Lexington, Ky., Nov.24, 1874.
MY DEARLY BELOVED BROTHER BEEBE: - A short time since I received a letter from a brother in a distant state, asking me to write for publication in the “Signs,” my views on the call to the gospel ministry. I can only give the exercises of my own mind on this important subject.
Very soon after I became seriously and lastingly impressed with a sense of my exposed condition as a sinner against God, I resorted to the attentive perusal of my Bible, with the hope that I might find therein some way of escaping the wrath of God, which was justly due me as a sinner. Instead of finding the relief I had hoped for, I realized a deeper sense of my own wretchedness, guilt and condemnation. It seemed that almost every sentence I read, made my just condemnation more clear and conclusive. I found many passages which seemed to afford encouragement to those who were not so polluted and vile as I felt myself to be. I felt as the poet expressed;
“I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once he’d answer my request;
And by his love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this he made me feel,
The hidden evils of my heart;
Let all the angry powers of hell,
Assault my soul in every part.”
My distress and anguish of heart became more pungent when I bowed to ask the forgiveness of my sins, because of the insincerity of my heart and wanderings of my thoughts. In the course of time, I learned a man was to preach in the town where I lived, who spoke much of the terrors of hell, and the torments of the damned. I immediately resolved to hear him. I found truly that the burden of his preaching was of that character. I left the house more deeply distressed than ever, with the reflection, How hardened you must be when the terrors of hell and torments of the damned make no impression on you. I considered my case, if possible, more hopeless than ever. Soon after I learned that an Old Baptist preacher had an appointment in town, and I went to hear him. His theme was, God’s love to sinners, and before he had proceeded far with his discourse I felt the tears trickling down my face, but I could not believe I was of the number God loved. On going home and meditating on the subject of the discourse I had heard, I was more perplexed than ever. I now hope I understand the apostle’s language, “Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.”
Shortly after this and in the month of September, 1819, while lying on my bed, about 11 o’clock at night, and bemoaning my lost and undone condition, the wicked and presumptuous thought intruded itself on my mind that perhaps I should have at some day to preach the gospel. I was greatly alarmed, and concluded this was an omen of my swift and speedy destruction. I concluded if I had committed no other sin, this wicked thought was enough to justify God in my condemnation. The thought,
“I who am all defiled with sin,
A rebel all forlorn,
A foe, a traitor to my God,
And of a traitor born,”
filled me with horror; and as often as the unwelcome intruder was felt, anguish of heart was the result. I still strove to get better, but found I was growing worse, until the 3rd Sunday in February, 1820, when it seemed bitter despair was about to seize upon me. I went to preaching sad and almost hopeless, when the preacher, [the late Elder Trott,] took for his text Isa.28:16 – “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold I lay in Zion, for a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation, he that believeth on him shall not make haste.” Immediately the darkness of my poor soul, which was so thick as to be felt, was dispersed, and the precious cornerstone, the sure foundation, the Lord Jesus Christ was revealed to me [as I hope,] as the way whereby poor sinners could be saved. Tears of joy and gladness now flowed freely, and Doctor Watts’ language became mine:
“All over glorious is our Lord,
Must be beloved, and yet adored;
His worth, if all the nations knew,
Sure the whole world would love him too.”
I yet feel that it is only necessary to know, and that knowledge will cause love to him. It was but a very short time when the unwelcome intruder [the thought that I should be required to preach,] returned with more force, anxiety and opposition, if possible, than ever. I plead youth and ignorance and utter unfitness for so great a work, and determined to keep my thoughts on this subject to myself. Some three months subsequently an intelligent sister asked me after hearing some good preaching, How did you like that preaching? I replied that I was delighted. She continued, You will have to do so, to which I quickly replied, No, I won’t. She said, I think you will; I responded, You have no right to think so, to which she said, Pray sir, can you help your thoughts? I answered, No; but you ought to help or control yours better than indulge such. I now began to be afraid that others might have such thoughts, and thereby increase my embarrassment. Very soon another and yet another of the brethren approached me with the inquiry, Has not your mind been impressed with the duty of preaching the gospel? I endeavored to keep dark, under the impression that if I were called to the work, so long as the church were silent, I should escape chastisement. It was not long, however, until this prop was taken away. An old and highly esteemed brother and “pioneer to the dark and bloody ground,” observed to the church that he believed the Lord had blessed them with a gift, and moved that liberty be granted me to exercise my gift in singing, prayer and exhortation, within the bounds of the members. I immediately responded, I have as much liberty as I want – that of being a member of the body. But little time elapsed when I was called to another trial. Another old and beloved “pioneer,” moved that written license be given me to preach wherever the Lord might cast my lot, and that I be requested to go into the pulpit and preach, as well when the pastor was present as absent. I begged the brethren to forbear, but in vain. Time wore on, I was distressed when I refused, and distressed with my feeble efforts when I consented to try. A circumstance bore heavily on my mind and embarrassed me greatly, of which they were not advised. I heard ministers whom I loved, declare from the pulpit, that in regeneration the man was changed from the love of sin to the love of holiness. I concluded, if this be true, I am no christian.
Again, They preached that in regeneration the enmity of the heart is slain. I felt within me if that is true, I am where I ought not to be. My distress drove me to my Bible; on this subject I earnestly desired to know the truth of the matter, and after painful experience I found relief in reading Paul’s experience when he said, “When I would do good evil is present with me.” Again, “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things ye would.” I was confirmed in my opinion that those brethren were wrong. But a hard struggle rose up immediately. How could I, a poor, weak and imperfect being, rise up and controvert the truth of the doctrine preached by those older and more experienced, and in whose christianity and call to the ministry I had more confidence than in my own!
The severe domestic affliction under which I had been laboring for many months, and which had disclosed the native enmity of my poor, sinful heart, proving the truth of the apostle’s declaration, “The old man is corrupt with his deeds,” led me almost to despair reaching the heavenly glory. The poet has well expressed my agony of soul when he cried:
“Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?”
But my mind was led on to the further declaration of the same apostle, “The new man after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” I then saw the antagonism of the two natures possessed by every one born of the Spirit, out of which grows that warfare which so pains the heart of the christian. Now to withhold the convictions of my own judgment on this subject would be dishonest and criminal; while to avow the difference would manifest a desire to follow an apostle who said, “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” I seemed indeed to be “chastened as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.” I was, however, greatly encouraged when I found my brethren receive so cordially the views I held on the subject. I however passed along between hope and fear for a short time, until another of the dear old pioneers proposed, in the church, my ordination. I instantly plead in bar my youth as a professor, my ignorance, inexperience, and total lack of scriptural qualifications for the ministry; but all in vain. I believed the mind of the Lord was in his church, and submitted. The work of ordination was proceeded, and a presbytery composed of four of the “old pioneers,” with five or six other ministers, who examined me on my christian experience, call to the ministry, and doctrinal views, proceeded to set me apart to the work. Very soon after my ordination I was brought to confront the doctrine of Fullerism, or general atonement and special application; and in a short time, the doctrine of the Reformation, as it is called, promulgated by the late Alexander Campbell, both of which I felt were at war with the doctrine of the Bible; consequently I felt bound to oppose and expose. Very soon afterward, the almost universally popular inventions of man for evangelizing the world, were strongly and persistently urged on the churches as a christian duty. I was approached and urged to join them; but give me, said I, Bible authority for them, or I cannot join. The reply was, See how much good we are accomplishing by them. Well, said they, if you cannot, or will not, join us, don’t say anything against them. I asked, What is the duty of the watchman but to warn the church on the approach of the enemy? The next step was to intimidate, by saying, You have fearful odds against you; the wisest and most learned men among us are members, and you are comparatively alone. My reply has been, If it is the truth I am contending for, God will maintain his own truth; but if it is error, the sooner it is put down the better. Those departures from the simplicity of the truth began to shew themselves in letters from corresponding associations, to which we promptly replied, protesting against these errors, which soon produced the dropping of the correspondence. But we were destined to a sorer trial when brought to realize the warning of the apostle, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” The doctrine of the Circular on the Christian Warfare had been preached among us without offense, so far as I know, for very many years, but was ultimately made the occasion on the part of some of our body for the denunciation against us of “the worst kind of heresy,” and “a declaration of non-fellowship against us.” Several churches withheld correspondence with us, together with a suspension of correspondence by several associations through their misrepresentation of us. Two of those associations, on being better informed, returned, and with acknowledgements, asked a renewal of the correspondence. One of the party who had left us approached me, saying the old fashioned Baptists were few in number, and asking on what terms they could have union and correspondence with us; I replied, You have publicly denounced us guilty of the worst kind of heresy, and declared non-fellowship for us; you ought not to ask correspondence with heretics, and those for whom you have declared non-fellowship – a public acknowledgement is indispensable, on your part, to union with us. I am advised of no such acknowledgement; hence no union can be had with us. I am fully satisfied that no substantial good can result, as we have hitherto learned, from correspondence with those who are not agreed on the fundamental principles of our holy religion, and I am entirely satisfied that churches and associations wrong themselves and compromise their own peace and religious welfare by receiving [into their correspondence] to doubtful disputation, those not in faith and practice with them. Licking Association now, and for more than twenty years, has enjoyed uninterrupted peace, union and sweet fellowship. If what I have been called to suffer, and to bear, in the last fifty-four years, has contributed to the comforting, building up and establishing the children of God in the truth, I feel that I ought therein to rejoice, rather than regret what it has cost in doing so.
If the sympathy of my heart has been more warmly enlisted in behalf of one class of christians than another, it has been in behalf of those called of God, and put in trust with the ministry of the word; but I would remind such that they serve a good and gracious Sovereign – one who knows these trials, temptations, and discouragements; and although they cannot at all times feel his presence, yet he has most truly said, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” They will find brethren faithful and true, [as I have] so long as they are faithful to their calling.
As ever, faithfully your brother in hope of the better resurrection,
Thomas P. Dudley.
P.S. – Although I have never had the heart satisfying evidence that I have been called to the work of the ministry I have desired, yet I may be allowed to say that I have no misgivings with regard to the truth of the doctrine I have preached.