Pieces People Ask For/John Leland's Examination

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Up on the heights in the Old Dominion, where the houses are few, and many of the mountaineers know little of the settlements below, a man of God lived who took to preaching the gospel in his own rude way. He was a man of strong character and clear common sense. He could just read the Bible—that was all; but he got at the heart of things as his ministry showed, and drew near to the heart of his Master. He was a very plain preacher, a most careless and unguarded man. He told the people the truth without any apologies, with all kindness and tenderness of heart. Many were turned from sin unto righteousness; and the presbytery, in whose bounds his work was, determined to ordain him, simply on the ground of his efficiency and clear call to the ministry, though he had no education. He objected. They persisted. Finally the day was appointed, and a large company from the mountains and the valleys below gathered to witness the examination for licensing and ordination of this strange character. All knew that there would be something entertaining in his answers. The presbytery assembled, the congregation looking on. John Leland took his place in front, dropping his head into his hands. The moderator simply stated the object of the meeting, addressing Mr. Leland. The latter looked up and said,—

"Mr. Moderator, I'll tell you all I know. It won't take long," and down his head went into his hands again. A smile went around the assembly.

Moderator. Mr. Leland, do you believe that God had a people, chosen and elect before the foundations of the world?

Leland. I don't know what God was doin' before he made the world. Don't know any thin' about it. I a'n't a educated man.

Moderator. Yes, but you must understand me. You certainly believe that God had a people chosen and elect from all eternity?

Leland. No. I don't believe that. They couldn't a' been our kind o' folks, anyway; because ours are made out of the dust of the earth, you know.

Moderator. Mr. Leland, we have heard of your Christian life, of your efficiency and your success, and we are met to ordain you to the ministry of the gospel. This is a solemn occasion, and you must not make light of the questions. Now, I want to know if you believe in the total depravity of mankind?

Leland. No, I don't, if you mean by that that men are as bad as they can be; for the Devil a'n't any worse'n that, you know.

Moderator. Do you believe in imputed righteousness, and that it is sufficient to save all who have faith?

Leland. I don't know any righteousness that will save a man who won't do right himself.

Moderator. Do you believe in the final perseverance of the saints?

Leland. I don't know what that means.

Moderator. Well, you believe that all who are converted will be kept, and not fall away?

Leland. Oh, I don't know how it is down in the settlements, among the educated; but I tell you up where we live, we have the awfulest cases of backsliding.

Moderator. But, Mr. Leland, you certainly believe that when a man is converted he will be kept in some way, and finally saved?

Leland. I cannot tell much about that, till I am saved myself. Don't know any thing about it now.

Moderator. You feel that you are called to preach the gospel?

Leland. No, I never heard any one call me.

Moderator. We do not mean that you heard a voice—any thing said—but that you are called.

Leland. Well, Mr. Moderator, if there wasn't any voice, or any thing said, don't know how there could be any call. Never heard any.

Moderator. You believe it is your duty to preach the gospel to all creatures?

Leland. No. I don't believe it my duty to preach to the Dutch, for instance. I can't talk Dutch. If the Lord wanted me to preach to them, in some way I could talk Dutch; but I can't, I never tried.

Moderator. Mr. Leland, you certainly desire to see all men come to repentance, and turn to righteousness. Your acts show that. We have heard of your self-sacrificing spirit, your love for mankind, and all your good works to win sinners to the gospel and repentance.

Leland. Mr. Moderator, I'll tell you the honest truth. I am a little ashamed of it; but it is God's truth just as I tell you. Some days I do feel that way; and then again, some of them act so bad, I don't care if the Devil gets half of them.

After the presbytery had retired to take counsel over the matter, they returned and announced that while his answers had not been entirely satisfactory in every respect, nevertheless, in view of his efficiency in preaching, they had voted to ordain him, which they proceeded to do in the usual manner. After it was over, Mr. Leland lifted his head out of his hands, straightened himself up, and stood his full height. Looking first at the moderator, and then all round him, he said,—

"Brethren, I've put you to a heap o' trouble. I don't know any thin' about your doctrines, 'n' I told you I didn't. I've been doin' the best I could, preachin' the gospel as I found it in the Bible. Now, you see, I don't know any thing else. Another thing: when the apostles put their hands on a man's head, I read that the man had some power, or some sense, or some knowledge, that he hadn't afore. But now, brethren, honest and true, right out, you've all had your hands on me, and I am just as big a fool as ever I was. But I thank you, nevertheless: I'm very much obleeged to you."

And so they let him go.