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The Life of Elder Isaac Vanmeter PDF Print E-mail
Written by Isaac Vanmeter   

Dear Brethren: — At the request of Elder Respess, I send a sketch of my life and experience, and also my call to the work of the ministry, if, indeed, I have been called to the work. I was born in Grayson county, Ky., June 14th, 1815, and was the fifth child born to Abraham and Sarah Vanmeter. They joined the Baptist church in 1812, and hence I was brought up by and among that people, then, in that part of the country, United Baptists. Father was a deacon of the same church (Concord) for about forty years, and he and mother tried to raise their children strictly honest and moral; and I was encouraged, by my mother particularly, to read the New Testament, and to go to their meetings. They had preaching often at their own house, and I often heard religious conversation, and became pretty well acquainted with the theory of the Baptist faith. I dearly loved my mother, believing her to be one of the best women I ever knew, and the examples and precepts of both of my parents restrained me from ever using profane language; but being depraved by nature, I grew up as fond of vanity and sin, in some of their forms, as any of our fallen race. I often heard the gospel proclaimed by such faithful men as, Benjamin Keith, Martin Utterback, &c.; but as I did not expect to die young, and believing I could make preparation for death in due time, I was not much concerned about my sins till I was about seventeen years of age.


We had poor opportunities for schooling, and up to that time I could only read and write, and cipher a little. Grammar, geography, &c., were not taught in the “back woods” where we lived; but a sister older than myself, having but one hand from birth, was sent off to a grammar school, and after an absence of some weeks she came home on a visit. I was much attached to her, and we often had much fun and merriment together. But on her visit home she was in a very serious mood, and told me, to ourselves, about some meetings she had attended while she was absent, and that she was going to try to live a different life, and was in deep concern. On her leaving again for her school, her solemn looks and serious words to me left me in deep trouble. I thought if as good a girl as I esteemed her to be was grieving over her misspent life, what must be my state? I felt sure that I was a much greater sinner than she and that it was high time I was seeking for religion, otherwise we should be separated forever.


I determined to begin the work in earnest by refraining from my sinful habits, and praying often, and reading the Bible, &c., believing that I, or any one, could obtain religion in a short time by earnest seeking and knocking at the door of mercy. I continued more or less faithfully to conform to the morals of the scriptures, and to retire to my hiding place behind a large stump in father’s orchard, and to go through some formality of prayer, for some months, and until I began rather to wonder why I felt no change come over me, as I had expected. I believed that a man must be born again, and had been expecting the great and sudden change to come similar to an electric shock, or some convulsion of my whole physical frame, and at times I was actually a little fearful out at my place of prayer, of a dark night, lest it would occur and shock me. In the early part of the spring of 1833, I began to doubt whether any one ever felt the great change I had been expecting, as it did not come to me, and I had, as I thought, complied with the necessary requisitions of the scriptures to obtain religion. I soon persuaded myself to be easy about the matter. I was quite moral practically, and said my prayers often, and read the scriptures some, and went to meeting when convenient, and for awhile felt but little uneasiness about my condition. I rather concluded that I was about as good as any Christian, and even better than some who professed religion, and so for awhile I settled down upon the sand of self-righteousness—a complete Pharisee. I feel now to shudder at the thought of my delusion, and at the false peace I felt! And I desire to adore the God of all grace for his mercy in arousing me from my delusive slumber, and opening my eyes to the danger I was in! In the month of June, 1833, I went to old Concord meeting-house to hear old Father Utterback preach, whom I had heard often since I was a boy, and his voice had become like an old worn out song to me. I felt no particular interest in the discourse, and no unusual concern about myself, till he was near the close of his discourse. He was describing the fallen and sinful state of sinners, and telling them that if they died in that condition they would be forever lost. I had often heard him speak in a similar way without feeling any very serious concern about myself, but on that (to me) memorable day, I suddenly turned, as it were, my eyes within, and was made to tremble with shame and fear at my depraved and corrupted heart! I verily believed that the good old man was alluding to me entirely; that he knew my very heart, and was exposing my sinful nature to the congregation. I felt like I wanted to hide from the face of the congregation, for I believed knew I was the most hateful of any there was in the house. O, that I could hide from God and man! Why have I never seen myself before? I hope, dear reader, that God opened my eyes on that day to see myself a .justly condemned and ruined sinner, and to feel the power of the solemn truths proclaimed from the stand. I returned home that afternoon a heavy-laden sinner, almost in despair. My self- righteousness appeared, indeed, like filthy rags, and my fancied security was swept away. To have esteemed myself as good as any body had been such an awful delusion that I now sank in despair for I felt to be the chief of sinners, and beyond the reach of mercy.


For about two months I was in about as much trouble as I could well endure without going deranged. I had tried my own works pretty thoroughly already, such as my prayers, tears, vows, promises, reformation, reading, church-going, &c., and now found myself as I believed, farther from God than I was when I first began the work of getting religion. But I began anew to search the scriptures, and hunt for something to rest upon, and with a longing, aching heart, sought

“To light on some sweet promise there,
Some sure support against despair.

But all the promises and blessings I could find were for good people, as I believed, and not a word of comfort for so guilty a wretch as I, and I could truly say—

“I read the promise meets my eyes,
But will not reach my case.”


I now became so thoroughly convinced of the justice of God in my condemnation that I could claim no mercy, and expected no mercy, but I ceased not to beg for it. My heart cried to God in all my waking hours, and I slept but little during the latter part of August, and was often terrified by dreams. For some days previously to my deliverance I was so thoroughly convinced that I had sinned away my day of grace, and was doomed to woe, that I was afraid to attempt to go to myself and kneel in prayer, lest a righteous God should smite me to death for my presumption. I did not think much, about now, of torment or suffering after death, but the thought of being eternally banished from the presence of God, the holy angels, and the glorified saints, was an almost intolerable thought!

“O, wretched state of deep despair,
To see my God remove
And fix my doleful station where
I must not taste His love!”

I would have gladly changed places with the worms or reptiles under my feet, if it had been in my power, and 1 envied the little innocent birds in their songs, for they had not sinned, as I had, against a just and holy God. My feelings at that dark and gloomy time have since been described in one of my songs, thus:

O, that I were some harmless bird,
That cannot sin against the Lord,
Nor be the object of his wrath,
Nor fear his judgment after death!

Were I some beast upon the plain,
Without a soul to suffer pain,
A spreading tree an opening flower—
That I night never dread his power!

The pine can spread, the flower can bloom,
The bird can sing, the beast can roam,
Woe is me, for I must go
Down to the realms of endless woe!


Near the last of August, I was at a religious meeting one night, where they called for mourners to come forward for prayers, and I, with others, went forward, hoping that God would hear the prayers of somebody for me. But I left the place of this protracted (or distracted) meeting feeling even more discouraged, if possible, than ever. My case was hopeless! My doom was fixed, and I was lost! I was afraid to go to sleep, lest I should wake up in hell. The last week in August I was pulling corn blades for fodder, and though the weather was clear, the sun seemed to be obscured, and all nature appeared to be draped in mourning, and I verily believed I should live but a few days at most.

But the memorable, and, to me, auspicious morning of Saturday, August 31st, 1833, opened calm and clear as to the weather, and I and another younger brother were sent out to the field early, while the dew was on, to carry the fodder to the stack-pole, which had been bound up the night before. About 7 o’clock that morning, as I was walking through the corn directly eastward, with a heavy load of fodder on my back, bound with a rope, and my mind burdened with a ponderous load of trouble, and my eyes looking at the ground where I walked, suddenly I saw, distinctly, as though I had two sets of eyes, a remarkable and soul-ravishing sight, high up in the air eastward. Two persons, or characters, were seated near each other on a seat of pure gold, and they were both clothed with the brightest gold, with golden crowns on their heads, and they were both exactly alike, and were gently descending toward me. The moment I saw them (I hope by the eye of faith), I recognized them as the Father and the Son. They were both smiling, and looking directly at me as they gently came down to near the tops of the tall trees, east of the field, near by. There they stopped for a moment, and in accents of everlasting love, as I then believed, and yet hope, they both spake, as though there was but one voice and one mouth, saying directly to me: “Come and live; believe, and you shall be saved.” They immediately ascended out of sight. But for me to describe the ecstasy of the soul. enrapturing view, and the life-giving words of peace and pardon spoken to me, is beyond the power of my pen or tongue. I did not, of course see them nor hear them with my natural organs, but it all appeared as clear and distinct as though I did. It has to this day been one of those incomprehensible mysteries of a wonder-working God how I saw, and heard, and felt, what I did that auspicious morning. “Thou canst not tell,” has ever been the answer to my inquiry, “How can these things be?” Yet, if I did not see and hear, in some way, clearly and distinctly, what I hive described, I have been under a fatal delusion for more than fifty years; and if I should be driven to throw away what I saw that morning, and heard, too, I should sink in despair. The moment the vision appeared in sight I knew that Jesus was; on the right hand of the Father, though they appeared exactly alike, and I understood that it was for what Jesus had done that I could be forgiven. Almost at the same moment I understood, or was led to believe, that as God is immutable, he had loved me with an everlasting love, but had just now revealed it to me. The moment I saw and heard what I did, I began to say to myself, “Lord, I believe! - I am saved forever!” and such like expressions, and my joy was unspeakable and full of glory.

“Tongue cannot express
The sweet comfort and peace
Of a soul in its earliest love.”

I was within a few yards of the place to drop my load of fodder, and having just lost my load of guilt and trouble, I looked round over the creation as far as I could see. Everything appeared new, and seemed to be praising God. But I dare not ask space to further try to describe my feelings on that occasion, but feel to say— O, sacred place! O, hallowed spot!

Where love divine first found me,
Wherever falls my distant lot,
My heart shall linger round thee.”

After standing a few moments at the spot where I dropped my load of fodder, gazing on the beauties of creation, and rejoicing in the glorious plan of salvation, just revealed to me, I started back along a corn row a few steps, when the breakfast horn blew, one-half mile north, and it appeared to be entirely new and full of melody. In fact everything I could see and hear seemed to join with my happy soul in praise to the God of creation and redemption. I started for the house, along the public road, with a quick step, and felt like I could almost fly. I stretched the rope I had been using as long as my arms could reach each way and soon left my brother far behind, and wondering, no doubt, what was this matter with me. I greatly desired to do as Jesus said to one of old: “Go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.”— Mark v. 19, As I neared the house my father, who was the subject of the asthma, was sitting in the porch coughing, and seeing there was something unusual in my looks and movements, asked me, while I was yet ten or fifteen yards off, what was the matter with me. I seized him by the hand, exclaiming, “I have found the Lord precious to my soul, and he has saved me forever!” He called mother out, and such a time of thanksgiving and joy as we had in that porch is perhaps seldom witnessed at the return of a prodigal son. Two older sisters were weeping as we rejoiced, and younger ones of the family seemed to be perplexed and confused in mind at the strange conduct of their brother and their parents. I stepped into the room and opened father’s family Bible, and, strange to tell, it read like a new book! I had been searching the pages of a little Testament for weeks for some word of comfort, but could find none. All was condemnation and death! But now,

“When I read His holy Word,
I called each promise mine


I read and laughed, and rejoiced, and feasted, yea, I ate His words, and they were sweet to my taste. Whenever I came to the word “Jesus” my soul was set on fire and dissolved in love! He was now not only it Saviour, or the Saviour, but my Saviour! But I must not tarry here at this banquet, however rich the feast, lest I occupy too much space. Words are utterly too weak to describe the overwhelming joy and rapture of that hour, even if I should claim the space.

I went that day to our county seat to a meeting, to meet a young man or two who I believed were in trouble as I had been, intending to tell them just how to find peace and be happy. I soon met one of them and attempted to shew him the way; but to my utter astonishment I completely failed! He simply shook his head and turned away, the picture of despair. This was the last day of August, 1833, and about a month till the Baptists would hold their regular meeting at old Concord Church. I had of late been much among the Cumberland Presbyterians, and many of my young associates had recently joined them, but my mind, some how led me to desire to join the Baptists. I desired much to be baptized, and thus to honor my dear Lord and Master, and the time seemed long for me to wait, although I do not remember of having any serious doubts about my conversion during that month to mar my peace. I did not then believe I ever would doubt it, or ever would encounter any more trouble.

“I could not believe that I ever should grieve,
That I should ever doubt again.”


But, alas! I entirely forgot, during that season of joy and peace, that my Redeemer had said, “In this world ye shall have tribulation.” I have found this true, to my sorrow, for more than fifty years.

The fourth Saturday of September came, and the next day was the fifth Sunday. As I was needed at home, and was but a little over eighteen years of age, I did not ask father to let me go on Saturday, but on Sun day morning I requested my dear mother to tie up a bundle of clothes for me to put on after baptism: and as time distance was five miles, and the road hilly and rocky, and all the family could not go on horseback, I carried my bundle, and with a light heart soon reached the old meeting house. After old Elder Martin Utterback preached the door was opened, and I went forward and talked and cried awhile, and was received for baptism without a question asked of me. I was surprised at this, as I was so young, ignorant and bashful and told so little. We went directly to the water near by, and the old elder baptized me. I was the first one that was baptized in that little creek after several years, I believe, of lukewarmness in the church: but forty or fifty, I believe, followed within the next few months. I was about as happy as I could be, here in the body, when I came out of the water. But to add to the sacrednes and solemnity of this, to me, memorable day, we returned to the house and attended to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, following it with washing the saints’ feet. All these sacred things—the profession, the, baptism, the supper and feetwashing with the calmness and serenity of a clear September afternoon, all conspired to make my happiness about as near perfect as I could expect it to be this side of the full fruition of immortality! I would not that evening, if I could, have changed or altered anything that God had made. Worlds and oceans, and mountains, and gnats—all, all were right!

As to my call to the work of the ministry, if I ever was called, I might write much, and still more about my labors and trials since I began, but I shall try to be brief. I have often been asked by brethren and sisters how long I had been preaching, and I could not tell them, and I cannot now tell when I began to try to preach. Soon after I joined the church, though young, illiterate and bashful, my father would occasionally call on me to offer prayer in the family, especially when his cough bothered him. This was a great cross to me; and occasionally a preacher would call on me to open or close for him, which I sometimes did, but often refused. I sometimes felt so impressed to talk awhile that I would do so, but had no thought or intention of ever trying to preach. I was too ignorant and bashful to think of attempting such a thing. Being in a country poorly provided with schools, and having access to but few books, my education was very limited; but having a great thirst for information, I seldom spent an hour, when I bad an opportunity, without reading or writing, and soon was engaged to teach school. I was engaged at this business for several years during the winter, and in summer was at work on the farm. Not only did I feel the need of a knowledge of grammar, geography, etc., to enable me to teach these branches in my schools, but as I was frequently engaged in trying to compose poetry I felt the absolute need of some knowledge of the use of our language; and so I began to study some of these branches without an instructor, and have attempted, with some success, to teach them. I have felt the need of an education ever since I began to speak at all in the name of Jesus not to supply divine light, but to enable me to tell intelligibly what the Lord has taught me by his word and Spirit.

On January 22d, 1839, I was united in marriage with Miss Lucinda Lawson, of Hardin county, Ky., who was then a Baptist, and continues to be one. During that year I, and she also, belonged to Sinking Creek Church, in Breckenridge county, and the church that year declared non fellowship with the United Baptists, on account of their departure from the faith, and I unhesitatingly went with the church. I took some part frequently that year, as I had been doing, in speaking at meetings. The next year or two we were members of Union Church, in Hardin county, and I occasionally spoke some, but still having no idea of ever preaching. I had, it is true, many exercses of mind on the subject of preaching during these years of talking a little in public, and was frequently so distressed to see the inroads of errors and delusions among the people that I could scarcely sleep at times, and was hardly fit to attend to my secular affairs. In the fall of 1841 we located near my father’s, where I was born and reared, and by letter joined old Concord, where I was baptized. I continued to talk some in public, but often refused when called on; but not till February, 1844, did the church act in my case and grant me liberty, and urge me to exercise in her bounds. This distressed me wonderfully, an I felt determined that I would not, as I thought I could not, ever engage in the work, as I felt to be so utterly disqualified. I made no appointment of my own for two or three years, but would speak frequently, a few minutes at a time, before or after some one else. In about 1846 or ‘7 I took my first text, our pastor being present. It was, “Ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s build and I was so in the dark, and made such a complete failure, that I believed the brethren would never call on me again to speak in public. But they continued to encourage me, and in 1848, I think, the church gave me written license to go where I chose, and exercise as the Lord should lead me. My troubles now increased. I believed I never could be profitable to God’s dear children, for the work was too great for one so weak and illiterate, and I now had a little family to support, my land to clear, and I was poor; so I begged my Lord and Master to let me rest, and I groaned, and fretted, and trembled under the yoke and rod. Such texts as “Go ye into all the world and preach,” and “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel,” would come to me with awful Power; and I often besought the Lord to shew me in some way my duty.

During my trouble I had, among others, a remarkable dream. I was traveling, in my dream, through a dense forest, and suddenly came to an old waste field, grown up with briars, thorns and bushes, and the fences all gone. As soon as I entered I knew my business; for the Lord had a treasure hid in that field, and had given me a key to unlock it. The field was lull of people, all digging amid raking after said treasure, and were the most ragged and filthy people I ever saw. I passed straight forward to the centre of the field, the most of these people making ugly mouths at me, and deriding me; but a few of them looked at me with respect and reverence. God directed me straight to the spot where the treasure was, and as I stooped down to unlock it I awoke, and, behold, it was a dream! (See Malt. xiii. 44.)

I was not ordained till in May, 1853. The Elders officiating on the occasion were E. W. Keith, C. T. Meador, J. L. Fullilove, J. L. Kelley and B. S. Tabb.

In 1855 1 and my family came to Illinois, and settled on the prairies, near Macomb, McDonough county, where we yet reside. Our little churches are scattered far apart, and I attend four, generally monthly; three of them have been under my pastorate over twenty-five years. I travel fro four to six thousand miles a year, by train mostly.

Over twenty-two years ago I produced an abdominal hernia by a lift, and have ever since been unfit for manual labor, but am almost always blessed with a good appetite, and am able to go. Up to this day I feel to be a monument of mercy; a sinner saved by grace, if saved at all. I feel to owe to God and his people my humble and feeble ability the rest of my few days.

In 1867 I published 2,000 copies of a small hymn book, called “Pocket Hymns,” original and selected, and soon disposed of them, but have not been able to issue a second edition, though often requested to do so.

May grace, mercy and peace rest upon all that love our Lord Jesus Christ, world without end. Amen!

McComb, Ills.

ISAAC N. VANMETER

Last Updated ( Monday, 03 November 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.