Personal Experiences of God

Rev. William Butler, D.D. (Methodist)

"This experience was compiled from Dr. Butler's writings and submitted to him.
Dr. Butler was born in 1818.
"

 

From childhood I was connected with the Episcopal Church — an attendant on its services and Sunday-school, and diligent in all its duties; so that I "profited above many" of my class associates, and bore off, because of my superior knowledge of the word of God, several of the valuable premiums in the yearly examinations. No doubt of the safety and graciousness of my condition had ever entered my mind. I was taught, and I believed it, that in baptism "I was made a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven." What more could I need? I regarded myself as safe for eternity. Had any one asked "a reason of the hope that was in me," or why I laid this flattering unction to my soul so confidently, I would have appealed to the book and replied, "My Catechism tells me so; I was made all this in my baptism." On this unscriptural dogma I was risking all my future welfare. Of repentance, faith in the Lord Jesus, the new birth, or the witness of the Spirit, I knew nothing and had never heard. Truly

"A form of godliness was mine,
The power I never knew."

But a compassionate God was preparing another agency to undeceive me, to open my eyes and turn me from darkness to light, that I might receive forgiveness of my sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified, all through the instrumentality of a blessed woman of God, the wife of one of her majesty's judges (Sydney Mary Crampton), who had recently moved into our neighborhood.

She walked out every morning and distributed tracts and talked to people about religion. I found myself sincerely hoping that I should not fall into her hands or be talked to by her. I did not wish to be disturbed as to my religious condition. On inquiring as to her appearance, she was represented to me as tall, refined and delicate looking. It was singular how uncomfortable I became by the presence of this "Methodist" in our neighborhood, and how much I began to fear that I might come in contact with her, and that she might talk to me about my religious state.

It was only a few mornings after hearing of the lady that I rose earlier than usual to attend to some business, and, going along the road near St. Valori, I saw her coming toward me attended by her maid. From the description I felt assured this must be the lady! I at once slackened my pace in order to get time to decide what I should do to escape. The wall on either side of the road was some six feet high and I could not jump over. It looked cowardly to turn back and escape by walking away from her, so I concluded to take the alternative which remained, that, as the sidewalk was fully five feet wide, I would, as we approached each other, step to the very outside limit and leave her a wide berth to pass on. Quickening my steps to carry out my purpose, as I came near I saw, to my confusion, that she did not intend to move off to the inside but was going to stop in the center of the path and so gently bar my way! She afterward told me that before I reached her the Spirit of God seemed to say to her heart, "Speak to this young man."

So, as she stopped, I had no alternative but to do the same, and then I ventured to lift my eyes and look at her. How amazed I was, and ashamed as well, that I should have imagined her -- "this Methodist" -- something of a horror, to be afraid of on meeting! How sweet her face was, and such a smile! She could not but see that I was alarmed at her presence and that I looked rather wild. But she spoke and said in such a gentle way, and in tones that I shall never forget, "Good-morning, young man; may I say a few words to you?" My trepidation at once calmed down, and I looked again at that saintly face and answered, "Yes, madam, you may say whatever you wish." She saw that she had gained her first point, and stepped nearer till she could touch my sleeve with that white hand, so thin and wasted by the incipient consumption which four years after was to lay her in the grave.

She then said, "I want to ask you this question: Do you pray?" Had she asked me, "Do you say your prayers?" I could have answered with great confidence. But she did not say or mean that, though herself an Episcopalian and well acquainted with the prayer-book. I had never offered an extempore prayer --could not have done it. My heart had not learned to utter its own cry to God according to its own feelings. I had only repeated the language of other people, whether it fully expressed my own condition or not. It was wonderful what clearness there was in her question; how the Spirit of God carried her meaning into my mind. So, though in such darkness, I saw at once what she meant when she asked me if I prayed. Being too manly to tell a falsehood I promptly answered, "No, madam, I do not." She drew a deep sigh and then said, "Well, if you don't pray, what is to become of your soul?" Up to that hour I had supposed that my soul was all right, that I was safe for eternity. But the question went through my heart and woke me up to a suspicion, which immediately became a consciousness, that I was unsaved; that my soul was in danger! Her tender words had "opened my eyes." My ecclesiastical salvation vanished as in a moment, and I saw myself in the sight of God a sinner, guilty, and polluted. I hung my head and was silent.

She saw how God was helping her, and touched my arm again. How glad I am that she touched me! She said, "Now listen to me!" She talked, perhaps, less than fifteen minutes. When she ceased I had learned more about true religion than I had gained from all the sermons I had ever heard. The Holy Spirit sealed every word upon my conscience, and I became so submissive to the guidance of God through her that it seemed as though a thread would have led me anywhere to seek salvation. She closed the interview earnestly exhorting me not to lose an hour in carrying out my resolution to seek the Lord, and made me promise to call upon her that evening, and then used these words: "Young man, God is not only able and willing to save your soul, but He is also willing to make you the means of the salvation of other people." These words startled me. Realizing, as I then did, the depth of my own unworthiness, I could not imagine that God would add personal usefulness in my case to personal salvation.

We parted, but I was so determined to lose no time in seeking the Lord that I let the worldly business go for that morning, and walked on to where I knew there was a gate leading into the field, and there I entered, and behind that wall dropped on my knees and pleaded with God for mercy. The blessed Spirit was helping me and I found words to express myself. Then and there I gave myself to Christ as Saviour and Lord forever, and implored God to make me such a Christian as this lady had taught me I must become in order to be saved. That evening I called upon her, and she further instructed and prayed with me. She also put into my hands the same precious books that had helped herself — Carvosso's Life and Mrs. Roger's Life — telling me to read them daily along with my Bible, and keep on praying earnestly until I felt that the Lord had converted my soul.

But I had a hard conflict, and a long time elapsed ere I entered into the light and joy of salvation. My dear friend was my only helper. No Methodistic or other evangelical ministry was within my reach, nor any of our precious means of grace. I was "in a dry and thirsty land." The wicked scoffed at me, and some, from whom better things might have been expected, pointed the finger of scorn at "this new Methodist." But I held on, though without any comfort or joy, resolved not to give up seeking, let them persecute as they might. My convictions of sin were very keen. Often I could neither eat nor drink, nor even sleep. Sometimes I was so distressed that I would rise at midnight and walk the fields, and look up at the stars, and cry out to God above them to come down to my help and grant me mercy. Satan was doing all he could to buffet and discourage me, so that frequently I almost despaired of salvation.

Winter arrived and my friend returned to the city of Dublin, and I was left alone to wrestle with all these difficulties. But after a while I followed her to the city, and on the ensuing Sabbath morning I accompanied her to the Methodist chapel, the first non-conformist service I had ever attended. How simple and apostolic it all appeared! The hearty singing, the extempore prayers, the experimental preaching, all delighted me. My confidence was won. I felt that I had found here the very help my poor discouraged soul required, and it was easy to conclude at once, as I did, that these people should be my people for the rest of my life.

I joined a class. I was no longer alone, without sympathy or assistance, but was helped especially by hearing the experience of others.

One Sunday afternoon while in a meeting for Christian fellowship, held in the vestry of Hendrick Street Chapel, I was enabled to rest on Christ as my personal Redeemer. All the burden rolled off my heart and I felt and knew that I was saved! I rose to my feet and at once acknowledged what the Lord had done for my soul, and those present rejoiced with me. This was in 1838.

My precious friend was made happy, and praised God on my behalf. She now urged upon me the duty of mental culture, and advised the keeping a journal of my experience and humble efforts to do good. But, above all, she counseled the devout and regular perusal of the word of God, with special reference to the attainment of that further state of grace to which, as a child of God, I had now become entitled. I was consequently led to join one of those little bands which met to pray for this blessing of purity of heart, that "perfect love which casteth out fear." To be sanctified throughout body, soul and spirit now became my intense desire. I longed to be saved "to the uttermost," and to know for myself what it was to "walk in the light, as he is in the light," and experience that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin." I did not trouble myself about definitions of the doctrine, the experience of which I was seeking, no more than I did a few weeks before, when God granted me the blessing of justification. I simply accepted the words above quoted in their manifest meaning, and entreated the Holy spirit to grant me, in His own way and manner, what they implied.

Mr. Wesley's sermon on "The Repentance of Believers," and his "Plain Account of Christian Perfection," and also Mr. Fletcher's treatise, greatly helped me; so that I had an intelligent apprehension of what I required and what the word of God offered to my hope. With all sincerity and strong desire I sought it daily; I might say, hourly. At one of our little meetings a peculiar spirit of earnestness for the blessing sought became manifest. We were kneeling round the center-table in the parlor, and one after the other prayed, and some one suggested that we should sing, as we knelt, and with all the faith we had, these two verses:

"O that it now from heaven might fall,
And all my sins consume!
Come, Holy Ghost, for Thee I call;
Spirit of burning, come!

"Refining fire, go through my heart;
Illuminate my soul;
Scatter Thy life through every part,
And sanctify the whole."

As the singing closed all became conscious of the surrounding presence of the holy Sanctifier whom we had invoked. I can describe my own feelings very imperfectly, for this was something beyond what I had ever known before. It seemed to be light and life and love combined so sweetly, and in such an indescribable manner, resulting in

"The speechless awe that dares not move
And all the silent heaven of love."

Christ had become, beyond all former experience, everything to me while I seemed to sink at His blessed feet, "lost in astonishment and love." Those, in any denomination, who have sought and found this grace will understand what I am trying to narrate better than I am able to describe it.

The effect upon me was clear. I had henceforth more delight in devotion, closer intimacy with God, greater stability of heart and character, and more deadness to the world. I was conscious of an increase of calmly fervent zeal to lay out my life to do anything that my blessed Master might require of me. Perfect peace -- "The peace of God that passeth all understanding" -- kept my heart and mind from day to day. I was free from excitement, from fluctuation, and from all fear, resting sweetly in the calm sunshine of the New Testament salvation, and living "a life of faith in the Son of God," who, I knew, loved me and had given himself for me.

"O, days of heaven,
And nights of equal praise!"

--WILLIAM BUTLER

Taken from Forty Witnesses, by Rev. S. Olin Garrison, M.A., Fountain Press, Pennsylvania.

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