A Preacher’s Repentance From Adulterous Remarriage – The Testimony of J. M. Humphrey

I was born June 30th, 1872, a few miles south of Memphis, Tenn., and spent the earlier part of my life in and about that section. At the age of nineteen I was married to a young lady of seventeen. She was then an excellent girl. About four years later we moved to Chicago, Ill., where we were both converted and sanctified, and lived a happy Christian life for some time. But as time passed my wife grew cold and indifferent, and finally renounced all religious scruples, and went into open sin and uncleanness to such an extent that I was forced to “put her away,” according to Matt. 5:32. However I remained unmarried, having been instructed by the Bible and my religious teachers that there were Bible grounds to put away the unclean party, but none whatever to remarry while she lived. So I believed and taught this for years, from the pulpit and through the press. But later on I read more largely on the subject and met many holy, devout men, as I went forth in the evangelistic work, who were more experienced both in Word and ministry, than I, and who believed there were Bible grounds for the innocent party to remarry under my circumstances, taking Matt. 19:9 for their authority. Also I saw in the discipline of all orthodox churches that they recognized the one ground, viz., Matt. 19:9.

So as I did not hold myself as any criterion, after weighing the matter in these different scales, I finally concluded that I was wrong, and my views on the subject were non-scriptural. So I publicly confessed my mistake, and accepted the general view of the Christian world — viz., one ground for the innocent party to remarry. Matt. 19:9. So as I was the innocent party, after living a single life for seven years, I felt as clear as heaven to take a second wife — basing my foundation on Matt. 19:9. However, some of my friends advised me different; but their advice came too late. But the very next day after the ceremony was performed, I felt strangely. I did not feel that sky-blue clearness. I felt a little smitten in spirit. However, I would not allow myself to feel under condemnation, for I had (as I thought) the Bible on my side. Hence, I concluded that it was only the enemy trying to torment me. However, the Lord was very tender and patient with me, and would bless and pour out His Spirit upon me, knowing I was ignorant of my mistake.

But as time passed by, this annoyance became a constant thing; so I would set myself apart for a few days of prayer and fasting; at which time my sky would clear up as bright as noon, and all was well; but when I would resume the former routine of life, things would darken up again. So this continued for about five months, in this alternate way. However, I was as honest as an angel in the matter, believing I had God’s highest approval in the step I had taken. But after the first five months of our married life, the thing became a real doubt; so I resolved to set myself apart by prayer and as much fasting as I deemed prudent, for I wanted to know from God.

First: if I had really made a mistake, — and if there were really no grounds for divorce-marriages.

Second: I wanted to know (if it was wrong) what step to take to get out of it, as it would no doubt be a great stumbling block to the unsaved.

However, I was fully determined to obey God in spite of men or devil, even at the loss of all things, even life itself. So we lived a separate life, for eighteen months, waiting for the clear, unmistakable mind of God. However, but little of my time was spent at home, as I was engaged in evangelistic work, with the blessing of God wonderfully upon my soul.

We read in Job 33:14-18 these words, “God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction… He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.” Truly, the Lord has verified this in my case, as He has used this special method (together with the Word) of warning, instructing and reproving me ever since I was saved.

I confess, all visions and dreams are not to be depended upon, yet God has a way of making one know when He is speaking. So I here give the reader, in substance, what God said to me, or in other words, some methods He used by dreams and visions to make me know I was wrong in my divorce-marriage. I do not force it upon anyone, I only relate it, and let you take it for what it is worth. It is to be remembered, I did not receive all of these in one night, or in one month, but from time to time, during a period of eighteen months, and upward.

1. On the night of April 13th, 1907, the Spirit came to me in a dream or vision, in the form of an eminent preacher, who lives an exceptionally holy life, (however, I do not know his views on this subject), and quoted clearly and distinctly two passages of Scripture. The first one is found in Isa. 52:11, “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” The next passage is found in II Cor. 7:1, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” These came, not as other flighty dreams, but were stamped on my heart and mind by the invincible power of the Spirit. Hence, I can never forget them.

2. On September 28th, 1907, in my dream I stood on the sidewalk of a solitary street. I saw no one for miles around. But suddenly a being from another world descended and sat on the top of a building just across the street from where I stood, and began talking in loud, clear, thrilling and awful words, such as filled me with terror, for they seemed not only words, but stuck fast in my soul like arrows. He spake as follows:

“There is someone in this community rejecting God-given light, and if they do not stop, God is going to send them to hell forever. He has sent me to warn them. Now you may do as you please about this matter. I have warned you, so good-bye!”

After he was through speaking, he was transformed into the likeness of a large bird, and ascended into the sky. Immediately I awoke, filled with confusion, terror and conviction, beyond the power of language to describe. I related it to my wife, and told her that God was not pleased with our marriage. But she did not seem to see it in that light, hence the sad news almost broke her heart. So I did not leave her then, as I wanted to be sure it was God talking, and not the enemy. So I decided to pray for God to make it clearer still. However, we continued to live clean and separate.

3. Another night I saw in my dream a large white boat at sea, (which I believe represented the safe Bible way) but I had left this boat, and taken a little narrow skiff (which I believe represented that one isolated passage of Scripture, Matt. 19:9, which is the only passage in the Bible that seems to give grounds for divorce-marriage) and was rapidly drifting away from the large lifeboat. And as I drifted, my little boat became uncontrollable and rapidly leaped on, over the angry, turbulent waves, until it gradually began to sink, and I went down to a watery grave. I awoke with a sense of God’s displeasure on divorce-marriages beyond the power of description. But as I wanted to be sure, and not make another mistake, I decided to still keep the matter before God, so as to obtain His clear, unmistakable leading.

I want to say right here, strange as it may seem, God kept His blessing on my soul, for He knew I wanted to know His will, and would do it. Hence the patience He had with me, in convincing me of the wrongness of this matter, was something marvelous. The great trouble was this, it was such a legalized sin, among almost all classes, even the strictest and most devout people of earth (with a few exceptions), that it was difficult to renounce and go against their smooth words and plausible arguments on the subject. I plainly saw if I took the way God was holding up I would have to take a dead stand against the majority of preachers and holiness teachers of our day. Another thing that made it so difficult to take the way the Spirit was holding up was I did not want to be a “turncoat,” i. e., I had known this light on the divorce subject before, and was led by shallow teachers to renounce it; but God showed me, notwithstanding that fact, I had to take His clear, uncompromising way, no matter what men or devils would say. It is better to turn a thousand times and be right, than never turn and be wrong.

4. Another night, in my dream, I saw myself joined arms with my second wife, walking down a wide brimstone road in hell, and as we passed a large vestibule I saw throngs of voluptuous men all dressed in black, and wearing silk hats. They were all keeping time to a band of music, and waving college banners, and singing this chorus:

“In hell at last! In hell at last!
And earth and all her pleasures past.
In hell at last! In hell at last:
For aye and aye the die is cast.”

And in front of these men were about a dozen large black swine (emblems of filth and uncleanness). And they were flopping their ears and cringing to the music. In this, God showed me that I had followed the sensual, unclean, flesh-indulging multitudes of earth, into this divorce-marriage business. At this I awoke with that awful picture burning in my brain, and that hellish music ringing in my ears.

But as it meant so much to make another public confession, and say I had made a mistake by re-marrying, while my former wife lived, I thought perhaps these were only dreams, and I had better pray some more before I made, what seemed such a fatal step. So I decided to spend some more days in fasting, and some more all-nights in prayer before God, to know the unmistakable truth about this matter.

5. One day, as I stood all alone in the parlor of a friend’s house, in an eastern city, (while contemplating taking up this awful cross) it seemed as though a glorified spirit descended, and sang the following chorus to me. ( I never heard the words or the tune until then):

“Heaven is cheap at any cost,
Do gain its ports or all is lost;
For earthly gain is only dross
And naught’s of value but the cross.”

And with this song there seemed to come volleys of exhortations from Wesley, Fletcher, Pollock and millions of glorified saints saying to me, “Gain heaven’s port at any cost:”

For several days afterward, an inexpressible heavenly melting was upon me, and that angelic song was ringing in my ears. Since then I have had the song put to music, and put into our song book, “Revival Fire In Song.” It can be had at our office for fifteen cents.

After this invincible message I was not only convinced that the divorce-marriage was wrong, but also thoroughly convinced that we had to separate fully. So we began to plan and work to that end. However, we kept praying for still clearer evidence so that in after years there would be nothing to regret over taking this step of separation. Of course, after many of our friends and brethren heard that we had decided to separate, they came to us, by letter or in presence, and tried to reason us out of our conviction, etc., by defining what divorces meant, and by saying what Jesus must have meant, etc. They meant well, but their arguments were too shallow to build on for eternity. We saw one woman die in this divorce trap. She was a good Christian woman, and professed holiness too, but we have never seen such a distressed, forlorn, God-forsaken looking being before or since.

O, friends! we cannot afford to take any doubtful position in regard to our eternal welfare. Preachers and people can reason us on to a false track, and into hell, but they cannot reason us out.

So my advice to everyone is, take the clearest track to heaven. Of course it may be the most unpopular, and may bring lots of persecution, but after all, it is the safest way to the pearly gates.

6. One night, in my dream, two preachers came to me (one I thought was St. Paul). And as they stood near me, the other preacher read to me from a paper which he held in his hand the following in substance: “You would be all right if it were not for that divorce-marriage.” At this they disappeared, and I awoke with these awful words ringing in my ear: “You would be all right if it were not for that divorce-marriage.” And while lying there thinking upon these awful words, a strange feeling seized me, as if it was death. I was conscious, but could not speak or move; and as I struggled and made efforts to free myself, I found something holding me fast: and God seemed to put this question at me: “How would you like for this to be death, and you tied up in that divorce-marriage?” As I lay there and struggled all that I could see, filling the whole horizon of my mind, was, “That divorce-marriage.” From this, God caused me to see that a soul could not afford to go to their death-bed with the least conviction on their heart, or a shadow of a doubt in their experience.

7. The following night in my dream I was standing in a large yard all alone; and while thus standing, it seemed that God was so angry with me because of my divorce-marriage, that a great stream of lightning swept down from heaven and ran on the ground to meet me, in thousands of fiery spangles. It picked me up literally, and carried me about thirty feet to a large heap of fire burning on the ground, and held me fast in those flames. When I awoke, I still seemed to be on fire. Even the bed seemed hot with those wrathful flames. And as I was awakening, I heard these words out of that avalanche of lightning, “Prepare to meet thy God.” This occurred while I was away in another town. I went home and told my wife, and we mutually agreed to separate.

Since we did so, I feel as clear as an angel. And I am fully convinced that divorce-marriages are wrong; no matter if every preacher in the universe says they are not. I have been in hell (so to speak) for almost two years on account of listening to false teachers. O friend! don’t be deceived by any preacher or teacher! It is wrong beyond all shadow of doubt! If I had the voice of an archangel I would sound it from pole to pole. I came near losing my soul by giving ear to these false teachers, rather than to God! Of course, many of them are good, well-meaning Christian men, but they are only giving their opinions, and also what that isolated passage in Matt. 19:9 seems to mean. But I have been caught in the snare of the thing, and God has been hurling light and conviction on my soul for nearly two years, both night and day, making me know and feel that the thing is wrong. I am not writing what I think, but what I positively know; and am willing to seal this testimony with my blood. I know whereof I speak. And no matter how conferences or church disciplines may rock the conscience of the people to sleep telling them they can marry while their husbands or wives live; they are wrong, and the souls whom they are deceiving will find it out when eternity is unveiled, if not before. I thank God that He kept conviction and light streaming from heaven on my soul until I walked in it, in spite of all the false comforters, who were crying, Peace: Peace: when there was no peace; but dread, fear and awful uncertainty.

Now, precious eternity-bound friend, will you take the advice of one who has acted the fool, and never, never enter into a divorce-marriage under any circumstances? And if you are now in one, and love your soul, and want to gain heaven, do get out of it: even at the cost of all things, or else you will regret it throughout all eternity.

J. M. Humphrey