Dear Brother Beebe; As I am confined at home today on account of heavy continued rain, I have concluded to write something referring to some things which have occurred in my past life. I was born April 29, 1810, and grew up in the love and practice of sin. When about twelve years old I attended a Methodist camp meeting, and seeing the excitement, and so many going unto the altar, I determined to go up also and get religion, and in a short time realized a change in feelings, and verily thought I had obtained true religion, and was proud of my early success, and left the meeting, glorying in the thought of having become such a good christian in so short a time. I took great delight in singing, praying, and in finding fault of and exhorting others to do better and get religion, as I had done. In all of which I had no cross to bear, but greatly delighted in being noticed and spoken well of, otherwise I thought myself slighted and badly treated. For about three years I continued to go through with formal prayers about three times a day; and upon failing one day, I would pray four or five times the next day, and verily thought there was no better christian anywhere; and as to Baptists, [there was no manifest division among them then, for the modern missionary plans had not sprung up] I hated them, their doctrine, conversation and company, with perfect hatred. But eventually I was thrown in company with wild and vicious young men, who paid no attention to my religious pretensions; and getting no praise or encouragement from them, I became careless, and left off praying, singing &c., and gradually grew into the same vicious habits with them, such as joking, swearing, &c., until in my nineteenth year, at a Baptist meeting, I suddenly became uneasy about my condition, and turning my attention to what the preacher was saying, every word seemed directed and applicable to me, as a ruined sinner; but I made every effort to hide my impressions, and got off as soon as possible, trying to be cheerful, but could not. Much astonished at such strange exercises, I determined to revive again my former religion, but never could; for instead of getting better, in my own view, and feeling happy as I had done before, sin seemed to increase in my view; not the sins of others, but my own; until every thought and every act appeared sinful, even in trying to pray, [which I attempted often, and always in great secrecy] sin spoiled every thing. I did not fear the torments of hell, neither was I uneasy lest I should miss heaven; but the trouble was, that of being such a great sinner against such a good God. With great care to secret my troubles, I attended preaching whenever I could, and sought to hear Baptist conversation, yet everything seemed to be against me; for I grew nothing better, but rather worse, until the evening of the 22nd of July, 1828, just as the stars began to appear, I determined to go off to a private place and try one time more to pray, feeling impression that I should die soon, and likely never see the sun rise again. While in the act of kneeling down, however, all my troubles were gone in a moment. Everything around me seemed beautiful and pleasant, the stars and all seemed to be praising God. I had before this concluded that my convictions were wrong, because while others seemed tender and shedding tears, none escaped my eyes, because my heart was so hard. But now the tears came bountifully, without any effort. Standing still awhile, then walking, and wondering at what had taken place so unexpectedly; I determined to go to the house and tell my step-mother [the only Baptist in the family] what had occurred; but before getting to the house, [not more than two hundred yards] it was suggested that there was nothing real in all this, but it might be a token of something good at some future time, and it was best to say nothing about it; and sure enough it was kept a secret.
After a pleasant night’s rest, next morning everything appeared calm and delightful, no trouble, fear, nor distress. And the unworthy writer prayed to get his burden again, fearing he was deceived; but never has it returned yet, in the same way, notwithstanding the many fears, doubts, trials and afflictions he has been called to pass through; and though it may appear singular, yet it is true, when first delivered I never thought of JESUS CHRIST as the channel through which such unspeakable mercies came, but wondered at the great goodness of God; though after I was baptized the first Sunday in August, immediately after, under the preaching of Elder E. Bledsoe, the whole way of salvation, together with [Jesus Christ,] the glorious channel through which mercy is bestowed upon the chief of sinners, appeared plain in my view, of which I have never had a doubt to this day, though I often feared I might be mistaken in my hope. Since that time, if I love anything on earth, it is the company, conversation and preaching of the old fashioned Baptists of Primitive faith and order, while I hope I feel no enmity of heart against other professors, yet I cannot think so much of them, because they do not show so much regard for the simplicity of gospel truth, for the ordinances of God’s house, nor for the New Testament, as a full and sufficient rule of faith and practice to the saints. Three years after uniting with the church, I became deeply impressed to speak of the wonders of salvation, but endeavored to suppress these feelings, until severe affliction brought me down, where I was made to submit, and commenced in a weak and scattering manner, and when liberated by the church to exercise a public gift, I thought they were too hasty; and when called to ordination, I begged them to wait longer, till I could know more about it; but they would not, and I feared to resist; and in my weak and scattering manner I have continued to this day, trying to proclaim the truth according to my experience and the word of God; and the only reason why is, because there was no peace without it, and with it there is great peace and pleasantness. And in the division of the Baptist denomination, caused by the introduction of false doctrines, with the modern missionary institutions, the only reason why I remained with the Old School Baptists is, because I could not go with the more numerous and popular people claiming the name of Baptists, though my nature was much inclined that way. So I am compelled to say, What I am, I am by the grace of God. And whatever I have done in preaching, little or much, as well as every other religious duty, it is by the grace of God which has been with me; so that I have been an unprofitable servant, having done only that which was my duty, and with distress of heart have to say, I have too often failed to do even that. Without saying many other things about the trials and difficulties by the way, the many times I have been so fearful and dejected, and thought I would never try any more to preach, and thought of begging the church to erase my name from the church book, &c., I will proceed to say to my beloved brother J.F. Johnson, I cannot doubt your sincerity, but feel greatly astonished that you should use the following language to me: “I have need to be taught of thee; and comest thou to me?” My dear brother, of course I must excuse you, but I hope you will not forget the humble request I made in all sincerity, and if at any time you should feel impressed to write on that subject, I am sure I should read with great pleasure. The saints in their pilgrimage through this wilderness of woe, are greatly comforted, edified and instructed through such an excellent medium of correspondence as the “Signs of the Times.” And though I am so slow and fearful to write myself, yet greatly desire to encourage others who can, to write, not to make a display, or strive to excel, but in simplicity to write their exercises of mind, their fears, doubts, trials and afflictions, and of the ground of their hope for final deliverance from this vain world, from sin and all its baneful consequences; for it is a remarkable fact that God’s ministers, nor members never encourage, comfort and edify one another by displaying better qualities, more good feelings, or superior talents, or by saying in their conduct, Stand thou by, for I am more holy, more talented, or religious than thou. No; if saints had to sustain each other by such a process, they would soon all perish to death; but it is by giving to each other evidences of their entire dependence upon God and his promises, of their weak and helpless condition in themselves considered, of their love to God by humble obedience to him in his word, of their steadfastness in the form of doctrine once delivered unto the saints, of their love to each other, by being careful not to wound the feelings of each other, by showing a disposition to confess their faults one to another, showing a disposition to be easy entreated, not self-willed, nor disposed to complain or murmur, but patiently bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ; for truly we are poor miserable sinners, liable to do wrong at every step, and if sustained and saved at all, it is by the grace of God. I hope the brethren and sisters will continue to write for the “Signs,” for through this medium we form spiritual acquaintance with many we have never seen, and never may see in the flesh, but hope to meet in a better and spiritual world very soon.
Yours in love,
Near Lexington Georgia, March 27, 1870.