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Home arrow Writers arrow Wilson Thompson arrow Autobiography: Impressions to Preach and First Public Exercising
Autobiography: Impressions to Preach and First Public Exercising PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   


FROM the time of my baptism, when the weight of impressions impelling me to speak of the fullness of Christ and the glories of God as revealed in the riches of His mercy and grace in the plan of salvation, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, had been lightened by a flood of tears, I would occasionally receive similar impressions, and sometimes my mind would become so engrossed at the meetings, and especially at prayer meetings, that I could scarcely refrain from expressing my feelings to the church. In those days it was common to hold prayer meetings among the Baptists; and in that church a portion of every Sunday and Wednesday was devoted to the prayer meeting, at which we attended to the reading of the Scriptures, giving short exhortations, singing, and reading select sermons and commentaries of some approved authors, and generally some one would propose a text, and those present would give their views on its meaning. I am sorry the Baptists have so generally ceased to sustain this useful practice. I have been as much edified by the exercises of the members as by any sermons I ever heard. And then all the different gifts of the members were brought out; and, being so often together, and religious worship being the object of their social meetings, their confidence and brotherly attachments were cultivated and confirmed. One great advantage was derived from this constant exercise of the brethren’s gifts, and it was this: When anything prevented the preacher from filling his appointment, the assembly did not disperse without a religious service, for the brethren would proceed with the meeting by prayer and exhortation, etc. As it is now, when a minister fails in his engagement, no member can be prevailed upon even to pray, and all assembled disperse without worship. At these social prayer meetings I have often trembled, as I sat under those weighty impressions to speak. I was but a child and was very timid. I felt myself to be more ignorant than any other member of the church, and I greatly feared if I should speak I might wound the cause of God, or hurt the feelings or consciences of the members, and then I should have to reproach myself. When the meeting had closed, I would feel guilty and condemned, and often would resolve that if I felt those impressions again I would try to free my mind by giving utterance to them. These resolves, however, were only made to be broken, for perhaps, at the next meeting the same thing would be repeated and end in the same way.

For several years I lived a silent member of the church, and never spoke or took part in the church meetings, prayer meetings, or even privately with the members. I very seldom missed a meeting, however, by day or by night. The thought of missing a meeting was then, and is yet, a painful and bitter thought; yet I never spoke to any one unless some one spoke directly to me. Alternate hopes and fears, joys and sorrows, trials and deliverances, darkness and light, formed the checkered scene through which my mind had passed from the beginning of my religious life until I was about the age of nineteen. I was still a member of the same church, and had scarcely ever missed filling my seat; but I had never said a word publicly nor privately on religious subjects unless called upon, and then simply to answer questions.

About this time my exercises in relation to public speaking became more weighty and more constant than ever before. Such a burden oppressed my mind day and night that I lost my appetite for food, my desire for company, and my nights were spent, necessarily, in a restless condition. I now resolved to subdue these impressions by an obstinate determination that I would never make the attempt to preach, if I should die for it. That which led me to this resolution was the conclusion I had come to, that Satan, through my own wicked heart, was prompting me to attempt public speaking, knowing that in the attempt, through ignorance, I should reproach the cause of God, the church, and myself. I resolved I would die rather than do this, which I should unavoidably do, if I made the attempt at all. And as I was the youngest and the most ignorant male member of the church, I believed, of course, that a God of wisdom would never choose the youngest, and the one that knew by far the least, in His church, to be the teacher of those who could teach him as a father could teach his son.

Still my impressions continued to increase. I was suddenly arrested with a disease called “Gold Plague”, which brought me so low that my friends despaired of my life. Indeed, at one time, my breath seemed to stop, and all the symptoms of death were upon me; the family gathered around my bed, believing that I should never breathe again; my mother sank into a swoon and fell on the floor. Still I had my senses and knew all that took place, but could neither speak nor breathe. I supposed I was dying, but felt as calm and composed as I ever felt; none of the terrors of death were now upon me, but a sweet resignation to the Divine Will, which made me calm and caused my confidence in God to be unshaken. I soon revived, but still no one thought I could live many days. I was led to examine all my state, also my hope and faith. I felt firm and unshaken, but I felt conscious I had been disobedient with regard to my impressions to preach; and, in attributing them to Satan, I thought I had sinned. From these reflections I concluded that if I should ever get well again, and should feel the same weight of mind to preach Christ and Him crucified, I would make the attempt.

I finally recovered slowly. The same impressions followed me, with increased resistance on my part. I examined my abilities on every point, in relation to making the attempt, being the youngest male member in the church. I felt that I could not teach and edify those who were blessed with association in a church having many old and gifted members. I could neither read a chapter nor a hymn without stopping to spell many of the words; I had no knowledge of the meaning of the Scriptures; I was slow in speech, and could not communicate to others the few thoughts I might have; I was a poor, backwoods, ignorant boy, knew nothing of books, and but little of the world. Indeed, I possessed no qualifications at all that are essential to a minister and teacher of the glorious gospel.

About this time a new plan was adopted in conducting our regular weekly prayer meeting: two of the members were appointed to open the meeting by prayer, and, at the close of the service, those who opened that meeting should appoint two others to open the next, and so on. Soon I was named to open the next meeting. During all this time I had never made an attempt, in any public way, nor had I ever said a word to any one about any of my impressions to speak. All this I had kept carefully locked in my own breast, and had labored to conceal all my feelings from every one, and had succeeded. Then I reasoned with myself: “What can I do? I am appointed to open the next meeting; I will not attend that meeting.” This was my first conclusion; but soon I shrank from that responsibility, for to disobey the church, I felt, was to assume a greater responsibility.

It is impossible for me to describe properly the tumult of my mind during that week. The day finally came, and my mind was still unsettled as to what duty was in the case. I was working alone in the clearing of ground; the evening drew on; my mind became still more tossed, and I tried to pray that God would make my duty plain, and enable me to walk in it. I felt that this was a crisis in my life that was to change my relations in the church and in the world. Toward night I abandoned the idea of attending the meeting, and continued to ply my ax to the timber with great energy. When the sun had set, and the dusky shades of evening told that night was at hand, I suddenly dropped my ax, as from some impulse, and hastily leaving the clearing, was, in a moment more, running on my way to the meeting.

Five miles were to be traveled, and I was on foot; it was then getting dark, and the way was very hilly. I had not made up my mind what course I should take at the meeting; but I seemed hurried onward by some impulse, and ran most of the way. I reached the place in time; and immediately an unusual calmness came over me, and I experienced much peace of mind. I went forward and filled my appointed place with as much composure of mind as, perhaps, I have ever done since. After meeting I felt the pleasure of having a “clear conscience . The next Sunday, when the preacher closed his sermon, he (entirely unexpected by me) requested that I should conclude. I felt free—why it was so I can not tell; and though it surprised me, yet I felt no confusion. I arose and spoke a few words in exhortation, but not longer than two or three minutes then sang a hymn and tried to pray. The meeting closed, and I felt serene and easy.

Soon after I made another attempt at a prayer meeting, but darkness enveloped me, and I was greatly embarrassed and confused. After this I felt much dejected for a time, but was finally relieved; and I also felt encouraged from the consideration that God had left me in darkness just to teach me where my dependence was, and to give me to feel that without Him I could do nothing. After this my mind became tossed about for a time. All was dark and gloomy. Doubts and fears as to the truth of my own interest in the Saviour harrassed me sorely for a time.

It was now a cold time in the church, and some painful difficulties took place. I believe I will narrate one case here, not because it is very peculiar, but in the hope of its being profitable to some churches, and to some individual members, and especially to moderators, whose duty it is to see that no business comes into the church but that which is strictly according to good order. Most of the confusion, discord, division, and strife that has afflicted the churches, within my observation for more than half a century past, may be traced to some disorderly way in which church business was first managed, by bringing other business into the church as though it belonged to it when it did not. Churches should attend strictly to proper rules of order in all cases, and the moderator should remember that the church looks to him to maintain good order, and to see that nothing comes into the church except strictly in accordance with her rules and order. If the case is but a small one, who can tell how great a matter a little fire may kindle? The case referred to was this:

One sister trespassed against another in some small matter of business, and in their talk about it a contradiction came between them. One, an old sister in the church, feeling much aggrieved, went to talk and labor with the other, according to the first step of discipline laid down by the Saviour, in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. During the conversation of the two sisters the husband of the accused stepped in, and he also being a member, the sisters still went on in their conversation. No satisfaction being given by the trespasser, they parted with the breach unhealed. The accuser called on another member, and took him along to take the second step, as directed in the same chapter. While these were with her talking and laboring to effect an agreement, the husband of the accused again came in, but said nothing. No satisfaction could be obtained; the next church meeting came on, and the aggrieved sister told it to the church at the proper time. The church took the matter in hand, and immediately a contradiction came up. The aggrieved sister referred to the one she had taken with her, who came forward and confirmed the truth of what the sister had said. Immediately the other sister called on her husband, who proved the reverse; and so it went on, until a number of palpable contradictions stood before the church, each one of the sisters positively proving both ways by the evidence of members—two against two.

The wheels of the church were at once locked. Some of the members seemed to begin to take sides, some one way and some another. From month to month this matter was worked upon, from morning until night; and still the case grew worse at every meeting. Various rumors were spreading, the church was confused, and it was thought all four of these contradicting members would have to be excluded, as no compromise seemed possible. After several months’ confusion had sorely afflicted the church, parties began to appear in the body. At this time the church was strong in numbers and gifts, and as to able disciplinarians it probably was not equaled anywhere; all were earnestly striving to see some way to bring the matter to a satisfactory end, but it appeared all in vain. Serious fears were entertained that the church would rend in pieces. At this crisis a member, a man much esteemed as a sound, orderly brother, who, on account of being a mulatto, had never spoken on church business and had uniformly occupied a back seat, arose tremblingly and said:

“I have attended here every meeting since this difficulty came into the church; I see the church is in great trouble, and can not advance one inch, and is growing worse every month. I know I am so very ignorant that I tremble at the very thought of saying a word, and still the matter that has thrown the church into all this difficulty looks to me as plain as noonday, and has appeared plain to me from the first; and I still think that, if the trouble is as I viewed it, the old brethren would have seen it at once. Under this impression I have remained silent until now. I have gone home from every meeting feeling guilty; and still I have been afraid to speak, for it seems if I do it would be charging the whole church with disorder. This would hurt the feelings of all, which I would be sorry to do. I may be wrong; and still I am so ignorant that it looks plain to me. If the church will bear with me and not take offense, I will relieve my mind; and if I am wrong, please attribute it to my ignorance, and do not think that I mean to accuse the church.” The moderator told him to speak his mind freely; it was his privilege, and his speaking would give no cause of offense. Some others spoke to him, encouraging him to proceed.

He then resumed: “By your permission, and emboldened by your promise not to be offended, I will state my mind. I think that all the difficulties that so seriously afflict and confuse this church, and even threaten its destruction, are in consequence of disorder, at the start, in the sister who brought it into the church, and in the church, which took it up in disorder; and these disorders have been the whole cause of all this trouble in the church. I read, ‘If thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; but if he refuse to hear thee, take one or two with thee, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ The sister went, but the other sister’s husband being present a part of the time on both occasions, is now the cause of all these conflictions of testimony, so that nothing can be established, for the evidence stands pointedly two against two. Now, dear brethren, do not view me as an accuser of the sister, nor of the church; but if I am wrong, charge it to my ignorance.”

Several voices were heard to say: “The brother is right, and the church is wrong.” The moderator said: “There can be no doubt of the strict correctness of brother Sumas’s view of order, and all this protracted difficulty has been caused by not strictly attending to order. We should all be willing to confess our faults to him, to each other, and to Cod.” One member arose and said: “I feel sorry and ashamed to think what a scene of trouble, confusion, and reproach this step of disorder has brought upon the church, and as an expression of our wrong, I now offer a motion to throw the whole matter from the church.” This motion was seconded and carried by the church.

The sister who was aggrieved then asked what course she should pursue, as the matter was now public. She confessed her error in the first proceeding, but said she had not seen it before. “The church has done right,” she said, “in throwing the matter out; but my difficulty still remains, and it has been made public, and now what will be the proper course for me to pursue?” The moderator answered: “Begin as though nothing had been done, and then act as directed by the Scriptures.” She replied that she would. The other woman, in a passion, withdrew, and her husband followed. This return to order healed all the wound. The husband afterward confessed his fault and was restored. The wife, on the contrary, went into a disgraceful course of life, thus showing that she had been an unworthy member. Churches can never be too careful to observe strict order. After this digression I will now return to my narrative.

The church seemed to be in a cold state; still my mind was greatly troubled. The responsibilities of a minister, and my ignorance and youth, seemed to forbid the idea of assuming so much. I could read but little, but my mind became greatly enamored with the Scriptures. Every leisure moment I had I spent in their study. I read that, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” I here concluded that if I was a child of God I surely had some spiritual capacity to understand the Scriptures; and if so, they were revealed for profitable purposes— to teach all points of doctrine, to reprove all errors, to correct all mistakes, and to give all righteous instruction. So, to the man of God the Scriptures were both a perfect guide and infallible standard, and by them he was furnished, in every respect, unto all good works.

I now went to the Scripture, not to prove this or that point of doctrine or practice, but to learn from it both doctrine and practice, and to have my errors reproved and corrected. If I should do more than the Scriptures taught, it was will-worship; if I should do less, it was omission; and if I should do what they forbid, it was transgression. I read and studied, with these views before me, both for doctrine and practice, but did not understand how one part could harmonize with another, for I read by chapters and verses. Finally, I began to see that all the Epistles were letters, written by the apostles to distinct churches, or to some Christian brother or brethren, and were so to be interpreted. In this way I began to see the beauty and harmony of the Scriptures more and more. Now while the divisions of the Scriptures into chapters and verses make it convenient for reference, yet these divisions should not be noticed when we interpret their true meaning. In this way I continued my study, but could not be satisfied as to what was my duty with regard to preaching. When I read of the spiritual gifts, I could not find that I had any of them. I felt willing to be, or do, anything that the Lord would impress upon me, but His will I could not know; hence I could find no rest. My mind was loaded down. My spirits and thoughts were depressed day and night. In ruminating on this subject I was often lost to myself, and, by times, I was insensible of my situation. I was now teaching several classes in vocal music, and in riding around to my appointments, I often became so absorbed in my thoughts that I would arouse myself as from a deep sleep to find myself sitting quietly in my saddle, and my horse grazing along the wayside.

These spells followed me for several years; indeed it has been a peculiarity through my whole life, that when any point of doctrine would fasten itself upon my mind, I would become insensible to all other things, until my mind was in some way relieved from its intense pursuit. It would take volumes to detail all the different exercises of mind through which I passed. Sometimes I was so oppressed with doubts as to my personal interest in the Saviour, that I was almost in despair. At other times my hope was bright and my faith strong. I read, studied, and tried to pray for wisdom to direct me. My mind was in a tumult. I tried hard to banish all thoughts of ever attempting to preach, for the more I examined myself the more I saw of my want of every qualification. I readily concluded that it was the most inconsistent thing that ever entered the brain of any poor mortal like myself, and yet, for my life, I could not get clear of it. The awful responsibilities of the station deterred me; my ignorance and imperfections forbade me; and my liabilities to err and perhaps to preach some false doctrine, and so bear false witness for God, were so important a matter that I trembled at the idea with dismay.

Finally I commenced closing my schools by prayer, and sometimes I would fall into an exhortation among the scholars until every eye would flow with tears, and the schools would close with sobs and sighs. This was more especially the case at one school, which was situated on Banklick Creek, near the line between the counties of Campbell and Boone. This place was between a church called Banklick, Elder George Hume, then their minister, and a church called Dry Creek, Elder Moses Vickers then their minister. My school was about central between them, and in a place noted for frolicking, dancing, and such other amusements. This place was about twelve or fourteen miles from my father’s, where I still lived. Here the most powerful effect was visible, and here my mind was the most interested. My exhortations and prayers at the close of my school became so attracting that old and young gathered in about the time of the closing of school, and would often leave the place shedding tears. My mind became more than ever impressed that I must preach.

The Mouth of Licking Church had moved their location from the river to near the old station, and had built on the ridge, east, about half the way to the Ohio River. Father had also moved from the river, and settled on the branches of Three-Mile Creek, and opened there a new farm. My school was some fifteen miles from my church.

My mind was so deeply engaged and weighed down that my parents became deeply interested about me; they feared some suicidal temptation was upon me. This, however, was not the case, although I often thought I would rather die, if it were God’s will, than to try to preach. Neither my parents nor any other person had ever said one word to me on the subject; nor had I ever said one word to any one about my feelings, but had studied and labored to conceal them, and thought I had been successful. My parents, however (as they since have told me), knew that my mind was greatly exercised, and they became alarmed for my situation. I could sleep but little; a pain in my breast, attended with cough and other symptoms of approaching consumption, threatened me. My mind was gloomy, and I said but little, and my strength and flesh were greatly diminished. Trouble of mind, loss of sleep, and no appetite for food, as well as constant study and awful suspense, so preyed upon me that I was miserable indeed.

I will now relate an occurrence which is rather strange, but one which has often deeply impressed my mind; and as I have undertaken to give a complete narrative of my life, and as this occurrence is now vivid in my memory, I will record it as correctly as I can, the reader being at perfect liberty to draw his own conclusions. My parents became so very uneasy on my account, they concluded between themselves that it would be best to have me sleep in their room. To dispel my suspicions as to their reasons, they suggested to me that I should sleep in their room in order to build a fire for them, to which I readily consented. There being but one bedstead in the room, a bed was laid on the floor each night for me to occupy. Here I lay, but slept very little. One night, as I lay, I felt an ardent desire to know the will of the Lord, and to be or do anything that He required of me, if I could but know what that was. I had felt no symptoms of sleep. Some time after midnight the fire having burned down, the room was dark, save a faint gleam from the brands and coals, not sufficient, however, to show the features of a man. A shadowy form approached me, and bending over me, said: “I know your trouble, and your great desire to know what you should do; and I have come to tell you.” I replied: “I am troubled; do make my duty plain before me.” He replied: “Read two chapters in Matthew, and to every sentence answer, ‘I am the man,’ and you will soon come to know your duty.” At this I suddenly started up to read and to reply as directed.

I felt no alarm or surprise at the occurrence, but was calm and full of confidence in the vision. I arose to a sitting posture, when it occurred to me that if I got up and made a light and went to reading at that time of night, my parents would wake and ask my reasons, and I would have to tell them, and thus my secret would be divulged, for I thought no living being knew anything of my exercises. With these reflections I resolved to lie down until day when I could read and reply alone, and create no suspicions. I lay a few minutes] pondering on the strange event, when the same form stood bending low over me, and repeated the same words verbatim, and then disappeared. I sprang to my feet and went to the fire and began to stir the mouldering brands. The thought of waking my parents and having to tell my secret again occurred, and I sat down in a chair by the fire, which did not blaze; but the stirring of the coals caused the light to shine more brightly than before. I sat some time by the fire with both elbows on my knees, and bent forward with my face in my hands, my face down toward my knees. While sitting in this position the same form again stood near, and bending over my head repeated precisely the same words and disappeared as before. I arose to my feet and made a light, and then stood in a query what to do. I looked at the bed where my parents lay, as I thought, in a sound sleep, but they afterward informed me that they had been watching me all the time. I never felt so anxious to read as now, and to reply to these chapters as directed; but how to do it so as not to be detected by my parents I could not contrive. It was in the winter, and as Father always rose up before day (and it was now about that time) I concluded to build a fire, and then I could read and no one would think it strange. I left the room to get some wood and was at the wood pile when my father came out to me. He made some remarks about the appearance of the morning, and expressed no surprise at my rising so early. We built a fire, and the family getting up gave me no chance to read.

I waited until day began to dawn, and then silently slipped the Bible from its place and left the house. I proceeded to a secret place where I could reply unheard and where none could interrupt me.

As soon as I could see, I read and replied as directed, but could not be satisfied. I read and replied over and over again marking every word and trying to weigh every sentence and view it as spoken directly to me. The work of the minister was evidently pointed out, and great encouragement was given; but false teachers were also spoken of, and to answer “I am the man” to every sentence, left me halting. I had an uncle who lived near by, who at that time was not a professor, but his wife was a member of the same church with myself. The thought occurred to me, “I will go and tell my aunt that I have had a strange dream, and was told to read those two chapters and to answer to every sentence ‘I am the man.’ I have done so, and am at a loss to know the meaning.” I started for her house with as light an air as possible, and entering the door, said in a lively and rather jocular tone: “I had something like a comical dream last night; and somebody told me to read two chapters and answer ‘I am the man’ at the end of every sentence. This being somewhat singular, I did as directed, but I do not understand the meaning, or rather, whether anything is meant by it.” She sat down and said: “Will you read them to me and reply as directed, so that I may hear?” I replied: “I will; provided you promise to tell me when I am done what you think it means, or whether it be only an unmeaning dream.” She replied that she would. Having read the two chapters so often that morning, although a poor reader, I now could read these chapters pretty well. I read them in as lively a manner as I could, and replied to each sentence in the same tone of indifference.

Before I was through I saw the tears rolling down my aunt’s cheeks, and when I ended she said: “It is enough; and you should not expect anything to be plainer.” I was surprised, and asked her with eager impatience: “What is it you I say is so plain; what do you mean?” She said: “You need not think you can conceal your impressions; they are already known to the church. I have known them for a long time, and your father and mother are much troubled on your account They are uneasy about you. Now with all your labor to hide your feelings, and although no one has said anything to you yet, they are known, and are deeply interesting the church, and their prayers in secret are sent up for you. You will ha to preach the gospel. God has called you to that work, those chapters make it plain enough; and you should hesitate no longer, nor try to conceal it. You are injuring your own health, troubling your parents, and fighting against God. Your gift can not be hid any longer under a bushel, but must come out to the light like a candle on a candlestick. You should fight against the call no longer, for God intends you to go and preach His gospel, and you may as well yield at once, for He will not be disappointed.” While she thus spoke her voice was calm and her countenance mild, but solemn as death, and the tears rolled down her cheeks. I tried to fortify my mind and maintain a stem reserve so as to show no emotions; but I soon found myself in a tremble from head to foot, and the labor to conceal it almost stopped my breath. When she ceased talking, I arose and started to leave the house abruptly, feeling almost breathless; but as I reached the door my feelings found vent in a burst of tears, and in audible sobbings which I could not prevent nor conceal. She followed me to the door and requested me not to be hurt at what she had said; but I made no reply.

I left the house as fast as I could walk, without having any object or any place in view. All seemed strange and unaccountable. I was surprised beyond measure to learn that my exercises were known, when I had told no one and had labored and studied so much to conceal my feelings from all. The positive manner in which she had spoken, coupled with the circumstances, was altogether more than I could comprehend or easily endure. I scarcely knew where I was, or where I was going. I finally found myself about half a mile from my father’s house, and about double that distance from my aunt’s. I was in a deep hollow, covered with a thick grove of timber. The day was pleasant for winter, and the leaves were dry. I stood and studied, and then would walk a few steps.

The events of last night and of the morning stood before me, and I asked myself: “Were they such evidences as ought to determine my course?” This and other queries, and a sense of my own responsibility wore heavily on my mind. Finally, I fell prostrate on the ground, with my face to the earth, and began to plead with the Lord; I prayed Him to give me wisdom to understand His will, and strength to do it, and a heart willing to obey it; and I implored Him to prevent me from dishonoring His cause, or sinning against Him, by running before I was sent, or refusing to go if I were sent. While I was engaged in this petition—to know the mind of the Lord—I felt an unusual nearness and access to God, and at the close of my prayer, before I arose from my prostrate position, I placed the Bible under my head, with the edge of the leaves against my forehead and face. I then breathed the prayer: “0 Lord, let the first words that my eyes shall rest upon, when this book opens, show me my duty and make it plain.” With this I raised my hand and face from the book, and these words met my eyes as I opened it: “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.” I sprang to my feet and said: “Lord, it is enough.” But in perhaps the space of one minute, the thought rushed upon me: “Now you have made the Bible your fortune-teller, and all this may be wrong, perhaps even sinful. The book had to open somewhere, and that text being the first verse of the sixty-second chapter of Isaiah, and near the middle of the Book, the volume would, of course, be likely to open there, and the first verse beginning with a large capital letter, would naturally attract your eye first; and now are you prepared to take such chance evidence as that?”

At once all was confusion again. I walked a few steps, and then sat down upon a log to read the chapter and its connection. I opened the Book, but could not read, for such a fear seized me the moment I placed my eyes upon a word in the Book, that I thought some ferocious animal was about to pounce upon me. I would stare around in every direction, but could see nothing that would hurt me. After awhile would get composed, and all sense of fear would leave me, and then I would attempt again to read, but again the alarm would seize me, in spite of all my resolutions to keep calm. I would start and stare around me, and again all my fear would be gone in a minute, and I would then reflect that I had often roamed through the wood, and that, too, at all times of the day and night, without the least fear, and surely there was no cause for any fear now. I deliberately searched all the timber around, and every place where any animal could be concealed, and fully satisfied myself that there was no cause for any fear. These fears I now firmly resolved I would overcome, and conquer all such vain suspicions. With this firm resolve, I looked in the Book; but that moment the alarm again seized me. I found it impossible to read. I would keep my eyes on the Book until my hair would seem to rise on my head, and I would cringe all over, and feel as if I should cry out with fear. When I would look away from the Book, I felt no fear; but the moment I would attempt to read, I became so excited and terrified with alarm that I could not read. I, moreover, changed my place and position, from time to time, but all to no purpose. At length I got on a large log that lay across a deep hollow, or ravine, the log reaching from bank to bank. I went about middle way on this log, where I was fifteen or twenty feet from the ground, but still I could not read. I reasoned every way to fortify my mind with courage and resolution, but all to no purpose. I suppose I spent half the day in this way, and had not read one verse at a time, nor did I know anything that I had read, except the first verse, as quoted above.

Sometime in the afternoon my fears all subsided, and all my impressions left me, and I thought I should never feel any more of them. I now read, and no fears troubled me in the least. I remained in my retreat, and read until about nightfall; I then rose and started to go home, as easy in mind as ever I was; and I willingly indulged the thought that I should never be troubled any more about preaching. When I had walked along the log to the end and had stepped on the ground, the same old impression, like a mighty load, began again to oppress my mind. In spite of all the power that I could rally to throw off the load, before I reached the house, my mind was as deeply weighed down as ever, and my cry inwardly was: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” As if in answer to this prayer, immediately what had transpired the night before and that day would rush upon my mind, saying in effect: “I have told you what to do; and if you disobey it is on your own responsibility.” I stopped before I reached the house, and, going into the stable, there pondered over all the strange events which had occurred in the last twenty-four hours. I examined all the evidence in the best way I could, and, as I thought, impartially. But since then I have been convinced that all the powers of my fleshly mind were warring against me, and were starting up every argument to hold me back.

I continued in the stable until near bed-time, and then I went to the house. No one even asked me where I had been all day, or what kept me out so late. I had left at twilight in the morning, and now it was eight or nine o’clock in the evening. I had never thought of food or drink during all that time. Before this day I had never attempted to leave the, house, nor my business, without giving notice of my intention. Mother said afterward, that she saw me take the Bible, that she had been awake and had closely watched my motions all the night before, and had been greatly alarm when I sprang from my bed, and again from my chair aroused a light, and looked with a fierce and unnatural look at her bed, and at the book-shelf, and around the room. When I went out for wood, she told Father, and he had f lowed me as before stated; but she said, when she saw take the Bible with me in the morning, her fears respecting me all left her, and she never suffered much more about my safety after that, but believed the Lord would both direct and protect me.

I will now pause in my narrative, and make a few explanatory remarks on the events of the last night; for, while I leave the reader to draw his own conclusions, I would wish the facts all stated. I have detailed them as they occurred, but I wish to say that I do not believe I saw, literally, the form mentioned, nor heard the voice with my natural ears. True, the visionary form was seen just as plain as natural eyes could see, with the very dim glimmer of the light in the room; but I believe my eyes were closed each time of the appearance of the form. Neither do I believe the conversation was literal. I never can remember of hearing any voice speak to me, nor my own voice in reply; nor am I sensible that I moved my lips and tongue. My mother also was watching me, and she neither heard nor saw me speak. I have sometimes thought that, perhaps, I was asleep each time, but this I cannot believe. My mind was not in a condition to sleep, and I felt no symptoms of sleep during the whole night, and seemed as conscious as at any other time. I will state here, that notwithstanding the strange and vivid appearance that was presented to my mind, I was not alarmed. Superstitious persons would have been greatly alarmed if, when awake or asleep, they saw such an appearance, in the dark hours of night, standing so near and bending over them. Indeed, it would be likely to startle any person, but it was not so with me. I felt no alarm, no fear, nor surprise, but a calm and composed mind, as if some familiar friend had visited me in my trouble, and had spoken to me.

Although, as I stated above, I am not sensible that my natural ears heard any voice, yet the communication was in distinct words, and delivered in such a mild and sympathetic manner, that I felt an assurance that all he said was true. When he ended his sayings each time, I inwardly rejoiced, fully believing that when I read all would be plain; and I remember of no doubt, as to the reality of the vision, and of my safety in confiding in it, until I had read and replied through both chapters. Then, for the first time, a doubt struck my mind. “Might I not be deceived?” was suggested, and “might it not all be a delusion?” These doubts aroused the most solemn and critical examination that I was capable of, and the result is now before the reader, in words as minutely as I can narrate it, and he may draw his own conclusions. I presume I shall never forget these events; nor dare I to regard the apparition as a dream, or a visionary imagination. These exercises still abide fresh in my mind, and have abode there from that time until now; and I have often referred to them as an evidence of God’s dealings with His servants.

The reader, no doubt, feels either a holy desire or a vain curiosity to read the two chapters to which I have so often referred. If so, you will do well to lay down this narrative and take up your Testament, and imagine yourself in my situation, as much as you can, and fix all the powers of your mind to understand, and all the desires of your heart’s breathing the prayer: “Lord give me wisdom to understand Thy will and word, and suffer me not to be deceived, but make me willing to be, to do, or to bear anything, according to Thy most righteous will.” When you have labored to feel thus, then turn to Matthew, chapters 6 and 10, and you will find the language to which I was told to reply. Now, when you have supposed yourself in my situation, then read, and at the end of each sentence pause and say, “I am the man.” Then review, and closely examine, every word, as though all your future life, and your duty toward God and His cause and people, and your own responsibility for future life and death, stood now before you. Observe, you begin to read and reply, not knowing one word of what either of these chapters contains, but believing that they were to decide your case, and fix your destiny for all future life. If you can read them in that way, you may form some idea how I read them, and may be enabled to judge for yourself what the evidence was, or whether it did tell me what to do—for I was told it would do this. Why that fear seized me in the woods, I can not tell. I was accustomed to the woods, and to new settlements where wild animals were abundant, and I never felt the least alarmed.

After these events were passed, my mind was much employed on examining the evidence, and in examining myself, my deficiency in qualifications, and especially in my knowledge of the Scriptures. Often some text, or connection of Scriptures, or points of doctrine, would rush into my mind, and so absorb all my powers, that I would become insensible to everything else. At one time, soon after the above events transpired, I was riding alone, going to my school, when my mind became so led off in other matters, that when I came to myself I was sitting in my saddle, had let go the bridle, and my horse was eating at the side of the road. For a few minutes I could not tell where I was, what I was about, or where I was going. When these spells came upon me, nothing could arouse me until I got through, and then consciousness returned. I always retained the subject perfectly, but I had no control over my mind. I might wish and try to study on a given subject, but could not hold my mind on it; for, before I was aware, I would be engaged again on something else. This followed me by times, more or less, through life.

When I came to myself, at the time I was speaking of, I felt fully satisfied as to what was my duty. It was this: I concluded I would go to Elder Beal, the pastor of the church, who was a bachelor and lived alone, and would tell him all. I expected he could tell me what my duty was. It was not long until I was at a meeting where he was. When I saw him, my heart failed me. He was a very stern man, and I shuddered at the thought of introducing my subject to him. My courage gave out, and I started home with my parents, but my mind was so impressed with my wrong-doing that I could not proceed all the way; so, after riding some distance, I stopped and said to them: “I believe I will turn back and go to Uncle Joseph’s to-night.”

This uncle was a brother to my father, and a member of the church, and was living on a part of Elder Beal’s farm, but Elder Beal had a house for himself alone. I turned about and went back past the meeting-house, for Elder Beal and Father lived at opposite points from the church, and about ten miles apart. I rode on lively and overtook the Elder as he rode alone. When I overtook him he turned to me with a smile, and said: “Are you going home with me?” I replied: “I believe I will.” “Well,” said he, in a very tender manner, “I am very glad you are, for I have wanted an opportunity to converse with you alone. I am sure that your mind has long been impressed deeply on the work of the ministry, and I want you to tell me all about it. When we reach home you can go into your uncle’s house until I do my feeding, then I will call in for you, and we can go to my house. We can talk, and there is none to hear or interrupt.”

This surprised me. He spoke so kind and tender, and seemed to regard my secret with respect; but how he knew what my impressions were, and that I wished to keep it all concealed, seemed to me unaccountable. Accordingly, about night, the Elder called for me, and we went into his house. The door being shut and we alone, and after his voluntary pledging never to mention anything that I might tell him without my consent, I began, and substantially gave him the foregoing narrative. At the close of the narration, he replied that it was evident to his mind that I must preach the gospel. Then, in the most tender manner, he exhorted me to give myself to reading the Scriptures, and meditating on, and preaching the word. He said he had promised never to divulge anything that I had narrated without consent, but if I would consent, he would be glad to lay the matter before the church at the next meeting, and thus do what was now his duty. To this I strenuously objected. He labored to obtain my consent, and, after a long time, I yielded, under this view of the matter: My own responsibility was already weighty enough, and now to assume the responsibility of preventing him from doing his duty, was more than I dare do. I came to this conclusion in my mind: “I will release the Elder, and he may do as duty dictates. If he should state it to the church, and she should call me to the work, I will make the attempt, in obedience to her call. She will, most likely, have the mind of Christ, her husband, and the Spirit that imparts comforts and furnishes all spiritual gifts. And when I try at the brethren’s call, and they see that I have no gift for the edification of the body, they will be faithful and tell me, and I will stop. My only alternative is to submit myself to the church, and obey her voice, be it as it may.” So I submitted the matter to Elder Beal before the next meeting came.

I called one day at the house of an old man, who had not long before come from New York, by the name of Ebenezer Smith. Both he and his wife had lately joined our church by letter; and both had stated that he (Smith) was a licensed preacher. I only stopped in as for a moment, but the old lady would not consent to my leaving until she had sent out on the farm and called in her husband, as he had some special business with me that she thought would interest me. He came, and at once began to tell me that I had to preach the gospel, and that he was old and I was young, and he felt a great desire for my success in the work. He wanted to caution me against preaching the doctrine of election and predestination, special redemption and unconditional salvation. These were deep mysteries, he said, and, even if they were true, they were unprofitable and dry theories and not proper to be preached to a mixed congregation. These were matters he had wished to caution me about for my own good, as I never could be popular, as a preacher, if I preached those hard points.

This gave me sorrow, and I burst into tears. He asked me if he had hurt my feelings. I told him that I believed he aimed it all for my good, and his age and experience gave him many advantages and qualified him to instruct me, but I must tell him plainly that I was not able to comprehend why, if so large a part of the Scripture was unprofitable and only a dry theory, that God had so clearly revealed these points of doctrine all through the Book and had also declared the whole Scriptures to be profitable. I had never made any calculations upon popularity, but if I should ever attempt to preach, I should feel bound to preach all these points, believing them all to be found in the testimony of God. But I had never told any one that I was going to preach, and I thought it very strange that he should talk to me in that manner; still I was young and very ignorant, and was always willing to be advised by the old. It was not likely that I would ever be a preacher, but if I ever should I must try to preach revealed truth, and, of course, popularity must be disregarded; and that I should feel bound to preach the very opposite to his directions. I thanked him for his interest in my welfare, although I could not understand the propriety of his counsels, nor why he had thought that I should ever preach the gospel. I then left the house and went on my way.

This circumstance was a hard trial to me, because I thought I could not preach the gospel without preaching the very points he warned me against; for, as I understood it, these points were at the foundation of revealed truth, and the gospel could not be preached without them. And for two old Baptists to warn me against preaching what I regarded as essentials, and assert that they were dry and unprofitable speculative theories, that ought never to be put before the public in a mixed congregation, and all this coming from an old New York Baptist, and now a forward member of the same church with me, gave me another sore trial. It set me, however, to searching the Scriptures on all these points.

When the next church meeting came on, Elder Beal arose and laid my case before the church and explained the special impressions of my mind. When he closed his remarks, a number of the old members spoke to this effect: They were glad that the Elder had brought that matter up, for they had long been thinking of it, and had intended to bring it before the church that day, if no other one did; for they knew the whole church had been deeply interested about me. The motion not only to liberate me to preach, but to call on me to speak, preach, or exhort, or exercise my gifts in any way or at any time or place in the bounds of the North Bend Association was then put and carried unanimously. I sat silent during it all, and at the close I only said: “Brethren and sisters, all of you remember me in your prayers, for I am but a poor, weak child among you.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 15 November 2006 )
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The Primitive or Old School Baptists cling to the doctrines and practices held by Baptist Churches throughout America at the close of the Revolutionary War. This site is dedicated to providing access to our rich heritage, with both historic and contemporary writings.