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Written by John R. Respess   

From The Gospel Messenger 1892—1893

CHAPTER 1

I have been often asked to publish my experience, but have not done it, because there did not seem to be anything in it that would be profitable, even if I should be favored by the Lord to write it in a sincere and humble spirit. It was so little, and that little such a revelation of my depravity, that I was ashamed to do it, as well as loath to lose the respect of God’s people by doing it. But I now venture upon it, and “if I perish, I perish.”

I was born in Upson County, Ga., on Sunday, the second of October 1831. I was weak-nerved in childhood, and have been so all my life; and that is probably the reason I was religiously inclined as far back as I can remember. I was religious because I was afraid of death and, therefore, sang and prayed when thunder storms arose, and when I was sick or saw somebody buried. The thought of being nailed up in a box and being covered up and left alone in a deep hole in the ground was unspeakably horrible to me. In saying I was religious; I do not mean that I was better than other boys, for in some things I was probably worse than the common run of boys. For even in my childhood I was a day-dreamer; and growing older I began, in my youth, to indulge in unholy and filthy imaginations and desires, which grew, to some extent, into a habit, and became a torment to me, and has been, at times, more or less a torment to me all my life. It has been a thorn in my flesh, an iron-charioted Canaanite in the land, before I became a Christian, if I ever have, which I could not, and the Lord would not, drive out, though I have often, with tears, besought him to do it.—Judges ii. 22.

I was reared among slaves and never made to work, which contributed no little to my self-indulgence, impurity of thought and filthy dreaming. This infirmity seems to have been, to look at it naturally, the prime source of all my short comings and failures in life. I was dreaming at school, when I should have been studying. I was never greatly addicted to novel-reading, a species of idle dreaming that many indulge in until they become unfit for solid reading and study; but I preferred to dream out my own novels, in which I was generally the hero. Is it possible that a Christian and a minister, and a man of age and family, of many cares and responsibilities, should be so far given up of the Lord as to be let to indulge in such unholy waste of time. It has often made me cry out, 0, wretched man that I am! Whatever I may be, I would warn the young, and especially young Christians, against the sinful waste of time of indulging in idle and vain imaginations; for not only is it a waste of time, but sinful thoughts often beget sinful acts, and bring forth death. If this sin be indulged in, it will become a habit, growing with the indulgence until it becomes the master and you the slave, and like the poor inebriate, whose will power is destroyed by long indulgence, you will be bound with fetters of brass and left, as self-indulgent Samson was, to grind to your shame in the prison house of your enemies.— Judges xvi. Even so strong a man as Paul felt the necessity, from .a knowledge of his weakness, of keeping his body under, “lest by any means,” said he, “when I have preached to others I, myself, should be a castaway.” 1 Cor. ix.

It is often true that the boy is the father of the man—that is, that the man is like the boy was, as the tree is like the twig. As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined or bent. Take a little peach twig and keep it bent until it becomes a grown limb, and it can never be straightened again; or, take a little apple tree and bend it and keep it bent until it is grown, and you can never make a straight tree of it. Take a little boy and let him be an idle dreamer until he has matured into a settled man, and the chances are that he will be more or less that way as long as he lives, and even after he has become a Christian. It will be a thorn in his side, a grief and sorrow, and an enemy to struggle hard with as long as he lives. If he was an unrestrained, self-willed, selfish and hard-headed boy, these infirmities will attach more or less to him as a Christian, and no doubt often overcome him. They will be his weak points, and as the woodpecker makes his hole in the weak spot of the hollow tree, so does Satan attack the Christian in his weak spots. He will tempt him to do what he is most inclined to do.

I had a good father and mother, who cared for my morals and made me go to their meetings of Sundays. Sometimes my father had us children—two older sisters and I—to read in the Testament of nights. That was when I was about six years old. One night we read in Matthew xix. 24, where Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” and I was exceedingly amazed and alarmed about my father for he was a rich man for that day and in that community, and I could not see how he would be saved unless he became a poor man. My father was a feeble man, and often walked the hall for hours, uttering ejaculatory prayers, and at times wringing his hands, and it so distressed me that more than once I slipped off and prayed for him, promising the Lord that if he would spare my father that I would be a good boy. I loved my father and feared him, too, and always obeyed him and reverenced him as long as he lived. He died in my house in November, 1876.

I do not mean that I never did anything that I knew he would disapprove of, for I did. One Sunday, I and some negro boys slipped off to the creek a fishing; and I knew he would not have allowed it if I had asked him, and therefore stole off secretly while h was away, and I got bitten by a poisonous snake for my disobedience. Ed, the biggest boy, toted me home on his back, for I was a little fellow; and I plaintively asked Ed if he reckoned I would get well, and if h had ever known anybody bitten by a snake to get over it. But Ed gave me no comfort, saying that nobody ever “got over being bit by a blunt tail moccasin.” But the pain was so intense that I thought but little about death. After a long spell I got well, and was religious as before. I read the Testament often and rarely ever without more or less emotion, and especially of sympathy for Christ, and of prayer for myself; but my most earnest prayers were when my father or I got sick, or a thunder storm arose, and then I often got the Bible or hymn book and sang “Amazing Grace,” like my father did. From six to eleven years of age, I read the Scriptures a good deal for a boy, so that in that respect I was somewhat like Timothy.—II. Tim. iii. 15.

In those days the negroes talked a great deal about the world coming to an end; some man had set the day for it, then some months off, and the negroes believed it; and I was much alarmed and prayed more earnestly than ever before. I prayed the Lord to make me a Christian, for I was afraid of hell; and I began to fear that I should never be a Christian, and told-- a little boy, a cousin, one day that I wished “I had died when I was a baby, for then I could have been saved, but now I had got to be a sinner and can’t be saved.” I thought I was a sinner only because I did wrong, and had tried to do right and still kept doing wrong, so that there was but little prospect of heaven for me. I had no understanding of my natural depravity, nor of a Saviour for sinners, but only a Saviour for people clear of sin. I did not have that deep conviction for sin that many of God’s people tell of, and it has been a great trouble to me most of my life, and especially soon after I joined the church. I used to think then that if I had the conviction for sin that the brethren and sisters told of; that I would know that I was a Christian.

One Saturday, about this time, I went away off into the forest and got down under some crab-apple trees and prayed there the greater part of the day; and it seemed to me that I was enlightened in some way so that I knew something that I did not know before, but I did not know what it was. But the day passed and the world did not end. One day I was lying in on a sofa in the parlor reading John xx., where Jesus came after his resurrection to his disciples shut up in a room for fear of the Jews, and stood in their midst and said to them, Peace be unto you; and it seemed to me heard a voice speak the same words to me in my heart and it startled me so that I jumped up and looked around to see, and standing in the parlor door my heart felt soft and I shed tears of gladness. But there was no change in me, as far as I then knew, or know now.  I was still a sinner, and went further into sin as I grew older than before these words were spoken to me. The words remained with me, and do to this day.

When I was about thirteen years old, I was sent to my first boarding school, in a little village, and there I saw, for the first time, men playing cards; I was rooted to the spot and almost lost my breath at the enormity of the sin, as it seemed to me. But passing the store several times daily and seeing card-playing going on, I gradually lost my horror of it, so that before the year ended I had learned to play myself. How easily and insensibly the heart becomes hardened through the deceitfulness of sin! How often men and women are corrupted by pert sayings, such as “there is no harm in it,” and “there are worse things than that,” and as Satan corrupted our first parents, saying, “Ye shall not surely die.” In after years, when in college, I got to betting at cards, and would cheat, if I had a chance, and lie about the game, too. But I would not have believed when I first saw a game of cards, that I could ever have been led to that. Providentially, I never went far into it, for my father never allowed me the money; but I know of nothing that hardened my heart as betting at cards did. I learned these bad habits, and they grew upon me, and many a time have I gone to my room and swore most solemnly, upon my Bible, that I would sin no more, and then sin again and again.

When about sixteen years old, an uncle sent his son to the university and I wanted to go back with him, but my father was afraid for me to go; but I wanted to go, not so much for the education, but more to increase my vanity and self-importance than anything else; knowing that my father was against it, I began to beseech the Lord to make him willing to let me go, vowing to the Lord that if he would, that I would serve him faithfully when I got through college. I was full of promises in those days, promising to do things that I then thought I could do when I got ready. And it came to pass that I went with my cousin to college.

I had one prayer during my four years in college; that I prayed in my solemn moments (which were few and far between), and that prayer was, “Lord, if thou wilt, canst make me clean.”—Luke v. 12. When I had been guilty of some uncleanness, and was suffering remorse for it, I prayed that prayer. But I was only half in earnest, for while I wanted to be clean, I was not willing then to give up my carnal pleasures, or only such of them as injured my health or worldly aspirations. These I was anxious to be freed from, as the drunkard is from the habit of drunkenness, because it ruined his health and not because it was a sin against God. In this spirit I bound myself with oaths against secret sins, but, like the Gadarene with his chains, I always snapped them when the temptation presented itself. I was like the little boy who wanted to eat his cake and keep it too, and who knew that if he ate it that he would be sorry, but who could not be satisfied without eating, it. That was me!

When I prayed that prayer this question would present itself, Do you want to be clean now? or, in other words, Are you willing now to give the world up and serve the Lord? and the response would be, No, not now! but when I get through college, get my profession, marry and settle down in life, then I will be willing to give the world up and be able to live right and serve the Lord. It was as the evil day, to be put off as long as possible. And sad to say, I have, to this day, more or less of that self-same spirit about me; and, strange as it may seem, I have been glad when it rained the day I was to start to fill some appointment at meeting, because it gave me a lawful excuse to stay at home; and yet I wanted the peace of obedience, but drew back from the works of obedience. So I have often found myself, when oppressed with carnality and worldliness, crying to God for spiritual-mindedness, but drawing back from the suffering, sacrifice and self-denial attendant upon it; as if I expected an increased trust in God without the destitution, trials and helplessness, without which my trust could not be increased, and as if to reap in harvest without having plowed in the cold and sown in tears.

I knew I was a sinner, but was not afraid of hell since those words, “Peace be unto you,” had been spoken to me when I was a little boy. I was afraid of death, but not of hell. I frequently asked myself the question, If you should die, would you go to hell? and the response would be no; and the words, “Peace be unto you,” would flash into my mind, and they seemed to intervene between me and hell; and then I would ask, Would you go to heaven? and the response would be no, for I am not fit to go to heaven. I had not seen the ladder set up in earth that reached to heaven (Gen. xxviii.), or Christ as the Saviour of sinners; I thought he was the Saviour of good people, and I knew that I was not good.

I believe I will mention a couple of incidents that occurred with me just before leaving college. In the first, I had an experience of the end of times or how I would have felt had the end really come. There had late one afternoon, gotten into circulation among most of the students, a rumor of an insurrection of the negroes, but I had not heard of it and retired at my usual hour. About midnight, when I was sound asleep, a squad of students came noiselessly into my room with a light, to arouse me. I slept in a dormitory, and one of them came to my bed and whispered, touching me softly with his finger, “Respess, Respess; get up!” and I sprang up alarmed at seeing a light and hearing, as I understood, one of the boys say Resurrection! (he said insurrection). I felt sure that the end of all things was at hand, and I ran out to them, crying in horror, “What is the matter? what is the matter?” And they said, “The negroes are going to rise,” and I was so relieved that I said, “Is that all? Why, that is nothing!” and I felt, indeed, that it was nothing to the resurrection. It was a false rumor.

The other incident was this: One day I was exceeding sad and found myself shedding tears occasionally during the day, not knowing why; and that night I dreamed of being at home, and that my mother took me silently by the hand and led me to a room upstairs containing a coffin and left me. I felt sure that my sister Martha was dead, and leaving for home in a few days, I was met at the station by my brother, but I would not ask him how they all were, for I dreaded to hear it. He said nothing for two or three miles, but after a long while he said, “Sister Martha is dead!” She died about the time of my sad feelings.


CHAPTER 2

I graduated on the 4th of August, 1872, and married the same day. My wife’s name was Ella Nora A. Respess, and her mother was my second cousin. I was admitted to the bar and opened a law office right here in Butler, nearly forty years ago. My father gave me a good farm; my fields were fertile, and enclosed in rich hills of original forest—woods without “a stick amiss,” and almost as they were when the Indian, Esauhke, took his venison in them. I loved those grand old woods, and when a boy I often wandered over them alone, stopping here and there and gazing for hours at a time on the hills around me, and the valley below, through which the Oakchumpka, a good sized creek, wound its way. I wished no better company than the giant oaks, hickory and walnuts, stretching their limbs up toward heaven as if in praise and supplication to God. I built a house in the forest, on a gentle declivity, around the base of which the Oakchumpka ran its way until it escaped behind the hills. The small-pox broke out in Butler, and I fled from it, leaving my law books and all, expecting to return again and practice my profession, but God knew better than I did. I did, indeed, return again, after about thirty years, but not as a lawyer, but as a prematurely aged Primitive Baptist preacher.

We went to the farm and were happy. I loved my wife and she loved me. With gun and fishing-rod we spent a great deal of our first year on the farm in the woods and on the creek. It was an idle life, but a happy one. There was no curse upon earth to us then, for we had all that our hearts desired. Hardly could Adam and Eve have been happier in Eden than we were. My vows to God were all forgotten. As certainly as God ever gave me any good gift of this world he gave me my wife. I loved her before I ever saw her, and by our mutual love I have been enabled to understand, to some extent, the character of Christ’s love for the church. My wife loved me, and though she knew my weakness and depravity, it did not abate her love for me, because it was a love given from above. As for her, there was in my eyes, no spot in her; she was all fair. She is now in heaven; and the Lord gave me her sister, another good wife. Truly God has been good to me!

The first little cloud that arose on our earthly heaven was from a headache I began to have in the fall. I had it from day to day, and it grew worse until it culminated in the worst form of fever and ague. This clung to me like a leech for eighteen months, and left me almost ruined in health. The next trouble was the loss of our first born and then our only child, a little boy. This blow brought my wife to her knees before God. In the intensity of her grief she desired to die to be with her babe; and then it flashed into her mind that she could not go to her babe, because the babe was in heaven and she was not fit to go to heaven. And thus God began to deal with her, and continued until she was made to cease caring for the babe in the greater care for her own soul; and to desire to be prepared for heaven to be with Jesus. She was a member then of the New School Baptists, and had a strong prejudice against Primitive Baptists, because she had heard they drank whisky. One day, soon after we were married, she saw the late Eld. Dickey (now in heaven) take a dram at my father’s house, and she was much disgusted in seeing a preacher do such a thing. And one day at Ebenezer—my father and mother’s church —she saw the sisters in their old-fashioned bonnets and dresses, and that also disgusted her. But when the Lord humbled her and poured his love into her heart, Eld. Dickey and those dear old sisters were the ones of all the earth whom she loved, and at whose feet she felt to be. Oh, our dear Lord does indeed work wonders!

The chills and fever reduced me very low, permanently injuring my health, and I became very gloomy, for death was continually in my mind. One day I was talking to my brother James (long ago dead), who was a physician, and who, casually looking into my eyes said, “Why, what’s the matter with the pupils of your eyes; they are much enlarged; is anything the matter with your heart?” And that gave me a terrible fright, for I had believed for some time that my heart was diseased, but kept it to myself, not even speaking of it to my wife, that I remember. I became almost afraid to open a newspaper, lest I should find that some body had died suddenly with heart disease. I felt to be a doomed man, and I was miserable. And thus I began again to call upon the Lord. The burden of my prayer to the Lord was for life; that he would spare me; for I loved life and feared death; death was horrible to me. I did not want to leave my wife, for I loved her, nor to leave the world either, for I loved it. This was my prayer for several months, and was with me night and day; walking, sitting or riding, my cry to God was that I might live. And gradually I began to fear that the Lord would not hear me, and that I must die, so from necessity I was made to cry to God that if I must die that I might be made willing to die, and prepared for death and heaven. This prayer increased in intensity as I despaired of life, so that one day as I was riding through my plantation, with my head hung down in prayer, praying to be made willing to die, I suddenly experienced a mysterious, unexpected and wonderful change in my feelings. It was so sudden and unexpected that I could not understand it, and wished it all done over, so that I could understand it. I suddenly felt like I loved Jesus and every creature made in his image; I thought of the sot, lying outcast by the wayside, that I loved even him, because he was as a man in the image of Jesus. The fear of death for the moment fled away, and grace, I hope, reigned in my heart, and then, as I have said, I wanted to get back into the condition I was before this sudden and unexpected change, so that I could take better notice of how it came about; but I could not get back there. Then this scripture was presented to me: “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”—John v. 14. I felt like that meant that I should go to the church, and go at once. The next day I went to Eld. Dickey’s to talk to him about it, but he was not at home. On Saturday morning, a day or two after, I went again, and met him in the road, near the meeting-house, and it was meeting day. I talked with him, telling him my little exercises, and that I did not feel fit to join the church, but that it seemed to me that I had to do it, or to die. And he, good man that he was, encouraged me, and I remained at the meeting-house. It was unpleasant weather, in November or December, and the congregation was small. Bro. Dickey preached and I sat waiting, but not listening to his sermon.

I sat with such thoughts as these running through my mind: “You are here to join the church, but you are not fit to join for these are good people and you are not fit because you are ashamed to do it and if you were fit you would not be ashamed; but do it if you must or you will die or a worse thing will come upon you.”

I was a monster of depravity; my pride and vanity were a great host against which I had no might or power but my fear of death was stronger than my pride and prevailed against it, and this has been a trouble with me all my life for it seemed to me that I was impelled to obedience by fear of death and that the love of God and the church had nothing to do with it; and my obedience has seemed only Midianite against Midianite—one unclean spirit against another, fear against pride—and thus I got into the church destitute of the right spirit. It was different than my sainted wife, for when she joined the church she was so filled with the Holy Ghost at the time, that nit a wave of trouble rolled across her peaceful breast; and it was so with her for several days.

When Brother Dickey closed his sermon the door of the church was opened and a long hymn was sung and the last two lined repeated before I could drag my sinful self up to the bench at the pulpit to talk with a stony heart to those compassionate people who received me into the church. The next day was a stormy one and but few were at my baptism and I was glad of it for I did not want anyone to see me baptized. Can it be possible that I am not a Christian? If I am saved I am sure that it can only be by pure naked unadulterated grace. I had no special joy when I was baptized and others seem to have and that troubled me. My impressions were to join the church and baptism was but a step to that end.

About three weeks afterward I had a feeling of this sort—that I had done my duty and that was all. The day I joined the church, on my return home, when near my garden, I suddenly felt like I would drop dead, as the thought of preaching flashed through my mind for that it seem to be more than I could bear. “If” I thought, “I could be a member like my father and my uncle Worthy, and go to meeting once a month that I could bear that, but to be going to meeting all my life and always studying about religion was too hard and a punishment I could not bear. And to be an Old Baptist preacher at that! Was there ever such an unsubdued sinner before who claimed a hope? I am trying my best to make an honest confession. When I got into the house I was ashamed to tell my wife what I had done; for I knew that knowing me as she did, I could not thing that she could have any confidence in my religion, and that she would be sorry I had done it. Finally however, looking off from her not daring to look her in the face, I told her and to my surprise she threw her arms around my neck exclaiming, “Oh, I am so glad!”

Now my troubles began and have not ended to this day. There was an old deacon, Mansel Hammock, now in glory, who often closed the meetings with good talks to the church and to the young people, especially young Christians. I had heard him tell about how he felt it was his duty when he had joined the church to say grace at the table and to read the scriptures and pray with his family an it impressed me very much. And it was with me in trying to say grace at my table like it was with Moses taking the serpent into his hands; it seemed to me to be the hardest thing I had ever undertook though there was nobody present but my wife. I said my father’s grace, which was but a short one but it did seem to me that it took a half hour to say it, and I would not have been surprised when I raised my head up if I had caught my wife laughing at me.

But I was mighty needy, and had an old Negro brother named Jerry to come into my house many a night and pray for us after I had read a chapter in the Testament. I felt like I ought to pray myself but I could not do it. One night, after having for several nights read a chapter or two to my wife my heart failing me; I that night after reading said, “Nona, let us try to pray,” and we knelt down and I said, “Lord have mercy upon us,” and burst into tears, and she cried and that was all I said ands we got up. That was my first attempt at prayer with my wife.

I got me a pocket Testament, and it was my constant companion; I read it in the fields, down in the gullies on my knees, for I had began to doubt the truth of the doctrine of election, and was crying to God while reading, to show me the truth; and that if it was not true to show it to me; and if I was not a Christian, to show it to me and make me one; and that if the Old Baptists were not the true church to show it to me and give me grace to go to the true church. For when I went to meeting and the preacher preached the doctrine of election, I did not love the doctrine; it seemed to be unfair not to give all a chance to be saved. And then the good old brethren would say, when such sermons were preached, “What a comforting sermon we have had to-day,” but it was no comfort to me. So one day I told old Bro. Hammock that I was not fit to be in the church, and that I wanted him to have my name blotted out of the book; and that I feared the Old Baptists were getting to be like other denominations, ready to take in anybody, for they must have known when they took me, that I was not fit. I was very miserable, for while talking and thinking as I did, I was continually studying about preaching, feeling that I had to preach. And again, when the preachers told their big experiences, it would make me feel like I had no Christian experience at all; and I was audacious enough one day to ask a preacher, in the simplicity of my heart, if he did not exaggerate his experience when he was telling it; and it made him mad, and he cut me up, saying “if his was as little, as mine, he might wish to do it.” All these things were against me.


CHAPTER 3

I had thought, before I joined the church, that I believed the doctrine of election, when I thought about it at all, which was very seldom, for I had never been concerned about it. The matter that concerned me was my condition as a sick and alien sinner before God. And I doubt very much if any sinner, at his first quickening, is concerned about doctrine. The sick man’s concern is his health, the deaf man his hearing, the blind man his sight; the thirsty man’s concern is water, and the hungry man’s is food. It was Ruth’s hunger and poverty that prompted her gleaning in the field of Boaz, and Naaman’s leprosy that immersed him in the waters of the Jordan. But when I heard our ministers preach it, and the old brethren rejoice in it, it seemed to cut me off from them and cast me out as unworthy of being among them; for I could not rejoice in it, and felt, therefore, as one being where I had no business, like the man without the wedding garment, because when the brethren rejoiced I was speechless.—Matt xxii.

And it seemed to me that I was a hypocrite—one professing to believe something that I did not believe, or at least a doctrine that I did not love, but rather disliked. Bat I think I was sincere in my desire to know the truth, and sought it diligently with my whole heart; sought it in reading and in prayer, day and night. And singular as it may seem, notwithstanding my enmity to the doctrine of election, and my constant prayer to God to show me the truth, and the true church, that I might go to it, if the Old Baptist was not the church. in all these conflicts, preaching was in my mind all the time, and I was promising the Lord after each meeting, that if he would spare me to the next meeting that I would say something in the way of preaching; but what it was I had to say I did not know, but I was impressed that I had to say something or die. I talked with preachers in a covert way, to find out how they had been exercised about preaching, but I could not find one who had been exercised as I then was. Most of them had something to say—something that would not let them hold their peace—but God’s word was in their hearts as a burning fire shut up in their bones, and they were weary of forbearing and could not stay from speaking it.—Jer. xx. But I had no word, but an impression only that was tormenting me day and night. Surely I was the most destitute of all who had ever spoken in His name! I had no revelations about doctrine or order, and though I had been well educated, I was as ignorant of the doctrine and order of the church as a negro. I remember one day, soon after I had joined the church, that old Bro. Madison Middlebrooks, now at rest, asked me how long I had had a hope, and I did not know what he meant, I was so unfamiliar with the language of God’s people. Still I was in the church. But I was in dead earnest, and thought of little else than religion, and did little else than read the scriptures and pray. And although I had so revolted at the idea of preaching, I was glad one day when a preacher intimated to me that I would have to preach; I was glad of it, because I believed that if I had to preach, that I would not die; and it seemed to me, at times, that I was willing to do anything that I might live. I have heard of preachers, who wanted to die to keep from preaching, but with me, I was willing to preach to keep from dying—I was that much more carnal than they were, and they were that much better than I was. And I am glad of it; it does me good to know that there are many who love God better than I do, and have a greater reverence for his holy name. I thank God! And I remember that I had this sort of a thought when it was intimated to me that I would be a preacher, and that I would be an able preacher because of my education, and a credit to the denomination. I am ashamed of it, but it is true. But there was another time—bless God for his mercies!—that I felt differently. We had buried a little babe, a month old, and there were but a few present, and most of them negroes, and they buried him for me, and I felt whilst they were covering him up in the ground, that I was not worthy that they should do me such a kindness, and that I was willing and preferred to be the least of all God’s people; to be on the ground, so to speak, to be walked over—in a word, at their feet. And God knows that that is my preference to this day, and I believe it is my place, and in it I pray to stay while I live in this world.

I had promised and promised and failed to do what I had promised the Lord to do, if he would spare me to the next meeting, until it seemed that I could go no further. It seemed to be so hard to do—to have to say something without having anything to say—that I could not do it. And besides, I did not know how to start about it, so I went one Sunday to Mt. Carmel, in Crawford County, Ga., and thought I would ask Eld. Cromwell Cleveland, then the pastor of the church, and now in heaven, to give me an opportunity, but my heart failed me. I could not do it and returned home with my unfulfilled vows upon me. That day Bro. Cleveland asked me to take dinner with him, and I was hungry, and had ten miles to go, but I would not stop to dinner for fear that he would ask me to say grace.

Soon after that I went on Sunday to Bethlehem Church, Upson county, Ga., then served by Eld. Dickey; and I felt that day that if I did not say something that I would never get home again alive. I sat during Bro. Dickey’s sermon with these thoughts going through my mind: “This is your last opportunity, and if you fail to speak to-day you will die.” I had gotten two or three verses of scripture by heart to start with, and thought I would say them. I sat and suffered, and my agony no tongue can tell. It seemed to me that my chest contracted until it was not thicker than my hand; my feet were cold, and a cold sweat spread over my body; my face felt pinched and drawn, and my mouth and tongue were dry, and my breath short and faint. I did not hear a word, as I remember, of Bro. Dickey’s sermon, but when he got through—revered be his memory!—he threw the hymn-book into my lap and said “close.” I got up and talked, I know not what, and sung and prayed. I returned home happy, and thought my troubles were over.

The next Saturday was the regular meeting day at Ebenezer, my own church; and after preaching, Eld. Dickey, the pastor, stated in conference to the church that he believed that they had a gift among them. I did not know what he meant by having a gift, nor what a gift was, so ignorant was I of the ways of God’s people. But I soon found out that he meant that I had a gift of some sort and that the church should give me opportunity to exercise it when I felt to do it. The next day he called me around to the pulpit door and asked me into the pulpit; and it amazed me that I should be asked to go into such a holy place as I then deemed a pulpit to be. I would not go in, but after Eld Dickey got through preaching and he called upon me, I made an Arminian speech to the congregation. I felt when I got through that my tongue and lips were paralyzed, and that evening I told my brother to drive me home fast, for it seemed to me that I would die before I got there. My tongue felt dead, and my lips also, and I took to my bed for 3 weeks, and suffered beyond description. I had no pain at all; indeed a pain would have been a relief; but I was down in the depths, and the waters went over my soul. I got so I could walk the floor of my room, and it seemed to me that all that kept me from dying was in being willing to die, and that I would be saved if I did die. Then did this verse roll sweetly through my mind:


How sweet the name of Jesus sounds

    In a believer’s ears,

It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,

    And drives away his fears.


I got up and went, as I sometimes hope about my Father’s business, at which I have been ever since, and can adopt the verse of another song, and say:


Here I raise my Ebenezer,

    Hither by thy grace I’ve come.


I began to speak in public, but knew nothing at all of doctrine. It seems to me that I must have been brought into the house of God as Samuel was, before I knew God in doctrine, and have learned what little I know since I joined the church. Samuel was brought in by his mother’s faith, and the church has been to me a patient and indulgent mother and has borne much with me, God bless her! I think I have realized the truth of Christ’s word in John vii. 17, to some little extent, where he said “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me, and if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”


CHAPTER 4

I think it was in 1858 that the church at Marshalville called me to her service, requesting Ebenezer Church, where my membership was, to have me ordained if found fit. Elds. Cromwell Cleveland, John Dickey and Samuel Bentley were requested by Ebenezer Church to act as presbyters in setting me apart to that high and solemn work. I did not feel qualified for ordination, and think to this day that I was ordained several years too soon, if I ever ought to have been ordained at all; but at the same time I know that the elders who ordained me were better and more faithful men than I have ever been. I asked the church to make the day one of fasting and prayer in my behalf, which was not done, but I tried myself to fast, both in soul and body. I wanted to be right, and hope that I had the same manner of spirit that Esther had when her time came to go in unto the king. When her turn came she wanted nothing but what the king’s chamberlain appointed (Esther ii). That is, while she could not help desiring the high place to which she was called, and feeling that a great deal, in fact that her all depended. upon her getting it, yet at the same time, she did not want it if she had not been called to it by the right spirit; nor was it in me, if I am not deceived, to have the name of a minister of Christ without the spirit of Christ. Esther was deeply conscious of her unworthiness and unfitness for the high calling to which she aspired; she could not hide it from herself that she was—an impoverished Jew and a captive slave, and made so by her own sin and the sins and disobedience of her people. She realized the almost infinite distance between her low and despised estate and the throne of, the mighty king whose queen she aspired to be; and no doubt felt that her aspiration to be his queen was as presumptuous and impossible as would be the aspiration of an ignorant negro slave to be president of the United States. But she could not put it down; she could no more free herself of it than the distressed mother could of her anxiety for her wretched child who sought Jesus on the coast of Sidon, crying to him in face of her own unworthiness, the silence of Jesus, the discouragement of his disciples, still crying, “Lord, help me!”—Matt. xv. And of all the fair young virgins aspiring to that lofty position, she was the only Jew of them all; the only one conscious of her poverty and unworthiness from sin, and the only one who felt that she could not live without that which it seemed impossible for her to get. She was doubly needy, and yet with this knowledge she wanted nothing except that which was appointed her. Now, I am not certain that I had that spirit, for if I was I should be certain that I was a. called minister of Christ and a Christian, for that spirit is of God. And I have, therefore, never been able to understand why any member of the church, who was a Christian, should thrust himself into the ministry whom God had not called to the work. Because if God has called him, some of God’s people will know it as certainly as Mordecai knew of and encouraged Esther’s aspirations; and they will be concerned with him about his work as Mordecai was about Esther, “and he walked every day before the court to know how Esther did and what should become of her.” The member in God’s Spirit requires, like Esther, nothing save that appointed for him by the Lord; and in that spirit no man will call himself, nor will members or ministers call him to preach. In that spirit the church will be in peace, unity and Love. God’s ministers, in that spirit, will not. seek their own exaltation, knowing that “he who exalteth his gate seeketh destruction.”—Prov. xvii.

My two years’ service to the Marshallville Church was, I honestly believe, very poor, and of little if any profit to anybody, in the church or out of it; and the church became extinct in a few years. There were but few members, but they were good people, and would have gotten on as well, perhaps, without my service as with it.

If there were any spiritually sick folks attending my ministry there I never knew it, for none ever sought remedy of me; and if there had been any doctrinally sick ones, it would have been beyond my faith or ability to heal them; in that respect, I was a sick man myself, and would therefore, have been to them a physician of no value. My preaching then, if it ever has since, would not have strengthened the ankle bones of the doctrinally lame man at the gate, and have lifted him up and made him stand on his feet and leap for joy, because I had no doctrinal strength myself to impart to him. And that is why I have thought I was ordained too soon.

But notwithstanding that, I have thought that it was there that the spirit of the Lord first began at times to move me as a minister. Having scriptures on my mind as a text for sermons was something that, before then I had had no experimental knowledge of, but within those two years I had two or more such texts from which I tried to preach. I do not mean that I did not try to preach from other scriptures, but if I did I generally preached as if I had taken these texts. The first time I tried to preach from these scriptures—the first in Deuteronomy, xii chapter, viz.: “What thing soever I command you observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto nor diminish from it,” and the other in connection with it from Matt. V: “For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no ease enter into the kingdom of heaven”—it seemed to me that a ray of light penetrated my darkened mind, and that my eyes were opened to things I had not before thought of, not that I saw clearly, but enough to see that I could see a little. It was the dawning, so to speak, of what was made plainer and plainer as I grew in grace and the knowledge of our Lord. The sin of Israel was in adding to God’s command, and it was a worse sin if possible, than diminishing from it; because it blinded their eyes, making them believe that they were verily doing. God service when in fact they were doing evil. It was a sin that inflamed their self-righteousness and self-dependence, separating them further and further from God or the kingdom of heaven, so that in Christ’s day, publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of God before the Pharisees, with all their ceremonial and traditional righteousness; and they trusted in themselves and despised others.—Luke xviii. They were, exceedingly zealous in establishing their own righteousness--the righteousness of tradition or the commandments of men. They even had a mission system, and compassed sea and land to make proselytes, and made. them two fold worse than they themselves were, for they grafted their own vices into the vices of the heathens. And while some of them were sincere, like Paul was, time great body of them were no doubt hypocrites; for such religion can but, in time main, promote hypocrisy because it is conceived in sin and disobedience to God. They were ostentatious in their alms and paraded their sanctity on the street corners to be seen of men and further their carnal purposes. The rich Pharisee who boasted in the temple of his religious excellency and thanked God that lie was better than other men, and no doubt contributed largely in compassing sea and land for proselytes, if he was not the identical man, he was of them who, while giving of their means to proselyte foreigners, suffered their own sick brother Lazarus to starve to death at the rich man’s gate. And may it not be true in this very day that men give money that they owe to save heathens, and thus oppress the poor at their own gates.

Adding to God’s command enslaves the church to the world. And this God had warned them of, commanding them that they should not go aside from any of his words to the right hand or to the left; and the Lord shall make thee the head and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath.— Dent. xxviii.

To add to God’s command is to borrow from the world, and the borrower, God teaches, is servant to the lender (Prov. xxii), and thus the church is made subject to the world, and the wisdom or commands of God are subordinated and put under the wisdom and commandments of men; and the church is beneath and not above—the tail and not the head. But in obeying God she should lend unto many nations, but should not borrow from them. And Israel had no grounds whatever to resort to the world for anything; for God had redeemed her from Egyptian slavery, and wonderfully displayed his power and love in opening a passage for her in the sea; and had guarded, fed and preserved her in the wilderness, giving her food from heaven in the desert, and water from the flinty rock; and in tempest and darkness published to her his law from heaven, so that she had good statutes and commandments, such as no other people on earth ever had; and had by his own power, put her in possession of the best of the lands— a land of corn, and wine, and oil, of valleys and hills, whose stones were iron, and out of whose mountains you might dig brass. There was nothing lacking to her. And now in the face of all his wonderful works for her, and the blessed favors he had given her, to turn from his commands, in which was the wisdom of God, to the commands of men, was the basest ingratitude, and worthy of the severest punishment of heaven. It was to honor man above God; to honor men who knew not God in his goodness and mercy as they did, and set their wisdom against his; it was to call men master when God only should be their master; to call men father when God alone was their father, as they had experienced. It was, in short, to become servants of men, and confess that man’s wisdom was superior to God’s wisdom.

And this is what the religious world in this day has done; they have innovated, so to speak the sanctuary of God with the traditions and commandments of men; they have set up institutions for which there is no authority in God’s word, and, like the Pharisees, have set aside God’s command by their traditions. They have instituted religious schools to teach Christ’s religion as if it were but a natural science, and in this have perverted God’s order; for the parent is the divinely appointed instructor of the child in morals, because no other person has or can have the same interest in the child that the parent has; nor can the parent shift that responsibility from his own shoulder upon somebody else. It is in the family circle that the child should be trained, and to destroy the family government is, in the long run, to destroy good government among men.

Societies are formed, and often secret ones, to do what God’s grace alone can do, and to supply the lacks of his grace; and even men who have experienced God’s grace enter into these secret societies, and join in even with unbelievers to secure for themselves that which they will not trust God for. It is a reproach to God. These societies are formed as means of grace, and to do things which Christians should do as obligations of grace, and thus to the honor and glory of God. Do we believe Christ? We say we do; do we believe him when he says he has numbered the hairs of our heads, that lie knows what we need, and that a sparrow does not die without him, and that certainly we shall not; because we are more value than many sparrows? Do we believe this doctrine of Christ when we join in with unbelievers in oath-bound societies to secure from men and their wisdom and love, favors and mercies that God will not give us? What can be a worse denial of the faith!

Thus, it began to dawn upon my mind that the Old Baptists, though a comparatively illiterate people, were endowed with a wisdom higher than all mere worldly wisdom; a faith that enabled them to stand steadfast with God against the innovations and additions to God’s order, prompted by the wisdom of the world; and that, though they were charged with ignorance in opposing these things, that it was the wisdom of trust and confidence in God’s word, power and purposes. They were wise in requiring “a thus saith the Lord” for their faith and practice. It is a hidden wisdom to the wisdom of the world, and revealed only to those made babes in worldly wisdom and strength. God does hide himself from natural wisdom, and, search as it may, it cannot find him out; he hides himself from it even in revealing his truth in those in whom the wise world would least expect to find it. True, it was, and yet is, that Christ was and is now in the world, and the world knoweth him not; because the world will never look for the wisdom of God in a manger, unless guided thither by the star or wisdom of heaven; because no natural light can ever reveal the babe in the manger.

About this time I had some sort of prompting to leave my native county of Upson and take up my abode in the piney woods of Schley county, about forty miles south of where I was then living. Looking back at that time flow, it does seem to me that I must have been spiritual; for it was not to make money that inclined me to go, but to get where the people were poor and more spiritual. I wanted to get where I could live an humble and obscure life, and bring my children up to humble farm labor among God’s humble poor people. I was not then tempted with worldly aspirations, for I really cared little for the world, only I wanted better health and a long life.

So I left the hills and valleys I loved, and the associations of my childhood and youth, and landed on Buck creek, in Schley county, about Christmas in 1859. My first year in Schley county was in 1860, and in 1861 the war began.


CHAPTER 5

Phillippi church was within less than three miles of where we settled in Schley county, and I and my wife were received by letter into that church, of which we remained members for about twenty years. Eld. James Murray was then the pastor of the church, and continued pastor until he removed, after the civil war, to Brooks county, Ga. He was a humble man, a sincere Christian and a good minister, and died a member of Phillippi church, for he returned in a few years to Schley county. I saw him close his eyes in death. He was dear to me for more than one reason. He more than once, as I believe, appeared to me as an angel from heaven strengthening me.—Luke xxii. 43. At one time when I was sick and very low with fever, so low, in fact, that my life was despaired of, and the report had gone out that I was dead; in that hour of gloom and darkness Bro. Murray came to see me, bringing with him a message from heaven. After sitting solemnly near my bed for a few minutes, he said: “Bro. John, you are not going to die now, for the Lord showed it to me to-day while I was praying for you.” And I believed him; it seemed to me the same as if the Lord had said it to me. I could not help believing it any more than the marchers around the walls of Jericho could help shouting when the Lord bade them shout. And it strengthened me in mind and body, and I soon got well. Now I am that much of a believer in faith cure.

I said in the close of my last chapter that the civil war began in 1861, and so did my spiritual warfare. I should not say, perhaps, that it began then, for I had had conflicts before, but that it began then in real earnest. The civil war was terrible but it ended in about four years, but my warfare has continued increasing in intensity until this present hour, and I am often made to say, in a spiritual sense: “I both hunger and thirst and am naked and buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place.”—l Cor. iv.

My health was very poor and seemed to grow worse, and as a remedy for it I set to work in the field and continued at it until I broke, in about three months, completely down. One day after dinner, when going to the field where the “hands” were at work, I had, all of a sudden, am indescribable feeling, a feeling as if I was dying, but with no pain at all. It seemed as if I was as light in my head as a feather, and would fall, or as if everything had suddenly stopped and my blood stood still. I think it was a light stroke of paralysis, for I did not get over it in several years.

I became more gloomy and despondent, with my mind almost constantly on death, of which I had an increased horror. And the war then on hand added to my spiritual troubles, for I was opposed to it, and it grieved me sorely to see Primitive Baptist ministers buckling on armor and advocating the shedding of human blood. It seemed to me to be so contrary to the teaching of Christ that I was made to doubt if there was any truth in the earth or not. And for nearly a year I had one text from which I preached upon almost every occasion, and that was, Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and stay on horses and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen because they are very strong; but they look not unto the holy one of Israel, neither seek the Lord.”—Isa. xxxi. It seemed to me that the old Baptists, even in this civil strife, were not looking unto the Holy One of Israel; and other people I did not expect to look to Him, but that they would rely upon horses, horsemen and chariots for success in the war, as they relied, upon their own strength, wisdom and efforts in religious matters. My father and brothers were advocates of the war, and I seemed to be almost alone; and when it began I aided the poor and needy all I could, and that was a great deal. But still I preached, “Woe unto them that go down to Egypt for help;” and have lived to see my prophesy verified. For it was given me to know how the war would end before it began. The number of our young men that perished in the bloody strife will, perhaps, never be accurately known, for in my own neighborhood there were but few left. And the trials of our people in the South, their destitution and poverty, the broken up and impoverished families, the heart-broken fathers and mothers, wives and children brought in their old age and helplessness from opulence to destitution, would, if it were possible, bring tears from a stone. God bless their children, and may those of them that were left of the sword find grace in the wilderness.—Jer. xxxi.

I will mention a little incident of my life at that time that may seem silly but it wrought much in me to the good of others. I had been for my health to the Indian Springs, and was returning home after leaving the railroad in my carriage, a distance of about forty miles, and late in the afternoon, about sundown, when within three miles of home, the driver carelessly drove the horses against a precipitous bank washed in the road, and the horses, two spirited ones, balked, and threatened to overturn the carriage. I was very feeble, and my wife helped me out and I lay down on the ground, panting in sheer exhaustion, to await the righting of things, and darkness drew on whilst I lay there wondering if I should live to get home. And I thought of the scripture that says, All things work together for good, etc., and if I loved the Lord how was it for my good to be in the condition I was then in; and it occurred to me that it was to teach me something, to teach me to do something that I ought to do that I had not done. Just on the hill, near where I was, a poor widow woman lived in a cabin, and she was a Baptist; and I thought it may be for her good that I was stopped there; and I resolved that I would venture in the way indicated by giving her, the next day, two bunches of cotton yarn, and I sent them to her the next day, I think. I was part owner of a cotton factory, and the people were in great need, universally, for thread to make clothing, as they were cut off from buying it, having neither the money to buy nor access to goods to buy. From that little incident began the supplying and giving away of thousands of cotton yarn to the people of that country round about.


CHAPTER 6

I was kept humble by sickness, and have looked upon it as a grace, for without it I do not know what would have become of me. My trials, though mostly of a natural sort, had a tendency to make me spiritual; and whether I loved the Primitive Baptists or not, I had confidence in them and could hardly have been made to believe in those days that one could knowingly do wrong. But I have found out from my own experience that if left to himself a Primitive Baptist is like Samson with his hair shorn, and has no more strength than any other man.

I had the opportunity and the means during the war to have made great sums of money; for, as I have said, it was given to me to know how the war would end. I knew that the Confederate currency would in any event be worthless, and that slavery would be abolished and our wealth destroyed, and that all that we should have at the end would be such property as represented labor. I knew that cotton would be valuable and of increased value on account of its scarcity, and I had means to have bought thousands of cotton and land, for I had almost unlimited sums of Confederate money at command. But I did not do it; because the knowledge I had was given me as a trust that should not inure to my own pecuniary benefit, nor be used to the detriment of others. Like David in the wilderness, who was not allowed to harm the flock of even the churl Nabal, but rather was made to protect it, so I was not allowed to get rich and build up on the downfall of others. Christ was poor, but could have made millions of money and could teach us to make it, to know where the diamond lies hidden and where the vein of gold is, and if it were for our good he would do it. The apostles were poor, but they could have made millions of money from the knowledge they had, by raising the dead and curing the sick and blind; but they did not use the knowledge God had given them for such unholy purposes; but on the contrary, with all the knowledge and power they had, they went in suffering and poverty all their days.

This is Christ’s teaching or doctrine just as much as election and predestination are, and in this age of covetousness should as much command our solemn consideration. If any age in the past history of mankind was ever more given to greed after money than this age, it was an age of gross darkness indeed and one most awfully forsaken of God. I have before me a lecture of a very learned and able man, John Brisben Walker, titled The Church and Poverty, in which he tells of a very rich orthodox New England Christian (!) who said to a newspaper reporter on the completion of a large work out of which he is said to have made millions: “We have been peculiarly favored by Divine Providence; iron was never so cheap before, and labor has been a drug in the market.” That so-called Christian presuming to say that God had conspired with him in getting the labor of the poor at such starvation rates for the purpose of making him rich! In the middle ages when the Roman Catholic church dominated the world, he says the bishops chanted songs of praise to God for the victorious return of mailed thieves from expeditions of plunder, arson and murder. And in this age, when wealth combines to plunder the poor and reduce their wages so low that they can hardly rear their children respectably and above want, shall Christians engaged in such plunder and oppression dare to say that they have been favored in it by Divine Providence?

But what remedy have God’s poor people against this oppression of wealth? Shall they combine with alliances against them, and do themselves what they condemn others for doing! We should hear what God the Lord speaks, and he says my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. (Jas. ii.) Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. “If thou seest the oppression of the poor and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter, for he that is higher than the highest regardeth.”—Ecc. v. None of these things can come without God’s permission, and he will permit nothing save that which shall work in the long run for the good of his people. I have no doubt but that I was covetous, and it is a sore plague. I believe I was, because this scripture was impressed upon my mind for years, “For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth and smote him;” I felt that it applied to me personally and I desired to he freed from it, for it was a captivity from which I could not free myself; and it is at times a bondage to this day almost as sore as the bondage was to the Jews in Egypt. But I was comforted in the latter part of the sentence, “I have seen his ways and will heal him.”—Jsa. lvii. I hoped that God would be merciful to my unrighteousness, and that is my hope now. It is a sore disease, and Christians afflicted with covetousness can be but sickly Christians, and steeped in sleep almost as one steeped in alcohol. But I was always liberal with my money when I had it, to the poor, and especially to ministers. And if I have become poorer for Christ’s sake it is well; but that it is for Christ’s sake I do not know, in fact I doubt it very much. One friend told me one day when I had been saying that what I had was the Lord’s and to be used as his word directed, and when I had been giving something to one perhaps unworthy of it, he said, “You see if the devil’s children don’t get some of the Lord’s money that you have got.” And I reckon people did impose on me, but I cast it upon the waters and am content to leave it as it is. I had a struggle of course to keep the trust committed to me; I had strong temptations to make money when I could make it so easy. One day’ a large investment was offered me of over thirty thousand dollars, and I desired to make it; I tried to pretend to myself that I ought to do it for my poor kin and poor brethren; and I counseled with some brethren about it, and they encouraged me in it not seeing anything wrong in it. But I did not feet right about it, for there was something in me that seemed to forbid it. But I counseled with brethren as we do when we desire to do something that we feel Like we ought not to do; as a minister might advise with his brethren about going to the Legislature, and in heart felt like ho ought not to do it, but wanted them to encourage him to do it; and generally he gets what he wants; they tell him to “go up and prosper;” that we ought to have good men to make laws for us, and all that sort of carnal talk, and thus they may be separated from the service of the churches and made eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. I thought about it and prayed about it, as if trying to get the Lord to consent to my covetousness. It is almost a wonder that I was not smitten to death; but instead, the Lord showed me the right way about it; for with a desire to know I opened the Bible for instruction and this scripture was given me with power, “Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and men servants, and maid servants?”—2 Kings v. I felt delivered and as if I had escaped from a snare. Remembering these mercies in the past, I am made to hope that I may be a Christian after all; for would the Lord have shown me these things and then kill me or destroy me in the last day?

It was in those days, about ‘61, I think, that the Lord led me into some little understanding of the Book of Ruth, as I have sometimes hoped. This verse in the third chapter was going at intervals through my mind for a week before our regular meeting at Philippi: “Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.” It came and went as one intently engaged at work in laying off, say, a straight line, or carefully smoothing a plank, would at the same time, almost unconsciously, repeat a line of poetry, or hum a song. It left no impression on my mind, save that I knew it had come and gone, and returned again, and again, and went again, and again. I did not meditate upon it, and saw no sense in it. When meeting day came, Eld. Murray asked me if I would preach, saying, ‘Have you any Scripture on your mind’? and as I began to say no, “Sit still my daughter, etc.,” came darting, so to speak, to my mind. I arose with great fear and trembling to speak in the name of the Lord. I was certainly before the Lord as an empty blank,” for I knew not one word to say. But I read the text, and began to speak, and thoughts and words came rushing out of my heart that I had never dreamed were in me. My mind was illuminated, and my heart was filled with love to God and confidence in his word and purpose. It seemed strange to me that the brethren and sisters, and even the weakest of them knew the truth that I was preaching as I uttered it, for I thought it was brand new, and I had found it out first; but I saw that they had understood it before I had. I did not speak as if uncertain of its being true, but felt assured as our father Jacob did, when he carried the savory meat in to his father, Isaac, who, asking him how he got it so quickly, replied: “Because the Lord thy God brought it.” So I felt assured that the Lord had brought it to me; it was an experience to me.

In those days when a sermon was given me in that way I could afterwards write it out pretty much as I had preached it. And what few sermons I have preached in my ministry of now over thirty years, have been given me more or less in that way; for, though I have read the Scriptures a great deal, and in those days I read scarcely anything else of a religious sort, lest my faith should stand in the wisdom of man and not in the power of God, I have never studied up a sermon to preach. But I think there is danger in relying at all times upon everything that may come to us in that way, because we may be impressed by a spirit that is not of God; and, therefore, what we preach should always be tested by the Word of God. And thus God was beginning to answer my prayer to him to teach me the truth, and whether the Primitive Baptists were his people or not; and he has so led me and taught me, if I am not deceived, that it is as much a part of my experience that the Primitive Baptists are his true people, and that the doctrine they believe is God’s truth, as that I am a Christian; so that I am assured that if their doctrine is not true that I am not a Christian. And, therefore, I have by grace held on my way and have grown stronger and stronger in belief of the truth, and can believe nothing else but what they teach.

What I preached at that time from Ruth I could not, at this late day, write out; nor was the subject then opened to my understanding as it has been since, because I was not at that time prepared, by experience, to receive it.

Elimelech had an inheritance (a parcel of land) in Bethlehem, and seems to have been doing as well as any of his brethren until the famine came; in fact, he seems to have been getting along better than most of them, for when he forsook the Lord (or Bethlehem) for Moab (or the world) he went out full.” It must have been a surprise to many of his people when he gave up in the famine and forsook God; for his weaker and less gifted brethren remained true to God, whilst he, with all the blessings bestowed upon him, and with his superior advantages, forsook God in a time of trial and in a time when his steadfastness to the faith would have most honored God. It was with him as it has been with many since—that instead of being humbled by superior advantages and opportunities, they have become exalted, and thus really made weaker by them. Elimelech went to Moab to escape trouble, but the poor man realized that he who by such means seeks to save his life shall lose it, and that God had said that if you forsake me I wilt forsake you. He did not mean to make Moab his home, but only went to sojourn until times got better in Bethlehem. It shows how weak even good men are when under trials; that they will forsake God if permitted to do it, and that only those do not forsake him at such times who cannot. If Elimelech had been too poor to have got away he would have remained as his poorer brethren did. But as poor as he felt to be he had too much; he was not poor enough, and to save what little he had he forsook God and lost it all.

His family was small, consisting only of his wife and two sons. He had a pleasant. wife, from her name, Naomi, Mahlon, the oldest boy, from his name was a sickly youth, and Chihion (which means wasting away), was perhaps more effeminate than Mahlon. Neither of them seemed to have been such children as become parents professing godliness. They had probably been neglected by their parents, or been indulged by them in pride and vanity until they had probably little if any respect for the religion of their fathers; and were possibly more attached to the people of Moab than the people of Bethlehem, and were unprepared to bear trials for the religion of their parents, and were, no doubt, glad in their hearts for an opportunity to leave it for the world which they loved better. If Elimelech had been poorer it would, no doubt, have been better for him and his children; and I have believed that less wealth would have been a blessing for some Primitive Baptists and their children that I have known in my time. Parents in this gospel day may indulge their children as Eli did his sons, honoring them above God, and thus despise the Lord. God said to Eli, on account of it, “They that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”—l. Sam. ii. Parents, no doubt, have often made great efforts and sacrificed much to get wealth for their children, and to educate them for the high places of the world, and at the same time have thoughtlessly neglected them religiously; and thus they have unwittingly instilled into their minds more or less contempt for their religion and great and undue respect for the honors and riches of - the world. And there are now, no doubt, men and women in high worldly stations whose parents were Old Baptists, and who would be ashamed for it to be known that their parents were what the world calls “Hardshells.” This may sometimes be the fault of the parents; not their fault that their children are not Christians, but their fault that they have so little respect for their religion. Children cannot, in their hearts, have much respect for the religion of parents whose lives are more devoted to worldly greed and honors than to God.

Elimelech was probably too much wrapped up in his boys and thought more of their worldly success than he should; and therefore when hard times came—hard times that would operate more or less against his boys— he was not hard to be persuaded by them to go to the rich county of Moab, for awhile at least.

How easy it is to step over to Moab! and what a close-by refuge it is when we are seeking to do wrong, or to escape the shame of our evil doings! A member -of the church has done wrong, and his pride forbids his confessing it; he has gone over to Moab to escape shame, but death or double shame will be his portion. There is but one way to save his life and honor, and that is to honor God and God will honor him; honor him in making a clean breast of it—in confessing his sin and bearing the shame. If a man will do that he will live in the severest famine, and if he refuses he will die in the abundance of Moab.

Who can estimate the consequences of the first false step! It always involves another step, either forward or backward. It is harder to retrace our steps than it was to make them at first. The first false step puts the body into motion, and to retrace it is to put breaks on the body in motion; but to make a step forward, another false step is easier, because the motion the body already has puts it forward.

In the fall of this family is shadowed forth the fall of the Jews—the failure of the law and the necessity of the gospel. We can have nothing, in an eternal sense, committed to us, but must be kept so poor that we have nothing to go away from God to save; and must have our all committed to Christ against that day.


CHAPTER 7

Most patient reader, bear with me, for I am becoming ashamed of writing so much about myself. I have spun it out until it seems to me at this time to be “much ado about nothing.” I have seemed to withhold nothing, good or bad, about myself; but there is a depth of depravity in my nature that is immeasurable, and that would be unseemly to uncover, even if I could. I have feared that in writing as I have of my depravity that I have betrayed more the spirit of hardened wantonness than of modesty and purity; and that there was lurking, unseen by myself, a spirit of glorying in my shame—glorying as if I was mighty honest and humble—and thus, Satan-like, deceptively seeking my own glory. This thing called self is hard to get around. Self must be denied, and self cannot deny self, or self abase self; for if it should, what would it be, after all, but the exaltation of self? King Saul made himself a by-word in Israel by his fleshly humility. He came to where the prophets were prophesying (engaged in their calling) and to get honor of the people, he prophesied too. It was like some of our politicians do these days; a governor goes to a convict camp, or some such place, and he turns preacher, and of course it is to further his political interests, or to show his smartness and humility. So Saul turned prophet; and more than that, he made himself the lowest of them all; he stripped off his clothing and made himself naked, and lay down naked all that day and night. But it impressed nobody with respect for him, but made them think less of him, because they saw that he did not have, himself, due respect for the high station to which he had been called. And the people made a jest of his humility, saying, Is Saul also among the prophets? (1 Sam. xix. 24) and as if to say, what folly will he be at next?

I have feared this spirit in myself, and have been evil enough at times to suspect it in others, so that I have wondered if it could be true that every natural man was his own god; that though in appearance he worshiped something else that he called God, yet in heart he worshiped himself only.

The true worship of God is such real abasement of self that no mere natural man can or will do it, and not even the Christian, until self is overcome. And that is why men seek a doctrine or system of salvation that spares and even honors self. But God’s word and Spirit do not spare self; they do not spare the best thing there is in man, for there is nothing good in him, not even a spark of goodness. The Spirit spared nothing in Paul, but taught him that there was nothing good in him, and therefore he had no confidence in self. Self is slain, as Samuel slew Agag; for where self reigns there can be no real sincerity, and no true worship of God. Saul slew all the cattle and women and children of Amalek, but spared the king and a few of the best cattle, as if Amalek had anything good enough to be spared by the holy God. And it was the same in sparing anything as if sparing everything. If a sinner’s salvation depends upon the least thing that he can do, even if it be no more than to yield to what is called the wooing of the Spirit, then it is not by grace at all, but by works, that he is saved. But God, the Spirit, taught Paul that it was by grace, and therefore he testified that it was by grace that we are saved. Paul knew, because he had learned what self was, and knowing that, he could not hope being saved otherwise than by pure, naked, unadulterated grace, with nothing in the creature, not the least of the least atom of goodness to induce it; for anything, little or big, that would induce grace would destroy it; it could not be by grace. In this view of salvation there may be hope for me, otherwise there can be none. This is my present experience, but at the time of which I have been writing, twenty-five or thirty years ago, I did not have the full conception of it that I have now. It has not been congenial to self to learn it at all, but that is where I am now in my journey, where self is indeed a barren land. But I hope I have, at times, been upon the mount, and though it is hidden now by mists and fogs from my sight, I know it is there; and even if the mountain be moved, I know that God is immovable, and will abide forever.

In my last chapter I had something to say about the family of Elimelech, but do not, at this time, propose to continue the subject at any length, further than to impress the solemn warning there is in it upon our minds upon whom the ends of the world are come.— 1 Cor. x. As Elimelech turned away from God, or his duty, even only for the time being, or to sojourn until his condition was bettered, and died in his disobedience, so may we expect to die if we, as ministers or private members of the church, refuse to hear God, and neglect our great salvation. A minister may lay down, to a great extent, his ministry, to better his condition, and then expect to return to it after a short sojourn in Moab; but he will never be able to take it up where he laid it down; he will never be able to preach to others to trust in God, because he did not trust himself; for he who teaches others to trust, must first have trusted himself. Besides this, it is a bad example to set before the flock of Christ.

About 1862, I was prostrated with chronic diarrhea, which clung to me until Gen. Lee surrendered. The first bacon I ate was about the time of Lee’s surrender, and it tasted nasty, so that I thought I should never like it again. When Lee surrendered it seemed to me that I was relieved of a great burden. My diet during these three years was bread and sweet milk, mostly Graham bread, which I often carried with me when I went from home. I have lived chiefly since upon cracked wheat and sweet milk, though I can, at times, eat a little meat, and freely of chicken at almost all times. I was so emaciated that my bones literally stared me in the face; and so feeble that I often had to hold to the pulpit to keep from falling while trying to preach. I was barely able to get about, and it seems to me now that I could not again go through what I went through then. It seemed to me then that I would have died but for my faith; that my faith kept my body alive. Times were hard then, and when some complained, I told them that I was worse off than they were; for if they did not have plenty at all times, I did not have it at any time. I had it, but could not eat it. I was starving in the midst of abundance. And I have thought that this is true in some cases in spiritual things; that it is often the case that those who have the least spiritually enjoy their little more than some do who have a great abundance. One day, soon after the war, a poor neighbor who ploughed an ox came to see me; and he talked so thankfully and humbly about the little crop he had made, that I felt in my heart that he was more blessed than I was with my abundance. And so I have felt that the little ones in the kingdom, though they knew little, were better off than some of the wise ones, for they were humble, patient, believing and loving.

One day in 1862 the Lord, as I then thought, gave me a text at Hobb’s school-house, in Taylor county, from which I preached, much to my comfort at that time. It was this, “Except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved.”—Acts xxvii.


CHAPTER 8


Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.—Acts xxvii. 31.


Paul having been accused of the Jews had appealed to Caesar, and he was, in consequence, put on board a ship with other prisoners for Rome, in charge of Julius, a centurion of Augustus’ band. Much  time was lost in stopping here and there, and the season became so far advanced that sailing had become dangerous, and Paul admonished them, saying, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading of the ship, but also of our lives; but the centurion believed the master and owner of the ship more than he did Paul. It was at the season of the year when storms might be naturally expected, and sure enough there arose a tempestuous wind that continued fourteen days and nights; and it was so dark that neither sun nor stars appeared, “and no small tempest lay on them.”

“But after long abstinence, Paul stood forth in the midst of them and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss; and now I exhort you to be of good cheer, for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship; for there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar, and lo! God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer, for I believe God—that it shall be even as it was told me.”

 The probability is that there were other Christians besides Paul aboard the ship, bound with him for Rome, and maybe some of them as prisoners. Aristerchus, a Macedonian, and a minister who had before suffered  with Paul for the gospel’s sake (Acts xix), was aboard, and possibly Luke (Lucius), Marcus, Demas and Epaphras, all of whom are mentioned in Paul’s letter to Philemon as being with him at Rome, and Epaphras is mentioned as a fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus.

But it is not probable that there were any believers among the soldiers and sailors, and to them the spiritual part of Paul’s message was not only meaningless but foolish; and Paul knew that they would look at it that way, but that did not keep him from reproving  them for their presumption in loosing from Crete, nor from speaking to them the heavenly message. But while his message was foolishness to the unbelieving  soldiers and sailors, it was to the few believers on board “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” The soldiers and sailors could not believe it “because the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit; they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them,  because they are spiritually discerned.” The soldiers and sailors could believe only in natural things, or  “things seen”; but the believers aboard had “the evidence of things not seen,” and knew what Paul meant by the visitation of the Spirit, and the effect of it was to revive the hope that had perished, and to give them renewed life.

“When Elisha proclaimed the gospel to the famishing city of Samaria, saying, Hear ye the Word of the Lord: tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria. Then a lord on whose hand the king leaned said, Behold, if the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?”— 2 Kings vii.

That worldly wise man no more believed the words of the prophet than the soldiers and sailors did the words of Paul. He the same as said, It is foolishness, and what you preach is contrary to reason, science and  all human experience. But the prophet, like Paul, believed it; and whether he knew how it would be brought about or not, he believed it would be as the Lord said it would. The wise lord had plenty of political wisdom, for the king leaned upon him as we all do  upon those wiser than we are; nor is it wrong to do it in worldly things, nor even in spiritual things when in accord with God’s word. That wise lord could have easily believed if the prophet had said, By this time twelve months shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel in the gate of Samaria, because that sort of a gospel gave time to sow, reap and gather into barns, and was therefore natural and reasonable; but to say that great plenty should, within twenty-four hours, be in the gate of a city utterly destitute and starving, and surrounded and besieged by enemies stronger than they were even in the beginning of the struggle, was, to that wise man, too unreasonable to be believed by any sane man.

But Paul and all the believers on board the ship could not help believing it; and though the spiritual heavens had been shut up to them as the natural heavens were, and they had in neither seen the sun  nor stars in many days, and gross darkness covered the natural deep and the deep of their souls, and the sea bellowed as if hungry to swallow them up, ship and all, yet Paul and his brethren believed in the face of all the natural evidences to the contrary. They believed because they had the “evidence of things unseen,” and saw, therefore, beyond the darkness enveloping them in nature, and beyond the danger threatening them from the angry sea; they saw to the end of God’s promise to them—their safe deliverance from destruction. They believed then that though the tempest continued to howl, that God would gather the wind in his fist (Prov. xxx.); and though the waters were lashed into fury and there was no light, but thick darkness, that He had his path in the great waters (Ps. lxxvii), and that neither darkness nor tempest should hide it front his eye; and though He did not prevent the storm, that He had nevertheless given the sea and the wind their bounds that they could not pass, and that as his creatures they were subservient to his purposes and should not, therefore, frustrate the least one of them.

The Holy Spirit had revealed to Paul  while imprisoned in Jerusalem, that he should testify of Him in Rome, and no storm or sea, rage as furiously as it might, could swallow him up before he had finished his work; and this is true of the least one of God’s people. God has promised them salvation, and all the floods, winds and storms of sin that may beat upon them cannot make God’s word to them and for them a failure.

This is the faith of God’s people, and this sort of faith they must have. And it is Qne that the world will not and cannot have, and of which they feel no need. What a blessed faith! and how essential to the prisoners of hope in their voyage upon the sea of mortal life, tossed to and fro with sin and depravity!

But the storm did not cease but continued until the sailors, under pretense of casting anchors out of the foreship, let down the boat into the sea in order to steal off and leave the ship and all on board to perish. But Paul saw them, for he was watching, though it was between midnight and day, when he should naturally have been asleep; and divining their intention, he warned the centurion and soldiers, saying, Except these [sailors] abide in the ship, you [soldiers] cannot be saved. This was a message the soldiers could receive or believe, for it was a natural thing—one that human reason could see—and they believed it, and believing it they sprang at once to work and cut off the ropes of the boat and let her fall into the sea. The soldiers knew from natural experience that sailors were necessary on board a ship to navigate it, and more necessary in a storm than in a calm. As soldiers, they could plan and fight a battle, but could not navigate a ship; that was a work for men trained to it.

It seemed to me at first that the text was a sort of contradiction of what Paul said when he announced the message from heaven, saying that there should be no loss of any man’s life; for that promise was an unconditional one, and one without any reference to what the soldiers, sailors or anybody else on board the ship should do. “There are many devices in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand;” (Prov. xix) and so it was in this case: God had promised that no man on board should be lost; but if the sailors had gotten off in the boat, they would have been lost and the soldiers too; therefore, their purpose was frustrated, for it was contrary to the counsel of the Lord.

It was essential that the sailors should abide in the ship, and though God had unconditionally promised the salvation of all on board, it was one link in the chain of God’s purpose in their salvation that the sailors should be kept on board the ship, and therefore the means to prevent their escape from the ship was one subordinate to the end promised—that is, their salvation. They could not be saved if the sailors were not kept on the ship, and keeping them on board was as much God’s purpose as their salvation was. God has never promised anything that will fail for lack of means to fulfill it; but the means to fulfill his promises ‘will always be provided in due time, and will always be effectual; there will be no failure in them. And the means devised by the Lord will always be such as shall glorify God, that all boasting of man shall be excluded, and so that he that glorieth shall glory in the Lord.

Who would suppose that the wise lord upon whom the king leaned, or even that the prophet himself would have chosen four leprous men, sitting in helpless destitution in the king’s gate, to have been the first to have eaten and drank of the gracious provision of the Lord to the starving city, and have been the messengers of good tidings to them? But so it was—God alone prepared them and sent them. (God always uses the best means in accomplishing his purposes, and such means as men would not provide if they could. He promised Abraham to multiply his seed, and the means used would never have been devised by man. They were multiplied in slavery, for in slavery they were exempt from death in war and inured to labor, and were, therefore, robust and healthy, so that when they were redeemed from bondage there was not a feeble one among them; and the last one and the least one was carried out—not one was left behind.

But notwithstanding God has unconditionally promised the salvation of his people, yet not one of them will be saved unless born again.

“Christ taught saying, Suppose you that these Galileans were sinners above all men because they suffered such things? or these eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, think you that they were sinners above all men that dwelt at Jerusalem? I tell you nay, but except you repent you shall all likewise perish ;” perish as they did in their sins.—Luke xiii.

This doctrine Christ taught, and his ministers have proclaimed it through all ages since.

It has been supposed that we preach a doctrine of this sort: That if a man is to be saved that he will be saved, whether he repents or not—that he will be saved anyhow, let him live as he may; but Christ taught no such doctrine, nor do his ministers, but they teach a doctrine in which all these gifts and graces are secured to all the chosen and redeemed of the Lord. And such remarks as this have been made: “If I believed as you do, I would be easy an(l have no concern about my salvation.” But the concern is necessary, and is really an evidence of grace, while unconcern is an evidence of death. And I have myself, and do even now, at times, wonder why I am so concerned and troubled as I am about my salvation; but I can’t help it. I have heard brethren even, say to others, “You need not be uneasy about the salvation of your children; if Christ has redeemed them he will call and save them;” and I believe it, but still I am concerned about them; and sometimes I am more concerned because I have so little  concern about them. Why should Paul have been so concerned about the church? and why should we, as ministers, be so concerned about the church? But we can’t help it, and still we firmly believe that God will work out all his purposes and save all his people. But we go in sorrow and affliction to proclaim his truth and approve ourselves, as ministers, in necessities and distress. Christ himself was concerned, and he came directly from the Father; he was concerned, and as he drew near his end he was more deeply concerned—so concerned that he prayed all night, and sometimes prayed more earnestly than at other times, being in greater agony. Still he knew the Father, and loved Him, and was one with Him.

I do not wonder that the world looks upon our lives and our doctrine as paradoxical, or the one contrary to the other, for it seems so to rue sometimes. It was so in Christ, and his enemies taunted him, saying, “He saves others, himself he cannot save.”—Matt. xxvii. Paul believed what God had said to him, but he was watching late at night, watching and no doubt praying while others, maybe, wore asleep. Paul could not help it; for it was God working in him to will and to do of his good pleasure. He could not go to sleep; it was no accident that he was awake and watching while others of less responsibility were asleep. God had said that all lives would be saved but if Paul and the sailors had left the ship, there would have been loss of life. Great matters sometimes hinge upon what may seem to be accidents and what may seem to be very little things. When Paul was imprisoned in the castle at Jerusalem, the following night the Lord stood by him and said, Be of good cheer, Paul, for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. But there were over forty fanatical Jews who had bound themselves under a great curse that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. They had perfected all the arrangements for it, and had not a lad heard them, it would, no doubt, have been carried out. But the young man found it out, and he was Paul’s nephew, and he told Paul of it, and then told the chief captain, and he finding out that Paul was a Roman, showed great zeal in Paul’s behalf and sent Paul off that night, guarded by an army, to Caesarea. Who thinks that was an accident! One night the great king Ahasuerus could not sleep; he, perhaps, did not know why, but he could not sleep. Though his chamber was guarded by armed men, and noiseless servitors attended his bidding, yet he tossed restlessly upon his bed of down; tossed while his poorest subject slept soundly upon his pallet of straw; but he could not sleep—the great king who commanded one hundred and twenty-seven provinces could not command sleep—and because God had bidden sleep depart from his eyes that night. The prayer of God’s stricken people had entered unbidden into that guarded chamber—had entered where even the mighty Haman could not enter unbidden—and filled that royal chamber with its invisible power. And perhaps to while away the night, or to woo sleep, he bade the chronicles of the kingdom read to him, and it was read how Mordecai. the Jew, had, by his fidelity, saved the king’s life against the conspiracy of two of his trusted servants. And the king was aroused and no doubt startled to his feet when he demanded what honor and dignity hath been done to Mordecai for this? and the answer was, that nothing had been done. The king called to know who was in the court. Now Haman was come into the outer court to speak to the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. And if the king had slept that night as usual, there is no doubt but that Mordecai would have been hanged that morning, by Haman. But providentially the king could not sleep; nor was it an accident that he could not, and that he heard read the record of Mordecai’s fidelity. It was one link in the chain of God’s purpose in the preservation and deliverance of the Jews and the destruction of their enemies. And yet it may be asked, what if the king had slept, as if it was possible that anything, little or big, could ever be lacking that is necessary in bringing God’s purposes to pass and in fulfilling his promise to his people. It might as well be called an accident that Mary went down from the hill country to Bethlehem at the time she did, and yet the prophet Micah had been moved by the Holy Ghost to say, 700 years before, that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem; and Hosea had said in the same Spirit, Out of Egypt have I called my Son, and Jeremiah had, in the same way, told before hand of the lamentation and weeping in Rama, Rachel weeping for her children.—Matt. ii. It was no accident that Jesus was delivered into the hands of wicked men who crucified him; nor was it au accident that he arose from the dead and ascended into heaven. It is no accident that all his redeemed people are called with an irresistible call, and that through grace they persevere unto the end. There is no such thing connected with the salvation of God’s people as an accident, be it little or big; all is according to God’s purpose and in fulfillment of his promise.

Sometimes such a question as this is offered in objection to this doctrine: What if you had not prayed, would you have been saved? and while it is true that prayer is an essential thing in salvation, it is never the cause of it any more than the salvation of those on the ship was caused by keeping. the sailors aboard; but to the contrary, it was because God had promised the salvation of all on board that the sailors were kept from deserting it; and it is because (God has promised the salvation of his people that they are called to repentance. It is not the repentance and faith that save them any more than it is the bud that causes summer, for it is the summer that makes the tree bud; and it is summer that brings the swallow, and not the swallow that brings the summer. When David murdered Uriah and was convicted of his sin and repented, it was not his repentance that put away his sin, but he repented because his sin had been put away, or atoned for. So it was because God had determined the salvation of all aboard the ship that means were provided to that end, that there should be no failure.


God works in a mysterious way.

    His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps iii the sea

    And rides upon the storm.


Deep in unfathomable mines

    Of never-failing skill,

He treasures up his bright designs,

    And works his sovereign will.


A little before, or about day, all on board ate and were of good cheer; and then they lightened the ship  and cast the wheat into the sea. And when it was day they knew not the land, but they discovered a certain creek into which they were minded, if possible, to thrust the ship; and when they had taken up the anchors they committed themselves unto the sea and made toward shore. Sailors were necessary in all this work, which could not have been done without them. And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground and wrecked it in sight of land.

And even now, if there had not been a disposition in the centurion to save Paul he would, with all the other prisoners, have been slain, for so the soldiers counseled; but their counsel was contrary to God’s counsel, and therefore, the centurion commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea and get to land, and the rest, some on boards and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass that they escaped all safe to land, being 276 souls in all.

There is no doubt but that those who could swim deemed their chance of salvation better than that of those who could not swim; and that those who could not swim also looked at it in that way themselves; but the truth is that their chances were the same, for the salvation of all depended upon the same word and purpose of God.

 Paul, in God’s providence, was made a temporal  blessing to the soldiers and sailors, though they did not appreciate it, for the soldiers counseled his death. And so is the church a blessing to the world, even if many in it counsel its death, they are spared for the church’s sake. Paul did not hate and seek their hurt because they counseled his death and did not believe in his God, but sought their well being as if they were friends. The spirit of the gospel is a spirit of peace on earth and good will toward man. And may this spirit reign in the hearts of God’s people, and diffuse itself over the earth, “until the knowledge of the glory of God shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.”—Hab. ii. 14.

 

CHAPTER 9


Both I and my wife being members of the church, I thought it my duty as well as privilege to hold family prayer, and we often held it morning and night. My custom was to read a chapter in the New Testament and at times comment upon it, especially when our children grew large enough to be present. My wife often on Sunday had the little fellows to read a chapter or two, reading as in a class, one a verse and the next the next verse until the chapter was gone through, she at times explaining to them as they read. At such times I was generally off from home, and she told me from time to time how eagerly the least ones would listen to her and try to understand what she was saying. They appreciated the fact that she loved them and was talking to them in love. There is nobody who understands the child as the mother does, and nobody can take the place of a godly mother in the moral training of children. It has been said, and with a degree of truth, that the parent is for the time being, in God’s stead to the ungrown child, because God has put in the parent that love for the child that protects, provides for and cares for it under all circumstances, and without which it would die; and thus, in a sense, God does it himself for the child.

I believed it was right to have our children present at family worship, because they could bow with us before God as his creatures, if not as regenerated believers, and I could, in their behalf, acknowledge his goodness to us as his creatures, and implore a continuance of his temporal mercies upon us. In this way I read the Testament through many times to them, reading chapter after chapter in the order they came in the Testament. It is true, no doubt, that it was at times burdensome to the children, for it was to me, but it was training us all in self-denial, order and method, and, therefore, a good thing that far if no farther. I always found it profitable to keep it up, and that it was good to resist the deadness, indolence, coldness, unfitness and unbelief that combined to make me put it off and neglect it; because these things were enemies and of Satan, and, therefore, not to be yielded to; and that in times of deadness, indolence and unbelief it was more needful to engage in this service than at any other time, more needful to strive even in prayer to God at such times instead of neglecting it. And more than once I have gained strength in morning prayer to get through the day with, when feeling in the morning that my faith would fail, and that I could not hold out through the day. And I believe that if Christians would more persistently engage in prayer and family worship that it would be much better for their peace and spiritual growth. The humility and fear and trembling of my father at family prayer is one of the most pleasant and sacred remembrances I have of him. He did not keep it up regularly, nor did he engage in at all until he was getting somewhat advanced in years, and after being many years a member of the church, but that he did it at all is a consolation to me in my declining years.

There is no doctrine more taught in the scriptures, both by precept and example, than constant and unremitting prayer to God. And there is no doctrine more mysterious than that of prayer. It is as great a mystery as predestination is. We go to God in prayer as if he would change from his purpose when we know that he is of one mind, and none can turn him; yet, we unbosom ourselves to him, and he hears and blesses us. And he encourages us to go to him in prayer. He spoke a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray and not to faint; and said, shall not God avenge his own elect which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh shall he find faith on the earth?—Luke xviii.

In the last verse he seems to intimate that where there is no prayer there is no faith. For prayer is a thing of faith, and not a thing that the natural man can receive or understand; because, to natural reason it seems a foolish thing to ask an immutable God to do a thing that is as certain as the rising and setting of the sun; or if it is not as certain, then God must change to do it. Natural men can but look at Christian prayer as the wise lord upon whom the king leaned (in viii. of II Kings), looked upon the word of the prophet saying, great plenty should be in the gate of the destitute city in twenty-four hours. Christ taught us that a sparrow did not die without the Father’s notice, and by taking thought we could not change anything, could not add to our stature, nor turn one hair white or black, yet he teaches us to pray and prayed himself, no doubt, more earnestly and unremittingly than any of his followers ever have or ever will pray. No doubt but that we pray many times for things that are not in accordance with God’s will; Jesus did himself when he prayed that the cup might pass from him; but he prayed in faith, and so may we, even when we feel so weak that we cannot endure the Father’s will; and there is a sense in which our prayers are answered as the prayer of Jesus was; true, the cup was not withdrawn, but he was given strength to drink it; and we have been strengthened by heavenly ministrations to go forth and meet the inevitable; and that is really better than we asked for. The Jews could not have the law of Haman against them dooming them to death on a certain day, reversed, but they had a better thing, and that was a grant of faith or power to meet their enemies and destroy them. And while we cannot pray to have death removed and its cup to pass away, we will be granted the faith wherewith we shall destroy the last enemy, which is death, and thus drinking the bitter cup, to enter into glory as Jesus did for us.

I have had a few times as blessed seasons in family prayer as I have ever had upon any other occasion. But some of the things that I have prayed that might not come have come upon me and mine, and have discouraged me for the time and made me feel as the prophet seemed to have felt when the widow’s son died, the widow who had fed and befriended him, so that he cried unto the Lord, saying, 0, Lord God, hast thou also brought evil upon the widow with whom I sojourn by slaying her son? (I Kings xviii.) as if evil not only attended him, but all also who were endeared to him. But such disappointments have increased my reverence for the Lord, so that I have felt at times afraid to ask him lest I should ask amiss. And it is observable that the longer his disciples associated with him (and prayer is association with him), the more reverence and love they had for him, and that is yet true.

When the war closed I disposed of my stock and reduced my farming to a two-horse farm, for it was given me to know that that was the proper course to pursue; but the high price of cotton caught me, and I turned with a greedy mind from God, as I believe, and went into extensive farming and lost a great deal of money, and continued losing until the bulk of a large estate was gone. And now remembering the anxiety I had with it, and the hard efforts I made to keep it, I have no desire to try it over. For I now see that it would have been better for me and my children to have had nothing left but the two-horse farm, for there would have been no surplus to tempt me to increase my wealth with it, and we would have made a living with our own labor and become accustomed to that condition of life, so that it would have been now no hardship. In these days I had with myself, once in a while, a day of fasting and prayer, which my wife even did not know of, and upon one such occasion I went into the woods and read the scriptures and prayed a. good while; and it became impressed on my mind that it was my duty to give away my unnecessary wealth to the poor; and it seemed so contrary to good sense that I was startled lest I was going crazy.

In connection with this impression was the case of an old brother who had lost his home and it would take $800 to pay for it, and it seemed to me that I ought to do it, but I resisted it as a temptation of the devil. But that year I bought a good deal of guano, and paid over $800 for some I bought in New York; and there was a drought and I lost probably over twice $800 on the crop it was put upon; and then it occurred to me that it would have been much better to have given it to the old brother. I felt that I was like the young man who went to Christ to be saved, but who loved his money too well to give it up and follow Him. And now, whether that impression to give my surplus wealth to the poor was of the Lord or not, I believe that it would have been better to have done it then than to have been worried with trying to keep it and lose it at last in my old age. I believe now that the impression was of the Lord, and I regret that I did not do it; but the fear that people would call me crazy, and the love of my children and of money, and the weakness of my faith and the spirit of the age were too hard for me; and I had to lose it gradually with all my efforts against it, as one being bled to death by degrees. I see now that I was unworthy of the goods that the Lord had entrusted me with, and that for seeking to use they to my own worldly advantage, the Lord took them from me as he took the Kingdom from Saul. I know also that it is not for any Christian’s good to have more worldly or religions responsibilities than he can fulfill. It is true of ministers, and I have felt, like King Saul, I have had more committed to me, or have assumed more responsibilities than I had ability to cope with. I was carnal enough to think that when I joined the church and then began to preach and be charitable to the poor and attentive to my calling, that I would not have trials, or even sickness; and in worldly things I at first prospered when many had adversity, so that I began to think that evil would not be visited upon me. But when the tide began to turn, when the brook began to dry up, and I lost on the right hand and left, it seemed some strange thing that it should be so; and I couldn’t give it up and still looked for some sudden change in some unknown way in which all my losses would be restored to me. But when the loss of my children was added to my other losses, I began to be amazed; but still I hoped that it would turn with me as it did with Job. I see now that I was looking at it carnally, but I didn’t see it then.

We had two little boys that were pets, Churchwell and Jabez. Churchwell, the oldest, was about five years old, and his mother said was like me in disposition, and she was glad of it, for she wanted all the children to take after me; but I did not want any of them to be like me in anything, but like her in everything. Their mother had them to sleep on a trundle bed at the foot of her bed, and after they died she told me that she never got up at night to attend them and cover them up but what she felt an impulse to pray for them, and always knelt at their bed and prayed, but she seemed to be forbidden to pray for long life for them, but, she was made to pray for ability to commit them to the Lord, and this made her feel that they were going to he taken from her. And I, one night off from home, dreamed that Jabez had died, and that I complained to the Lord for taking him from me, and the Lord told me that he was not away from me but with me, even around my pillow as I slept. When he was taken sick and I went apart to pray for him, that dream seemed to thrust my prayer back so that I could not pray in faith that he might live. He was buried one Sunday and Churchwell the next Sunday, though Churchwell was at his burial, but he had then a sore throat and died of diphtheria that week. Churchwell’s death was a peculiarly sad one to me. Just before he died he called for his bag of little toys, and silently handing them to his mother as if willing them to her, he closed his eyes in death. But if he had lived and become a man he would have been an impractical dreamer incapable of grappling with a hard and pitiless world.. He could only have lived in the affections of those he loved. He often talked with his mother about death, and told her that when he died that he wanted her to have him buried among flowers. His mother kept the little things of both of them as long as she lived. It was a sad stroke to both of us then, but now I would not have them back here, for they and their mother are now with the blessed Lord. I don’t know that such things are worth telling, but my life has been made up of little things, and I have no big things to tell.

I said just above that I have had more responsibilities than I have had ability for, and I mean by that that I have more than once failed to do the right thing when I knew, too, what the right thing to do was, being lacking in that firmness and solidity of character that my position required; and have yielded my conviction of right to others less wise in those things, but stronger willed than I was. On the other hand, I have seen some ministers whose weakness was to go too far while mine was to stop short of the right point to go to. It is a miserable and pitiable weakness, and I now tell it for the benefit of the younger, who are to come after me. It is, however, no worse than the other extreme, of going too far. There is a right point to go to at which we should stand.

I had a theory about raising my children, and especially my boys; it was to develop them physically, mentally and morally. And this I tried to do, making my boys work to develop them physically, and talked to them to develop them morally, and sent them to school to develop them mentally. I had two buys that were stalwarts physically, whom I had trained as above, but the Lord took them both in their twenty-fourth year, and I was laid low in my aspirations in that respect, and so it has been in all things that I have ever set my heart upon


CHAPTER 10


In those days infidel thoughts tormented me a great deal. And when I was most feeble in mind and body, then they came against me in troops, and if the Lord had not now and then lifted up a standard against them I should have been swallowed up quickly (Isaiah lix. 19). At such times my mental struggles were intense beyond description; death was made an unspeakable horror to me, because to die “and in cold obstruction rot;” to die as the beast does and be no more forever, was a thought I could not endure, and, therefore, I did my best to believe; to believe that the Bible was true and that Christ was the Son of God. But carnal reason held me in prison, bound in chains like Peter (Acts xiii), and I had no power to release myself. Such suggestions as these were poured in like a flood upon me; that it was contrary to the very law of God itself that Jonah could have lived three days and nights in the belly of a fish; that for the sun to stand still a whole day, and the shadow to go back ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz, was either to still all worlds and turn them back in their orbits, or wreck the universe; and that for the three Jews to live and walk in a furnace as hot as melted iron, was a thing too absolutely impossible to be believed; and that a woman could conceive and bring a child into the world as Christ was born, was a thing too absurd to be credited by anybody, except the most ignorant and credulous of mankind, and that it was believed by none of the intelligent of his day, and by a few only of the ignorant and unlearned. My agony at such times was indescribable; I did my best to believe, for to believe was worth more to me than a thousand worlds, and to believe from my heart that Christ was the Son of’ God, was to scatter my enemies to the four winds and bring peace and joy to my soul. I could not give up, for to give up was to die; there was something that kept me struggling as in a death struggle, and I fought like Eleazar until my hand clave to the sword (2 Sam xxiii.) I did net know whether it was the devil or not, for I did not know that there was any devil or God either. If I could have felt that it was the devil I should have been in a better condition, for I knew that the devil tempted Jesus, and tried to make him doubt being the Son of God; for he said to Jesus, If thou be the Son of God command that these stones be made bread. (Matt. iv.) Jesus was destitute and hungry, and no man gave unto him; and the devil’s idea was that if he was what he professed to be he would not be in the condition he was in, for he had power to make bread out of the stones. And here Jesus in his poverty, humility and helplessness (the helplessness of his state as a servant) identified himself with his people, and they are by the Spirit identified with him in their destitution, poverty and helplessness, so that they have fellowship with him as they have by the teaching of the Spirit fellowship with one another. But I fear none of my brethren have fellowship with me in my struggles with infidelity.

But the Lord was good to me, notwithstanding my evil heart of unbelief, for he knew that I would not have had it so if I could have helped it, and he delivered me more than once; but I have dreaded lest I should one day fall by the hand of this son of Anak. In the time of my severest struggles I was kept going, and I have had the victory over Satan many times while preaching, and then he would depart from me for a season; and I have been foolish enough at such times to think that he would not come back again, but he has up to this time, been faithful to return, and he generally comes up on the blind side, or the side I am not watching, and I reckon he will come until I die, and maybe even after death he will dispute over my body, but if he does, the dispute will be with one stronger than he is, bless God!

It was in those days that I preached the first time from Naaman the Syrian. If I had any meditation on the subject before I preached from it I was not conscious of it. I had read the chapter (2 Kings v.) several times in casually turning about in the Bible, and some how or other I was particularly impressed when reading it, that there was something good hidden it it for me. That day when I arose in the pulpit, I read it simply because I had opened to it. As I preached the Lord routed my enemies and they vanished as if they had never been; and I felt assured in my heart that the Bible was true and Christ was the Son of God; I believed it as much as if I understood it; as much as I believed and knew the child grew in the womb, the blade of grass and the leaf on the tree; I did not know how, but I knew it was so. And I could say as Paul said, “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not of man; for. I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”—Gal. i. 12.

I think that it must have been from such struggles as these that I was led to read the Old Testament as much as I have, in search of that hidden wisdom, the wisdom of God in a mystery, and a little of which has, I hope, been opened to me at times and in such a way that I know that I received it not of man; and know, therefore, that the Bible was not the work of man, else it could have been understood by the wisdom and learning of man; for man would not have written a book by his own wisdom that the wisdom of man could not find out and that was hidden from the wisest men, even the princes of this world. I felt then and do now, that I am greatly behind my brethren in the humble faith and fervent love of the gospel; that while the most of them were blessed to believe in and trust and love the Lord and his people, I was almost always tormented with unclean spirits that I could not cast out; and that while they were rejoicing in the truth with humble hearts, I was like Thomas, doubting, or trying to decipher hieroglyphics on the stones of the fallen temple, away back in the shadows, while they were in the day and children of the light. But I almost hope, sometimes, that while I have seen the unity in spirit of Moses and Elias with Jesus as shown in the transfiguration, that I have also, when the face of Jesus shone as the sun and his raiment was white as light, seen them—Moses and Elias—vanish, as shadows of the night vanish in the noonday sun, and Jesus was alone and all in all. It has been the absorbing desire of my heart to believe in, know and hear Jesus. To believe in Him with all my heart is and has been to me the sum of all doctrine; to know Christ and him crucified is to know all that makes for my spiritual peace in this world.

And it may be that it is because I am so much more unbelieving than my brethren and in such carnal spiritual babyhood that I have never taken that interest in the disputes going on among us as other and stronger brethren do. To believe in Christ by the work of the Spirit, is with me to know that salvation is by grace; for I can’t believe only as the Lord enables me to believe; for have I not tried it time and again when it seemed as if my life depended upon believing, and I have felt as impotent to do it as the blind man was to see, the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. And it is so when I do believe that I know as the blind man did, that somebody more than man has wrought it in me and know also that it was an act of pure mercy, and not for worthiness in me. John the Baptist had baptized Jesus and had been told that upon whom he should see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, that the same should be he which should baptize with the Holy Ghost; and yet when he was cast into prison he got into doubts and sent to Jesus to know, saying, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another! But Jesus did not send word back to John, saying, Go and tell John again that I am he that should come, but said, Go and show John again those things which you do bear and see: the blind receive their sight, the Lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. This was not a direct answer to John’s question, but it was better than if he had sent word that I am he; for it told him that much in the works he did, and that his works were works of unselfish love to the poor and helpless, the needy and the outcast, the broken-hearted and bruised; and that this was the work that the prophets said he should be anointed to do; and John was no doubt consoled, realizing his own broken-heartedness and helplessness in prison. Blessed Jesus! That he came to save the lost and to feed the poor with good things. Nor can the messengers of God now tell of more, sincerely, than of what they do hear and see; but when they do that much to one whom God has sent them, it is sufficient; and it is ever telling of what Jesus has done for the needy and helpless.

I have had in comparison with my brethren but a few deliverances, but they have been precious to me. But as few as they have been it would take a longtime to write them out. In one respect, I seem to be like the children of Israel in their forty year wandering in the wilderness, to be going over and over the same old beaten ground, and never advancing further than I did in my youth. I have often gone back to subjects I preached thirty years ago to get a little comfort in my troubles. There is hardly a sermon I preached in those days but I have now often resorted to for help. There is one that often helps me in prayer, one that the Lord gave me in II Chron xx. I learn something from it even yet, and I would write out the substance yet if I could, but I seem now so spiritless that I will stop, and I fear what I have written is not worth its space.

CHAPTER 11

In those days an impression came upon me to go to North Carolina on a preaching tour. I knew nobody there, except Elds. Daniel and Bodenhamer, who had visited us the fall before. My health was very poor— so poor that I had not walked to my nearest field in several weeks, and went nowhere, except to my meetings, and then always with somebody to go with me to take care of me. I could not tell why I was so impressed, nor from whence the impression came, only I knew that I could not get rid of it; and it made me very miserable. I was so feeble that it seemed as if it would be tempting God to go so far from home, and that therefore it could not be of God. After struggling with the impression some weeks, I told my wife of it, and asked her to pray to God in my behalf about it. One day a few weeks after this she came to me and said “that it was God’s will for me to go, and that He would take care of me.” This encouraged me, and I was cheered for a little while so that Ii began making preparations for going; but as the time drew near I hesitated more and more, fearing to venture, and talked to some of the members of the church about it; and I have reason to believe that some of them had me on their hearts and bore me, as a weak and helpless one, in their prayers to the feet of Jesus, and that He enabled me to rise up and walk. Eld. Rowe also agreed to go, and we started.

It was the most doleful day to me that I had ever seen, the morning I left home to go to North Carolina to preach. When I got to Macon, and started, about sundown, to the train for Augusta, it seemed to me that I would drop dead in the street; and that it was surely presumptuous in me to leave home in my condition. I got into the sleeper and lay down on a bed, going from Macon to Augusta, and all that night as I would drop off into a doze I was waked with a nervous start and jerk, and this scripture came rushing into my mind, “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.”—Isa.liii.

This was continued all through the night, and a little after day we arrived at Augusta; and I got my Bible and began searching for that scripture, but could not find it, nor could Eld. Rowe, and I finally decided that it was not scripture at all. Then Satan came to me in the hour of my weakness and suggested that there was no truth in the Scriptures; that they were nothing more than the writings of men—of men who wrote them in the interest of kings and rulers, and the rich and great of the earth, who had robbed the poor, and made servants of them; and had them written to keep the poor and ignorant in subjection while they ground them down under oppression; and that there was no God at all, and that religion was a fiction, and when one died that was the end of him; and that I was going from home under a delusion, to die, and would be carried back in my coffin. It was the severest assault against my faith at I had up to that time, ever had, and my horror was inexpressible—so intense that the cold sweat broke out all over my body. I was inexpressibly miserable, and continued so all that day and night, and the next day and night; in the belly of hell, so to speak, and in the heart of the earth, and had I not been raised up, should certainly have perished. When I got to Tarboro, I asked Eld. Daniel if he could find it, and he could not, and nobody could find it; and strange to say, I never once thought of referring to a Concordance for it. At our first appointment—at Tarboro—Eld. Rowe preached first; and while he was preaching, it was suggested to me that he was talking like a crazy man about some thing that he knew nothing about, and that nobody knew anything about. As he was about concluding his sermon, and knowing that it was expected I should preach, with some sort of prayer in agony in my heart I took the Bible and opened it, and lo! there it was! I opened to it, and the first thing I saw was, “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many,” etc. I was happy, for I felt like I was a Christian and a minister and that God had sent me there to preach, and that I would preach, and that I would get home alive. Now, this may seem silly to some, and but an accident, or a coincidence, but it opened my eyes. I preached a little sermon, and felt like it was a little one, but like the loaves and little fishes, it fed many by the blessing of Jesus. I remember a dear old sister, named King, gone home to Jesus years ago, who came in and said, “Brother, I don’t know your name but you have preached to me what the Lord taught me forty years ago; and I have not felt as I do to-day in twelve years; and there is nothing between me and heaven.” And there was nothing between me and Jesus that evening. I did not see then how I could ever be made to doubt again.

CHAPTER 12

I was so impressed with some of the incidents of that visit to North Carolina, that they remain fresh with me to this day. I had the pleasure of meeting with Bro. Asa Biggs, who had been a United States Senator, and I couldn’t help but wonder that he was such an humble Primitive Baptist. He seemed to me to be as humble as Naaman was when he came up dripping out of his seven-fold baptism in the Jordan. Jesus seemed to be plainly manifested in him; and in a little while I was no more afraid of him than I am of Eld. Mitchell or Hassell. It was at Conehoe church, I believe, that Bro. G. T. Daniel, a son of Eld - Daniel, and then barely grown, came past me and thrust a five dollar bill into my bosom. He was not then a member of the church, but I believed he would be in time, and I thought also that maybe he would fill his father’s place in the ministry. Another little thing impressed me, and that was some sister, whose name I have forgotten, and who could not attend our appointments, sent a ten dollar bill to us. It encouraged me, because it seemed to me to be so plainly of the Lord. One day when I was very feeble and despondent, my wife’s words to me before I left home, that the Lord would be with me, were raised up with power in my heart, and I felt that the good Lord was there, though I was 700 miles from home, that miles were nothing with Him. Praise the. Lord! I felt like I was at homey I think it was at Kehukee meeting house that I first saw Eld. Gold. He was then a new school Baptist preacher; I did not know his name, but he attracted my attention while I was preaching, and after preaching I was told it was Eld. Gold, a new school preacher, and I said, “he is a Christian,” and I have never doubted it since.

One night I stayed with a Brother Carney, at Sparta, and it was a rainy night, and a sleepless one with me, and the next day was a rainy one. I was so feeble I could hardly go, and it was so rainy that I had no thought of having meeting that day, but as the meeting house was only a few steps, we decided to go up to it about 10 o’clock, and when we got there the house was full. Eld Rowe preached first, and I got up to close in a brief way, but ere I was aware, it seemed to me that my tongue was loosed and that my mouth opened of itself, and the words poured out of my heart as easily as water out of a pitcher—unfamiliar Scriptures came to me as if put into my mouth, and I spoke plainly, as I hope, the words of this life. It was a. wonder to me, and I have thought of it a many time since, with comfort in my gloomy hours. We closed our appointments at Wilson, and an old brother—Clark—said that I would visit them again; and that surprised me, for it did not seem to me that I could live long; but I did visit them again, and he was alive, though almost helpless. He is now in heaven, as well as Elds. Hassell, Daniel, Hart, Pitt and the Brethren Biggs, King, Thigpen and Sisters King, Woodward and many others, whose names are. written in heaven, and who became much endeared to me on that short visit. If I am a minister and a Christian, the Primitive Baptist churches of Eastern North Carolina are churches of Christ, and I can say in sincerity that their God is my God.

One more thing that impressed and comforted me, I will tell. I had the privilege of riding with the late Eld. C. B. Hassell from Spring Green to his home in Williamston, and I felt then, and do to this day, that it was an honor I was not worthy of; and Sister Hassell, yet in Life, received us so kindly. God bless her in her old age. And I was impressed that there was a family devoted to God. They. had prayer morning and night, and virtue seemed to flow out to my soul and soothe me in that heavenly atmosphere. We closed our appointments at Wilson, and though I had no rest day in the sixteen days, but spoke each day and went almost from the pulpit at Wilson to the cars, I returned home stronger in body and in faith than I had been in months, and really believed that I could never be tempted to doubt again. But ten days had not passed before I was plunged into deeper darkness than I had ever been in all my life, of which I will speak, the Lord willing, in my next.

 

CHAPTER 13

“For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand; I had rather he a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.”


I felt very thankful when I arrived home and found all alive and well, and myself improved in health. It has not always been the case on returning home that I have found all well. One time I had been from home for several days, and had gone from impression, and had preached, seemingly, to the comfort of many, but on my return found, to my astonishment, one of my children very sick with fever. The night before my return I slept at a hotel on my route home, and the next morning while dressing I thought of prayer, but did not feel like I had anything to pray for—feeling so much at ease, and I did not pray. But I found to my grief and amazement something to pray for when I got home. I have often, like the disciples, been amazed, when I have seen in my own case, God’s wonderful work. I am almost sure that unclean spirits have at times been cast out of me, and my eyes been opened to see things to which they were before blind, and my tongue been loosed to speak things to which it was before dumb. Such things amaze me at the time; and I am sure that I have looked f or them too much, so that except I see signs and wonders I will not believe; will not believe that my preaching is worth anything unless it is done in an almost miraculous way. This is not a good condition to be in; for it seems to me, that its tendency is to make, ministers especially, careless and indolent in reading and studying the Scriptures, which is essential to their usefulness in the ministry. The longer I live the more I am assured that the peace and prosperity of the church depends largely upon the devotion of ministers to their work; and that they, like the apostles, “should give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the wordy—Acts vi.

I had been at home but a few days before the sun went down—the sun knoweth his going down; thou makest darkness and it is night; wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth—Ps. civ. I had thought in North Carolina that I could never doubt again; the heavens, I thought, had been opened to me and the voice of God in my heart had approved my work; but now, like my Saviour, I was in the wilderness with the wild beasts. I could not see at that time that I was being led in the way that my Lord had walked; for if I could have seen it, darkness would have been light to me and there would have been no darkness at all. But I was alone and darkness prevailed over me. I walked my piazza for a week upon the very verge of insanity and death; and I felt as sure that I could never believe again as I felt that I was a living creature; and as to dying, I felt as certain, that if there was a God at all, that he did not have power enough to make me willing to die as I ever was of anything. I felt at times that I could not contain myself in my utter misery, but that I could but give vent to one maniacal shriek and die in despair. I could not understand God, and that I sought to do; I could not see how his fingers fashioned the earth and world, and yet it seemed that I must see -it; that I must believe or die, and to save my soul I could not believe.

In this frame of mind I went to a little church that I was serving about twelve miles from home; and went up into the pulpit and knelt down in prayer, and it seemed to me that my prayer did not arise to the top of my head, and that it was not a prayer at all, but an agonizing cry of despair. I arose in the pulpit to speak in the name of the Lord, and “or ever I was aware,” I was caught up into a heavenly place and saw and felt things that I had never seen and felt before, and that I cannot express. The words of Job to the Lord came with power to me, and I said in my heart in faith, now “I know that thou canst do everything.” I knew then that He could make me as willing to die as to lie down and sleep upon my bed after a weary day. And I felt that day a love for Christians that I shall never be able to express, and a love for God. I reckon I shall never forget that day while I live in this body.

I did not want to be with anybody nor talk with anybody, but to be alone with my thoughts; and as the day was nearing to a close I caught myself trying to wrap my bosom up with my arms lest Jesus should escape from me. But the next morning he was gone and I was mourning for him. But I know that “a day in thy courts is better than a thousand.”—Ps. lxxxiv.

 

CHAPTER 14

Vows

“What is styled a promise among men, in reference to God, is called a vow.”


Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house, then shall the Lord be my God, and this stone which I have set up for a pillar shall be God’s house; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give a tenth unto thee.”— Genesis xxviii.


I have made vows or promises to the Lord, and have trembled lest they were made in deception and hypocrisy, or as if I was trying to hire the Lord to do something for rue that he would not otherwise do. On one occasion, a few weeks before the time for my wife to bring forth a child, I made a vow. I was, and had been for some time, very uneasy as to what would befall her at that critical time; I had gloomy forebodings that I could not put away, and they became a heavy burden to me. In this state of mind I made a vow to the Lord that if he would spare her and deliver her safely in that hour that I would give a brother in the Lord, who had been on my mind, a certain sum of money. I did not know why my mind was directed to that brother, unless it was because I had a special love for him. But I learned afterwards that he was then in need, and that his mind had been directed to me for deliverance.

And the Lord was with my wife, and she passed through the trial safely, and I paid my vow to the Lord. But I have wondered many a time if indeed it was the Lord, and if the “Lord was my God,” for it seems too great a thing for me that a worm as I should serve the Lord, even in little things. And I yet make vows. It has not been long ago that I promised the Lord, in my heart, that if a certain thing came to pass that I would do a certain thing. It was in this way: I had a relative whom I knew to be needy, and I had known it for several months, but I did not feel able to render any assistance. The time had been that I could give, and had often given, of my abundance; but now the stream had dried up and I had needy children and grandchildren, and did not feel able to help anybody. The hand of the Lord, in a worldly sense, had seemed to have gone out against me; but nevertheless, every once in a while, that person’s condition came up before me and troubled me, but I put it away from me, or tried to do so. So one day I lost somewhere away from home a hundred dollar bill—one that I had reserved for a special purpose. It. was gone, and I wondered why I should have such continued adversity, and the condition of my needy relative flashed through my mind, and it seemed in this way:

“You were not able to help that needy person with ten dollars, but now you shall see that you are able to lose a hundred dollars, as hard run as you think you are.” I was willing to help, but the trouble with me was whether it was my duty to do it or not. I had done great deal of it in my life and grew poorer and poorer in it, and therefore, maybe, I thought, I had been doing wrong, and doing wrong to my children, and especially as it was the case that some for whom I had done a great deal now disliked me more than anybody else. I was troubled and troubled to know whether the Lord required it of me, and if he did, I wanted him to be my God. But at last one day a mule was taken sick, and I was so sure that it would die that on leaving home for one of my appointments I told them where to have it dragged to when it died. And I thought of “the hundred dollars a few days ago and now the mule, and certainly I must be a sinner above all men; what can be the matter?” and I thought again of my needy friend, and I vowed that if the mule did not die that I would send ten dollars to that person. Now, I did not make that promise as if to induce the Lord to spare the mule, but that I would take it as an evidence that I ought to give that person ten dollars. When I returned home I asked if they had dragged the mule off as I had told them, and, behold t they said the mule was not dead. So I sent the money and did not intend that any member of my family should ever know of it, but the express receipt by some means was found in a few weeks in the yard, and thus, as I believe, the Lord revealed it to my children, that it should be written here for them it for no one else. The person to whom the money was sent is an Old School Baptist and a Christian, and wrote me that she had been praying, and that she had faith that that sum of money would be sent. And it did me as much good as it did her; in fact, I was more blessed than she was, as the dear Lord Jesus says the giver is more blessed than the receiver. And should I not trust him for myself and my children? I should, for I am sure that I cannot trust in myself.

In conclusion, I will relate an incident that has been a puzzle and yet a comfort to me, and which occurred over twenty-five years ago: One Saturday I went to meeting at Phillippi with an impression that somebody was going to join the church. It was the regular monthly meeting day, and I was pastor of the church and, my wife and I were members of Phillippi at that time. I preached, and my preaching deepened the impression I had that the Lord had sent somebody there to join the church that day. Why I was so impressed, I have never known; but the impression was of such a character that if no person had joined I should have been made to believe that the Lord “had never spoken by me.” When the door of the church was opener, a lady who had not been a regular attendant and who was a New School Baptist, got up at the back side of the house and came up to where I was near the pulpit. I was not sure that I knew her, but I felt sure of one thing, and that was that God had sent her there, and I believed that she was a Christian as much before she spoke a word as I did after she told her experience. She was a very intelligent lady and her people all New School Baptists, and it was so plainly the work of God that it has been a comfort to me, as well as a puzzle. She died in about a year, and was taken from the evil to come. I knew that no influence of friends could have prompted her to make that step, and I know now that God’s power is amply sufficient to gather in his people to the fold of Jesus without any carnal efforts of ours.

 

CHAPTER 15

Fasts

And he said unto them, this kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.—Mark ix. 29.


I had a meek and intelligent sister who lost her mind and died at my house in Schley county, after several years insanity. A year or two before her mental affliction I had a religious talk with her one day, and among many other things, I remember, that in deep anguish, she said in substance, “Oh, I have prayed and prayed so earnestly, and fasted and fasted, but have received no consolation.” I had at that time been a member of the church but a little while, and had probably never before thought seriously of fasting, and certainly had never heard of any one ever fasting under conviction, and it therefore deeply impressed me with the intensity of her conviction.

Whether my sister ever reaped in joy, I do not know further than that “She went forth weeping, bearing precious seed,” and that the Lord had said that such “Should doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them.” Ps. cxxvi.

In a year or two her mind began to fail her, and she would speak in awe of imaginary dangers, of strange sounds, and whisperings in the wall at night. She never again spoke to me of religion, or to any one else as far as I know; but I cannot believe that the Lord wrought a vain work in her heart. She certainly was a penitent sinner, and I am sure that the Lord has never said to a single one, “Seek ye me in vain,” Isa. xlv.; and I am therefore sure that no penitent or contrite tear has ever been shed in vain, and that no unregenerate soul has ever shed one; and that, like the ephah of barley gleaned by Ruth in the field of Boaz, her rich kinsman, that the persistent tear as well as the tear of joy is gleaned only in a field that the Lord has blessed, and can be gleaned only by one whom the Lord has made poor in spirit, and whom Jesus says are blessed and that the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

There may be some dear to many of you whose eyes have closed in death, leaving no other sign behind them known to you, than a penitent heart; but if they were given as much as a penitent tear, whether they died at home or on some distant battlefield unattended and alone, or died raving maniacs and by their own hands, they are with the Lord. Because Jesus loved them and gave himself for them, and would not be satisfied with the loss of the least one of them.

Fasting got on my mind, and I asked the church to fast at my ordination; but I was young and probably wrong, for the church did not do it. But still it seems to me to be proper that the Elders or Presbyters should fast in the ordination of ministers, because it was the practice in the Apostolic Church. When Paul and Barnabas were ordained the Prophets and Elders fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them and sent them away (Acts xiii. 3). And when Paul and Barnabas ordained Elders in their travels they prayed with fasting (Acts xiv.)

It is true that Christ never commanded it. He and his disciples never practiced it in any of their meetings that we have any account of; but in one ease he seems to have taught it, at least indirectly, and that was in the case of a dumb and deaf spirit in a man that his disciples had failed to cast out; and after Christ had cast the evil spirit out, his disciples asked him why they could not cast it out, and he said, “This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting” (Mark ix. 29).

The Apostles would not have practiced it at ail if they had understood Christ to have disapproved of it; and it is therefore probable that his seeming disapproval applied to the hypocritical fasts of the Pharisees, and to obligatory public fasts, the general tendency of which were to superstition, self-righteousness and hypocrisy. We have no account of Christ ever having fasted himself save the forty days in the wilderness, and that was not for an example to be followed by his disciples.

“In short,” says Calvin, an advocate himself of fasts, “there was no other reason for his fasting than for that of Moses, when, he received the law from the hand of the Lord; for as that miracle was exhibited in Moses to establish the authority of the law, it was necessary that it should not be omitted in Christ, lest the Gospel should seem inferior to the law. But from that time it never entered into any man's mind to introduce such a form of fasting among the people of Israel under the pretext of imitating Moses.”

Lent, the forty days fast of the Roman Catholics, is a pretended imitation of Christ's forty days fast in the Wilderness, and of which Calvin says:

“That it was nothing but a vain and superstitious affectation, to dignify the fasting of Lent with the title and pretext of an imitation of Christ. For in the midst of all the most exquisite delicacies, they seek the praise of fasting; no dainties are then sufficient; they never have food in greater quantity or greater variety and deliciousness. Such splendid provision they call fasting, and imagine it to be the legitimate service of God. I say nothing of the base gluttony more practiced at that season than at any other time by those who wish to pass for Saints. In short, they esteem it the highest worship of God to abstain from meat, and to indulge themselves in every kind of dainties. On the other hand, to taste the least morsel of bacon or salted meat and brown bread they deem an act of the vilest impiety and deserving of worse than death.”

The Kehukee Association in 1846 and 1861 recommended fasts, and in 1862 resolved, “That in the present distressed and disturbed condition of our country brought about by the existence of war in our midst, we recommend to the churches that Friday before' the second Sunday in November be observed as a day of fasting and prayer to Almighty God.”--Hassell's Church History, p. 801.

But I designed to speak only of my personal experience in fasting, and also of the necessity of what I would call a spiritual fast; a fast or a ceasing to feast upon meat and drink that builds up pride envy greed self-importance and—but as my space is exhausted, I will have to speak of it in my next.


CHAPTER 16


And he said unto them, this kind can only come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.—Mark ix. 29.


My manner of fasting was in this way: on that day I suffered nothing to enter my mouth until after the close of the meeting, if it was a meeting day; and that is my practice in the ordination of ministers. It had a good effect upon me, for it served in impressing my mind that it was a day especially set apart to the religious service of God; and therefore, if I read anything it should be the Bible, or something religious; or if I talked or meditated, upon anything it should be of that character, and so when I was convened at the place of worship, I did not feel at liberty to talk of worldly things.

In this way it was and is useful to me, and I have no doubt would be useful to others such as I am; but probably to the great majority of Christians it would be altogether unnecessary. For all Christians are not alike; with some it is much easier to live right than with others, because they are not so vain, proud, envious, covetous and ambitious; and some have stronger animal passions and more beastly lusts than others; and others have an almost uncontrollable thirst for intoxicating drinks, and therefore require more grace to control it than others. I knew a brother who had been excluded from the church for drunkenness, and he told me that he had prayed often and earnestly to God to deliver him from the inordinate love of drink, but that in spite of his prayers, he could not go where strong drink was without getting drunk. Now, this was a case in which prayer alone was insufficient of itself to overcome the habit, but it could come forth by nothing but prayer and fasting also. He needed not only to pray, but to fast--that is, to refrain from going where intoxicating drink was. For it is vain to pray to God to deliver us from temptations that we know we cannot resist. Christ does not teach us to pray that we may walk into the way of temptation and be delivered, but to pray that we may not walk in that way at all. Samson was a strong man, but not strong enough to throw himself in the way of temptation without falling. Neither was David strong enough for that. Joseph did not fall from the temptation set before him by Potiphar's wife, because it was involuntary on his part, but even then it required such resistance on his part as to rend his garment from him.

Once in olden times, when the Lord's people were deeply troubled, Jehosaphat, king of Judah, proclaimed a fast (2 Chron. xx). That was a universal fast, for all Judah was in trouble; the little and big, and men and women were all troubled. For enemies stronger than they were, had combined against them, and had invaded the land and threatened their destruction as a kingdom. The fast was a matter of necessity, and in such cases we are made willing to give up the lesser for the greater, as those on board the ship were made willing to cast the wheat, as much as they prized it, into the sea to save their lives; and at last to give up the ship and the cargo to save their lives.

At another time, when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, entered into Judah, and encamped against the fenced cities to win them for himself, Hezekiah took council with his princes and his mighty men to stop the waters of the fountains which were without the city. And they stopped all the fountains; and the brook that ran through the midst of the land, saying, Why should the king of Assyria come and find much water?--2 Chron. xxxii. In this way they fasted or denied themselves; and in doing it they cut off the water from themselves that would at that time sustain the enemy against them. And when our privileges and worldly blessings are perverted and made to feed the flesh, it is good for us to have them taken from us. It was, no doubt, a time of trial with them, and complaint that it was not as well with them as it had been; that the hand of the Lord seemed against them. But his hand was not really against them, but against their pride, greed, disobedience and worldliness; and it was their love of these things that made the trial sore to them. It was k time of trial when Elijah prayed that it alight not rain for three and a half years; but he prayed it in faith; and the fleshly spirit hated him for it, and sought to kill him. That was a three and a half years' fast, and it humbled and saved Israel, and destroyed the false prophets. The altar of God, that had fallen down, was set up; and may not his altar even now be in some measure fallen down in this day of contention? Where there is no love there is no real altar to God, and no acceptable offerings made. The love of God is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices; more than all mint and anise tithing; more than all mere ceremonialism.

I will suspend with this issue writing further The Experience of a Sinner, to resume it some future time, if the Lord’s will.—R.


NOTE: Sadly, Elder Respess never resumed in writing his experience; much to our loss.—DM

 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 27 September 2006 )
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Purpose

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.