Now my troubles, conflicts and unrest seemed to be at an end, and as we rode home to my sister's my peace was perfect; but when nearly there a still voice within me said: "Now you are in the church, what is your duty; for every one has a place to fill, and what is your place?" This checked my restful peace; but I quickly resolved that as soon as I entered the house I would take up the Bible, close my eyes, and ask the Lord to direct me to a Scripture that would show me the place He designed me to fill in the church. But it opened between the Old Testament and the New, and I felt rebuked, for an inward voice said: "See how forward and presumptuous you are in thinking the Lord had anything for you to do!" Yet I was impressed with a desire to know the Lord's will; so I turned to the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and read it, and on to the fifth, yearning for something to relieve and comfort me; but nothing had any interest for me until I read verse 20: "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." I could read no farther, nor take my eyes from these words of solemn command, but read them over and over; for it seemed that they were spoken to me, and they deeply affected me. Closing the book, I left the house and walked the yard, mentally saying: "This was spoken by the angel of the Lord to the apostles Peter and John, not to you, and why should you be so exercised about it?" But I could not prevent the angelic words from reverberating with power through the chambers of my soul: "Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life." This was the beginning of a new experience and trial, and it came upon me so unlooked for; for I had expected to find the dear church a home of only tranquility, peace and rest of soul. How little did I know of the way!
The next day I walked on an errand beyond Brother McQueary's and called in to see him on the way and while there a rain set in. He took advantage of this and asked me if I was not exercised about speaking in the name of the Lord. I tried to evade an answer, but he told me that as I was now a member of the church he had a right to ask me and said it was my duty to tell him, either yes or no. So I briefly told him of my exercises on the day of the ordination and the day of my baptism. As I returned from the errand, again I called in to see him, asked him to walk out with me and entreated him with tears to say nothing of what he had required me to tell him, but he said he should make no rash promise and tried to comfort me. Supper being ready, he said: "Brother Bartley, ask a blessing," and I tried to do so, but the effort spoiled my appetite, for I felt that he and the family were ashamed of me as I was of myself. As soon as I was on my way home the tempter said to me: "Now look at yourself! You think about preaching, yet you can't ask a blessing without feeling ashamed of it." As I plodded along night soon set in, but the darkness within was greater and I was very wretched. For on the way home the conviction took possession of my mind that the church would give me license to preach at the next meeting, but my feeling was that I could not submit to this. That night I slept but little. The next two days my conflict and trouble seemed greater than I had ever endured, and I felt that I could scarcely live without relief. I wandered about day and night – tried to search the Scriptures – piteously tried to implore the Lord for relief and release, but my cries were shut out, because my spirit was rebellious against the will of the Lord and the church. For while I fully believed the church would license me to preach the gospel at the next conference meeting, my mind was that, rather than submit I would prefer exclusion; therefore I implored the Lord to release me from such an ordeal, relieve me from my crushing trouble and give me peace again. For not only did I feel utterly unfit and insufficient for the gospel ministry, but I also greatly desired to be a successful physician. During this fearful mental conflict I vowed that I would die before I would try to preach, but instantly a silent voice within said: "You shall have to suffer in this body for preaching this doctrine."
On Wednesday afternoon, while lying under a shade tree in the yard, my wife sat down by me and asked me what was the matter. I told her that the church would license me to preach at the next meeting, and I felt as if it would almost kill me. She tried to relieve my distressed mind by assuring me that the church would not do so premature a thing, but I told her it would, and asked her if she thought I could preach. She said, "No, I don't." At this I wept aloud, for I could no longer control the storm of conflicting emotions, yet I felt that she was right, and that I could not preach. But why, then, must I be so troubled about preaching?
That night I went from place to place, first in the orchard, then away in the woods, seeking access to the Lord in prayer, and fearing some one might hear me, but no relief could I find, for my prayers were shut out. The trouble was, I wanted relief in my own way, and my stubborn will would not yield. At last, almost exhausted, I came to an inviting log and sat down to rest. Just then a new train of thought and feeling possessed me, and my unyielding will gave way to a meek spirit of peace and child-like trust, and the fierce struggle ceased! The dear Master so gently gave me to see that the church was His and that my rebellion against it was against Him. Now I was overcome in sweet contrition, and every thought was brought into obedience unto Christ. I then felt a true spirit of prayer, and, kneeling, realized blessed access in the presence of the Lord, for He was very near and precious. In implicit trust I asked Him to bless the church with His mind and wisdom, guide it to do that which would honor and please Him, and give me grace and strength to obediently do His will. It was not late in the night, and my natural strength was nearly exhausted, but I went home so changed and peaceful, retired and slept, and my sleep was as when Jacob said, "The Lord is in this place!" For in a heavenly vision the lovely Savior stood over me in heavenly radiance, and in a moment we were standing before the congregation at the church. He stood at my right hand, placed the open New Testament in my hands, and enabled me to minister to the comfort of His people. While I spoke their faces expressed sympathy, gladness and love. He then gave me to understand that thus it should be and I should go and preach the gospel of salvation; that while I should meet with trials, He would be with me and put it into the hearts of His people to sympathize with and encourage me. That the Lord Jesus gave me this true vision I have had abundant assurance through my ministry of forty-two years.
At the next church-meeting, the second Saturday in July, 1854, the church voted that I should relate my exercises about speaking in the name of the Lord, and the pastor called me forward. I complied, but sat down and wept. Then, with some composure, I related what I have here written. Dear old Elder Nay was present, and on being asked for counsel, said he could witness to what I had related, and that he believed the Lord had called me to preach the gospel. Elder McQueary asked me one question: "Brother Bartley, have you ever seen anything in yourself that I looked like a preacher or made you think you could preach?" The answer was in my-heard and I said: "No, Brother McQueary, unless the Lord enables me, I know I cannot preach." With a smile he replied: "Well, Brother Bartley, we Old Baptists are a strange sort of people, for if we have a man among us that thinks he can preach and must preach, we will not let him preach; but if we have one who feels that he can't preach we make him preach." The church then liberated me to preach the gospel wherever God in His providence might cast my lot.
At the close of the Sunday meeting the pastor said: "Brethren Bartley and Jackson, two young preachers, will preach here next Sunday at 5 o'clock." This was a great shock to me, for no one had spoken to me about it and it troubled me all the week. But as Brother Jackson had been speaking in the church a few months I consoled myself with the thought that I should refuse, and he would speak to the people. At eleven the next Sunday we all went to hear Brother McQueary preach at a meeting house near us, and some of the brethren went home with us for dinner. To my dismay they told me Brother Jackson had gone on a visit to another church. At first I felt that I could not go to the appointment, but they kindly urged me, saying that it would hurt Brother McQueary's feelings if I refused, yet they expressed much sympathy for me. At last they got me started, but we arrived an hour late, and then I went away and tried to pray before going in the well-filled house. Brother McQueary told me to go in the pulpit as the people were waiting. I begged him to preach and let me off, but he refused. Taking me up with him he handed me the Bible and told me to select a text while he introduced for me. He was a man of God, full of earnest and deep feelings, though stern, and he fervently prayed for me. Then I arose and read: "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Isa. xxxv: 10. This text, so full of the gospel, had been in my mind all the week, and my thought was that if I had to speak to the congregation I might say something upon it in an experimental way, for its meaning seemed very clear.
First, I stated that the appointment was made without my knowledge; that I feared it was not of the Lord, but fleshly and wrong; that if it was not according to His will for me to speak in His name my desire was that He might seal my lips and not suffer me to dishonor His holy name before them; but, if it was His will, I believed He could enable even me to speak in His praise.
Turning to the subject to begin, I again read, "And the ransomed of the Lord shall return," and was about to tell the meaning of "ransomed," when, as quick as one can put out a light, my mind was in awful darkness, and I could not utter a word, but stood dumb and confounded before all! Horror and shame overwhelmed me, for I felt that the Lord had rebuked me before them, according to my word. Oh, why had I thus presumptuously gone into that sacred place, and made myself such a fearful example and warning? I felt that death would have been preferable to this, and the intensity of my dismay was so crushing it seemed that I must fall, unless I sat down, for it appeared a long time that I had stood there in that mute agony, knowing that all eyes were upon me, beholding how the Lord had condemned me before them. I turned my head over my shoulder, to see the seat and drop back on it – when, lo! the horror of darkness fled, and the Sun of righteousness arose unto me with healing in His wings. In an instant all was light and peace in my soul, my thoughts were liberated, my tongue was loosened, and I was enabled to speak about an hour upon the text with freedom and comfort. And as I entered into the divine meaning and blessedness of my text, tears filled the eyes of the brethren, expressive of their relief and comfort of heart, for they had seen my distress, and had felt and prayed for me, as the pastor told me. When I sad down, it was with the quiet peace of a comforted child, and a trusting faith that the Lord was with me.
Looking back through my extended ministerial life and travels and labors, from now until that first sermon, I may truly say that it was a faithful earnest and patter of all the way in which the Lord has led me, in fulfillment of the heavenly vision He gave me. For in waiting on my ministering, in a large measure light has been sown to me in darkness, and in me the words of the Lord Jesus have been fulfilled: "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light." This has had the effect to teach me my entire insufficiency for so great a work and to abase me before the Most High, that I might have an humble spirit. Indeed, from the time I knew the altogether lovely One as my Savior I have earnestly desired to be meek and lowly in heart as He is, and He has given me this desire through many afflictions and trials, which have bowed my spirit in deep sorrow and caused me to cry unto the Lord for graced to help in time of need.