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Written by W.M. Mitchell   

My parents, James and Margaret Mitchell, were born and raised in York and Chester districts, South Carolina, and the youngest of their eight children was about five years old when they emigrated to Troup county, Ga., in 1833. My father’s ancestors were from Virginia, and my mothers parents had two children born unto them before they left Ireland. Her maiden name was McCammon.

I was born on January 10th, 1819, four miles from Chester Court House, S.C. Neither of my parents were members of any religious sect or church during my raising. A sister younger than myself united with the Baptists at Emmaus, Troup county, Ga., before the division when she was 14 years old. This was the first one of my father’s family who had ever made any religious profession.

I was about 14 years old before I had ever been to a Baptist meeting, though I had many serious thoughts about God, sin, death, and eternity, when I was very young. My parents, though strictly moral, honest, industrious, and energetic, were very poor, and but for the thirst implanted within me for an education, I never should have had enough to have done me any good. From my childhood up to the present my life has been one of hardships, toils, sufferings and afflictions, but God has been with me, even in the furnace of trial.

When 15 or 16 years old, at, meeting, one day, I felt deeply convicted for sin, and, for the first time in my life, got on my knees, begging God to have mercy upon me, while a minister was praying publicly, nearer to me than I ever before had been to any one when engaged in prayer to God, lip to that time I had never heard a prayer in my father’s house.

I struggled along for many months, trying, in my ignorant and imperfect manner, to pray to God to show me the right way, but it seemed that I was cut off from all hope or mercy, when, one day, I was plowing near the house, feeling that I could not live with such a burden of distress upon me. I stopped my horse, because I thought in a moment I would be in eternity, in my guilt and sins. But the next thing I remember, I was standing with uplifted hands, saying, “Thank God! I can praise his name now!” Creation looked beautiful, joyous and lovely. I had no view, however, nor knowledge of the plan of salvation, nor any point of gospel doctrine, nor order in the church. I only knew I was then happy, and believed that it was the Lord’s work, and felt in my soul to thank him for it. But soon I fell into much distress of mind. I could not live free from anger, passion, and many other vain and foolish things, which I had thought Christians never had about them. My distress on this point was beyond all description. I read the Bible through twice to ascertain its teachings, and know my own condition and remedy for it, if possible. But it was a sealed book to my understanding on that most important of all points to me.

Finally I tried to think no more about it, and gave myself up to many frivolities and worldly amusements-dancing and such like. But even while thus engaged, I felt ashamed of my folly, and vent with a heavy heart and sorrowful spirit, and vainly tried before my youthful friends to put on a cheerful countenance.

In 1837 my father moved to Macon (now Lee) county, Ala., within three miles of where I now write. The Creek Indians had but recently left this country, and there were but few white settlers or churches. Previous to that time the Baptist denomination had divided on the modern missionary institutions, and in a short time after we had come to Alabama, a church was constituted about eight miles from us, of the Primitive Baptist faith and order, taking the name of Providence. My sister, in the division, had remained steadfastly with the Primitive Baptists, and she soon put in her letter with the newly constituted church. She was a humble, meek, and devoted Christian woman, and desired always, if possible, to promptly attend her meetings, though so distant. But as she was the only member of the family of nine that belonged to the church, and my father was bitterly opposed to the Old Order of Baptists, it was with much difficulty that I could make arrangements to get off with her to meeting.

I had occasionally told some of my exercises of mind to Methodists and Missionary Baptists, but still remained under a cloud of darkness as to my real condition. I knew a change of some kind had been wrought in me, but still I could not claim that I had a hope in Christ. Finally I arrived to the age of 21 years. My work had been heavy, hard and laborious, from my youth up to this time. Several times I had gotten badly hurt from heavy straining and lifting about a saw mill, and other heavy work. This, doubtless, laid the foundation for the continual sufferings and bad health I have had through life. By urgent request, I took charge of a little country school in 1840, as my first business in life for myself.

I had nothing, nor any prospects for support in life save by my own labor. To keep in advance of my students, my mind was overtaxed. My troubles pressed me much, and my health so declined in two years that I had to seek other employment.

About this time I determined never again to relate my troubles of mind about my condition to any one. And as I had frequently been urged upon to unite with some religious sect, I also determined that I would never do that, because of such a feeling sense of’ unfitness. I determined, however, to live as orderly, upright a life as I possibly could, no matter what my condition otherwise might be. I had no love nor desire to sin.

But very soon after forming the above resolutions I became deeply distressed in mind. I was heavily burdened as though there was some important work for me to do, but I did not know what it was. I was one day alone attending to a saw mill, and so heavily pressed at my heart that I dropped on my knees to pray. All I c think of to say, and all my inward promptings were: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” “What wilt THOU! what wilt TUOU! have me to do?” Very suddenly, as if one had spoken, it rushed into my mind, “Go and read the 12th chapter of Isaiah.” This was so irresistible that I stopped the mill and went to the house, and opened the Bible and read till I come to the 4th verse of that chapter, “Declare his doings among the people, make mention that his name is exalted.” In one in it seemed to he spoken within. “You have to preach.” I instantly spoke out, involuntarily, and said, “That is not so, I know, for I am not a member of the church, and I am too ignorant.”

I returned to my work in still deeper mental trouble than before. I was fearful it was only a vain imagination, and often went to the woods alone and fell on my face weeping and begging the Lord to remove such thoughts from my mind, and never to allow me to enter into, nor disgrace that holy and sacred calling of preaching. I could not believe these impressions were from the Lord.

In order to comply with a previous engagement, and thinking also that it might, to some extent relieve my troubled mind, I was married to Miss Mary E. Taylor June 2d, 1842. In spite of all my efforts to appear cheerful in the presence of my wife, who was then not quite sixteen years old, I, in a few days, disclosed to her some of he troubles of mind I have related above. She said he was sorry that she could give me no comfort, as she knew nothing herself about such things; but advised that I talk to her father, who was an orderly and devoted Primitive Baptist of many years’ standing. I did so and if ever my soul was fed and instructed, it was then. He told me his christian experience, and quoted many scriptures, which I had often read, but could not see their application till he explained to some extent the nature of the spiritual birth—warfare between flesh and spirit, the promptings to obedience, and the opposition of our fleshly nature to it, the chastening of our heavenly Father upon disobedient children, darkness of mind, hardness of heart, and continual tossings, temptations and trials that would come upon those who were ‘quenching the spirit” of obedience which the Lord had wrought within them.

While the dear old brother was talking, the Lord was pleased, to some extent, to open my heart to understand the Scriptures in their application to my case, in a sense I never had before seen. I felt it! and thought I then knew it was God’s truth, and wondered why I had not seen and known it sooner.

The next meeting at Providence, where my sister, Lucinda, was a member, I talked to the church, was heartily received into fellowship and baptized the first Sunday in August, 1842, by Eld. J. J. Dickson. The same day I was enabled in much conflict of mind, to engage with the church in communion and feet-washing. Riding along on horseback, and carrying my wife behind me (as that was the only way we had then), I felt so light, free and happy that I could scarcely forbear shouting and praising God aloud.

Soon after this, myself and wife set up to house-keeping in a little log cabin sixteen feet square, built by my own hands. Before retiring to rest the first night, I told my beloved wife, as we were young, very poor and ignorant, and just starting to keep house, we needed God’s care and direction through life, and, though I had never tried to pray in public, we bowed together in prayer, and in a very weak and trembling way, I tried to implore the God of heaven to take care of us, and to keep and instruct us in the right way. And truly the Lord has done it, but it has been in the furnace of trial, a way that our rebellious nature would not have chosen.

In February, 1843, I was one of six members in the constitution of Mount Olive Church, of which I am now (1883) a member and pastor. In relating my experience to the church when I joined at Providence, I said nothing about what had occurred some months before, when I was irresistibly driven to read the 12th chapter of Isaiah, nor had I mentioned it in conversation to any person. I tried to comfort myself with the thought that when I had told the church what I hoped the Lord had done for me, that I had thereby “Declared the Lord’s doings,” and that it did not mean that I should ever preach. If I only could have believed that I could preach the gospel, and that the Lord had impressed my mind so with it, and required it of me, I was willing, I thought, to make the effort. I was chosen clerk of the newly constituted church at Mount Olive; Jesse Taylor, my father-in-law, was set apart as deacon, and Elder Wm. Cadenhead was chosen as pastor. The church prospered, but the weight of the gospel ministry had become so heavy upon me, at times, it seemed that I would die if I continued to suppress it. The 4th Sunday night in May, 1843, I bowed in prayer with my wife at home. Never in all my life did I have such a feeling sense of perfect nothingness before God. I seemed to be drawn into the immediate presence of his blazing purity and holiness. I felt myself to be nothing but a poor, dry lump of polluted clay in the hand of an almighty Potter who was able to fashion me just as he should please. Rising from prayer, I walked across the room, and my wife, seeing that something unusual was the matter, began to cry, saying, “What is the matter, you are pale as death?” After trying to answer, I at length raised my hands, exclaiming, “I have to preach or die.” This was the first expression I had ever given to any one indicating such a thing. It gave great relief to my wife as well as to myself. We soon hurried off, though 10 o’clock in the night, to my father-in-law’s, near a mile distant, for I felt that to tarry another hour would be death— but, finding the family all in bed, and my feelings much subsided, the only reply made for a time to questions asked us, was by the sobs and tears of my wife and by my downcast and dejected looks.

A few months before this I had got badly and permanently hurt for life. My breast-bone was broken, and just above my heart there was an internal rupture of some of the ligaments from my left arm. I was just starting in life, and this affliction disabled me entirely for work, and cut off every visible means of support. My arm perished away and I could not lift anything with that hand. I wore a broad band age around my chest, as tight as I could well bear it, for several years, and never was I at any moment, clear of severe suffering—sleeping but little, unless propped up in the bed. Over forty years have passed, and I yet suffer with this wound, though not so badly as I did then.

Under these circumstances the reader may faintly imagine my mental agonies the night I went to my father-in-law’s, as stated above. We did not tell the old people what had occurred, nor why we had come at that late hour, till next morning. The dear old brother gave me much comfort, saying that he was not surprised, and that the brethren and sisters generally were weighted with it and believed that the Lord had laid that work upon me.

After conversing with the dear old father in Israel, I felt much strengthened, and never in all my life for a whole day, did I have one scripture after another to pour into my mind with the clearness and power it did that day. Texts that I had read years before with no understanding now seemed to be unfold so clearly that I wondered why I had not seen it before.

But it was nearly a month till our next meeting at Mount Olive, and before that time my mind became dark, and my joys dried up. The pastor of the church did not come at the next meeting. By urgent request of the brethren, I said a few things, and the church went. into conference and gave an expression of their desire for my exercises in the ministry— announcing also that I would preach the next day. I had been a church member about eleven months.

Sunday morning, the 4th Sunday in June, 1843, arrived, and as no minister was present to encourage or comfort me, the deacon opened meeting by prayer, and the youthful speaker took his text, and for about two hours the Lord gave him sweet liberty to “Declare His doings among the people.”

My mother had given a reason of her hope in Christ and been received by the church on Saturday, but her baptism was deferred by the absence of the pastor. My father was a well read man, of good mind, Arminian in his religious views, and most bitterly opposed to the doctrine of Primitive Baptists. When my mother went home and told him what she had done, and that I was to preach next day, and asked him to go out and hear me, he said with anger, “No; I will leave here, as it seems you are all going against me! I wonder that time earth don’t open and swallow you all up who go to hear such God-dishonoring doctrine preached!”

But the Lord directed my father’s steps so that when I rose to speak I saw him with a countenance sitting on the back seat, right before me. Of all men in the word I dreaded him most. But when I saw the big tears trickling down his furrowed cheeks, I felt assured the Lord had given him life divine, and with it, hearing, seeing, feeling, and understanding.

One month from that day my mother was to be baptized, and my father was the most miserable man, apparently, I ever had seen, he opposed mother’s baptism, but told her in presence of witnesses, if she would wait another month and he could not go with her, he would not oppose—thinking, as he afterwards said, that he would be dead before that time. In touch agony of mind, my mother waited, and in a few days the Lord set my poor father free so that the family had a day of rejoicing, joy and gladness. My wife too, had obtained a good hope through grace, in the Lord Jesus, so that when our next meeting came, the word of the Lord was made manifest that “They that sow in tears shall reap in ,joy.” And, indeed, after many days of trial, it was a time of joy to me when I saw my father, mother, and wife, all led into the water at the same time and baptized by the pastor of Mount Olive, Elder W. Cadenhead, the 4th Sunday in August, 1843.

Finding that I cannot give even a brief synopsis of the dealings of the Lord with me these forty-one years in the wilderness, without extending this article far beyond the limit originally designed, I will close by saying I was ordained to officiate in all the functions of the gospel ministry, July, 1845, by Elders J. Blackstone, Moses Gunn, J. M. Pearson, Josephus Barrow and J. J. Dickson, all of whom are dead, except the last named.

If the readers of the GOSPEL MESSENGER desire it, I may, if the Lord permits, at some future time extend the above synopsis so as to embrace a few years more of the way the Lord hath led me. (Sadly, he never did—DM)

Very affectionately, your brother in the bonds of the gospel,

W. M. MITCHELL

Opelika, Ala., November 20, 1883.

Last Updated ( Friday, 12 September 2008 )
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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.