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Autobiography: From Law to Grace and Baptism PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wilson Thompson   

 

CHAPTER THREE

ON WEDNESDAY afternoon, as I was wandering alone in a wood-lot, reflecting on my desperate condition, I passed by the top of a fallen hackberry tree, which by its limbs formed a thick cluster above and around so as to afford a sort of retreat. I paused a moment, and again the thought struck me that I would enter this recess and once more try to pray. But the demand was again suggested: “Dare you pray to God to do an unjust act?” My mind replied: “No, I dare not do that, but I may confess to God that He is just and righteous in my destruction.”

With this thought I entered the clustered top, while the gloom of death seemed to hang heavily on every tree, and all nature seemed clothed with a frown. I felt my execution was now at hand. I fell on my knees, closed my eyes and began my confession: “Lord, Thou knowest that I am an unholy rebel against Thee; I have sinned greatly and am all corrupt and lost; but Thou art just in all Thy judgments, and I am justly condemned by Thy righteous law.” When I had proceeded thus far, I was arrested by the appearance of a bright, glittering shadow, near my right side, which startled me. I raised my head, and opened my eyes, but could see nothing unusual. I again closed my eyes and resumed my confession, but again the same glittering brightness shone forth with increased brilliancy. I started up again and opened my eyes, but nothing unusual appeared. Again I closed my eyes and resumed as before, and again the brightness, with increased luster, appeared the third time, now with such startling brilliancy that I sprang to my feet and gazed in every direction. Nothing, however, of that brightness could be seen, but all the heretofore-gloomy scene was changed. The angry frown was all dissipated, and the wisdom and goodness of God illuminated the scene, and gave all nature a beauty and grandeur that seemed to show forth more of the glorious majesty of the Creator than I had ever before beheld. I was so completely captivated with the scene, and so absorbed in the contemplation of the goodness of God, that I was thoughtless of everything else. I sauntered about, gazing in transports of delight on smiling and instructive nature, and thus I remained, gazing, wondering, and adoring that God Who seemed almost visible in the works of His power, wisdom, and goodness, until I was called to the house.

There was a prayer meeting that evening in the vicinity, and it being time to go, my father and I walked directly on. Soon after we started, the inquiry rushed upon me: “What has gone with all your trouble?” My burden was gone; the stream of justice that had been pursuing my life was withdrawn, and yet I was the same sinner as before! But was all my burden of sin and guilt now removed? or, was it not rather that I was now given up to such insensibility, such heaviness of heart, that I could no longer be grieved on account of my situation? And here I began to retrospect the past three days. I soon found my burden had last oppressed me in the hackberry top aforementioned, where, on my knees, I had confessed God’s justice in my condemnation. At once I inferred that God had shown me my guilty and condemned condition, and had brought me solemnly on my knees, to confess that His judgment was just in my banishment, and that I had no just cause of complaint, nor any ground to reflect upon His righteous decision; hence the honor of His Throne was fully vindicated. This being done, and the glory of God’s attributes all shown to me in the works of His hands, I concluded that I was now left in a hardened, insensible condition, and that my state was now worse than ever before, but that I was too much hardened to feel it. I labored to feel as I had felt, and to see myself again under the load which had heretofore oppressed me; but I could not. Yet I never once thought of this being conversion, but my trouble now was that my former trouble was gone!

In this unhappy condition I continued until the prayer meeting was near the close. Elder John Beal engaged in prayer, and during the time I was on my knees, there came upon me such a feeling of enraptured love for God and His people as I had never before realized. When the prayer was over, all the congregation arose to their feet and began singing. I looked upon them with admiration, for I thought I had never before beheld so lovely a sight, and their voices seemed to me to be tuned with immortality. Although they stood near to me, and I saw them with my eyes, and heard them with my ears, yet, to my mind’s view, they seemed to stand vision-like in a majestic line; those nearest a little elevated above the ground, and those more distant rose higher and higher, while the glory of God and the beauty of holiness appeared to shine brilliantly around them, and their sweet singing seemed to echo almost into the heavens. Such divine beauty and holiness I never viewed before in Christians, nor in their worship. I was now completely filled with peace and love, and my mind for the time was happy.

On my way home this state of mind and these feelings left me, and again I relapsed into my former desponding state, seeking for my burden again, and repining because it was gone. In this unhappy state I continued until the next day, when I was alone in a grove. Then the same love for Christians, the same peace and comfort filled my soul and captivated all my affections. In the midst of this sweet delight the following words of the poet, Keble, seemed to fill my inmost heart:

Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.

These words enlisted my strongest desires, and carried them up before God, in earnest prayer, that He would so keep me. With this a flash of inward light gave me the first glimpse I had ever known of a mediator between God and man. This glimpse, although it seemed plain, yet was so instantaneously gone, that I could not retain the view.

For several days I continued in this way; sometimes all my mind seemed shrouded in impenetrable darkness, but frequently an inward dart of light in the mind would reveal the way in which God could be just as a Saviour, through the mediation of His Son. Still this darting ray, though often repeated, was so instantaneous that, if I may compare it to temporal things, I would say it was in some degree like a person, on a very dark night, looking out of a window upon the blackness of darkness, when, sudden as lightning, a bright flash Instantly darted by, revealing the most beautiful image or scenery ever beheld; but the light was so suddenly gone, and the image so entirely new, he could not so examine it as to describe it, or understand it properly. Although I could not understand how, yet I became convinced that there was a way in which God could save a great sinner by His grace, and still remain a just God, “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” My view was so indistinct and so imperfect that I could neither explain it satisfactorily, nor appropriate it to myself. Here I received the first hope that I could claim as a hope. I know of no better way to express or define my hope than this—I hoped I should yet receive a hope. I was assured that there was a way, and a glorious way, too, in which God could be just and save a poor guilty sinner; and I hoped I should yet clearly see it.

This gave me some comfort. My mind, with all its powers, seemed to be strained to the very highest pitch to obtain a conception of this glorious plan but it was beyond my reach. I could not see it except in these momentary flashes above described, and they were so sudden and so instantaneously shrouded in thick darkness, that I could not retain a clear conception of it, and so I struggled along. I seemed insensible to my burden of condemnation; it appeared to have left me. Justice did pursue me as before, but hope seemed to be struggling for a mastery over my former despair. In all this interval, from the day I heard the experiences of the young people before mentioned up to this time, I have no recollection of relating any of my feelings to any one. But about the time of my last exercises, above described, one or two Baptists undertook to talk to me. I said but little, yet they seemed to understand my feelings; this surprised me, for I believed that no other person had ever experienced such feelings and views.

I continued in about this way until the meeting at Four Mile Church, where I was to go and visit my cousins, in accordance with the promise of my father, as mentioned above. On my way to that meeting, as we walked alone, my father introduced the subject of my exercises and insisted that I should tell him of all my feelings. I was greatly embarrassed, but finally I began, and the more I talked the more free I felt to talk, and so in substance I related all my exercises. I remember well how the big, glistening tears coursed down my father’s cheeks, as he silently listened to my relation. After I had done, and had answered many questions he propounded, he gave me important advice. Indeed, I shall never forget his impressive exhortations and admonitions, and the warnings which he gave me. He set before me my youth, the many snares and temptations I should have to encounter, set to lure me off into the world, and so bring reproach upon myself and the church, and, above all, on the cause of God and His truth. And I was very young, he said, and had never mingled with the world, to learn its ten thousand snares, baits, and devices, and although he hoped I had been the subject of a gracious work, yet he would rather that I should not join the church at present, but wait until I became older and had time to test my faith, hope, and zeal. In conclusion, he said he would not forbid me, but urged me to examine well the solemn responsibility of making a public profession. This advice, coming from a father in whom I had the most implicit confidence, both as to his knowledge in all these things and his desires for my good, made deep impressions on my young mind. I had always considered the advice of my father as the safest rule of my life; so I pondered this with deep concern and self-examination.

We attended the meeting on Saturday afternoon, and also in the evening; and I must confess that the church, and her order, and her worship all appeared beautiful. I thought it a pleasant and inviting home. I felt that I could take great pleasure in spending all my days in such a frame and in such a place, and with such society as this. My heart and affections were centered there, for these were the people of God, and here His glories shone forth, here His worship was performed, His praise heard, His ordinances practiced, and His truth understood and taught. I wanted to have a home with them, but Father’s counsel was before me. I had very little to say to any one, for my mind was laboring under many conflicting emotions, and yet it was on a strain to see the glorious plan of salvation, which at times still shot with such glory and beauty before my mental vision, but which I could not retain for a moment, for a darkness black as night would rapidly approach and conceal it all from my view.

On Sunday the meeting was held in a grove, until we were warned by the lightning and thunder from an approaching dark cloud, of the necessity of seeking shelter from the approaching storm. There was a new two-story house near by, to which the congregation hastened; and there Elder Riggs resumed his sermon. He was a powerful man in exhortation, and at times he was a strong man in doctrine. While he was speaking, the cloud began pouring down torrents of rain; the wind blew furiously, dashing the water through the open cracks of the log house; the lightning in forked flame seemed to almost part the firmament while the roaring thunder, like heaven’s awful artillery, belched forth at rapid intervals with deafening roar. The power of the God of the whole earth seemed fully demonstrated. In the midst of this confusion and strife of the elements, the preacher, at the top of his voice, made this appeal: “We are told,” said he, “that Christ will come to judge the world in flaming fire, and with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God. Now, if He should appear in this cloud, amid the streaming lightning and bellowing thunder, who is ready to meet Him?”

At that instant the light that had so often flashed and darted before my inward eyes, now suddenly shone in me, and continued to shine in its splendor, revealing the fullness of the glory of the Person of Christ, and the mediatorial work He had performed for His people, through the redemption that was in Him, and obtained by Him for His people. God was revealed glorious in all His perfections, His law honored, and His truth and justice fully vindicated, while His grace was richly exercised in the free and full justification of poor, ungodly sinners who believed in His Son. This, to me, was the most transporting joy I had ever beheld. I knew it was the same blessed plan that, during several of the preceding days had been flashing across my mind. Christ was now All! He was truly the way, the truth, and the life, the end of the law, the fullness of the gospel. All I needed, or ever could enjoy, was to be found in Him. All that prevented me from the full enjoyment of His glory, was my being present in the body and absent from the Lord. I was caged in a poor corrupt body, away down here on the earth, while He was above, seated at God’s right hand. But I thought, surely He will come again, and then I shall meet Him in the air, having been changed from natural to spiritual, from mortal to immortal. Then I shall be with Him, be like Him, and see Him as He is. This all appeared plain to me, in half the time it takes to write it. I felt fully prepared to respond to the preacher’s appeal, and say, “I am ready to meet Him.” The awful solemnities of the judgment day had been the most terrifying thoughts that haunted my guilty conscience; and often, at night would I awake from my sleep trembling with alarm and terror, from a dream of the judgment day and of my final separation from God and all holy beings. But now the entire scene was changed. I now felt that in “that day” I should be inducted into the presence of God and all holy beings, to dwell forever in that place where sin, sorrow, pain, and death shall never come. The second coming of Christ seemed to be fraught with the greatest interest to me of anything I could think of in the future. During the remainder of the afternoon and evening my mind was calm, tranquil, and happy; and with an ecstatic feeling of delight, I contemplated the glories of Christ as a mediator, and of the redemption through His blood, of the fullness and freeness of His grace, and of pardon, justification, and eternal life in Him. The glories of the whole plan of salvation through Him occupied my enraptured thoughts, for let me strike whatever cord I may, it led to Jesus. “He was all and in all.”

Some of the young converts were there, and we gathered together, and I talked and sang. I gave them my views of the fullness of Christ and His mediation, and of the relation in which He stood to His people. I told them that I believed, when He should “come again without sin unto salvation”, the sight of Him would verily lift them up “to meet Him in the air”, and being like Him, they should see Him as He is and dwell with Him forever. Thus we enjoyed a pleasant season.

The next morning my views seemed dim. I began to call to mind the question: “Am I really interested in Christ as my Savior?” and then many doubts began to annoy me, and with darkness, as it were, to compass me about. I never have doubted since but that the views I then had of the plan of salvation were correct, and that this was the only way any sinner was or can be saved. But my doubts began then, and have often harassed me since, as to whether I was savingly interested in that plan. In this way I lived, sometimes so obscured in darkness that I could hardly dare to hope, and at other times my views were so bright that I could not doubt.

The next church meeting came on the first Saturday in June, 1801, at the church called the “Mouth of Licking”. I went before that church and related to them my reason of hope, and was received as a candidate for baptism. On the next day, which was Sunday, I was baptized by Elder Lee in a small stream filled with backwater from the river. When the elder led me down into the water, he said: “I am now about to baptize one who will stand in my place when my head lies beneath the clods of the valley.” Many of those present knew that he referred to his expressed convictions uttered shortly after my birth, which they had often heard him speak of since. But I knew nothing of this, and only understood him to speak of the probability of my living after his decease, as I was then only in my thirteenth year, and he was of middle age, something near forty, I presume. When I was raised from the water the first thought that I recollect was, “O! that sinners could but see and feel the beauties of a Savior’s love!” Such a weighty and painful sense of their blind and dead condition came over me that I felt a strong desire to speak of the glorious plan of salvation. I remained silent in language but burst into a flood of tears, and came out of the water weeping like a child. My young friends led me to a private place to change my clothes. When my father’s youngest brother, then a vain young man, came to us, my first impression was to throw my arms around him and tell him of the fullness and worth of a precious Savior. I refrained, however, from speaking, and again my full heart gave vent to a flood of tears, and my uncle walked away.

Now, Christian reader, I have detailed particularly the way I was led in my youth. Do these exercises agree with yours? I believe they have been in some points rather peculiar; but as they were, and in the order in which they came, I have endeavored to relate them. If you can fellowship them as Christian experience, resulting in a good hope through grace, then let God be praised, for it is all of His rich mercy.

The plan of salvation through the mediator Jesus Christ, that I then viewed, is still the basis of all the hope of acceptance with God that I have; and if I were as sure that that plan embraced me as I am sure that it is good, I should never doubt again. O! that I could always walk in the light and in the truth, and serve God in newness of the spirit!

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.