Walter Gustafson (1921-2020) was saved in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, on 2nd November 1941 at the age of 20 (See below for how he was saved, in his own words). Commended in 1954 to preach the gospel and teach the Word of God, he continued faithfully right into his 90’s. A brother with a distinctive Boston accent and a photographic memory, to hear him once was never to forget him. He kept a meticulous diary of every detail of his labours, mentioning in this message that he had had “83 preaching partners”. He wrote articles for magazines and also the 2nd Chronicles section for the What The Bible Teaches commentary series. Here Mr Gustafson speaks at the Akron, Ohio, conference in 2006 on the name of the Lord Jesus. “His name” for assembly gathering, unity, discipline, testimony, reproach, and gospel effort. Readings: Matt 18:20, Luke 24:47, Acts 5:41, 1 Cor 1:10, 5:4-5, Col 3:17, 3 John 7.
My Salvation and Call
(From Assembly Testimony Magazine, Jan/Feb 2002)
Even though my parents were unsaved, my mother brought me up strictly so that at 17, I became sincerely religious, joined the neighbourhood “church” and eventually taught a Sunday School Class. I didn’t smoke, drink or dance. After graduation from high school, I preached a high standard of morals to all with whom I worked, even the men at the Boston Gear Works.
I was sincere but I was sincerely wrong. I was really on the clean footpath down to hell. Prov.14.12 and 16.25 both say, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” In reading through the Gospels, I was startled one day by the Lord’s words in Lk.5.32, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” I had thought, up until that moment, that Christ had come for people, like myself, who were trying to live a good life. I knew that I had sinned, but was not prepared to take my place as a sinner. I am thankful that God brought me to that place.
One Lord’s Day when the minister was away on vacation, some young people from the Providence Bible Institution, 40 miles away, were responsible for the meetings. One young man favourably impressed me. In giving his testimony, he said he was a Sunday School teacher before he was saved. He was the first person I ever heard say that he was saved. Being a Sunday School teacher myself I thought, “Maybe he has something that I don’t have.” He surely did, for he had Christ as his own, personal Saviour and I had a religion without Christ. While he was speaking, I asked myself, “Why is it that I have been trying so hard and I don’t have any love, nor joy, nor peace in my heart like he does?” After they had left, I decided that I wanted what that young man had above all else.
Shortly afterwards, at the Boston Gear Works, I was transferred and met Mr. Thomas Harvey of the assembly that met at Cliff Street, Boston. He invited me to come with him to the Gospel Hall. I had never heard of a Gospel Hall, but if there was any possibility that I could find what I was looking for, I wanted to go.
The late Mr. Hugh Thorpe preached that night from Nicodemus, in Jn.3. Like Nicodemus, I was moral and religious, but I had never been born again. Near the end of the meeting he said, “Don’t wait until you’re better or you may never come at all.” Those were strange words to me, for I had been trying to make myself better for many months. I heard enough that night to cause me to return.
At the second gospel meeting, both brethren who preached, Mr. James Stevenson and Mr. Joseph Kerr, preached on leprosy as a type of sin. One verse they quoted, that especially pierced my conscience, was Isa.64.6, “But we are all as an unclean thing and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;…” I couldn’t adequately describe in words how miserable I felt. After many months of trying to fit myself for the presence of God, I found out that in spite of all my effort, in spite of all my Sunday School work and in spite of all my preaching, I was only a guilty sinner in the sight of God with the loathsome disease of sin.
The next Lord’s day I spent with the Harveys. After dinner, Mr. Harvey and his son, James, took me for a walk. In spite of all the convictions by the Holy Spirit, I still kept up a religious conversation. But when we got to a quiet section of the city, Mr. Harvey turned to me and asked, “Was there ever a time in your life that you saw that you were a guilty sinner and received Christ as your own personal Saviour?” I hesitated and then said, “No, there never has been.” From then on, I was on the receiving end. First the father and then the son took turns preaching to me. By the time we got back to the house, I was feeling just as miserable as the Sunday night before. I asked myself for the last time, “What’s the difference between me and these people? They are trying to live a good life and so am I.” As soon as I had asked the question, the Spirit of God brought home to me forcefully,” These people have accepted God’s way of salvation and you are trying to work your own way to Heaven.” I fully realised then that I was lost, but did not know how to get saved.
At the prayer meeting, it cheered me to hear one brother after another get up and ask God to save “sinners,” for I knew that word included me. It made me all the more anxious to get saved. In the gospel meeting following, I listened intently. Mr. Fred Squire preached from Lk.19.41-44. The last hymn he gave out was:
“Is there a heart that is waiting,
Longing for pardon today?
Hear the glad message proclaiming,
Jesus is passing this way.”
I thought, “If there is any possibility that I can get saved tonight, I want it more than anything else in the world.” I went directly to Mr. Squire after the meeting and told him so. We sat down and he read some good gospel verses to me. One I remember especially, Isa.53.6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way;…” he stopped right there and asked if that was me. I thought back of how I went my own way as a boy and then reformed to go another way, but it still wasn’t God’s way. So I answered, “Yes, that’s me.” He read the rest of the verse, “and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Then Mr. Squire suggested that we pray. While on my knees I felt a horror of desperation thinking, “In a moment or two we will be up off our knees and I’m not saved.” Just then, Mr. Squire was praying that God would reveal to me Christ on the cross taking my place. I was instantly saved because I realised for the first time in my life that when Christ died on the cross, God laid on Him all my sins. I was crying for joy to know that at last I had found peace with God, not through any works of my own, but simply accepting Christ as my own personal Saviour. The few who were still there sang a hymn I had never heard before. Part of it was:
“Happy day! happy day!
When Jesus washed my sins away.”
Thus November 2, 1941, became that happy day for me, five days after I was 20 years of age.
Ten months later I was drafted. I was conscientiously opposed to serving in combat duty so I went in as a non-combatant. After 31/2 years, I returned to civilian
life. My only brother and I were in France when my father died. Under the G.I. Bill of Rights those who had served could get a free college education. Since my mother was a widow with six children and the twin sisters, the youngest in the family, were still going to high school, only one of us brothers could go to college after the war. As much as I loved studying, I didn’t think it was right for me, the oldest, to make the family sacrifice so that I could go to college; so I let my brother go.
Later, at a critical time in my life, I had to put my heart into something just to keep my mental equilibrium. It had to be a hobby or the things of God. God knew what it was going to be. I’m thankful that the assembly that met in the Cliff Street Gospel in Boston began to have three open-air meetings a week. Then in the winter, they had an extra meeting for Bible readings on Thursday nights. In the summer I could put my heart into the open-air meetings; and in the winter I could put my heart into the Bible readings. I estimate that 90 of my first 100 times preaching were in the open air. It was good training. I could preach for two or three minutes and then think of ways to do better, and it wouldn’t be long before I tried the better way!
In my exercises before the Lord as to what He would have me to do, I first thought of being a missionary. When I heard the late T. Ernest Wilson, an Angolan missionary, say that he didn’t think that any brother should go to another race of people without his wife, that settled it for me! I decided that I wouldn’t be going as a missionary unless the Lord gave me a wife first!
In the spring of ’53, I asked Mr. Togus, a French Roman Catholic who was the head of the engineering department, if I could have Good Friday off so that I could be at most of the three day conference in Manchester, Connecticut. To my great surprise, he asked me, “When are you going to leave the Gear Works altogether and go preaching?” I have been thinking of it; but before I would do that, I would want to get a leave of absence to try it out for two or three months or so.” He said “The Gear Works doesn’t give any leaves of absence, but I will tell you what I could do. I would put such a strong recommendation on your terminal leave that you could come back any time.” When I left, Mr. Togus showed me what he wrote on my terminal leave. He mentioned specific good qualities and he finished with, “The Gear Works should not hesitate a minute to rehire him for employment.” I did go back to see him but I never went back for employment.
I left the engineering department of the Boston Gear Works in the end of June of 1953 to try preaching full time. The first gospel series that I had was with a younger brother in Newport, Maine, which was 37 miles north of the nearest assembly. We went on for nine weeks. One night I told how God had saved me. Mrs. Braille was there, probably for the first time. At the close of the meeting, she exclaimed to Mrs. Weymouth, a saved Baptist woman, “My, if a good living young man like that needed to be saved, how about a poor sinner like me!” Thankfully she really got saved.
In December of that year, I went before the seven overseers of my home assembly at Cliff Street. I told them what I had done and that I would like a letter of commendation, but only if all of them were happy to give it to me. If any of them would rather wait, then I would rather wait. They gave me a letter in January of 1954 commending me to the Lord’s work.