At Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in the last decade of the eighteenth century, the early Presbyterian settlers put up a log building as their Meeting House. In 1801 their minister was Barton Warren Stone (1772-1844).
Relating his own experience he wrote, “About this time my mind was continually tossed on the waves of speculative divinity, the all-engrossing theme of the religious community at that period … I at that time believed, and taught, that mankind were so totally depraved that they could do nothing acceptable to God, till his Spirit, by some physical, almighty and mysterious power, had quickened, enlightened and regenerated the heart, and thus prepared the sinner to believe in Jesus for salvation. I began plainly to see that if God did not perform this regenerating work in all, it must be because he chose to do it for some and not for others, and that thus depended on his own sovereign will and pleasure … this doctrine is inseparably linked with unconditional election and reprobation…. They are virtually one; and this was the reason why I admitted the decrees of election and reprobation, having admitted the doctrine of total depravity. They are inseparable…. Often when I was … persuading the helpless to repent and believe the gospel, my zeal in a moment would be chilled at the contradiction. How can they believe? How can they repent? How can they do impossibilities? How can they be guilty in not doing them? … On a certain evening, when engaged in secret prayer and reading my Bible my mind came unusually filled with comfort and peace. I never recollect of having before experienced such an ardent love and tenderness for all mankind, and such a longing desire for their salvation … for some days and nights I was almost continually praying for the ruined world … I expressed my feelings to a pious person, and rashly remarked, ‘So great is my love for sinners that, had I power, I would save them all.’ The person appeared to be horror-stricken, and remarked, ‘Do you love them more than God does? Why, then, does he not save them? Surely he has almighty power.’ I blushed, was confounded and silent, and quickly retired to the silent woods for meditation and prayer. I asked myself, Does God love the world—the whole world? And has he not almighty power to save? If so, all must be saved, for who can resist his power? … I was firmly convinced that according to Scripture all were not saved; the conclusion, then, was irresistible that God did not love all, and therefore it followed, of course, that the spirit in me, which loved all the world so vehemently, could not be the Spirit of God, but the spirit of delusion…. I prostrated myself before God in prayer, but it was immediately suggested, you are praying in unbelief, and ‘whatsoever is not of faith is sin.’ You must believe or expect no good from the hand of God. But I can not believe; as soon could I make a world. Then you must be damned, for ‘he that believeth not shall be damned.’ But will the Lord condemn me to eternal punishment for not doing an impossibility? So I thought … blasphemy rose in my heart against such a God, and my tongue was tempted to utter it. Sweat profusely poured from the pores of my body, and the fires of hell gat hold on me … in this uncommon state I remained for two or three days. From this state of perplexity I was relieved by the precious word of God. From reading and meditating upon it, I became convinced that God did love the whole world, and that the reason why he did not save all was because of their unbelief; and that the reason why they believed not was not because God did not exert his physical, almighty power in them to make them believe but because they neglected and received not his testimony given in the Word concerning his Son. ‘These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name.’ I saw that the requirement to believe in the Son of God was reasonable, because the testimony given was sufficient to produce faith in the sinner, and the invitations and encouragement of the gospel were sufficient, if believed, to lead him to the Saviour, for the promised Spirit, salvation and eternal life. This glimpse of faith, of truth, was the first divine ray of light that ever led my distressed, perplexed mind from the labyrinth of Calvinism and error, in which I had so long been bewildered. It was that which led me into rich pastures of gospel liberty”.
Extract from “The Pilgrim Church” by E H Broadbent, mainly about individuals and groups often misunderstood or misrepresented by history, from early times of the church to those within the later recognised “reformation” settings and beyond. An interesting read – available in full for free via the Gutenberg Project.