How and When God Saved a Baptist Preacher

By: L. R. Shelton, Sr.

I was eleven years of age when I took an open stand for Christ on a profession of faith and joined Sardis Baptist Church on the first Sunday night of our regular annual protracted meeting in August, 1909. I made this profession of faith in Christ with all the sincerity and honesty of my heart: I know that my young heart was deeply impressed with the Gospel truth of God’s Word. From that time until the spring of 1939 I never once questioned that I was saved.

At the age of sixteen I felt the burden of what I thought was the call to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was based largely on visions and outward manifestations. Yet, I was firmly grounded on the Bible, the Word of God, and believed its doctrines as taught by the old-time Missionary Baptist church; namely, Salvation by Faith, Blood Redemption in Christ Jesus, Immersion as the Bible mode of Baptism, the Eternal Security of the Believer, Bible Repentance, the Deity of Christ and His Lordship, the Bodily Resurrection of both the believer and the unbeliever, the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ to earth again, Heaven and Hell as living realities, and kindred doctrines.

Immediately following my call and my surrender to the Gospel ministry I became very active in church life; praying in public, teaching Sunday School classes, leading prayer meetings, taking part in young people’s work, and pastoring small country churches as well as holding summer revivals. I was generally referred to as “the boy preacher,” and large crowds attended upon my ministry from the very beginning. I never wanted for some place to preach. I was sincere and honest in all that I did, as I never once doubted that I had received a divine call to the ministry.

Having been raised under the old puritan laws, I was hard on sin both on those in the church and on those out of the church. As a result of my preaching, I was therefore constantly bringing down upon me the wrath of unsaved church members who were living under the cloak of religion. Being fearless and unafraid of man, I would stand behind the truth I preached, and I have often said, “Mr. Shelton will back up on the street what the Rev. Shelton says from the pulpit.” I was never afraid of my salary. If various members of the church did not like what I preached, I would tell them to pour it back into the jug and cork it and to take their money and go to Hell with it.

Many times I preached sermons which cost me hundreds of dollars as far as collections were concerned, but I have never regretted preaching them. I have always said that I was paid more than I deserved. One of the greatest troubles I have met with in holding meetings for other churches was to get the money that had been raised for me during the meeting, as some pastor or deacon would become jealous of the large offering and try to hold back part of it for themselves or for the church.

A Hunger That Was Never Satisfied

From the day that I surrendered to preach until the time that the Holy Spirit awakened me to the fact that I was a lost sinner (October, 1941), there was always a hunger in my heart for what I thought was a “DEEPER LIFE” with God, or a “CLOSER WALK WITH GOD”, as it has been called. I did not realize that I had missed Christ and had never been saved, and I was therefore always in search of something I knew I did not have. I attended all religious gatherings as far as possible, and when an altar call was made for surrender or dedication, I was usually the first one to the altar. Having always had a tender, religious nature, I could easily be moved upon by an emotional message.

This trait was very noticeable during my school life at Louisiana College and at the Baptist Bible Institute of New Orleans. On missionary days, when we had special speakers and the spirit of the meeting ran high, being deeply interested in mission work, I would revel in the messages and would be among those dedicating anew their lives to mission work, earnestly praying, “Lord, give me the hardest place You have on earth as my portion.” I was highly commended by many for my devotion to God’s Word and my loyalty to my convictions against sin and was considered a great personal soul winner. During these years I do not remember hearing a message in or out of the schoolroom that ever pricked my heart and caused me to question my salvation in Christ. Every message that I heard only confirmed me in the belief that I was already saved. Not one time was I ever made to wonder by any preacher or teacher whether or not I was saved; but I do not blame them.

During those years, as I came in contact with the religious world and began to see the down grade of religious life, the falling away from Bible truth and the substitution of a religious program for the Gospel, I cried out against it. At night I would walk the floor of my home, the streets or the roadside praying and weeping and crying my heart out to God for an awakening. As I saw preachers, theological professors and church leaders living such lives under the cover of religion that betrayed their profession in Christ and manifested the shallowness of their religious profession, I was constantly facing the question – is there no way out? During all my school life I met only one professor who would sit down and talk with me, and no doubt my constant inquiry worried him because he finally told me, “Brother Lee Roy, there is nothing in the world we can do about it, so go on and preach the Gospel and trust the Lord.”

In spite of this religious emptiness, I was loyal to the Baptist denominational mission program. This was the main outlet for mission work that I knew of. I raised all the money that I could and then gave all I could to the mission program. For instance, when the “75 Million Campaign” was put on, Mrs. Shelton and I pledged one thousand dollars above God’s tithe to be paid within five years. We brought God’s tithe to our church for local expenses, and then we dedicated a second tithe to pay this pledge. At that time we were in school at Louisiana Baptist College, and our income was only fifty dollars a month when we made our pledge. We paid this pledge amid suffering and tears while many forfeited theirs, but to us a religious pledge is a debt and a sacred thing. We fully believed that those handling our money and investing it in mission work for our Lord were honest. Therefore, it all but wrecked me at that time to discover how much of our mission money was wasted and stolen by high church officials.

I believe in churches supporting their denominational missionary program, but I do not believe that the local church ought to degenerate into merely a money-collecting agency and turn all of her mission work over to the denomination. Christ’s commission, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” was given to a local church and not to a mission board. May I say again, I believe in cooperative missions as much as anybody, but when a local church surrenders her responsibility of mission work and of soul winning to a mission board and becomes only a collecting agency, then the Spirit of the living God departs from that church, leaving a mere outward shell with no life or power, with profession without possession, and with religion without Christ.

Pastor of First Baptist Church Algiers

I became pastor of the First Baptist Church, Algiers, New Orleans, Louisiana, on the fourth Sunday in February, 1927, when it was looked upon as a small mission church in the midst of a vast mission field. There were only three white Baptist churches in eleven parishes of southeast Louisiana at that time, which had a population of nearly half a million people. For twelve years I gave myself unreservedly to opening up this vast mission field in southeast Louisiana to the Word of God as Baptists believe it. I spared nothing as far as time, money or effort were concerned to reach this half million people with the Word of God. Missions sprang up everywhere in spite of opposition from both Catholics and Baptists. I faced the wrath of man, preached when I was threatened to be killed, and baptized converts with the enemy ready to shoot me. It is only by the grace of God that I have lived to tell the story. I not only fought swarms of mosquitoes, but I met the betrayal of friends and endured the curses of the enemy. Ever since I have been preaching, I have met with opposition from our Baptist brethren; namely, the undercurrent opposition to any mission work carried on by a local church when it does not have its beginning with, or is controlled by, the leaders at the head of our Baptist denominational program. In all of our mission work I have repeatedly run into that opposition from our Baptist leaders. They were afraid that my purpose was to set up a mission movement independent from that which is supported by the denomination. Yet, I could not be still. If I was not given something to do by our denominational leaders, I easily found mission work to do, for by nature I am a trail blazer.

During those first twelve years of labor in this mission field, I was conscious of the fact that there was something missing in my life, but not one time did I doubt my salvation. I would talk with Bible teachers, preachers and laymen about my heart’s desire, but would always be told, “Brother Shelton, you have all you will ever have; why not settle down and go on about your preaching and forget about it?”

But this hunger planted deep in my heart could not easily be put aside. In the spring of 1932 I began to read the life stories of men like George Muller, Hudson Taylor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, David Brainerd, and others, and I saw that they lived and wrought by faith under the power of God’s Holy Spirit. I came to this conclusion: if God could use them, why could He not use me? I then began to give myself to prayer and fasting and to the reading and studying of God’s Word for one purpose, that God might use me in the salvation of lost souls. A few joined me in the prayer meetings, which were held mostly in my home.

In September of that same year, an open rebellion broke out against me in First Baptist Church, Algiers. Using these prayer meetings, they accused me of having turned Pentecostal in doctrine and practice as an excuse to try to put me out of the church as pastor. During this period the Holy Spirit taught me many things that I could not have learned either in the schoolroom under the professors who fought me or at the feet of the preachers who persecuted me, nor could I have learned them from the writings of any man. As I look back upon this period and the persecution I endured at being falsely accused, I would not now take a million worlds for the truths of God’s Word, the powers of Satan, the depravity of human nature and the shallowness of religious profession that God taught me. This was the school of experience that God was putting me through to prepare me for the work He had ordained to do through me. Apart from Holy Spirit conviction and salvation in Christ, this was the greatest schooling of my life.

So Earnest, Yet So Wrong

In the light of these religious experiences, growing out of those prayer meetings, and in the light of salvation in Christ Jesus, God has taught me by His Holy Spirit through His Word the utter religious shallowness and empty religious profession that we have today. In the light of salvation in Christ Jesus, God has taught me how Satan moves and works in the religious realm to keep poor lost souls blinded to the Gospel of Christ. My preaching today could not be as pointed and as effectual as it is in opening the eyes of unsaved, religious church members to their lost condition had not God led me through these years of religious experiences. Satan’s program today is to make the world religious without Christ; the missing note in present-day preaching is Bible repentance, and Holy Spirit conviction is an ancient mystery. To be true to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I must cry out against this religious shallowness and empty profession at any cost.

By the fall of 1935 I had begun to see more clearly the utter powerlessness of religious experiences to change the hearts and lives of men. I had also learned that Satan can give any type of religious experience, but he cannot give life in Christ. Therefore, after all the experiences I had gone through and those I had witnessed others undergo, I found myself still grappling with the same old problems of human life with no power over them. But I could not give up! I went to Bible conferences and other religious gatherings in search of that something which always seemed to be just beyond reach, but which constantly tugged at my heart and urged me on, even though I did not realize what it was I was searching for.

From 1935 to the fall of 1938 I visited one Baptist group after another and, as a result, discovered some pertinent facts: I found that CONVENTION BAPTISTS were drifting to a worship of a program; that ORTHODOX BAPTISTS were given over to the worship of the doctrines of the Bible; that the FUNDAMENTALIST BAPTISTS were being led to the worship of the Bible itself; that the MISSIONARY or LANDMARK BAPTISTS were putting the emphasis on the church; and that the PRIMITIVE BAPTISTS had drifted to Hypercalvinism, and most of them had become fatalistic in their attitude. Therefore, I did not find what my heart was longing for. I may say that these spiritual conditions are now growing worse as we are plunging into world-wide apostasy, which is preparing the world for the soon coming of the Antichrist, the world’s so-called “economic saviour.”

During this time I was offered the superintendency of a large mission movement, which covered several southern and western states. I turned it down because I could not agree with all their doctrines, and also because they had nothing to offer me but a large salary. I was also approached by a group of interdenominationalists to lead in the opening of a mission program in the South. I also turned them down for the same reasons: I cannot believe in a “mother-hubbard” affair – (a mother-hubbard covers everything and touches nothing). In discussing this matter with me, Mrs. Shelton remarked, “Well, dear, your convictions of the truth of God’s Word are too strong for you to conscientiously line up with anyone or a group who does not share such views.” My reply was, “I cannot stifle my conscience, or compromise the Word of God for anyone.” There has been a love of the truth in my heart as far back as I can remember, and that is the thing that God used to hold me and to keep me from being led astray on false doctrines.

It was at a Bible conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, in October, 1935, that I met Dr. A. Reilly Copeland, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, who exalted Christ in every message that I heard him bring. When he discussed the church he exalted Christ; when he gave a message on the Holy Spirit he magnified the Son of God, crucified, buried and risen; when he brought a study on the great fundamental doctrines of the Word Christ was the center; when he preached on the second coming of Christ it was not an event, nor a cold doctrinal fact, but the coming of Christ Himself. I could sit for hours and listen to him explain the Word of God and talk about the crucified, buried and risen Lord and His soon coming to reign. I admired his message and was drawn to him because of his frankness and the authority with which he spoke.

By the fall of 1938 I had literally come to the end of my way and was about ready to give up. I had come to see the utter shallow, empty religious life of my church, of the lives of the workers associated with me as well as that of my own life. At this time a peculiar thing began to happen within our church life. Certain members of the church began to come to me questioning their salvation, stating frankly they believed that they had missed Christ. The most singular thing about it all was that among these were the best and most spiritual members of the church.

Like the average preacher of today, I did not know what to do with them. They greatly embarrassed me! Being spiritually blinded to my own soul’s need of salvation, I did not see that the thing they needed was Christ. The only thing that I could do was to try to comfort them by telling them that they were already saved and that no doubt the only thing they needed was a more complete surrender of their lives to the Lord. I know now that any preacher, or Bible teacher, who will try to comfort an awakened sinner by trying to persuade him that he is already saved, and that the only thing he needs is a surrendered life, does not know Christ himself.

“The Spirit of God Moved upon the Face of the Waters”

Meditating and praying over this turn of affairs in the church, I was definitely moved to request the church to invite Pastor Copeland to hold a meeting for us in the spring of l939. He accepted the invitation and proved to be God’s man for the hour. For six weeks he preached, mostly on the New Birth – “Ye must be born again”, laying “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little,” as he faced the church night after night with the one question – “Have you been born again?” (John 3:3, 5, 7). Member after member of the church, including missionaries, deacons, officers and outsiders, began to realize and admit that they had missed Christ, and many could not sleep on account of their troubled souls. One member said (referring to Dr. Copeland’s preaching), “If he doesn’t stop preaching like that we’ll all be lost and will go to Hell!” I rejoiced that God was working as He was and that the truth of God’s Word was being preached. I also rejoiced in seeing others come to the place of a lost sinner. Not one time did I say one word against the way God was working.

As the number of awakened individuals grew, different ones would say to me, “Pastor, have you been born again? Do you know Christ?” or “When are you going to break up?” But, I was not disturbed in the least, nor had I any doubts about my soul’s salvation until one day during the last week of the meeting. The question then came to me like a pointed arrow – “Have you been born again? Do you know Christ?” It was an inward call that I could not throw off. I was so glad when the last night of the meeting came and Brother Copeland left for home. I made some kind of excuse for not going with him to the depot: I wanted to get away from him as quickly as I could. It was all right for others to break up, but not for me.

The strange thing to me today is that the very thing I had needed all this time in my religious life was Christ, and now that God was wanting to show me that I had missed Him, I wouldn’t have it. By nature every sinner hates God (Rom. 8:7); by nature every sinner (religious or otherwise) does not want God to rule over him (Matt. 21:33-46). He does not know this until his will is brought in contact with the will of God by the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11). No sinner would ever get saved if he could help it.

This meeting resulted in the transformation of the whole church life, and among the many professions no doubt a few got saved. But one of the main results was that the Holy Spirit took hold of my heart for salvation in Christ. During the next few months my whole ministry underwent a complete change, and I began to preach the great old doctrines of God’s Word with greater power, which only brought folks under Law Conviction. This was the first time that I had ever questioned my salvation. I could not get away from the fact that I might not be saved.

At times, when I would preach Christ as the only Substitute for sinners, my heart would be so cut to pieces by my own message until I would be tempted to walk out and accept my own invitation not knowing then that just to accept an invitation and to make a decision for Christ is not salvation. However, I would always be held back by some restraining power, which I know now was the Holy Spirit. I would throw off this uneasiness for a while and settle down to my work in quietness, but again there would come such a disturbance in my heart about my salvation that I could not sleep. At times I lived under great fear that I might not be saved.

How Could I Have and Do All This and Not be Saved?

A year went by, and the church invited Brother Copeland back for another meeting. During this meeting I was not much disturbed about my soul’s condition, but rather became more or less confirmed in the belief that I was saved. I kept reasoning to my own satisfaction that surely a man who had preached for twenty-five years could not be a lost sinner. I had preached to multitudes all over the South from San Antonio, Texas, to Cross City, Florida – surely I must be saved! I had also led the church in a great missionary program here in southeast Louisiana, leading thousands to a decision for Christ as Saviour, building chapels, raising tens of thousands of dollars for mission work and giving away all that I had for the cause of Christ. How could I do this and not be saved?! Yes, in the face of all these facts, I wondered how I could be a lost sinner.

Then there was another point I would rest the assurance of my salvation upon, and that was my clear understanding of the plan of salvation and the doctrines of God’s Word. I believed the Bible, I believed Christ died for sinners, and I believed Christ died for me. Again I would say, “Surely I am saved!” In the face of all of this and the religious experiences I had had and the answered prayers, I could not see or make myself believe that I was a lost sinner. Also, many had confirmed me in this conclusion by saying, “If anyone in all the world is saved, I know Brother Shelton is.”

This one fact I did not know – that salvation is Christ, and the assurance of salvation is Christ, based upon His Word. The blood secures; the Word assures. I believed and preached salvation by grace, wholly of the Lord, but I had never experienced it in my own heart as a living reality. I knew about Christ and His Word, but I did not know Christ experimentally. This was because I had missed Holy Spirit conviction and Bible repentance and had built my religious superstructure upon an intellectual faith in God’s Word without having known anything about heartfelt repentance.

Yet, I was always afraid that I had not been born again and that someone would ask me the direct question, “Brother Shelton, have you been born again?” If someone would walk up to me suddenly and say, “Brother Shelton, may I ask you a question?” I would tremble all over because I was afraid they were going to ask me, “Have you been born again?” Thus I went through another year “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”that I was a lost sinner without Christ.

“Where and when have you ever taken your place…as a lost sinner?”

In September, 1941, the late Brother Joe Granier was invited to hold revival services for us. He was a missionary of the First Baptist Church, Algiers, and worked among the French people at Houma, Louisiana. In the 1939 revival he had been brought under Holy Spirit conviction but was not saved until the spring of 1941. The attendance at the meeting was good from the very beginning. I sat and listened and backed him with my “amens” as he preached the truth and was true to the souls of men. Although small in stature, he would lean over the side of the pulpit and point that index finger as if to say, “You are the guilty one.”

He preached for four weeks, and I remember very little of what he said; but his words pierced my heart like a barbed arrow. Night after night as he stood there bringing God’s message, no matter what else he might say, he would drive home this statement in his own peculiar way, “It’s needer dis, it’s needer dat; Christ died for sinners – are you a sinner?” (He had only finished the eighth grade in public school and spoke very broken English.) The next night it would be the same thing: somewhere in his message he would clinch it with the statement, “It’s needer dis, it’s needer dat; Christ died for sinners – are you a sinner?”Then he would continue, “Where and when have you ever taken your place before God as a lost sinner?” And again he would say, “It’s needer dis, it’s needer dat; Christ died for sinners – are you a sinner?”

This continued for three weeks, and I began to lie awake for hours at night going over my entire religious life, trying to find the time and the place when and where I had ever realized, or had come to the knowledge of the fact that I was a lost sinner, and where I had taken my place as such before God and found pardon. Late in the night I would give up in despair and drop off to sleep, waking the next morning with the same question still before me. All day I would reason, “Maybe he is wrong; he has been saved only a few months and is just a young Christian. Here I am his pastor; I finished high school, college, and have had several years of Bible study in the seminary, and have preached for twenty-five years; surely I ought to know more about these things than he does.” I argued, “He must be wrong; but if perchance he is not wrong, then surely I am an exception.” By the time services came again, I would be all patched up and in my place to hear him, thinking, “Well, maybe he will use some other expression tonight.”

One thing I do remember definitely, at the beginning of the fourth week of the meeting I quit saying, “Amen,” making the excuse to the people that I had noticed others saying, “Amen,” whom I believed were not saved, and I had stopped saying it so they would quit. Old liar! This shows how dishonest I was. I was unwilling to face the fact of my soul’s true condition. So, by the time I began to think that Brother Granier would let me off for the night, there he would go again, “Brethren, it’s needer dis, it’s needer dat; Christ died for sinners – are you a sinner?” And there I would go hunting again the place where I had become a lost sinner before God and had been pardoned. I would go round and round but I would always wind up by coming back to the place where I started.

I have found this to be a fact, when God first awakens sinners to their lost condition, and before they admit to themselves that they are lost, they find themselves going around in a circle, trying to convince themselves that they are saved, but they always come back to the same place from which they started, each time more confused than before. A sinner, before he is awakened to this fact, is going in the opposite direction from God – lost, but doesn’t know it – and the first stage of Holy Spirit conviction finds the sinner all confused and going in circles.

One day near the close of the meeting, in desperation I said to Brother Granier in the presence of several others at a home where we were taking dinner, “Well, if I was ever saved, it was when I was eleven years of age, and that settles it.” But I thank God a thousand times that this didn’t settle it. After God saved me, Brother Granier said to me, “Brother Shelton, when you made that statement, it almost killed me. I was thoroughly convinced then that you had missed Christ. I had been wondering for some time if you were saved, but that statement settled it in my own mind that you had missed Christ. And you were my pastor!” He also said, “Then I began praying for God to strip you on down and bring you to the place of a lost sinner.”

Tested by the Word of God

Brother Joe Granier preached his last sermon on Friday night and returned home. The associate pastor was to continue the meeting, which he did, and on the following Thursday night preached on the subject, “Salvation tested by the Word of God.” As he had announced his subject on Wednesday night, I had come to the service with one thought in mind, “Now is the time for me to find out if I am saved.” I stood the test until he reached his last point – “LOVE CASTETH OUT FEAR.” The Holy Spirit through him drove the truth home to my heart that a person who has missed Christ is always fearful lest he has not been born again.

Bless his sweet memory! Never will I cease to praise God for him, because he did not compromise with my soul. This one fact I have learned – if an individual cannot go back to the time when he was awakened as a lost sinner and took his place before God as a lost, guilty sinner, condemned to die and that justly, and cried for mercy, he is not saved.

It seemed that he spoke to my heart alone, because I had gone about with that fear in my heart. As I have said, I was always afraid that someone would ask me the direct, pointed question, “Have you been born again?” Service closed, and I left the auditorium immediately and went to my room without saying a word to anyone. I went to bed to roll and toss as I faced the fact that, from all evidences I had never been saved. I found myself crying unto God, “Oh God, if I’m not saved, save me.” I soon learned another truth, that God does not deal in “if’s”. A sinner is either saved or lost. Christ came to save only lost sinners. Greater fear than ever gripped my heart, because I realized that if I had missed Christ, then I was lost and on the road to Hell. The next afternoon I walked into the kitchen, where Mrs. Shelton was preparing supper, and said, “Dear, if what these brethren are preaching is true, then I am a lost sinner and headed for Hell.”

That Friday night after service I took the train to Shreveport to fill an engagement I had accepted two months before to preach in the church of which my brother was a deacon. He met me at the train Saturday morning and took me to his home. As he had to work that day, I was left alone to face the fact of my spiritual condition before God. I realized that I was facing the crisis of my life, and I knew that the matter had to be settled. For a while I walked the streets, and then went to State Baptist headquarters for a visit. No one seemed friendly; this was not their fault, but was due to my condition.

Although I had not yet admitted to myself that I was a lost sinner, I had come to see very clearly that everything out of Christ is under judgment and going to Hell. Slowly I was beginning to see that I was under judgment and going to Hell; I was beginning to feel as a prisoner before the bar of justice condemned to die. As I left Baptist headquarters, Satan said, “You cannot afford to come out openly and admit that you are lost, for you have been preaching for twenty-five years. You are to preach tomorrow. What will Baptist preachers and your Baptist brethren think of you? Why, you have preached and held meetings from San Antonio, Texas, to Cross City, Florida; you have led in mission work in southeast Louisiana. What will folks think of you? Don’t you see that you will be an outcast forever? Don’t you see that they will finally dissociate themselves from you and leave you standing alone?”

As I saw all of this, I knew I was fighting out the destiny of my life, and I could not afford to make a mistake now. I hurried back to my brother’s home. After supper I retired to his den, as he called it, glad to be alone while he and his wife were preparing their Bible lesson for the next day. Opening my Bible I turned to I John 2:15-17 and read it over and over:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”

I knew that the word, “world,” means “world orders” or “world systems,” and I knew also that the Bible says that Satan is the god of these “world orders” or “world systems.”

I dwelt for some time upon that 17th verse, the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the WILL OF GOD ABIDETH FOREVER.” “Yes,” I said to myself, “All the religious systems of the world, including the Baptist religious system, will pass away, and every unsaved preacher will go down to Hell with it under the judgment of God. If I am lost, I will go to Hell with all other unsaved preachers and church members. Then what difference will it make what preachers or others think about me?” “If I am lost…” I would keep saying. I was still afraid to admit to myself that I was lost. But the burden of guilt and of judgment rested so heavily upon me that I finally threw up my hands and cried out in my soul, “Oh God, I am lost!” I knew that this, then, put me definitely on the outside with the damned, under the judgment of a sin-avenging God, lost and without Christ. I had been there all the while, but I did not know it!

“Set About Trying to Find My Way Out”

After I admitted to myself that I was lost, I set about trying to find my way out. First, I read I John 2:17, “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever.” Then I asked myself the question, “What is the will of God?” and John 6:40 came to my mind. I turned and read, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which SEETH the Son, and BELIEVETH on him, may have EVERLASTING LIFE: and I will RAISE HIM UP at the last day.” Over and again I read I John 2:17 and John 6:40. I saw that it was Christ or Hell.

There I was a lost sinner – away from home and scheduled to preach the next day – and I knew of no one I could go to for help! As I continued rolling these two scriptures over in my heart and mind – “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” and “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” – I came to this conclusion: it did not matter what anyone thought of me – reputation or no reputation. That was settled. I saw that the world (satanic religious system) would pass away, and I saw that only the individual who does the will of God will abide forever and God would raise him up at the last day. I saw that everything out of Christ is under the curse and judgment of God. Let preachers say what they pleased, I was lost, and it was Christ or Hell with me. I was ready to go before the church the next morning and, instead of preaching, tell them that I was a lost sinner, let come what may.

That point being settled, and God having won the first battle with Satan, I turned again to John 6:40, “He that SEETH the Son, and BELIEVETH on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” I reasoned to myself, “Here I am a lost sinner going to Hell” – “seeth the Son” – “believeth on him” – “may have everlasting life” – “raise him up at the last day.” I sat there conscious of my condition, caring not what others might say or think. I knew that I wanted to be saved. It was then that Satan pulled one of his diabolical tricks on me, just as he pulls on many lost sinners when they first admit that they are lost. He showed me a vision of Christ lifted up and said, “There is the Son – believe Him; He died for you.” I did believe that He died for me, and as I read again John 6:40, “He that SEETH the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life,” there came a quietness and a peace over my soul, which I rejoiced in. I felt so at ease, so light as it were floating through the air. I felt so wonderful. Of course, I did not know at that time that it was a trick of Satan. Let me point out this one fact – any kind of feeling, or any type of vision (whether of Christ, or a cross, or a light)is not salvation. Salvation is the revelation of Christ to the heart through the Word by the Holy Spirit (II Thess. 2:13; Gal. 1:15,16; I Pet. 1:2; John 1:11-13). If you rest the assurance of your salvation on anything else but Christ, you’re on sinking sand.

I soon retired without saying a word to my brother about what had happened. That night I rested better than I had in many a night, and I arose the next morning with a joy and peace still in my heart. Believing that the Lord had saved me, I went on and preached at both services. As I returned to New Orleans on the Sunday night train, that peace and quietness began to leave, and I became shaky about being saved. By the time I arrived home everything had caved out from under me, and when I read the Word of God it would not assure me that I was saved. Therefore, I knew that I had not made it to Christ.

I cannot emphasize this fact too strongly – a vision is not salvation or the assurance of salvation. Neither is salvation resting upon the Word of God, nor upon the truth of God’s Word, nor upon a promise of God’s Word. Salvation is not even resting upon the finished work of Christ. But salvation is Christ – the Christ crucified, buried and risen as lifted up in the Word, revealed to the sinner by the Holy Spirit and received into his heart by faith. Then the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ secures the believer, and the Word of God assures the believer that the blood has been applied. If you are not saved, the Word of God cannot and will not assure you, because you do not have anything for the Word to assure you about, for the Word testifies of Christ.

When I arrived home, I called the family together and told them that I was lost and going to Hell. That night I went before the church, made the statement that I was a lost sinner, and offered my resignation. They voted not to accept it and to pay my salary right on and give God a chance to save me, saying to me, “You have been patient with us; why should we not be patient with you? As a lost sinner, you have just as much right to salvation as anyone else.” What grace! what mercy of a sovereign, loving God! I walked out of the pulpit and took my place as a lost condemned sinner. After service I went to the associate pastor and, placing my hand on his shoulder, said, “I am a lost sinner going to Hell; please be true to my soul. Do not pull your punches, and do not comfort me. It is Christ or Hell, and I want to get saved.”

Services continued and the Holy Spirit began to show me who I was by nature, what I was by nature and the judgment I was under by revealing my heart to myself. I began to see that I was totally depraved, utterly wicked, having no righteousness of my own, but that all my righteousness was but filthy rags in the sight of God and that I was unclean and had no natural goodness or merit of any kind.

Satan did his best to sidetrack me with visions and feelings to hinder me being brought to Christ. One of the first things I came to see was that I was utterly demon possessed (II Tim.2:26). As I was unsaved, this had come about largely by seeking a “deeper walk” with God (so-called). I have discovered this fact: when any unsaved religionist seeks a Spirit-filled life, or the baptism of the Holy Ghost, he will always receive a demon spirit instead of the Holy Spirit. This is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn. The Bible plainly teaches that when God saves an individual for Christ’s sake, the Holy Spirit comes in to dwell and the body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit. These demon spirits will give the individual any type of experience he may want to keep him blinded to his real spiritual condition.

I have found that the vast majority of the religious world today thinks and believes that all religious experiences come from God, but this is not so. I would be safe in saying that almost one hundred per cent of so-called religious experiences today (namely, visions, dreams, trances, etc.) come from Satan and his demon spirits, and not from the Holy Spirit. The vast majority of all the so-called “faith healing” and fleshly religious emotions is not of God, but is of Satan. When the Holy Spirit definitely revealed to me that I was demon possessed, this added to the terror of my soul (II Cor.5:11). Seeing my helplessness and totally depraved condition, without a righteousness that God will accept, demon possessed and held prisoner by the power of Satan, I knew that the only thing I could do was to cry out against it and call upon the Lord for help (Psa. 107:10-14).

There I was lost, condemned to die (and that justly) and also demon possessed. I became afraid to cross the street lest a car hit me and I wake up in Hell. I did not want to go to sleep for fear I should die in my sleep and wake up in torment. When night came, I would it were morning; and when morning came, I would it were night! (Deut. 28:67). The more I cried unto God for mercy, the more He stripped me of my self-righteous rags. The more I cried for pardon, the more he showed me that I was guilty and deserved to die. As I read the Word of God, judgment blazed forth from every verse – I saw judgment written over everything. The world completely lost its beauty and charm and became just a desert – lonely and desolate (Psa. 107:4-7). Slowly God stripped me of everything and left me alone as a naked sinner before Him (Rev. 3:17). He showed me that all my religious nature was no better than the nature of a drunkard or of a harlot (Isa.64:6). Alongside me a harlot looked clean and a drunkard in all his filth and vomit was a gentleman (Rom.3:9-19). I came to see myself as the chief of sinners (Luke 18:13).

I now became afraid that the Holy Spirit would leave me (Psa.51:11). I knew that if He did there was no hope. I knew that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit I could never get saved (John 6:44; John 16:7-11). I was also afraid that the Lord would come back before God saved me. My mind was made up that if He should come before God saved me, I would never bow my knee to the Antichrist during the Tribulation Period. But I did not want to go into the Tribulation Period; I wanted Christ, and I wanted Him alone.

Reading the story of Christ dying for sinners as given in God’s Word, I would try my best to believe and appropriate Him as my own personal Saviour, but I found that I could not. Another fact that I learned here is that Christ is revealed to the heart of the sinner and the sinner cannot make God do it (Matt. 16:17; Gal. 1:12, 15, 16; II Cor.3:15,16). At the same time, the Holy Spirit was slowly but surely opening my heart to let me see how wicked, how vile and how corrupt I was by nature. I came to see myself more and more as the chief of sinners, until I could not see how God could love such a wretch as I. Here I was demon possessed, with a heart so stony that I could not believe that God loved me, and Satan kept saying again and again, “God doesn’t love a sinner like you – you are too wicked, too vile, and too corrupt for God to save you. Surely He doesn’t love a sinner like you!” All hope of ever getting saved began to flee away, and for days I remained in that condition, believing that God did not love me. There it was the last of November, and still I was not saved.

About that time I began corresponding with a thirteen year old boy, whose name is Omer Ritchie, then of Mobile, Alabama. He would write me such simple, plain, childlike letters, telling me what the Lord meant to him and how real Christ was to his soul, and he showed such childlike faith in Christ. I would take those letters, spread them out upon my desk, and read and reread them, bathing them with my tears. I would say, “Now, there is a child who can trust Christ with such a simple, childlike faith, and here I am a high school, college and seminary graduate who has been preaching for twenty-five years, who knows the Bible historically and who believes the plan of salvation completely – and yet, I cannot trust Christ for salvation!

In the midst of these struggles of trying to believe, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart Matthew 18:3, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” I began to cry unto Him to make me as a little child. There I was, having gone through high school, college and the seminary, and having preached for twenty-five years, with a library that would grace any preacher’s study, helpless and hopeless and could not believe! I would walk the floor of my study, or lie flat on my face on the floor, with one cry in my soul, “Lord, make me as a little child.” As someone said, I knew too much; I kept telling God how to do it. I knew a little child knows nothing, a little child is nothing, a little child has nothing, and a little child trusts with simple faith. Every sinner learns only two things before he gets saved; one is that he is a sinner, lost and Hell-deserving, and the other one is that Christ died for him.

Then I was led to lay hold of Phil. 1:6 and plead this promise before the throne of God’s grace: “He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of redemption.” I knew that He had begun a work of grace in my heart, and I also knew that God cannot lie and that His Word cannot be broken. Also by His grace I was now able to lay hold of Isa. 55:7, “I will abundantly pardon.” Yes, I was guilty – so guilty – and I wanted a pardon. God had said, “I will.” These promises I kept daily before Him. Then it dawned upon me that God loved me, and I said, “if God loves me and if Christ died for me, then He wills to save me.” That was a great moment in my life when the light of God’s love broke in upon my poor, wretched soul, and I saw that Christ died for such a wretched, Hell-deserving sinner as I, and that He wanted to save me (Rom. 2:4). This completely broke me at His feet crying for mercy.

It was Monday morning at the break of day, as I was riding on the train between Tallulah and Delhi, Louisiana, that the burden and guilt of sin weighed heavily upon my soul. I was lost and going to Hell, and I knew it. I walked from one end of the coach to the other end and fell down upon an empty seat, crying from the depths of my soul with all hope gone, “Lord, I am lost; save me, or I perish!” I had come to the end of my way, and God had given me strength to cast myself completely upon Him, trusting all into His hands to save me or to damn me. Here I was a wicked, condemned, lost sinner who had forsaken his way; here I was resting at the feet of a sovereign God helpless, hopeless, hapless, begging for mercy; here I was an unrighteous sinner who had given up all pretensions to any righteousness of my own, abhorring my corrupt nature, realizing I was lost and ought to go to Hell, and also realizing that God ought to send me to Hell, but I had one plea – that Christ had died for me. On that basis I cried for mercy, “Lord, save me, or I perish!”

The battle was over; the Holy Spirit had at last brought me to the feet of a sovereign, eternal, merciful, pardoning God and made me to realize that He could save me or damn me. There I rested, knowing only two things – first, that I was a lost sinner condemned to die, a sinner whom God ought to send to Hell, a sinner who did not deserve to be saved, a sinner who, if God chose to send me to Hell, would say, “Amen,” to his own condemnation, and second, that God could pardon me because Christ died for me. A quietness came over my soul, and a peace settled down upon me. There was no more struggle. My one hope was that Christ died for such a sinner, and I believed it. God’s Word could not be broken.

We reached our destination – Herringville Baptist Church, six miles east of Epps, Louisiana – where we were to hold a week’s meeting. Friday night came with everything frozen, the temperature just ten degrees above zero. Twelve of us gathered for the last service around the old wood heater in the large one room church building. We sat there freezing on one side and burning on the other. The preacher had not been preaching very long when, to my utter surprise and gladness of heart, the Holy Spirit revealed Christ definitely to my heart as my Saviour and Lord.

What a moment when God chose to reveal His Son in me! I sat there in amazement and wonder. I would say to myself, “Is this salvation?” I had made sure that, if and when God saved me, no doubt I would shout all over God’s creation; but there I sat not saying a word. It was so different from what I had expected. It was the quiet revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ to my heart and life as my Saviour and Lord. The Holy Spirit had brought me to rest upon Christ and to commit everything into His hands, and now He had revealed Him to my heart as the One who had died for me – my Substitute, my risen Lord.

Salvation is the revelation of Christ to the sinner’s heart as his Saviour and Lord. Salvation takes place when the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to a sinner’s heart as his own personal Saviour and Lord after He had brought him to realize that he is condemned, admitting in his heart that he ought to go to Hell and saying, “Amen,” to his own condemnation if God should choose to send him to Hell (Matt. 16:17; Gal. 1:11,12; Gal. 1:15,16; I Cor.15:3,4; Eph.2:8,9; I Cor.1:26-29).

Salvation is not resting upon the Word of God or believing the promises of God – salvation is not resting upon one’s faith. Salvation is the revelation of Christ to the sinner’s heart. Reader, do you know Him? Every saved person can say, “I know WHOM I have believed.”

Pastor being persecuted by fellow pastors for speaking boldly about Jesus, refusing political correctness

A German pastor is reportedly being persecuted by fellow pastors for preaching boldly about Jesus Christ and “refusing to bend a knee to political correctness.”

Pastor Olaf Latzel preaches at the historic St. Martini Church in Bremen, where the church’s former pastor, Joachim Neander, wrote the great hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” in 1679, CBN New reports.

Latzel’s sermons are known to be direct and bold and would cut no corners when attacking other religions, which could sound mean to some, according to the report.

“I’m only preaching the Gospel in a clear way,” Latzel said. “I think it is my duty to do this preaching in this way for our Lord.”



He claimed that much of Germany today “is covered by profound spiritual darkness,” as are most Western nations.

The chief battle in the German church today, according to him, is over who God is.

Some Christian pastors have reportedly said “Allah and Jesus Christ, the Christian God, is the same god.”

“But if you ask a Muslim, ‘Does your god have a son?’ he would say no!” he continued. “Our (Christian) God has a son; his name is Jesus Christ. So, they are not the same.”

“If you speak out loud and clearly about the truth of the Bible, that there’s only one way to heaven and this way is Jesus Christ, there is only one God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and there is no other god beside Him, then you have a problem,” he said.

CBN reported that the Bremen pastor has been attacked in the media, investigated by the local government, and even denounced by fellow pastors over what he sees as a spirit of compromise that seems to have swallowed Germany and the German state church.

At least 70 German pastors reportedly gathered in Bremen this year to denounce Latzel behind a banner celebrating “diversity.”

The public prosecutor investigated him for hate speech and then cleared him. The Bremen parliament even passed a resolution against him, the first time a German pastor was condemned by a German parliament since World War II, said the report.

But instead of backing down, Latzel said the attacks reassure him that he is in a “war” between Christ and the devil.

“This is one sign that you are on the right way in your preaching, when you get problems. If you preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and everyone is clapping his hand, then you have a problem.”

He also admitted that while he has been receiving numerous praises through his email for his sermons, he does not want to get a big head.

“I am nothing. I am only a sinner. I am only a tool for Jesus Christ. And when Jesus can use this tool, give any honour to Jesus Christ. I am nothing.”

The pastor who comes from a family with a long military tradition, said he is now paying the price to see Germany’s spiritual revival.

He also lamented that 80 percent of pastors in Germany’s state church have not been reborn, which makes it a “great problem” as they reportedly make their own doctrine.


Read Original Article Here

The Conquest of Jesus Christ

Want to hear something fantastic? Adrian Rogers preached a great series based around the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I know that it will be a blessing to you.

The Cup

The Crown

The Cross

The Conquest


Tim Tebow’s Girlfriend Breaks Up with Him Because He Won’t Have Sex Til Marriage

25292-tim-tebow-1-facebook.800w.tnTim Tebow is known for his commitment to Christian values, and he is in the news once again for staying true to his convictions.

Tebow’s girlfriend, 2012 Miss U.S.A. Olivia Culpo, reportedly broke up with him because he is staying true to his commitment not to have sex until marriage.

The couple had been dating for a few months, and sources report that Tebow was very enamored with Culpo.

“[Tebow] was really into her, he was sending her love letters and cute notes and professing his love for her,” reports.

“She had to break up with him because she just couldn’t handle it. He still hits her up, but she just can’t deal with the sex thing. He’s pretty adamant about it, I guess.” reports that Tebow and Culpo met at church through mutual friends. Us also reports that, although many sources say the reason for the breakup was Tebow’s commitment to abstinence, timing likely played a role as well.

Before dating Tebow, Culpo had just come out of a long-term relationship with singer Nick Jonas, and it is speculated that she was not ready to start a new relationship with Tebow.

Read Original Article Here


Note: Although I’ve never personally spoken to Tim Tebow or heard his testimony in Jesus Christ, if these actions are true, it is a wonderful testimony for this day and age that Christian boys can look to in order to become Christian men.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.  (1Corinthians 6:9-11)

Muslim who converted to Christianity beaten up by thugs in Bradford

A Muslim man who converted to Christianity has been beaten up on the streets of Britain in a brutal asssault that has gone viral on the internet after it was captured on the victim’s home CCTV.

Nissar Hussain, who has six children aged between seven and 23, was hospitalised with a fractured left knee cap and left hand after the two hooded men leapt from a passing car and repeatedly beat him with a pick-axe handle in Bradford, West Yorkshire, where he lives.

Conversion to another religion is regarded in Islam as apostasy and is punishable by death according to Sharia law.

Hussain, aged 49, converted in 1996 but has had to be specially on guard against attack since he and his family appeared in a television documentary seven years ago which focused on Islamic intolerance towards converts.

He, his wife Kubra and their children have already had to move house once to escape retribution from Muslims angry that the family had left the faith.

He said: “The Muslim community are largely decent people but because of the taboo of converting to Christianity we are classed by them as scum and second-class citizens. Over the years our lives have been subjugated and stripped of any dignity.

“Our lives have been jeopardised and subjugated, we have been forced to live under a climate of fear, this is not England. I grew up in in to a free decent country accepting British values and the British rule of law.”

The attack took place in Manningham, a Bradford suburb. Describing what happened from the ward where he is recovering in Bradford Royal Infirmary, he said: “I took a couple of steps into the road and suddenly a car pulled up in an abrupt manner – two guys got out out and I immediately saw the pickaxe handle. They have gone to crack me on the head so naturally I lifted my arm up to protect myself and the blow has popped my hand. I started backpedaling and my heel caught the kerb, I then fell back and me head cracked off a low garden wall. That was it then it was a lame target. They started pummeling me with the pickaxe handle, raining blows on my upper body and then moving to my legs – it was then I felt my knee explode. Thankfully one of my neighbours came over and the thugs went on their way. The only thing was going though my mind was I need to stay alive, to protect my head, and to stay alive.”

West Yokshire Police are appealing for witnesses.  One of the suspects is described as an Asian male, about 6ft tall and of stocky build. Both men were wearing hooded tops and tracksuit bottoms.

Det Insp Andy Howard, of Bradford District CID, said: “Our enquiries suggest that this was a targeted attack and we would ask for anyone who saw any suspicious activity in the area to contact Bradford District CID on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously, quoting crime reference 13150471087 on 0800 555111.”

Police are also asking for information about a red or maroon coloured saloon car which would have been seen in the Manningham area prior to this incident. This could possibly have been an older shape Honda Civic or a Rover 400.

The attack was caught on Mr Hussain’s home CCTV. Mr Hussain has been attacked before and has pleaded repeatedly for the police to do more to protect his family.

The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State

By Christoph Reuter


Aloof. Polite. Cajoling. Extremely attentive. Restrained. Dishonest. Inscrutable. Malicious. The rebels from northern Syria, remembering encounters with him months later, recall completely different facets of the man. But they agree on one thing: “We never knew exactly who we were sitting across from.”

In fact, not even those who shot and killed him after a brief firefight in the town of Tal Rifaat on a January morning in 2014 knew the true identity of the tall man in his late fifties. They were unaware that they had killed the strategic head of the group calling itself “Islamic State” (IS). The fact that this could have happened at all was the result of a rare but fatal miscalculation by the brilliant planner. The local rebels placed the body into a refrigerator, in which they intended to bury him. Only later, when they realized how important the man was, did they lift his body out again.

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi was the real name of the Iraqi, whose bony features were softened by a white beard. But no one knew him by that name. Even his best-known pseudonym, Haji Bakr, wasn’t widely known. But that was precisely part of the plan. The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. SPIEGEL has gained exclusive access to the 31 pages, some consisting of several pages pasted together. They reveal a multilayered composition and directives for action, some already tested and others newly devised for the anarchical situation in Syria’s rebel-held territories. In a sense, the documents are the source code of the most successful terrorist army in recent history.

Until now, much of the information about IS has come from fighters who had defected and data sets from the IS internal administration seized in Baghdad. But none of this offered an explanation for the group’s meteoric rise to prominence, before air strikes in the late summer of 2014 put a stop to its triumphal march.

For the first time, the Haji Bakr documents now make it possible to reach conclusions on how the IS leadership is organized and what role former officials in the government of ex-dictator Saddam Hussein play in it. Above all, however, they show how the takeover in northern Syria was planned, making the group’s later advances into Iraq possible in the first place. In addition, months of research undertaken by SPIEGEL in Syria, as well as other newly discovered records, exclusive to SPIEGEL, show that Haji Bakr’s instructions were carried out meticulously.

Bakr’s documents were long hidden in a tiny addition to a house in embattled northern Syria. Reports of their existence were first made by an eyewitness who had seen them in Haji Bakr’s house shortly after his death. In April 2014, a single page from the file was smuggled to Turkey, where SPIEGEL was able to examine it for the first time. It only became possible to reach Tal Rifaat to evaluate the entire set of handwritten papers in November 2014.

This document is Haji Bakr's sketch for the possible structure of the Islamic State administration. Zoom

This document is Haji Bakr’s sketch for the possible structure of the Islamic State administration.

“Our greatest concern was that these plans could fall into the wrong hands and would never have become known,” said the man who has been storing Haji Bakr’s notes after pulling them out from under a tall stack of boxes and blankets. The man, fearing the IS death squads, wishes to remain anonymous.

The Master Plan

The story of this collection of documents begins at a time when few had yet heard of the “Islamic State.” When Iraqi national Haji Bakr traveled to Syria as part of a tiny advance party in late 2012, he had a seemingly absurd plan: IS would capture as much territory as possible in Syria. Then, using Syria as a beachhead, it would invade Iraq.

Bakr took up residence in an inconspicuous house in Tal Rifaat, north of Aleppo. The town was a good choice. In the 1980s, many of its residents had gone to work in the Gulf nations, especially Saudi Arabia. When they returned, some brought along radical convictions and contacts. In 2013, Tal Rifaat would become IS’ stronghold in Aleppo Province, with hundreds of fighters stationed there.

It was there that the “Lord of the Shadows,” as some called him, sketched out the structure of the Islamic State, all the way down to the local level, compiled lists relating to the gradual infiltration of villages and determined who would oversee whom. Using a ballpoint pen, he drew the chains of command in the security apparatus on stationery. Though presumably a coincidence, the stationery was from the Syrian Defense Ministry and bore the letterhead of the department in charge of accommodations and furniture.

What Bakr put on paper, page by page, with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an “Islamic Intelligence State” — a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany’s notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency.

Graphic: A digital rendering of Haji Bakr's Islamic State organigram.Zoom


Graphic: A digital rendering of Haji Bakr’s Islamic State organigram.

This blueprint was implemented with astonishing accuracy in the ensuing months. The plan would always begin with the same detail: The group recruited followers under the pretense of opening a Dawah office, an Islamic missionary center. Of those who came to listen to lectures and attend courses on Islamic life, one or two men were selected and instructed to spy on their village and obtain a wide range of information. To that end, Haji Bakr compiled lists such as the following:

  • List the powerful families.
  • Name the powerful individuals in these families.
  • Find out their sources of income.
  • Name names and the sizes of (rebel) brigades in the village.
  • Find out the names of their leaders, who controls the brigades and their political orientation.
  • Find out their illegal activities (according to Sharia law), which could be used to blackmail them if necessary.

The spies were told to note such details as whether someone was a criminal or a homosexual, or was involved in a secret affair, so as to have ammunition for blackmailing later. “We will appoint the smartest ones as Sharia sheiks,” Bakr had noted. “We will train them for a while and then dispatch them.” As a postscript, he had added that several “brothers” would be selected in each town to marry the daughters of the most influential families, in order to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge.”

The spies were to find out as much as possible about the target towns: Who lived there, who was in charge, which families were religious, which Islamic school of religious jurisprudence they belonged to, how many mosques there were, who the imam was, how many wives and children he had and how old they were. Other details included what the imam’s sermons were like, whether he was more open to the Sufi, or mystical variant of Islam, whether he sided with the opposition or the regime, and what his position was on jihad. Bakr also wanted answers to questions like: Does the imam earn a salary? If so, who pays it? Who appoints him? Finally: How many people in the village are champions of democracy?

The agents were supposed to function as seismic signal waves, sent out to track down the tiniest cracks, as well as age-old faults within the deep layers of society — in short, any information that could be used to divide and subjugate the local population. The informants included former intelligence spies, but also regime opponents who had quarreled with one of the rebel groups. Some were also young men and adolescents who needed money or found the work exciting. Most of the men on Bakr’s list of informants, such as those from Tal Rifaat, were in their early twenties, but some were as young as 16 or 17.

The plans also include areas like finance, schools, daycare, the media and transportation. But there is a constantly recurring, core theme, which is meticulously addressed in organizational charts and lists of responsibilities and reporting requirements: surveillance, espionage, murder and kidnapping.

For each provincial council, Bakr had planned for an emir, or commander, to be in charge of murders, abductions, snipers, communication and encryption, as well as an emir to supervise the other emirs — “in case they don’t do their jobs well.” The nucleus of this godly state would be the demonic clockwork of a cell and commando structure designed to spread fear.

From the very beginning, the plan was to have the intelligence services operate in parallel, even at the provincial level. A general intelligence department reported to the “security emir” for a region, who was in charge of deputy-emirs for individual districts. A head of secret spy cells and an “intelligence service and information manager” for the district reported to each of these deputy-emirs. The spy cells at the local level reported to the district emir’s deputy. The goal was to have everyone keeping an eye on everyone else.

A handwritten chart shows Bakr's thoughts regarding the establishment of the Islamic State. Zoom

A handwritten chart shows Bakr’s thoughts regarding the establishment of the Islamic State.

Those in charge of training the “Sharia judges in intelligence gathering” also reported to the district emir, while a separate department of “security officers” was assigned to the regional emir.

Sharia, the courts, prescribed piety — all of this served a single goal: surveillance and control. Even the word that Bakr used for the conversion of true Muslims, takwin, is not a religious but a technical term that translates as “implementation,” a prosaic word otherwise used in geology or construction. Still, 1,200 years ago, the word followed a unique path to a brief moment of notoriety. Shiite alchemists used it to describe the creation of artificial life. In his ninth century “Book of Stones,” the Persian Jabir Ibn Hayyan wrote — using a secret script and codes — about the creation of a homunculus. “The goal is to deceive all, but those who love God.” That may also have been to the liking of Islamic State strategists, although the group views Shiites as apostates who shun true Islam. But for Haji Bakr, God and the 1,400-year-old faith in him was but one of many modules at his disposal to arrange as he liked for a higher purpose.

The Beginnings in Iraq

It seemed as if George Orwell had been the model for this spawn of paranoid surveillance. But it was much simpler than that. Bakr was merely modifying what he had learned in the past: Saddam Hussein’s omnipresent security apparatus, in which no one, not even generals in the intelligence service, could be certain they weren’t being spied on.

Expatriate Iraqi author Kanan Makiya described this “Republic of Fear” in a book as a country in which anyone could simply disappear and in which Saddam could seal his official inauguration in 1979 by exposing a bogus conspiracy.

There is a simple reason why there is no mention in Bakr’s writings of prophecies relating to the establishment of an Islamic State allegedly ordained by God: He believed that fanatical religious convictions alone were not enough to achieve victory. But he did believe that the faith of others could be exploited.

In 2010, Bakr and a small group of former Iraqi intelligence officers made Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir and later “caliph,” the official leader of the Islamic State. They reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face.

Bakr was “a nationalist, not an Islamist,” says Iraqi journalist Hisham al-Hashimi, as he recalls the former career officer, who was stationed with Hashimi’s cousin at the Habbaniya Air Base. “Colonel Samir,” as Hashimi calls him, “was highly intelligent, firm and an excellent logistician.” But when Paul Bremer, then head of the US occupational authority in Baghdad, “dissolved the army by decree in May 2003, he was bitter and unemployed.”

Thousands of well-trained Sunni officers were robbed of their livelihood with the stroke of a pen. In doing so, America created its most bitter and intelligent enemies. Bakr went underground and met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Anbar Province in western Iraq. Zarqawi, a Jordanian by birth, had previously run a training camp for international terrorist pilgrims in Afghanistan. Starting in 2003, he gained global notoriety as the mastermind of attacks against the United Nations, US troops and Shiite Muslims. He was even too radical for former Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi died in a US air strike in 2006.

Although Iraq’s dominant Baath Party was secular, the two systems ultimately shared a conviction that control over the masses should lie in the hands of a small elite that should not be answerable to anyone — because it ruled in the name of a grand plan, legitimized by either God or the glory of Arab history. The secret of IS’ success lies in the combination of opposites, the fanatical beliefs of one group and the strategic calculations of the other.

Bakr gradually became one of the military leaders in Iraq, and he was held from 2006 to 2008 in the US military’s Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib Prison. He survived the waves of arrests and killings by American and Iraqi special units, which threatened the very existence of the IS precursor organization in 2010, Islamic State in Iraq.

For Bakr and a number of former high-ranking officers, this presented an opportunity to seize power in a significantly smaller circle of jihadists. They utilized the time they shared in Camp Bucca to establish a large network of contacts. But the top leaders had already known each other for a long time. Haji Bakr and an additional officer were part of the tiny secret-service unit attached to the anti-aircraft division. Two other IS leaders were from a small community of Sunni Turkmen in the town of Tal Afar. One of them was a high-ranking intelligence officer as well.

In 2010, the idea of trying to defeat Iraqi government forces militarily seemed futile. But a powerful underground organization took shape through acts of terror and protection rackets. When the uprising against the dictatorship of the Assad clan erupted in neighboring Syria, the organization’s leaders sensed an opportunity. By late 2012, particularly in the north, the formerly omnipotent government forces had largely been defeated and expelled. Instead, there were now hundreds of local councils and rebel brigades, part of an anarchic mix that no one could keep track of. It was a state of vulnerability that the tightly organized group of ex-officers sought to exploit.

Attempts to explain IS and its rapid rise to power vary depending on who is doing the explaining. Terrorism experts view IS as an al-Qaida offshoot and attribute the absence of spectacular attacks to date to what they view as a lack of organizational capacity. Criminologists see IS as a mafia-like holding company out to maximize profit. Scholars in the humanities point to the apocalyptic statements by the IS media department, its glorification of death and the belief that Islamic State is involved in a holy mission.

But apocalyptic visions alone are not enough to capture cities and take over countries. Terrorists don’t establish countries. And a criminal cartel is unlikely to generate enthusiasm among supporters around the world, who are willing to give up their lives to travel to the “Caliphate” and potentially their deaths.

IS has little in common with predecessors like al-Qaida aside from its jihadist label. There is essentially nothing religious in its actions, its strategic planning, its unscrupulous changing of alliances and its precisely implemented propaganda narratives. Faith, even in its most extreme form, is just one of many means to an end. Islamic State’s only constant maxim is the expansion of power at any price.

The Implementation of the Plan

The expansion of IS began so inconspicuously that, a year later, many Syrians had to think for a moment about when the jihadists had appeared in their midst. The Dawah offices that were opened in many towns in northern Syria in the spring of 2013 were innocent-looking missionary offices, not unlike the ones that Islamic charities have opened worldwide.

When a Dawah office opened in Raqqa, “all they said was that they were ‘brothers,’ and they never said a word about the ‘Islamic State’,” reports a doctor who fled from the city. A Dawah office was also opened in Manbij, a liberal city in Aleppo Province, in the spring of 2013. “I didn’t even notice it at first,” recalls a young civil rights activist. “Anyone was allowed to open what he wished. We would never have suspected that someone other than the regime could threaten us. It was only when the fighting erupted in January that we learned that Da’ish,” the Arab acronym for IS, “had already rented several apartments where it could store weapons and hide its men.”

The situation was similar in the towns of al-Bab, Atarib and Azaz. Dawah offices were also opened in neighboring Idlib Province in early 2013, in the towns of Sermada, Atmeh, Kafr Takharim, al-Dana and Salqin. As soon as it had identified enough “students” who could be recruited as spies, IS expanded its presence. In al-Dana, additional buildings were rented, black flags raised and streets blocked off. In towns where there was too much resistance or it was unable to secure enough supporters, IS chose to withdraw temporarily. At the beginning, its modus operandi was to expand without risking open resistance, and abduct or kill “hostile individuals,” while denying any involvement in these nefarious activities.

The fighters themselves also remained inconspicuous at first. Bakr and the advance guard had not brought them along from Iraq, which would have made sense. In fact, they had explicitly prohibited their Iraqi fighters from going to Syria. They also chose not to recruit very many Syrians. The IS leaders opted for the most complicated option instead: They decided to gather together all the foreign radicals who had been coming to the region since the summer of 2012. Students from Saudi Arabia, office workers from Tunisia and school dropouts from Europe with no military experience were to form an army with battle-tested Chechens and Uzbeks. It would be located in Syria under Iraqi command.

Already by the end of 2012, military camps had been erected in several places. Initially, no one knew what groups they belonged to. The camps were strictly organized and the men there came from numerous countries — and didn’t speak to journalists. Very few of them were from Iraq. Newcomers received two months of training and were drilled to be unconditionally obedient to the central command. The set-up was inconspicuous and also had another advantage: though necessarily chaotic at the beginning, what emerged were absolutely loyal troops. The foreigners knew nobody outside of their comrades, had no reason to show mercy and could be quickly deployed to many different places. This was in stark contrast to the Syrian rebels, who were mostly focused on defending their hometowns and had to look after their families and help out with the harvest. In fall 2013, IS books listed 2,650 foreign fighters in the Province of Aleppo alone. Tunisians represented a third of the total, followed by Saudi Arabians, Turks, Egyptians and, in smaller numbers, Chechens, Europeans and Indonesians.

Later too, the jihadist cadres were hopelessly outnumbered by the Syrian rebels. Although the rebels distrusted the jihadists, they didn’t join forces to challenge IS because they didn’t want to risk opening up a second front. Islamic State, though, increased its clout with a simple trick: The men always appeared wearing black masks, which not only made them look terrifying, but also meant that no one could know how many of them there actually were. When groups of 200 fighters appeared in five different places one after the other, did it mean that IS had 1,000 people? Or 500? Or just a little more than 200? In addition, spies also ensured that IS leadership was constantly informed of where the population was weak or divided or where there were local conflict, allowing IS to offer itself as a protective power in order to gain a foothold.

The Capture of Raqqa

Raqqa, a once sleepy provincial city on the Euphrates River, was to become the prototype of the complete IS conquest. The operation began subtly, gradually became more brutal and, in the end, IS prevailed over larger opponents without much of a fight. “We were never very political,” explained one doctor who had fled Raqqa for Turkey. “We also weren’t religious and didn’t pray much.”

When Raqqa fell to the rebels in March 2013, a city council was rapidly elected. Lawyers, doctors and journalists organized themselves. Women’s groups were established. The Free Youth Assembly was founded, as was the movement “For Our Rights” and dozens of other initiatives. Anything seemed possible in Raqqa. But in the view of some who fled the city, it also marked the start of its downfall.

True to Haji Bakr’s plan, the phase of infiltration was followed by the elimination of every person who might have been a potential leader or opponent. The first person hit was the head of the city council, who was kidnapped in mid-May 2013 by masked men. The next person to disappear was the brother of a prominent novelist. Two days later, the man who had led the group that painted a revolutionary flag on the city walls vanished.

“We had an idea who kidnapped him,” one of his friends explains, “but no one dared any longer to do anything.” The system of fear began to take hold. Starting in July, first dozens and then hundreds of people disappeared. Sometimes their bodies were found, but they usually disappeared without a trace. In August, the IS military leadership dispatched several cars driven by suicide bombers to the headquarters of the FSA brigade, the “Grandsons of the Prophet,” killing dozens of fighters and leading the rest to flee. The other rebels merely looked on. IS leadership had spun a web of secret deals with the brigades so that each thought it was only the others who might be the targets of IS attacks.

On Oct. 17, 2013, Islamic State called all civic leaders, clerics and lawyers in the city to a meeting. At the time, some thought it might be a gesture of conciliation. Of the 300 people who attended the meeting, only two spoke out against the ongoing takeover, the kidnappings and the murders committed by IS.

One of the two was Muhannad Habayebna, a civil rights activist and journalist well known in the city. He was found five days later tied up and executed with a gunshot wound to his head. Friends received an anonymous email with a photo of his body. The message included only one sentence: “Are you sad about your friend now?” Within hours around 20 leading members of the opposition fled to Turkey. The revolution in Raqqa had come to an end.

A short time later, the 14 chiefs of the largest clans gave an oath of allegiance to Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. There’s even a film of the ceremony. They were sheiks with the same clans that had sworn their steadfast loyalty to Syrian President Bashar Assad only two years earlier.

The Death of Haji Bakr

Until the end of 2013, everything was going according to Islamic State’s plan — or at least according to the plan of Haji Bakr. The caliphate was expanding village by village without being confronted by unified resistance from Syrian rebels. Indeed, the rebels seemed paralyzed in the face of IS’ sinister power.

But when IS henchmen brutally tortured a well-liked rebel leader and doctor to death in December 2013, something unexpected happened. Across the country, Syrian brigades — both secular and parts of the radical Nusra Front — joined together to do battle with Islamic State. By attacking IS everywhere at the same time, they were able to rob the Islamists of their tactical advantage — that of being able to rapidly move units to where they were most urgently needed.

Within weeks, IS was pushed out of large regions of northern Syria. Even Raqqa, the Islamic State capital, had almost fallen by the time 1,300 IS fighters arrived from Iraq. But they didn’t simply march into battle. Rather, they employed a trickier approach, recalls the doctor who fled. “In Raqqa, there were so many brigades on the move that nobody knew who exactly the others were. Suddenly, a group in rebel dress began to shoot at the other rebels. They all simply fled.”

A small, simple masquerade had helped IS fighters to victory: Just change out of black clothes into jeans and vests. They did the same thing in the border town of Jarablus. On several occasions, rebels in other locations took drivers from IS suicide vehicles into custody. The drivers asked in surprise: “You are Sunnis too? Our emir told me you were infidels from Assad’s army.”

Once complete, the picture begins to look absurd: God’s self-proclaimed enforcers on Earth head out to conquer a future worldly empire, but with what? With ninja outfits, cheap tricks and espionage cells camouflaged as missionary offices. But it worked. IS held on to Raqqa and was able to reconquer some of its lost territories. But it came too late for the great planner Haji Bakr.

Haji Bakr stayed behind in the small city of Tal Rifaat, where IS had long had the upper hand. But when rebels attacked at the end of January 2014, the city became divided within just a few hours. One half remained under IS control while the other was wrested away by one of the local brigades. Haji Bakr was stuck in the wrong half. Furthermore, in order to remain incognito he had refrained from moving into one of the heavily guarded IS military quarters. And so, the godfather of snitching was snitched on by a neighbor. “A Daish sheik lives next door!” the man called. A local commander named Abdelmalik Hadbe and his men drove over to Bakr’s house. A woman jerked open the door and said brusquely: “My husband isn’t here.”

But his car is parked out front, the rebels countered.

At that moment, Haji Bakr appeared at the door in his pajamas. Hadbe ordered him to come with them, whereupon Bakr protested that he wanted to get dressed. No, Hadbe repeated: “Come with us! Immediately!”

Surprisingly nimbly for his age, Bakr jumped back and kicked the door closed, according to two people who witnessed the scene. He then hid under the stairs and yelled: “I have a suicide belt! I’ll blow up all of us!” He then came out with a Kalashnikov and began shooting. Hadbe then fired his weapon and killed Bakr.

When the men later learned who they had killed, they searched the house, gathering up computers, passports, mobile phone SIM cards, a GPS device and, most importantly, papers. They didn’t find a Koran anywhere.

Haji Bakr was dead and the local rebels took his wife into custody. Later, the rebels exchanged her for Turkish IS hostages at the request of Ankara. Bakr’s valuable papers were initially hidden away in a chamber, where they spent several months.

A Second Cache of Documents

Haji Bakr’s state continued to work even without its creator. Just how precisely his plans were implemented — point by point — is confirmed by the discovery of another file. When IS was forced to rapidly abandon its headquarters in Aleppo in January 2014, they tried to burn their archive, but they ran into a problem similar to that confronted by the East German secret police 25 years earlier: They had too many files.

Some of them remained intact and ended up with the al-Tawhid Brigade, Aleppo’s largest rebel group at the time. After lengthy negotiations, the group agreed to make the papers available to SPIEGEL for exclusive publication rights — everything except a list of IS spies inside of al-Tawhid.

An examination of the hundreds of pages of documents reveals a highly complex system involving the infiltration and surveillance of all groups, including IS’ own people. The jihad archivists maintained long lists noting which informants they had installed in which rebel brigades and government militias. It was even noted who among the rebels was a spy for Assad’s intelligence service.

“They knew more than we did, much more,” said the documents’ custodian. Personnel files of the fighters were among them, including detailed letters of application from incoming foreigners, such as the Jordanian Nidal Abu Eysch. He sent along all of his terror references, including their telephone numbers, and the file number of a felony case against him. His hobbies were also listed: hunting, boxing, bomb building.

IS wanted to know everything, but at the same time, the group wanted to deceive everyone about its true aims. One multiple-page report, for example, carefully lists all of the pretexts IS could use to justify the seizure of the largest flour mill in northern Syria. It includes such excuses as alleged embezzlement as well as the ungodly behavior of the mill’s workers. The reality — that all strategically important facilities like industrial bakeries, grain silos and generators were to be seized and their equipment sent to the caliphate’s unofficial capital Raqqa — was to be kept under wraps.

Over and over again, the documents reveal corollaries with Haji Bakr’s plans for the establishment of IS — for example that marrying in to influential families should be pushed. The files from Aleppo also included a list of 34 fighters who wanted wives in addition to other domestic needs. Abu Luqman and Abu Yahya al-Tunis, for example, noted that they needed an apartment. Abu Suheib and Abu Ahmed Osama requested bedroom furniture. Abu al-Baraa al Dimaschqi asked for financial assistance in addition to a complete set of furniture, while Abu Azmi wanted a fully automatic washing machine.

Shifting Alliances

But in the first months of 2014, yet another legacy from Haji Bakr began playing a decisive role: His decade of contacts to Assad’s intelligence services.

In 2003, the Damascus regime was panicked that then-US President George W. Bush, after his victory over Saddam Hussein, would have his troops continue into Syria to topple Assad as well. Thus, in the ensuing years, Syrian intelligence officials organized the transfer of thousands of radicals from Libya, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia to al-Qaida in Iraq. Ninety percent of the suicide attackers entered Iraq via the Syrian route. A strange relationship developed between Syrian generals, international jihadists and former Iraqi officers who had been loyal to Saddam — a joint venture of deadly enemies, who met repeatedly to the west of Damascus.

At the time, the primary aim was to make the lives of the Americans in Iraq hell. Ten years later, Bashar Assad had a different motive to breathe new life into the alliance: He wanted to sell himself to the world as the lesser of several evils. Islamist terror, the more gruesome the better, was too important to leave it up to the terrorists. The regime’s relationship with Islamic State is — just as it was to its predecessor a decade prior — marked by a completely tactical pragmatism. Both sides are trying to use the other in the assumption that it will emerge as the stronger power, able to defeat the discrete collaborator of yesterday. Conversely, IS leaders had no problem receiving assistance from Assad’s air force, despite all of the group’s pledges to annihilate the apostate Shiites. Starting in January 2014, Syrian jets would regularly — and exclusively — bomb rebel positions and headquarters during battles between IS and rebel groups.

In battles between IS and rebels in January 2014, Assad’s jets regularly bombed only rebel positions, while the Islamic State emir ordered his fighters to refrain from shooting at the army. It was an arrangement that left many of the foreign fighters deeply disillusioned; they had imaged jihad differently.

IS threw its entire arsenal at the rebels, sending more suicide bombers into their ranks in just a few weeks than it deployed during the entire previous year against the Syrian army. Thanks in part to additional air strikes, IS was able to reconquer territory that it had briefly lost.

Nothing symbolizes the tactical shifting of alliances more than the fate of the Syrian army’s Division 17. The isolated base near Raqqa had been under rebel siege for more than a year. But then, IS units defeated the rebels there and Assad’s air force was once again able to use the base for supply flights without fear of attack.

But a half year later, after IS conquered Mosul and took control of a gigantic weapons depot there, the jihadists felt powerful enough to attack their erstwhile helpers. IS fighters overran Division 17 and slaughtered the soldiers, whom they had only recently protected.

What the Future May Hold

The setbacks suffered by IS in recent months — the defeat in the fight for Kurdish enclave Kobani and, more recently, the loss of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, have generated the impression that the end of Islamic State is nigh. As though it, in its megalomania, overreached itself, has lost its mystique, is in retreat and will soon disappear. But such forced optimism is likely premature. The IS may have lost many fighters, but it has continued expanding in Syria.

It is true that jihadist experiments in ruling a specific geographical area have failed in the past. Mostly, though, that was because of their lack of knowledge regarding how to administer a region, or even a state. That is exactly the weakness that IS strategists have long been aware of — and eliminated. Within the “Caliphate,” those in power have constructed a regime that is more stable and more flexible than it appears from the outside.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may be the officially named leader, but it remains unclear how much power he holds. In any case, when an emissary of al-Qaida head Ayman al-Zawahiri contacted the Islamic State, it was Haji Bakr and other intelligence officers, and not al-Baghdadi, whom he approached. Afterwards, the emissary bemoaned “these phony snakes who are betraying the real jihad.”

Within IS, there are state structures, bureaucracy and authorities. But there is also a parallel command structure: elite units next to normal troops; additional commanders alongside nominal military head Omar al-Shishani; power brokers who transfer or demote provincial and town emirs or even make them disappear at will. Furthermore, decisions are not, as a rule, made in Shura Councils, nominally the highest decision-making body. Instead, they are being made by the “people who loosen and bind” (ahl al-hall wa-l-aqd), a clandestine circle whose name is taken from the Islam of medieval times.

Islamic State is able to recognize all manner of internal revolts and stifle them. At the same time, the hermitic surveillance structure is also useful for the financial exploitation of its subjects.

The air strikes flown by the US-led coalition may have destroyed the oil wells and refineries. But nobody is preventing the Caliphate’s financial authorities from wringing money out of the millions of people who live in the regions under IS control — in the form of new taxes and fees, or simply by confiscating property. IS, after all, knows everything from its spies and from the data it plundered from banks, land-registry offices and money-changing offices. It knows who owns which homes and which fields; it knows who owns many sheep or has lots of money. The subjects may be unhappy, but there is minimal room for them to organize, arm themselves and rebel.

As the West’s attention is primarily focused on the possibility of terrorist attacks, a different scenario has been underestimated: the approaching intra-Muslim war between Shiites and Sunnis. Such a conflict would allow IS to graduate from being a hated terror organization to a central power.

Already today, the frontlines in Syria, Iraq and Yemen follow this confessional line, with Shiite Afghans fighting against Sunni Afghans in Syria and IS profiting in Iraq from the barbarism of brutal Shiite militias. Should this ancient Islam conflict continue to escalate, it could spill over into confessionally mixed states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Lebanon.

In such a case, IS propaganda about the approaching apocalypse could become a reality. In its slipstream, an absolutist dictatorship in the name of God could be established.

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