Abner Jones – Part One

Roundhouse started yesterday (and Happy Birthday, Brad!), and that means almost two full weeks away from the computer.  But we don’t want to leave you with nothing to read during that time!

So this week, we hope you’ll enjoy reading about a man named Abner Jones.  He was a preacher from the late 1700s/early 1800s who realized that his denomination was teaching and binding things that were not in the Bible.

By the time you read all the posts this week, you will have read the entire work, Abner Jones: Christian Only by Bradley Cobb (which is also included in Abner Jones: A Collection, Volume 1).


His Early Life

From Childhood to “Conversion”

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. Four years earlier, in Royalton, Massachusetts, Mr. and Mrs. Asa Jones[1] had their fifth child, a son. The Jones’ had both been raised as “Calvinist Baptist[s],”[2] and proceeded to bring up their own children, including newborn Abner Jones, in the same way. Asa Jones was a preacher for the Baptists, whose “prayers and admonitions” weighed heavily on young Abner’s mind, even as a young child.[3] Abner himself later confessed that this time was spent with “much concern” about his eternal well-being.[4]

At age eight, amidst the War for Independence, Mr. Jones moved the family to Bridgewater, Vermont.[5] At this point, the area was basically wilderness,[6] and the family built their home out of trees that they cut from the area. Being the first family to move into that area, their nearest neighbor was at least two miles away.[7]

Throughout his youth, Abner was tormented by depression. He felt a constant struggle for inner happiness which could not be found. He sought for it in religion, desperately looking for peace. In his Memoirs, Jones says the following: “But to return to the situation of my mind…I know not a better similitude than the wilderness in which I then dwelt…dreary and melancholy.”[8]

One summer, a series of events happened in Woodstock, Vermont which turned many people’s minds towards religion. Indians plundered some nearby towns, worms destroyed most crops of all the farmers in the area, and a hunting accident involving the decapitation of a man caused the people¾including Abner Jones¾to think about their eternal life. These events caused him to reflect, but he felt “ashamed to let anyone know that [he] felt concerned about [his] soul.”[9] Because of this, he kept his thoughts secret.

This young child felt the need of religion, and was “fully convinced that [he] must be born again or be damned.”[10] At age ten, the need he felt was even stronger. He heard of a meeting wherein many people were converted, but this did not satisfy him, because of the depression he felt. He said that even at this time, “all was darkness and gloominess.”[11] He still fought against religion, thinking that even though he needed it, it would not satisfy his mind.

It was about this time that he went to a meeting where a Baptist preacher named Snow was speaking. On his way there, he prayed for God to have mercy upon him. He desperately desired that he would receive some relief from his terrible condition that night. When he arrived, all appeared to be gloomy, and he resigned himself to knowing that this day would be no different than the rest. About this event, Jones relates:

I do not remember that the thought ever passed my mind that religion yielded any joy or peace; all the advantage I thought of, was that it would save the soul from eternal misery; and on that account I felt desirous to obtain it; feeling fully satisfied of my lost undone situation… (though I cannot say that I saw myself hanging immediately over hell as some have discovered themselves).[12]

At that meeting, however, Abner suddenly felt alive inside. He observed the preacher speaking of something not melancholy, but joyful. Asa Jones arose and spoke some more words which seemed to his son as something he had never before heard from his father. At the time, Abner thought the difference was not with his own perception, but with the speakers who spoke of joy and gloriousness. Inside, Abner finally felt peace.[13]

This inner joy was short-lived. The happiness crept away, and he did not understand why. Many days passed when the thought of Luke 15:24 entered into his mind: “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; was lost, and is found.” According to Jones, this is the first time that a Scripture went to his heart. He took this to mean that he had been dead in sin, but was at this point alive in Christ. He said “from that moment, a hope sprang up in my soul for eternal life.”[14] Many times afterwards, though, he did doubt that this was truly the moment of his salvation.[15]

Years of Rebellion

After the events previously described, Abner determined to keep his “conversion” to himself for the rest of his life. This did not last very long because he revealed to his mother and one of her friends that he had a secret. This knowledge led to the women harping at him until finally one of them guessed the secret. When he finally acknowledged it, he felt once again free from the depression that seemed to plague his early life. It was only later in life that he was able to see that the events of happiness coincided with his belief (as mentioned earlier), and here with his confession of Jesus before others.[16]

His joy remained for a short period of time, after which he realized that the Lord had commanded for all who believe to be baptized. Instead of obeying the command which he knew was from Christ, he shrunk back from it. This cast him into a deep depression, a “darkness that might be felt.”[17] This depression lasted for several months, and during that time his only happiness came from knowing that he would eventually die and be freed from this earth.[18]

He knew he needed to be baptized, but continually fought against it because he felt he was too miserable of a person. It was due to this refusal that he says of himself “I wandered in darkness.”[19] He went to other meetings trying to regain the hope and joy which he had earlier felt, but to no avail. One night, the realization sprang upon him that his “soul was eternally undone.”[20] He understood his completely lost condition at that time and knew God would be justified if He were to send Abner to hell at that moment. He spoke to his mother the next morning and told her “I am going right to hell.”[21] Being a Calvinist, his mother tried to convince him that he might be among those predestined, but he fell into a depression deeper than he had ever previously experienced.[22]

From this point onward, though there were moments of light, he began to stop caring about God, and he hardened his heart towards religion. When his father died in 1786, Abner’s heart was hardened even further. His oldest brother came to Vermont shortly thereafter. This brother was a worldly person, dedicating his life to the pursuit of merriment and arguing against religion. He was “in favor of universalism”[23] which is the doctrine that everyone will be saved, regardless of how they live.[24]

For the next six years, Abner did everything he could to embrace universalism in an effort to ease his conscience. As a result of embracing this doctrine, he “led a rather immoral life during his teen years.”[25] He set about to banish every thought of religion from his mind. He determined that if anyone should ask of him why he had changed, he would give no answer at all. This refusal to answer shows that he understood the things in which he involved himself were wrong. He was now determined to follow after “vanity and folly.”[26] Though he felt empty inside, his pride kept him in his sin. In order to quench thoughts of his need to follow God, he carried on even more in the vanity. There were times where he thought he should return to following God, but the thought of what his friends would say made him abandon the thought.[27]

His attempts at becoming rich all ended with sickness or injury. He tried being an apprentice, but a severe sickness incapacitated him and he had to return home. In January of 1791 while cutting wood, he accidentally chopped into his foot. It was at age eighteen that he exerted himself to the extent that he burst himself, apparently a reference to an extremely bad hernia. The surgeons were unable to adequately fix his problem, so from that point onward he was unable to do any physical labor.[28] He made one last go of business, but that ended with a terrible fever that lasted for weeks.[29] Abner viewed all of these injuries and illnesses as God punishing him for not being baptized. Yet still he ignored God’s command.[30]

He went back to Bridgewater, where a reformation of sorts had taken place. There were many new “converts” in the city, and finally he was convinced to go to meeting. Before the meeting was over, Abner Jones realized his completely “awful situation.”[31] This event, more than any other to that point, made him realize that he needed to turn to the Lord. He reflected on his past with shame, knowing he had ignored what he knew to be right. Even so, he did not do what he knew he must and remained in that situation for months.[32]

[1] www.pioneerpreachers.com

[2] Jones, Abner. Memoirs of the Life and Experience, Travels and Preaching of Abner Jones. (Norris and Sawyer, 1807) Pg 4.

5 ibid, 5.

[4] ibid, 5.

[5] The New England Christians (see bibliography)

[6] Burnett, J.F. Rev. Abner Jones: The Man Who Believed and Served. (unknown publisher, 1921) Pg 6

[7] Jones: Memoirs, Pg 5.

[8] ibid, 7

[9] ibid, 10.

[10] ibid, 11.

[11] ibid, 12.

[12] ibid, 12-13.

[13] ibid 13-14.

[14] ibid, 15.

[15] ibid.

[16] ibid, 17-19.

[17] ibid, 19.

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] ibid, 23.

[21] ibid, 24.

[22] ibid.

[23] ibid, 25.

[24] Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary

[25] New England Christians.

[26] Jones: Memoirs, Pg 27.

[27] ibid, 28.

[28] ibid, 33.

[29] ibid, 38.

[30] ibid, 29-33.

[31] ibid, 42-43

[32] ibid, 43-44.

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