Harrisburg, Ia., February 13, 1849.
BROTHER BEEBE: – The time has come again for you to expect to hear from your agents. I am the same old sinner – older, but no better than I was last year. Many who profess to be christians have attained to sinless perfect, as they say, but alas not me! Here I am yet, weighed down with the body of this death.
In the thirteenth year of my age I first became deeply sensible of my own native vileness; previously to that time I had many religious impressions I often felt horribly alarmed with fears that if I did not repent, pray, and do better before I died, I should sink down to hell. These fears often set me to praying and repenting. One season I was so zealous and faithful, and continued in what is called holy perseverance so long, and without one failure, and was so firmly resolved to hold out faithful to the end, that I felt sure that I was perfectly good, and clear of all sin. I then counted my heaven sure; that is, if I continued holy, and that I was determined to do. I felt happy and wondered how others could live easy in sin, with hell so near them. In this state of supposed sinless perfection I lived several months; but finally I became convinced that the line of accountability so much talked of, that children must cross before they were in any danger of being lost, was at about the age of twelve years: and as Christ was about that age before it was time for him to be about his Father’s business, I thought I had been premature in my religion, for I was safe under the protection of infant purity. Now, as I was an innocent, pure infant, and no danger of punishment, I resolved to take all the pleasure in sin that I could until I should become accountable, and I acted out my resolution so far as a strict paternal discipline could be obviated. In process of time I began to be about twelve years old, and I began to feel my former alarms, as I had now passed the line of accountability. I remembered how very good I had once got, and resolved to become so again, and I succeeded well, by constant prayer, earnest seeking and fervent promises never to sin again, but to serve God devoutly all my days. I found great relief to my mind. I verily believed that I was pleasing God, and that I was a good christian. I saw so many failings and imperfections in professors of religion that there were but very few among them I could own, and none who came up to my standard. I was now perfect again as I believed, and sure of heaven, if I continued faithful. I remained in this delightful state some months. On one Saturday I attended a church meeting and some young people came before the church and related their experience as candidates for baptism. I listened to them with strict attention; all they said about their having been great sinners and about their praying and trying to become good I fully approved: but when they began to talk of getting no better, and of growing worse until all their resources were exhausted, and still they were no better, especially when, now before the church, they still confessed that they remained poor unworthy sinners. I gave them up as extremely ignorant and awfully deluded. I thought every one knew that a sinner was a bad wicked creature, and that a christian was a good and righteous creature; and for a person to be before a church, asking for fellowship, and then and there not even profess to think that they were good, was unreasonable ignorance. To think that they were converted and still remain sinners, was strong delusion. All they said about Christ, and the way of salvation, was well enough; but they were still sinners, and that spoiled it all; for every christian, I thought ought to be good, as I supposed myself to be, and not remain sinners as they were. But when these sinners were cordially received, I thought that every one who voted for them was a base hypocrite. On that evening I heard one say, “How beautifully these young people passed from law to gospel!” This remark set me to thinking, What is law? and what is is gospel? These young people had passed from bad to worse and remained so; and this they call passing from law to gospel. I had passed from bad to good, and this surely must be right. My mind was in a commotion: law and gospel, bad and good were crowding into my mind. To be good, as I felt that I was, must, of course, be the safest way, and yet I could not rest as heretofore. The next day, during the baptism, for the first time in my life, I was suddenly brought to see the desperate wickedness, and awful hypocrisy of my whole heart and nature. All my goodness, and with it all my religion was gone. I felt like a criminal, the just of a Holy God seemed to frown on my devoted head. My lips were seated in conscious guilt. My heart seemed to be filled with hard impotence. All my pleasing prospects were locked up in impenetrable gloom of despair; all my legal hopes were thwarted and I could see no way of escape. I now saw that I was a sinner, a rebel against a good and merciful God. My condemnation was just, and I dared not hope nor pray against the administration of justice. Justice required that I should be banished from the peaceful presence of the pure and Holy God, and from the society of his saints, to dwell forever with hypocrites and unbelievers. This was more awful and heart rending than any thing that had ever crossed my mind when I was only fearing a hell of fire and brimstone. To be banished forever from God and from all holy beings, to dwell with none but rebels in the pollution of sin, was an intolerable thought to me; yet I was to impure and in every part, to allow even a (?) hope of any thing else. For days I continued in this fearful condition. One day as I wandered alone in the woods, I entered into the thick branches of a fallen tree, to confess to God, the justice of my condemnation, I dared not to pray for mercy; for the trees, the air I breathed, the earth on which I stood, and the visible heavens above me, the sun that shone upon me, all seemed to frown and witness my condemnation. While in this fallen tree top, on my knees, confessing that God was just, and I was lost; suddenly – not to my natural eye – but to the eyes of my understanding, I saw a light, at which my gloom was dispelled. The scenery around me seemed to be so changed that the glory of God shone in all around me; and, forgetting all my anguish to the delightful contemplation of the divine refulgence which gilded the whole scenery. I spent some delightful hours in a sort of transporting revery. But suddenly my mind was recalled to my own situation as a sinner before God; and I found my load of condemnation was gone. I was at once alarmed and soon came to the conclusion that God had showed me the justice of my sentence, and led me to confess it, and now I was left to hardness of heart and a reprobate mind, never to feel again even a sense of my true situation. In this state of despondency I continued laboring for any former burden until evening, at prayer meeting. Here such a love for christians overpowered my soul that I forgot every thing else. The lustre of God’s glory seemed to shine in every face, and as they stood singing a hymn, the very sound seemed heavenly; every face shone with more than human beauty, and I viewed them as the favorites of heaven, moving on to a celestial home, with the smiles and the power of an all wise and faithful God to sustain and comfort them on their way, and crown them at the end. This delightful and absorbing vision made me forget myself for some time; when my thoughts recurred again to myself, I was the same wretched hardened sinner; my burden gone and I could not get it back, and I could never be prepared for the society of these heaven born and heaven bound christians. I can never describe the feeling and anguish of heart I felt that night and a part of the next day. At length these words of the poet occurred to my mind.
“Keep me, O keep me, king of kings,
Under thine own almighty wings.”
This was my own prayer, though the words were words of another. With these words a ray of light shone in my mind that seemed to me a faint glimpse of a way in which God could be just and yet justify such an ungodly sinner. I could not see it clearly enough to understand it; but every power of my mind seemed drawn out to see – and I could only see enough to convince me that there was a way, and I felt a hope that I should yet see it; so I began to hope that I should see and receive a hope. I spent several days in about this state of mind. At meeting, and in the midst of a severe storm, while forked lightning and roaring thunder seemed to rend the air, and the raging tornado was prostrating the strong growth of the forest, the glorious righteousness of Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life, rushed upon me with such clearness that I could see with joy and solid comfort that in him was all fullness of truth and grace; and as his blood cleanseth from all sin, so in his mediatorial obedience in his life and death, and the open conquest of his triumphant resurrection, God was just, and his glory revealed in the justification and salvation of as poor and vile and ungodly a sinner as myself. In this view I did then rejoice, and, for a time, I considered my troubles all ended. Shortly after this I was baptized and received as a member of the visible church of Christ. This was when I was in the thirteenth year of my age. But, O my brother, when now from the summit of sixty I look back over all my wanderings, my dark, cold stormy winters – my leanness, my barrenness, my doubts, fears, despondings and trials – when I retrospect the hair breadth escapes, outward wars and inward fears – the world and Satan with all their allurements – false teachers who compass sea and land, and what is still worse, false brethren by whom I have often been deceived, to whom I have often opened all my heart to brotherly confidence and affection for years together; and found finally that they would sting and bit like vipers, and throw out their venom in tales of slander and detraction, not only against my religious character – the doctrine of grace, and my ministerial standing, but also assail my more reputation in order to sink me beneath respect and influence – and, my brother, worse than all the rest, this wretched, proud, wicked and deceitful heart, this body of death, this law in my members so constantly warring against the law of my mind, bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members; I am made to cry out like a miserable captive, “O, wretched man that I am, Who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” All these have stood in hostile array against me, around me, and in me with their ten thousand snares spread, their baits prepared, their artillery arranged, their ambush in waiting by day and by night; yet I am here. I have never got good but twice; the first time was when I got religion too young, and laid it down again, for the pleasure of sin; the other was when I got religion and lost it by the knowledge of sin. Since which, I have lived forty-seven years, laboring against sin, but still remain so great a sinner that it is only through the riches and freeness of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ and the redemption that is in him, that I can ever be saved. For there is salvation in no other. God has mysteriously brought me through the past, up to the age of three score years, and now, although an older sinner, and in myself no better than formerly, yet, in obedience and perfection of Christ, I humbly claim perfection, and I do enjoy a little hope of a glorious Immortality.
N.B. I propose to strike off another edition of my HYMN BOOK next spring, and should be glad to know what will be the probable demand for them among the churches on the East of the Allegany mountains. When I was there, the few copies which I had with me were scattered to be examined by the churches: and some believed that they would be approved and adopted, and if so, the demand would be general. I have heard nothing on the subject since. If you have, or can obtain any information, I wish you would inform me as early as April that I may regulate the amount of the edition accordingly.
Signs of the Times.
Volume 17, No. 6.
March 15, 1849.