I am now in my seventieth year very much afflicted with a cancer in my left eye, which has been preying upon me for the last seventeen years and for the last eight or nine, has caused me to suffer, how much, no tongue can tell. Yet amid all these afflictions, I desire here to record that I know the Lord is good--his statutes are right and his judgments just.--Though poorly prepared, I now, at the solicitations of friends, will attempt to pen some of the exercises of mind that have made up a part of that earthly career that I am now so soon to close.
My father, John Provine, emigrated from North Carolina to Kentucky in the year 1789. Three years after he was killed by a kick from a horse. I was born March 30th, 1784, so that I was but eight years old when my father died. Though it has been many years ago, and I was quite young, yet I distinctly remember that death scene--how my father talked to the family about religion. When the elders of the church came to bid him a last farewell, he solemnly gave his family in charge to them, bidding them to visit the fatherless and widow, and see to it that his children be trained up in the fear of God. The children, consisting of three sons and four daughters, I being the youngest. and as was customary in the church then, was set apart for the ministry. I remember to have heard father, in his last counsel with mother, say to her, "You must try and educate our son John for the ministry." The impression then made on my mind has been as lasting as my years. And what influence my father's early solicitude had in determining my future life is not for me now to decide. In obedience to the request made, my mother sent me to a latin school then being taught in the neighborhood. While persuing my studies, mother (true to her trust) often took occasion to impress on my young mind the great subject of religion, and especially in her Sabbath evening talk with her children. The influence of those fire-side talks, the kind admonitions and gentle warnings that fell from a mother's lips sunk keep into my heart, and I doubt not contributed no little to prepare the way for the Holy Spirit to do its work.
And now when I recur to those boyhood days and those Sabbath evenings I can but lament that I have not followed more closely in the footsteps of a pious mother, and like her, been scrupulously exact in family religion. She did not seem to regard it so much a duty as a high and precious privilege to call around her the children she so dearly loved, and talk to them of Jesus--of that home in heaven where their father had gone. She not only explained to us the general principles of religion, but would give us the details as we would find them in practical life. Not simply the outer conduct of the christian was urged butshe gave special attention to the culture of our hearts. She learned us to pray in secret, and so impressed my own mind with this duty that for some time I attended to it punctually; and when I would become remiss, so educated was my conscience that I could not feel quiet if I did not redeem the lost time by a more frequent attendance to the duty on other days. So deceitful was my heart that I, like the Pharisee, consoled myself with the thought that I was doing my part very well, and was fast fitting myself to become a minister, and thus fulfill my father's will. In early life, I not only enjoyed the benefits of maternal instruction, but the family living near to a Presbyterian church, I was often taken to the house of God, where I frequently felt the keen pangs of conscience when listening to the words of truth that came from the sacred desk. Often was I made to feel the truth that I was far from being a christian. But I would quiet myself with a hasty resolve that I would do better in future. Communion seasons were peculiarly impressive to me. And now at this distant day I can call up those youthful feelings that would rend my bosom when I would see good old men and women--some with their children with streaming eyes and trembling limbs, approach the Lord's supper--those in whose piety I had every confidence. In looking on at this most awfully solemn scene, my heart would swell with emotion, and I wished I were a christian. Feeling aroused under such circumstances were not evervescent; they would abide with me for days; often at night, sleep would be driven far from me, while my mind would be busy with the thought "you are no christian, and should you die this night where would thy soul be found?" And thus would I be robbed of all my fancied security that I would sometimes indulge when thinking about preparing to be a minister. Thus days and months passed by until the great revival reached our country. The memorable camp-meeting at Cane Ridge came on; some of the family attended and brought the news home. The next Sabbath a camp-meeting was appointed at our church, of which Rev. Mr. Huston was pastor. A pulpit was erected in a grove hard by the church. Friday came--the people assembled, but no minister from a distance had made his appearance. All felt disappointed--the good old church members feared for the result--the pastor had to preach, feeling much embarassed--appointed meeting at candlelighting, still hoping that some of his brethren would arrive by that time. The candles were lighted, but no one came to his help. So humbled was our minister that he did not preach, but gave an exhortation. He said but little, but it was apparent to all he felt that the responsibilities were too great for him. Many sinners were here, and in a most fearful state--expectation was all alive--the preacher felt it, but knew his inability for the task. The elders appreciated his condition, and were keenly alive to the peculiar situation of the community, and as such the great damage that the church would sustain by a failure. This led them to look for help elsewhere. After the minister had finished his exhortation and sat down, an old man arose and as with the solemnity of eternity, addressed his neighbors and unconverted friends. His words, which were few and broken, did not fail in their object, for they were accompanied by the power of the Holy One to many hearts. Sinners who had come to the encampment to scoff were cut to the heart--many fell to the ground as dead men and in agony of soul cried for mercy. Among the anxious penitents was one of my own sisters. I looked on the scene, and as I gazed a sensation of uneasiness passed over me, after my sister obtained comfort she arose in the congregation to give expression to her pent up feelings. As I saw her, a timid, bashful, retiring girl, talking so boldly for her Master's cause, my spirit was overwhelmed, I could not stand and look upon her. My thoughts turned upon myself, and I felt all alone, my sister and some of my companions and left me. A fear came over me that I would be the subject of these convulsive feelings that had prostrated many of my friends. To avoid the humility and disgrace that I thought attended such exercises, I joined with some of my young friends in making sport of the exercises and persecuting the subjects of this wild excitement, we would make merry jests about what this that and the other young convert would happen to say when in the ecstacy of joy or in the agony of distress. Thus was my heart hardened through the deceitfulness of sin and the suggestions of Satan. The occasion passed by, many having tasted the power of redeeming love, but I more the child of the Devil than ever before. Time passed but poorly with me until the appointed time of the meeting at Silver Creek church arrived. I was there at the appointed time, the work of God began immediately, and progressed with rapidity. On saturday the minister arose and with unusual solemnity addressed the people, seriousness was seen in every countenance, when the sermon was ended the solemn benediction was pronounced, but the people did not seem inclined to leave their seats, but sat in silence and deep thought. I was standing off some distance from the congregation, and all alone, feeding upon the bitterness of my own sorrow. One of the Elders of our church saw me,--the thought of the dying request of my father prompted him to approach me, and with all the solicitude of one that cared for my soul, said, John your father has gone to the eternal world and you are left an orphan, I promised your father that I would talk to and advise you in regard to the religion of Jesus Christ, I have now come to discharge that duty. And let me tell you that it is hightime you were seeking your soul's salvation--come, delay no longer, come to Jesus--sinner as you are, and he will receive you. These words had sounded in my years before, but never till now did they goad my heart so deeply, my nerves gave way, my strength failed me, I could make no resistance, my mind became lost amid the turbulent feelings that heaved my bosom--how the hours passed by I have no recollection, as I was unconscious to all around me. The first thing that caught my attention away from myself was a sweet song, which some of the christians began to sing close by me, I arose up and just then resolved that I would seek Jesus until I should find him. The night and day following I often retired to pray--and as I then thought in earnest, I resolved to be the Lord's, and knew of no other way of fulfilling my resolve but by ceasing from sin and doing all the law requires. For twelve long months I spent my fruitless endeavors in trying to come up to God's holy law--I was wedded to the covenant of works--I resolved that I would double my diligence and when I had prayed once I would pray twice, and surely I would become prepared to meet Christ as my saviour. But alas for my hopes of success, in pace of preparing myself for Christ, every examination that I made of my heart I was forced to the humiliating confession that I was only accumulating guilt upon my already too numerous transgressions. Despair was past taking hold upon me, and the torments of the lost seemed to be my only portion. But how could I bear to see my God remove--the thought was too full horror, I resolved that if I should be finally banished I would go from the mercy seat with prayer to God for deliverance. Occasionally during this gloomy period when I would attend church and hear the minister present the precious promises of the gospel my mind would claim them as suited to my condition, a momentary comfort would ensue--but only momentary for soon the thought would rush in, that I had no right to claim these promises. But finally at a prayer meeting appointed by one of the Elders, at my mothers dwelling, and during one of thesse good pious talks, for which he was characteristic, my burdened soul claimed the precious promises of the Gospel as he told them over in his artless way. And ere I was conscious of what I was doing I was on my feet praising God.
That night I shall never forget, the circumstances are as fresh in memory as though they had transpired but yesterday. I have forgotten the day of the week, month, and even the year, but the time when I experienced the full flow of the christian's hope will lie fresh as long as memory retains any thing of the past for that scene, does not grow old with my years. I thought, then, that my mountain stood strong--that I should never be moved. But not many hours passed by before it was suggested by some evil spirit that all this is a vain delusion, a mere over-wrought sensibility--there was nothing real in it. I took shame to myself as well as deep mortification, for, thought I, you have made a false impression on the people, causing them to believe that I had found the pearl of great price, when indeed I had been grasping at a phantom. Thus early did my warfare begin, but not soon to end, for all along my pilgrimage have I been beset with the tempter's song but can say with David that although the afflictions of God's people are many, 'yet out of them all the Lord hath delivered me,' and this day I feel that I am a monument of the Lord's amazing mercy and long forbearance.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian Missionary. Volume 2, Number 9, September 1855, pages 198-202]
We began in the last number of the "Missionary" to publish and autobiographical sketch of the Rev. John Provine, with the intention of accompanying it with some explanatory remarks. The 'Missionary' is not the place to chronicle the names of the dead; but having obtained the simple narraative of a good man's life, written in so artless as way, we were struck with its faithfulness, and so illustrative is it of the christian character that it cannot be out of place in the 'Missionary.' For surely had all the readers of this unpretending sheet the spirit that held sway in this good man's bosom, the cause of Missions would not languish. And is it too much to indulge the hope that some young man whose eye may chance to light on this narrative, will have his heart turned to the great question of the ministry? Is it too much to hope that this precious relic, handed back to his friends from the very bosom of eternity, will be the means of stirring in some soul a kindred feeling to that which animated his bosom and so long sustained him amid the severe and protracted afflictions of seventeen long years? It may impart an interest to these sketches to state that they were written after the spirit had been tried in the fiery furnace of affliction--after that living had ceased to be desirable--it was written while he longed to depart and be with Christ--it was written, not for the world, but for the benefit of a few friends who knew him best and consequently loved him best. It may be proper to state one other fact. He was an unusually modest man and so strong was this feeling that he failed to record many facts that would tend to give him importance. He was a lowly man always esteeming others better than himself. Never in all his official relations did he manifest the least disposition to be the head of a party or the originator of any measure that would cause contention among his brethren. But to the biography itself the reader is most respectfully referred as containing the true marks of his character.
After making a profession of religion a new field was opened before me. Before, I had been living to and for myself. Now, I was the Lord's servant, and consequently I must be about my Master's business. To prepare myself for this service I was sent to the Rev. Samuel Finley's Latin School, and was classed with the now Rev. N. H. Hall, who is pastor of a church in Lexington, Ky. Soon after I became a student of Finley, the new light Stoneite or schismatic doctrines began to be preached in the vicinity of the Academy. My classmate, Hall, and myself, attended a Synodical meeting of the Presbyterian Church at Danville, Ky., at which time the five preachers who became the leaders of the New Light School broke off from Synod, and among them was our pastor, Rev. Mr. Houston. He persuaded Hall and myself to leave Mr. Finley's school and join the New Lights and place ourselves under the charge of Rev. Barton W. Stone. We took the advice given and left our school and went to see Stone who was at that time teaching on the north side of Kentucky river, in Bourbon county. With him we learned the Greek Grammar and New Testament. He was very untiring in his attempts to indoctrinate us into the new theology. He soon plunged me into mental troubles. He taught us to believe that our sins were not forgiven for Christ's sake, and that in our approaches to God in prayer, we were not to petition on the account of Christ's sufferings and death, but were only to ask in the name of Christ. I soon found that if this doctrine be true, I had no religion, as the atoning merits of the Savior was the only hope that such a worthless sinner as I should dare entertain. Yet his arguments were such as that I, in my ignorance, could not set aside. Troubles increased upon me and the deep waters overwhelmed my soul. In agony I often repaired to the grove but could not pray, for the conviction would rest down upon me that if sin was not forgiven for Christ's sake, there was no throne of grace for me for sure was I that, without the merits of another to recommend me, never could be admitted into God's holy presence. And now from this my advanced age, I can never look back to those early difficulties with out arriving at the same conclusion--that when this doctrine is preached and believed, I can see no chance for a poor sinner to be saved.
While in the distressed state of mind alluded to above, a pamphlet written by the Rev. John Campbell, fell into my hands. In this pamphlet I found a very candid and conclusive argument against the system of doctrine as taught by Stone, as well as a clear elucidation of the doctrine of grace. By the aid afforded I was again enabled to rejoice in the truth as it is found in God's word, and verified in my own experience. The next Spring I left Stone's school, but not to preach, as he advised, but to join another school. At this school I met with difficulties on the other hand--the doctrine of election and reprobation. I laid my troubles before Rev. Mr. Finley, who advised me to join Presbytery and take a regular couse in theology, after which all my difficulties would vanish. I could not see my way clear to join Presbytery, but came to Tennessee that I might more correctly understand of that which I had heard in regard to Cumberland Presbyterians. Before leaving Kentucky, I informed by former teacher, Finley, as to my intentions. After talking to me awhile he advised me if I could not see my way clear to embrace the Calvinistic doctrine, to join the Methodist denomination; though he thought them in error on some points, yet in the main they were a good people. Being so much harrassed in mind as to what was the truth, and finding so much corruption in my heart, I began to feel much discouraged about trying to preach, and finally concluded to abandon all thought on the subject. And in order to put the matter finally to rest, I determined, and did unite myself in marriage to Miss Jane Calhoun--sister of Rev. Thomas Calhoun. This was on the 8th of October, 1807. I now thought to live the quiet life of the private christian. Soon after my marriage I joined the Big Spring church, in the bounds of which I have lived from that time until the present. As a private christian, I tried to discharge the duties enjoined by religion, especially in my family and in the prayer meeting; and sometimes, when opportunity would offer, I ventured to converse with the serious about their salvation. I hoped that, by the discharge of these duties, common to all christians, I would have satisfactory evidence that I was in my appropriate place--and that it was not my duty publicly to preach Christ to sinners. And I often presented this fact before my mind, (i.e.) I was poor, had a family and no one but myself to support them, and as such it was my duty to stay at home and labor. Several years immediately succeeding my marriage I led a miserable life. Sometimes my mind would become so harrassed that I could neither sleep nor eat, in consequence of convictions of duties unperformed. Having been elected Elder in the Big Spring congregation I was frequently sent to Presbytery, when I was sure to hear a sermon on a call to the ministry, and especially that part which touches the exercises of the mind under impressions to preach. Often I felt pungent convictions, but would hush them up by bringing befor the mind the accumulated number of difficulties that I supposed were continually increasing upon me. I felt that I had no talent for public speaking, and being excessively timid, I could never be able to acquire any ability, and after all, I could do more good as an elder in the church than as a minister. I cannot describe all the exercises of mind, but may say that I tried every refuge that promised any escape from my tormenting conscience, until finally I was persuaded to take a tour with the lamented John Barnett, as he was riding the circuit. I did so, and tried to talk to the people a few times, but as I supposed without any success and this I tried to receive as evidence that God did not need my services in the pulpit. When we had completed that round on the circuit I told Barnett that, according to request, I had gone with him and that I had made efforts to speak to the people and failed and now I would go home and content myself to live in the bosom of home and be a religious private church member; to which he replied, that if my conscience could rest easy in view of such a trial as I had made, he would have no such conscience. I however went home much determined to make no more efforts in a public way. Sometime after arriving at home I was laid upon a bed of protracted illness. During the three months of my confinement I experienced much mental agony in view of the wants of a perishing world and the great need of some one to break to them the bread of life.
On my bed of affliction I convenanted with God that I would be his obedient servant in all things, and if he did spare my life I would do my duty. Being restored to health I started with Rev. J. L. Dillard on a circuit, and with much fear and trembling I gave myself up to the guidance of God and did what I could to point sinners the way to heaven. God blessed me in the effort and helped me to speak a word in season to the sinners heart. Soon after this trip, I joined Presbytery, and was licensed to preach when I was thirty years of age.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian Missionary. Volume 2, Number 10, October 1855, pages 217-220]
The precise year in which I was licensed to preach I do not now recollect. But I shall never forget the solemnities of the occasion. I trembled in view of the awful responsibility that must rest on a gospel minister. The calling was so high and holy, the labor so spiritual that it seemed to me I could never attain to that personal holiness of character that would at all befit such a work. And oft, in thinking on this subject, I felt that I had rather die than attempt to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ--not because of the work, but in view of my utter want of that qualification which is regarded as necessary to the work. Yet I would think that if the gospel be committed to men, I must be as well prepared to preach it as I would be to die and stand up in judgment. And thus I was shut up to the faith. Amid doubts and fears I entered upon the work of pointing sinners the way to heaven, though the path often appeared but dimly before me. I may say now, after my labors are all over, that my ministerial career has been one of sunshine and shade--despondency and hope. When in humility and confidence I could trust in God for success, my labors have been sweet to my soul, and I would fain hope, not unprofitable to poor sinners for whose benefit I tried to labor. Often have I felt as the poet expressed it:
The Mount of Zion is the place
Where we shall se surprising grace.
In the year 1830, it pleased God to veil my house in mourning--the angel of death came and tore from my embrace the consort of my bosom. This was a great crook in my lot which I endeavored to improve by learning a lesson of dependence on God alone for comfort. I endeavored daily to inquire as to His will and my duty. A world of sinners around me were dying for lack of knowledge, but I felt that the duties I owed to a dependent family would not admit of my leaving them, especially with no one to look after them.
With a religious motive, I trust, I sought and consummated a conjugal relation with Miss Catharine Ralston, which was in 1833. I now felt myself again at liberty to enter the harvest field. I enlarged the bounds of my operations and saw, to the great joy of my heart the pleasure of the Lord prospering. I attended many camp and protracted meetings, some fifty, some a hundred miles distant from my home. After having blessed assurances that the God of Jacob was with me, the more I labored; the more I felt for poor sinners. My heart has often beat within me while looking over the land and seeing so many sinners going on the road to perdition with no faithful minister to warn them of the danger and point them to the Cross. Three years had passed away from the time of my second marriage, when God again laid his afflicting hand upon me. My pulpit must be abandoned, and even the precious privileges of the house of God I had to forego for a long season. My mind again become gloomy; melancholy feelings preyed upon me; and while looking at the unfeeling state of my heart, and reading Flavel on keeping the heart, I came to the conclusion that all my religion was vain. Being weak in body and dejected in spirits, it appeared that God had set Satan loose upon me to worry and devour me at pleasure. How much I suffered in body and mind, while passing through this fiery ordeal, no tongue can tell. At length it pleased God to raise me up from my bed of languishing, and permitted me again to go to the sanctuary.Oh, how precious was the blessing! From my heart I could say with the Psalmist, "I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God that dwell in the tents of wickedness." The first sermon that I heard after my protracted illness was surely sweeter than the honey and the honey-comb, for my afflictions had humbled my proud heart and the goodness of God had caused it to overflow with gratitude. But it seemed that I could not bear prosperity without having it tempered with the rod of affliction. So in the year 1836, a small speck appeared on my left temple which gradually enlarged and moved steadily in the direction of my eye, threatening its destruction. All means were resorted to, to arrest its progress, but in vain. God had placed it there and no human hand could remove it. For eight long years it has been in my eye, and oh, the agony of pain that I have experienced no one can tell. The gradual yet certain approach of the cancer to my brain, has continually reminded me of the coming hour when the spirit shall take its flight. Sometimes, under the torturing agony of pain and a disease of the stomach, together with the temptations of Satan and the suggestions of a sinful heart, I have doubted the reality of all my hopes, and have so expressed myself to my friends--giving them trouble and anxiety on my account. But God did not suffer it always to be so. He has kindly lifted away the veil and now, while I look back through this long fight of affliction, I can truly sing of mercy and judgment. I am old, grey headed, and know that the hour of my departure hasteneth. I look back along the path the Lord has lead me and I see not how else I could have been saved from the power of sin had not God laid his afflicting hand upon me. And I now write with a feeling heart, "It was good for me that I was afflicted." While I have no hope of another hour's peace on earth, yet with patience do I wait until my change come.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian Missionary. Volume 2, Number 11, November 1855, pages 260-262]
[*Autobiography published in Cumberland Presbyterian Missionary. Manuscript letter of Rev. J. C. Provine.]
REV. JOHN PROVINE was born in North Carolina, on the 30th of March, 1784. In 1789 his father moved with his family and settled in Garrard county, Kentucky. The father and mother were both Presbyterians, as the ancestors of the family had been for many generations. His father was an elder in the old Paint Lick congregation of Garrard county. When young John was about eight years of age, his father died from the kick of a horse. Of that afflicting occurrence he gives us the following account in his autobiography, written a short time previous to his death:
"Though it occurred many years ago, and I was quite young, yet I distinctly remember the scene of my father's death--how he talked to the family about religion. When the elders of the Church came to bid him a last farewell, he solemnly gave his family in charge to them, bidding them visit the fatherless and widow, see to it that his children were trained up in the fear of God. The children consisted of three sons and four daughters, and I being the youngest, as was the custom of the Church then, was set apart for the ministry. I remember to have heard my father, in his last counsel given to my mother, say to her, "You must try and educate our son John for the ministry.' The impression then made on my mind has been as lasting as my years."
His mother, in conformity with the dying father's injunction, sent him to a Latin school in the neighborhood, and while he was pursuing his studies, often took occasion to impress on his young mind the necessity of personal religion, especially in her Sabbath evening conversations with her children. He says himself, and no doubt truthfully, "The influences of those fireside talks, the kind admonitions, and gentle warnings that fell from a mother's lips, sunk deep into my heart, and I doubt not contributed in a great degree to preparing the way for the Holy Spirit to do its work."
Notwithstanding these advantages, years passed, and a deep and long struggle was undergone before he experienced that great change which is the first and greatest of all qualifications for the Christian ministry. At a camp-meeting at Cane Ridge--the year is not given--a sister professed religion. The occurrence made a deep impression upon his mind, but he resisted it. At a meeting at Silver Creek, one of the elders of the congregation in which he was raised made a personal appeal to him on the subject of religion. He fell and lay deprived of consciousness for some time. When consciousness returned, he arose with a resolution formed that he would seek the Saviour until he found him. Twelve months, however, were spent in fruitless endeavors to bring himself up to what he considered a proper state of mind and heart for the reception of the mercy of the gospel. Finally, at a prayer-meeting held by one of the elders of the congregation at his mother's house, while the honest man was presenting the promises of the gospel in his artless manner, the subject of this sketch was enabled to claim and appropriate those promises, and, according to his own account, before he was conscious of what he was doing, he was on his feet praising God.
"That night," says he, "I shall never forget; the circumstances are as fresh in my memory as though they had transpired but yesterday. I have forgotten the day of the week, month, and even of the year, but the time when I experienced the full flow of the Christian's hope will be fresh as long as memory retains any thing of the past, for that scene does not grow old with my years."
Mr. Provine now entered upon his preparation for the ministry more earnestly. He attached himself to a Latin school which was taught by Rev. Samuel Finley. A fellow-student and class-mate was Mr. N. H. Hall, who afterward became Rev. Dr. Hall, of Lexington, Kentucky. He and his friend, Mr. Hall, attended the sessions of the Kentucky Synod, at Danville, in the progress of which five ministers, who became leaders of the New Lights, as they were then called, seceded from the Synod. Amongst these was the pastor of his own congregation, Rev. Samuel Houston, who afterward joined the Shakers. Houston persuaded the two young men to leave Mr. Finley's school and enter a school taught by the celebrated Barton W. Stone, in Bourbon county. Here they studied the Greek Grammar and Greek Testament. Mr. Stone was very assiduous in laboring to indoctrinate them into his new theology. Mr. Provine became troubled. The theology of his teacher was in conflict with his Christian experience. When at last he was relieved from these troubles, he left the school, and entered another. Here the doctrine of election and reprobation met him. His theological troubles were renewed. They were of a different kind from the former, but very embarrassing. Mr. Finley advised him to join the Presbytery, and take a regular theological course, that in this way his difficulties might be removed. He declined doing so, however, and resolved to come to Tennessee, and acquaint himself with the views of the people, who afterward became the Cumberland Presbyterians. Mr. Finley advised him, if he could not see his way clear, to embrace the Calvinistic doctrines, to unite with the Methodists, and enter the ministry among them. The result of all was what might have been expected of a conscientious and distrustful man. I give the result in his own words: "Being so much harassed in mind as to what truth was, and finding so much corruption in my heart, I began to feel much discouraged about trying to preach, and finally concluded to abandon all thought on the subject."
Soon after Mr. Provine abandoned his purpose of entering the ministry, he was married to Miss Jane Calhoon, sister of the late Rev. Thomas Calhoon. His marriage occurred on the first day of October, 1807. He joined the Big Spring congregation, in the bounds of which he lived. Still he was not at rest. He was appointed a ruling elder in the congregation, and was frequently sent as a representative to the Presbytery. At the meetings of the Presbyteries in those days, it was customary to have a sermon on a call to the ministry. He was often very unhappy, and at length yielded to persuasion, and made a tour on the circuit with the late Rev. John Barnett. The result, however, was very unsatisfactory to himself. He made up his mind again to abandon all thoughts of entering the ministry, and so reported to Mr. Barnett. The reply was characteristic: "If your conscience can rest easy in view of such a trial as you have made, I would have no such conscience." He went home, however, considering his purpose settled. Soon after he reached home, he was laid upon a bed of sickness, which confined him near three months.
"During my sickness," says he, "I experienced much mental agony in view of the wants of a perishing world, and the great need of some to break to them the bread of life. On my bed of affliction I covenanted with God that I would be his obedient servant in all things, and if he would spare my life, I would do my duty. Being restored to health, I started with Rev. J. L. Dillard on a circuit, and with much fear and trembling gave myself up to the guidance of God, and did what I could to point sinners the way to heaven."
He joined the Nashville Presbytery, as a candidate for the ministry, at its fall meeting in 1814. The meeting was held at Big Spring. The ministers present were David Foster, Hugh Kirkpatrick, Thomas Calhoon, and David McLin. At the next meeting of the Presbytery, which was held at Smith's Fork in the spring of 1815, he read a discourse from John v. 40, which was "sustained as popular preparatory to licensure." Messrs. Kirkpatrick, Calhoon, Foster, and McLin, were appointed a Committee on Examination. The Committee reported that they "had examined Mr. Provine on the Latin and Greek languages, English Grammar, and Divinity." He was accordingly licensed on the 11th day of May, 1815.
On the 14th of October, 1820, he was ordained at the Beech Meeting-house, in Sumner county. Rev. Samuel McSpadden preached the ordination-sermon, and Rev. Thomas Calhoon presided and gave the charge.
Mr. Provine's ministry was confined to Middle Tennessee. His preaching was plain, practical, and forcible. He had a good voice, a dark eye, a very unassuming, but altogether an acceptable manner. His great want was self-confidence. Some men have a great deal too much of this, but he had too little. Still he was an earnest and useful preacher, and a most lovely man.
The first time I recollect to have heard him preach was at the Ridge Meeting-house, in the edge of Robertson county. It was about a year after I professed religion, and I was then teaching my first school in the neighborhood. The text was, "Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." He was certainly much in the Spirit, and the sermon was very impressive. He spent the night at the house of Rev. Robert Guthrie, a patriarch in his time, with whom I was boarding. He conducted family prayers at night. I recollect distinctly one petition in his prayer: "O Lord, we ask not for riches, nor honor, nor even for long life, but we pray that we may be useful while we live." if I had ever heard such a petition before, it had made no impression upon my mind. But it then made an impression which is vivid now.
I have another anecdote to relate, which is too interesting to be overlooked. In the summer of 1820 Mr. Provine traveled and preached on what was called the Nashville Circuit. A few years later, in the course of my own ministry in Western Tennessee, a pious old lady gave me a history of an occurrence which took place in the summer of 1820, in connection with Mr. Provine's ministry of that year on the circuit. One of his places of preaching was the house of William Orr, on West Harpeth, a few miles from Franklin. There was a very general religious interest in the country at the time. The old lady, with her husband and family, lived then near Franklin, and she and her husband were members of the Presbyterian Church. They had known something of Mr. Provine in his early life in Kentucky. They learned that he was to preach at Mr. Orr's on a particular day, and the mother and several of the children made arrangements to go and hear him. When they were about leaving home, the old lady addressed her children, according to her own account, somewhat thus: "Now, my children, you have heard a great deal of Cumberland Presbyterians, and some of the things which you have heard have been unfavorable. I do not know any thing about them myself, but I knew Johnny Provine when he was a boy, and I believe when you hear him preach, you will hear what he thinks, at least, to be the truth. He was a good boy, and I have no doubt he is a good man."
They went to meeting, and although it was a week-day, the house was crowded. Mr. Provine preached from the following text: "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." He said afterward that he was very much in the Spirit. The sermon was very impressive. At its close, all the old lady's children that she brought with her were among the mourners. The whole family of children were soon brought into the Church, and some of them now live burning and shining lights. The example of Mrs. Moore might be a valuable lesson to many parents.
In the year 1830 Mr. Provine lost his wife. He calls this, in the style of the antiquated theology, a great crook in his lot. His house was veiled in mourning. On the 24th of January, 1833, he was again married, to Miss Catharine Ralston. He says, no doubt truthfully, that he sought and consummated this marriage with a religious motive.
In 1836 a small speck appeared on his left temple. It soon developed itself into an incurable cancer. Every effort was made for its removal, but in vain. It was the appointed shaft of death. His bodily sufferings were very great. For years the invincible destroyer was engaged at his unceasing work. Nor was the afflicted minister free from the buffetings of Satan. Yet God delivered him, and enabled him, in his own expressive language, "while looking back through this long fight of affliction, to sing of mercy and judgment."
His affliction continued nineteen years. He died July 30, 1855, in his seventy-second year, with unshaken confidence in those precious truths which he had often preached, and which had been his support through so long and painful an affliction. He lies in the same grave-yard with his brother-in-law, Rev. Thomas Calhoon. It is, on many accounts, a sacred spot. Mr. Provine had six children--five sons and a daughter--all of his first family. Two of his sons, says my informant, are in heaven. Two are ruling elders in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church; one is a respected minister, Rev. J. C. Provine, of Nashville, Tennessee.
I saw Mr. Provine for the last time a few weeks before his death. He had been able to attend church at the Big Spring. I went with him to his home, and spent a few hours there. His whole conversation seemed to run in one channel. His mind was evidently engrossed with the prospect of the great event which was just before him. He was an honest, earnest, Christian man, examining always with care the ground on which he stood. The result of his self-examination was the unfaltering faith in which he died.
[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, Published for the author, 1867, pages 135-144]