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CORRESPONDENCE

State Road, Del., March, 1899.

Brother Beebe: – Some few days ago, I was talking with a brother in the ministry, of some of the exercises of my mind in my early life, when he interrupted me by insisting that I should write out what I was telling him, for the Signs. If I do so now, it will be in deference to his judgment rather than my own, as I had not thought before of writing what seemed to me an incident that might appear trifling to others. It came up in reference to a hymn in our hymn books that commences, “Awak’d by Sinai’s awful sound.” I found myself traveling over the experience, set forth in this hymn, in very early life. In the days of our childhood, when we committed anything to memory, we said we had it “by heart.” It seems to me I had this hymn by heart, or in my heart, before I read it in any book. I do not know about hearing Sinai’s awful sound, or encountering the curses of any particular precept of the law, but rather the law as a whole, giving the knowledge of sin. I never had to set about committing the hymn to memory; I knew it all too well without. Step, by step, I traveled over that experience for years, continually stumbling at that same stumbling-stone.

“Amazed I stood, but could not tell,
Which way to shun the gates of hell;
For death and hell drew near.
I strove indeed, but strove in vain;
The sinner must be born again,
Still sounded in mine ear.”

I know of no more ways to turn than what is brought out in this hymn. I do not recollect finding any more then, but I certainly went over all these.

“Then to the law I trembling fled,
It poured its curses on my head;
I no relief could find.
This fearful truth increased my pain,
The sinner must be born again,
O’orwhelm’d my tortured mind.”

As it takes the whole hymn to tell the whole story, it seems necessary to continue quoting.

“Again did Sinai’s thunders roll,
And guilt lay heavy on my soul;
A vast unwieldy load.
Alas! I read, and saw it plain,
The sinner must be born again,
Or drink the wrath of God.”

Turning now from Mt. Sinai, to Mt, Zion; no relief, or hope, or comfort, yet appears from that quarter.

“The saints I hoard with rapture tell,
How Jesus conquered death and hell,
And broke the fowler’s snare.
But when I found this truth remain,
The sinner must be born again,
I sunk in deep despair.”

It seems to me now, that in this pit of despair I must have lain for years. I have wondered ofttimes since, that the preaching did not at some time find me, but it did not, and I suppose I had to learn in the hardest kind of experience, what good preaching was, and what it was for. After having traveled thus far with the poet, I encountered a stumbling-block of a somewhat different kind, but as effectual in stumbling me. as the other; and it is to this that I am aiming to call rather special attention.

“While thus my soul in anguish lay,
Jesus of Nazareth passed that way,
And felt his pity move.
The sinner by his justice slain,
Now by his grace is born again,
And sings redeeming love.”

Now the poet has got away from me, and I do not know what it is that has taken place. Just what I have been watching and waiting and hoping to find is not there. He is out of the prison, and the despair, but what is it that has happened? What is it that I may hope will some time come to me! He says he is born again, and a song of praise is in his month, but he does not even attempt to tell me what has taken place with him, in which he recognized Jesus of Nazareth.

It was years afterward that I was speaking of this experience, in a company of brethren; it was not only after I had made a profession, but after I was recognized as a minister. In order to make myself better understood, I got the hymn book to show them, and surprised myself to find the words changed in our present collection. The reader may see the difference by comparing the two verses. It now reads,

“While thus my soul in anguish lay,
Jesus of Nazareth passed that way;
It was the time of love.
He then relieved me from my pain,
And showed me I was born again,
To dwell with him above.”

If the reader has followed me thus far, it will not be difficult to see that this change covers the ground of the difficulty. I said then, somebody has been there before me, and this same difficulty must have stumbled some one else. I presume that Elder Gilbert Beebe made this change. But there was not only this, that other and older pilgrims had stumbled there before, but there was in this last form of expression just what I wanted, and what I thought I could witness to. That I was already born of the Spirit, or under the Spirit’s teaching, and had been for years, and that this was really the cause of all this distress on account of sin, had not once entered my thoughts.

Well, in summing up, I will say that the lessons I learned then are indelible, and still furnish the keynote in all my writings, as well as in all public speaking. I think it is rather a benefit to me to go back, away back, over all those three score years, and remember the songs of deliverance I learned so long ago to sing.

Yours to serve,
E. RITTENHOUSE.

Signs Of The Times
Volume 67, No. 7
April 1, 1899