New Castle, Henry Co., Ind., March 18, 1846.
BROTHER BEEBE: - I for some time past have occasionally read your paper, and believing that you contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, I now, together with some of my brethren, wish to become a subscriber. You are unacquainted with me, and I will therefore endeavor to give you a few sketches of my former life.
I was a sinner from my very birth, and most of my days have been spent in a way calculated to destroy myself, and dishonor that beneficent Being whose liberal bounty sustained me, and whose matchless goodness and power preserved me. Indeed, I have been made to conclude that it was a signal display of his forbearance and mercy that such a rebel was suffered to live, and participate in the common blessings of this life. I was under the restraint of pious parents, and particularly a mother, who lived many years and died a member of the old Regular Baptist Church, who took great pains in teaching me many moral lessons; and I cannot say that I did not present to the world what men generally term a fair character. But the mischief was within, for there was a heart deceitful and desperately wicked above all things; and I did not, neither could I, know it. I often went to meeting, and heard, I suppose, almost all sorts of preaching. Sometimes I heard of the joys of heaven, and sometimes of the pains of hell. Heaven presented no joys to me; but often when meditating upon a frightful place of endless torment my natural fears were aroused, and I at length resolved to become religious, that I might escape punishment. I had heretofore thought this a considerable task, but found it (as the Arminians say) to be as easy as to turn my hand over; for I made, as I thought, wonderful progress in religious matters, but did not make a formal profession for fear of being less thought of by some of my young companions, (religion not being quite so fashionable then as at present,) but postponed the time of making it public until I should change my manner of living, yet continued at some times to hold my religion very sacred, and at other times I would make such blunders as would almost cause me to conclude that I had fallen from grace, and again I would set hard at work to regain the ground that I had lost. At length I took to myself a companion, but the business that necessarily followed had a tendency to wear out my religion, rather than cause me to make a public profession of it, and I therefore lost it.
This is a short account of my first religious career, and what was it that prompted me to it? The fears of torment. What did it consist in? Self-righteousness, and consequently self-applause. How did I get it? By my works. How did I keep it? By my works. How did I lose it? By my works. And so it was all works and no grace; my deceitful, wicked heart was untouched by the love of God, I was deaf to the sound of salvation through a Redeemer crucified, blind to the beauty and excellency of a Savior, for he appeared to me as a root out of dry ground. I was destitute of an understanding of that eternal, unchangeable and sure plan of salvation that is exhibited in the covenant of grace; and such religion as I first had I fear constitutes a great part of that which is so much talked about and boasted of in the present day.
But to return to my story. I removed from Virginia to Indiana in the fall of 1829, and in the spring of 1830 I hope the Lord was pleased to dispel, by the light of his Spirit some of the gross darkness that enshrouded my mind, and enable me to realize in some degree my true character. But O! The malignity of my heart and the turpitude of my nature were awful to behold; and while he portrayed to me my miserably defiled character, he seemed to give me an exhibition of his own infallible purity. But how great the contrast! Uncontaminated by any of the crimes that blackened mine, he appeared indeed undefiled and full of glory! His righteous law appeared to be uttering awful accents against me, while vindictive justice, with stern grasp, seemed to hold his uplifted sword to slay the culprit; and what I had formerly thought to be my good works, and of which I had so much boasted, now appeared as filthy rags, and were dashed to the shades at once. I could now plead for mercy, but justice appeared to have cut off all its avenues. Then in my miserable condition I could only cry, “Lord, save, I perish,” while an intolerable load of guilt seemed to be pressing me down, and under which I groaned, being burdened.
It appears to me that if ever there was a soul that stood in need of sovereign, free, distinguishing and saving grace at any time, I did at that time; and those who have passed through a similar scene, and may see this, can probably better judge of my feelings than I can express them, upon hearing the soul-cheering words, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee,” and upon feeling a bosom that had been so long filled with darkness, and a mind that had been so grievously tormented and writhing under a burden of guilt and distress, at once relieved of it all.
Never can I forget the beautiful morning in the mouth of June, when the heavens appeared to open to my view, and present the loveliest object that a poor, lost sinner ever beheld. That bosom, which a little while before had felt as if it must burst with grief, now appeared to be expanded with the love of God. The beautiful grove that overshadowed me, and which the morning sun was just tinging with its beautiful hue, appeared to wave with exquisite beauty, and bow with profound reverence to its all-glorious Author, while all creation seemed to reiterate the praise of that "Word" that had spoken her into existence.
The evidence that I then seemed to have of my many, and aggravated crimes greatly humbled me, and the sight of the Lovely One that had borne my sins in his own body on the tree appeared to fill me with joy unspeakable and full of glory. When I opened and perused the revealed will of my heavenly Father and Benefactor, it was a most precious theme to me, but never had been before; hence I am made to conclude that the gospel was designed to give food, comfort and instruction to the living, and not life to the dead. I fondly, but vainly anticipated continual joy through my following days, but O, how sadly I have been mistaken in this, for I find still belonging to me a nature averse to all that is good; and I have been experimentally taught that it is through much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom.
I was baptized in June, 1830, with my companion and three others. It seemed to be a time of much rejoicing with the little church (Lebanon) with which we united, and with whom I have had many comfortable seasons, and some sorrowful ones mingled with them. I was called to labor in my Master’s vineyard in 1837; and as I had been thoroughly convinced of his sovereignty in the dispensation of his grace and mercy, both in his word and by my own experience, I have been constrained to contend for it. Surely his love is sovereign, for he has loved his elect with an everlasting love, and when they were dead in sins. His choice is sovereign, for they were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. His grace is sovereign, for it was given us in him before the world began. His mercy is sovereign, for he will have mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thus he exhibits to us in his word an unalterable and eternal way of salvation by grace, and grace only, one which Satan nor sin has ever been able to overthrow or effect the least change in. Such a way as this is well adapted to the situation of his children, who by nature are children of wrath, and dead in trespasses and sins, and calculated, too, to wrest the honor from the hands of man, and place the laurels and palms of victory upon the head of the Redeemer, who is worthy of all honor, glory, dignity and majesty forever.
I have therefore had many trying scenes to pass through, not only in mind, but my body has not escaped violence.
But I forbear to say any more at present upon this unpleasant part of my subject. Suffice it to say, that the people who are trying to steal the name of Baptists, and who boast loudly of their great works in “the furtherance of the gospel,” appear to be the most inveterate enemies of the truth. I have found many such in Indiana, Ohio and Virginia, where I have traveled; many who are called Baptists, but comparatively few who appear to be chosen Baptists. But I must not complain, for with those few I have had many comfortable seasons, for which I should continually thank my great Benefactor and Preserver; and not only for these, but for the manifestation of his kind, supporting hand in my much weakness and under all my trials, for “surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life.”
Yours in the bonds of love,
J. F. JOHNSON.