One day I listened to a conversation between my mother and a sister, in reference to a discourse which they had recently heard, to the effect that the soul had not natural immortality. Some of the minister’s proof texts were repeated. Among them I remember these impressed me very forcibly: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything.” “Which in His times He shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of Lords; who only hath immortality.” “To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” “Why,” said my mother, after quoting the foregoing passage, “should they seek for what they already have?”
I listened to these new ideas with an intense and painful interest. When alone with my mother, I inquired if she really believed that the soul was not immortal. Her reply was that she feared we had been in error on that subject as well as upon some others.
“But, mother,” said I, “do you really believe that the soul sleeps in the grave until the resurrection? Do you think that the Christian, when he dies, does not go immediately to heaven, nor the sinner to hell?”
She answered: “The Bible gives us no proof that there is an eternally burning hell. If there is such a place, it should be mentioned in the Sacred Book.”
“Why, mother!” cried I, in astonishment, “this is strange talk for you! If you believe this strange theory, do not let anyone know of it; for I fear that sinners would gather security from this belief, and never desire to seek the Lord.”
“If this is sound Bible truth,” she replied, “instead of preventing the salvation of sinners, it will be the means of winning them to Christ. If the love of God will not induce the rebel to yield, the terrors of an eternal hell will not drive him to repentance. Besides, it does not seem a proper way to win souls to Jesus, by appealing to one of the lowest attributes of the mind, abject fear. The love of Jesus attracts; it will subdue the hardest heart.”
It was some months after this conversation before I heard anything further concerning this doctrine; but during this time my mind had been much exercised upon the subject. When I heard it preached, I believed it to be the truth. From the time that light in regard to the sleep of the dead dawned upon my mind, the mystery that had enshrouded the resurrection vanished, and the great event itself assumed a new and sublime importance. My mind had often been disturbed by its efforts to reconcile the immediate reward or punishment of the dead with the undoubted fact of a future resurrection and judgment. If at death the soul entered upon eternal happiness or misery, where was the need of a resurrection of the poor moldering body?
But this new and beautiful faith taught me the reason why inspired writers had dwelt so much upon the resurrection of the body; it was because the entire being was slumbering in the grave. I could now clearly perceive the fallacy of our former position on this question. The confusion and uselessness of a final judgment, after the souls of the departed had already been judged once and appointed to their lot, was very plain to me now. I saw that the hope of the bereaved is in looking forward to the glorious day when the Life-giver shall break the fetters of the tomb, and the righteous dead shall arise and leave their prison house to be clothed with glorious immortal life.
Our family were all interested in the doctrine of the Lord’s soon coming. My father had long been considered one of the pillars of the Methodist church where he lived, and the whole family had been active members; but we made no secret of our new belief, although we did not urge it upon others on inappropriate occasions, or manifest any unfriendliness toward our church. However, the Methodist minister made us a special visit and took the occasion to inform us that our faith and Methodism could not agree. He did not inquire our reasons for believing as we did, nor make any reference to the Bible in order to convince us of our error; but he stated that we had adopted a new and strange belief that the Methodist Church could not accept.
My father replied that he must be mistaken in calling this a new and strange doctrine, that Christ Himself, in His teachings to His disciples, had preached His second advent. He had said: “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” When He was taken up to heaven before their eyes and a cloud received Him out of their sight, as His faithful followers stood gazing after their vanishing Lord, “behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.”
“And,” said my father, warming with his subject, “the inspired Paul wrote a letter to encourage his brethren in Thessalonica, saying: ‘And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe … in that day.’ ‘For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.’
“This is high authority for our faith. Jesus and His apostles dwell upon the event of the second advent with joy and triumph; and the holy angels proclaim that Christ, who ascended to heaven, shall come again. This is our offense, believing the word of Jesus and His disciples. This is a very old doctrine, and bears no taint of heresy.”
The minister did not attempt to refer to a single text that would prove us in error, but excused himself on the plea of a want of time. He advised us to quietly withdraw from the church and avoid the publicity of a trial. We were aware that others of our brethren were meeting with similar treatment for a like cause, and we did not wish it understood that we were ashamed to acknowledge our faith, or were unable to sustain it by Scripture; so my parents insisted that they should be acquainted with the reasons for this request.
The only answer to this was an evasive declaration that we had walked contrary to the rules of the church, and the best course would be to voluntarily withdraw from it to save a trial. We answered that we preferred a regular trial, and demanded to know what sin was charged to us, as we were conscious of no wrong in looking for and loving the appearing of the Saviour.
Not long after, we were notified to be present at a meeting to be held in the vestry of the church. There were but few present. The influence of my father and his family was such that our opposers had no desire to present our case before a larger number of the congregation. The single charge preferred was that we had walked contrary to their rules. Upon our asking what rules we had violated, it was stated, after a little hesitation, that we had attended other meetings, and had neglected to meet regularly with our class. We stated that a portion of the family had been in the country for some time past, that none who remained in the city had been absent from class meeting more than a few weeks, and they were morally compelled to remain away because the testimonies they bore met with such marked disapprobation. We also reminded them that certain persons who had not attended class meeting for a year were yet held in good standing.
It was asked if we would confess that we had departed from their rules, and if we would also agree to conform to them in the future. We answered that we dared not yield our faith or deny the sacred truth of God; that we could not forego the hope of the soon coming of our Redeemer; that after the manner which they called heresy we must continue to worship the Lord. My father in his defense received the blessing of God, and we all left the vestry with free spirits, happy in the consciousness of right and the approving smile of Jesus.
The next Sunday, at the commencement of the love feast, the presiding elder read off our names, seven in number, as discontinued from the church. He stated that we were not expelled on account of any wrong or immoral conduct, that we were of unblemished character and enviable reputation, but we had been guilty of walking contrary to the rules of the Methodist Church. He also declared that a door was now open, and all who were guilty of a similar breach of the rules would be dealt with in like manner.
There were many in the church who waited for the appearing of the Saviour, and this threat was made for the purpose of frightening them into subjection. In some cases this policy brought about the desired result, and the favor of God was sold for a place in the church. Many believed, but dared not confess their faith, lest they should be turned out of the synagogue. But some left soon afterward and joined the company of those who were looking for the Saviour.
At this time the words of the prophet were exceedingly precious: “Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for My name’s sake, said, Let the Lord be glorified: but He shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed.”
Chapter 5—Opposition of Formal Brethren
For six months not a cloud intervened between me and my Saviour. Whenever there was a proper opportunity, I bore my testimony, and was greatly blessed. At times the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me with such power that my strength was taken from me. This was a trial to some who had come out from the formal churches, and remarks were often made that grieved me much. Many could not believe that one could be so overpowered by the Spirit of God as to lose all strength. My position was exceedingly painful. I began to reason with myself whether I was not justified in withholding my testimony in meeting, and thus restraining my feelings, when there was such an opposition in the hearts of some who were older in years and experience than myself.
I adopted this plan of silence for a time, trying to convince myself that to repress my testimony would not hinder me from faithfully living out my religion. I often felt strongly impressed that it was my duty to speak in meeting, but refrained from doing so, and was sensible of having thereby grieved the Spirit of God. I even remained away from meetings sometimes because they were to be attended by those whom my testimony annoyed. I shrank from offending my brethren, and in this allowed the fear of man to break up that uninterrupted communion with God which had blessed my heart for so many months.
We had appointed evening prayer meetings in different localities of the city to accommodate all who wished to attend them. The family that had been most forward in opposing me attended one of these. Upon this occasion, while those assembled were engaged in prayer, the Spirit of the Lord came upon the meeting, and one of the members of this family was prostrated as one dead. His relatives stood weeping around him, rubbing his hands and applying restoratives. At length he gained sufficient strength to praise God, and quieted their fears by shouting with triumph over the marked evidence he had received of the power of the Lord upon him. The young man was unable to return home that night.
This was believed by the family to be a manifestation of the Spirit of God, but did not convince them that it was the same divine power that had rested upon me at times, robbing me of my natural strength and filling my soul with the peace and love of Jesus. They were free to say that my sincerity and perfect honesty could not be doubted, but they considered me self-deceived in taking that for the power of the Lord which was only the result of my own overwrought feelings.
My mind was in great perplexity in consequence of this opposition, and as the time drew near for our regular meeting, I was in doubt whether or not it was best for me to attend it. For some days previous I had been in great distress on account of the feeling manifested toward me. Finally I decided to remain at home, and thus escape the criticism of my brethren. In trying to pray, I repeated these words again and again: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” The answer that came to my heart seemed to bid me trust in my heavenly Father and wait patiently to know His will. I yielded myself to the Lord with the simple trust of a little child, remembering He had promised that those who follow Him shall not walk in darkness.
A sense of duty impelled me to go to the meeting, and I went with the full assurance in my mind that all would be well. While we were bowed before the Lord, my heart was drawn out in prayer and filled with a peace that only Christ can give. My soul rejoiced in the love of the Saviour, and physical strength left me. With childlike faith I could only say: “Heaven is my home, and Christ my Redeemer.”
One of the family before mentioned as being opposed to the manifestations of the power of God upon me, on this occasion stated his belief that I was under an excitement which he thought it my duty to resist, but instead of doing so, he thought I encouraged it as a mark of God’s favor. His doubts and opposition did not affect me at this time, for I seemed shut in with the Lord, and lifted above all outward influence; but he had scarcely stopped speaking when a strong man, a devoted and humble Christian, was struck down before his eyes by the power of God, and the room was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Upon recovering, I was very happy in bearing my testimony for Jesus and in telling of His love for me. I confessed my lack of faith in the promises of God and my error in checking the promptings of His Spirit from fear of men, and acknowledged that, notwithstanding my distrust, He had bestowed upon me unlooked-for evidence of His love and sustaining grace. The brother who had opposed me then rose, and with tears confessed that his feelings in regard to me had been all wrong. He humbly asked my forgiveness, and said: “Sister Ellen, I will never again lay a straw in your way. God has shown me the coldness and stubbornness of my heart, which He has broken by the evidence of His power. I have been very wrong.”
Then, turning to the people, he said: “When Sister Ellen seemed so happy, I would think, Why do I not feel like that? Why doesn’t Brother R. receive some such evidence? for I was convinced that he was a devoted Christian, yet no such power had fallen upon him. I offered a silent prayer, that, if this was the holy influence of God, Brother R. might experience it this evening.
“Almost as the desire went up from my heart, Brother R. fell, prostrated by the power of God, crying: ‘Let the Lord work!’ My heart is convinced that I have been warring against the Holy Spirit, but I will grieve it no more by stubborn unbelief. Welcome, light! Welcome, Jesus! I have been backslidden and hardened, feeling offended if anyone praised God and manifested a fullness of joy in His love; but now my feelings are changed, my opposition is at an end, Jesus has opened my eyes, and I may yet shout His praises myself. I have said bitter and cutting things of Sister Ellen that I sorrow over now, and I pray for her forgiveness and that of all others who are present.”
Brother R. then bore his testimony. His face was lighted with the glory of heaven as he praised the Lord for the wonders He had wrought that night. Said he: “This place is awfully solemn because of the presence of the Most High. Sister Ellen, in future you will have our help and sustaining sympathies, instead of the cruel opposition that has been shown you. We have been blind to the manifestations of God’s Holy Spirit.”
All the opposers were now brought to see their mistake and to confess that the work was indeed of the Lord. In a prayer meeting soon after, the brother who had confessed that he was wrong in his opposition, experienced the power of God in so great a degree that his countenance shone with a heavenly light, and he fell helpless to the floor. When his strength returned, he again acknowledged that he had been ignorantly warring against the Spirit of the Lord in cherishing the feeling he had against me. In another prayer meeting still another member of the same family was exercised in a similar manner and bore the same testimony. A few weeks after, while the large family of Brother P. were engaged in prayer at their own house, the Spirit of God swept through the room and prostrated the kneeling suppliants. My father came in soon after, and found them all, both parents and children, helpless under the power of the Lord.
Cold formality began to melt before the mighty influence of the Most High. All who had opposed me confessed that they had grieved the Holy Spirit by so doing, and they united in sympathy with me and in love for the Saviour. My heart was glad that divine mercy had smoothed the path for my feet to tread, and rewarded my faith and trust so bounteously. Unity and peace now dwelt among our people who were looking for the coming of the Lord.
Chapter 6—Advent Experience
With carefulness and trembling we approached the time [The year 1843, Jewish time, was believed to reach from March 21, 1843, to March 21, 1844. Those who received the Advent faith looked for the coming of Christ during that year.] when our Saviour was expected to appear. With solemn earnestness we sought, as a people, to purify our lives that we might be ready to meet Him at His coming. Notwithstanding the opposition of ministers and churches, Beethoven Hall, in the city of Portland, was nightly crowded; especially was there a large congregation on Sundays. Elder Stockman was a man of deep piety. He was in feeble health; yet when he stood before the people he seemed to be lifted above physical infirmity, and his face was lighted with the consciousness that he was teaching the sacred truth of God.
There was a solemn, searching power in his words that struck home to many hearts. He sometimes expressed a fervent desire to live until he should welcome the Saviour coming in the clouds of heaven. Under his ministration the Spirit of God convicted many sinners and brought them into the fold of Christ. Meetings were still held at private houses in different parts of the city with the best results. Believers were encouraged to work for their friends and relatives, and conversions were multiplying day by day.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1 pp. 39-48
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Discussion Questions — Day 4:
- What four texts impressed Ellen about the state of the dead? Why would this matter?
- What is the highest inducement for a rebel to yield? Has this subdued your heart?
- What makes us know that the doctrine of the second Advent is no new and strange doctrine?
- Why was there a lack of transparency in the trial of the Harmon family?
- Which prophet’s words were precious after the Harmon family were cast out of the church?
- While we are warned not to try to work up an excitement, what differences do you see between the manifestation of the Holy Spirit during the Advent movement and now?
- How did God convince the brother who opposed the manifestation of the Spirit upon Ellen? What two dangers may we face today?