In the summer of 1772,... When I was returning from my frolicks or evening diversions, the following words would sound from the skies, "You are not about the work which you have got to do."...And without any usual horror of mind or dread of damnation, the charms of those youthful diversions, which had been sweeter to me than the honeycomb, lost all their sweetness, nor could I conceive how there could be any pleasure in them."John Leland, The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, p.10.
(Miss L. F. Greene, G.W. Wood, 29 Gold-street, New York, 1845)
"For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it."The above quote is the testimony of the Baptist preacher, John Leland, who helped Madison win the Virginia battles for religious freedom.
I Peter 3:10-11
Eighteen years old at this time, John Leland was already very knowledgeable of the Bible, having read and studied it since he was five. John's family was religious.Yet, John struggled to get past the thought that he, "was almost in all evil, full of vanity, exceedingly attached to frolicking and foolish wickedness."(p. 10)
His experience that summer evening began a series of events within his heart, reaching to the very depths of his soul. These experiences would change the course of his life. He went to another "evening frolic" to determine if he had truly died to such a lifestyle. In his own words:
"Accordingly I went, but found nothing to please, but everything to disgust." (p. 11)
Later that summer, he watched the baptism of a young woman he had danced with in the past. She had been converted after hearing Elhanan Winchester preach.
"What I saw and heard at the water, greatly effected me. There I stood upon a rock, and made my vows to God to forsake all sinful courses and seek the Lord, if he would direct me how." (p. 11)
Still he worried about his salvation. He concluded that first he must be deeply convict of sin; that if he were converted he'd feel as though:
"a surgeon should cut open my breast with his knife, take out my heart and wash it, put it back again and close up the flesh" (p. 12)And that if he should ever believe in Jesus he would:
"see him as plainly as I could see an object of sense."" (p. 12)
Having drawn those conclusions, John Leland pursued faith and salvation. He saw himself a sinner, was convinced that he was condemned, and discovered "the sufficiency of a Mediator," (p. 12) settling his hope on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.
But he was concerned his conversion was not what it ought to be, until he meditated on Ephesians 1:13b "after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise". He heard in his mind God say to him, "Ye are already sealed unto the day of redemption." (p. 13)
John Leland keenly felt the hold of sin on his life. And as keenly as he felt it, he also rejoiced in the grace of God, freely given to all who receives it. He became a powerful preacher, effective in spreading the Gospel from Massachusetts to Virginia.
If only we all would feel the depth of sorrow Elder John Leland felt for his sin. Perhaps then, we would begin to grasp the greatness of God's grace and seek to live out lives pleasing to Him.
John Leland's struggle to know God's salvation impressed me. He, who had caroused with the youth and danced with the ladies, when convicted by the Holy Spirit, found that old life dead to him.
His passion for the Lord grew and became the driving force of his existence, even to the point where he willing risked being beheaded for his faith. When a woman asked to be baptized, she warned him that her husband threatened to whip her and kill the man who baptized her. He answered, "If you will venture your back, I will venture my head." (p. 20) She was whipped, but he did not lose his life.
Have you ever come to eschew parts of your life that were not pleasing to God? Have you ever become overwhelmed by the knowledge of your sin to the point where you understood your condemnation--that you indeed deserve hell? Have you ever discovered the sufficiency of God's grace through Christ and settled upon the hope of Christ's atoning blood--Christ's payment for your sin?
So many people today claim the title of Christian, yet do not live a life demonstrating the death of sin in their lives. Yes, we still live in the flesh, and therefore we will still sin. But do we eschew evil? Eschew means to shun or keep away from. Therefore, to eschew evil means to keep away from evil.
Peter wrote to Christians who saw and experienced first hand persecution for 'eschewing evil,' for not walking in the 'will of the Gentiles.' How little God asks of us in shunning that which is contrary to His Word, when He took upon Himself the likeness of man and bore our sin on the cross.
"Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.
For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of win, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:
Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead."
I Peter 4:1-5