“Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth, and the faithful fail from among men!”
These words came forcibly to my mind on reading the obituary notice in the last number of the Signs, occasioned by the death of our late and aged and justly esteemed brother Edward Choat. It was my happiness to enjoy a long and intimate acquaintance with him, – and acquaintance which to me was both pleasant and profitable. The biographer might find in his life materials sufficient to furnish an interesting work; but I have neither the talent nor inclination necessary to attempt a work of that kind: yet I have thought that a few facts connected with his history may not be uninteresting to your readers.
In his youth (like all others while in a state of nature) he was an Arminian: he conceived the design of attaining to a state of sinless perfection, and in his own estimation was quite successful in his efforts to accomplish that object. But it was the pleasure of God to frustrate his designs; and to let him know that not by works of righteousness that he had done, but that by free and sovereign grace he was to be saved. This previous design of God was made to known to him at a very unexpected time, and in a manner quite remarkable. He had left home on business; and while riding alone, congratulation himself on his success in attaining to sinless perfection, and without any act whatever to interrupt his reflections, suddenly he saw himself a guilty and polluted sinner; and he used frequently to state to me that in a few minutes from viewing himself in a state of sinless perfection, he saw himself the vilest wretch out of hell. Convinced thus of his sinful condition, and stripped of the polluted rags of his own righteousness, he never found peace until he found it in the peace-speaking blood of the cross.
Shortly after his conversion, this mind became exercised on the subject of the ministry; but feeling, according to his own account, destitute of every qualification, he felt a decided opposition to it; and, to use his own language, told the Lord that he could not and would not preach. Abut this time he was attacked by an affection in the throat, which (though unattended with pain or any other inconvenience) deprived him of the use of his speech for ten years, during which time he never spoke above a whisper. At the close of this period a fact occurred of a nature so extraordinary that I feel some hesitation in relating it, – not that I have the remotest doubt of its truth; but lest it may (to the minds of some) approach too near the marvellous for the age. However, I will just mention it and let your readers attribute it to what cause they please. It was this: One morning, while his mind was unusually agitated on the subject of the ministry, he saw his black man at a considerable distance from him, and observed to himself, If I can speak loud enough to make Josh [the name of the black man] hear me, I will preach: immediately the attempt was made, and to his astonishment proved successful. From that time his voice improved: though he never recovered from a peculiar hoarseness occasioned by the affection. His physician attempted to account for it on natural principles; but he ever regarded it as a visitation from God – as a punishment for his rebellion in refusing to preach. Shortly after this occurrence, he commenced the ministry; and from the above facts we may easily form an idea of the character of his preaching. For him to have preached anything else than salvation by grace would have been to contradict his own experience as well as the word of God. If the blandishment of human learning were a necessary qualification of the Baptist ministry, the churches in Maryland and elsewhere would never have realized the benefits of his labors of love; for to human learning he made no pretension, his opportunities in early life having been very limited, owing perhaps to the general want of such opportunities at that time, (for it is well known that at the time he was a youth, the opportunities of obtaining even a common education were very limited in most parts of our country). But, though destitute of human learning, he possessed in no small degree the real qualifications of the gospel minister – qualifications obtained in the school of Christ, the only school from which gospel qualifications are obtained; and in this school he made great proficiency, by which he was rendered an able minister of the New Testament. The bible constituted almost his entire library, as he seldom read any other book; and his preaching savored highly of the precious book. He was a natural reasoner, but not a dry one. His feelings were warm, and frequently vehement; so much so as to occasion at time considerable interruption to himself. I have known him on commencing to preach, (particularly after having heard a sermon in which he had taken a deep interest) to be fifteen or twenty minutes before he could master his feelings; but when he had affected this, it was generally followed by an unusual flow of gospel ideas.
When the new order of things appeared among the Baptists, (though many appeared pleased with them, who have since abandoned them, among whom was the writer) he ever viewed them with a suspicious eye; and never engaged in them excepting his connexion with a Domestic Missionary Society, in the bounds of the Baltimore association, which (with the exception of the name) was essentially different from the great body of modern missionary plans. This being the state of his mind, he was fully prepared to unite with his brethren in their open stand against them. This stand was taken by a meeting of brethren, held at the meeting house of the church, known by the name of the Black Rock Baptist church, Baltimore Co., Md.; of which church he was pastor at the time, and in which relation he continued till separated from them by death.
In this position he stood firm till the last, when he died emphatically an Old School Baptist preacher: yea, he died such; for his last breath was employed in exalting the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of sinners. But to close: in a word, he was truly a great man, a sound, able and faithful minister of the gospel of the grace of God. A deeply experienced and exemplary christian; a kind and faithful friend, and his memory will be long and deeply cherished by all who know him, and were capable of appreciating his worth. When contemplating the death of such men, our minds are often agitated with clashing emotions. When looking on one side, we view a great loss sustained; a loss of great magnitude to those who have immediately enjoyed the benefits of their labors of love, and particularly at this time, when there are so few (comparatively speaking) of the description of our departed brother left behind. Indeed it looks gloomy, clouds and darkness are round about the throne of God; and the page of the book of Providence now before us, is enveloped in deep mystery. The prayer at the head of these lines becomes very appropriate at this time: “Help, Lord for the godly man ceaseth, and the faithful fail from among men;” and what seems particularly lamentable is, that so few are rising up to fill their places. But when we look on the other side of the cloud, all is bright; they have finished their course: yea, our brother will no more have to endure the peltings of the pitiless storms. No more to mourn over a hard and sinful heart; nor weep over the desolations of Zion, but is at rest: after having like good old Abraham lived to a good old age, and been gathered to his people. And however great the loss to us, it must be ranked among the all things that work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to his purpose; and we know that He who is calling our brethren from the field of battle, is able to raise up others as he was to raise up them; and if it is not his pleasure so to do, it becomes us to bow with deference to his will, and rest satisfied that he is conducting all things to the promotion of his own glory, and the complete and eternal happiness of his own elect.
I leave these lines with you, and remain as ever,
Yours in the best of bonds,
Newark, Del., Jan. 29, 1841
Signs of the Times
Volume 9, No. 4.
February 15, 1841