Dr. John Goldstein

My Conversion

Dr. John Goldstein MRCS LRCP


John Leopold Goldstein was descended of Polish Jews who fled the pogroms and settled in Germany in the mid 1800s. He was the grandson of rabbi Maushe Thorner, who sat under rabbi Akiba Eger in Berlin and Posen and founded the Danzig academy.

Dr. Goldstein spent his entire adult life in the service of the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, being sent on various itinerant missions through Eastern Europe and then posted first to Tangiers and then to Salonica where he served as a medical missionary.

He was married at the age of thirty-one to Octavia Reynalds. They were married for 52 years when Mrs. Goldstein departed to her eternal home in 1955. Dr. Goldstein followed her in 1958. They left two daughters, Ruth and Margaret. Their firstborn, Martyn, died on the mission field in Salonica.

This testimony is compiled from excerpts out of Dr. Goldstein’s autobiography, “All the Doors were Opened”, first published by the Mildmay Mission to the Jews in April 1950. The book is out of print, but copies are sometimes available through specialist book-dealers on the internet.


“When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me … immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1. 15-16)

As a boy of scarcely fifteen years of age I could not have defined the term Conversion. I never heard that word in Jewish circles. Even when I became a Christian I did not know its full meaning. But whatever it meant it was real and effective. It worked such a change that neither I nor those around me grasped the full significance and its ultimate results. In fact, my conversion was a miracle, as all true conversions are.  But for the work of God’s Holy Spirit I could never have grasped the mystery of salvation nor have yielded my heart to the Saviour, nor would I, a mere boy, have found courage to stand up against the most learned and influential men of our Jewish community, or have had the heart to hold out against the heart-breaking pleadings of her whom I loved best. The great change came without any desire or planning on my part. I was not in the least religious, rather secretly resenting having to attend Hebrew classes, and had no taste for long prayers.

My first spiritual impulse I trace to my confirmation, the so-called Bar Mitzvah, when on my 13th birthday I became, what the Hebrew word means, “a son of the commandment.” I had been carefully prepared for that important day on which I was admitted into the Jewish community. With studied pathos I read in the synagogue a portion of the Hebrew Scriptures without understanding a word of it.

At home I declared before a circle of friends that I was proud of being a Jew, that I would strictly adhere to the traditions of the fathers, would always be true to our religion and observe faithfully the ritual of our faith. Something of the spirit of my forefathers must have animated me, for did they not promise solemnly (Exodus 19:8), “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do”?  But like them I promptly forgot all about my vows and continued just as I was before. The outstanding fact of that day was the solemn announcement by the rabbi that I would from now on be myself responsible for my sins. My father being dead, my Jewish guardian had hitherto undertaken this duty before God, but that henceforth I would be responsible myself. Even this did not make much impression on me. I had no conception of sin, nor did I know what responsibility involved. A few prayers, an occasional attendance at the synagogue, a cursory observance of our ritual, would be quite enough to appease God. So I undertook this burden lightly and without much compunction. School life and the pleasures of boyhood soon drove the thought of it out of my head. “But God who is rich in mercy” never forgot me. A man was being prepared by Him to show me the way to the One who was willing and able to undertake the impossible task on my behalf. He was an agent of the London Church Mission to the Jews. When he first visited us and for a long time after it, we did not know that he was a missionary. We knew him as a gentle and kind man who employed the best tactics of the seeker after souls. Never did he point out the faults of our religion, never did he boost the Christian creed. Indeed, arguments, however clever, knowledge, however great, logical proofs, however convincing, will never accomplish what genuine kindness of heart will produce. We liked and trusted him.

He astonished me one day by inviting me to his Sunday school. I had never heard of such a place, for the Jews had no such institution. It was held in a large summer house in the middle of an old-fashioned garden. Everything was pleasant and attractive. But I was greatly surprised to hear the children singing praises to one called Jesus of whom I had heard such bad tales. Fanatical Jews of those days had made out that Jesus was the worst man that ever trod this earth, that He was a blasphemer who claimed to be equal with God, that He was a traitor to his nation, and that no self-respecting Jew should ever take his name on his lips. Believing all this, I was greatly perplexed to hear His praises proclaimed by children and teachers. When I asked my friend for an explanation he gave me a little book which would tell me about Jesus. I could not find anything bad in it; on the contrary, all I read about Jesus was extremely good, and I began to think that my mother and the Jews must have made a mistake about this man. In my childish ignorance I told my mother so, and was very much upset when she became angry, slapped my face and sternly forbade me to read this book which shed took away from me and tore up. However, my curiosity had been aroused and disobeying my mother I procured another New Testament which I now read all the more eagerly. Stealthily I crept under the stairs or into the loft, or playing truant from school, I read it out in the fields. The more I read the more I became fond of Jesus. I did not understand His words nor the meaning of His sacrifice, I did not know that He was the Son of God nor did I appreciate His character, but His miracles took hold of my boyish imagination. I loved to think of His ability to walk on the waves, to raise the dead, to heal by a touch. All too soon my lips revealed my secret and mother’s wrath was great. She rushed with me to the rabbi who swore at me and threatened dire punishment and assured me that the missionary intended only to ruin me body and soul.  Between his anger and mother’s flowing tears I felt like a convicted criminal and promised never to read the forbidden book again, never to visit my friend and to forget all about Jesus. This was easier said than done, for I had already begun to long for a better knowledge of these things and what I had already read had stirred my desire to get a better acquaintance with this wonderful man. Mother wrote the missionary an angry letter forbidding him our house. I saw it lying on our table and secretly added a few words to the effect that, though I had been forbidden to see him again, I meant to continue my search after truth and comfort myself with the words of our Psalmist which he had often quoted to me (Psalm 27:14): “Wait, I say, on the LORD!”  I slipped the little strip of paper on which I had written my message unobserved into the envelope. Thus my friend must have been comforted in spite of his disappointment.

By that time I had given up the idea of becoming an actor and had become a clerk. Everything went wrong in the office; sums were added incorrectly; copies had many mistakes. I was threatened with dismissal if I did not improve. I could not concentrate on my work. I was constantly being reminded of the little book and the name of Jesus kept recurring to my memory. Soon I was back at the missionary’s house where my disobedience to my Mother’s wishes was faithfully pointed out to me. I stoutly refused to be turned away. When the Jews discovered that I had broken my word, they tried by all manner of means to draw me away from that home, but they did not succeed. The rabbi himself came to persuade me, but had to hear the Gospel instead. Apart form the desire after truth, this home itself was a great attraction. Its unity, its happiness, its unselfish spirit, its seasons of worship at which I was often a silent and wondering witness, preached to my heart most powerful sermons. I shall never forget the first New Year’s night I spent in that happy circle. Formerly I used to riot on that night in the streets with other boys. Now, at midnight we all bent our knees before God. What a thrill it gave me, for I had never knelt before!

I cannot tell the exact day of my conversion, but it was during those solemn hours when the missionary and myself were shut in with God and His Word. This had been previously a dull book, now it became living and real and spoke to me with the authority of God. As we read together about sin, its bondage, ugliness and judgment, my conscience began to be afraid. The more I understood the meaning of sin the heavier the burden weighed on my soul. I felt like King David (Psalm 40:12): “My iniquities have gone over my head; as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me”. I remembered that I had so lightly taken the responsibility for them on my Bar Mitzvah day, but now I was dreading the thought and was anxiously looking for someone to relieve me of that load. Then I read of Him of whom the Prophet Isaiah writes (Isaiah 53:5): “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities”.  The Spirit of God revealed to me that this was the very same Who, as the Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. That included mine. I realized that the Lord Jesus was willing to stand in my stead, to undertake my responsibility before God. With deepest gratitude I cast upon Him all my sins and burdens, my life and myself. He instantly took my fears away. My sins were forgiven, the judgment had passed.

I cannot describe what a difference this made to me. Instead of dread my soul was filled with joy, instead of oppression the burden was gone, instead of the darkness of ignorance my life was flooded with light. I was transformed into an entirely different boy. I had also the assurance that I need not worry about what was to come as He would undertake even in that.

Many months of intense study in the Scriptures had previously convinced me that the Lord Jesus was the true, promised Messiah. A Jew has to experience, as it were, two conversions. The first is that of the head. He must be convinced that Jesus Christ fulfils all the old prophecies. The second is the all-important one. It is that of the heart. Many Jews acknowledge the first, but have never admitted the Lord into their hearts. By the grace of God I passed through both. I knew not only that the Lord was the Messiah for whom my people were waiting, but I was certain that He was mine and I was His. As time went on I marveled at that wonderful exchange. I, a poor Jewish boy, with all the characteristic failings of my nation, with my sins and follies, with limitations and failures. I was now His. And He, with the love of His great heart, with all the resources of heaven, with all the might of His Spirit, was mine.

It was not long before the testing time came when an open confession would have to be made and I would have to throw in my lot with the Lord. The old life, with its former allurements and associations, would have to give way to new desires and deeds. Clear-cut decision was asked for in many passages of the Word which I had read. In the Psalms, I was told (Psalm 45:10): “Hearken … and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people and thy father’s house.”  And the Saviour Himself said (Matthew 10:37): “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.”  Would I be able to pass away from my loved ones and my home, sever all the ties of love and friendship, bear the loss of reputation and forego all prospects for the future, endure the exclusion from the worship and fellowship of the synagogue? This was indeed a heavy cross for a mere boy to bear, but I felt sure that the Saviour would not leave me to carry these burdens alone.

As soon as the change in me was noticed, mother, frantic with grief, brought the rabbi to speak to me. He came, and brought many others whom I did not even know. Every evening for many weeks they crowded into our room, pleading, arguing, pitying, threatening, cursing and abusing, promising, and if all would not avail, spitting at me and beating me. I was only a lad of scarcely fifteen. What could I do to refute the subtle arguments of the learned rabbi; how could I gainsay the sophistries of my Hebrew teacher” All I could do was to reiterate that my sins were gone, that I loved the Saviour, that I knew God had accepted me as His child. Had I been alone I would long ago have given up the struggle, but “there stood One with me and strengthened me”.  His grace was sufficient to keep me from a cowardly denial.

This intense strain and anxiety went on for several weeks until I was almost a physical wreck. I was hardly able to attend to my office duties and dreaded going home in the evenings. But the greatest trial was not the opposition of the Jews, but when they had gone and I was left alone with my distracted mother. In her agony of mind she would throw herself on the floor, and seizing my feet would kiss them passionately. “Remember the abuse we suffered under your drunken stepfather in Sweden,” she would plead. “Think of your pious grandfather whose very name you will be disgracing. What can Jesus be to you, who is a stranger, compared to my love for you?” Fondly she would press me to her heart while the tears were streaming down her cheeks, and pitifully exclaim: “Can you still love me, my son, can you still love me?”  My own heart was nearly breaking while I told her that I loved her dearly, but that I loved Jesus even more. Once she snatched up a knife, screaming in her frenzy that she would rather see me dead than that I should bring such disgrace upon her and her religion. In those dreadful nights I fancied sometimes as if the very devil were in the room, who sneeringly pointed to mother’s anguish and asked: “Does not the Scripture say, Honour thy father and thy mother? Is this the way you obey that commandment?” Almost persuaded by such subtleties I seemed to sense another in the room, One who showed me His pierced hands and feet; One wearing a crown of thorns, whose heart was broken and whose blood was poured out on my behalf. He seemed to say to me: “My boy, I gave you the very best I have, my own life’s blood. I suffered all for you. What will you give to me? “ Though very falteringly, and with many tears, I was enabled to look into His lovely face and reply: “Lord Jesus, I will give you the best I have, even myself and my mother.”  All this meant a very severe physical and mental strain, to which was added the thought that I would sooner or later have to confess my faith publically.

As long as I kept it secret I might be allowed to remain a member of the Jewish community, and mother would still permit me to live with her; but from the day I announced my trust in Jesus by public baptism I would lose everything I held dear. I would then have to wander as an outcast from home and friends, would be alone, despised and hated. No native Jew of Danzig had ever been baptized there before me, though some who had come from other parts had become Christians. For this reason the Jews of Danzig were most anxious to keep up their reputation and bitterly opposed my conversion.

A great conflict raged in my soul. I knew that the Lord had declared (Matthew 10:32): “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever will deny Me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” This challenge called for a definite decision, but the price to be paid was too heavy. I kept on putting the answer off.

How easy it is for a Gentile believer to confess the Lord! A few sneers, a small loss of prestige, are often enough to keep him from obeying Christ’s command. To the Jew the road to Jesus often leads through sorrows, tears, privations and loss. This is perhaps the explanation why there are so few Jewish baptisms. The wonder is that there are any at all, and that there is grace enough to sustain a Hebrew convert in his sore trials and pains. He needs a double portion of it to meet the terrific strain involved. It is only the exceeding power of God which enables a Jew to say with Paul (Phil. 3:7): “What things were gain to me, these I counted loss for Messiah. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Messiah my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

In every conversion of a Jew and his courageous witness the Lord is doubly magnified. He has given him the greatest of gifts, eternal life, and He has also made him strong in weakness, bold in confession, enduring in reproach, and effectual in witness. I desired honestly to come into the open for the Lord, but my flesh shrank from the troubles which would inevitably follow. This worried me very much. I looked earnestly to God for guidance and help. It came in almost a miraculous way.

All my thoughts were centered on matters which concerned my soul. I had given up all the amusements in which I delighted before. But strangely enough, a sudden desire to go skating became so strong that I yielded at last and went to the river where usually a large crowd was amusing itself on the ice. To my surprise I found myself entirely alone. A thaw had set in and that had evidently kept all away. The urge to skate was, however, so strong that I decided to brave the danger. After a short run I fell, and got up feeling cross with myself. Then I saw something shining in the ice on the spot on which I had just fallen. To my great astonishment it was a silver medal, which bore on one side a picture of Jesus and on the other one of His baptism by John, and the only words on the medal were, “He that believeth and is baptized the same shall be saved”. It struck me as if the Lord Himself had spoken to me from heaven. He knew my fears and hesitation and had sent me to the river against my inclinations. By means of the thaw He prevented others finding it, yet did not let it thaw enough to allow the medal to sink to the bottom, made me fall on the top of it, and said to me the very words which would meet my case and encourage me. I have had many definite leadings from the Lord, but none more clear or more timely. I can never doubt His ability to deal with every emergency.  “He only doeth wondrous things.” The medal is still in my possession. I have never seen another like it, nor have I been able to find out its origin.

After this remarkable incident I asked to be baptized. The troubles which might follow were faithfully pointed out to me, but I insisted on obeying my Lord’s command. In spite of every effort made by my mother and the Jews, who tried even to enlist the help of the police, I was received into the outward church of Christ by public baptism in the Garrison Church of St. Elizabeth in Danzig, on November 2nd, 1886. It was a solemn hour, when I felt the Saviour very near and seemed to lose all fear and misgivings.

The excitement and the strain of the previous weeks had made me weak and ill. When I was half carried by the missionary through the streets to my home I was too weak to resist the sudden rush of my mother and her Jewish friends, who seized me and hurried me home. I kept on begging them in abject fear: “Please mother, do not kill me”.  The usual crowd was waiting for me. I nearly denied my baptism, but the Lord gave me strength not to do this. Then followed a scene of indescribable anger and tumult. They spat full in my face and beat me with their fists; the rabbi solemnly excommunicated me from the fellowship of the synagogue, and a Jewish physician declared me a religious lunatic and certified me insane. With my last remaining strength I resisted their attempt to remove me to an asylum. They took me instead, in the middle of the night, to the house of my guardian, where I was kept a close prisoner for about a week. No Gentiles were allowed near me, but each evening crowds of Jews gathered to argue, plead and threaten.

At last I was freed by the police, who had been informed that I had disappeared. We had all to appear before a magistrate. After searching questions I was set free and went home. There I found my mother sitting on the floor, mourning in the Jewish fashion, called “Shivah”, for the dead. She angrily showed me the door, saying that her son had died and she did not know me.

Now I was an outcast indeed. Mother had become a stranger; my family disowned me; my home was closed against me; my friends despised me; and in the office I was dismissed, for its manager was a Jew. Yet I can truthfully say, to the glory of God, that at no time did I regret what I had done. The realization of the wonder of my salvation, the preciousness of the Saviour, the sense of freedom from the burden of sin, far outweighed the bitterness of my position. Of course, I did feel keenly that my dear mother’s arms would no more be around me, for I was only a boy; I was made painfully aware of the contempt in which I was held in Jewish circles; I resented angrily the spittings and beatings whenever I was seen in the streets, but I found comfort in the words of King David (Psalm 27:10): “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up”. He had literally done so. In a multitude of ways I have experienced the truth of His Divine promise: “Verily, I say unto you, there is no man that has left house, or brother, or sister, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and for the Gospel’s sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time … with persecutions, and in the world to come eternal life.”

The promise was soon fulfilled when the missionary received me into his house, where I found a father and mother, protection from the fury of the Jews, affection and care, and further instruction in the things of God.  I am sure that a rich reward must have been his when he was called home and heard the King say to him: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me”.

On account of the bad feeling which my presence in the town aroused I was sent to Christian friends in the neighbouring city of Elbing where they hid me till the worst excitement had passed. But even after seven years, when I was living in England, I was called to give evidence in a magistrate’s court about a book which had been published in Leipzig, entitled ‘Wolves in Sheep Clothing’.  It contained the vilest accusations against the missionary and myself. It was soon suppressed.

All these persecutions did not dim my joy in the Lord, but the thought that I had occasioned such grief to my mother made me long to make known to her the comfort and grace of the Saviour. It seemed utterly hopeless that she would ever be brought to acknowledge Him. Her resentment had been so real, her hatred so intense, and her fear of the Jews so overwhelming. But I clung in faith to God’s promise to my Jewish people (Jer. 29:11-13): “And I know that thoughts that I think towards you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you hope in the latter end. And ye shall call upon Me, and ye shall go and pray unto Me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek Me and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart.” When I was pleading one day for mother’s salvation the conviction was born in upon me that my prayer was answered. My eyes fell on the words in Isaiah 42:16, “I will bring the blind by a way that they know not, in paths that they have not known will I lead them. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight. These things will I do and not forsake them.” I claimed this precious promise for my mother and have never doubted her conversion.

However many attempts I made to get near her they were always in vain. While I was away from Danzig for two years she never answered any of my letters and when I called on her during a very short vacation she showed me the door. But the Lord can open closed doors. Mother broke her arm and, as she knew that I happened to be in the town, she called for me. That was the key to her heart and home. Another two years went by and I called on her again during my short stay in that place. I was admitted as a visitor, but not as a son. A serious illness occurred just at that time and again she had to call on me. Now I was able to show her my affection and tell her once more about the Saviour.

In after years her affection returned until, at another of my visits, she actually begged me to preach to Jews whom she would gather in her home. For two hours I preached Messiah to about fifty Jews in the same room in which they had so evilly abused me and had declared me a maniac. Mother’s face beamed with delight.

Still later she accepted an invitation to the Berlin Exhibition in which I was preaching the Gospel. A Jewish physician decided for Christ in one of these meetings. That encouraged my mother to follow his good example. She confessed her faith in the Lord Jesus. It made my heart well over with praise and worship.

I was with her during her last illness. Her voice was gone, but she indicated by vigorous signs that she was trusting in the atoning work of the Lord and was going home to be with Him. I inscribed on her tombstone in the Jewish cemetery of Danzig the word of Isaiah, “I will lead the blind by a way that they know not”.  Mother and I will be meeting in the glory land.

At eventide it shall be light.
Can this be true? How can it be?
For eventide begins the night
when darkness veils
both land and see.

But God Who made the light to shine
when darkness covered all the earth,
can turn again creation’s line
to bring a darkened soul
to birth.
In Joshua’s fierce and lengthy fight
God made the sun to shine all day
and lengthened it – far into the night
to help him his foes

Do not despair, tried child of God.
Wait in hope and trust Him still!
Delay till eventide means not
that darkness wins –
rest in His will.

Bright in the gloom of weakest faith,
the star of hope will light the way,
and love will break with brightest rays
through fogs of doubt
and grey dismay.

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