Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Before the Wind Ever Blew"

This is an excerpt out of a book entitled "God Struck Me Dead: Voices of Ex-Slaves" by Clifton H. Johnson. I'm not sure how I came across this book but it has been very interesting reading to say the least. In this book are the accounts of many African-Americans who were enslaved prior to and even after the Civil War. Many of these accounts come from people who were illiterate and couldn't read a Bible during these times, were enslaved to owners who were and weren't Christians, and by many of their own testimonies these former slaves they claim that they were not searching for God. What is interesting to see in this book is the thread of the truth of God's grace that flows through each of these accounts stating that man is totally unable to save himself and that God, in the right time, must change the heart and affections of a man toward Himself and this is done through faith in Christ. The faith in Jesus that is spoken of by these ex-slaves is a faith that one can "know"; it is a faith gives great assurance to the believer that something has happened within them, and it is a faith that expresses what has been done for the believer. Although they regarded the Bible as the authoritative Word of God,  these slaves couldn't read the Bible and find their assurance in the passages of scripture as many could during that time and today so they were pressed to remember the moment in which God came in and changed their disposition to Him. Furthermore,many slaves also didn't have access to the theological resources or preaching that was to be found in those days. So how were they converted? In looking through the many accounts, visions, and dreams that are described in this book, there is a common and  heavy emphasis on sin, a clear and descriptive view of heaven and hell,  a heavy emphasis on the Sovereignty of God, and a heavy emphasis on the grace that is found in Jesus in the experiences spoken of. It is almost if not totally breathtaking to read the broken and poorly articulated sentences of slaves describing their lives in one paragraph and then to read only sentences later of their conversion experiences,in which many heard voices or saw visions where scripture they had never read or heard was clearly spoken and articulated to them concerning Christ and the promises of God. It was the joy, fear, sorrow and excitement that was felt during these visions and experiences that gave the believer great assurance. In many accounts the terms "dead" and "alive" are used to communicate the previous life of sin and the life found in Jesus. Thabiti Anyabwile in his book "The Decline of African - American Theology : From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity" points out this book in talking about the revelation of God through visions and voices to slaves in the American south. He states,
"The belief that God was able to and frequently did reveal Himself through voices and visions, if not normative by slave standards, was at least normal. The collection of conversion testimonies and short biographies assembled by Clifton Johnson in God Struck Me Dead are an invaluable recording of slave theological thought, at least among slaves alive during the twilight of the institution. Many of these slave conversion testimonies featured vision - and voice-based revelations, with the recipient recording very little surprise or dis-belief at the prospect of hearing or seeing God through dreams or visions."

Before I quote the excerpt from this book, I would like to clarify that I am in no way saying that to trust in a vision or an experience is to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that one is saved. True assurance comes from the Word of God found in the Scriptures and the fruit that is produced in the life of a Christian which shows evidence that the person who believes and trusts in Jesus is united to Him. This goes for all who believe in Jesus, even slaves who experienced radical and un-explainable visions and dreams. In many of the accounts of this book, the ex-slave narrators speak of how since their conversion experience,  their affections have changed, sin is not seen as lovely anymore, and their attitudes towards the world and the things in the world has changed as well. In other accounts we see the typical Christian life, one of struggle and temptation, fear and joy, suffering and affliction, and continued perseverance through trusting in Christ. I'm writing this to ultimately show and point to the sovereignty of God in saving the lowest of the lowest in a society through His own means and purposes. Illiteracy, abuse, and something as horrible as slavery are not outside of His power to save those who He calls to Himself. Here is a chapter in the book of an account entitled "Before the Wind Ever Blew":

"I dont know why it was I got converted, because I had been doing nearly everything they told me I ought not to do. I danced, played cards, and done just like I wanted to do. I don't reckon I was so bad, but they said I was. In my heart I was good and felt that someday I would do better.
One day, when I was about twenty-two years old, I got up feeling awful heavy. I went about my work, and had started to washing when I suddenly began to feel worse and worse. I wasn't sick, I was just heavy. I began to say "Lord, I wonder what is the matter with me?" I stopped washing and went in the house and layed across the bed, and there I saw Jesus. He turned my face to the east and said "Go and declare my name to the world, and I will fill your heart with song."
While I was laying there I saw the city. It was the prettiest place that I ever saw. All the little angels were the same size and color, and as they flew, all their wings moved at the same time and made the sweetest music I ever heard.
After I passed through this experience, I lost all worldly cares. The things I used to enjoy don't interest me now. I am a new creature in Jesus, the workmanship of His hand saved from the foundation of the world. I was a chosen vessel before the wind ever blew of the sun ever shined.
Religion is not a work but a gift from God. We are saved by grace, and it is not of ourselves but the gift of God."

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