Vol. 8, No. 9
~ Page 14 ~
In his autobiography, Elias Smith, of restoration fame from Vermont, told of what was called the canker-rash striking the small community of Woodstock. He told of the death of several young people in their teen years and early twenties. He told of one family who within a period of four days lost all three of their young daughters. What the disease was, we do not know, but he described it as the persons breaking out in a very red rash, running a very high temperature and dying within thirty-six to forty-eight hours. The families hastened to bury their dead loved ones fearing that the disease could be spread, even from a corpse (52f). (The disease was, perhaps, some form of measles.)
Smith told of one young man whom he watched die. At the time of his friend's death, Smith was but a lad of sixteen years. He recounted the story this way, "Not long before he died, his father came into the room; his son said, 'father what do you think of my situation?' His father with tears replied, 'my son, you are dying.' He said, 'do you think I am?' 'Yes,' said his father. 'Then (said he) if it is so, I am undone to all eternity; O, How can I die without Christ; I am undone! undone, forever!' He uttered these words and died immediately" (53).
After watching his young friend, as well as the three sisters earlier mentioned buried, Smith began to think on the words of his young friend. He said, "So it was with me, I saw no way that God be just, unless I was cast off forever. I knew he was just, and would ever remain, and this conclusion followed: I have sinned against a God that is holy, just and good; for this I am now condemned to die, and as certain as I now exist, so certain it is that I must be lost forever; there is no hope for me" (57). For months Smith agonized over the condition of his eternal soul seeing no way at all that he would ever find salvation, for he had been taught, up to this period in his life, that God from all eternity had elected some to be eternally damned and some to be eternally saved. Smith believed that he belonged to the former group and there was no way that he could be saved and find eternal life, for God had already consigned him to be eternally lost. His despondency became so great that he began to think that life had no meaning, at least not for him, and he could see no point of even working to feed himself. This agony continued with him for many weeks, and though he began, after a while, to pull out of it due to what he thought was a conversion experience, while he was alone working in the forest, his agony during the intervening time was so great that it almost depresses one to read of it. Smith later learned that his "conversion experience" was a mental reaction due to his agony over his lost condition, and became a Christian after the New Testament order.
The point we wish to make is how he agonized over his lost condition. People today seem not to care! The philosophy that it is alright for everyone to do his own thing, and whatever one really wants to do is right for him, even if it is not for other people, has left many Americans without a sense of sin or a fear of death, eternal or otherwise. One can preach on sin, even name sin specifically and show God's eternal view of such sin, and we excuse ourselves by saying, "That was the God of the Old Testament, today he is goodness and love and surely will not condemn me." Such false concepts of God and his love toward man have cost the souls of countless thousands down through the years. We have simply reared two or three generations of people without consciences, for we no longer seem to agonize over the sins we commit, or the spiritual condition in which they place us. Without such realizations there is no incentive to repent of our sins and seek the salvation provided by the blood of Jesus Christ.
We may "join" a church and go through the religious motions, but we appear to be totally unaware of the destinies of our souls due to the sin against God and our fellow man. Dear reader, it is time for us to learn to agonize over sin. While we have no sympathy for the false belief that brought Smith to agonize over his eternal condition, we see the great value in agonizing (struggling with our consciences) because of our sins. We really need to develop a greater sensitivity of conscience!
Smith, Elias. The Life, Conversion, Preaching, Travels and Sufferings of Elias Smith. New York: ARNO P, 1980 reprint of the 1816 edition.