Chapter 1—My Childhood
I was born at Gorham, Maine, November 26, 1827. My parents, Robert and Eunice Harmon, were for many years residents of this state. In early life they became earnest and devoted members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In that church they held prominent connection, and labored for the conversion of sinners, and to build up the cause of God, for a period of forty years. During this time they had the joy of seeing their children, eight in number, all converted and gathered into the fold of Christ. Their decided second advent views, however, led to the separation of the family from the Methodist Church in the year 1843.
While I was but a child, my parents removed from Gorham to Portland, Maine. Here, at the age of nine years, an accident happened to me which was to affect my whole life. In company with my twin sister and one of our schoolmates, I was crossing a common in the city of Portland, when a girl about thirteen years of age, becoming angry at some trifle, followed us, threatening to strike us. Our parents had taught us never to contend with anyone, but if we were in danger of being abused or injured, to hasten home at once. We were doing this with all speed, but the girl followed us as rapidly, with a stone in her hand. I turned my head to see how far she was behind me, and as I did so, she threw the stone, and it hit me on the nose. I was stunned by the blow and fell senseless to the ground.
When consciousness returned, I found myself in a merchant’s store; my garments were covered with blood, which was pouring from my nose and streaming over the floor. A kind stranger offered to take me home in his carriage, but I, not realizing my weakness, told him that I preferred to walk home rather than soil his carriage with blood. Those present were not aware that my injury was so serious, and allowed me to do as I wished; but after walking only a few rods, I grew faint and dizzy. My twin sister and my schoolmate carried me home.
I have no recollection of anything further for some time after the accident. My mother said that I noticed nothing, but lay in a stupor for three weeks. No one but herself thought it possible for me to recover; but for some reason she felt that I would live. A kind neighbor, who had been very much interested in my behalf, at one time thought me to be dying. She wished to purchase a burial robe for me, but my mother said, Not yet; for something told her that I would not die.
When I again aroused to consciousness, it seemed to me that I had been asleep. I did not remember the accident, and was ignorant of the cause of my illness. As I began to gain a little strength, my curiosity was aroused by overhearing those who came to visit me say: “What a pity!” “I should not have known her,” etc. I asked for a looking glass, and upon gazing into it, was shocked at the change in my appearance. Every feature of my face seemed changed. The bones of my nose had been broken, which caused this disfigurement.
The thought of carrying my misfortune through life was insupportable. I could see no pleasure in my existence. I did not wish to live, and yet feared to die, for I was unprepared. Friends who visited us looked with pity upon me, and advised my parents to prosecute the father of the girl who had, as they said, ruined me. But my mother was for peace; she said that if such a course would bring me back my health and natural looks, there would be something gained; but as this was impossible, it was best not to make enemies by following such advice.
Physicians thought that a silver wire might be put in my nose to hold it in shape. This would have been very painful, and they feared it would be of little use, as I had lost so much blood and sustained such a nervous shock, that my recovery was very doubtful. Even if I revived, it was their opinion that I could live but a short time. I was reduced almost to a skeleton.
At this time I began to pray the Lord to prepare me for death. When Christian friends visited the family, they would ask my mother if she had talked to me about dying. I overheard this, and it roused me. I desired to become a Christian, and prayed earnestly for the forgiveness of my sins. I felt a peace of mind resulting, and loved everyone, feeling desirous that all should have their sins forgiven and love Jesus as I did.
I well remember one night in winter when the snow was on the ground, the heavens were lighted up, the sky looked red and angry, and seemed to open and shut, while the snow looked like blood. The neighbors were very much frightened. Mother took me out of bed in her arms and carried me to the window. I was happy; I thought Jesus was coming, and I longed to see Him. My heart was full; I clapped my hands for joy, and thought my sufferings were ended. But I was disappointed; the singular appearance faded away from the heavens, and the next morning the sun rose the same as usual.
I gained strength very slowly. As I became able to join in play with my young friends, I was forced to learn the bitter lesson that our personal appearance often makes a difference in the treatment we receive from our companions. At the time of my misfortune my father was absent in Georgia. When he returned, he embraced my brother and sisters, and then inquired for me. I, timidly shrinking back, was pointed out by my mother, but my own father did not recognize me. It was hard for him to believe that I was his little Ellen, whom he had left only a few months before a healthy, happy child. This cut my feelings deeply, but I tried to appear cheerful, though my heart seemed breaking.
Many times in those childhood days I was made to feel my misfortune keenly. My feelings were unusually sensitive and caused me great unhappiness. Often with wounded pride, mortified and wretched in spirit, I sought a lonely place and gloomily pondered over the trials I was doomed daily to bear.
The relief of tears was denied me. I could not weep readily, as could my twin sister; though my heart was heavy, and ached as if it were breaking, I could not shed a tear. I often felt that it would greatly relieve me to weep away my sorrow. Sometimes the kindly sympathy of friends banished my gloom and removed, for a time, the leaden weight that oppressed my heart. How vain and empty seemed the pleasures of earth to me then! how changeable the friendships of my young companions! Yet these little schoolmates were not unlike a majority of the great world’s people. A pretty face, a handsome dress, attracts them; but let misfortune take these away, and the fragile friendship grows cold or is broken. But when I turned to my Saviour, He comforted me. I sought the Lord earnestly in my trouble, and received consolation. I felt assured that Jesus loved even me.
My health seemed to be hopelessly impaired. For two years I could not breathe through my nose, and was able to attend school but little. It seemed impossible for me to study and to retain what I learned. The same girl who was the cause of my misfortune was appointed monitor by our teacher, and it was among her duties to assist me in my writing and other lessons. She always seemed sincerely sorry for the great injury she had done me, although I was careful not to remind her of it. She was tender and patient with me, and seemed sad and thoughtful as she saw me laboring under serious disadvantages to get an education.
My nervous system was prostrated, and my hand trembled so that I made but little progress in writing, and could get no further than the simple copies in coarse hand. As I endeavored to bend my mind to my studies, the letters on the page would run together, great drops of perspiration would stand upon my brow, and a faintness and dizziness would seize me. I had a bad cough, and my whole system seemed debilitated. My teachers advised me to leave school and not pursue my studies further till my health should improve. It was the hardest struggle of my young life to yield to my feebleness and decide that I must leave my studies and give up the hope of gaining an education.
Three years later I made another trial to obtain an education. But when I attempted to resume my studies, my health rapidly failed, and it became apparent that if I remained in school, it would be at the expense of my life. I did not attend school after I was twelve years old.
My ambition to become a scholar had been very great, and when I pondered over my disappointed hopes, and the thought that I was to be an invalid for life, I was unreconciled to my lot and at times murmured against the providence of God in thus afflicting me. Had I opened my mind to my mother, she might have instructed, soothed, and encouraged me; but I concealed my troubled feelings from my family and friends, fearing that they could not understand me. The happy confidence in my Saviour’s love that I had enjoyed during my illness was gone. My prospect of worldly enjoyment was blighted, and heaven seemed closed against me.
Chapter 2—My Conversion
In March, 1840, William Miller visited Portland, Maine, and gave his first course of lectures on the second coming of Christ. These lectures produced a great sensation, and the Christian church on Casco Street, occupied by Mr. Miller, was crowded day and night. No wild excitement attended these meetings, but a deep solemnity pervaded the minds of those who heard his discourses. Not only was there manifested a great interest in the city, but the country people flocked in day after day, bringing their lunch baskets, and remaining from morning until the close of the evening meeting.
In company with my friends I attended these meetings and listened to the startling announcement that Christ was coming in 1843, only a few short years in the future. Mr. Miller traced down the prophecies with an exactness that struck conviction to the hearts of his hearers. He dwelt upon the prophetic periods, and brought many proofs to strengthen his position. Then his solemn and powerful appeals and admonitions to those who were unprepared, held the crowds as if spellbound.
Special meetings were appointed where sinners might have an opportunity to seek their Saviour and prepare for the fearful events soon to take place. Terror and conviction spread through the entire city. Prayer meetings were established, and there was a general awakening among the various denominations, for they all felt more or less the influence that proceeded from the teaching of the near coming of Christ.
When sinners were invited forward to the anxious seat, hundreds responded to the call, and I, among the rest, pressed through the crowd and took my place with the seekers. But there was in my heart a feeling that I could never become worthy to be called a child of God. A lack of confidence in myself, and a conviction that it would be impossible to make anyone understand my feelings, prevented me from seeking advice and aid from my Christian friends. Thus I wandered needlessly in darkness and despair, while they, not penetrating my reserve, were entirely ignorant of my true state.
One evening my brother Robert and myself were returning home from a meeting where we had listened to a most impressive discourse on the approaching reign of Christ upon the earth, followed by an earnest and solemn appeal to Christians and sinners, urging them to prepare for the judgment and the coming of the Lord. My soul had been stirred within me by what I had heard. And so deep was the sense of conviction in my heart, that I feared the Lord would not spare me to reach home.
These words kept ringing in my ears: “The great day of the Lord is at hand! Who shall be able to stand when He appeareth!” The language of my heart was: “Spare me, O Lord, through the night! Take me not away in my sins, pity me, save me!” For the first time I tried to explain my feelings to my brother Robert, who was two years older than myself; I told him that I dared not rest nor sleep until I knew that God had pardoned my sins.
My brother made no immediate reply, but the cause of his silence was soon apparent to me; he was weeping in sympathy with my distress. This encouraged me to confide in him still more, to tell him that I had coveted death in the days when life seemed so heavy a burden for me to bear; but now the thought that I might die in my present sinful state and be eternally lost, filled me with terror. I asked him if he thought God would spare my life through that one night, if I spent it agonizing in prayer to Him. He answered: “I think He will if you ask Him with faith, and I will pray for you and for myself. Ellen, we must never forget the words we have heard this night.”
Arriving at home, I spent most of the long hours of darkness in prayer and tears. One reason that led me to conceal my feelings from my friends was the dread of hearing a word of discouragement. My hope was so small, and my faith so weak, that I feared if another took a similar view of my condition, it would plunge me into despair. Yet I longed for someone to tell me what I should do to be saved, what steps to take to meet my Saviour and give myself entirely up to the Lord. I regarded it a great thing to be a Christian, and felt that it required some peculiar effort on my part.
My mind remained in this condition for months. I had usually attended the Methodist meetings with my parents; but since becoming interested in the soon appearing of Christ, I had attended the meetings on Casco Street. The following summer my parents went to the Methodist camp meeting at Buxton, Maine, taking me with them. I was fully resolved to seek the Lord in earnest there, and obtain, if possible, the pardon of my sins. There was a great longing in my heart for the Christian’s hope and the peace that comes of believing.
I was much encouraged while listening to a discourse from the words, I will “go in unto the king,” “and if I perish, I perish.” In his remarks the speaker referred to those who were wavering between hope and fear, longing to be saved from their sins and receive the pardoning love of Christ, yet held in doubt and bondage by timidity and fear of failure. He counseled such ones to surrender themselves to God, and venture upon His mercy without delay. They would find a gracious Saviour ready to present to them the scepter of mercy, even as Ahasuerus offered to Esther the signal of his favor. All that was required of the sinner, trembling in the presence of his Lord, was to put forth the hand of faith and touch the scepter of His grace. That touch ensured pardon and peace.
Those who were waiting to make themselves more worthy of divine favor before they venture to claim the promises of God, were making a fatal mistake. Jesus alone cleanses from sin; He only can forgive our transgressions. He has pledged Himself to listen to the petition and grant the prayer of those who come to Him in faith. Many had a vague idea that they must make some wonderful effort in order to gain the favor of God. But all self-dependence is vain. It is only by connecting with Jesus through faith that the sinner becomes a hopeful, believing child of God. These words comforted me and gave me a view of what I must do to be saved.
I now began to see my way more clearly, and the darkness began to pass away. I earnestly sought the pardon of my sins, and strove to give myself entirely to the Lord. But my mind was often in great distress because I did not experience the spiritual ecstasy that I considered would be the evidence of my acceptance with God, and I dared not believe myself converted without it. How much I needed instruction concerning the simplicity of it!
While bowed at the altar with others who were seeking the Lord, all the language of my heart was: “Help, Jesus, save me or I perish! I will never cease to entreat till my prayer is heard and my sins forgiven!” I felt my needy, helpless condition as never before. As I knelt and prayed, suddenly my burden left me, and my heart was light. At first a feeling of alarm came over me, and I tried to resume my load of distress. It seemed to me that I had no right to feel joyous and happy. But Jesus seemed very near to me; I felt able to come to Him with all my griefs, misfortunes, and trials, even as the needy ones came to Him for relief when He was upon earth. There was a surety in my heart that He understood my peculiar trials and sympathized with me. I can never forget this precious assurance of the pitying tenderness of Jesus toward one so unworthy of His notice. I learned more of the divine character of Christ in that short period when bowed among the praying ones than ever before.
One of the mothers in Israel came to me and said: “Dear child, have you found Jesus?” I was about to answer, “Yes,” when she exclaimed: “Indeed you have, His peace is with you, I see it in your face!” Again and again I said to myself: “Can this be religion? Am I not mistaken?” It seemed too much for me to claim, too exalted a privilege. Though too timid to openly confess it, I felt that the Saviour had blessed me and pardoned my sins.
Soon after this the meeting closed, and we started for home. My mind was full of the sermons, exhortations, and prayers we had heard. Everything in nature seemed changed. During the meeting, clouds and rain prevailed a greater part of the time, and my feelings had been in harmony with the weather. Now the sun shone bright and clear, and flooded the earth with light and warmth. The trees and grass were a fresher green, the sky a deeper blue. The earth seemed to smile under the peace of God. So the rays of the Sun of Righteousness had penetrated the clouds and darkness of my mind, and dispelled its gloom.
It seemed to me that everyone must be at peace with God and animated by His Spirit. Everything that my eyes rested upon seemed to have undergone a change. The trees were more beautiful and the birds sang more sweetly than ever before; they seemed to be praising the Creator in their songs. I did not care to talk, for fear this happiness might pass away, and I should lose the precious evidence of Jesus’ love for me.
As we neared our home in Portland, we passed men at work upon the street. They were conversing with one another upon ordinary topics, but my ears were deaf to everything but the praise of God, and their words came to me as grateful thanks and glad hosannas. Turning to my mother, I said: “Why, these men are all praising God, and they haven’t been to the camp meeting.” I did not then understand why the tears gathered in my mother’s eyes, and a tender smile lit up her face, as she listened to my simple words that recalled a similar experience of her own.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1 pp. 9-18