A Baptist Pastor’s Shared Death Experience (1753)

This is an experience reported by a Particular Baptist in the American colonies during the eighteenth century. I deliver this third-hand, as it was recorded by a Baptist historian at the time, Morgan Edwards, and is reproduced by Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins in the recent book Baptists in America: A History (Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 27-28.

Philip James was a Pennsylvania native who became the first pastor of Welsh Neck Church in South Carolina in 1743. Ten years later, one of his children sickened and passed away. Overwhelmed by despair, James fell into some sort of coma. Upon his recovery, he related the following vision:

[M]y soul quitted my body [and] the resemblance of a man in black made towards me, and (frowning and chiding for wishing to die) took me up towards the sun, which filled me with fear. As I was ascending, a bright figure interposed and my black conductor was pushed off. The bright man took me by the hand and said, “We go this way,” pointing to the north. And as we ascended, I saw a company of angels and my child among them, (clothed in white and in the full stature of a man) sing with them as the company passed by us, whereupon my bright conductor said, “I am one of that company and must join them.” And as he quitted me I found myself sinking fast till I came to my body.

Kidd and Hankins make the following comment:

Edwards’s admiring account of James’s experience hints that this kind of spirit journey was acceptable among many early American Baptists, just as it was among American evangelicals more broadly.







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