J. A. Wood


SECTION XXIV.

THE AUTHOR'S EXPERIENCE



228. Will you relate your experience of regeneration, and of entire sanctification?

I will. The Saviour's precious love constrains me to testify to his gracious dealings with my soul at every suitable opportunity.

Mr. Fletcher says: "When you are solemnly called upon to bear
testimony to the truth, and to say what great things God has done for you, it would be cowardice or false prudence not to do it with humility."

It pleased the Lord to call me in early life to seek pardon and converting grace. At ten years of age I first tasted the joys of a Saviour's love. I remember as early as then to have realized a sweet satisfaction and delight in prayer and effort to obey God. At the age of thirteen I joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. Through the blessing and grace of God, I have found a home ever since in the church of my early choice.

During the first five or six years of my experience, I was often perplexed and distressed with doubts in regard to the reality of my conversion; arising from my inability to fix upon the precise time when the change was wrought. I would often see people powerfully converted, and hear them tell of the place and the time of their conversion. The tempter would then whisper in my ear, "You can not tell
when you were converted, and you never had those deep convictions or those marked exercises in religious experience of which many speak."

From this source I had much trouble, and at times, for several years, found it exceedingly difficult to hold fast my confidence. After many and severe trials on this point, the Lord enabled me to settle the matter and, a thousand thanks to his blessed name, many years have passed since I have doubted for a moment the verity of my early conversion. The Lord removed my doubts by showing me that to know the
precise time of my conversion was of little importance; while the great question for me to settle was, "Have I the evidence that I am now converted?"

From this time until September 7, 1858, I maintained a steady purpose to obey God, received many spiritual refreshings from the presence of the Lord, and suffered but few doubts in regard to my justification and membership in the family of God.

During this period I was often convicted of remaining corruption of heart and of my need of purity. I desired to be a decided Christian and a useful member of the church; but was often conscious of deep-rooted inward evils and tendencies in my heart unfriendly to godliness. My bosom-foes troubled me more than all my foes from without. They struggled for the ascendency. They marred, my peace. They obscured my spiritual vision. They were the instruments of severe temptation. They interrupted my communion with God. They crippled my efforts to do good. They invariably sided with Satan. They occupied a place in my heart which I knew should be possessed by the Holy Spirit. They were the greatest obstacles to my growth in grace, and rendered my service to God but partial.

I was often more strongly convicted of my need of inward purity than I ever had been of my need of pardon. God showed me the importance and the necessity of holiness as clear as a sunbeam. I seldom studied the Bible without conviction of my fault in not coming up to the Scripture standard of salvation.

I never read Mr. Wesley's "Plain Account," nor the standards of Methodism on the subject of holiness, nor the memoirs of Fletcher, Bramwell, Carvosso, or Stoner, without deep conviction on the subject, and more or less effort for its attainment. I often commenced seeking holiness, but at no time made any marked progress; for as I read and prayed, some duty was presented which I was unwilling to perform, and so I relapsed into indifference.

I was often led to see my need of purity while studying for the ministry with Rev. William Hill, of Cambridgeport, Vt. Brother Hill was an able Presbyterian minister, and for a number of years pastor of a Presbyterian church in Newburg, N. Y. He was convicted of his need of entire sanctification, and obtained it at a meeting for the promotion of holiness at Mrs. Palmer's in New York city. He lived it, professed it, and preached it, and for so doing was expelled from the Hudson River Presbytery, in April, 1844. Rev. Henry Belden was expelled at the same time for the same cause. They united with the Congregational church. Brother Hill died in holy triumph at Bristol, Conn., July 31, 1851, in the thirty-seventh year of his age.

The society and influence of that holy man were a great blessing to me. I bowed with him in prayer in his study more than a hundred times, and held sweet communion with God. Those seasons of devotion still linger in my memory as among the most precious hours of my early ministry.

Being so often convicted of my need of perfect love, and failing to obtain it, I, after a while, like many others, became somewhat skeptical in regard to the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification, as a
distinct work, subsequent to regeneration. (See Section IV. of this book.) I held no clear or definite ideas in regard to the blessing of perfect love, but thought of it, and taught it, as only a deeper work of grace, or a little more religion. I taught, as many now do, a gradual growth into holiness, and threw the whole matter into indefiniteness and vague generalities. I expected to grow into holiness somehow, somewhere, and at some time, but knew not how, nor where, nor when. I urged believers to seek a deeper work of grace, and to get more religion, but seldom said to them, "Be ye holy," "This is the will of God, even your sanctification," or, seek "perfect love."

I became somewhat prejudiced against the Bible terms "
sanctification," "holiness," and "perfection," and disliked very much to hear persons use them in speaking of their experience; and opposed the profession of holiness as a blessing distinct from regeneration. I became prejudiced against the special advocates of holiness; and at camp-meetings and in other places discouraged and opposed direct efforts for its promotion. If a pious brother exhorted the preachers to seek sanctification, or the members to put away worldliness, tobacco and gaudy attire, and seek holiness, I was distressed in spirit, and disposed to find fault.

During a number of years, this was about my state of mind upon this subject. And let me here record, that while hundreds of sinners were converted to God, I do not recollect that a single believer was entirely sanctified under my labors during the first nine years of my ministry, to September 7, 1855. Let me further add, during this time I was grieved, from year to year, by seeing what might astonish hell, and fill heaven with lamentation — company after company of young converts walking into partially backslidden, unsanctified churches, first to wonder, then for a while to be grieved, but finally to add another layer to the backslidden stratification.

In May, 1858, I was appointed to Court Street Church, Binghamton, and went there much prejudiced against the professors of holiness in that church; and they were, doubtless, prejudiced against me, as they had cause to believe I would oppose them. I soon found in my pastoral visitations, that where those persons lived who professed the blessing of holiness, there I felt the most of divine influence and power, and realized a liberty in prayer, and an access to God in those families, which I did not elsewhere.

Let me remark, while I was prejudiced against holiness as a
distinct blessing, and against its special advocates, I did desire and believe in a deep, thorough, vital piety, and was ready to sympathize with it wherever I found it. I had attended prayer and class meetings but few times before I saw clearly that there were those in that society whose experience and piety possessed a richness, depth, and power which I had not; and that I was preaching to some who enjoyed more religion than their pastor.

The better I became acquainted with them, the more I was convinced of this, and the more deeply I became convicted of my remaining depravity and need of being cleansed in the blood of Christ. I also became convinced that those professors of holiness were Wesleyan in their faith, experience, and practice, while I had drifted away somewhat from the Bible and Wesleyan theory of Christian perfection.

Through the entire summer of 1858 I was seeking holiness, but kept the matter to myself. During this time none of the professors of holiness said any thing to me in the subject, but, as I have learned since, were praying for me night and day. God only knew the severe struggles I had that long summer, during many hours of which I lay on my face in my study, begging Jesus to cleanse my poor, unsanctified heart; and yet was unwilling to make a public avowal of my feelings, or to ask the prayers of God's people for my sanctification.

The Binghamton district camp-meeting commenced that year the 1st day of September, and about eighty of the members of my charge attended it with me. During six days of the meeting, the sanctification of my soul was before my mind constantly, and yet I neither urged others to seek it, nor intimated to any one my convictions and struggles on the subject. Six days of such deep humiliation, severe distress, and hard struggles I never endured before.

A number of the members present from my charge had once enjoyed this grace, and had lost it. Some who professed to enjoy it were becoming silent upon the subject. With but very few exceptions, we, as a church, were practically staving off and ignoring the doctrine and duty of entire sanctification. The Lord was evidently displeased with us, and so shut us up that our prayer-meetings, in our large society tent, literally ran out. The brethren and sisters became afflicted with themselves, and afflicted with each other. Some of them were even tempted to strike their tents and go home.

On the last day of the meeting, a few minutes before preaching, a faithful member of the church came to me weeping, and said, "Brother Wood, there is no use in trying to dodge this question. You know your duty. If you will lead the way, and define your position as a seeker of entire sanctification, you will find that many of the members of your charge have a mind to do the same." The Lord had so humbled my heart that I was willing to do any thing to obtain relief. After a few moments' reflection I replied, "Immediately after preaching I will appoint a meeting in our tent on the subject of holiness, and will ask the prayers of the church for my own soul."

Glory be to God! the Rubicon was passed. The moment of decision was the moment of triumph. In an instant I felt a giving away in my heart, so sensible and powerful, that it appeared physical rather than spiritual; a moment after I felt an indescribable sweetness permeating my entire being. It was a sweetness as real and as sensible to my soul as ever the sweetest honey to my taste. I immediately walked up into the stand. Just as he preacher gave out his text, — Eccl. xii. 13, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter," &c., — the baptism of fire and power came upon me.

For me to describe what I then realized is utterly impossible. It was such as I need not attempt to describe to those who have felt and tasted it, and such as I can not describe to the comprehension of those whose hearts have never realized it. I was conscious that Jesus had me in his arms, and that the Heaven of heavens was streaming through and through my soul in such beams of light and overwhelming love and glory, as can never be uttered.
The half can never be told!

It was like marching through the gates of the city to the bosom of Jesus, and taking a full draught from the river of life.

Hallelujah! Glory! glory! I have cause to shout over the work of that precious hour.

It was a memorable era in the history of my probation, a glorious epoch in my religious experience
never, NEVER to be forgotten. Jesus there and then — all glory to his blessed name! — sweetly, completely, and most powerfully sanctified my soul and body to himself. He melted, cleansed, filled, and thrilled my feeble, unworthy soul with holy, sin-consuming power.

Glory be to God! Perfect love is the
richest, the sweetest, and the purest love this side of Paradise. Angels have nothing better. Well may the poet sing, —

"Oh, for this love let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break,
And all harmonious human tongues
The Saviour's praises speak!"


I had always been much prejudiced against persons losing their strength; consequently, as might be expected, when the Holy Ghost came upon me in the stand, surrounded by some thirty preachers and three thousand people, it was God's order to take control of both body and soul, and swallow me up in the great deep of his presence and power.

After about three hours I regained sufficient strength to walk to the tent, and we commenced a meeting for the promotion of holiness. I told my church my purpose to ask their prayers as a seeker of holiness, but that Jesus had forestalled my design by accepting my soul the moment I consented to stand up for holiness, and was willing to be anything or do anything to obtain it.

A willingness to humble myself, and take a decided stand for holiness, and face opposition to it in the church, and take the odium of being an advocate of holiness in Binghamton, where that doctrine had been trailing in the dust for years, constituted the turning-point with me. After I reached that point of complete submission, I had no consciousness of making any special effort in believing; my whole being seemed simply, and without effort, to be borne away to Jesus.

Our meeting continued all night; and such a night I never experienced. A large number of my leading members commenced seeking holiness; and about every half hour during that whole night the glorious power of God came down from the upper ocean in streams as sweet as heaven. At times it was unspeakable and almost unendurable. It was
oppressively sweet — a weight of glory.

Every time the power of God came, one or more souls entered the land of Beulah, the Canaan of perfect love. Some shouted, some laughed, some wept, and a large number lay prostrate from three to five hours, beyond the power of shouting or weeping. Hallelujah to the great God! those present will never forget that night of refining and sanctifying power. What I received at the time Jesus sanctified my soul was only a drop in the bucket compared to what it has since pleased him to impart. From that hour the deep and solid communion of my soul with God, and the rich baptisms of love and power, have been "unspeakable, and full of glory."

"Oh, matchless bliss of perfect love!
It lifts me up to things above;
It bears on eagles' wings;
It gives my ravished soul a feast,
And makes me here a constant guest,
With Jesus, priests, and kings."


At times I have had an overwhelming sense of the Divine presence, and a sacred unction has pervaded my whole being. Especially this has been my experience while called to defend this glorious salvation. Oh, how god has stood by and helped me in vindicating the doctrine and experience of holiness! I have often felt if there were but one man in the world to stand up for holiness, in God's name I would be that man. So long as can move my tongue or pen I must testify to this sweet constraining love of Christ.

There was a divine fragrance and sweetness imparted to my soul when the Saviour cleansed and filled it with pure love, that has ever remained with me, and I trust it ever will. I make a record of this to the glory of God. Glory, honor, and eternal praise be to his blessed name, forever and ever! His own arm hath brought salvation to my feeble, helpless soul. And I do love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, and strength. Yet I am nothing, and Jesus is my all. Sweet portion! Oh, the blessedness of this inward, spiritual kingdom! Oh, the depths of solid peace my soul has felt! It has often been

"A sacred awe which dares not move,
And all the silent heaven of love."


To know that God is mine; to feel that he dwells in my heart, rules my will, my affections, my desires; to know that he loves me ten thousand times better than I love him, — oh, what solid bliss is this!

As I now look back over the twenty-one beautiful years since that eventful hour,

"Oh, how can words with equal warmth
The gratitude declare
That glows within my ravished heart!
But thou canst read it there."


During these consecrated years I have had time, and every variety of circumstances, to test the genuineness of my submission and the saving power of God, and I am constrained to say, I
know "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin." I state it with the most profound conviction of its truth, as well as of my own weakness and unworthiness. Oh, that I could describe my feelings of gratitude and love as I review the amazing grace and power of God! Truly,

"I stand all bewildered with wonder,
And gaze on an ocean of love;
While over its waves to my spirit,
Comes peace like a heavenly dove."


In the purified soul, the flow of joy is
deeper and steadier than ever before. It breathes an atmosphere of purity, and is conscious that its entire inner being has been cleansed, and harmonized by Christ himself. Someone has beautifully said, "This pure love is the same in nature, sweetness, and power, whether it be in David on the hill of Zion, Moses in the wilderness, or Paul in Athens. The same in the seraphic Fletcher at Madely, Wesley in London, in Fenelon at St. Sulpitius, or Madam Guyon in the Bastile. Like its author, it is forever the same, in all lands, whether on the banks of the Po, the Thames, or the Tiber, — in London, in Jerusalem, in New York. Whether possessed amid the grandeur and beauty of the Alps, in the cottages of the Waldensian mountains, or scattered along the more beautiful rivers, over the broader plains of our own loved America. Names, sects, parties have no power to change it. It is the same under all forms of government and in every dispensation; it is the image and likeness of God, the 'kingdom of God within you,’ ‘righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.' "

It is the richest gift of God to man. It sweetens this bitter cup of life, and lessens its sorrows; it smooths the rough places over which we travel, and lightens the valley of the shadow of death. It will go with us to the last. It will bless us while living, bless us when dying, and then melt away in the light of heaven forever.

Nothing but love can enter heaven. Pure love is the key that will unlock the pearly gates, and give us a right the tree of life that is in the midst of the Paradise of God.

Some of the precious results of the cleansing power of Jesus in my soul have been: —

1. A sacred nearness to God my Saviour. The distance between God and my soul has appeared annihilated, and the glory and presence of divinity have often appeared like a flood of sunlight, surrounding, penetrating, and pervading my whole being. Glory be to God that even the most unworthy may be "brought nigh by the blood of Christ."

2. A sense of indescribable sweetness in Christ. The fact that he is "the rose of Sharon;" "the lily of the valley;" "the brightness of his [the Father's] glory," and "altogether lovely," has at times so penetrated my soul as to thrill and fill it with ecstatic rapture. How lovely has the dear Saviour appeared to my soul and how strong the attraction my heart has felt toward him! How I love him!

"When on my new-fledged wings I rise,
To tread those shores beyond the skies,
What object first shall strike my eyes?
And where shall I begin my joys?
I'll run through every golden street,
And ask each blissful soul I meet,
Where is the God, whose praise you sing?
Oh, lead a stranger to your King."


Often his glory has shone upon my soul without a cloud. No language can describe the blessedness and sweetness of this state.

3. A deep, realizing sense of spiritual things. Bible truth has appeared transformed into solid realities. The doctrines of the gospel have become to me tangible facts and my soul has triumphed in them as eternal verities.

4. A surprising richness and fullness of meaning in the Scriptures, which I had not before realized. Many portions of the word, which I had hitherto but little understood, now appeared full of meaning, and exceedingly precious. The following passages have been applied many times to my soul with great power: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may
abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth, whom the world can not receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." — "If a man love me, he will keep my words and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." — "But if we walk in the light, as is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from sin." — "Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love."

5. A triumph over temptation more complete and habitual. When Satan comes he finds the sympathies and affinities of my soul strongly against him; hence he receives no favorable response. Before, I often found elements in my heart siding with the tempter, and felt at all was not right within. There appeared to be an aching void, or a place in my soul which grace had never reached; but since Jesus sent the refining fire through and through my poor heart, I have been sweetly assured that grace has permeated every faculty and fibre my being, and scattered light, love, and saving power through every part. Oh, the beauty, the loveliness, the sweetness of heart-purity!

6. A great increase in spiritual power. This I have realized in my closet devotions, in my pastoral duties, and especially in the ministrations of the blessed truth. Blessed be the Lord, I have learned by experience that men may receive the Holy Ghost in
measure limited only by their capacity to receive, and feeble ability to endure. God could easily bless men beyond the power of the body endure and live, if he were disposed to take them to heaven in that way.

This increase of power has delivered me from all slavish fear of man, or of future evil. It has given me such love to the Saviour and to his glorious gospel as to make all my duties sweet and delightful. Truly, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."

7. A clear and distinct witness of purity through the blood of Jesus. The testimony of the Holy Spirit, and of my own spirit, to the entire sanctification of my soul has been more clear and convincing than any I ever had of my regeneration; although I had no doubt of that for years before the Lord extirpated inbred sin from my soul. "Meridian evidence puts doubt to flight."

8. A disposition to tell the blessed story of Christ: and his "great salvation." O for a thousand seraph tongues to publish the glad tidings to perishing men!

Dear reader, I wish I could tell you how clear and sweet the light of purity has shown through the very depths of my soul, the complete satisfaction I have realized since I obtained this pearl of great price! But it can never be told! Its fullness, its richness, and its sweetness can never be expressed. You can know it only by experience, and this is your solemn duty and most exalted privilege. Will you not seek it? Will you not begin now? A holy life is the happiest life, the easiest life, and the safest life you can live. Be persuaded to settle the matter at once, and begin now to seek for purity, and never yield the struggle until you obtain the glorious victory.

The struggle may be severe, but victory will be yours, if you only persevere. When you have once become
fully decided that you will never cease consecrating, praying, and believing until you have obtained the blessing you will have surmounted your greatest difficulty, and it will not be long before the streams of pure love will flow through the depths of your soul.

But, in seeking for this priceless blessing, do not attempt to measure yourself by any thing peculiar in the experience of the writer, or of any other person. (See
Section IX., question 107. ) The Bible is our only rule of faith and practice. There are various operations of the Spirit in effecting the same work in the human heart.

In this narrative of my religious experience I have endeavored to give a simple statement of facts, regardless of what mistaken good men or wicked men may think or say. I would as soon deny God as to flee before the offense of the cross, or quail under the reproach of Christ. Like Peter and John, I "can not but speak the things which I have seen and heard." I fully believe, to continue in the enjoyment of perfect love, I must confess the whole, and take the consequences. Call it delusion who may; a blessed reality it is to my soul. I know it; I feel it; I have proved it, and I must declare it; and, in the nature of things, I shall be jealous of my own testimony if it does not stir up the devil.

During the earlier years of my religious experience, I feared lest I should profess too much, or more than I possessed; but since the Saviour cleansed and filled my soul with perfect love, I have had no fears in that regard. The intense sweetness, the superior excellence, and the divine glory of the perfect love of Jesus can never be exaggerated, nor, indeed, fully described. Thousands in the church of God, who have received this baptism of
love and power, can testify that the most glowing description any mortal can give of it, falls infinitely short of the reality. When any soul can truthfully say with Mrs. President Edwards: "My soul is filled and overwhelmed with light, and love, and joy in the Holy Ghost," there is no danger of exaggeration.

With the blessed
doctrine and experience of purity, I am more and more impressed, charmed, and satisfied. Under its quickening power and light, I am amazed, humbled, and delighted. O, that I may enjoy it more fully, live it more perfectly, and preach and teach more clearly, and in every way, by tongue, and pen, and life, do more for its promotion! I expect to preach it as long as I preach any thing, and when I cease preaching it, expect to be in heaven. In looking over these twenty-one years, I see much to humble me in the dust.

I might have written much more in regard to my weakness, unworthiness, and imperfections, and would have done so, had I supposed it would honor Christ more than to write about the fullness of his grace, and the riches of his love. I have tried with all humility to look to God for guidance, and have felt his blessing resting upon me while writing.

My experience is not my own; and it is in the hope that my humble testimony to the
fullness and freeness of the grace bestowed upon me, the most unworthy, may encourage and lead others to avail themselves of the fullness in Jesus, that I record my experience of the perfect love of Christ. I have given but a brief and imperfect sketch, a mere outline, of the mercies that the Lord has heaped upon his poor servant. To him be all the glory.

Dear Christian reader, seek holiness. At all hazards seek it. Expect no rest until your soul is made "free indeed in the blood of Jesus. When once you have tasted the blessedness of purity, you will never be able to be sufficiently thankful that you were induced to seek it. If you do not seek it, the period is not distant when you will never be able to forgive yourself for the neglect.

And now, "I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and give you an inheritance among all them which are
sanctified."






CONCLUSION


In conclusion, dear reader,

"I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your heart by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God. Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end." And "the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."