DEAR BROTHER IN BONDS: – I received your very comforting letter about a month ago, and was certainly elated over the contents, but wonder why any one would stoop so low as to even notice such a wretched character as I am.
Brother Griffin, I feel to hope that we have a few things in common. Your age exceeds mine only about four years. In relating your experience you gave the “waymarks” so plainly that I believe we were brought over the same road. We are both members of the same faith and order. We have both been placed under the same yoke of the ministry. Having so many things in common, I am impressed to relate to you by pen some things of my experience along life’s way, if it be God’s will. I have never attempted to write it before, but have been blessed to tell it in public a few times. It seems so different from the experience of most people that I very often doubt it being an experience of grace; I was raised by very religious parents, my father being an ordained minister of the Missionary Baptist people. Very few Sundays did I miss Sunday School and church services. I was reared in an Arminian atmosphere. I do not remember ever hearing the term “Primitive Baptist,” or ever meeting a “Hard Shell.” until I was grown. I was taught that there were a very few ignorant, devilish people, who lived in the backwoods, who were called “Hard Shells,” who I was to shun as a wild beast. Of course I did not want to even meet one. At a very early age I too, joined the organization with my parents.’ Being termed as one of the best “kid speakers” in our community, I was solicited to take part in the testimony meetings. When I was sixteen years of age I obtained a teacher’s license, and began to teach both literary and Sunday School. This, of course, helped me “practice up” on public speaking. Being first in the school-room, first in the Sunday School class, and first in the other community socials, gave me a good case of “Big I,” and the foremost symptom was self-righteousness. Then I was solicited to preach. ·d having such a good opinion of myself, and seeing so many of my fellow-men falling so far short of me, I also thought it prudent that I should be clothed with the authority to tell them of their wicked ways, and admonish them to “get right.” Therefore, I was ordained, and zealously pursued my task, and went along smoothly for awhile.
Now, dear brother, the saddest, most heartrending and serious part of my experience I am about to tell. The thoughts of it even now make me shudder. One certain night,t during a pro.. traded meeting in our community, I was called by the “big preacher” from the city, to take full charge of the service. He called me the night before, and spoke thus: “Brother Lambert, I have been preaching here every night for almost a week with no results. No mourners have come forward. Tomorrow night I want you to make the altar call after you have preached.” Of. course I was elated over the opportunity to try my luck. The next day I studied the proposition seriously. I decided on the theme, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” using “Thou shalt be cut off, and that without remedy.” as a text. That particular night I must have been blessed with rhetorical eloquence, for when I made the altar call old men, old women, boys and girls began at once to flock to the altar. Dear brother, I suppose you think I should have been somewhat overjoyed. Naturally I would have been, but alas! there seemed to be an audible voice which spoke, “Who are you, that you should invite?” This would not have been so bad if the answer had not come immediately by the same voice, “You are a sinner vile and needy.” I wanted to run out at the door and hide from every one. As soon as I could I did get away from there. Oh how miserable I was! On that night I saw myself as a sinner for the first time, and I went about to right myself. The more I tried to do the deeper in sin I sank. I tried until. I could try no more, and gave it up as a hopeless task. Of course I gave up trying to preach, but I was still in possession of my credentials.
Some little time after that, I drove into a little town quite some distance from home, about sundown. Some of the people there knew I was coming, but did not know I had given up trying to preach, and had given out an appointment for me that night. As I drove in town the church bell began to ring, and I asked the one that I was stopping with what it meant, and he informed me that I was to preach that night. I told him I could not do it, but he informed me that it was too late to back out then. I saw the trap I was in. I was in a strange community, so decided to act the hypocrite and get up one of my old themes and texts and raise a reputation for myself in that community. Rut alas! I could not think of a thing. I tried to think of some Scripture and to take some of my Sunday School knowledge, but that had all sunk into oblivion. I know I tried to think soberly on the Scriptures, but I could not. I could think of nothing except how sinful I was, and I knew it would not do to tell them that, for instead of giving me a reputation I would lose it. A great audience was in front of me when I went behind the pulpit and I was as blank of thoughts of the Bible as any one could be. If I ever prayed I did then. I groaned, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I became unconscious of action or thought, and when I became conscious I was exhausted and was standing there feasting upon the power, holiness and wisdom of God. I left that place thrilled to the highest, still feasting upon several of the attributes of God. I was driving home in my car that night by myself, still feasting, when the train of thoughts was turned. I saw myself the blackest of black sinners, and then glimpsed God as the holiest of holies. I saw myself as most foolish and God as all-wise. I saw myself unable to perform anything, and God as having all power. What a great gulf there was to be spanned between my condition and the requirements of the law. I went along groping in this predicament for quite some time. Finally the sweetest of my experience came. I was teaching school in the community where I had witnessed that glimpse of God, when one day a neighbor came to the place where wife and I resided. He suggested that we go to a home that night to preaching. He said Elder A. D. Wall, of Amity, Arkansas, would preach. I asked him if they were “Hard Shells,” and told him if they were I did not care to hear them, because they believed that a man was justified in killing another because God predestinated it. He answered thus: “I just supposed you would be interested, for if I ever heard a Primitive Baptist sermon you preached it here last year.” I answered, For curiosity’s sake I will go. I have never been able to recall anything that I said that night, as I seemed to be in a subconscious state, and have often wondered what I did say. Therefore, I consented to go for the first time to hear a “Hard Shell” preach, and I was glad I did go. I accused Elder Wall of being a mind reader that night. He was blessed to take up each question that came to my mind and to thresh it out to my satisfaction. That night I was blessed to see another attribute of God: that of mercy. I saw the character who was able to span the gulf between my sinfulness and God’s holiness; my inability and God’s power; my foolishness and God’s wisdom I saw Jesus. who was verily God and man, with one foot on God’s side of the gulf an(I the other on puny man’s side. I saw him, as it were. pick up sinful men, whom God had chosen, and cleanse them with his blood and place them safely on the other side, without spot or blemish, to bask in the sunlight of God’s eternal love and power forever on the sunny banks of sweet deliverance. Jesus died in mylow room and stead, tread the wine-press alone. In my stead (as I hope) he kept the law to a jot and tittle. The keeping of this law by Jesus was charged. to my account, my sins were laid on his shoulders and he bore the penalty. His life’s blood was shed while hanging on the cross of Calvary for the remission of my sins, as I hope.
This experience was so consoling to me that I thought my troubles were over. But my lot seems to be akin to Job’s. The last of my experience told. was at the dawn of the year 1930. I will tell briefly some of the things that took place with me that year. Three cars were wrecked for me, a son was born to us and in about a month my wife died with pneumonia, I lost my position and health. I had to give up teaching because I was not able to meet the requirements for a license of course. With all this, and doctor bills, funeral expenses and other things, I suffered a nervous breakdown. In that year I was received in Cedar Hill Church. In September I was visiting the South Ouachita Association, among strangers in the flesh. I was so nervous and burdened down with something that I could not face any one. On night, at the home of Elder J. R. Evers, a sister (who was a total stranger to me) requested that I be called on to say a few words. I was on the outside of the house, but was called in, and God blessed me with the light and liberty of unloading that burden. In the course of time I was licensed to preach. Then, against my protests of not being qualified, called for my ordination, which was carried out while the South Arkansas Association was in session, in September, 1934. I met and married my second wife in that year, and God blessed me with the privilege of baptizing her last year.
Brother Griffin, I have tried to give you some of the marks of the road I was forced to travel. I am glad that God blessed you to come to Arkansas, and hope that we may meet again. If you receive any comfort from this give God all the praise. Pray for me at the throne of grace.
Hoping in Christ for my soul sufficiency, I am your brother,
E. J. LAMBERT.
A letter written to Elder Griffen
Submitted to the Signs of the Times
Vol. 106, No. 1 - January, 1938