Fifteen Miles from Heaven

Moses E. Lard, the well-known gospel preacher of the nineteenth century, kept a preaching appointment at Richmond, Missouri in 1853. As he was hitching his horse near the meeting house, a black man named Dick, a brother in Christ, approached him and introduced himself. He told Lard that he once belonged to the church at a place called “Stanley’s,” where an “old brother Warrinner” used to preach but, after Warrinner’s death, the church there ceased meeting, depriving Dick for a long time of the privilege of assembling with the saints. Yet, his faith in Christ had remained steadfast. “I have come fifteen miles today to hear you preach,” he said, “and I have brought with me my young master, Thomas. I think he would be a Christian if he knew how.”

After being introduced to Thomas, Lard went into the house to begin the services. He strongly believed in divine providence and wondered to himself if God’s hand were in the presence of Dick and his master. The audience was large, but not a Christian there had come fifteen miles, a considerable distance in that day. But here was a bondservant who, after working hard all week, had traveled that far to attend the meeting.

Lard was still thinking about Dick’s words as he entered the pulpit to begin his lesson. “Thomas was in the congregation – a circumstance which I determined not to forget for the next hour and a half,” he later recalled. And through his speech, he kept steadily in mind “a plain, honest boy of sixteen.” The simple sermon, deliberately delivered in the “plowman’s phrase” that had been Lard’s early dialect, accomplished its purpose. When the invitation was extended, Thomas went forward and gave the preacher his hand.

“Poor Dick was as near Heaven then, as he will ever be again, until he reaches that blessed abode. He could not sit, he could not stand, he did not shout but clapped his hands, while tears ran over those toil-worn cheeks. He meekly occupied a distant comer of the house, and, I felt, if angels delight to gather around the heart that is full of gratitude to Christ, surely they must have had a strong pleasure in folding their wings in that corner just then.” Thomas was baptized into Christ that evening.

A little more than two weeks later, at the request of Dick and Thomas, Lard went to the community near their home to preach for two days in the shade of some large trees. There a modest stand and some crude seats had been erected to accommodate the services. Resolved to make the most of the limited time, the first day Lard preached two-and-a-half hours to a large audience of “an honest, agricultural people, blessed with pertinent common sense and sound hearts.” The sermon made a favorable impression on most of those present.

The next day the audience, undiminished in size, gathered again to hear another equally long sermon. At the close, four men came forward to confess Christ. Excitement was such that Lard thought it would be unwise to leave the people in the present mood in order to meet another appointment where nothing might be accomplished. So he decided to stay.

The third night eight more confessed their faith in Christ, and before the meeting closed, forty had been baptized for the remission of their sins. Furthermore, those who remained of the old Stanley’s church came to take seats in the assembly of the saints. On the Lord’s day, the brethren, old and new, met at a convenient place a mile distant to organize a New Testament church. They invoked the protection of God and resolved to be faithful in His service. “A table was then spread, and on it were placed the emblematic loaf and cup. The supper was then eaten in memory of the Master, a song sung, and the services of the hour closed” (Lard’s Quarterly, Sept., 1863, pp. 23-25).

The church, known as South Point, was located in Ray County, Missouri. It came into existence primarily because a chattel slave who was also a bondservant of Christ loved both of his masters enough to travel fifteen miles to hear the gospel. That journey may have been the difference between heaven and hell for Thomas and for many others as well. God, in the exercise of His providence, very often uses what to us may seem to be an insignificant act of faith to accomplish His purposes.

Heaven, indeed, may sometimes be just “fifteen” miles away.

– by Earl Kimbrough