There are many letters and historical documents that show the living conditions and faith of my ancestors. One of the most fascinating is this account of my great-grandfather Jesse Blackburn Thornton…
J. B. THORNTON
As I sit in the evening of my many years as a child of God, and over half a century in the service of Christ, and look back over many great and glorious experiences in the will of God, it may seem strange that any one event should stand out above all.
My explanation for this conviction the fact that all that preceded that experience now seems to have been leading to that great hour, as all that followed it flowed from it.
The time and place of this wonderful event, which so stands out, is as follows: –The place was Madras, India; the year, 1904; the hour, midnight. After a ministry in the states of 5½ years as a Pastor, I was suddenly called to leave a growing work and start for Madras to be the Pastor of a large English speaking church in that city. Within six weeks we were on our way. It was as unexpected as Abraham’s call, or the apostle’s call, but it was God. I was amazed at the blessings that filled my soul and surrounded us. All who obey the leadings of the Spirit will understand how true this is. I was rejoicing in many evidences of God’s favor, and I was keen to do his will.
It was in such circumstances and such a mind I went to bed that memorable night. I had no thought of what would take place. The night was dark. I was sound asleep when suddenly I was wide-awake and afraid. Great fear came to me, for I heard a voice, a voice I had heard before — a voice speaking to my soul. Those who believe God’s record will understand that God can and does speak to the soul. I am not trying to defend myself from a charge of fanaticism. God’s record is full of evidence. –The boy, Samuel’s, experience; Isaiah in the temple; Paul on the way to Damascus. The proof that it is God who speaks is found in what He says and the results in the one who hears.
That night I knew the Lord — my Lord — was in that room and I was afraid at His Presence. This fear was not terror or fright, but it was the awakening of my soul to His Holy Presence. This, I know now, was “The fear that is the beginning both of wisdom and knowledge”. (Proverbs 1:7 & 9:10) But apart from the voice I would not have known why I was visited. But, oh how thankful I am for the Voice of Him whose servant I was — His was the right to speak to me.
He said, “You shall die tonight”. Frightened, I cried out loud in the darkness, “Lord, what have I done?” The answer came quickly, “You have despised my word. I called you. I saved you. I exalted you to be my preacher. I have honored you and given you a high place among my people, and you have neglected my Book. You have not even read it through once. You neither know nor preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. You use my Book to get texts for your own knowledge and wisdom. I have waited for you to awake and seek. Now, I am taking you away.”
In great fear and fully awake to the truth of all this, I cried out, “Lord have mercy; spare me and I promise I will lock my library up in the morning and will read no book or magazine or paper until I read Thy Book through from cover to cover. And it shall be my only book of knowledge and my only authority as long as I live.”
The fear of death left me and I sank back in peace and assurance.
The next morning I went into my study and locked up all my books, then sat down to begin to live by every word of God. And since that day I have been truly a man of one book so far as truth and authority is concerned. “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought into the obedience of Christ.”
Christ said to His disciples in John 8:32, “Continue ye in my word and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free — and ye shall be free indeed.” Oh how great and unspeakable that freedom is! An ever-increasing freedom has been my portion through the years.
In closing I would like to say this — the most wonderful thing in my experience is not how it came to pass, but the fact that it came to pass in God’s wisdom and grace. And my word of exhortation is, “Obey God’s voice and word to you.” For, after all, the truth remains that all progress in the Christian life depends upon obedience; and Christ’s great direction to all who believe in Him is still and always — “If you would be my disciple and know what I know and be what I am and where I am, deny thyself; take up thy cross and follow Me.” Amen