At the age of 18, Leland states the following, most interesting experience in his life. Soon after this, he heard the message of the Gospel preached by a young preacher, Elhanan Winchester.
“As my father had no library, and I was fond of reading, the Bible was my best companion . . . I had no thought that I myself was right, but believed that some great thing must be done for me (I did not know what), or I could not be saved . . . At times I had awful horrors of conscience, when death, judgment and the world to come arrested my attention; but these horrors did not reform me from vice nor turn me to the Lord. I was almost in all evil, full of vanity, exceedingly attached to frolicking and foolish wickedness. When I reflect on the follies of my youth, the question of Paul involuntarily rises in my heart; “What fruits had you then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” In this course I continued until I was eighteen years old.”
It is most interesting to read how the Spirit of God was convicting this man of his need of a Savior. As John Leland reads the Bible, the Spirit is using The Word of God to convict him of his ways and cause him to face reality – even while he is living the delusional dream of worldliness!
Leland continues . . .
“In the summer of 1772, I met with one thing singular. 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.” The last time I heard those sounds, I stood amazed; and turning my eyes up to the heavens, it seemed that there was a work of more weight than a mountain, which I had yet to perform.
Soon after this, I cannot tell how or why, a conviction took place in my mind, that all below the sun could not satisfy or tranquilize the mind.
The world and all that was in it appeared of small consequence. And without any unusual 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.
The Lord continues His work in Leland’s heart . . .
“About this time, there was an evening frolic in the neighborhood, and I concluded to go to see whether there was delight in it or not; and if not, to find out the cause of its death in my mind. Accordingly I went, but found nothing to please, but everything to disgust.”
Then God sends His messenger to proclaim the Gospel . . .
‘At this time, a young preacher (Elhanan Winchester), came into Grafton, and preached and prayed to the astonishment of the people; and a young woman, it was said, was converted. When I heard the report, it greatly effected me, for I had been at many dances with her.”
Again John Leland hears the preaching of the Word and this time an acquaintance saved by God’s grace . . .
“After a few weeks, in the month of September, Mr. Winchester came to Grafton again. I heard of it on Saturday evening, and concluded that I would read the Bible that evening, and attend meeting the following Sunday, and be converted like Priscilla, (for that was the name of the young woman). When I went to meeting, I heard the man preach, and while he was preaching, something kept answering in my breast, yes, yes, yes, it is so. After he had done, I question whether all the men in the world could have convinced me that it was not the truth. After public service was over, the people retired to the water, where Priscilla was baptized. 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.”
After seeing the change essential to salvation, John Leland then comes to some important conclusions . . .
“1st. That I must be deeply convicted of sin, greatly borne down under the weight of it, and heartily repent of it. This led me to pray much for conviction, read the threatenings of God to alarm myself, and study to make sin look horrid.
2dly. That if ever I was converted, I should know it as distinctly as if 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. This caused me to think light of any pleasing views, which sometimes would break into my mind, how God could pardon sinners for the sake of the Mediator. All was nothing to me, without I could be converted in the way which I laid out, and know for certain that I was born of God.
3dly. That whenever I should be enabled to believe in Jesus, I should see him as plainly as I could see an object of sense. While waiting and hoping for these things, (some of which I have never yet seen or felt), my mind was led to the following views and exercises:
First. To see the extent and purity of, the holy law: That it was the perfect rule of eternal right, which arose from the relations that exist between God and man, and between man and man; that it will remain unalterable while the perfections of God and the faculties of men exist, and that the least deviation from this rule is sin.
Secondly. By looking into the law, as a clear glass, to see my own weakness and wickedness. Here,I found myself as incompetent to repent and believe in Jesus, as I was to keep the whole law. Never was a poor creature more perplexed with a hard, unyielding heart, and a corrupt nature, than I was. I often compared my heart to a spring of water, rising up against God and godliness.
Thirdly. To view the justice of God in my condemnation. Never did the benevolence of God appear more pleasant to me than justice did. I was not willing to be damned; but thought, if damnation must be my lot, it would be some relief to my mind that God would be just.
Fourthly. To discover the sufficiency of a Mediator. For a number of months before I had a settled hope of my interest in Christ, the plan of atonement, by the blood of the Lamb, appeared to me as plain as ever it has since. Once, I remember to have broke out thus, when walking in the road: “O what a complete Saviour is Jesus, every way suited to my needs: I can be saved no other way — I do not wish to be saved any other way — but fear I shall never be saved in that way.”
One morning, about daybreak, as I was musing on my bed, upon this text, “After ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” it struck my mind that souls first believed before they were sealed; on which conclusion, the following words rushed into my mind, as if they had been spoken by some other, “Ye are already sealed unto the day of redemption.” If so, said I to myself, then surely I am converted. But as I had never passed through stages of distress equal to some others, nor equal to what I supposed an essential pre-requisite to conversion, I could not believe for myself. And yet the words continued to run in my mind, “Ye are already sealed unto the day of redemption.”
Leland wrestles with the fact and assurance of his salvation
One morning, about day-break, as I was musing on my bed, upon this text, “After ye believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” it struck my mind that souls first believed before they were sealed ; on which conclusion, the following words rushed into my mind, as if they had been spoken by some other, ” Ye are already sealed unto the day of redemption.” If so, said I to myself, then surely I am converted. But as I had never passed through stages of distress equal to some others, nor equal to what I supposed an essential pre-requisite to conversion, I could not believe for myself. And yet the words continued to run in my mind, “Ye are already sealed unto the day of redemption.”
Still not satisfied and completely assured of his salvation, Leland continues to search for a full affirmation of his salvation.
“My desire was to be searched and not deceived. I spent nearly a whole day, as I was going a little journey, praying in David’s words, “Search me, O God, and try me, and know if there be any evil in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The night following, I dreamed that I must read Psalm xxxii. 8, which I did as soon as I awoke. The words are, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go. I will guide thee with mine eye.” My heart was greatly — attached to the Holy Scripture. I have not yet forgot the burning desire the the mind of God, contained in his word. I would read — then pray — then read and pray again, etc., that I might know the truth as it is in Jesus.
Leland gets his full assurance of Salvation
“One evening, as I was walking the road alone, I was greatly cast down, and expressed myself thus: “I am not a Christian; I have never been convicted and converted like others, who are true saints. The Devil shall deceive me with false hopes no longer. I will never pretend to religion, until I know that I am born of God!” These words I spoke aloud; but immediately the words of Peter rushed into my mind, with great energy,
“I know not the man.” These words dashed my conclusion and resolution to atoms in a moment. It was a shock to the centre of my heart. From that day to this minute, which is a term of forty-six years, amidst all the doubts, darkness, troubles and temptations that I have had, I have never said that I knew not Christ, or that I was unconverted.”
John Leland Baptized June 1, 1774
“The first of June, 1774, Elder Noah Alden, of Bellingham, came to Northbridge, and baptized seven others and myself.”