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“I MUSE ON THE YEARS THAT ARE PAST.”

I Am thinking of the past because it is all I have now, and doubt if my thoughts will be of profit to any one except myself, however, I will try to write of a few things that were joy, peace and gladness in days gone by. In order to reach the experiences upon which “I muse” it will be necessary to mention some things which preceded, and also some things which have followed. When I was about thirteen years of age there came to my native town (Qnantico, Wicomico Co., Md.,) a man by the name of Shaffer, a good, conscientious man, I believe; he made his home at my mother’s and preached for the Missionary Baptist churches of that county. During his stay with us he held meetings in the school-house in the village; these meetings developed into a revival (so called) and I, with six or seven others professed religion, and was baptized. For a time I tried to be good and avoid all evil, but after awhile I found myself drifted away from all called good and great. I often felt badly because I had made the profession, for I thought it was a great sin when one afterwards denied it by walk and conversation. At the age of about seventeen I went to Washington, D. C. After spending several years there in business, I went to Chicago, Illinois, and spent fifteen months: during this period my life was one of anything and everything except a religious one; never having a thought of God or my own condition as a sinner. In 1885 I returned from Chicago and located in Delmar, Delaware, there I soon became associated with Old School Baptists, but had no use for them, as I had heard all my life that the doctrine they believed and preached was worse than infidelity. In the spring of 1886 I was married to a daughter of Old Baptist parents: through respect to them I would occasionally go to hear their minister, who at that time was Elder E. Rittenhouse, afterwards Elder A. B. Francis. When the minister had finished his discourse I did not know any more than I did before he began; I confess I did not know what he was trying to get at, neither did I believe he knew: it was all a strange mixture to me. Once I went to hear Elder Wilson Housel; during his remarks he said, “It is a grand thing that the division took place in the church in 18:52, for it separated the wheat from the chaff:” he then took up the “Old School “as the wheat and the “New School” as the chaff: this I understood, for he really did ridicule the New School; (I now know he preached a good sermon,) this offended me, and I solemnly vowed never to hear another Old Baptist preacher; for a long time I kept my word. Several years after this a strange feeling came over me which I did not understand, a feeling of wretchedness, a feeling of depression, a craving for something I did not know what, a feeling of guilt, a feeling of loneliness, for no one was like me; never had I heard of such an experience: my only companions were the dragons and owls of the wilderness. My life seemed completely changed; the earth was empty and void. I found myself occasionally reading the Bible, but to what end I did not know, for I did not understand it. At times my reckless life would come up before me with condemning force, and I thought every one knew me and could read me like a book: this cut me off from society, because I did not feel worthy to mingle with these “who had been my company. About this time I was taken dangerously ill, and for some time lingered between life and death: no one around me knew what I was suffering in mind because of my sins, neither can I describe that suffering here. I was at the end of all my works, and “What will become of me?” was the one question with me. One day when all hope seemed gone that I would ever recover and my very Soul in despair, there came a voice (not earthly) which said, “God has saved you;” darkness and fear fled away, and the joy of that hour no tongue can tell. “I muse on the years that are past.” I was ready then to depart and be with God, but instead I began to recover from that very hour, and in a few weeks was able to be around my room. When I was able to get around again I went to hear Old Baptist preaching: it was no longer a strange mixture to me, but salvation by the grace of God; this suited me because it fitted my case. I plodded along outside of the church until May, 1894, when I was received in the fellowship of the Little Creek church, Delaware, and was baptized by Elder A. B. Francis. We had preaching only once a month; the time seemed so long to wait to hear the gospel proclaimed, of which every word at that time filled my Soul with, it seemed, an heavenly rapture. “I muse on the years that are past.” The way of life and salvation seemed so clear and plain that I verily thought I could tell it to all men, and I tried to do so, but after awhile I learned that I could not raise the dead nor open the eyes of the blind. From the day I was baptized I felt impressed that I would have to preach; the burden became heavier and heavier; often subjects would be presented to my mind, and for relief I would write, and some of these writings appeared in the SIGNS. After a time I was called upon to read a hymn or speak in prayer or make a few remarks at our regular meetings; sometimes I could and other times I could not. Often when I knew I had to try to speak on the morrow I would spend a sleepless night; my appetite would fail me, and often I had to hold on to the desk to steady myself because of physical weakness. In 1896 the church licensed me to exercise my gift wherever in providence a door might be opened, and in 1897 ordained me. During my first experience in the church and in the ministry, visions came by night and revelations by day; my Soul was filled with wonder, praise and zeal, but I have grown older in years and in sin since then, and now “I muse on the years that are past.” The shades of night have fallen; if there is now a day of the Lord, surely it is one of darkness, in which is no brightness at all. There are no more visions by night, no more revelations by day, no more zeal. It seems that I have ceased to have spiritual emotions; no lead of mind into these glorious truths of the Bible, no more pleasant meditation upon the secret of the Lord, no more comfort in hearing the word preached, no more inclination to read the Scriptures, and if I have that real desire for the welfare and prosperity of Zion that I once had, it is not in exercise. I am dead to everything called spiritual, and the worst of it is I fear I am indifferent to it all. That heart of feeling I once had is now stone; that fountain of tears which once so freely Mowed is now dry; the tongue that once freely spoke of the glory, goodness and mercy of God is now silent, except when I try to preach. Days and nights pass without a word of prayer; I am indeed at times afraid to try to pray, afraid to lake the holy name of God in my sinful lips; I feel at times that I fear God as I would an angry monarch in whose presence the transgressor cannot stand; then on the other hand, when the time of our regular meeting arrives I am afraid not to try to pray. I am not worthy to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and at times tremble at the thought, yet I am afraid not to make the attempt. How many, many times I have said, I will give it all up, and often have thought I could if I were not afraid. I am often questioning if this kind of service is acceptable to God; it is the best I have now, but it was not so in my first experience; then I would have owned my Lord, I believe, at the sacrifice of my own life; “I muse on the years that are past;” but now I feel sure, were I brought to the test, I would say, “I know not the man.” No mystery is so great, it seems to me, as the “mystery of iniquity.” O the bottomless pit of the human heart. Views of Scripture which once seemed so clear and full, are to me now cloudy and dark; texts that I have used in days past with liberty, as I thought, are now sealed; my very Soul seems chilled with the atmosphere of winter. No more can I “sing with the spirit and with the understanding also;” there seems no life in the good old hymns of the past. All that I do or say that has the appearance of religion, seems to me to be only mechanical. I am a tree without fruit, a cloud without rain, a well without water. In many of these bitter things I feel alone; my brethren are living and walking in the Lord, and when I see it I am glad for them. Should I have been told years ago, when all was joy and peace, that such a change could come in my feelings, I could not have believed it, and should I be told now that I will again experience the joy, peace and love which were mine in the years that are past, I could hardly dare hope for it. Well do I remember these days when I longed for meetings that I might hear the Word preached, and to visit the brethren that I might hear them talk of spiritual things, but these days are gone. Surely if the path of the just is as a light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day, I do not belong to that class. I cannot see the clear sky of God’s wonders to the children of men. If I could not muse on the years that are past I would be hopeless, but there is some comfort in remembering now my Creator in the days of my youth; when no evil days came, and when the clouds returned not after rain: then I could read and sing with joy and gladness of heart, and drink in the truth as the parched earth drinks in the rain which comes seldom upon it. “I muse on the years that are past.” Can it be possible that blindness, destitution, nakedness and poverty of soil are evidences of our sonship with God? How gladly we would lay hold upon them as such if we could; they seem rather to cut us off. All my hope and ambition of years ago, that I might grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, have been blasted, and I am brought to grief and disappointment.

I hope it may not distress the mind of any one who may read this letter; surely it is not written for that purpose. We are told to bring all the tithes into the storehouse: we can bring only what we have, this I have done in this letter.

H. C. KER.
MIDDLETOWN, N. Y.

Signs Of The Times
Volume 73, No. 5
April 1, 1905