I can never forget the 3rd of May, 1850 ; it was my mother’s birthday, and I myself was within a few weeks of being sixteen years of age. I was up early, to have a couple of hours for quiet prayer and dedication to God. Then I had some eight miles to walk, to reach the spot where I was to be immersed into the Triune Name according to the sacred command. What a walk it was! What thoughts and prayers thronged my soul during that morning’s journey ! It was by no means a warm day, and therefore all the better for the two or three hours of quiet foot-travel which I enjoyed.
The sight of Mr. Cantlow’s smiling face was a full reward for that country tramp. I think I see the good man now, and the white ashes of the peat-fire by which we stood and talked together about the solemn exercise which lay before us. We went together to the Ferry, for the Isleham friends had not degenerated to indoor immersion in a bath made by the art of man, but used the ampler baptistery of the flowing river. Isleham Ferry, on the River Lark, is a very quiet spot, half-a-mile from the village, and rarely disturbed by traffic at any time of the year. The river itself is a beautiful stream, dividing Cambridgeshire from Suffolk, and is dear to local anglers. The navigation of this little River Lark is possible between Bury St. Edmund’s and the sea at Lynn; but at Isleham it is more in its infancy.
The ferry-house, hidden in the picture (on page 147) by the trees, is freely opened for the convenience of minister and candidates at a baptizing. Where the barge is hauled up for repairs, the preacher takes his stand, when the baptizing is on a week-day, and there are few spectators present. But on Lord’s-day, when great numbers are attracted, the preacher, standing in a barge moored mid-stream, speaks the Word to the crowds on both sides of the river. This can be done the more easily, as the river is not very wide. Where three persons can be seen standing, is the usual place for entering the water. The right depth, with sure footing, may soon be found, and so the delightful service proceeds in the gently-flowing stream. No accident or disorder has ever marred the proceedings. In the course of seven or eight miles, the Lark serves no fewer than five Baptist churches, and they would on no account give up baptizing out of doors.
To me, there seemed to be a great concourse on that week-day. Dressed, I believe, in a jacket, with a boy’s turn-down collar, I attended the service previous tc the ordinance ; but all remembrance of it has gone from me: my thoughts were in the water, sometimes with my Lord in joy, and sometimes with myself in trembling awe at making so public a confession. There were first to be baptized two women, —Diana Wilkinson and Eunice Fuller,—and I was asked to conduct them through the water to the minister; but this I most timidly declined. It was a new experience to me, never having seen a baptism before, and I was afraid of making some mistake.
The wind blew down the river with a cutting blast, as my turn came to wade into the flood; but after I had walked a few steps, and noted the people on the ferry-boat, and in beats, and on either shore, I felt as if Heaven, and earth, and hell, might all gaze upon me; for I was not ashamed, there and then, to own myself a follower of the Lamb. My timidity was washed away; it floated down the river into the sea, and must have been devoured by the fishes, for I have never felt anything of the kind since. Baptism also loosed my tongue, and from that day it has never been quiet. I lost a thousand fears in that River Lark, and found that “in keeping His commandments there is great reward.”
— from Spurgeon’s Autobiography THE EARLY YEARS, Banner of Truth