IN this my relation of the merciful working of God upon my soul, it will not be amiss if in the first place I do, in a few words, give you a hint of my pedigree and manner of bringing up; that thereby the goodness and bounty of God towards me may be the more advanced and magnified before the sons of men.
For my descent then, it was, as is well known by many, of a low and inconsiderable generation; my father's house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land. Wherefore I have not here, as others, to boast of noble blood, or of any high-born state according to the flesh, though, all things considered, I magnify the heavenly Majesty; for that by this door he brought me into this world, to partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the gospel. But yet, notwithstanding the meanness and inconsiderableness of my parents, it pleased God to put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn me both to read and write; the which I also attained according to the rate of other men's children, though to my shame, I confess I did soon lose that little I learned, even almost utterly, and that long before the Lord did work his gracious work of conversion upon my soul.
As for my own natural life for the time that I was without God in the world, it was indeed "according to the course of this world," and "the spirit that now worketh in the, children of disobedience." Eph. 2: 2, 3. It was my delight to be taken captive by the "devil at his will," 2 Tim. 2: 26, being filled with all unrighteousness; the which did also so strongly work and put forth itself both in my heart and life, and that from a child, that I had few equals, especially considering my years, which were tender, for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God. Yea, so settled and rooted was I in these things, that they became as a second nature to me; the which, as I have also with soberness considered since, did so offend the Lord, that even in my childhood he did scare and affrighten me with fearful dreams, and did terrify me with fearful visions. For often, after I had spent this and the other day in sin, I have in my bed been greatly afflicted, while asleep, with the apprehensions of devils and wicked spirits, who still, as I then thought, labored to draw me away with them, of which I could never be rid.
Also, I would at these years be greatly afflicted and troubled with the thoughts of the fearful torments of hell-fire; still fearing that it would be my lot to be found at last among those devils and hellish fiends who are there bound down with the chains and bonds of darkness unto the judgment of the great day. These things, I say, when I was but a child but nine or ten years old, did so distress my soul, that then, in the midst of my many sports and childish vanities, amid my vain companions, I was often much cast down and afflicted in my mind therewith; yet could I not let go my sins: yea, I was also then so overcome with despair of life and heaven, that I would often wish, either that there had been no hell, or that I had been a devil-supposing devils were only tormentors-that if it must needs be that I went thither, I might be rather a tormentor than be tormented myself.
A while after those terrible dreams did leave me, which also I soon forgot; for my pleasures did quickly cut off the remembrance of them, as if they never had been; wherefore, with more greediness, according to the strength of nature, I still let loose the reins of my lust, and delighted in all transgressions against the law of God; so that until I came to the state of marriage, I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness. Yea, such prevalency had the lusts and fruits of the flesh on this poor soul of mine, that, had not a miracle of precious grace prevented, I had not only perished by the stroke of eternal justice, but had also laid myself open even to the stroke of those laws which bring some to disgrace and open shame before the face of the world.
In those days the thoughts of religion were very grievous to me: I could neither endure it myself, nor that any other should ; so that when I have seen some read in those books that concerned Christian piety, it would be as it were a prison to me. Then I said unto God, "Depart from me; for I desire not the knowledge of thy ways." Job 21: 14, 15. I was now void of all good consideration ; heaven and hell were both out of sight and mind; and as for saving and damning, they were least in my thoughts. 0 Lord, thou knowest my life, and my ways were not hid from thee.
But this I well remember, that though I could myself sin with the greatest delight and ease, and also take pleasure in the vileness of my companions, yet, even then, if I had at any time seen wicked things in those who professed goodness, it would make my spirit tremble. As, once above all the rest, when I was in the height of vanity, yet hearing one swear that was reckoned for a religious man, it had so great a stroke upon my spirit that it made my heart ache.
God did not utterly leave me, but followed me still, not with convictions, but judgments, yet such as were mixed with mercy. For once I fell into a creek of the sea, and hardly escaped drowning. Another time I fell out of a boat into Bedford river, but mercy yet preserved me alive. Besides, another time being in the field with one of my companions, it chanced that an adder passed over the highway; so I having a stick in my hand, struck her over the back, and having stunned her, I forced open her mouth with my stick, and plucked her sting out with my fingers; by which act, had not God been merciful unto me, I might by my desperateness have brought myself to my end.
This also I have taken notice of, with thanksgiving when I was a soldier, I with others was drawn out to go to such a place to besiege it; but when I was just ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room: to which when I had consented, he took my place; and coming to the siege, as he stood sentinel he was shot in the head by a musket-ball, and died. Here, as I said, were judgments and mercy, but neither of them did awaken my soul to righteousness: wherefore I sinned still, and grew more and more rebellious against God, and careless of my own salvation.
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