The following story is recorded in Recollections of Men of Faith, by W.C. Rogers, in the chapter on John. T. Johnson. This book will soon be available in the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary, as well as in print from Cobb Publishing. But we thought this section was well worth sharing, and we hope you do too. Enjoy!
In company with Elder R.C. Ricketts, a prominent preacher in Kentucky, John T. Johnson visited Little Rock, Ark., for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel in its primitive purity and power.
After the meeting had advanced a number of days, and quite a number of persons had become obedient to the faith, an incident occurred of more than ordinary interest, and which I feel ought to be preserved. Judge Johnson, of the city of Little Rock, a brother of the evangelist, a prominent politician, had been attending the meeting nightly with his wife, but neither belonged to any religious body. Like many others, Judge Johnson had never given the subject of Christianity very much thought; perhaps owing to the fact that he was constantly engaged in the affairs of this life, and had no time, as he supposed; it may have been that he knew not what to do, because of the many sad divisions in Christendom. Through courtesy or curiosity, he and his amiable wife had been attending church and listening to the preaching of John T. Johnson and R.C. Ricketts. But sometimes it turns out that those who attend religious services through curiosity become deeply concerned for their souls’ salvation. This was the case with the Judge and his wife at the time of which we are speaking, although, I presume, neither would have acknowledged it.
One morning after breakfast, seated in the parlor with his brother, John T., Elder Ricketts, and his wife, the Judge filed several formidable objections to the course pursued by the preachers in the meeting they were then conducting. Of course he did this, be it understood, in the most polite manner possible; still, with honesty, and desiring, no doubt, that a change be made in the management of the meeting. When offering his advice, the Judge supposed he understood himself perfectly — knew precisely what he would do under given circumstances. But it is difficult to know one’s self. It is certainly not an easy task to divine what the strongest minded persons would do under heavy pressure of circumstances. “The best of men are men at best.” It would be well to remember this in all of our wise forecastings. The preachers had baptized several persons in the Arkansas River, and now the Judge had come to the conclusion that this ought to be stopped. And why? Because the waters were too muddy in which to administer this divine ordinance. “If I should ever be baptized,” he continued, “it will “never occur in the Arkansas River. I will never go down into that muddy stream of water — never. I would prefer to go to a beautiful clear pool of water near the city, should I ever consent to be baptized. Besides, I seriously object to your administering the ordinance of baptism, while the lawyers, doctors, and the reckless ones about the city, are lining the banks of the river, and some are engaged in talking and laughing and making unbecoming remarks. This is certainly not in good taste — is certainly not in harmony with my views of propriety or good order, under such circumstances I could not consent to be baptized. I must have pure, clear water, and only a few friends.”
“Very well,” said Bro. Ricketts, “we will go with you and a few chosen friends to some clear pool and baptize you whenever you are willing to make the good confession — whenever you are prepared to submit to this command of Christ.”
The Judge replied: “Understand me, I am not saying that I ever intend to become a member of the church. I do not know that I will ever join any church. I am only telling you that I do not think it proper to baptize in the Arkansas River, and that I never could, under the circumstances, consent to be, as others have been. Again, should I ever join the church — and I may or may not — I trust to be able to control my feelings a little better than some who have come forward during this meeting and confessed faith in Christ. They have shown great weakness in weeping like children — at least it seems so to me. Should I ever be induced to go forward and confess Christ, I hope I shall have manliness enough about me to do so without shedding a tear.” “Come forward, Judge, in your own way; if you are a believing penitent, and fully prepared to obey the Gospel from the heart, in order to the enjoyment of all the blessings promised, we care not as to the manner,” rejoined Bro. Ricketts. The following remarks were offered by the Judge in closing: “You and my brother may suppose from what I have said that I purpose becoming a member of the church. I confess that I understand the teaching of Christ and the Apostles as I never did before. I see a fitness, beauty, and adaptation in the plan of redemption which has been hid from me heretofore. But I have not at all determined to join the church. I am fully persuaded that it is the duty of all persons to attach themselves to the church of Jesus Christ, but I am not prepared to say I am ready to do so now. I trust you will not look upon what I have said to you as meddling; pursue your own course. Still, I am convinced that there is far too much feeling manifested by those who confess Christ and obey him in your meeting, and that you ought, if in your power, to suppress it.”
Bro. Ricketts added that he thought there was no improper excitement in the meeting. There had been no shouting, no clapping of hands, no swooning or fainting. No unjust means had been used to compel persons to become the disciples of Christ. The Gospel had been presented in its fullness, so far as the speakers were enabled to offer it to the people. “This glorious Gospel is God’s power to save those who believe and obey it, and, mark you, there is no power like it in this world. All persons are not alike in their make-up. Some, in renouncing sin, weep bitterly; others show but little feeling. This is owing to the difference in the emotional nature. And there is no need in our attempting to regulate these things; they must take their course. But few persons know themselves.”
The following night the Judge and his wife came to church and sat a little nearer the pulpit than usual, the wife placing herself on the end of the bench and next the aisle; the Judge occupying a place near the center of the house and directly in front of the pulpit. At the conclusion of the discourse, and while the invitation song was being sung, the Judge’s wife stepped forward and gave her hand to Bro. Ricketts. She took her seat on the front bench preparatory to making the good confession. The Judge, seeing this, could bear up no longer; so, stepping right over the benches, forward he came, and, weeping as a child, seated himself beside his wife, the great tears rolling down his furrowed cheeks. Making the good confession with much feeling, he remarked in the hearing of many, “I am now ready to go down into the muddy waters of the Arkansas and be baptized in the presence of the lawyers, doctors, and all who may be inclined to witness my obedience to the faith.” How few know themselves.