The Young Farmer’s Conversion.
by William Reid
CHAPTER I.—HOW I LEFT A SPHERE OF LABOUR WHEN ALL WAS GOING ON PROSPEROUSLY.
IT was the last month of spring. All nature was reviving and putting forth its buds of promise. I had just returned home from preaching Jesus to an interested and awakened people, to whom I had been ministering the gospel for about twelve months. I had gone to rest about midnight, and had not been long asleep when I dreamed, and dreamed again, of preaching in a curious, old, low-roofed church in a part of the country where I had never been, and to a people all of whom appeared to be entire strangers. I never saw anything more vivid or distinct; and I felt convinced in my sleep that I had work to do there for God.
In the morning, the impression of the dream was very strong on my mind; and I wondered whether He, whose indwelling in the ransomed soul is a distinguished feature of the present dispensation, could be giving me a premonition in the visions of the night of another sphere and of future labours to make known the glorious gospel of Christ. I thought of the remarkable manner in which I had been induced to enter upon the service for Christ in which I was then engaged. I remembered the blissful Sabbath evening, more than a year before, when, at college in Edinburgh, I had had the condition of the people among whom I had lived from my early years laid like a millstone on my soul, and when I had interceded for them with much fervour and many tears. I thought also of the successful result of the plan I had then formed to benefit the younger portion of that community, for whom my soul yearned with deepest compassion. There they had been the previous evening in large numbers, listening with tearful interest to the story of redeeming love,—a perfect marvel to me and other Christians who knew how sunken they had been, and must they be left?
But I thought also of the utter want of encouragement given to me,—an inexperienced youth,—nay, of positive opposition offered to my voluntary labours for the good of souls, by some of our leading spiritual guides. They deemed it presumptuous of me to do what they were not doing; and in their eyes, it seemed an unpardonable offence that my efforts should have been accompanied with real outward success, and were not destitute of spiritual blessing, in a field which they would not have dared to attempt cultivating. The chief opponent of the blessed work of God was a very able minister of the same church to which I belonged, but one who, though regarded as "a splendid preacher" in the pulpit, yet unfortunately preached quite "another gospel” by his life when out of it, and one who confessed on his death-bed, with deep regret, his wasted life and Christless ministry, and expressed his deep regret that he had not acted differently. His hatred to the good work reached such a height that he even went to the homes of those who attended my meetings and peremptorily forbade them to hear me any longer. I was only a divinity student of the first year at that time, and though I was doing my work very quietly, and under the full sanction of the Church, I feared that the hostility manifested would be likely to increase, and in consequence I became willing to leave it, and let another take it up. This was the deliberate conviction at which I arrived.
A few days passed, and the ministers met for ecclesiastical deliberation, and I walked up to their place of meeting, and gave in my resignation. One of them, a very devoted man, came up to me and remonstrated with me privately on the step I had taken, and endeavoured to persuade me to remain. “What will become of the people," said he, "at a time like this, when all suitable preachers are employed? It would do great injury to the work which is now going on so hopefully were you leaving. And why should you leave when the Lord has so greatly prospered the effort you have been putting forth to make an inroad on the ungodliness of the community? Have you views of some other sphere of labour? Where are you thinking of going?"
I assured him that I had nothing whatever in view, but that, notwithstanding, the prosperous condition of the work I had been engaged in, I was convinced in my own mind that my work there was done in the meantime, and I must give it up. He reasoned with me, but what use is it to reason with a man who, if true to his profession, is allowing himself to be led by the Spirit of God? A conviction inwrought into the converted soul by the Holy Ghost, grounded on one’s own reading of the books of Providence and Grace, cannot be overthrown by the most cogent reasonings of even a true brother in Christ; for "he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet himself is judged of no man." (1 Cor. ii. 15.)
My decision was final. But mark the next step in the Lord's leading. Just as I left that meeting, having given up my much-loved sphere of labour,—ere, in fact, I had crossed the threshold of the gate leading into the street, the postman, who was passing at the time, handed me a letter of invitation to do evangelistic work nearly two hundred miles away, and thither I went, "assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel unto them” (Acts xvi. 10).
Chapter II.—IMPRESSIONS AND DOINGS ON ENTERING ON MY NEW SPHERE OF LABOUR.
On my arrival at this distant place, I was treated with the utmost kindness by an intelligent and upright people, who knew how to carry out the Scripture maxim, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” But I felt awfully chilled by the unutterable coldness of their Christianity. They were the descendants of the noble men of the Covenant, and their homes were stocked with their works, and their memories with the traditions of their sufferings, escapes, and testimony to the Cross and sceptre of Jesus; but their souls seemed to have become cold as stone to the love of that Redeemer for whom their forefathers had either risked or lost their lives. To a young man, who had just come out of the midst of a blessed time of religious awakening, it can be easily believed that to be located in such a sphere must have been like making an almost instantaneous transition from the sunny shore of the Mediterranean to the perpetual ice of the Polar Sea. And so, indeed, I found It. There was among that people a rigid adherence to all the doctrines of religion, and a conscientious performance of its varied duties; but I felt as truly insulated from the society of living men as was Robinson Crusoe on his lonely Island. Week after week passed, and I lived in hope that surely, by and by, I might alight on at least one Christian with whom my soul might have spiritual fellowship, but I found none. Mark me; I do not wish it to be thought that there were none of the Lord's people among them. The thing I affirm is, that their type of Christianity was such that there was no communion between us. If Christians, they seemed to be in a fossil state; and being but lately converted, I was, by the grace of God, in a state of spiritual fluidity, and hence the want of sympathy between us. After the Holy Spirit came, there was no lack of life and spiritual communion. I had at first two congregations to attend to, but at length I removed permanently to the upper end of the parish. I had no sort of drawing to the lower one; but I felt my spirit drawn out towards the other; and I continued earnestly to pray for the presence and power of the Holy Ghost. They had looked interested in the preaching of the Word from the first; and I was convinced in my own mind that the Lord would speedily visit us with His salvation. There was nothing more striking than this, that I found myself preaching in the identical queer old church of my dream! It was exactly in every respect as I had seen it in my dream! There were the bare rafters, and the slates pointed with lime inside to keep out wind and rain; there were the transept and aisle, the old rickety pulpit near the middle door of the transept, and a skylight above it; the two end doors, and earthen floor; and the weather-beaten faces of a rural population beaming with quiet intelligence as they listened to the gospel of the grace of God.
The first of the extra things I did was to establish a Bible-class for young men and women, and a Sabbath-school for children, and a singing class, in which they might be taught to sing hymns of praise. In order to do my part to insure success, I went over a considerable portion of the scattered houses of the district, and invited the young to the Bible-class, and we opened with about seventy present.
But in order to understand the previous condition of the district, it is necessary to note a few things. The parish is sixteen miles long, and the parish church is situated a short distance from the seaward extremity of it. The church in which I preached was fully seven miles from the parish church, and about as far from the landward end of the parish. Before my coming, the people in the upper end of the parish had been accustomed to have only one sermon a month in winter, and two a month during the summer months. They were all far from their respective churches, and on most Lord's days, I had the greater part of the church-goers in the district under my preaching. There were six or seven denominations represented in my congregation and Bible-class; for being always inclined to set the gospel high above all church distinctions, I never offended against their ecclesiastical preferences, and we got on together very harmoniously.
CHAPTER III. —THE GRACIOUS PRESENCE AND POWER OF THE HOLY GHOST AND THE MIGHTY CHANGE EFFECTED.
The attendance on both church and class increased week after week, and the attention of young and old became more and more marked. It was now towards the end of June, and there had been no outward manifestation of that decided awakening and conversion for which I had prayed, preached, and longed. But on the Tuesday after the Communion Sabbath, when the subject treated of was that contained in the second chapter of Second Peter, as we went on, the Holy Ghost fell upon us as manifestly as on those in the house of Cornelius; and the whole people seemed to be lying under the arrest of the Almighty. Oh! how blessed it was to feel ourselves in the shower of the quickening Spirit of God! Let no man tell us that people cannot know about these recondite spiritual matters. The Holy Spirit came to us for the salvation of souls, and we knew the very time of His coming; for immediately we had convicted consciences, enlightened minds, quickened souls, broken hearts, and streaming eyes, and not a few of those who afterwards confessed the Lord Jesus, dated their change from that ever-memorable evening. From that time, we had a blessed Bochim every week for four months. The Holy Spirit was so graciously at work, awakening souls and revealing Jesus, that their minds were in such a tender frame that even the reading of the opening psalm made the tears trickle down the cheeks of the hearers; and neither in the class nor church was there a word spoken of Jesus that was not blessed to some souls, either for awakening conversion or edification. I was young in years, and younger in experience. I had no theological knowledge but seemed to be standing at the open door of God's kingdom crying, Come in! come in! But my heart burned like a furnace for the salvation of the people; and the Lord covered "the multitude of sins," and greatly blessed whatever was only faintly whispered of His own glorious gospel, so that by the power of a "very present" Spirit, a little was made to go a great way, as the few loaves did when proceeding from the hands of a present Jesus! And so great was the blessing given, that instead of seventy, we had hundreds attending our Bible-class, (which from June became a weekly lecture.) They came streaming down from a river-basin, having a circumference of about thirty miles, the work-people joyfully making up their time to their masters during the rest of the week for the few hours they required on the Tuesday to attend the meetings. We knew about all the phases of the work of God even then, of which we have heard so much these past few years. Revival work was no novelty when it became general. Thanks be unto God, some of us have been in it ever since we were born of God; and we hope, by God's mercy, never to be out of it. If we were to get out of the revival work, we would have grave cause for fearing that it had never got into us.
At first, numbers who attended our classes frequented the public-houses in the village before coming to the meeting and after it, and some good people were beginning to think that more harm than good would result from it; but after the gospel was borne in upon the hearts of the class, (which was composed chiefly of men), by demonstration of the Holy Ghost, the inns became deserted, for the thought of drinking was put out of their heads by anxiety about their souls. A genuine work of the Holy Spirit will never lead to any other result than a decrease of evil practices of every kind. That was its immediate effect among us. There was great earnestness to be saved, and that made the people break with their sins, for they began to know that His name is called JESUS, "because He saves His people from their sins."
CHAPTER IV.—THE FAME OF JESUS—THE FARMER’S CONVERSION.
In the process of time, the news of awakening reached other parishes, and numbers of persons came from long distances to hear and see for themselves. Among them was a young, fair-haired, open-faced, intelligent-looking farmer, who was generally regarded as a model of [morality] and religion. When he appeared the first time among us, he was inclined to despise the gospel on account of the simple way in which it was preached. The preaching was so different from the well-compacted discourses he had been accustomed to hear, that he considered it as a mere conversation, and no preaching at all; and he sat asking himself, "Is that all? Is that the preaching that is drawing together such crowds, and working the wonders of which I have been hearing for weeks? But, after all, he could not help seeing how powerfully it affected the hearers; and even he himself felt strangely influenced by it and was rendered so restless that he came back again and again, until the Lord opened his understanding, and showed him the redemption which He had accomplished on Calvary. His conversion was remarkable.
It was the Lord's-day. The text was, "In that day, there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness," (Zech. xiii. 1).
We had experienced much joy in writing the sermon and believed that we had the guidance and assistance of God's Holy Spirit. We had much of the Lord's presence in preaching it, and the people seemed to be melting like wax, under the warming influence of the gospel; but all at once, when at the most solemn part, describing the death of Jesus, and the efficacy of the fountain having been tried first on one of the most hardened of characters—the dying thief by His side—a sudden fiery dart of the most palpable and fierce temptation of Satan assailed me, to the effect that all I was saying was the grossest imposition, and unconscionable nonsense, and that I should laugh at it, and tell the people that it was all rubbish.
I could not express the agony of mind I felt at that moment; so suddenly was the dart thrown, that it stopped me in the midst of a torrent of earnestness, and the very laugh of derision had begun to play upon my features, when, in answer to my agony, I felt the presence of the Mighty One, who came to destroy the works of the devil, delivering me; I went on in His strength, feeling in my soul that the Lord was present in power by His Holy Spirit, preaching "redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins."
I was told, afterwards, that my embarrassment had been observed, as well as the smile of contempt, in the midst of solemn speaking; but, blessed be God, "His Word was with power." On seeing the farmer above mentioned, after he had "obtained mercy," he referred to that very time when I was so sorely tried by the enemy, as the moment when the Lord blessed the word to his soul!
CHAPTER V.—THE PREACHING THAT SAVES.
We little know the unseen contest going on for precious souls between the powers of light and darkness when Jesus is preached. It is against the simple preaching of Christ crucified that Satan puts forth all his energy. I would here take the opportunity of saying, by the way, yet with "great heaviness and sorrow in my heart," that there is a kind of juvenile preaching, too much indulged in and approved of by the spiritually ignorant, which, because of its wordiness and want of Christ, is utterly unproductive of good results. It is that sort that soars in the airy altitudes of mental creation, a mere phenomenon to be gazed at from a distance, as it flares its gorgeous pyrotechnic constellations of splendid, dazzling, and [scintillating] verbosity into "the blackness of darkness" of the carnal imagination—a magnificent display of religious fire-works, regarding which the preachers themselves would not dare to perpetrate the blasphemy of affirming that it was "not with wisdom of words, but in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." Neither would they venture to append, as an [address] to such discourses, the apostolic [assertion], "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." He who wrote that protestation, had, we may reasonably suppose, sufficient intellectual capacity, as well as talent and learning, to have preached after the fire-works style, if he had considered it likely to glorify Jesus, or to save perishing souls; but yet we find him, even among the polished Greeks, simply and quietly preaching "Jesus and the resurrection" (Acts xvii, 18), and doing it, too, on purpose, "not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect;" for, says he, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." That is the only preaching that God will own to convert perishing souls, and the only preaching which Satan will try to oppose and put down.
When any one is standing before the Angel of the Lord, seeming as if he were to be a brand plucked out of the fire, the adversary will be found standing at his right hand, to be an adversary to him, that he may prevent the taking away of his filthy garments, the causing his iniquity to pass from him, and the clothing of him in change of raiment (Zech. iii.). This Satan had tried to do in the case we have just described, but without effect; the man became converted, in spite of his violent opposition, and began to astonish the whole neighbourhood by declaring openly that he had found Christ and had experienced a saving change. His testimony to the converting grace of God produced a great stir, and many decent church members began to feel rather doubtful respecting their own condition, since he, who had been so universally respected and regarded as a pious, good-living man, was telling that he was then unconverted, with all his church-membership, religion, and exemplary life, but had now, by the grace of God, been CONVERTED.
One said to me, about that time, this preaching about being born again and converted, and especially that we will be conscious of the saving change if it has taken place, is a new thing—“we never heard it after this sort." Christ preached, and conversion felt, known, and manifested as the result, astounds the careless, and shakes the false confidence of those who have only a name to live. I believe that nothing will rouse up some of the self-righteous districts in our land so thoroughly as the preaching of a present Saviour, who, if believed on, will effect such a mighty change, that we will become conscious of it ourselves, and will manifest it to others by an unworldly, Christ-like life. It is a mere delusion, and a saying of "Peace, peace, when there is no peace," to give a man any encouragement to believe that he is a Christian, unless he knows himself saved, and has some good grounds for the conclusion at which he has arrived. To tell a man that he may have been savingly changed without knowing it, is to preach the gospel of the prince of darkness, not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our dear friend, the farmer, was at once very decided in his Christian profession. He came out boldly confessing Christ, and acknowledging that He had saved him from guilt, the world, and hell. On his way home, as he neared his house, he came upon a well, near which he had spent careless Sabbaths on summer days in former years, and there he knelt down, and confessed all the sinful past, and dedicated himself to God. It was past midnight ere he reached his home; but so full was his heart of the blessedness of being saved in the Lord, that he awoke his dear wife, and others of his family circle, to tell them what a Saviour he had found, and pray for them that they might all enjoy similar blessings. It was like the scene in the house of the Philippian jailor, of which we read in Acts xvi., when, shortly after midnight, he and all his house listened to the word of salvation spoken by the apostles. His earnestness to have his friends saved was a good evidence that the great change had passed upon himself; for how could a converted man let his unconverted friends alone? Are they not “condemned already," and "in danger of hell-fire?" And how could a man see them walking on "the broad way," and not urge them to "flee from the wrath to come?”
CHAPTER VI.—A CONSISTENT LIFE AND HAPPY DEATH.
It was a blessed time when he came and told me that he had found the Lord. We rejoiced together, and so did his converted brother, who was present, and had longed for his salvation. And this Christian farmer ever after showed me the greatest proofs of his affection as a brother in Christ. In all his temporal matters, as well as in the things of eternity, he evinced the genuineness of his Christian profession. He was the Lord's, and he showed it in all his ways. He kept up correspondence with me from the time of his conversion; and one of the most affecting things I have experienced was the reading of the following letter, written by his dying hand, in the month of February :—
"MY DEAR FRIEND IN CHRIST,—
I received yours, containing the little book. I now write you from the brink of the grave; but my soul soars upwards towards the eternal world. I enjoy perfect peace. Death has long lost its sting. I may live a few months; but in all likelihood, the trying spring will determine it. I have been gradually failing off for about two years, and now my bodily frame is much wasted away. My limbs are very weak, my breathing very much confined, I have a bad cough, &c. I have as yet, had little or no pain. My Father is dealing very gently with me, as He has always done since my conversion. I have stood out, by the grace of God, with a considerable degree of firmness, speaking and acting for the glory of God and the advancement of His cause. I have had a desire for some time, thinking that, when my family was able to work and look after the affairs of the farm, that I would devote myself more to the spread of the gospel, and the advancement of Christ's kingdom in my neighbourhood; but God, in His infinite wisdom, has seen it right that it should be otherwise. He is now convincing many of those who talked and laughed at me at one time, that the religion which I have professed is a religion of reality, and it may be, my death will be more blessed in convincing others than my life would have been. 'Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' It would do me good if you could write me a few lines by return of post, or at your earliest convenience."
I wrote, deeply sympathizing with my departing friend and brother, when, in replying, he ordered many copies of a book for inquirers to be sent immediately, and by post, lest they might otherwise be delayed too long, for he longed to give away, with his last ebbing strength, the gospel of God, which he was no longer able to speak. He wrote:—"We have received the books, and have them circulated, with the exception of a few." In the same letter he writes:—"You will rejoice to hear that Dr W—— is a thoroughly changed man. . . . The doctor is daily 'teaching and preaching from house to house' as he follows his profession. His views are clear and sound; and he has the power of communicating intelligently the saving truths of the gospel of Jesus." How much medical men may do to bring souls to Jesus, and to refresh the spirit of departing saints if they themselves are truly converted!“ My dear brother wrote again with his own hand, and wrote no more:—"It was my own tottering hand that wrote my last. This is from my dying pillow. I am very weak, but still enjoy peace and comfort to a degree beyond all that I could have expected. I now say, Farewell till Glory! Pray for my wife and children. Yours in Jesus."
On the 4th of March, the amiable, upright, Christian farmer, J. G., passed away from all the sufferings of time into the presence and joy of his Lord. He could truly say, “For me to live is Christ," and he now knows that "to die is gain.
"All times are times for praising Thee,
When triumphing by faith:
Thy power, O gracious Lord, we see
To conquer sin and death.
"We thank Thee that this weary one
Hath enter'd into rest;
His work of faith for ever done,
He leans upon Thy breast.
"The perfect spirit droops no more
Beneath its earthly load;
His groaning is for ever o'er;
He’s hid with Thee in God.
"We praise Thee, for Thy mighty hand
Hath help'd him through the flood;
And safe before the throne will stand
This purchase of Thy blood.
"O blessed Jesus! quickly come!
Us, and the sleepers call.
Wake up Thy jewels' perfect sum,
And give Thy joy to all.”
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. xv. 55-57).
“The British Evangelist” 1869