I was born March 28, 1856, in London, England. I was by nature a child of wrath even as others, and from my earliest memory, I walked according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.
Thus, I lived and walked in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. I was trained up with every attention on the part of my parents, who sought continually to direct me in the way I should go. Yet, from my earliest recollections, I was addicted to many open sins, and as I increased in years, so the open manifestations of my corrupt nature increased also: so desperate was my enmity to God that as an eager reader of all kinds of books, I would scan the pages of all before reading, lest they should contain the name of God. In the year of 1870, my parents immigrated to Canada, and settled for a short time in the city of Montreal. Here I went to work in a tobacco store, and became acquainted with a number of young men, companions of my employer. If there ever was a den of iniquity, it was the association of these young gentlemen (such, no doubt, many of them were thought to be in the estimation of many) who assembled in that parlor adjoining the store. Being but a lad, and ever ready (when in bad company) to give vent to all manner of vileness, I was most readily admitted to their fellowship, and grew in vice with rapidity, and could soon blaspheme as fluently as anyone, and endeavored to excel all others in filthy conversation. Oh what wickedness did I conceive, and practice, yes, the very members of my body were enslaved, and gladly yielded up to the gratification of the flesh and of the mind. I forbear to say more, for it is with shame even to speak of those things, “which have been done by us in secret.” But ye people of God, ye ransomed of the Lord, I should not have written even this much of so dark a picture, but “I am a miracle of grace.” Often have I wondered if any of God’s elect were at my age suffered to plunge so deeply into all vileness. Oh how I longed to be free from all constraint, how I wished the years to fly by, that I might attain unto manhood. What revelings and banquetings and abominab1e vices I promised myself, and attain them I would, let the cost be what it would. Often do I shutter at the thought of what I might have become had not almighty and sovereign grace arrested me. Thus I continued until my sixteenth year, when the predestined time drew near ill which it pleased God to call me by His grace, and to reveal His Son Jesus Christ in me.
“For thus the eternal counsel ran,
Almighty grace, arrest that man;
I felt the arrows of distress,
And found I had no hiding place.”
On the first Sunday in April, 1871, 1 went to the First Baptist meeting house in Montreal. Being somewhat early, I sat in the pew contemplating all manner of evil which I intended to delight myself in the coming week. While thus occupied, the preacher gave out his text, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1). In a moment, all my schemes were frustrated; all my sinful anticipations blasted, and the terrors of the Almighty made me afraid. What the preacher said in his sermon, I have not the slightest remembrance, but in my inmost soul, that awful voice I heard saying again and again: “Boast not thyself of tomorrow.” How I conducted myself during the service, I know not, this I do know, I felt myself to be in the very belly of hell. All the day, I was in misery, and when night drew nigh, my trouble increased, I dared not sleep lest I should awaken in hell for those wondrous words were sent with crushing power to my poor guilty soul, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow.”
Morning, at length dawned, and I felt a little relief that I was yet alive upon the earth. I went to my occupation, and thought to banish my fears in the companionship of devils, but I could not mingle with them. I was afraid the earth would open and swallow us up. The righteous demands of the holy law of God came upon me, sin revived, my sins stared me in the face, and I felt that upon me was poured forth the awful curse of God.
I could no longer run to the same excess of riot with my associates, and they thought it strange of me, and judged I was sick. Indeed I was, and beyond all and before tomorrow, I would be in hell. Oh what creature power to heal. Next Sunday, I went to this same fashionable church building expecting to hear some dreadful message, for everything in the Bible I felt was against me. The preacher announced his text, “God is Love.” I feltcan it be so? A little ray of hope shone in. I wished it might be so, but in a moment all was dashed away, for I felt it could not be that God loved me, and I felt; oh so distressed! Yet, again the still, small voice said, “God is Love,” at which my enmity was slain, I felt drawn to God to seek the Lord to yearn for His mercy. I could hold out no longer.
My heart commenced to break, and my eyes with tears to flow, and all the while I felt my vileness to increase ten-fold more. Oh how loathsome I saw and felt wrath burned within me against the Holy One of Israel. I felt He was an awful tyrant. Why could not God let me alone? Oh that I could tear Him from His throne. Oh, that there was no God! Though in my wicked heart I thought these things, yet no comfort did it give me. Of mercy, I scarcely thought. I felt beyond that I was too vile; my sins too great. Therefore, God had come to cut me off and damn me forever. All that week, despair and wrath possessed me. Truly, “the law worketh wrath.”
“Law and terrors do but harden,
All the while they work alone.”
I bowed my head to hide my emotions from those sitting by, and poured forth my cries to God, and for the first time in my life, I prayed. I spent the rest of the day in secret for I was afraid to let others see me. Oh, what sorrow filled my soul! When night came I retired to my bedroom, and bitter cries and tears, poured forth my trouble before the Most High. I felt the Lord must come and save me or I must quickly perish in my dreadful guilt.
“God be merciful to me a sinner,” was my fervent cry. Then the thought would come, “I have been so wicked.” I am only adding to my guilt in thus presumptuously asking for mercy; but still that sweet declaration, “God is Love,” buoyed up my soul amidst the rolling billows of distress, and drew forth from my perishing soul the cry, “Have mercy upon me, O Lord, save me, I perish.” While thus crying to the Almighty God, there came before me a vision of Jesus upon the cross. I saw One hanging on the tree in agonies and blood, and a voice seemed to say to me, “Salvation is in My dear Son.” Then, for the first time, it dawned upon my soul, the way of God’s salvation. I did, indeed, feel my need of His salvation, for fully convinced was I that I could not save myself. I thought He looked so pityingly upon me, saying in my sin-bruised heart, “Look unto me.” Yes, it was revealed in my heart that in some mysterious way that Jesus bore our sins in His own body on the tree. He was smitten of God and afflicted. “For the transgressions of my people was He stricken.” Oh, what a sacred and awful sight to view Christ crucified, while the Holy Ghost opens up in our souls the unfathomable depths of Jehovah’s justice and grace declared in the atonement made by Christ’s precious blood. While thus at the feet of the crucified One, agonizing cries imploring the forgiveness of my sins, longing for some word from His lips, some glance to heal my painful wounds, to save me from my sins, and misery. I thought the dear Redeemer looked down upon me from the cross with such compassion and tender love in His countenance and said, “I suffered for thee. I died for thee.” Immediately, my burden was gone, and sweet joy and peace flowed into my soul, and I wept with joy. Yes, I wept aloud in my blessedness. This awakened my brother, who was sleeping in the room, who told ne to stop my noise. I tried to be quiet, but could not. Weep and bless the name of the Lord, I must, for He had put the new song in my mouth, and sing it I must. Still, the vision of the suffering Emmanuel was before ne. Oh, how I loved Him!
“Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree.”
Oh, how my heart was pained for Him! How I pitied and mourned over Him; and Oh, what a poor, vile sinner did I see myself to be! Never till then did I see such blackness, such horribleness in sin, and I felt I was the vilest of the human race. But He had said, “I suffered for thee, I died for thee.” I wept for joy, lost in wonder, love, and praise. Thus, I spent the night. While at my breakfast in the morning, a cloud came over me, for I dreaded the thought of going to that store to work. My heart went up to the Lord to go with me and sustain me. I avoided all intercourse with my former associates, but they noticed that I was so changed, and were satisfied that I was sick, and wondered what could have come over me that I did not enter into their filthy conversation and practices. They pressed me so hard to know the reason that I told them the reason, and warned them of the fearful state they were in. At this, they mocked and burst out into roars of laughter, and said, “See! Fred has got religion!” And they began to tell their experiences with religion, how they had numbers of times got religion, and then got rid of it, and that I would soon be glad to get rid of mine. I left off talking with them. Temptations to indulge in my former vile practices came upon me with awful power, so that I shuddered for I feared lest I should fall. I cried night and day to the Lord to preserve me, for I felt I had no strength to stand against such floods of temptation. I found some very precious moments on reading the New Testament, which I had taken to the store, for I frequently had leisure moments to read. Every precious thing I read, I felt to be mine. What comforting and glorious things I found in the scripture, and wonderful things that I did not understand, yet I felt it was all mine, for Jesus is mine!
In the beginning of the month of May, 1871, my parents removed from the city of Montreal to Ingersol, Ontario. This pleased me well, for I dreaded to continue to live in Montreal. We had been living in Ingersol but a few weeks when returning home from preaching at a Baptist place of meeting, a certain number of that church overtook us, and entering into conversation with my father, he asked how he liked the preaching. My father told him he did not like it, for it was not the truth, it was false doctrine, that it was free-will trash. This man contended for it. He said Christ died to save the whole world, everybody, and even now there are thousands in hell for whom Christ died. My father replied that this could not be true for it was written of Christ that “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11). That it was impossible that any of Christ’s loved ones, for whom He shed His precious blood to ransom them from the grave, to redeem them from hell, from the curses of the law, could be in hell. How could He be satisfied, and have them damned in hell? No, He gave Himself a sacrifice for their sins, and they were so dear and precious to Him that for them He shed His precious blood. My father continued, that Christ died to redeem His people, His elect, the Church, and they only, and also contended that His elect were the subjects of His sovereign electing grace, they are, when it pleases God, born again, of the Spirit, called of God. My father in contending for the truth against this man, uttered again and again (Isaiah 53:11). He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. Oh, the travail of His soul! He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. Oh, this whole 53rd of Isaiah is comfortingly wonderful. His soul’s travail. His sacrifice of Himself brought forth His elect from under the curse to present her to Himself a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle, or blemish or any such thing. He did see of the travail of His soul, and was satisfied. The travail of His soul was not a failure, it was to the eternal satisfaction of Jehovah, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
When we arrived home, my father took the Bible and began reading some of it to me, and all my foolish utterances against what my father was contending for were stopped, for I could not reply against God. I was astonished, and darkness enshrouded me. I went to the Lord with my trouble, and besought Him to teach me, to guide me into the truth, and not to suffer my parents to lead me astray. The next morning, as soon as I was dressed, I took up the Bible and turned to some of the texts my father had read to me; for I felt he surely read them wrong; but there was the doctrine: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, Grace unto you, and peace be multiplied” (1 Pet 1:2). I was sorely troubled. This doctrine seemed to change the face of God to me, or rather I had hard thoughts of my God. Yet, I could not rest. I must know if this doctrine is the truth, or not the truth. So every night, on returning home from my work, I read the Bible, and in great anxiety cried to the Lord to teach me. My parents, seeing me study the word, said nothing to me. In a few days, I was astonished but fully convinced that Jehovah has a people according to His eternal election of them in Christ Jesus, that they should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Eph. 1:4). Very soon, I was led to see some of the beauty and glory therein, and then was I troubled indeed, for I felt unless I am one of God’s chosen, I am lost, and all that I have experienced is vain. Oh, such temptations set in, such tossings to and fro! The adversary told me I was too vile, I had gone too far. Oh, how wretched I became! I felt indeed I had no claim upon God, and yet at times, I felt my only hope was in this “Election of grace”; for I was so unworthy. I thought surely what lately I have known of the kindness and love of God my Saviour is because of His eternal delight in me in Christ Jesus, that He had chosen me unto salvation; but I would sink into the depths again. Thus I went on so distressed with continual cries to the Lord to assure me whether I were His or not. At length the Lord answered my cries, and I was made to know the election hath obtained it (Rom. 11:5). For the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, spoke in my soul the gracious words, saying “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore, with loving kindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3).
“O wondrous grace, and mystery profound,
In God’s eternal purpose I was found;
His sovereign love, His grace and deep degree
In some mysterious way included me.”
How my heart leaped for joy, and I praised the Lord with joyful lips.
“How happy are we, our election who see,
And venture, O Lord, for salvation on Thee!
In Jesus approved, eternally loved
Upheld by thy power, we cannot he moved.”
There, I have penned a sketch of the first divine and gracious dealings of the Lord with one who is, I trust, one of the election of grace, and at future times, the Lord willing, I will pen for publication matters concerning my ministry in the gospel of Christ.
FREDERICK W. KEENE
501 Cleveland Ave., Raleigh, NC
SOVEREIGN GRACE AND PILGRIM,
March-April, 1937, Vol. 15, No. 2