I grew up listening to people’s Christian testimonies whenever I could.
Whether it was hearing from a man freed from a life of addiction at a youth retreat, listening to a sweaty preacher tell how God transformed their life, reading books like The Cross and the Switchblade, or hearing about people who met Christ in dreams, I held on to every word. The more extreme the better.
And I still love hearing or seeing accounts of God radically changing people’s lives. Testimonies remind me of the power of God’s grace. They comfort me as I see again that where one finds themselves in a single moment is not where they have to end up. They narrate the Christian story of repentance, faith, and discipleship with concrete people in history.
As I’ve grown older, I no longer find only extreme testimonies compelling. Hearing from someone who was raised in the church and, like myself, never did lines of cocaine off of a bathroom sink also helps reveal God’s grace to me. In these stories, God seems quieter — almost like a still small voice rather than a consuming fire. Yet, God seems just as powerful. Various testimonies help paint a more full picture of how God may operate in the world.
When I came across the testimony below of my great, great, great, great uncle, Rev. Nicholas Talley, I couldn’t help but be encouraged by a hard lesson that I’m slowly learning in ministry: We are all co-workers in God’s service. Some plant seeds. Some water them. And God makes them all grow (1 Corinthians 3).
At times in ministry I’m tempted to want to see immediate fruit from my efforts. But the number of Christians who touched Nicholas’ life before he became a Christian reminds me that God employs all of our efforts for the sake of the Kingdom, whether we can see it or not.
I’ve made some grammar changes, spelling changes, and emphases in the text below to the document that Rev. Talley wrote in 1857.
His testimony begins in 1803 when he was eleven years old.
A bright moonlight night [February 15, 1803], my Father was very ill, hope of surviving gone, he communicated to Mother his peaceful state of mind in view of Eternity just before him.
They were both of the Methodist Episcopal Church where I had heard preaching for years, such men as Hope Hull, Britton Capel, Benjamin Blanton, Isaiah Randel & Bishop Whatcoat, Stith Meed.
The ground was covered with snow.
I retired to the field or garden to meditate alone and to pray about 10:00. I kneeled down in the snow and prayed the best I could that God would spare my Father as a guide and protector in this wicked world, but if He saw most for glory to take him then, that God would be my Father and care for me, Mother & Brothers.
And while I thus prayed my soul seemed melted in ecstasy, though deeply impressed with a voice from heaven – your Father will die but I will be a Father, a God, and guide unto you.
The moon, the stars, and the Heavens all seemed glorious to me. Here was my first knowledge of the answer of my prayers.
I was happy but suppressed my feelings all in sorrow and tears. I feared to divulge my feelings lest I should be thought an enthusiast.
In 1806, my fifteenth year, I entered as a clerk in D. & B. Sanford’s store with my Brother Alexander, who embraced religion two years after, much persecuted as the Methodists were for everything vile.
A change of heart by the power of the Holy Ghost was unphilosophical. He soon entered the Ministry where he lived until death called him above. I remained for near four years in the store, became worldly like other young men and great danger of bad habits. My Mother would have me to return home, quitting the store.
I became attached to a young man who was a Methodist, and worked at his trade as a Coach Maker near my Mother, where I spent most of my time, and being ambitious and fond of the young men of the shop who sung well and often when at work, joining in the different parts of music, I could soon work as well as they could.
Lovick Pierce had married Col. Foster’s daughter, he would visit us. I was very fond of him and the Rev. Joseph Tarpley, James Russell, Osburn Rogers and others of that day, but oh, my soul was not happy.
In the 5th of August 1810 I went with my Mother to Camp Meeting where she tented, called Burks camp ground, when under a persuasive exhortation of the Rev. Hope Hull, who had preached my father’s funeral years before I went in Sanford’s store, my heart became deeply affected.
I tried to pray but oh, the condemnation I felt I had sinned so against light and knowledge. I feared my case was a hopeless case.
At a late hour Sabbath night after Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, penitents were invited to come into that rural altar for prayer and there I felt a peace and comfort of soul such as I had felt on that beautiful moonlight night spoken of in childhood. I was happy in my Saviour’s love.
Rev. Nicholas Talley, 1791-1873, had four brothers who were also Methodist ministers. He was made an Elder in the SC Conference in 1816 where he spent his entire career. In those days, it included GA. In 62 years of ministry Nicholas served 22 as a Presiding Elder, 12 at a station church, 9 itinerating on circuits, 14 on missions, and 5 retired. He was a delegate to General Conference multiple times.
His testimony comes in a series of others.