A few years after I became a helpless invalid, I was somewhat wrought upon by the Spirit of God, but had no advice as to what I should do. I joined the M. E. Church on probation, although I was yet unsaved. The minister who received me into the church, did not inquire whether I was saved or not, nor did he ask about my spiritual welfare.
In my nineteenth year I was convicted of my sins, after the following circumstance: I was having a quarrel with one of my younger brothers. We were both high-spirited and each wanted to have his own way. While the quarrel was in progress, Mother came on the scene, and what she heard was enough to make her heart ache. |Mary, why don't you set a better example?| |Mother,| I said, |he commenced on me first. If you make him behave himself, I will behave.| |Mary, I am afraid you children will never stop your quarreling until you land in perdition; and if I were out of the way, you would soon be there. You act just as if you wanted me out of the way.| I saw her standing there as pale as a corpse with the big tears rolling down her face. She was always pale in those days. I said, |Mother, don't break my heart.| |Mary,| said she, |you broke my heart first.| |Mother, won't you forgive me?| |Yes,| she answered, |I forgive you; but there is one higher than I whom you have offended, and you will have to ask his forgiveness.|
Up to that time I was not under conviction, but the Lord now began to answer the prayer of my oldest brother, who had been praying for my conviction. That same evening I went into the garden, and earnestly asked the Lord to convict me of my sins. I remember now that he had convicted me in the past but that I had resisted until conviction left me. I said to the Lord, |I will not fight conviction now if it kills me right on the spot.| The Lord took me at my word; he knew I meant what I said with all my heart. I arose from my knees, and walked toward the house, with such a deep realization of God's displeasure on my lost soul that it seemed as if the earth would open and swallow me up. I shall never forget that awful experience. I think I fully comprehended God's displeasure against rebellious souls, but in his wrath he remembered mercy, and I found myself seeking God with all my heart. I could not weep, but my heart was sincere and deeply determined to seek God until I should know that I was saved.
I did not find the Lord at once and the enemy brought discouragement against my soul. I was just about to come to the conclusion that I would seek God only a week, and that if I did not find him then I would quit. But as I walked through the front room, I noticed an old Methodist hymn-book lying on the stand. I opened it and as God would have it, my eyes fell on these lines: |And will you basely to the tempter yield?| Going to the kitchen where Mother was washing, I said, |Mother, there is a hymn in this book that ought to be torn out.| She said, |Why, Mary?| After I had read the line to her she said, |Mary, can't you adopt the next line as yours? 'No, in the strength of Jesus, no, I never will give up my shield.'| I decided then and there to seek God until the day of my death, or until I found him.
My oldest brother and I went to prayer. He asked me to pray, but all I have ever remembered saying is, |Lord have mercy on me. Lord hear me.| He said, |Mary, the Lord does have mercy on you and the Lord does hear you, or you could not have prayed as you have been praying.| He asked me whether I was willing to live or die for the Lord; and I said, |I am willing to live, but I am not willing to die in this condition,| He replied, |All the Lord wants is your will. He will not let you die in this condition when you want to get saved.| But I still persisted that I wasn't willing to die in that condition.
Then the enemy tried to bring confusion upon me. The burden of my guilt was all gone and the devil suggested that I was worse than I had thought, that my heart was so hard I could not mourn for my sins any more. Howbeit, the dear Lord came to my rescue. He reminded me that my repentance was genuine, and therefore accepted by him; and that all he required of me was to exercise faith in his promises, and that if I could not do that immediately, I could begin to quote his word, |Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.| I kept repeating that declaration and prayer all day long and until late in the afternoon.
I got hold of a little tract in which God's promises were simplified; for instance, |He is our light in darkness; our wisdom in ignorance; our counsellor in perplexity.| I said, |Lord, I am perplexed: the burden of guilt is gone and I can't mourn any more, but I can't say that I am saved.| Mother had said that the Lord had shown her that she was saved, and I felt sure that as God is no respecter of persons, he must show me that I was saved too. I could not be satisfied short of that; so I said, |Lord, I take thee as my counsellor in perplexity.| Then I repeated, |Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.| Before the sentence had dropped from my lips, I said, |Lord, I know; Lord, I know.|
I can not tell you how happy I was. I arose from my knees, started out of my chamber and to my surprise met the brother with whom I had quarreled. |O Oliver,| I said, |the Lord has had mercy on me and saved me.| I shall never forget that day. It was May 3, 1871.
Up to that time I had not opened my heart to my father concerning my soul's condition and needs, as he was not living a satisfactory life himself, but when I went to the supper table, I was so happy that I said, |O Father, help me praise the Lord.| Not knowing how my soul had been longing for God and a new life, he said, |Mary, what has broken loose?| I answered, |I can't praise Him enough; I want you to help me praise him.| I was too happy to eat supper, and so went out into the yard and walked up and down praising the Lord to my soul's content.
I might say here, it was not fear of everlasting punishment that caused me to seek God, but a good faithful mother's love. I did not want to grieve her heart and as I could not keep from doing so without help from above, I sought salvation with this end in view. At this time there came very forcibly to me the scripture about Mary's anointing the Lord before his burial. I decided that she should be my example. I would give Mother some of the flowers of my experience, and not wait until after she was dead and buried. Had I waited to strew flowers over her grave, I would have expected to hear people say, |She is nothing but a hypocrite. She did not treat her mother right while she was living, and now she is trying to make a show.| Let us take a lesson from Mary of old -- give flowers to the living; but if we have no flowers, let us see to it that we do not give thorns. It was thorns that the enemies of Christ placed upon his brow in mockery.
Later I found that there was something in me that did not want to treat Mother just right -- a disposition arising in my heart to disobey her. I felt that this grieved the Lord; and I went and asked him to forgive me. One day I said, |Mother, I am going to set down on paper a record of every day that I keep from getting mad.| As I had a very high temper, Mother thought it very foolish for me to undertake such a record. Nevertheless, day after day went by in which I did not become angry, until a month had elapsed; I had not been angry for a month.
Just a month after I was saved, my oldest brother, who was a minister, came with a message on the subject of sanctification. He explained the doctrine to Mother and me and showed us our privilege of attaining to this grace. Before noon of that day we made a complete consecration for time and for eternity, grasped the promises, and both of us received the experience. I am sure that my consecration was made in great ignorance; but the Lord understood that I was sincere, and graciously granted me the experience. When I received the sanctifying grace, I did not think of demonstration, or of great feeling, or of anything of that kind: I simply consecrated all a living sacrifice, and reckoned myself dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God through our Lord Jesus Christ. I met the conditions and believed that the work was done.
Not until the tempter came, did I fully realize what God had done in sanctifying me. That evening the devil tested me in such a way that had there been any of the old Adam in me, it would have been stirred up; but, thank God! the devil found nothing to work upon. God had removed that depraved nature, the sin-principle inherited from the fall of Adam. As there was nothing but God's glory in my soul, nothing but glory could bubble up, no matter how severe the temptation. I felt so secure -- just as if I were out in mid-ocean upon a solid rock, the waves dashing all around me, but powerless to disturb my security and the peace of my soul.
Soon after I was sanctified, I testified to my experience, in a Methodist quarterly meeting. The presiding elder made fun of me: he said, |The testimonies of those that claim to be sanctified, sound just like the tones of an old cracked cow-bell. There was only one good testimony made this evening; and that was by one who did not profess sanctification.| My only persecution at home came from a neighbor who made fun of my prayers. Her oft-repeated expression was, |Pray like old Mary Cole.| Later when her grandchild lay dying, she called on me to pray four times within twenty-four hours. After the child was dead, she said she was hurt because I did not pray for the child's healing, because she was sure that if I had done so the child would have lived.
A minister who came onto our circuit some time after this decided that those who had the experience of sanctification should not testify to it. He gave as his reason that he wanted to bring the people to a level in their experiences; in other words, he wanted to bring the sanctified ones down to lift the justified ones up, until they would all be on an equality in experience. Two sisters who were sanctified, came to me and said, |Sister Cole, we have come to the conclusion that we won't testify to sanctification this year, lest we offend the minister.| I replied, |If the minister is going to oppose sanctification, so much the more will I testify to it throughout the year.| I did so, and God wonderfully blessed me. These women stopped testifying to please the preacher; and before the year was out, they and the preacher were having trouble.
After I was sanctified, I was so happy and victorious in my soul, that I wanted to tell my experience to others. At one time I was talking to a lady old enough to be my grandmother, telling her how happy I was, and how I enjoyed the fulness of God's blessing. She seemed to appreciate my story greatly; but after I got through, the thought came to me that she would think that I felt myself important in trying to instruct one so much older than myself.
Although I did not know it at the time, this was the enemy whispering to me. I apologized to her for saying anything about my experience: |You must not get hurt at me because I have talked so to you, but I am very happy in the Lord.| Looking at me steadily she said, |You are not worth getting hurt over.| I saw the point. This was God's reproof. I learned my lesson; and so far as I know, I have never made an apology for what the Lord has done for me.