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George T. (George Thomas) Ashley.

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would be on my hands. While I did not feel that I would be "lost" if I
failed in this - for the doctrine of my church was, that once being
converted all the devils in hell could not keep one ultimately from
heaven - yet I felt that my future happiness in heaven would be
diminished just in proportion as I failed to do my best in this behalf.
This was interpreted to be a "divine call to preach." I accepted it
with profound earnestness and deep conviction, and began early to
exercise my gifts.

In due course of events I went to college to "prepare for the
ministry." I was in love with the work and happy in its prospects. I
was ambitious to be thoroly efficient in my work in the future and
pursued my studies with diligence accordingly. Incidentally I learned
much that was not in the books, as most college students do.

I little knew what was before me. Here in a "school of the prophets,"
where I was supposed to be thoroly trained, rooted and grounded in the
faith of my church, I was to learn the first lessons that ultimately
led me entirely out of the orthodox faith, into a broad, rational
liberalism! A few of these it will be necessary to state here, not so
much because of any immediate effect they produced, as to show the
working of the leaven that years afterward "leavened the whole lump."

The first shock I got was in the study of Geology. When I began it I
saw at once that it was out of harmony with the Bible account of
Creation, the origin of the earth, and organic life upon it. While no
one told me so, I somehow conceived the idea that we were not studying
it because it was recognized as truth, but just the opposite. Being
rooted and grounded from my infancy in the belief in the absolute
literalness, and infallible truth of the Bible; and supposing that I
was in college only to be more thoroly instructed in this divine truth,
I conceived the idea that this book we were studying was merely the
"guess-work" of some modern infidel, and that our real purpose in
studying it was to be the more able to refute it when we got out into
our life work; all of which would fully appear before we finished the
book.

One day when we were perhaps half thru, the professor, himself a
Baptist minister, catechised the class individually, as to their
opinions as to the length of time the earth was in process of
formation, previous to the appearance of life upon it. I noticed, with
surprise, that the answers varied from a few millions to hundreds of
billions of years, until the question came to me, when I answered
promptly, "Six days!" Everybody laughed, professor and all. Of course
I felt "cheap"; but insisted on the correctness of my answer "because
the Bible said so," notwithstanding Lyell and Dana to the contrary.

The professor complimented me on my "loyalty to the Scriptures," but
explained that the story of creation in Genesis was to be interpreted
"figuratively"; that it referred to six great geological epochs in
terms of days; and that what we were studying was to be accepted as
scientific truth in its general principles, subject, however, to
possible revision in some of its details as further geological
discoveries were made.

This was a revelation to me. I know the intelligent reader of today
will be provoked to laugh at my native, inherent "greenness." But it
must not be forgotten that this was thirty-six years ago; and besides
this, there are still, in this year of grace 1919, literally millions
of men and women, long past the age of student life, who still hold
substantially the same views concerning the relations of science to
religion and the Bible that I held then. The simplicity of faith is
often sublime. And I am not sure that it is not often the truth that,
"Ignorance is bliss where it is folly to be wise"; especially where the
"wisdom" is just sufficient to disturb the mind but not enough to
settle it. But I had a revelation, - two of them.

First, that modern science is to be taken seriously; and second, that
much of the Bible must be interpreted figuratively. The latter was the
most disturbing to me. The question that confronted me was this: If
the Bible is partly literal and partly figurative, when I get out into
my life work as a minister, how am I to be able to always determine
correctly just what parts are literal and what figurative; and how to
interpret the figures? But the answer came as quickly as the question:
This is just what I am here to learn, and before I am thru I will
doubtless know it all! Some time after this a discussion arose among
the divinity students, about the doctrines of inspiration - as to
whether the Bible was literally and verbally inspired, word for word,
or was merely an inspiration of ideas, the writers being left to write
their "inspirations" in their own language and manner. My idea had
always been that of the former, that the Bible was inspired word for
word, just as it reads. But I found the more progressive and better
educated class among both students and professors had abandoned this
idea, and accepted the doctrine of the inspiration of ideas only. It
was strange to me that God could not have dictated the words as easily
as the ideas, and thus have made sure of their correctness. But it set
me to thinking. I had never had any doubt about the inspiration of the
Bible, yet I could give no reason for it, except that I had always been
told so. Now as progress and education were going to compel me to
revise my opinions about the _manner_ of inspiration, I began to wonder
what evidence we really had that the Bible was inspired at all. I
really had no doubts about the fact. I supposed, of course, the
evidence existed _somewhere_, but that they had never been specifically
pointed out to me; and I wanted to know just _what_ and _where_ they
were. I confided my inquiries to a senior student in whom I had great
confidence. He told me the devil was whispering doubts in my ear and I
should not listen to him! That there could be no possible doubt about
the _fact_ of inspiration; that this question had been definitely and
finally settled over eighteen hundred years ago by the wisest and best
men of the world, and there had never been a shadow of a doubt about it
since; that the evidences of inspiration of ideas instead of verbal
inspiration were found in the many different styles and manner of
writing found in the Bible itself as represented by the different
writers. But as to the fundamental fact of divine inspiration itself,
there had never been a shadow of a doubt! So I accepted the new idea
of inspiration and said "Get thee behind me, Satan," and after that for
many years I did not permit myself to doubt the fact of inspiration.
Yet occasionally I could not keep from thinking, and many years later
this question arose again in my mind with tragic force and effect.




CHAPTER II

SEEKING LIBERTY

Other questions now began to arise that were soon to materially affect
my church relations, without, however, any material change in my
fundamental theology. As before stated, my sole ambition in life was
to warn sinners to "flee from the wrath to come." To this one purpose
all other things must be made subordinate. For this one purpose I was
pursuing my studies in college that I might become the more efficient
in its accomplishment. Impressed as I was with the awful truth of
man's total depravity and natural alienation from God, and the
certainty of his eternal damnation in the never-ending flames, unless
he accepted fully, and followed implicitly the prescribed course which
I had been taught was the only means of escape, I felt that "Woe is me,
if I preach not the gospel." I felt that any deflection on my part,
from the full performance of my duty in this particular, up to the full
extent of my power and opportunity, would not only entail eternal
torments upon all who might have been thus saved thru my efforts, but
would also detract from my own eternal glory in heaven in exactly the
same ratio.

I began to look upon the church as being at most but a means, or agency
to this end; the channel thru which I might work to accomplish this
central purpose. Leaving other churches out of consideration, as not
being germane to the purpose of this narrative, while yet in school I
had become more fully informed as to the fundamental theology of the
Methodist Church; and somewhat to my surprise, I found there was no
substantial difference between it and the Baptist Church, to which I
belonged. They both appealed to the same infallible revelation; both
taught the same doctrine of the fall of man, total depravity and
inherited sin; both taught the same doctrines concerning the
personality and character of Christ, and the vicarious atonement in his
death; the same doctrines concerning heaven and hell; and the same
doctrines of salvation by repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, and
regeneration by the Holy Spirit. I perceived that the only substantial
difference between the two was purely one of ecclesiastical
organization and polity. As before noted, the Baptist Church did not
hold that either baptism or church membership was necessary to
salvation; but that "salvation" was first necessary before one was
scripturally entitled to either baptism or church membership. It was
also freely admitted that a truly repentant and converted Methodist was
just as truly "saved" and as sure of heaven as any Baptist, - and that
there were many such there could be no doubt, - true members of the
kingdom of God and the Church Universal; true heirs of glory and fit
subjects for the heavenly kingdom, - yet not fit for membership in the
earthly church, admittedly imperfect at its best, solely because they
had not been dipped under the water, an ordinance admitted to be
secondary, and wholly unnecessary to the main object!

I began to wonder from whence came the authority to bar the doors of
God's earthly church against those who were clearly admitted to be
members of the Church Universal, and of God's spiritual kingdom. Thus
my faith in the exclusive claims of my church to be the _only true
church_ on earth, was very much weakened; tho I still firmly believed
it to be the best church, and by far the most scriptural, orthodox and
apostolic. Yet, I could not see why we might not affiliate with, and
co-operate more with our Methodist brethren, imperfect and unscriptural
(?) as their ecclesiastical organization was, especially in carrying
forward the great central object we both had in view, the salvation of
souls from hell; and more especially, since there was no substantial
disagreement between us as to the means and processes of accomplishing
this object; our real differences beginning only _after_ this was
accomplished. The Methodists were always willing to co-operate with us
to the fullest extent we would permit them; but we, never, with them.

During the summer that followed the close of my sophomore year in
college (which, as subsequent events will show, proved to be my last),
an event occurred that so affected my future ecclesiastical relations
that it needs to be told in some detail.

As is generally well known, one of the principal differences between
the Baptist and Methodist churches is their difference of view in
regard to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, as well as that of the
mode of baptism. The Methodists, as liberal evangelicals, offer it to
all Christians present when it is celebrated, leaving it to each
individual to judge for himself as to his fitness to partake of it;
while the Baptists limit it to "members in good and regular standing"
in their own "faith and order." The Baptists generally disclaim being
"close communionists," but "close baptists." That is, they insist that
no person is eligible to partake of the Lord's Supper until after
baptism _by immersion_; and that by a regularly ordained Baptist
minister, upon the authority of a Baptist church, expressed by a vote
of its members. I do not know that I ever saw the ordinance celebrated
in a Baptist church, that some explanation along this line was not
made, by way of apology.

The event that so influenced my future thought was this: At a Baptist
church, some six miles from my father's residence, their annual
protracted meeting had been going on a week, - from Sunday to Sunday.
Some eight or ten persons had joined the church during the week and
were to be baptized at 10 A.M. on this last Sunday, after which was to
follow the regular church services at 11 A.M.; and then the celebration
of the Lord's Supper. A half mile away was a Methodist church, and the
place of baptism was the ford of a creek about half way between the two.

The Methodist Sunday School usually met at 9.30 A.M. But on this
occasion superintendent, teachers and pupils, came in a body down to
the ford to see the baptising. After it was over the Methodist
superintendent, with several of his teachers and older pupils, remained
for the services at the Baptist church. At the close of the sermon two
persons presented themselves for membership, and were accepted, by vote
of the members, subject to baptism, at the next regular monthly
meeting; after which Brother Crawford, the Methodist Sunday School
Superintendent, was called on to lead in prayer, a function in which he
was earnest, able and eloquent, as well as being universally recognized
as a man of unblemished character, sincere and deep piety.

The minister then proceeded to administer the Lord's Supper, prefacing
it with the usual apologies and explanations about "close baptism"
instead of "close communion"; and to illustrate this point, he referred
to the fact that two persons had just presented themselves for church
membership, and had been accepted, subject to baptism, concerning whose
conversion and sincere Christian character, there was just as sure
confidence as there was of any that had been baptized that morning; yet
these two could not partake of the Lord's Supper because they had not
yet been baptized.

Just at this point there suddenly darted into my mind, almost with the
force of a "clap of thunder from a clear sky," the question, "Where is
the scriptural authority for this?" I had heard it perhaps a hundred
times. I was as familiar with it as I was with the alphabet, but for
the first time in life the thought came to me with the suddenness of
lightning, "Where is the scriptural authority for it?" I could not
remember that I had ever heard a single passage of scripture quoted in
its support, or defense. (The reader must keep in mind that up to this
time, and for several years thereafter, to me, the Bible was
infallible, inerrant, and the sole and final authority in all matters
pertaining to religion and the church.) The shock was so great, and my
mental agitation so intense, that it threw me into a fever. I went
home sick.

During the following week I read the New Testament thru in special
search for some passage to support the doctrine that baptism, in any
form, was a necessary prerequisite to a proper participation in the
Lord's Supper. _And I did not find it_. In fact I did not find any
direct evidence in the Gospel record that any of the twelve to whom
Jesus first administered this supper were ever baptized at all! and if
they were, - which is only an inference, or a reading into the record,
not what actually is there, but what somebody thinks ought to be
there, - it was not Christian baptism, but the baptism of John, which,
according to the teachings of the Baptist Church, was an entirely
different thing in meaning and purpose, tho the same in form.

John's baptism, according to the teachings of my church, was a "baptism
unto repentance," _in preparation_ for the appearance of Christ; while
Christian baptism, "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the
Holy Ghost" was not instituted until _after_ the descent of the Holy
Ghost, according to the promise of Jesus, on the Day of Pentecost.
Then for the first time, and not until then, did Christian baptism in
the name of the Trinity, have any existence or meaning. It was
therefore quite clear to me, that this institution that we call the
Lord's Supper, being instituted, and first administered to persons who,
so far as we have any specific knowledge, were not baptized at all; and
who in the very nature of the case _could not_ have been baptized under
that formula commonly known as Christian baptism; therefore, whatever
meaning may be attached to the Lord's Supper, it has absolutely no
connection with, or relation to any kind, or form of baptism whatsoever.

It is one of my misfortunes that I have never had sense enough to "keep
my counsel to myself." I have always had a habit of "thinking out
loud." And when I thus began to express myself, my position in the
Baptist Church began to grow "shaky," not to say precarious. Yet, I
still held rigidly to the doctrine that immersion alone was baptism,
and that with all its defects, the Baptist Church was the most
scriptural and orthodox in its doctrines and practices of any church in
existence.

The upshot of this whole matter was, that I was soon cited before my
"church conference" to answer a charge of heresy, in holding to the
doctrine of "open communion." I appeared and wanted to make a defense
of my position before the church. I was vain and silly enough at that
time to think if I could only make my argument before the church I
would be able to convert a majority of the members to my views, and
thus save myself and "reform" the church. But this I was not permitted
to do. I was told I might answer either "guilty" or "not guilty," and
no more. I refused to answer either way, unless I was further
permitted to explain my answer. This was denied me. Whereupon, a
motion was made to "withdraw fellowship from Brother Ashley"; and
without debate or further ceremony, the motion was put, four persons
voting Aye, and three, No, altho about forty members were present. And
thus I went out of the Baptist Church, whereby my education for the
ministry became automatically "finished," and all hope of my
ministerial career blasted.

Strange as it may seem there was a sort of personal satisfaction in
this. I had not entered the ministry as a pure matter of choice.
While I did not shrink from it, but rather took it up joyously, it was
because I felt it to be a duty divinely imposed upon me, and therefore
an honor of which I was proud; and because it was the means thru which
I might gratify my personal desire to be of some real use to God and
humanity, in saving souls from the eternal burning.

But now I felt that I had fulfilled my part as far as I possibly could,
and was denied the privilege of going further by the action of the
church; and that thereafter the church, and not I, was responsible for
any failure on my part to go on with the work of warning sinners to
"flee from the wrath to come." I was a little like Jonah fleeing to
Tarshish. I was rather secretly glad I had gotten away, and shifted
the responsibility somewhere else.

But these impressions did not last long. My fundamental theology had
not changed. The Bible was still an infallible divine revelation.
Humanity was still lost, totally depraved, abiding under the "wrath of
God"; hell was a reality towards which all humanity was bound; and the
only means of escape was to "believe in the Lord Jesus Christ"
according to the prescribed formula. The burden of my personal
responsibility soon returned. I could not escape it. True, I was out
of the church - the Baptist Church; but it seemed quite evident that God
was using other agencies, outside the Baptist Church, for the salvation
of souls, and seemed to be doing it quite successfully. If God could
so use the Methodist Church for this purpose, why might not I? What
did baptism amount to anyway? I was never taught that it was necessary
to salvation. And if not, why make such a fuss about it? If a person
was already saved, and it was only "an outward sign of an inward
grace," what difference could it make how it was administered, who
administered it, or whether it was administered at all?

These were some of the questions that ran thru my mind. I also began
to note that there were at least a few places in the New Testament that
might be fairly interpreted to imply that baptism was, at least, _not
always_ by immersion.

For example, the baptism of so many thousands on the Day of Pentecost
in Jerusalem, where the supply of water was very limited, and this all
under the control of the enemies of the new religion. The immersion of
so many, in so short a time and under such circumstances and conditions
was next to a physical impossibility, while easily probable if done by
sprinkling.

By these processes of reasoning, in the course of some two years, I
found a congenial home in the Methodist Church, at first with some
trepidation, but soon afterwards with perfect satisfaction. While this
change in church relations involved quite a radical change in matters
of ecclesiastical organization and polity, it must be kept in mind that
it _did not_ involve any material change in matters of fundamental
theology. But let it be noted here that during all this time I was
striving for some degree of religious liberty; and in passing from the
Baptist to the Methodist Church, I was at least making some progress
towards it, however small it might be. To shorten my story, in a few
months I found myself a "circuit rider" in the Louisiana Conference of
the Methodist Episcopal Church, South - (I was born and reared in the
"pine hills" of Mississippi).

It is not necessary to go into any lengthy details concerning my work
at this time, beyond the fact that I was fairly successful in it, and
for the time being, I found it eminently satisfactory and fairly
pleasant to myself. However, under the workings of the itinerant
system, in a few years I found myself located in the state of Missouri,
where I transferred my church relations to the St. Louis Conference of
the M. E. Church. This change involved nothing but a matter of
personal choice and convenience.




CHAPTER III

NEW VISIONS AND DISTURBANCES

Having thus changed my church relations, and feeling that I had a
greater field of usefulness open to me, my zeal for efficiency and
success increased. I had a sincere and consuming desire to "save men's
souls." And believing my creed to be as infallible as the Bible upon
which it was based, I studied to make myself efficient and able in its
defense. By following the ordinary methods of interpretation, I soon
found no trouble in doing this. Does the reader inquire here what are
the "ordinary methods of interpretation"? Taking a chapter, or verse,
or paragraph of the Bible here and there, thru the whole book, from
Genesis to Revelation, and weaving them together as a connected whole,
regardless of whether there is any natural connection between them or
not; then disposing of all contradictory passages as either
"figurative," - with unlimited latitude on the interpretation of the
"figures," - or as pertaining to those "great and mysterious, unknowable
things of God's divine revelation," - mysteries too great for man to
know! This method of interpretation is the common practice, to a
greater or less extent, of every church in Christendom that accepts the
doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible, and looks to it as its sole
and final source of authority in religion. There is not a creed in
Christendom today, and never has been, that cannot be supported and
proved to be conclusively correct from the Bible by this method of
interpretation. By the same method the Bible can be made the
defense - and it often has been - of war, murder, slavery, polygamy,
adultery, and the foulest crimes known to humanity, and these all made
the divine institutions of God. And these are exactly the leading
methods of interpretation of the Bible that are being followed today,
and have been since Christianity first began to divide into sects and
parties.

But this is a digression. While I recognized some merit in nearly all
the creeds, I firmly believed mine the best. My faith in, and devotion
to the Methodist Church had become so intense that I believed the sum
total of all theological knowledge was concentrated and embodied in
John Wesley. There could be no more progress, no more discovery. It
was a finished science, and John Wesley finished it. There are
thousands who still think so, even to this day! I looked back over
history to the days of apostolic purity, followed the trend of
theological thought in its decline into error and superstition, thru


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