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Of the Life, and Experience of the late Rev. Silas Mercer,
written by himself, in a letter to a friend.

Georgia Analytical Repository, 1802

Georgia, Wilks County, Sept. 25th, 1792.

Dear and rev. Brother,

      As I know not what ufe the LORD may pleafe to make of the sketch you have requefted, refpecting certain particulars in my life, and experience, I will endeavor to furnifh it.

      According to the account received from my father, I was born on the twenty-fifth of February, old ftyle [Julian Calendar], in the year of our LORD, 1745, near Curratuck-Bay, in North-Carolina. My mother died while I was an infant, and probably from that circumftance; my father contracted fuch a fondnefs for me that he never fuffered me to be croffed in my inclinations. The confequence of this was fuch as might have been expected: — I fell an eafy prey to turbulent, and tyrannical paffions.

      My father was a zealous member of the church of England, and carefully inftructed me in the creed, catechifm, rites, and traditions of that communion.

      At about feven years of age I had fome idea, and belief, of future rewards and punifhments, and fuppofing my father to be a good. man, tried to conduct fo that I might go wiih him to heaven: But from my tender age, and the nature of this motive, I was very irreguiar in practice. As I advanced in years, I frequently, on tranfgreffing the known rules of my duty, fuffered feverely from the lafhes of confcience. On one occafion I profanely fwore, and was fo ftruck at hearing a younger fifter exclaim, in tears, "he is ruined!" that I alfo wept, and thought I never fhould be forgiven for fo great an offence. In this diftrefs I formed a refolution never to fwear again, and, as far as I recollect, have kept it ever fince: But as I approached to manhood, I fully indulged my ftrong propenfities to vain company, foolifh talking, jefting, and every fpecies of finful amufement. Though reftrained from groffer evils, my heart was fo given up to revelling that my firmeft refolutions to abftain from it, and the fevereft checks of confcience, were infufficient to deliver me from its fnares.

      At about eighteen years of age, I had a violent fpell of ficknefs, and expected to die. My fears were much alarmed, and I requefted my father to pray for me. He accordingly ufed the forms in his prayer-book, beft fuited, in his judgment, to my cafe; and I attempted to pray for pardon, and acceptance with GOD. Upon this I concluded that he had forgiven me, and felt meafurably refigned to death. At length I and all my friends thought that I was dying: I took a folemn leave of them, and clofed. my eyes, fully expecting to open them no more in time; and had I then died ffhould not have been convinced of my awful miftake, with refpect to the fafety of my

ftate, on this fide of eternity. Thus, from experience, I am convinced that a false hope may carry poor deceived fouls, even through a dying hour; for I am fure that I was then deftitute of converting grace, had never feen the glorious plan of falvation, nor felt the effects of a faith that works by love. It pleafed GOD, however, to give a fudden turn to my ficknefs, and to reftore me to health. My life appeared to me as the free gift of GOD, and I determined to fpend it to his glory: But I fcarcely recovered my former ftrength before I broke this determination, and, on reflection, thought the LORD would never believe me any more, nor regard my prayers. Under this impreffion I concluded to abandon all hopes, and defpair of ever getting to heaven; but fo dreadful was this fituation, that, in a few days, I attempted again to pray; and at the very commencement of the exercife broke out into a flood of tears.

      This events I vainly confidered as a proof that I truly repented of my fins, and that GOD had forgiven me. I now, with greater confidence than ever, renewed my engagements to ferve him, and went on making and breaking promifes about two years. On a review of this conduct, I felt exceedingly angry with myfelf, and thought I fhould rejoice to be whipped, or punifhed in any other way, in this world, for my fins. With indignant emotions, I exclaimed, What is the reason I cannot keep my resolutions? To this fomething in my breaft feemed to reply, "It is becaufe you have not taken the facrament of the LORD’s fupper." Ah! faid I, to myfelf, this accounts for it! I have complied with all duties, except that, and if ever GOD fhould forgive me again, I will go to the LORD's table. Soon after this, I mentioned my defign to my father, who encouraged me in it

and, accordingly, at the next opportunity, I communed, without the leaft difcernment of fpiritual objects! I now fuppofed I fhould be fure to keep my vows, as to fall again into fin would be certain damnation. But I thought that under the moft violent temptations, to think of that folemn ordinance, would effect my efcape. Experience, however, foon evinced how miferably I was miftaken. In fubfequent attacks I loft all my ftrength and weapons, and fin reigned over me, as a mighty tyrant. I was awfully furprifed, to find myfelf, after all this, again, the wretched captive of my lufts, and concluded it would never be worth while to lift my eyes towards heaven any more, with the leaft expectation of felicity. While I was thus ftanding on the very verge of utter defpair, a paffage of fcripture was applied to my foul with awful power: The words were thefe: -

      "If we fin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more facrifice for fin; but a certain fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which fhall devour the adverfaries". I do not fay that I heard this with my ears; but the words feemed as loud, and as alarming to my foul, as if they had been, uttered in peals of thunder; and the wrath of JEHOVAH appeared to be as forky ftreams of lightning over my head, while I thought myfelf the very butt of his indignation. I believed I was the identical perfon who had finned wilfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, and that GOD himfelf had faid there remained no more facrifice for my fins. I now fell inftantly into black defpair, firmly believing it was as impoffible for me to be faved, as for a GOD of unchangable truth to falfify his word; and I do not recollect that for two whole years I had the leaft glimmering ray of hope.

      Dear Brother, for me to give you an account of my dreadful feelings, and conflicts, during this awful feafon, would be to ffwell my letter into a volume. Let it fuffice to inform you, that my heart was fo hard, that if it would have faved my foul, and the fouls of all Adam's race, I could not have fhed a tear. I believe my eyes, at times, apeared almoft to fparkle with rage againft GOD! I was tempted to blafpheme his bleffed name, "till I have been forced to clench my teeth, and fifts as if in convulfions, and then it would be ftrongly fuggefted, that I had done it in my heart.

      My diftrefs was very vifible, and imputed to madnefs, but all the time it continued I carefully concealed the caufe of it. I thought that if I told my father, or any of my friends, that GOD had rejected me, and that the fire of hell was then kindling in my foul, it would be giving pain to no purpofe.

      I remember once after I had fpent the greater part of the night rolling from fide to fide, without fleep, while my heart felt like an adamant, I was inftantly difpofed to attempt once more, to pray. I arofe, and went to a place I had before vifited for that purpofe, but could not open my mouth before the LORD. It was fuggefted to me that I fhould go to another place, which prefented itfelf to my mind, and I went; but it appeared to me that if I were to pray for pardon, it would be the fame as to afk GOD to deny himfelf, and that, for fuch prefumption, he would caufe the earth to open her mouth, and fwallow me up, as it did Corah, Dathan, and Abiram.

      It appeared to me, in a moment, as if I faw an angry GOD, and his broken law, the curfes of which feemed like thunder-bolts, ready to burft on my

guilty head, while hell appeared to be moving from beneath to receive me! I fell to the ground and groaned, expecting inftantly to be plunged into eternal woe! But in all this there was nothing but legal conviction; and, by repeated efforts; I fo far ftifled it as to obtain hope of a degree of happinefs in this life, and engaged, accordingly, with fome ardor, and expectation in its affairs.

      As yet, I had never heard a diffenter preach, and thought it would be highly criminal to do it: However, as I expected nothing but damnation after death, I concluded it could not make matters with me worfe than they were, to go, at the perfuafion of fome of my friends, and hear a Baptift. This was the late rev. Jonathan Thomas. His text was, "Being made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." I fufpected he was one of the falfe teachers fpoken of by CHRIST, yet he proved fo fully from fcripture, and facts that men are flaves to fin, both by nature, and practice, that he drew my attention.

      Tho' my heart was full of enmity againft him, while he fhewed how fin reigned over the unconverted part of mankind, leading them as in chains, my confcience told me it was true; and that I knew it by fad experience. At length he took my track, and followed me as clofely as ever a blood-hound did a wounded deer, thro' all my guilty wanderings, told my very feelings, and a number of things which I thought none knew but myfelf and the LORD. I heard, with amazement, convinced he would overtake me, and faid to myfelf, what will he fay will become of me? The queftion was quickly anfwered, he will fay that I fhall be damned; and that will be no news, for I knew it long ago. But when he came to fhew what dreadful defpair

perfons run themfelves into by making and breaking refolutions, he faid, "Thefe people always take the wrong courfe: They try to make themfelves good, before they come to the LORD! This being impoffible, if they have clear views of their real ftate, they fall into defperation. But, continued he, if there be any on this legal plan here, I will fhew them a better way. The next time you attempt to go to GOD, go with all your fins, of heart and life, confefs your guilt, and utter helpleffnefs, acknowledge that GOD would be juft in your eternal condemnation, and plead the merits of CHRIST, which reach from earth to heaven, for pardon and falvation."

      This was what I had never heard of before. I had always thought that I muft do fomething to make the LORD love me. However, I now determined to adopt this plan, and was fo occupied with the thoughts of it, that I forgot the reft of the fermon. On my way home, from the meeting, it was ftrongly impreffed on my mind that I had never come to the knowledge of the truth, and this, at once, unlocked the iron-gate of defpair, cheered my foul with a reviving ray of hope, and gave me peculiar joy. I went, that evening, into a folitary place, confeffed my fins, as I had been directed, and made a formal plea of the merits of CHRIST, for pardon. With the fame legal fpirit which led me before to truft in my works, I now relied on my new principles, and from fuppofing that I was, at length, in the right way; felt like another man. While the novelty of this delufion operated, I fpoke well of the minifter who had inftrumentally given me fome glimmering views of the truth, which I had perverted, and endeavored to convince my father, who had warned me to avoid him as a falfe-prophet, that

he was the beft preacher I had ever heard in my life; but this fo alarmed him; that, with the affistance of our minifter, he made me believe I had been in great danger of committing the damnable fin of herify [sic], and turned me into a violent oppofer of the Baptifts. Next to my father, this minifter, who I am now convinced knew nothing of religion, had the greateft influence over me of any perfon in the world; and from an offer he made to teach me the languages, gratis if I would take orders, I engaged in the Latin, and went about half way through Lilly's Grammar; but finding the ftudy too dry, and difficult for the warmth of my temper, I relinquifhed it for the more, active bufinefs of direct oppofition to Diffenters. Without confidering that the primitive churches were congregations of baptized believers, I thought that the national church of England was the firft and only true church, and believing all other churches to be thofe fpoken of as caufing divifions, and offences, I perfecuted them with a zeal, perhaps, equal to that of Saul of Tarfus. This I know, I greatly rejoiced when fome of the Baptifts were imprifoned, in Virginia, for preaching, and wifhed that they were all in the fame fituation.

      But while I was zealoufly engaged againft others, I began to eye my own order, and thought we were wrong in fprinkling, inftead of immerfing our children, and very deficient in difcipline. I obferved that even drunkards and profane fwearers would come with us to the LORD's table, and was convinced that thefe things ought not fo to be.

      The next circumftance which arrefted my attention, was the dropping off of the more fober, and orderly part of our congregation, to attend the preaching of Diffenters. I earneftly remonftrated

with thefe perfons on this part of their conduct, and one of them, in particular, intimated that our minifter did not preach the true gofpel, but a legal way to heaven, and faid, "1f ever I am faved, it muft be wholly by grace, through the redemption that is in CHRIST JESUS. In reply to this, I peremptorily faid, you may depend you are wrong. You muft do all you can, continued I, and then you may expect GOD to give you grace, and ufing that well, you will be rewarded with more, and fo you may go on, till you do fuch perfect works as will difpofe him to receive you into his favor.

      This converfation led my friend, who, as I afterwards found, had much jufter views of gofpel truth than I had, to lend me the dialogues between Theron and Afpafia, by Mr. [James] Hervey, a book that, I think, is worth its weight in gold, and by which, through GOD’s bleffing, I received a gofpel conviction that, I truft, ended in my converfion.

      By reading this excellent performance, on a certain occafion I had a wonderful view of the unchangable truth of JEHOVAH, his infexible juftice, and the fpotlefs purity of his nature. I faw, too, that his law was nothing lefs than a tranfcript of his moral perfections - infinitely holy, juft, and true. This convinced me that I was utterly unable to obtain the favor of GOD by my own deeds. I faw that future obedience can make no atonement for paft difobedience, and that the law - fhews no mercy. Hence I was brought to perceive the neceffity of that rightoufnefs which CHRIST wrought out, and brought in by his obedience to the law, and death on the crofs, for my juftification before GOD.

      On this difcovery, I longed for the fabbath to come that I might go and hear our minifter preach this glorious doctrine of falvation by grace, through faith, and thought that he muft certainly have always preached it, though I had not, from the blindnefs of my mind, perceived it. I, accordingly, attended, with raifed expectation, but the preacher faid nothing that I wanted to hear. I thought it the moft empty difcourfe that I had ever heard from a pulpit. There was not a word refpecting original fin, the wickednefs of the heart, condemnation by the righteous law of GOD, the neceffity of regeneration, juftification by the righteoufnefs of CHRIST imputed, nor of fanctification!

      My friend, in furprife, may, perhaps, exclaim: - "What did the man say?" To be fhort, he faid much againft: wicked practices, and the neceffity of external reformation; but this, added to ordinances admintftered by preachers properly ordained, comprifed his fcheme of falvation. — After fervice I converfed with him, and finding that he and Mr. Hervey widely differed in their opinions, I bid him farewell, and determined to go to the LORD, and my Bible, for direction; and this was the firft time, notwithftanding the diftrefs I had been in, that I ever had recourfe to thefe means, to fee how I could be juftified with GOD, and made clean before my Maker! On reading Paul's Epiftle to the Romans, when I came to the words, "Now we know that whatfoever the law faith, it faith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be ftopped, and all the world become guilty before GOD," they ftruck me with awful power, my foul trembled before the LORD, my eyes gufhed out with tears, and praying to know who were under the law, the anfwer feemed to come as from GOD, "The soul

that sinneth, it shall die." I looked into the Bible again, and felt the force of the juft inference — "Therefore by the deeds of the law fhall no flefh be juftified in his fight, for by the law is the knowledge of fin." I faw my condemnation fo juft, that notwithftanding I had a view of the way of juftification by the righteoufness of CHRIST, I thought the benefit too great to be beftowed on me: But this legal difpofition was further counteracted, when I came to read, that GOD had declared a righteoufnefs, witneffed by the law and the Prophets, that he might be juft, and the juftifier of the ungodly who believe in Jesus. In the light of this paffage I faw, that if juftified at all, it muft not be on account of any thing in, or done by me, but freely, by the grace of GOD, through the redemption that is in CHRIST. But though I had a clear view of the way of falvation I could derive no comfort from it.

      On the contrary, I concluded, from my feelings, that GOD had given me over to a hard heart, and a reprobate mind. For fifteen months it pleafed a fovereign GOD to leave me in this deplorable ftate, under difficulties, and trials which I am unable to defcribe.

"Then felt my soul the heavy load,
My sins revived again;
I had provoked a dreadful GOD,
And all my hopes were slain.’

      I faw plainly the way, which I was fatisfied was the only way of falvation; but it feemed as fomething at a diftance, that I could no more get into than I could go to the moon. Sometimes I was greatly diftreffed with a belief that I had paffed my day of grace, or had committed the unpardonable

fin; and that GOD had fhewn me this glorious way to heaven, and the happinefs of his people, only to increafe my mifery. At other times I thought the doctrine of election might be true, and that I was left out of the covenant of redemption; and in any view of my cafe, I confeffed eternal condemnation juftly due to my rebellion, and ingratitude. In this ftate of mind, I heard preaching that greatly encouraged me to hope for mercy: But I tho't no heart was fo bad as mine; the leaft divine favor feemed too good for me to receive, and though I faw it would be as juft in GOD to punifh me eternally as if I had been a Devil, a hope arofe, from the difcovery I had of the fulnefs in CHRIST, that his blood and righteoufnefs might be applied to me. Seeing now that GOD could be juft in juftifying, and faving me, I prayed without ceafing, and tho' I much expected to perifh, I was determined if I did, it fhould be at the footftool of fovereign grace.

      At times I had fuch clear views of the plan of falvation, and the happinefs of GOD’s people, that I was like Mofes who viewed the beautiful hills, vallies, and rivers of the earthly Canaan, without permiffion to enter it. f Here I had fome of the fharpeft convictions I ever felt; I faw that I had forfeited, and was in all probability, eternally to lofe, the moft glorious inheritance. On the one hand I envied the happinefs of thofe bleffed fouls who were admitted into the favor of GOD, through fuch a wonderful contrivance of infinite wifdom — and on the other; had fuch a deep, and awful fenfe of my innate depravity, and dreadful load of complicated guilt, as filled me with tormenting fears of deferved, and eternal punifhment. I faw clearly the fuitablenefs

of GOD, in CHRIST, as a portion for an immortal foul, and, at times, hope founded on the merits of CHRIST, accompanied an intenfe defire to obtain this felicity.

      My foul was alternately toffed, by hope and defpair, like Paul's fhip amid the two feas, or when expofed to the rage of Euroclydon. Frequently my defpair feemed to be finking me to the bottom of the infernal deep, and quickly after, my hopes, from a difcovery of the glorious plan of falvation by grace, would waft me, as it were, to heaven.

      So fully, at length, was the method of falvation fhewn to me, fuch a divine beauty did I behold in it, that I thought the moft abandoned finners would fall in love with it, if they could but fee it; and, at times I had fuch defires that fouls fhould be faved, whatever might become of me, that I had thoughts of trying to fhew the glorious way that infinite wifdom had devifed for their falvation. But the fears I had of finking to hell, in full view of heaven, were like vultures preying on my heart-ftrings.

      One day, as I was mufing, the words, "Unto you who believe HE is precious," paffed through my mind, with fome power. Then the queftion, "What must pass on the mind of a sinner before CHRIST can be precious to him?" feemed to be fuggefted to me. I anfwered, he muft fee himfelf loft. Immediately the queftion, "Have you feen yourfelf loft? arofe in my mind. O yes! anfwered I, and felt it too. "Is CHRIST precious to you"? feemed next to be afked me. . . To this, I anfwered, I am afraid he is not. Then, as plainly as if it had been fpoken, "Would you fell JESUS for thirty pieces of filver?" was propofed to me.

No! faid I, not for the world. GOD forbid that I fhould fell fo kind and benificient a SAVIOR. — Oh no! if I fhould be eternally damned, I will never fell fo precious a SAVIOR. "Then," it was forcibly fuggefted, "CHRIST is more precious to you than he was to Judas." Instantly, upon this, I had fuch a view of the precioufnefs of CHRIST, that I thought there was none equal to him on earth, nor in heaven; and the glorious plan of redemption, by him, appeared to be exacily adapted to my state. "The son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost," rolled through my my mind with confiderable weight, and I faw myfelf plainly in this character, and that CHRIST came into the world for my falvation! Then the words, "Unto you, therefore, who believe he is precious," returned to me with power, and I faw JESUS CHRIST, by faith, as altogether and infinitely lovely; and perceiving that I did believe, found that I had already what I was feeking with fuch ardent folicitude!

      I faw that the righteoufnefs of GOD, my SAVIOR, that is "unto, and upon all them that believe," was mine, and a peace flowed into my foul that I never felt before. Here my burden feemed to be entirely removed, and I felt exceeding happy for a while; but was afterwards ftrongly tempted for the fpace of three weeks, to conclude that I had worked up this joy by arguments in my own mind, and that the whole of my comfortable experience was delufion. On this ground I had fome hard conflicts; but one night when I was endeavoring, as my cuftom was, to perform family-worfhip, the LORD appeared, I truft, in a moft clear and gracious manner for my deliverance.

      I took Watts's hymns, and opened:at that which begins with,

Plunged in a gulph of dark despair,
We wretched sinners lay;
Witbout one cheerful beam of hope,
Or spark of glimmering day.

With pilying eyes the prince of grace
Beheld our helpless grief,
He saw, and O! amazing love,
He ran to our relief

      As I was reading the firft verfe of this hymn, I faw by that faith which realizes, and evidences things not otherwife feen, the race of Adam, lying in a gulph of defpair, as hopelefs, and as helplefs, as to any thing in, or that could be done by themfelves, as the fallen Angels. At the fame time I had fuch a feeling fenfe of the ftate in which I had lain, that it ftruck me into a tremor. But on reading the fecond verfe of the hymn, I had another view, in which it feemed as if JESUS, “the Prince of grace," was looking down on thefe miferable loft creatures, with compaffion, and I then had my firft difcovery of JEHOVAH’s being self-moved to fave loft fouls, deftitute of a claim on a fingle attribute of his nature. I faw that it was pure, and fovereign love in GOD, that caufed his dear son, to leave his fhining feat above, and come with joyful hafte, to fave thofe who might have been juftly left to the eternal confequences of their rebellion, though he knew he muft be made a facrifice for their fins, by the ignominious death of the crofs. I faw that CHRIST, by obeying the precept, and bearing the penalty of the divine law, triumphing over death, and hell, afcending to glory, and interceding for

his people had removed every obftacle to their falvation.

      When I read the words,

"O for this love let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break,
And all harmonious human tongues,
Their SAVIOR’S praises speak."

      I had fuch a view of the love of GOD, thro’ JESUS CHRIST, to poor finners, that heaven and earth appeared to be full of it; and it was not in the power of fin; nor Satan, to keep me any longer from believing that I was an object of it. In fine [?], I do not know how I fang that hymn, my foul was fo filled with raptures of joy, from the manifeftations of divine love. From that time to this, I have concluded that the LORD had converted my foul. Once, or twice; in times of temptation, I have doubted it for a little while; but was foon afterwards better eftablifhed than before.

      When 1 obtained fatiffaction, as to my own ftate, and had joy and peace in believing, I began to be ferioufly concerned for others.

      The great difficulties I had paffed thro’ I fuppofed to be peculiar to myfelf, and thought I could fhow the way of falvation fo plainly that none could help feeing, and embracing it, who would liften attentively to my difcourfe. I firft talked to fome of my particular friends, including, my father, of whofe religion I had always entertained the higheft opinion, but, alas! they appeared to be utter deftirute of the "one thing necdful," and I found I could do nothing for them, without the LORD would pleafe to open their hearts.

Indeed I perceived, to my awful furprife, that my fellow-membrs of the Church of England, generally, even thofe who were moft active in religious affairs, were fixed on a Pharifaical plan, and ignorant of falvation by grace.

      It appeared to me, that, with a few exceptions, both minifters and their charges, had forfaken the LORD, who is the fountain of living waters, for broken cifterns.

      How I proceeded, under thefe circumftances; to what objects my feeble efforts were directed, and with what fuccefs, may be the fubject of a future communication.

           Your's in the Gospel of CHRIST.
                SILAS MERCER.


      The above leaves Mr. Mercer in the twenty-ninth year of his age. There is reafon to believe that a continuation of his interefting narrative will be forwarded to enrich fome future number of this Repofitory: An event which will be defired, no doubt, by many befides the thoufands who know that he became, and continued for about twenty years; one of the moft able, exemplary, and ufeful divines in the fouthern ftates. — His experience, it is hoped, will afford encouragement to fouls who may be diftreffed, on account of their fins, though it fhould be even fo insanity. Such may fee in his cafe, that as the fcriptures of truth fay, GOD has his way in the whirlwind, and in the ftorm, and that, however untracable his footfteps in the mighty waters may be, for a while, in the end, judgment, and righteoufnefs, goodnefs, and mercy will be found to have encompaffed his throne. EDITOR,


[From Henry Holcomb, editor, Georgia Analytical Repository, November-December, Vol 1, 1802; via Internet Archive. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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