CHAPTER III

Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners

NOW you must know, that before this I had taken much delight in ringing; but my conscience beginning to be tender; I thought such a practice was but vain, and therefore forced myself to leave it, yet my mind hankered; wherefore I would go to the steeple-house and look on, though I durst not ring. But I thought this did not become religion neither, yet I forced myself, and would look on still; but quickly after I began to think, how if one of the bells should fall? Then I chose to stand under a main beam that lay overthwart the steeple from side to side, thinking here I might stand sure ; but then I thought again, should the bell fall with a swing, it might first hit the wall, and then rebounding upon me, might kill me for all this beam. This made me stand in the steeple-door; and now, thought I, I am safe enough, for if the bell should fall I can slip out behind these thick walls, and so be preserved notwithstanding. So after this I would yet go to see them ring, but would not go any further than the steeple-door; but then it came into my head, how if the steeple itself should fall? And this thought—it may be for aught I know when I stood and looked on—did continually so shake my mind that I durst not stand at the steeple-door any longer, but was forced to flee for fear the steeple should fall upon my head.

Another thing was my dancing: I was full a year before I could quite leave that. All this while, when I thought I kept this or that command, or did by word or deed anything I thought was good, I had great peace in my conscience, and would think with myself, God cannot choose but be now pleased with me; yea, to relate it in my own way, I thought no man in England could please God better than I. But, poor wretch as I was, I was all this while ignorant of Jesus Christ, and going about to establish my own righteousness, and had perished therein, had not God in mercy showed me more of my state by nature.

But upon a day the good providence of God called me to Bedford to work at my calling, and in one of the streets of that town I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun talking about the things of God: and being now willing to hear their discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker of myself in the matters of religion; but I may say I heard, but understood not, for they were far above out of my reach. Their talk was about a new birth, the work of God in their hearts, as also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil; moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular, and told to each other by what means they had been afflicted, and how they were borne up under his assaults. They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart and of their unbelief, and did contemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness as filthy and insufficient to do them any good.

And methought they spoke as if joy did make them speak; they spoke with such pleasantness of scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world—as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbors. At this I felt my own heart begin to shake and mistrust my condition to be naught, for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation the new birth did never enter my mind, neither knew I the comfort of the word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart. As for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them, neither did I understand what Satan's temptations were, nor how they were to be withstood and resisted.

Thus therefore, when I had heard and considered what they said, I left them and went about my employment again, but their talk and discourse went with me; also my heart would tarry with them, for I was greatly affected with their words, both because by them I was convinced that I wanted the true tokens of a truly godly man, and also because by them I was convinced of the happy and blessed condition of him that was such a one. Therefore I would often make it my business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people, for I could not stay away; and the more I went among them, the more I did question my condition; and as I still do remember, presently I found two things within me at which I did sometimes marvel, especially considering what a blind, ignorant, sordid, and ungodly wretch but just before I was. The one was a very great softness and tenderness of heart, which caused me to fall under the conviction of what by Scripture they asserted; and the other was a great bending in my mind to a continual meditating on it and on all other good things which at any time I heard or read of.

By these things my mind was now so turned that it lay like a horseleech at the vein, still crying out, Give, give. My mind was so fixed on eternity and on the things about the kingdom of heaven, that is, so far as I knew, though as yet God knows I knew but little, that neither pleasures, nor profits, nor persuasions, nor threats could loose it or make it let go its hold; and though I may speak it with shame, yet it is in very deed a certain truth, it would then have been as diffcult for me to have taken my mind from heaven to earth, as I have found it often since to get it again from earth to heaven.

One thing I may not omit. There was a young man in our town to whom my heart before was knit more than to any other; but he being a most wicked creature for cursing and swearing and uncleanness, I now shook him off and forsook his company. About a quarter of a year after I had left him, I met him in a certain lane and asked him how he did. He after his old swearing and mad way answered he was well. "But, Harry," said I, "why do you curse and swear thus? What will become of you if you die in this condition ?" He answered me in a great chafe, " What would the devil do for company, if it were not for such as I am ?"

About this time I met with some ranters' books that were put forth by some of our countrymen, which books were also highly in esteem by several old professors. Some of these I read, but was not able to make any judgment about them; wherefore as I read in them and thought upon them, seeing myself unable to judge, I would betake myself to hearty prayer in this manner:

"O Lord, I am a fool and not able to know the truth from error. Lord, leave me not to my own blindness, either to approve of or condemn this doctrine. If it be of God, let me not despise it; if it be of the devil, let me not embrace it. Lord, I lay my soul in this matter only at thy feet; let me not be deceived, I humbly beseech thee"

I had one religious companion all this while, and that was the poor man I spoke of before; but about this time he also turned a most devilish ranter, and gave himself up to all manner of filthiness, especially uncleaness: he would also deny that there was a God, angel, or spirit, and would laugh at all exhortations to sobriety. When I labored to rebuke his wickedness, he would laugh the more, and pretend that he had gone through all religions, and could never hit upon the right till now He told me also, that in a little time I should see all professors turn to the ways of the ranters. Wherefore, abominating those cursed principles, I left his company forthwith, and became to him as great a stranger as I had been before a familiar.

Neither was this man only a temptation to me, but my calling lying in the country, I happened to come into several people's company, who though strict in religion formerly, yet were also drawn away by these ranters. These would also talk with me of their ways, and condemn me as legal and dark, pretending that they only had attained to perfection, that they could do what they would and not sin. Oh, these temptations were suitable to my flesh, I being but a young man and my nature in its prime; but God, who had as I hoped designed me for better things, kept me in the fear of his name, and did not suffer me to accept such cursed principles. And blessed be God, who put it into my heart to cry to him to be kept and directed, still distrusting mine own wisdom, for I have since seen even the effects of that prayer in his preserving me not only from ranting errors, but from those also that have sprung up since. The Bible was precious to me in those days.

And now methought I began to look into the Bible with new eyes; and read as I never did before; and especially the epistles of the apostle Paul were sweet and pleasant to me; and indeed, then I was never out of the Bible, either by reading or meditation, still crying out to God that I might know the truth and the way to heaven and glory. And as I went on and read, I hit upon that passage, "To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another, faith," etc. 1 Cor. 12: 8, 9. And though I have since seen that by this scripture the Holy Ghost intends in special things extraordinary, yet on me it did then fasten with conviction that I did want things ordinary, even that understanding and wisdom that other Christians had. On this word I mused, and could not tell what to do; especially this word faith put me to it, for I could not help it, but sometimes must question whether I had any faith or no; but I was loath to conclude I had no faith, for if I do so, thought I, then I shall count myself a very castaway indeed.

No, said I with myself, though I am convinced that I am an ignorant sot, and that I want those blessed gifts of knowledge and understanding that other people have, yet at a venture I will conclude I am not altogether faithless, though I know not what faith is; for it was shown me, and that too, as I have seen since, by Satan, that those who conclude themselves in a faithless state have neither rest nor quiet in their souls, and I was loath to fall quite into despair.

Wherefore by this suggestion I was for a while made afraid to see my want of faith; but God would not suffer me thus to undo and destroy my soul, but did continually against this my sad and blind conclusion create still within me such suppositions, insomuch that I could not rest content until I did now come to some certain knowledge whether I had faith or no, this always running in my mind: "But how if you want faith indeed? But how can you tell you have faith?" And besides, I saw for certain that if I had not, I was sure to perish for ever; so that though I endeavored at the first to overlook the business of faith, yet in a little time, I better considering the matter, was willing to put myself upon the trial whether I had faith or no. But alas, poor wretch, so ignorant and brutish was I, that I knew not to this day any more how to do it, than I knew how to begin and accomplish a rare and curious piece of art which I never yet saw or considered.

Wherefore, while I was thus considering and being put to a plunge about it, for you must know that as yet I had not in this matter broken my mind to any one, only did hear and consider, the tempter came in with this delusion, that there was no way for me to know I had faith but by trying to work some miracles, urging those scriptures that seem to look that way for enforcing and strengthening his temptation. Nay, one day, as I was between Elstow and Bedford, the temptation was hot upon me to try if I had faith by doing some miracle, which miracle at this time was this: I must say to the puddles that were in the horse-pads, Be dry, and to the dry places, Be you puddles, And truly one time I was, going to say so indeed; but just as I was about to speak, this thought came into my mind, "But go under yonder hedge and pray first that God would make you able." But when I had concluded to pray, this came hot upon me, that if I prayed, and came again and tried to do it, and yet did nothing notwithstanding, then to be sure I had no faith, but was a castaway and lost; nay, thought I, if it be so, I will not try yet, but will stay a little longer; so I continued at a great loss, for I thought if they only had faith which could do such wonderful things, then I concluded that for the present I neither had it, nor yet for the time to come was ever like to have it. Thus I was tossed between the devil and my own ignorance, and so perplexed, especially at some times, that I could not tell what to do.

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