|My Religious Life Before God Saved Me
Part 3L. R. Shelton, Sr.
In giving you this series of messages on "SATAN'S IMITATION MINISTRY," I feel led for the first time in my life to tell the story of my religious life before I was saved, more or less in detail,
showing you my religious experiences in my search for God. This is a companion story to my booklet, "How and When God Saved a Baptist Preacher." In my search for God, apart from Holy Spirit conviction,
I came to know satanic conviction which led me more deeply into the realm of demonism and demon manifestation. Therefore, it was only by a special miracle of God's grace that I was delivered
from the power of Satan and came to know Christ as my Lord and Saviour, which I have set forth in my booklet, "How and When God Saved a Baptist Preacher," written some years ago.
I was born into a religious family, in which there was a strict observance of the Sabbath, regular church attendance, one who read and loved the Bible. I have often said that I came
into the world with a religious nature, because from my early childhood I was interested in things religious. I often asked my pastors (our home was a preacher's home) such questions as,
"Who is the devil? Where did he come from? Tell me about heaven: where is it, and who is going there? Where is hell, and who are the inhabitants of hell?" Also, I was very inquisitive about
the subject of angels, and such doctrines as election, the prayer life, or the life of prayer, and the life of faith.
My Dad was just an ordinary, one-horse farmer, and he provided plenty to eat; but we didn't know much about books and clothing, except one Sunday suit and then our work clothes. In our home
were three books that I can remember – the Bible, Shakespeare in prose, and Lofton's "Character Sketches." Where Shakespeare's works came from I do not know, but my father purchased
"Character Sketches" from an itinerant salesman. I practically memorized the book, "Character Sketches," and it did more to mold my religious and moral life than any other book I have ever read, except the Bible.
I can close my eyes now and see that book from cover to cover – every picture, and what each teaches. Personally, I would recommend that book for every home library, if you can secure a copy.
However, I understand it is now out of print. We have a few copies, at this writing, in our Book Room.
When I awoke to know anything, I found myself in church services and the one-room Sunday School. Among my earliest memories is that longing that was in my heart to be in public worship every Sunday;
somehow I felt I could not go through the next week if I missed Sunday services. We had preaching only once a month; the other three Sundays I walked with Grandfather Shelton two and a half miles to
Bible class, which he taught. Also, from the earliest days of my memory there stands out that empty void in my heart. As far back as I can remember I believed that the Bible is the Word of God and
that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who is the Saviour of men, and I wanted to know Him.
During those early days I was greatly influenced by demon spirits, although at that time I did not know what they were; and I was ignorant of what the Scriptures definitely teach about them.
I would take a group of small boys and girls into a dimly lit room and make tables walk across the floor, and call these spirits out of the wall, which I referred to as "calling spooks
out of the wall." 'But one day there came a deep fear in my heart, and, the best I knew how, I separated myself from these manifestations of evil spirits completely, refusing to have
any more to do with them. I can look back now and see how the Lord had charge of my life and placed that fear there and delivered me even though I was not saved. If He hadn't, I would have
drifted into spiritism and given myself over to these demon spirits imitating the dead, fortune telling, and such like. I never cease to praise the Lord for placing that fear in my heart
and delivering me from that downward road I early started traveling.
I was considered the model boy of my community, because I did not use tobacco in any form nor alcoholic beverage. I know the taste of tobacco, but I have never bought a nickel's worth in my life. Now here is something else that is strange. I began using tobacco, but in like manner as He did with the demon spirits, the Lord placed a fear in my heart until I laid it down completely. I never cease to praise the Lord that, even in my unsaved religious state, He ruled and overruled such things in my life. The same is true with regard to the use of liquor. I have never bought any in my life. The only time my father drank was at Christmastime. When I was twelve years of age, in drinking eggnog spiked with whiskey, I kept adding to mine a little more at a time until I began to feel the influence of it and got tipsy. I fled to the woods and stayed until every bit of the influence wore off, and from that day to this I have never touched another drop. There is no amount of money that can cause me to even consent to taste it now, because I know I inherited the taste for it. There again was that same fear that God put in my heart – such a fear that I dared not touch it again.
Let me call your attention to one more thing in which the Lord intervened. My aunt, one of my father's sisters, went to college and when she returned for her summer vacation, she brought a deck of cards home and taught us children how to play cards. I almost became what you might call a cardsharper. I studied those cards; I mastered them, and I would resort to any trick to win a game. One day, sitting on the front porch with a group around the table, after winning a game, I reached over and picked up the trophy and that fear gripped my heart and overpowered me. I threw the cards and the trophy down upon the table, and all but ran from them, never to touch them again. Do you see what I might have been but for the grace of God? That was back there when I was but a young boy in my late junior years or early teens.
Of course, I didn't recognize at that time that it was the hand of God intervening to save me from a life of ruin, but even as a young boy I was aware of the fact that I was making a decision on the side of right that was absolute and irrevocable. Now I know that it was the grace of God overruling my life; it was God watching over me and direct-ing me in spite of myself, and I never cease to praise Him for it because my body has never been weakened by such habits. It was not anything that I was, or any decision of my own will, but God's decision that supervened.
My first real religious impressions that I recall were in the summer of 1909, when I was eleven years of age. I felt a deep conviction that I ought to join the church. I did not know the difference between salvation and church membership. The preachers may have preached it, but I was never convicted of it. I thought that if one joined the church, made known his faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, followed his Lord in baptism, and lived the best that he could, he was saved. I know now that such is not salvation. Therefore, one of the first tricks that Satan pulled on me was to bring me into the church under the cloak of a profession without Christ in order that he might keep me blinded as to what real salvation in Christ is. This gave me a kind of peace and satisfaction that I had not found in my search for God. I remember the Sunday night that I went down to the front with two other young boys, stating my desire to be saved. The pastor asked me the question', "Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?" and my reply was, "I certainly do!" On the basis of my answer to that question he assured me that I was saved, and that all my sins had been forgiven.
From that August, 1909, to the summer of 1939, not one time did I doubt that I was saved and made a new creature in Christ. I witnessed to that fact, and after I began preaching, I was just as positive that I was saved as I was about any truth of God's Word. Since the Lord saved me on January 9, 1942, I have been asked many times the question, "Brother Shelton, why didn't God save you back there?" and my answer has been, then as it is now, "I missed Holy Spirit conviction; therefore, I missed repentance. Having missed repentance, I missed the new birth, and having missed the new birth, I missed Christ. Therefore, if I had died, I would have missed heaven." Yes, I lived under that camouflage of free-willism and believingism for over thirty years under a false concept of salvation with a false peace, with a false hope, with a false security, and with a false assurance of salvation. So I never cease to praise the Lord for His longsuffering and forbearance.
My next deep religious impression came to me when I was sixteen years of age, and that was the deep conviction and burden of heart that I ought to preach the Gospel. When I was baptized in the old baptismal pool down at the foot of the great cliff outside the old burying ground, my father's youngest brother was baptized at the same time. The pastor baptized him first, and as he led him up out of the baptismal water, he said to my grandfather, "Uncle Jim, I have baptized a preacher today," and he patted my Uncle Riley on the head and said, "He's your preacher boy." From that day until I felt the burden in my heart to preach, I looked forward to the day when he would be the preacher. When I felt the burden to preach, which I thought came from the Lord, I said, "Lord, You are mistaken; I was not baptized to be the preacher. It was my Uncle Riley." I did not want to preach: I wanted to be an agriculturist. I loved farming, and am still a man of the soil.
As the months went by, this conviction that I must preach grew deeper. I came to the place that I had to make a decision between what I wanted to do and what I felt Jesus Christ wanted me to do. During those two years, while the conviction grew deeper, I said nothing to anyone about it. One of the reasons that I did not want to preach was that I saw how the average church member treated the pastor. He was underpaid, underfed, and underclothed by the congregation, and very little appreciated. I grew up as a young lad believing that the church ought to take care of her pastor, and therefore, I felt that if this is the way the church is going to treat her pastor, I won't have any part of it. Yet, on the other hand, I always felt that I had to work for God, even though I didn't want to preach. I saw and believed that souls are dying and going to hell, and I would talk to everyone I could about trusting Jesus as his Saviour. Wherever I saw a person, the first thought that came to my mind was, "Is he saved? Does he know Jesus?" and I felt honor bound to talk to him about his soul's welfare.
As this conviction that I must preach deepened, I came to the place that I couldn't sleep: I couldn't rest. My mind was on nothing else but that I had to preach. One Saturday night, I went to prayer meeting at the old church building with my Grandfather Shelton. I was the only one of my family who went that night, and when I returned home, everyone was asleep. I dressed for bed and, as it was my custom, knelt by the side of my bed and prayed. That night I said, "Jesus, I'll do what You want me to do. I surrender to preach." I could stand the burden no longer. When I surrendered, the whole northeast corner of my room lit up with such a brilliant light. My bedroom was at the south of the old country home, and my bedstead was in the northeast corner. When that light appeared, it grew brighter and brighter until I could see nothing but blinding light. I could not say a word. My body seemed to be as light as a feather, and I was caught in that ecstatic rapture of that spirit, which, I now know, was transformed into an "angel of light." How long I remained in that condition, I do not know, but I remember that the burden left me and there came such a peace and joy in my life that I had never known. Time has not erased that memory. As I sit here in my office fifty years later, the memory of that experience is just as vivid as if it happened only yesterday. The light finally disappeared, and I went to bed. I lay there in the rapture of that experience for ever so long and then fell asleep and slept the sleep of a little child that is rocked in its mother's arms. When day dawned, there was still that joy and happiness; and I lived the entire day in that ecstatic rapture, and walking in the field after dinner, I again saw that light brighter than the noonday sun. During the next two years that light appeared to me several times, and it was always brighter than the sun.
I did not know it then, but I know it now, that that call and surrender to preach was satanic. I do not know how much Satan knows of the future, but God permitted him to lead me into these experiences, because He could not have prepared me for this hour in any other way. I would not be able to draw the line of demarcation between the true and the false, between the work of the Holy Spirit and Satan working as an angel of light in the mind of an individual. Let me say again, that call and surrender to preach was satanic to the core, but it was just as real as reality can be. Now, let's face this eternal fact: God does not call a man to preach in such a manner. I have talked with many preachers who have related similar experiences of their call to salvation and their call to the ministry. Always their call to the ministry stands out above everything else, above salvation and the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ as a Substitute for their guilty soul. There are literally hundreds of preachers who base their call to the ministry on some experience or vision, or on some voice or some light. Let me emphasize it again: this is NOT God's way of calling His servants into the ministry.
Before we go farther into our study, let's see what God's Word says about the Lord calling His servants in Matt. 9:38, "Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest." That expression, "send forth," means "You pray with Me, and I will THRUST laborers into My harvest. I will send them forth with such a command that they can't refuse." Now you listen! When you hear an individual tell you that he fought the ministry so many years, and that he knew he ought to preach, that God was calling him to preach, but he fought it and rebelled against it, you put it down, HE IS NOT CALLED BY GOD TO PREACH. This is satanic! All of that is based upon the wrong concept of salvation. If you will turn to the sixth chapter of Isaiah, you will notice that just as soon as God saved that prophet and sent forth the call, saying, "Who will go for us?" Isaiah rose to his feet and said, "Lord, here am I; send me." When the Lord Jesus Christ walked by the Sea of Galilee and called Andrew and Peter, James and John, the Scripture says that they left their nets IMMEDIATELY and followed Him. When He passed by the receipt of custom, and, called Matthew, the old tax collector wound up his business and left IMMEDIATELY to follow the Lord. Let me say again, all of this false concept of the call to the Gospel ministry is based upon a false notion of salvation.
Now, I want you to get this fact settled in your heart and mind: when the Holy Spirit breaks a sinner down and lets him see himself as a lost, hell-deserving sinner and brings that sinner to a complete, absolute, irresistible surrender at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ, crying for mercy, and He gives him faith to lay hold of Christ when He is revealed to that sinner's heart, all that sinner's resistance is gone! Then if God calls that saint to preach, he'll never refuse Him. He'll never fight Him. He'll never delay. He will rise up and go immediately because the demand to preach comes with such a clear call, and he knows that his Father is speaking. He surrenders immediately, saying, "Lord, here am I; send me." Do you see, my friend, how the great grace of God resting upon an old hell-deserving sinner breaks him completely, and he is ready to do anything that the Lord calls upon him to do, and he won't fight his Lord? Therefore, anybody who does fight Him is not saved, and that is proof that he is not called to the ministry!
Let me state right here, there is no type of experience that can ever come to the heart of a born again believer, before or after he is saved, that will ever eclipse or dim his salvation in Christ. The deliverance from sin, and its consequences, in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour is the greatest thing that ever happens to an individual. Then to be molded into the image of Christ by sanctification in Christ is an amazement of the grace of God. Therefore, a man's call to the ministry will not eclipse his salvation in Christ; you might say, it is the outgrowth of redemption in Christ. It is God THRUSTING FORTH that born again believer into the Gospel ministry of preaching His Word and declaring the whole counsel of God. Also, let's face this fact: God never calls a man to misrepresent Him. Therefore, He never calls an unsaved man to preach; and a man who is called to the Gospel ministry will not misrepresent God.
Throughout the early years of my life, up to the time that God saved me, I was a strict Arminian – that is, a free-willer – and I knew nothing but an empty religious profession of faith in Christ. I had a zeal, but not according to knowledge (Rom.10:2). My life was devoted to a purpose; that was to bring individuals out on a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. I had a zeal to preach, and wherever I saw a crowd of people on the street corner, on the roadside, or in the market place, under the tent, under brush arbors, and in the church building I wanted to preach the Word to them and lead them into a profession of faith in Christ. This was because I believed with all my heart that this was the way of salvation. Beneath this empty profession my whole life was lived in the realm of satanic influence and was directed by voices, lights, and visions of the face of Jesus according to the so-called pictures of Christ that one sees in Bibles and on the walls of our homes. All the time I believed that I was saved, yet beneath all that was an intense hunger and search for God. There was an emptiness in my heart religiously that was not satisfied. All these experiences were real to me. They actually happened to me, but now I know they were produced by Satan as an "angel of light," according to II Cor.11:13-15, and were not given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven. There is a common belief among people – preachers and otherwise – that all religious experiences are of the Lord; they do not realize that Satan lives in the realm of religion and moves upon the minds of individuals as an angel of light. During these early years I taught Sunday School classes, led groups of young people, led song services, led prayer meetings; in other words, I took a regular part in church activities, which were the delight of my heart and life.