In this next article, we find Bill Naves in the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri. He had time to think things over and wrote a letter to the citizens of Baxter County, Arkansas. The Baxter Bulletin ran it as a front page story. Is this the classic version of "Jailhouse Religion?"
You be the Judge.
October 2, 1903
But still my heart was untouched. I had not shrunk from God’s providence for oppressing an innocent man as I call myself, cannot but feel that this new misfortune was the consequence of my own folly. I was now forced to listen to the gentle appeals of my Savior, and so one kind jailer, Wilson Hudson, gave me a New Testament, and persuaded me to meditate prayerfully upon the epistle to the Romans, and when he left me I thought to myself there could be very little good in my reading the book he had gave me, for I had read it and heard it preached so much until I thought I knew pretty well what it contained, and I did not expect to find anything in it that I did not know.
Accordingly I left it unopened for several days, and it was only to divert my melancholy thoughts that I at length for the want of anything else to read, opened the Testament and began to read the epistle to the Romans. “Is this the same epistle that I used to read?” was my first thought when I had read a few verses. It was the same, word for word, there was no alterations in the book, but since I last read it I myself had undergone a change. Since that time I had passed through the rough school of adversity and experience of some few years had shown me more than I knew of the corruptions of my own heart. When I read the words that “Every mouth may be stopped and all world may become guilty before God.” Rom. III, 19, I was filled with terror, and to this was added and overwhelming sense of the infinite majesty of God, whose goodness and justice I so had lately dared to question. Then came the passage “For God hath concluded them in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” Oh, the depth of the riches both of wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out. “For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his councilors, or who hath first been given to him and it shall be recompensed unto him again, for of him and through him and to him are all things to whom be glory forever. Amen. Rom. xi., 32-36. Upon this ray of hope dawned upon my heart and I cried out with emotion: “O God, since thou hast mercy on all who come to thee, have mercy also on me.” Little by little my heart was softened and tears of true repentance streamed from my eyes. I then knelt down by my cot and prayed with much earnest that God would carry on the good work he had begun in me, and as prayed I was deeply affected, and at last I, too, called aloud to God for mercy. This cry was not in vain. The peace of God descended upon my heart and I was enabled to believe in the possibility of obtaining pardon for all my sins through faith in a crucified Savior.
After this I found myself in a much happier frame of mind. I acknowledged that I had been a miserable sinner and but for the infinite mercy of the Most High, I must have perished in my sins. I saw now that all my misfortunes had been really a token of the loving kindness and tender mercy of him who willeth not the death of the sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live. The word of God which for so many years had been a dead letter to me have now become a source of sweet and live-giving nourishment to my soul, and now I spend the greater part of my time while here in prison in reading and meditating upon the precious volume, and now I think I have a few friends who are interested in my behalfand I hope it won’t be long till I will be at liberty. I will be glad to be once more a free man, but I cannot regret imprisonment as it was in the prison that I had been led to acknowledge God and now I often read the fifth commandment: “Honor thy father and mother that thy days may be long in the land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”
He who honors and consequently obeys his parents has a promise here of a long and happy life, not indeed of eternal life, to gain which he must honor God and keep his commandments; that is he converted and have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, for this is his commandment, and if we neglect this we may lead a long and prosperous life here and yet lose our life hereafter. He who on the contrary disobeys his parents cannot be happy and successful in his earthly career, although he may by sincere repentance and faith obtain forgiveness of God for his Savior’s sake and everlasting happiness. I am now nearly 28 years of age and beginning to feel a wondering life, I now resolve to retire from my career and return to my dear mother who longs to see her disobedient son, and to devote my remaining years to preparation for life eternal and glory of God who has led me in such a wonderful manner to him. I have passed through so much during my 28 years, wandering about the world I have endured so many troubles and received so many undeserved blessings and although God has shown himself good and gracious.
Now I hope all the boys and girls who read this will think over the words of St. Paul, Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor thy father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise that it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ephs. vi., 1-3, and learn from this narrative that every act of willful disobedience to a parent’s command is a sin against God, which he is sure to punish. Ah! Just look what hangs over my head by my disobedience. I am guiltless of this charge, and may God discover the truth and bring to light my stainless integrity. Think what it is to die for a crime you never committed. To be cut off the bloom of youth and glow of love and glory of fame, to be forced violently from this dear life and warm sunshine and bright world of affections and aspiring hopes, and to be crowded down to the darksome grave to suffer a public and shameful death, and leave behind a dishonored name, who had just reached the acme of all his toils and hopes and aspirations to be suddenly struck down, down, down.
End of Article
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There’s Trouble Across the Line - Part 4...Coming Soon.
Work Cited:“Reflections of Will Naves.” Baxter Bulletin 2.41 (02 Oct. 1903) A1-1, 6, 7. Baxter County Microfilm Archive. Baxter County Library, Mountain Home, AR. 1 Dec. 2009.