Wayside, Kansas, March 17, 1899.
David Bartley – Dear Brother: – You are on my mind so much, and in order to relieve it I will write you, that you may know that I am still living, but am very weak and feeble, just recovering from a severe spell of sickness, which laid me up the latter part of November last. The doctor says I have killed myself at hard labor. It looks now like I will never be able to labor but little, if any more. But I, as you perhaps know, in my younger days was so badly afflicted that several times my life was despaired of; yet the good Lord has spared my unprofitable life until this present time, and has kept me here for some purpose, I know not what. It seems to me that I am the least and most unworthy of all God’s creation. The older I grow, the greater sinner I feel myself to be. O! I fed sometimes to cry out, How can God be just in saving me, a poor, sinful wretch! I will give you a short sketch of my travels, since I first received a hope. This was in the year 1854, some time the latter part of May, or first of June. Previous to this time I cannot say I was a bad boy; that is, indulged in bad habits, as the manner of some was. I never swore but one oath, and that was when I was about ten years old. My associates often said to me, “If I was as good as you are, I would have no fears about going to heaven.” This flattered me, of course, but I did not feel that I was any better than they were.
My parents, as you know, were Regular Baptists, and were very strict on us children; this is, perhaps, why my moral character and deportment were moulded as they were. Father frequently had preaching at our home, and it seemed like such curious preaching to me, so different from what we were used to hearing from the Arminian preachers, that I could not understand it. My surroundings were such that I heard at least a dozen Arminian sermons to one Baptist sermon. I was taught to read the Bible at home, but I did not understand it; yet it was quite a comfort to me afterwards.
The fear of death and hell never troubled me, as it apparently did others. I thought of death and its consequences. If I should die, where will I got And there must be a preparation for death, but how to make that preparation I did not know, but rested in this hope or belief, that if the Lord takes me away, he will prepare me for the change. For I was all this time doing the best I could, as I thought, to meet death and its terrors.
But at the time, as stated above, the United Brethren were holding a protracted meeting at Heth’s old schoolhouse, in Harrison Co., Indiana. An Irish preacher by the name of Huston was running the meeting; he was a great revivalist; no trouble for him to create an excitement. On the way to this meeting at night, I and five of my cousins were together, and one of them proposed that if I would join the church that night, they would all follow me. “No,” I said, “I am not fit to belong to a church.” “If you are not fit, we would like to know who is,” said they. “Well,” I said, “if I shall take a notion to join, I want you all to follow me, and be as good as your word,” to which they agreed. After the preaching was done, they called for mourners to come to the mourners’ bench, and be prayed for. While they were singing the hymn, “Alas! and did my Savior bleed,” such a feeling sense of a Savior’s love for such a miserable sinner as I felt myself to be, I cannot express. The tears ran down my cheeks. I hid myself as best I could, to keep others from noticing me. I did not go to the mourners’ bench, for I felt that it was no place for poor, unworthy me. But I resolved to go home and search the Scriptures, and see whether these things were so (the doctrine they preached). I slept but very little that night, imploring God to have mercy on me, a poor, helpless sinner. I am quite sure that I deserved his righteous indignation in thousands of instances, and deserved to be forever banished from his presence into that place where hope never comes. “For thy righteous law approves it well.” “I am carnal, sold under sin;” and unless thou dost intercede in my behalf, there is no hope for me. O lead me in the light, as thou art in the light. The next morning I went over to the mill, (for I was tending the mill and a grocery store for my father and uncle at this time,) and got my Testament, and sat down to read, and if possible to get some comfort from the Word. I opened the book to Matthew xxvi., and read the 37th verse: “And he took with him Peter, and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me! nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” The agony and awful feelings I realized cannot be told. I could feel that there were promises there for others, but none for me. When all to me appeared most gloomy, all at once my burden was gone, and it seemed to me I was in a new world, for I was filled with the love of God. I arose from my seat and went to the door, and such a beautiful sight I never beheld before nor since. All nature seemed to be praising God; the sun shone more brilliantly than I had ever seen it before; the birds were skipping about in the timber and upon the ground, apparently praising him; the boughs of the trees seemed to be bowing in humble submission to his will. I could see how poor, lost sinners were saved; that my sins helped to bear him down in Gethsemane, and to crucify him on the cross; that he bore our sins on the tree of the cross, and put them away from us as far as the east is from the west. He cried, “It is finished.” Yes, this glorious salvation, wrought out by the glorious Son of God, was fixed and free, and all my righteousness was as filthy rags. Then I could see that salvation was all of grace, and not by anything poor sinners could do.
I wanted to go to George and Jacob Bruce, and tell them my feelings, for we so frequently would converse on religious matters, both of whom joined the Regular Baptist church after this. But I was soon filled with doubts and fears, and thought sometimes there was no reality in what I had experienced, and that all was a delusion. I thought if I only had my burden back again, I could be more certain about it; but I never could feel as I had before, but instead of a load of sin, I now had one of doubts and fears. Brethren would frequently come to my house, and O how I loved to sit and listen to their conversation, while they were talking of the things of the kingdom. It seemed to me they were christians, as their conversation was almost altogether of spiritual things, and not of things of this world; and I was led to love them above all others, but never let them know of my feelings, and kept them hid as best I could. Yet it seemed they understood my case, for when I would go to meeting, it seemed like they were preaching directly to me. They could tell my feelings, my “ups and downs,” much better than I could.
I felt a great desire to unite with the church, for I believed the Primitive Baptists were the church of Christ, and felt it my duty to confess my hope; but I was so unworthy, and felt that I was not fit for a place among a people that seemed so good, and manifested so much love for each other; and fearing that I would deceive them, and maybe bring a reproach upon the church, I decided that I would not unite with them, but would go to meeting and enjoy the preaching, which, generally, was a great comfort to me.
Another stumbling-block to me was, the split or division in the church; one wing led by Elder Cornwell, (the Two-Seeders) the other, I am now satisfied, were and are the true church, which at that time were accused of holding too much to Arminianism. I was surrounded by both wings, and halted between two opinions for a long time. During this time I desired above all things to follow my Master in the ordinance of baptism, and I asked old father Lemmon if he, as a minister, could baptize a believer without his uniting with the church? He said he did not think he could administer baptism to one outside of the church. I thought a little strange of his answer, but I made the best of it I could. I could not live as I desired, for my mind was often filled with things which I knew were sinful, and I thought that a child of God could not be troubled in this way. I greatly desired to live free from sin, but alas, I could not, and up to the present time I find myself wandering from the paths of christian duty.
In November, 1857, I married a young lady, whose parents and connection were all Arminians. Everything that they could bring to bear on me was tried, to turn me from my faith and the doctrine I believed; but it all failed. Then resort was had to abusing and vilifying the Old Baptist brethren, which was very hard for me to bear or endure. When heaped on myself, I could very well endure it, but for my brethren to be misrepresented, was very hard for me to endure. Yet I could but rejoice, if I could believe I was worthy to suffer for his name’s sake. The question with me is, Do I love him? I sometimes have doubts and fears that I am not one of his little ones; but he knoweth them that are his.
Many times I found myself preaching while asleep, to large congregations; but it was only a dream. And thus I lingered on, until the fourth Saturday of September, 1886, I went to Salem church, Harrison Co., Ind., and gave a reason for my hope, and to my surprise, I was received, and on Sunday, two weeks after, I was baptized by Elder Frank Williams. I then felt that I should spend the rest of my days in more peace and happiness than I had heretofore done, for I had done my duty. But alas! Brother Short came over from Kentucky, and remained with us some three weeks, and on our meeting day at Salem church, he insisted on me getting up and opening meeting for him, as he felt very unwell. I told him he must excuse me, for I could not do it, but at some future time perhaps I would feel more like taking up my cross, and that he must excuse me this time. There was a large crowd gathered on that Sunday morning; we went into the house; the hour for services came; he called on me to pray. O, what a burden! I tried to pray, and what I said I never could tell. I felt so bad and ashamed of myself that I wanted to get away from there as soon as possible, for I felt that the brethren, too, felt ashamed of me, as I knew that I fell so far short of their expectations; and knowing as I did, that the Salem and Hopewell churches were making calculations on me to take the pastoral care of them. I felt that I never could do this, being, as I thought, so unfit and unprepared for such a high and noble calling; so little, so insignificant, nothing, and less than nothing and vanity; how lean and destitute I felt myself to be of things pertaining to God’s kingdom.
Now, I thought, I will go to the west, and look out a location, and move there. So I started on Tuesday after the meeting above spoken of, hoping that by so doing my mind would be relieved of this burden. And another object I had in view was, that I could get a piece of land for each one of my children. Passing from the southeast part of Kansas to the southwest, I located two quarter sections of land, fifteen miles south of Dodge City. Returned home to Indiana; sold our property, consisting of two good homes or farms, and in the spring of 1887, moved to the State of Kansas, and settled on the land above described; erected a dwelling-house, (sod) and otherwise improved it, and from 1887 to 1890, never so much as raised the rent of any crop we planted. I soon found I was in a part of country where farming never could be made a success, and having, the greater part of the time, seventeen in family to support, in three years I was stripped of everything I possessed; even my land I was compelled to mortgage to support my family. I could neither live there, nor get away. Drouths, and the hot winds or simoons destroyed our crops every year. So to get away from there, I received means enough from my folks in Indiana, to help me get out of this drouthy country, into the southeast part of the State, (Kansas) where I now am trying to live and support my family, and to maintain my honor and integrity, and to contend for the truth, in the midst of Ishmaelites of all shades, who preach another gospel, yet not another, but a perversion of the gospel.
My home church (Salem, in Indiana,) importuned me to return there; and brother Hitter, of Kentucky, wrote me an interesting and comforting letter, begging me to go back home, and take charge of Salem and Hopewell churches, as it was impossible for him to continue to visit them any longer regularly. But, brother Bartley, I fear it is too late now. I have hail so much trouble in mind, in reference to my duty, (if it was or is my duty) that it is so shattered I can never be of any use anywhere. If I ever had any talent for this work, it has been taken from me, and given to another more worthy. I have always thought my brethren were laboring under a mistake when they would speak to me of this matter. For I have always felt that I was too little, insignificant and unworthy, and not even fit company for the saints; but if I could only set back in some secreted corner, and listen to their conversation and preaching, and be at the feet of Jesus, to honor and glorify his name, was the height of my ambition. But O, how disobedient I have been! how derelict in regard to my duties. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
During my life I have been afflicted, sometimes sorely afflicted, and at this writing am not able to walk but very little at a time. But through all these afflictions the goodness and mercy of the Lord have been with me, and his grace has sustained me. The loss of all my worldly possessions does not trouble me, for the world seems to be crucified to me, for I have no love for it or its allurements. But the loss of my two little boys, one seven and the other eleven years old, was a heavy stroke to me. Yet I was compelled to say, “Lord, not my will, but thine be done.” The Lord gave, and he takes away, blessed be his name.
There are a few good Old Regular Baptists scattered around here, but no church near. What a comfort the Signs is to us out here, where we have no preaching, to get and read the good and precious letters written for it columns, by yourself and others. It comes to us semi-monthly, laden with good news. Write me, and pray for me when it goes well with you.
Permit me to subscribe myself your unworthy brother in afflictions, and in hope of eternal life which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,
THIS letter from our deeply afflicted, yet greatly blessed brother Zenor, is so touchingly comforting, though sorrowful, that I send it to you. I knew him well from 1863 until he moved west, since which time I had not heard from him till this letter came. He was always a most excellent man, in whom was no guile. Should you give his letter to the dear brotherhood in Christ, it will soften and comfort many hearts. It is sent without, his knowledge, as I have not yet written to him, for I feel that such a testimony belongs to the Lord’s saved people, and will glorify him in their hearts. I trust that some who read it will feel it in their hearts to write to our sorely chastened brother, for his good cheer and comfort. The Lord sustain, strengthen and comfort him in his afflictions and sore losses, and with him all the meek and humble poor in spirit.
Your brother in tribulation,
Signs Of The Times
Volume 67, No. 10
May 15, 1899