Elder Samuel L. Dark
I have many times been requested to write a sketch of my life, together with my christian experience, but a sense of my deep sinfulness and of a life far from what it should be, has made me doubt if any good could come of it. But my life work is now about done, and having spent many years of my life testifying to the goodness and mercy of God in the salvation of sinners, I now wish to leave to my brethren who shall live after me a statement of part of the incidents that have led me to trust in a Savior's power to save poor wretched sinners.
I was born in Chatham Co., N. C., within ten miles of the county seat, in the year 1808. My father and mother united with the Baptists in 1802. In about the year 1809 they moved to Wilson Co., Tenn., my father taking a letter in full fellowship, but mother being favorable to open communion, would not have a letter. When they reached Tennessee, father would not put his letter in because he could not believe with the Baptists on the subject of eternal and personal election; mother united with the Methodists, but not agreeing with them on matters pertaining to church government, left them and finally came back to the communion of the Primitive Baptists and died in that faith. I had many evidences of a supreme power overruling all things, but grew up wild, thoughtless and wicked. In December 1829, I left the scenes of my childhood and emigrated to Schuyler Co., Ill., stopping awhile in Kentucky, reaching my destination, in company with my parents and others, in April, 1830. Here I took charge of a school near Rushville, in the then backwoods settlement, and after teaching six months commenced another term; but I discontinued it at the call for volunteers for the Black Hawk war.
My parents were much opposed to my going on account of my being crippled, near sighted and being the youngest son. I had but two days to get ready, and having to buy a horse and a gun, I resorted to swearing to keep them from interfering with my preparations. I argued with them that I had agreed to go, and that I would not desert, nor dishonor my word. During my preparations, I laid down some notes on a table and took my father's gun, telling him that I intended taking it if he did not kill me to prevent it. Until this day, my wicked act touches my heart. I turned and saw tears starting in my old father's eyes, but he offered no further opposition to my taking the gun. That act I shall regret as long as life lasts.
The company being organized, and the time having arrived for leaving, as we marched past my father's house the company fired a salute. My dear old mother came to the gate and beckoned for me to come to her, which I did. On my approaching her, she said, "My son, from what I learn from the papers, there is a strong probability that you will have to fight every band of Indians between here and Canada, and some think that this is the beginning of another British war. You are exposed to death in ten thousand ways; you may be killed by accident, slain in battle, thrown from your horse or drowned; so I may never see you again. And if I never see you again, what evidence shall I have that you are not in hell?" Knowing that this proceeded from a kind mother's heart, I could but answer her respectfully, and this I did by saying, in order to evade a long and serious conversation, "What can I do?" Her brief answer was: "Pray." Wishing to cut the conversation short, my reply was, "You pray for me." At this she turned her back to me, and raised her right hand heavenward, and seemingly with intense earnestness, screamed out this prayer: "Go, my son, and the Lord be with you." This parting from a dear mother under such solemn circumstances, had its influence, and I did not curse and swear for several days. But my propensity for wickedness and levity proved that my goodness was like Ephraim's of old, which like the morning cloud and the early dew, soon passed away, and I plunged into my former course of levity and profanity with a degree seemingly unparalelled. I became so noted that I gained the title of "Schuyler fool killer;" and to this day I tremble to think that the honor of my God and the glorious gospel of peace, was so trivial in my estimation that I trampled on them and everything sacred, to make mirth for my fellow soldiers. It was not many days until I was so distinguished for these things that I was as well known, personally, as the commander in chief. While going on in this career, it is said that I preached the funeral of an old horse that had died.
Near the time when we were to be mustered out, I thought to get on good terms with my messmate, whom I had so abused with my ungodly career that we had come near fighting. I had no real enmity towards him, however, but had been simply gratifying my disposition for my own amusement. I found him in conversation with an old man who had out done him in ruffianism and blasphemy. I thought here was an opportunity to get into the good graces of my messmate by bringing this old man to shame. I feigned to be a young minister, and to be greatly shocked by his profane language. I turned upon him the accusations that I thought best calculated to ring him to confess his error and, possibly, to bring out a promise of reformation. I was successful. I said to him, "My old father, if I may call you by that endearing name, I must confess that when I see a man of such natural talent, by his pernicious influence and example, dragging down to hell so many youths of the land who have enlisted to defend the rights of their country, and at the same time drawing down the vengeance of God on his own grey head, I am made to shudder."
I continued on in this strain, but my eyes were turned within to see the character of my own poor soul, and I saw that all that I said was the truth in regard to myself, and every evil thought and act of my life was as though it had been written page after page. I seemed drawing right into the very mouth of perdition, yet I could not stop talking until I had uttered these words: "It is with such men as Dr. Young said: 'With the talent of an angel, a man may be a fool.'" On uttering this, it was as though a bolt of light had pierced through my soul, which came near throwing me to the ground. I staggered, but recovered myself, and turned expecting to see the ground open and swallow me up, and felt that I should sink down to hell. Notwithstanding all this, I kept to my purpose of degrading the old man, and made my true character known to him by a foul remark, and was introduced to him as the "Schuyler fool killer." He cursed me bitterly, and threatened to kill me. I soon retired to my tent, and spent nearly the whole night in horror and sleeplessness, getting a little sleep just before day. On awakening next morning, a great change seemed to have overspread creation. I had read in the word of God that the earth was cursed for man's sake. The earth assumed an aspect that I had never seen before. The earth and the heavens seemed drawn together and a curse seemed to rest on all that I saw. The army of 4,000 men was camped in a hollow square and everything that I could see looked grimly unnatural. And, strange as it may seem to some, I could not bear with any degree of patience to hear their shocking oaths and blasphemies. They seemed to pierce my heart as with a spear; so I left the camp some two or three hundred yards. My seclusion seemed to avail me nothing, for the sins of my life that had heretofore been forgotten seemed to loom up before me as so many fiery balls; and sufficient, they seemed, to set heaven and earth ablaze. My soul trembles to think of the horror that I felt. I seemed to stand on the crust of a volcano over the mouth of a burning crater. I fancied that the weight of my sins would break it through and that the hottest hell would soon be mine.
In this condition, I asked myself if any one had told me that I was in this doleful and distressed condition. My mind turned then to the ministers of the M. E. church, who had always been one my favorite preachers, in connection with Cumberland Presbyterians and others who held Arminian tenets. I had formerly looked on these as being the heralds of the truth. Many of their representations as to man having a good and an evil spirit in him came to my mind. But, alas! my poor soul was, morally, a barren heath with nothing good, I was wholly sinful. After thinking of many, my mind wandered to an Old Baptist preacher named Presley Lester. I had listened to him for many hours while he seemed to be deploring the utter depravity of the whole human race. I had formerly listened, disbelieving all that he said in regard to man's inability to deliver himself from sin and misery. Many parts of his sermons seemed to roll through my mind, though I had not heard him for two years and was six hundred miles away from him. Now, I saw that the mistake was on my part, touching myself and my condition. He had only partly described my utter pollution and hopeless condition; and I now realized that, morally speaking, "the whole head was sick, and the heart faint, and that I was full of putrefying sores from the soles of the feet to the head. There was no soundness there." Four or five of the same order came into mind, and they all seemed to have borne testimony to the same awful truth, and, notwithstanding I had formerly considered them as simpletons or bigots, who loved to differ with good preachers, I now discovered that they had come near the truth in my case. In my mind, they seemed to go side by side, neither turning to the right nor to the left, but to go straight forward, declaring the everlasting gospel; and I felt that most of the Old Baptist doctrine was right. (Afterwards I embraced it all.)
In May, 1831, we were discharged and returned home, but the tumult in my bosom continued for our and a half months. During this time I did everything that I could to drive these feelings away. I cursed, danced, went in rough company, but it all did no good; all that I could do was only heaping up wrath against myself. On the third Sunday in September I attended an association. From what occurred there the Baptists were somewhat mixed up with a preacher that spoke from his learning and other men's works; as one preacher who was appointed to preach on Sunday used a part of one of Blair's lectures, a British divine. Returning from the meeting that evening with a young lady and two other couples, I jocosely referred to the sermon of Brother Allen (as I called him); and I repeated fully half of it, as I had learned it when a boy. The young lady that I was with afterward became my wife. I had long contemplated paying my attentions to her, and was very glad of this opportunity, and only regretted that this dull and heavy feeling rendered me less entertaining than I desired to be. I had never been at her father's house before, though it was near my father's. In order to rid myself of these serious impressions, I left the company of the other young people, and went to the west end of the house where there were some hewed logs lying close together, and on them I tried dancing once more. But the King's dart stuck so deep in the center of my soul, that instead of relieving me it only made me feel worse. The very sky above me seemed like brass and the earth like iron. I felt to be a poor abandoned creature, and felt that my death sickness was on me, and that I should soon die. I walked into the room, and notwithstanding I was almost an entire stranger to them, I threw myself on a bed in despair, exclaiming, "I am sick." The girls playfully feigned to administer to my case with medicinal skill. But all their playful efforts were like tearing my heart-strings, and I said to them, "For God's sake, girls, leave me; you don't know what is the matter with me." Their reply was, "O yes sir, we can cure you, we can cure you." We soon started to meeting, and O, what melancholy feelings I had in regard to my poor soul! and longed for a call from God, believing that the invitations of Arminians were such calls. I took my seat in a porch, while the minister stood in the house; and I listened to him as best I could. The preacher was a plain old farmer, a man of honest integrity, Elder Wilcox, whose body lies three miles west of Canton, and by whose grave I have passed many times to preach to his relatives. His text was - "Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself or some other man?" In his illustration of the text, by way of showing the condition of mind that the Eunuch was then in, I really thought he aimed his remarks for me, personally, as I saw Elder John Logan and others present who had been fellow soldiers with me in the army, and who knew my character. He seemed to lay my darkest sins bare and bring out the very secret thoughts of my heart, and tell all about my notions of a saving religion, and hold them in utter derision before the people to that extent that I thought that my character was ruined forever. I could but acknowledge that I was guilty of every crime that he charged me with, and he held them out to public gaze so vividly that I expected every moment that he would call me out by name, thinking that he had obtained the facts from those who were acquainted with me. I could not conceive how a Christian could delight in exposing a poor lost being to the extent that he did, knowing that I was doomed to utter destruction. However, after giving a description of my character and just condemnation, he made the inquiry publicly, "Is there any poor soul here in this condition?" My thoughts were, "If I should say yes, his reply could be nothing else than something like this - 'Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" But instead of pursuing that course, he remarked, "If there is, I have glorious intelligence for you; God has intentions of mercy towards you."
I discredited the statement, somewhat, but he had told the truth so clearly that I came to this conclusion -- "Am I yet out of hell, after so much dreadful apprehension? And is there yet mercy with God for such a life-time enemy to God as I have been and am? If there is mercy, I will seek it." And then for six weeks I made constant supplication night and day, when awake, for forgiveness of my sins. Before this I had never thought of praying to God, for I thought that to insult him by praying to him, would end in plunging me to hell. I had a book in my possession entitled "Imitation of Christ." In it were a great many forms of prayer that I thought very beautiful and applicable to my case. I would occasionally read one a few times and then retire to offer it in secret in my own behalf. But poor headway was made in this way, however, for after a few weeks my case became so desperate that I would forget my prayer before I could get out of the schoolhouse. Finally, I came to the conclusion that, according to the word of God, there was such a thing as a conditional salvation, and that the part I had to do was to offer a perfect prayer to God. I thought at that time that I was able to do it, and that if I did not perform it, and God should send me to hell, I should try to acquiesce in my condemnation; and that in the event that I did offer it and God did not save me in answer to my prayer, and sent me to hell, I would point from its dark caverns and tell him that he had said, "Every one that seeketh, findeth," and "Knock and it shall be opened unto you." After calling on everything, animate and inanimate, to witness the sincerity of my heart, and the fulfillment of the condition on my part, I retired to a dense clump of underbrush and dropped on my knees in order to offer this perfect prayer. I stayed on my knees several inutes,and if it had been to have saved a thousand worlds, I could not have uttered a word. So I stood there on my knees condemned. The sky looked dark and lowering, and I expected God's vengeance to break forth upon me; and as fast as I could I made my way to the house. While going to the house, this thought came to me: "You have never yet believed in a scriptural sense." That thought was followed by a declaration from Paul that without faith it was impossible to please God, and whatsoever is not of faith is of sin. Now I saw that all my prayers were only the cries of an unbelieving heart and I had been building my hopes on a false foundation, my prayers being sinful and vile in the sight of God. I here died to legal hope, for I saw that my prayers had been employed by me as a means to put myself where God could reach me. The wickedness of my best prayers seemed to contain sin enough to damn ten thousand worlds if they had been imputed to them.
I went into the school house, thinking that I would never ask God to have mercy any more. Seeing a New Testament lying on a bench, the thought occurred to me, "I will read condemnation in you once more," as though I was addressing it personally. I opened to the last part of the gospel of Matthew and there read of the trial, maltreatment and crucifixion of my blessed Lord. My sympathy was excited, exceedingly, for the innocent sufferer. I looked on him as a fellow sufferer, with this difference, I should suffer eternally for my sins, while he had done nothing worthy of punishment or maltreatment. My sympathy was so excited in his behalf that I thought I would have risked my life or have delivered him from his enemies. Poor blind heart! Little did I think -
"'Twas you, my sins, my cruel sins,
His chief tormentors were -
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear."
By some unaccountable means, every word became very interesting and I thought to read the words over again. Never before had I seen such beauty in God's word. But instead of re-reading, something urged me to read on. When I came near the close of the 27th chapter, I felt to regret that I was so nearly done this wonderful recital. I read on to the 6th verse in the 28th chapter with my back to the school, standing with my face to the window, which was simply a log cut out to let in the light, and read, "He is not here; for he is risen as he said. Come see the place where the Lord lay." I felt a touch on my shoulder, and supposing it to be one of my pupils, raised my head to turn around. But what was my surprise, to see before me, as I looked through the window, a man, seemingly composed of richest blood. I did not see it with my natural vision, for a young man, named Henry Wright, was just at my left hand and in position to see all that I could see. But, nevertheless, I saw him suspended in air, lying prone, with his head upon his arms, and ten thousand times ten thousand bolts of lightning striking the quivering form from every direction. I was moved to pity the object of such wrath. The passage of scripture that I had just read connected itself with the object of my wonder, and I exclaimed in my mind, "There he is; he is indeed risen." But there seemed no connection between all this and myself, more than sympathy for the suffering form which was the meekest object that mortal mind ever contemplated. But a few drops of blood leave the quivering form, and flying straight, strike my breast. A happy sense of relief flowed like a deluge over my soul. The blood was for me, and its efficacy had been felt. I threw the book from me, thinking that I should need it no more.
The blood flew everywhere, and was over everything, and by its efficacy all was made to glorify God. I turned to look at my school; but what a transformation had taken place! Their faces all seemed glorified, and the homeliest was beautiful. I thought that I would go out to the place where I was accustomed to pray and see if it, too, had changed. I left the school room and found all nature glistening with the reflected rays of the sun, as though everything was covered with gold and silver. I reached the place, was convinced, and exclaimed, "It is enough." There was nothing now between me and heaven. Not a single thing could stand as an obstacle, since Christ had done everything that was to be done. He had put away my sins and so purified my heart that I should never sin any more. There was but one thing to cause me any trouble, and that was, there had been no way provided for me to show my gratitude. Christ had done everything, and left me absolutely nothing to do that could fitly express my love. If I had been called on to die at the stake, I would gladly have untied the martyr's hands, have taken his place and offered up my life to show my love. There were no songs that were grand enough in thought and words, to express my love and estimation of the God who had so wonderfully wrought a great deliverance for my soul.
It could not be expressed, and I was left to contemplate it in silence because it could not be spoken. While these thoughts were prevailing in my mind, the words of Paul came to me - "O, wretched man that I am. Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" I could not believe that Paul was a representative Christian. He certainly had never felt what I felt. Miserable man that he was, he had never realized such a wonderful deliverance as I had witnessed in my case. Likewise, the words of David caused me to feel pity for him. For had he not said, "The pains of hell had well nigh got hold on me." I thought if he had felt the glory of the celestial world as I had done, he could never have had such feelings as that. O, the glory of that salvation! I could as easily make a world as I could describe its heavenly beauties.
At night, after this, while in this state of mind, I looked up toward the heavens and saw a line reaching across the heavens from the eastern horizon to the western, as straight as a sunbeam. There was not a cloud to be seen; on the south side of the line, however, there were multiplied millions of insects, but they never passed north of the line. On that side it was as clear as crystal. And notwithstanding they came in vast clouds up to the line, not one was seen beyond it. I was perplexed. I asked, in my mind, "What does this mean? The answer came immediately, not to the outer ear, but as clear to my understanding as though it had been spoken by a thousand thunders - "Just as many insects as you see passing before you, so many sins, oppositions, trials, troubles, conflicts and tribulations shall you meet with before you reach heaven; but in the name of him in whom you have believed, you shall reach there at last." I did not see this by natural light, for it was only moonlight and yet it appeared as clearly as though seen by the noonday sun. While thinking of this, the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints was impressed on my mind. I looked toward the east, and the line reached as far as I could see; seeming to mean that through my whole life, whatever was meant by this sight, should continue to be true. That though sins and perplexities like thick clouds should cover my life, the Lord would say to them as he did to the waters of the ocean - "Thus far shalt thou come, but no further, and here let thy proud waves be stayed." It also seemed to indicate that he would not suffer me to be tempted above what I was able to bear, and, perhaps, to represent the unalloyed happiness of heaven. With this view of the merciful protection of the God of heaven for his saints in bringing them through great tribulations, I broke forth singing that grand and glorious old hymn -
"How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word."
Earth and heaven seemed to be one grand auditorium, reverberating with soul absorbing harmony the praise of the glorious God for the salvation of his people. I sung the hymn through, and now, in my very soul, I bear testimony to the truth, that -
"E'en down to old age, all my people shall prove
Mysovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne."
My locks have whitened for the tomb, but the God of heaven has not forsaken me. I spent that night in joyful exaltation of soul. The ecstasy of sins forgiven softened my bed so that I seemed to rest on air. A few nights after this, I attended a prayer meeting and went there expecting to hear them rejoicing in a Savior's love. But what was my disappointment when they began confessing themselves sinners in the sight of God, and praying for his forgiveness. O, I thought, if they had been in my condition, with their sins entirely removed from them, they would have no need for confession.
I was glad that I was not one of them. But how horror struck was I to hear with the ear of my understanding, the words - "I thank thee, Lord God of heaven and earth, that I am not as other men, nor even this poor publican." I began sinking down into a horrible pit, and down I went until I rested upon this text - "I know in whom I have believed," etc., II Timothy 1: 12. This did not raise me up, but it kept me from getting lower down. The preacher came around and asked me how I got along. I answered, "Tolerably well," thinking that he had reference to my school. "But," said he, "I meant spiritual things." I did not know what to say. My mind was in gloom, but I could not say that I knew nothing about it, for this text came into mind - "He that denieth me before men, him will I deny before my Father and his holy angels." I answered him - "I do not know what you call religion, but I know that I have an interest in the blood of the atonement." He turned to the people and said, "Brethren, we have great reason to pray. This young man says that he has an interest in the blood of the atonement." Something seemed to say to me, "Now you have done it; you are now what you have always despised - nothing but a hypocrite." I went home in company with other young people, but I took no interest in their conversation. When we got nearly home I heard my old father and mother crying, my sisters having preceded us and told the news. When we went in, as soon as my mother could command her voice, she said to me, "My son, they tell me that you have made a profession, and so many of my children have gone back, you must tell it." I said, "Mother, it is true." I then proceeded to relate what I had seen and felt, feeling that no one else had ever realized what I had, and so could not believe that any one could credit what I said. To my joy, my mother told me her experience, and it seemed more wonderful than my own. This gave me great encouragement, for if no one else had any confidence in me my mother would fellowship me. The following Sunday, I attended a camp meeting, but could gather nothing from what was said that was in harmony with my feelings; but the Saturday following, I attended Crane Creek church and heard Elder Dale, of Kentucky, preach. After preaching, Elder John Logan gave an invitation to any who might desire to unite with the church. It seemed that no physical force could have kept me from going forward. I was heartily received by the brethren, was baptized, and so commenced the campaign with the Militant Kingdom of the God of heaven, and -
"For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my toils and care be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy,
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise."
In just about one year after I joined the church, she rid herself of the missionary innovation in all of its branches. Finding that money and not grace, gave a standing in these societies, and measured the degree of acceptability among those who engaged in them, I fought them to the extent of my ability, feeling to yield my life in defense of the principles of grace and the law which God had delivered to his church; and had I sixty years more to engage in the service of my King, I should devote them to a defense of the same glorious truth.
In about six months after I joined the church, I began to be impressed with passages of scripture, and notwithstanding I strove against the impressions, in about one year I began to speak publicly from texts, and in seven or eight years more I was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry, on September 22nd, 1846, by a presbytery composed of Elders Charles Vandeveer, Thomas H. Owens, John Harper, Jacob Castlebury and John Driskill. For a time I served from three to four churches monthly, but owing to my being afflicted with neuralgia I left off attending any but the one where my membership was.
I shall now give some account of my home life. In the year 1834, I was married to Miss Matilda Evelyn Moore, of Schuyler Co., Ill. She was a worthy member of the Primitive Baptist Church at the time of our marriage. She had that fatal disease, however, consumption, and departed this life September 22, 1836, in the full hope of a blessed immortality. She left me an infant daughter eighteen months old, which my dear old mother took charge of. This only pledge of our mutual affection was taken from me when nearly four years of age. I continued preaching and teaching school, and in the year 1841, was united in marriage to Miss Christina Waymack, of McDonough Co., Ill. I lived in harmony and great enjoyment with her until her decease, July 6th, 1863. She was a member of the church at the time of our marriage. We were blessed with eleven children, three sons and eight daughters. I desire to say of my departed companions that they were very suitable for an afflicted, way-worn minister of Christ. They frequently urged me to attend my appointments notwithstanding their affliction and the temporal wants of our family. December 6th, 1866, I was married to Mrs. Nancy Morris, widow of Isaiah Morris, late of Fulton Co., Ill. She had two daughters and one son while eight of my children remained at home, making eleven in all, and we enjoyed as much harmony and peace as any family of like size within my knowledge.
By reason of blindness, and the many infirmities that attend old age, I was forced to rent my farm in Schuyler County, and remove to Macomb, Illinois, where we expect to spend our few remaining days. We take great pleasure in visiting the dear children of the kingdom in different localities and feel thankful to God that we can hear the "Sons of consolation" set forth in a lucid and forcible manner the glorious gospel of our salvation. My whole life has been hindered and hedged about with imperfections and weaknesses, and if I have comforted any of the Lord's poor, or have in any way helped to strengthen the church, all the praise should be given to him who through his love and mercy has suffered me to live and comforted me by his holy spirit, and given me the high privilege of associating with those who trust in his name.
I regret, exceedingly, that I have not lived nearer the cross of my blessed Redeemer. I am ashamed to have neglected his entreaties and violated his commands, and feel that it is only because of his mercy and goodness that I have a hope that I shall yet realize the fulfillment of all the promises made to the heirs of grace. I am now in my 84th year, and shall soon pass away; and I entreat that all the church stand firm on the doctrine of grace, letting love abound in their hearts and bringing forth the fruits thereof to the honor and glory of our God. "Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you."
"May Zion's sons in peace abound,
And put their foes to flight;
While I am sleeping underground,
May they in love unite."