His Life, Travels, and Ministerial Labors


In these pages is presented a brief outline of the life of that eminent saint and gospel laborer, ELDER WILSON THOMPSON, whose praise is in many churches.

The work is the product of the elder=s own pen, and the following is a statement of its contents as given in his own peculiar style: AA biographical sketch of the life and travels of Wilson Thompson, containing his views of many texts of Scripture, points of doctrine thought to be mysterious, and some matters of controversy, together with a very concise history of the old order of regular Baptist churches in the West, especially those of which he has been a member, or of which he had the privilege, from time to time, to serve as their pastor or called minister.@

The reader will not look upon this volume as Aa literary production of great merit,@ for the writer never had the advantage of scholastic education. It is simply an unpretending narrative of ministerial labors by one whose only learning was to know his Bible through.

Born of humble parents, at a time when schools were few, especially in country districts, it was not to be expected that the son of a poor backwoodsman could acquire the learning of the schools, whether literary or theological.

Autobiography of Elder Wilson Thompson

Chapter One

Ancestry, Birth, Early Childhood, and Education

When the memoirs of a man are preserved in book form, the reader is very apt to inquire, "Of what stock or blood was he?" To gratify this solicitude, I answer: I have learned that my great-grandmother was an English lady, and that she married a Welshman, whose name was Jones. Whether this marriage took place before they came to America or after, I have not learned; but all their children were born in America. I have no knowledge of any more than five of them; and, most likely, there were no more. At all events, of those who lived to maturity, two were sons and three were daughters.

James, the eldest son, lived to old age. Although poor, he was, nevertheless comfortable and respectable, and was a beloved member of the regular Baptist church for many years before his death.

Thomas, the other son, became somewhat wealthy; he raised a large family, and died in a good old age. He also was an esteemed member of the Baptist church.

Nancy, one of the daughters, was remarkable for being a good singer and poetess and for her knowledge in the Scriptures and divine things. As a sister in the church she was highly esteemed. She married a man by the name of Whitaker, raised a respectable family, and died in old age.

The other two daughters, Mary and Jane, were my grandmothers, my father and mother being cousins. Mary, the elder of these two, married a man by the name of McDonnell, by whom she had one son. Her husband died, and she then married a raw Irish Presbyterian by the name of James Wilson, by whom she raised a family of girls. These all married. Elizabeth, the oldest, married Joseph Holman; Nancy married Charles Reynolds; Mary married William Wilson; and Rebecca, the youngest, married Closs Thompson, my father.

Jane Jones, my other grandmother, (my father=s mother) first married a man by the name of Lee, by whom she had a son and a daughter. The son became the celebrated Baptist minister whose praise was in many of the churches, and who was known as Elder James Lee. The daughter married Bethuel Riggs, who also became a Baptist minister of note. After the birth of these two children, Elder Lee died, and Jane, the widow, married Closs Thompson, a cross-blood of Scotch and German, and my father was the first child of this marriage.

So, friendly reader, you see the blood of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany mingles in my veins, yet I myself, and parents, and grandparents, except my mother=s father, were natives of America. All of them stood firm in the American cause during the Revolutionary struggle.

After the independence of the United States was achieved, my father and his next brother, Lawrence, left their native state, North Carolina, and spent one year (perhaps A. D. 1786) as pioneers in the dense forests of Kentucky, among the wild beasts and savage Indians. I have often sat spell-bound while hearing my father relate the many dangers and hairbreadth escapes of his border life, and those of the Revolution.

After spending about one year in Kentucky, he returned to North Carolina and married Rebecca Wilson, and shortly after, again moved to Kentucky. So, in the fall of 1787, he, and all his father=s family, and all my mother=s father=s family also, came to dwell in the forests of what the Indians called "the bloody land," where my parents passed through many of those thrilling alarms and trying privations incident to border warfare and to the settling of Kentucky in particular.

I was the first born of my parents, and my birth took place on the 17th day of August, A. D. 1788, in Woodford Co., at Hillsborough, Clear Creek. But my first recollection of anything was of Madison County, not far from Richmond, on the waters of Silver Creek. The whole family of my race, down to my own parents, generally lived to an old age. They died at ages varying from seventy to eighty years, except my father=s mother, who lived to one hundred and four years.

This sketch may suffice as to my blood, parentage, and nativity. My ancestors were all of the old stock of regular Baptists, with but few exceptions. One of my mother=s sisters was a Methodist, but her father, who came to America from the "Emerald Isle" a Presbyterian, became a Baptist many years before his death. My father was raised and christened (as sprinkling was called) in the Church of England, became a Baptist before my recollection, and filled the office of deacon from my first memory until his death, which occurred in the fifty-fourth year of his age. My mother was about four years younger, and died about four years after him.

Now I shall proceed more particularly to narrate my own history. As stated above, I was born on the 17th day of August, A. D. 1788, the first child of my parents. It was thought that both mother and child must immediately die. The friends were called in, and Elder James Lee, my father=s half-brother, being then a young preacher, was requested to engage in prayer. During his prayer, by some special impulse and access at the throne of grace, he received such full assurance, that, rising from his knees, he boldly said to all present that the child would be a man for God, to preach the gospel of His grace. He then gave special charge to my father respecting my education. This conviction of his never subsided, but continued undiminished, and he often spoke of it to various persons, and at different places, always with the same assurance. All this, however, was kept from me until after I began to preach.

I was not sent to college, for I suppose my father did not feel able to send me from home and pay my board and tuition fees. As a further drawback to my education, I must add, that the country being new and thinly settled, the little schooling I received was obtained by walking morning and evening, over a very hilly pathway, a distance of about four miles. By the time I was able to walk this far to school, I was also able to work at home. Father having lost two tracts of land by the bad titles of Kentucky, and, about this time having bought new lands in the green woods, my labor was much needed in the opening of a farm. And so the little schooling I could get was only a few days at a time. Yet, in this scattering way, I picked up a little knowledge of spelling, reading, arithmetic, and English grammar. Nothing was perfected. I acquired only a mere smattering of either. In those days teachers had but little qualifications and were distinguished for bad habits in reading, and worse, if possible, in pronunciation. When I commenced preaching, I could not read a chapter nor a hymn intelligently. The little learning I have, I got by myself without a teacher, except books; and, being poor, and having a family to support by the labor of my own hands, my opportunity for study and improvement was exceedingly limited, and, of course, my progress tardy.

I know but little of my childhood worth recording. Neither of my parents had made any profession of vital Christianity at the period of my birth. I grew up like other "backwoods" boys. In my infancy my father and mother both professed vital religion and became members of a regular Baptist church. My father, moreover, was a deacon of the church. Among the earliest events of my recollection was seeing him pass around the bread and wine at the Lord=s Supper. I have heard him and Mother relate one event that was truly strange to them. It was this: My father became deeply impressed on some point of Scriptural doctrine, which called up imperfectly to his memory some text in point, but the precise words and the connection of the text, he could not remember. He turned to his Bible, but after a long and fruitless search for the passage he gave it up, concluding that there was no such text. Having closed the book, he sat with it in his hands. When I came to his knees, I took the book and opened it, turning the leaves as it lay on his lap, and when I had placed my finger on a certain spot, he looked at the place and there saw the long-sought text. This was when I was a little infant and had no knowledge of the use of books or letters. These, with some other similar events, I have heard my parents and others relate, but all occurred before my memory, and I heard nothing of them until after I began to preach.


Early Religious Impressions.

I believe my mind was more or less impressed with the importance of religion from my first recollection. I had a dread of death and fears of future misery, that betimes would harass me very much; but, I am now convinced that these early exercises were the effect of education. My father=s house was a home for the preachers, and was called a ABaptist Tavern.@ Meeting was often held there, and then the Baptists from a large boundary would come, Father being a deacon and regarded as having a special gift in discipline, prayer, and exhortation, and, withal, one of the best singers and what was called a fireside preacher. He was able in the Scriptures, sound in faith, social in his manners, and interesting but not assuming in conversation. He attended all the associations and other large meetings and visited many of the churches. Consequently, his acquaintance became general, and his doors were always open to receive all that came. So I heard much about religious subjects, and, perhaps, this will account for the early impressions of my mind. I am very sure, from a retrospect of those early impressions, that they were just of that character which a carnal heart and a defiled conscience might be expected to have, under such circumstances as I have related. These impressions are what the Arminian world calls religion B such as they can get and lose at pleasure.

The abundance of religious conversation which I heard early impressed my young mind with the awful realities of a future state, the miseries of the wicked, and kindred subjects; so I resolved to do good, get religion, and thus get clear of future miseries, and at last reach a happy heaven. These were my views, and a firm resolve to attend to this matter by and by, and attend to it well, gave me some ease and a kind of resting-place. Although all the religious conversation I had ever had (and that was not a little) was on salvation by grace alone, yet I had no just conceptions of that plan. While I felt very partial to the Baptists, I had never learned one idea of their system of grace, but was building all my hope upon the good works which I intended to perform.

Thus spent I my youth, until I was about eleven years old. About this time my father, having lost his second tract of land, resolved to leave the State of Kentucky, where land-titles were so uncertain, and move to the North-Western Territory, now the State of Ohio. In prosecution of this resolve, he, with his family and effects, started for the Little Miami, where he had previously been to look out a location. Leaving Madison County, we all came safe to Campbell County, Kentucky, near the mouth of the Licking River. My grandfather, for many years, had been laboring under an asthmatic affection which had so reduced his strength that he became entirely unable to provide for, or indeed to do anything for, himself or family. My mother being their youngest child, and both of them being now quite old, they had quit keeping house, and were living with Father and Mother, and, of course, moved with them. When we came to Licking River the word came to them that the Indians had broken out afresh in the Territory and that the settlers were then in forts and stations. Some of them had been killed, and horses, cattle, etc., had been stolen; hence, great alarm pervaded the country. My grandparents became alarmed, my mother became tired, and, under these circumstances, Father was induced to stop for a year in Campbell County, Kentucky.

One Major Leach, who had settled a station on Licking River, died about this time, and General James Taylor, the proprietor of the town of Newport, Kentucky, settled the affairs of the estate, and transacted the business for the widow Leach, and finally married her. My father rented this station and land for one year. The family suffered much with chills and fever during that short period. A small Baptist church was constituted near the station, and Father, Mother, Grandfather and Grandmother became members of it. Father was the deacon. They built a log meeting-house on the bank of the Licking River, and a revival and ingathering of the church followed. A goodly number were added by baptism, and the country being new, some Baptists moved in, and became members by letter.

I was now, as already stated, about eleven years old. The thoughts of death, of judgment, and future punishment, with an increased force and terror, oppressed my mind; and now my resolve to do better after awhile gave me no relief. I therefore solemnly resolved within myself to set about the work in good earnest and never give it up until I knew I had obtained the pardon of all my sins, and then live clear of sin the remainder of my days and be a good, exemplary, straight-walking Christian. Thus would I have no fears of death, hell, or judgment, but would be prepared for heaven at all times. All this I verily thought I could obtain by repentance, prayer, diligence, obedience, and a persevering continuance in well-doing. Do good and be good; then do good and keep good. I believed that God was good, and that He would love and save all who would repent, do good, pray, and love Him. These I would do, for I never once thought but what I could do all these things. So I began, and although I was at a loss for words, and could not pray fluently, yet I thought I should improve from practice. For a time I seemed to get along but poorly, and sometimes thought of giving it up; but the fears of death and hell would come on me with such terrific shocks, that I would go at it again.

Continuing for some months in this way, I found that I was gaining ground B that I had got much better. I had prayed often and frequently, I had repented with sorrow for my sins, I had ceased to do evil, was very precise in my walk and conversation, and I had refrained from playing with other boys, especially on the Sabbath day, as we called the first day of the week. All these things I had done so faithfully, that I concluded God did now love me and would save me, and I felt very happy. I continued in this frame for a time, and resolved never to sin again, but live holy the remainder of my days. I had not lived long in this perfect way, until I began to get tired. Then I thought that as I was young, and, perhaps, might live to be old, it was a gloomy prospect to spend a whole long life in this irksome way, and never see any pleasure in youth or manhood. Yet, I reflected again, although I was young I might die, and that would be an awful even if I should not go back into sin again.

While these things were agitating in my mind, the love of sin pulling me back, and the fears of death and judgment prompting me forward, an event occurred which was rather singular. I heard my mother and my aunt talking of the death of one of my cousins, who had lately died, and they seemed doubtful whether she had crossed the line of Aaccountability@ or not. I have no recollection of ever hearing until then anything about infant purity, or the line of accountability that infants must cross before they can be lost. I understood these women to express this idea. I felt at once a very deep interest in the doctrine, and a thought occurred to me at once: APerhaps I have not yet crossed this line; if so, all my religious exercises and doings have been premature, and I am safe under the covert of infant purity and non-accountability.@ This set me on a close search for this line, but I could not find it. I could not read, but supposed if I could I should soon find it; for I perceived that Father always went to the Scriptures for information on all subjects of a religious nature, and I supposed that this was one, and that it was made plain that Book. The difficulty might be solved if I could only read! But this I could not do, and I was too backward to ask my parents, or any other person, about it. Still my anxiety continued, and whenever the Bible was read in my hearing, I listened and watched to hear something on this subject.

It was not long until I heard the chapter read which tells of Christ being found among the doctors and lawyers, when He was about twelve years old, and of His saying to His mother, AWist ye not that it is time I was about my Father=s business?@ This settled my mind. I inferred from this saying that about twelve years of age was the line, and then, and not until then, was it necessary to begin a religious course of life. By this rule, taken as I supposed, from the example of Christ, I found that all my trouble and labor were premature by about one year, and this decided my mind at once to drop all my religion, and spend that year in taking my fill of sin, while yet an infant and in a safe condition, not yet having passed the line of accountability, and, of course, not accountable for anything that I might do, while on the infant side of that line. This course I did pursue, as far as I dared go in sin, profane language, and all boyish vices, so as to keep clear of paternal correction. I went with a greediness, perhaps almost unparalleled; for believing that all was safe with me, I went into sin with a rush. My parents were very strict in family discipline, and I not only feared the rod, but even the frown of my parents would almost break my heart. I verily thought my parents were the best people living on earth. So I continued until I had entered into my thirteenth year.

Here it is necessary to explain that my father had, during this time, purchased a small farm a little up the Licking above the station. My grandfather and grandmother were both dead, being about seventy-five years old at the time of their deceased. We now lived on the east bank of Licking River, Campbell County, and Father still talked of moving to the Territory.

About this time, a powerful work of grace broke out in the neighborhood. This great work spread out upon the hills and upland settlements with great power, and among persons of different ages, including quite a number of young people down to eleven or twelve years of age. The work was powerful, and continued for a length of time. The country was but thinly settled, and that in patches or small settlements, yet many were added to that church, which was called the Mouth of Licking.

During this revival my fears became more terrific than ever before. I reflected on the past. I thought that perhaps I had been mistaken about the line of accountability, and that I was really accountable for laying down my religion and for all the sins that I had committed since. Nay, more, one year had nearly past since I was twelve years old, and I had promised never to sin after I was that age; but I had disregarded this promise! I thought that God was now very angry with me, and perhaps would not receive my repentance, nor hear and answer my prayers. I thought that I had forfeited His confidence, and now, if ever I gained it again, it must take a long time, require many prayers, deep repentance, and the performance of many good works. I was ashamed and afraid to begin, but I knew of no way to obtain God=s favor and the pardon of my sins, but to begin again, and pursue the same course I had pursued so successfully before. This plan I adopted, feeling, however, less confident of success, but resolved to be more vigilant than ever; and although the time might be longer, and the effort require more repentance and prayer than before (as my sins had greatly multiplied), yet I would persevere and faithfully perform my part. And so, I hoped, a God of mercy would finally be pacified and pardon and accept me. With these views and feelings, I commenced, as I thought, in good earnest, determined to watch every evil and avoid it, and do all I thought would please God.

I began by abandoning all my former evil words and ways, and by praying often B every day and night before I went to sleep, and every time I awoke during the night, and in the morning before I arose. I forsook all bad boys, and I was especially observant of what was called the Sabbath. I continued in this way for some time. I finally began to compare myself with the members of the church, especially with the young converts, and found myself fully as good, if not even better than any of them. Indeed, I could detect some foolish act, or vain laugh, or unbecoming levity in them all, which I condemned, and of which I thought I was clear. I soon fancied that God loved me, and had blotted out all my sins. I became very happy in these views and resolved that I never would go back into sin again. Yes! I resolved that I would never commit another sin during life!

In this perfect state, as I supposed it was, I continued for some time, and had no fears of death, hell, or any evil, provided I should still continue to do good and abstain from sin. So I continued to grow pleased with my situation, believing that I was in a fair way for heaven. My prayers were good, my course correct; in a word, I was good, and so were my performances, as I then believed. I was sorry to see old professors and young converts doing so many things that were wrong, and I began to think, by comparing myself with them, that but few of them were true Christians.

Up to this time I had never heard any preaching or religious conversation, to my knowledge, except among the old regular Baptists; hence, all my prejudices were in their favor. Indeed, I knew nothing about any others. I had heard of Presbyterians, and a few Methodists began to rise, a short distance off, as a new sect; but I knew nothing of their tenets. Yet, strange as it may seem, and young as I was, I was full in their faith. Twice had I obtained religion in their way; once I had fallen from grace, as they call it; and now, the second time, I had attained to what they call, and I thought was, a state of sinless perfection. Once I had fully proved the truth of the saying, so often expressed by them and all others who believe in final apostasy, that if they believed there was no danger of being lost they would take their fill of sin. The terrors of death, fears of hell, and a consciousness of having committed sin are the great prompters of this religion, and whatever can remove these slavish fears leads directly to backsliding. I had so fully tried and proved by experience this natural system of religion, and so fully realized its comforts, that I had no doubts but that all was well and safe with me, if I only continued to be faithful, watchful, prayerful during life. And all this I was determined to be.

I will here state two particular circumstances which I well remember, and which will serve to show, to some degree, my tests of the Christian character and my standard of perfection.

James Johnson, a small red-haired man, had become a Baptist member, and was one among the best singers that I have ever heard. I will add, that if any man of my acquaintance had a special gift for the edification of the church, it was that man. He often came to my father=s, and would sing spiritual songs until he would seem to be almost carried away from the body, all his powers seeming to be enlisted in the sentiment and devotion of the song. I had reckoned on him as being one of my best Christians.

One day, as I was working in the field, I saw him coming, and thought to myself, now I shall hear him sing; but, to my surprise and great mortification, when he came down the hill to the fence, he clapped one hand on the fence, and threw his feet over with a spring. This, in my eye, was so vain and boyish, and betrayed so light an air, that I instantly believed he was no Christian; for I would have crawled over that fence slowly, and with solemn air. So precise was my rule of life, and so exact was I living up to it, I believed that the Christian was a good person, and that his goodness consisted in his acts.

About this time, I well remember, one Sunday morning, Father told me to go and bring the milch-cows from the pasture to be milked. One of the young professors walked with me. I was telling him, as we walked along the bank of the river, how very wicked it was to drive the cows upon Sunday, but as I was under my father, and was bound to obey him, therefore, the sin was not mine but his. As we walked, this young professor took up a flat rock, and threw it edgewise on the ground and stood looking at it bouncing down the bank, until it sprung into the water and sunk. This vain act, on Sunday, proved to me that he was no Christian.

I have referred to these cases, to show my standard of a Christian, and of a perfect and sinless life; and I did verily believe that I had attained to that standard, and was fully resolved never to sin again, and so go to heaven when I died. I esteemed my prayers most excellent, and believed surely that God was well pleased with both them and me. In these exercises I had fully experienced what the Arminian calls religion, as well as Christian perfection, falling from grace, and taking my fill of sin when I believed all was safe, as they often say they would do. All this I understood to be a natural system of religion. I never had learned it from books, for I could not read, neither from preaching, for I never had heard any of them talk on their doctrine. All that I had ever heard was the old order of Baptists, and all my predilections were in favor of them; Yet, with all my opportunities I had not one idea of their spiritual system and teaching, and, without any teacher but nature, I had learned all the Arminian theory and practice throughout.

I have sometimes thought that, perhaps, even after divine or eternal life through grace is imparted, God permits some of His children, (for wise purposes of His own, and to better qualify them for the sphere of life that He designs for them), to work through this whole system. I believe, at all events, that in after-life I have found many advantages in these early exercises, for I have had much to do with, and much to suffer from, this class of religionists. And I will say, from my heart I pity them, for I well know their delusion, its apparent plausibility and strength, and how confident it makes them. But to return to my narrative.

About this time, when I was in full sail, and with high anticipations, I learned that on the next Saturday, being, as I think, the first Saturday in May, 1801 or 1802, some young people about my own age were expected to come before the church, as candidates for admission and baptism. I felt a strong wish to be at that meeting, to see if they were true Christians; for I fully believed I could tell, seeing I fancied I knew all about it. I went, and heard them relate what was called their Aexperience.@ I sat near and listened closely. At first they spoke of seeing themselves great sinners, and of feeling great alarm, and great sorrow and trouble, and of trying to pray. All this I believed to be right, but then they spoke of feeling worse and worse; their sins grew greater, and still greater, until I thought they seemed at a loss for words to express how bad they were. Their hope of pardon died away, and despair of success by all they could do, cut off every prospect. Their prayers became impure and vile in their eyes. Their very hearts were deceitful and wicked. Their thoughts were presumptuous B in a word, they spoke of themselves as being so desperately sinful in every way, that they could not do anything but what was sinful, and God would be just in His judgment if He should cut them off, even for the sin that spoiled their best performances. In short, I fully understood them to convey the idea, that they got worse and worse, until every hope of ever becoming any better by any effort of their own was entirely gone, and that they lay guilty, helpless, forlorn, and justly condemned, and were exposed to death and hell, and to an eternal banishment from all holy beings, all happiness, and even earth itself. This they were looking for as their justly-merited doom from a just, righteous, and holy God. But here a joy, a hope, a comfort, suddenly sprang up! They were filled with love, joy, and praise, and they felt happy. Their trouble was gone; the world and all around them seemed changed and new, and everything around was showing forth the wisdom, power, and glory of God. The cause of this great change I understood not, for they talked of no progress, except from bad to worse, up to the moment of their Arejoicing in hope.@

I remember of but one question being asked, and that was this: AYou speak of being very great sinners; have you now become good, or are you the same great sinners still?@ The answer was prompt: AWe are still great sinners, and in ourselves we are no better.@ This answer decided their case with me, and I had no thought that even one member of the church would lift a hand to receive such sinners into their church. I really8 pitied the great ignorance of these young people; they would, of course, be rejected, and they ought to have never so exposed themselves as to come publicly before the church to tell how bad they were, and that they were still getting worse instead of better. The moderator, Elder James Lee, put the vote, and, my dear reader, you can scarcely imagine my surprise, sorrow, astonishment, and abhorrence, when I saw every hand up at once to receive them. I knew that the whole order of Baptists held themselves to be a Christian church, that is, a church of Christians, and, to keep so, they would receive no member into their body but such as given evidence of being a Christian, and as such gain their fellowship. Yet, here, they all voted, with an uplifted hand, to receive members that had made no such pretensions, but, to the contrary, had positively told them that they were not only not good, but still continued to be very great sinners!

This was before I knew anything about those several societies that wish to be regarded as Christian churches, who complain of being rejected at the Lord=s Supper by the Baptists, while they do not even pretend that they are churches of professed Christians. Such churches or societies are composed mostly of probation members, or such as have consented to try to get religion or else have been immersed in order to get their sins forgiven or have been sprinkled in infancy on the professed faith of their parents, in order to get within the pale of the church, or had been catechized in order to obtain a membership, etc. All these combinations were at that time unknown to me; therefore, I thought every member of a Christian church, was, at least, one that professed to be a Christian, or in other words, professed to be good; and that giving a full evidence of this to the church was a warrant to their reception and the receiving the right hand of fellowship. Although I believed that any church on earth might be deceived by the false pretensions of designing men, yet these young persons had not deceived the church, for they made no pretensions to goodness. They honestly told them that they had been, and still continued to be, great sinners. Although they were extremely foolish to come to the church to tell how bad they were, and that they were still no better, yet the church was, collectively, acting the willful hypocrite, and was guilty of deceiving these ignorant young people, and pretending a fellowship for them as Christians, when they had honestly told them they were not good, but, on the contrary, great sinners. This convinced me that they were ALL hypocrites, and that there was not a Christian in the church. I knew that a number of them would go home with Father, as Elder Lee was to preach there that evening; and I resolved to watch their words closely, believing that I should hear them express their reasons for receiving those sinners, and so detect their hypocrisy. For I had no idea that one of them could be so ignorant as to even hope that these young people were good and fit to be received as members of a Christian church.

When meeting closed, a company started with Father, some on horseback and others on foot. As they walked, I was all attention and felt impatient to hear them speak of the reception of these wicked children. They had not walked far until an old man from north of the Ohio River, by the name of Davies, introduced the subject by saying: AHow beautifully them young people passed from law to gospel.@ The general response from all was, AYes.@ Some said: AGod has surely ordained and brought praise out of the mouths of babes and sucklings@; others said: AIt looks like the latter days of time, to hear children of eleven or twelve years of age give such deep and clear relations of experience as to almost surpass, and certainly to astonish the old members.@ The talk ran on in this way, and so I found, to my utter astonishment, they were all fully satisfied. Indeed there seemed to be no doubts in the mind of any one of them, for all spoke of these experiences in the highest terms of approbation, as being extraordinarily clear; and yet these converts were mere children. I was soon convinced that the church had not acted hypocritically in receiving them, but, on the contrary, they had received them in good faith, according to what they believed to be the best evidence of what they called the new birth.

Although I acquitted the church of dishonesty in receiving them, yet I could see nothing like what I called experience, or Christianity, in all they had said. Their prayers, they said, were bad; their hearts were wicked and deceitful; their tears and repentance were not such as were availing; all amounted to nothing for justification, or acceptance with God, and, to cap the climax, they were still not good, but great sinners. How such marks as these should be the evidences of a Christian I could not see. In pondering over these things with deep solicitude, I soon became thoroughly convinced that these young people and the church, the preacher, visiting Baptists from other churches, and my parents, were all entirely ignorant of the true Christian character and experience, or else I was so myself; for both could not be right.

This put me upon a most solemn examination and comparison. I set two things down as self-evident axioms that no one could possibly mistake or controvert. One of these things was that a bad person was a sinner; the other was, that a good person was a Christian. Now for a sinner to be converted and become a Christian, was for a bad person to leave off sinning and become good. Here was shown such a radical change -Ba bad sinful person to become a good righteous person B that it might well be called a new birth. Now to apply these plain facts to the case: I had been a bad youth, a sinner in fact; but I had seen my folly, repented of my sins, and forsaken them; had frequently prayed, had become good and righteous, and had, finally, resolved never to sin again. So now I, who had been bad and a sinner, and had become good, was, of course, a Christian. While, on the other hand, those young converts had met with no change; they were great sinners at the start, and continued so all through; they were still very great sinners B as bad as ever, no better now than at the beginning of their religious career. Surely this comparison must clearly demonstrate me as the Christian and they as the sinners. I tried the case in every possible shape and form in my power. I did not wish to be deceived, or to be a self-deceiver, but to be honest with myself. The contrast was between the good and the bad, the righteous and the wicked, the saint and the sinner, the saved and the lost. Now, they did not even profess to be good, but said that they were great sinners still. I, on the other hand, was the good, the righteous, the saint, while they, upon their own profession, were the sinners, the bad, the wicked. I could not believe that the sinner was a Christian. I felt awful and solemn.

The first remarks of the old man Davies fell with heavy weight on my mind and called up another serious inquiry as to what was law and what was gospel, and what was Apassing from law to gospel.@ He had said that those young people, in their relation, had shown most beautifully how they had passed from law to gospel. I could not tell what he meant by law, nor what he meant by gospel. I understood them to speak of getting worse and worse all the time, and that they still remained great sinners. How passing from bad to worse could be passing from law to gospel, I could not conceive, unless I should admit that the law was bad and the gospel was still worse! This was surely the way they had passed. Still, I could scarcely believe that this was what the old man really meant, and I began to desire greatly to know what was meant by law and gospel, and what it was, in Christian experience, that was called passing from law to gospel. All these things oppressed me sorely. My mind was in a tumult, like a troubled sea, tossed with contending emotions, doubts, fears, hope, assurance, and despair.

Nightfall, finally, began to summon in the congregation; they were now gathering for evening services. Some were singing, others were collecting in small groups for conversation. Religion was the only theme and they all seemed to be full of love and joy and peace. I looked on and beheld their devotion with serious solemnity. These were the very people that, but a few hours before, I had decided to be a band of hypocrites, believing that there was not one Christian among them. I was not like those who say, Awe can agree in the essentials.@ No; I plainly saw and felt that the difference between them and me was so essential that if they were right, I was utterly wrong. I knew my own plan and feelings; theirs I did not comprehend. But I knew the difference was so great that both could not be Christians, any way that I could see. They talked of passing from law to gospel. This still bore heavily upon my mind, for I knew that I understood nothing about what they meant, nor did I comprehend how they could reconcile the paradox of being a great sinner and a good Christian at the same time. I saw and felt that the difference was so essential that one or the other must be a fatal error. Mine was, ADo good and be good, and keep so, by living free from all sin, and so be fitted for heaven.@ But theirs embraced the great sinner and saved him without his first getting good or doing good, and stranger still, he continued to be a sinner. This plan of salvation seemed to me so inconsistent, so paradoxical, so unholy and opposed to virtue, that I could by no means believe it. Indeed, I could not understand it. There was mystery at every point. It was shrouded in darkness, and I could not penetrate it. I was like a vessel driven in every direction by warring elements, and I could find no safe anchorage or port of rest and safety. To increase the solemnity of the closing day, the western horizon was illuminated with almost incessant flashes of vivid lightning. This seemed to portray the power, the majesty and glory of God, and the responsibility of man.

The preaching, the exhortations, the singing and the prayers, and all the exercises of the evening passed off almost without arresting my attention, because my mind was absorbed with its own meditations. My all was at stake; my religion that I so highly valued, which I believed without doubt was genuine, and in which I had so firmly resolved to persevere till death, in full assurance of heaven, was now in positive contrast with that of the church. And, inasmuch as I was good, and had repented of and forsaken my sins, had turned to God, had frequently prayed, and had resolved never to sin again, (all of which, as a matter of course, must be right and proper), therefore my religion must be good. If so, the Baptists were all wrong, and I knew of no church that was right; for, as I have said above, I had no acquaintance with any other churches. I felt alone and solitary.

In all this time I had not uttered a single word to any one, nor had any one said a single word to me on these matters. I slept but little that night; I was sorely troubled, and still I could not tell why I should be; for every attempt to examine my religion and to compare myself with those who had professed righteousness B yea, to compare myself with bad, wicked sinners, as they had said they still continued to be B only led me to the decision that good was better than bad. But still I could not understand their system. This something they called law and gospel was with them the great matter. The beautiful and satisfying evidence of Christian experience consisted, as they said, in a thorough and correct passing from law to gospel. This was all new matter to me. I could not understand what they meant by the phrase, Apassing from law to gospel.@

This mysterious phrase, and my entire ignorance of its meaning hung heavily on my mind, troubled and confused me, and I could not get rid of it. In this tortured and perplexed state of mind I continued through the night and the forenoon of the next day. I resolved to attend closely to the preaching on Sunday, for I heard some of them say that they thought Elder Lee was an able minister to divide law and gospel and apply each in its proper place. This I wanted to understand, and I thought that perhaps he might explain it to me. I went to meeting resolved to hear and understand if possible. I went, but I never from that day to this could so much as remember the text, the sermon, or even one idea presented by the preacher, for my mind was so full of my own thoughts that the sermon and all the exercises of the day seemed to be confused, until we repaired to the water for the baptism of the young candidates. This change interested and quickened me, but the earlier service has ever been to me like a half-forgotten dream.

On arriving at the water, I felt a great desire to see the ordinance performed, having no doubt but that it was right. The Licking River was overflowing its banks, and the low bottoms were covered with water. We descended a bluff and came to a low, narrow level covered with timber, where there was water of sufficient depth. I took my stand at the edge of the water, which formed an eddy in a sort of cove, while beyond the timber rolled the mighty current of muddy water. The scene was solemn and sublime. Elder Lee took the candidates, one after another, first a man, then his wife; next two young persons who were brother and sister, first the brother, then the sister. I knew of no uncommon emotions of my mind, until Elder Lee was leading this small slender girl into the water.

As sudden as thought the whole scene seemed changed to me; a dark, heavy, angry, threatening gloom hung over all within my view. I felt like one forsake of God and man, and all I could see seemed to frown upon me and bear witness to the justice of my condemnation. The corruptions of my nature, the wickedness and deceitfulness of my heart, the deception of all my supposed goodness, rose painfully vivid before my mind. My righteousness withered and sank into a pool of filthy delusion and presumption. All my flattering prospects were instantly swept away, and I felt like the most loathsome and guilty wretch that lived on earth. I viewed God in his goodness, justice, faithfulness and truth. I saw that He was holy, and that none but holy beings could ever enjoy Him or be happy in His presence. I felt that I was unholy in every part; therefore, I was miserable and feared that I was forever undone, for my pollution was all of a criminal nature, and not only disqualified me ever to dwell with a holy God and holy saints and angels, but also exposed me to endless misery in that place where hope and mercy could never come. God was just, and as a judge, truth and righteousness were with Him. His holiness imperatively demanded my punishment.

I do not believe that five minutes had passed away until this whole train of convictions, in vivid and awful array, stood before me; and conscious guilt and a just condemnation, like a mighty load, pressed me down. Feeling that I was too vile and unfit to mingle among Christians, I left the company and the water in despair, ascended the bluff alone, and sought a deep ravine in the wood, expecting there to die alone. While there, a darkness unaccountable seemed to spread itself abroad; and, indeed, it became so dark to me, that I could scarcely see anything around me, while an awful sense of hopeless despair, guilt, and just condemnation oppressed me.

I now believe the darkness of the day, as it then appeared to me, was not at all literal, as no one else saw or felt it. The sun was shining all the time; but my feelings and the state of my mind so affected my nerves as to partially destroy my vision. I then thought that death and judgment were coming suddenly upon me. This apprehension, however, gradually diminished, and, in a great degree, passed away. Still a mournful gloom hung upon whatever I could see, and all seemed to witness the justice of my condemnation. Something that my natural eyes could not behold seemed now to come down, obliquely or slanting from above, like a dark vapor or stream of smoke, ranging backward and upward. The further end was rising higher and higher, until I could perceive no end; but the lower extremity seemed to rest between my shoulders, oppressing my heart with a burden of guilt. This, in my mind=s view, and the feelings of my heart, I then thought was a token of God=s justice in my condemnation, as a sinner and a rebel, for whom there was no pardon or mercy, but rather that justice was ready to execute me as a guilty culprit.

I date that moment at the side of the water as the time when I first saw the depth and heinous nature of sin, my own entire depravity, and that loathsome corruption which entirely polluted every work that I could possibly perform. My previous exercises had been prompted mostly by an alarming dread of the consequences of sin and my own punishment, and when my good works (as I then views them) had pacified my conscience, I believed God was at peace with me, and that if I continued to do good and refrained from sinning, I should both live and die in His favor. But from the moment referred to at the water, sin in itself became exceeding sinful. My sinful acts, which truly were many, and the great evils which had been my chief trouble before, now appeared as the nauseous and poisonous vapor that exhaled from the mass of corroding corruption which lay imbedded in my very heart and nature, and this mass included the entire man, soul, and body, so that no part or spark of rectitude or holiness could be found in me.

In this view of myself and of sin, and of the pure holiness, truth, and justice of God as a judge, I could see no possible way in which He could maintain His truth and justice and yet justify and save me. I became still more and more impressed with the idea that so depraved and vile a rebel as I was could never enjoy so holy a God, nor such holy society as that in heaven. Therefore, it seemed to me impossible that any other fate than final ruin could await me. I thought that, above all things, I desired to be holy, and, above all things, I was the furthest from it.

In this awful condition I wandered about in the solitary wood and ravine, until the voices and noise of the crowd told me they were dispersing. It then occurred to me that some of my cousins, about my own age, were going to dine with me at my father=s, after which they were going home, some twelve miles distant, to be received within the bounds of another church, called ATwelve Mile Church.@ At this place there was to be a series of meetings that evening and the next day, and I was under promise to accompany them. I thought they would think my absence strange, and probably my parents would be uneasy if I remained longer; so I started for home. The road ran a small distance from my retreat. I soon reached it and, hurrying forward, arrived at home shortly after the company had entered.

After dinner my father said he thought I had better abandon the thought of going with my cousins at that time, and wait until the next church meeting, when he would go with me. I should then, he added, have more time to visit with my cousins. I made no objections to this proposition, for it struck me with great force that all of them were Christians (as they were all professors), and that I was not fit to be in such society. Believing that my father knew all this, I construed it as the cause of his making the proposition.

When the company started they walked up a gradual ascent, hand in hand, and they began singing, in low, soft voices, that beautiful song B

The glorious day is drawing nigh,

When Zion = s light shall come;

She shall arise and shine on high,

Bright as the morning sun.

I really thought they were on their way to heaven. God was their Father and their friend, and Christians were their brethren and sisters. They were at peace in their minds, and in holy love with each other. All was joy and comfort with them, but I felt I was a condemned rebel, doomed to remediless destruction; and I thought that as these Christians were now leaving me behind and ascending on their way with singing, so at the last great day, they would thus ascend to heaven, leaving me to endure the just punishment due me as a vile sinner.

These reflections filled me with such anguish that I turned my back upon them and walked down the river bank on which the house stood, feeling myself to be the most forlorn and guilty rebel that lived on earth. I wandered down the stream, until I came to a large pile of drifted logs; under the covert of this pile I secreted myself, and then fell upon my knees to pray for mercy. Suddenly the thought rushed upon me, as if an angel had said it: AGod is just in your condemnation, and of course He cannot be just in your justification; and now for you to pray for His favor is the same as for you to pray for Him to be unjust, to tarnish His glory, dishonor His justice, deny His truth, and corrupt the purity of His Divine character and perfections. This would be the most heaven-daring presumption for which a guilty culprit was ever condemned, and for which signal vengeance would be speedily executed.@ I shuddered; guilt sealed my lips; I dared not utter a word; I imagined that the drift-logs, around and above me, were about to fall upon me and crush me instantly for my awful presumption.

I hurried from my retreat in the most awful state of perturbation of mind. I ascended the river bank, and entered a grove of timber, and there stood in mute despair. The trees, the birds, all around, seemed to look accusingly upon me. I felt that all their accusations were just, and as I felt guilty of all, I dared not even pray for deliverance. The justice of a righteous and holy God, against whom I had sinned, and Who knew all my depravity, still seemed to be before me, like a dark stream proceeding from His judgment seat directly against me, pursuing me wherever I went, and pointing downward between my shoulders to my heart. This was the view of the mind, but it seemed so plain, even to my external vision, that I often turned round suddenly to see it with my eyes, but could not see anything unusual. Yet turn as I might, no matter what way, it still seemed behind me. I can never fully describe my feelings and views as I stood there. I thought that everything around and above me [in short, that all things] seemed to answer the end of their creation, and that, although they were only creatures of time, with no soul, no intelligence, no accountability, yet they espoused the cause of their Creator, and appeared to look accusingly upon me as a vile rebel who deserved neither favor nor pity, but only speedy execution, which everything seemed to demand, and which God=s purity imperiously required to vindicate the holiness of His Divine throne. In this awful state of mind I spent the afternoon, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting, sometimes walking, and sometimes prostrate on the ground. I now believe, if ever my whole heart prayed for mercy, it was at that time. Yet I dared not make a formal prayer; my guilt and God=s justice seemed to forbid it, causing me to tremble at the very thought of attempting to ask God to be unjust when His justice demanded my punishment.

At nightfall I repaired to the house, and soon retired to my bed, but not to sleep. I began to ponder over my helpless condition. I thought my parents, being both Christians, knew that I was a lost sinner, and felt no pity for me, knowing that my condemnation was just. I felt that I was not fit to be with them, nor even to speak to them. Thus, with these awful reflections, I spent the time until morning. I thought if I were but pure, holy, and righteous, then all would be well. Then I could dwell with God and His people for ever. But, alas! This was now out of the question, for I was a most loathsome mass of pollution, and I knew no way by which I should become cleansed. The darkness of the night seemed to add its shade to the gloom of my feelings.

For three days and nights I continued in about the same condition. I have often reviewed it, and have never been able to remember that I had one hopeful thought of my salvation that would be consistent with Divine truth, righteousness, justice and holiness. I dared not ask for it or even desire it, to the dishonor of these. The very thought that I, a guilty culprit, should possess the impudence to ask a holy God to dishonor Himself in my behalf, or even to desire such a thing, was alarmingly presumptuous. Yet, if there was any way in which God could be gloriously true and just in saving me B O, let it be shown me, was the incessant breathing of my heart. But I could see no way in which pardon, peace, righteousness, and salvation could ever come to me. My former delusive notions of my goodness looked as awful and presumptuous as any other part of my life. I dared not even hope to obtain God=s favor by such a course; indeed I felt hedged in on every side, and could see no way of possible escape. I felt as though I was suspended on a mere thread, and hourly awaiting my execution.


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