young brothers who had reached the age for military service were arrested and put in penitentiaries, where they were subjected to severe testings and treated harshly because of their position of Christian neutrality. Our preaching and Bible literature were banned, meetings were forbidden and the branch servant was taken into custody. Yet, by the undeserved kindness of God, the work went on. We did manage to study together, even to have some conventions! During the whole time I was able to conduct regular home Bible studies.
Shortly after the war the Society’s president, Brother Knorr, visited us at the branch office in Helsinki, helping us to get the work better organized. It was a strengthening experience for me, doing much to impress upon me the theocratic operation of the organization. But I did not yet know the half.
BACK TO SCHOOL
After that visit four Finnish brothers from Bethel were invited to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, located in the United States, and I was among them! Could I believe my ears and eyes? Yes, through his organization, Jehovah was showing this kindness to me too.
Shortly after our arrival in America we attended the convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in August of 1946. It was a tremendous experience to give the short talks I was assigned to that crowd of seventy thousand persons. And there were so many surprises for us all: new books for use in our study, new organizational arrangements, and announcement of a program of expansion of the Society’s facilities. The thrills did not end with the convention but continued to mount as we traveled to Gilead, the missionary school.
The reception we received was very kind. The instructors introduced themselves and made us feel right at home. Oh, yes, the course was hard, but filled with blessings. First now I learned how to really study the Bible. Vast new vistas opened before me. Learning of the operation of the organization and seeing the heart devotion of the brothers strengthened my own heart. Now back in Finland and many years later I still look back on that experience and recognize it as an expression of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness to me.
HIS UNDESERVED KINDNESS SUFFICIENT
Of course, there have been instances over the years when I might have wished for greater physical endurance. My physical frailty has at times interrupted my work, and the last interruption nearly brought my service here to an end when it struck hard at my stomach. I was rushed straight to the operating table, but, filled with confidence in Jehovah, I found peace even under those circumstances. The surgeon was a gentleman and, though he could not hold out much hope for me, he was willing to respect my religious view precluding the use of blood, and he did a fine job. To the astonishment of all, my recovery, though it took time, was good. It makes me feel as the apostle Paul must have felt due to the affliction that he termed a “thorn in the flesh.” He longed to be freed from it, but the Lord said to him: “My undeserved kindness is sufficient for you; for my power is being made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:7-9) Even my own infirmity, my own weakness, opened the way for a good witness to the hospital personnel and other patients, all of whom were very kind to me.
Well over forty years have gone by since I came to the Watch Tower Society’s Finnish branch office to work, yet this time has seemed very short. I gave up a career of musical entertainment but I have become convinced that real happiness does not come through seeking material gain or self honor. I have found far greater happiness in singing the praises of God. And my fascination for languages has come to have much more meaning than it ever did when I was a boy, for I have been able to have a part in translating the message of life into the language of the people among whom I serve. It is the undeserved kindness of God that has opened to me all these opportunities, bringing joy to my life and enabling me to devote myself to sharing it with others.