CHAPTER V

Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners

IN this condition I went a great while; but when the comforting time was come, I heard one preach a sermon on these words in the Song, "Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair." Song 4: 1. But at that time he made these two words, "my love," his chief subject-matter, from which, after he had a little opened the text, he drew these several conclusions: 1. That the church, and so every saved soul, is Christ's love when loveless; 2. Christ's love without a cause; 3. Christ's love which hath been hated of the world; 4. Christ's love when under temptation and under desertion; 5. Christ's love from first to last. But I got nothing by what he said at present, only when he came to the application of the fourth particular, this was the word he said: "If it be so that the saved soul is Christ's love when under temptation and desertion, then, poor tempted soul, when thou art assaulted and afflicted with temptations and the bidings of his face, yet think on these two words, 'my love,' still"

So as I was coming home, these words came again into my thoughts; and I well remember, as they came in, I said thus in my heart, What shall I get by thinking on these two words? This thought had no sooner passed through my heart, but these words began thus to kindle in my spirit: "Thou art my love, thou art my love," twenty times together; and still as they ran in my mind they waxed stronger and warmer, and began to make me look up; but being as yet between hope and fear, I still replied in my heart, But is it true? but is it true? At which that sentence fell upon me, "He wist not that it was true which was done unto him of the angel." Acts 12: 9.

Then I began to give place to the word, which with power did over and over make this joyful sound within my soul, "Thou art my love, thou art my love," and nothing shall separate thee from my love. And with that my heart was filled full of comfort and hope, and now I could believe that my sins would be forgiven me; yea, I was now so taken with the love and mercy of God, that I remember I could not tell how to contain till I got home. I thought I could have spoken of his love and have told of his mercy to me, even to the very crows that sat upon the ploughed lands before me, had they been capable of understanding me; wherefore I said in my soul with much gladness, "Well, would I had a pen and ink here, I would write this down before I go any further; for surely I shall not forget this, forty years hence;" but alas, within less than forty days I began to question all again, which made me begin to question all still.

Yet still at times I was helped to believe that it was a true manifestation of grace unto my soul, though I had lost much of the life and savor of it. Now about a week or a fortnight after this I was much followed by this scripture: " Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you." Luke 22: 31. And sometimes it would sound so loud within me, yea, and as it were call so strongly after me, that, once above all the rest I turned my head over my shoulder, thinking verily that some man had behind me called me. Being at a great distance, methought he called so loud, it came, as I have thought since, to stir me up to prayer and to watchfulness. It came to acquaint me that a cloud and a storm were coming down upon me; but I understood it not. Also, as I remember, that time that it called to me so loud was the last time that it sounded in mine ears; but methinks I hear still with what a loud voice these words, "Simon, Simon," sounded in mine ears. I thought verily, as I have told you, that somebody had called after me that was half a mile behind me; and although that was not my name, yet it made me suddenly look behind me, believing that he that called so loud meant me.

But so foolish was I and ignorant, that I knew not the reason of this sound, which, as I did both see and feel soon after, was sent from heaven as an alarm to awaken me to provide for what was coming, only I would muse and wonder in my mind to think what should be the reason of this scripture, and that at this rate so often and so loud it should still be sounding and rattling in my ears; but, as I said before, I soon after perceived the end of God therein; for about the space of a month after, a very great storm came down upon me, which handled me twenty times worse than all I had met with before. It came stealing upon me, now by one piece and then by another. First, all my comfort was taken from me; then darkness seized upon me; after which whole floods of blasphemies, both against God, Christ, and the Scriptures, were poured upon my spirit, to my great confusion and astonishment.

These blasphemous thoughts were such as stirred up questions in me against the very being of God and of his only beloved Son, as whether there were in truth a God or Christ, and whether the holy Scripture were not rather a fable and cunning story, than the holy and pure word of God. The tempter would also much assault me with this: "How can you tell but that the Turks had as good scriptures to prove their Mahomet the Saviour as we have to prove our Jesus? and, could I think that so many ten thousands in so many countries and kingdoms should be without the knowledge of the right way to heaven, if there were indeed a heaven, and that we only, who live in a corner of the earth, should alone be blessed therewith? Every one doth think his own religion rightest, Jews and Moors and Pagans; and how if all our faith and Christ and Scriptures should be but a think-so too?"

Sometimes I have endeavored to argue against these suggestions, and to set some of the sentences of blessed Paul against them; but alas, I quickly felt, when I thus did, such arguings as these would return again upon me: "Though we made so great a matter of Paul and of his words, yet how could I tell but that in very deed he, being a subtle and cunning man, might give himself up to deceive with strong delusions, and also take the pains and travail to undo and destroy his fellows?"

These suggestions, with many others which at this time I may not and dare not utter, neither by word nor pen, did make such a seizure upon my spirit, and did so overweigh my heart both with their number, continuance, and fiery force, that I felt as if there were nothing else but these from morning to night within me, and as though indeed there could be room for nothing else; and also concluded that God had in very wrath to my soul given me up to them, to be carried away with them as with a mighty whirlwind; only by the distaste that they gave unto my spirit, I felt there was something in me that refused to embrace them. But this consideration I then only had when God gave me leave to swallow my spittle, otherwise the noise and strength and force of these temptations would drown and overflow and as it were bury all such thoughts or the remembrance of any such thing.

While I was in this temptation I often found my mind suddenly put upon it to curse and swear, or to speak some grievous thing against God, or Christ his Son, or of the Scriptures. Now I thought, surely I am possessed of the devil. At other times, again, I thought I should be bereft of my senses; for instead of lauding and magnifying God the Lord with others, if I but heard him spoken of, presently some most horrible blasphemous thought or other would bolt out of my heart against him; so that whether I did think that God was, or again did think there was no such thing, no love, nor peace, nor gracious disposition could I feel within me.

These things did sink me into very deep despair, for I concluded that such things could not possibly be found among them that loved God. I often, when these temptations had been with force upon me, did compare myself to the case of a child whom some gipsy hath by force took up in her arms, and is carrying from friend and country. Kick sometimes I did, and also shriek and cry, but yet I was bound in the wings of the temptation, and the wind would carry me away. I thought also of Saul, and of the evil spirit that did possess him, and did greatly fear that my condition was the same with his. 1 Sam. 16: 14.

In these days, when I have heard others talk of what was the sin against the Holy Ghost, then would the tempter so provoke me to desire to sin that sin, that I was as if I could not, must not, neither should be quiet until I had committed it. Now no sin would serve but that. If it were to be committed by the speaking of such a word, then I have been as if my mouth would have spoken that word, whether I would or no; and in so strong a measure was this temptation upon me, that often I have been ready to clap my hands under my chin to hold my mouth from opening; and to that end also I have had thoughts at other times to leap with my head downward into some muck-hole or other, to keep my mouth from speaking.

Now, again, I beheld the condition of the dog and toad, and counted the state of every thing that God had made far better than this dreadful state of mine and my companions. Yea, gladly would I have been in the condition of a dog or horse, for I knew they had no soul to perish under the everlasting weight of hell or sin, as mine was like to do. Nay, and though I saw this, felt this, and was broken to pieces with it, yet that which added to my sorrow was, that, I could not find that with all my soul I did desire deliverance. That scripture did also tear and rend my soul in the midst of these distractions: "The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" Isa. 5"1:20, 21,

And now my heart was at times exceeding hard. If I would have given a thousand pounds for a tear, I could not shed one; no, nor sometimes scarce desire to shed one. I was much dejected to think that this should be my lot. I saw some could mourn and lament their sin; and others, again, could rejoice and bless God for Christ; and others, again, could quietly talk of, and with gladness remember the word of God, while I only was in the storm or tempest. This much sunk me. I thought my condition was alone; I would therefore much bewail my hard hap (Ed., luck); but get out of or get rid of these things I could not.

While this temptation lasted, which was about a year, I could attend upon none of the ordinances of God but with sore and great affliction; yea, then I was most distressed with blasphemies. If I had been hearing the word, then uncleanness, blasphemies, and despair would hold me a captive there. If I had been reading, then sometimes I had sudden thoughts to question all I read; sometimes, again, my mind would be so strangely snatched away and possessed with other thing, that I have neither known, nor regarded, nor remembered so much as the sentence that but now I had read.

In prayer also I was greatly troubled at this time sometimes I thought I felt Satan behind me pull my clothes; he would be also continually at me in time of puayer, to have done: "Break off; make haste; you have prayed enough, and stay no longer;" still drawing my mind away. Sometimes also he would cast in such wicked thoughts as these: that I must pray to him, or for him. I have thought sometimes of that "fall down;" or, "If thou wilt fall down and worship me." Matt. 4: 9. Also when, because I have had wandering thoughts in the time of this duty, I have labored to compose my mind and fix it upon God, then with great force hath the tempter labored to distract me and confound me, and to turn away my mind by presenting to my heart and fancy the form of a bush, a bull, a besom, or the like, as if I should pray to these. To these he would also, at some times especially, so hold my mind, that I was as if I could think of nothing else, or pray to nothing else but to these, or such as they.

Yet at times I would have some strong and heartaffecting apprehensions of God and the reality of the truth of his gospel; but Oh, how would my heart at such times put forth itself with inexpressible groanings! My whole soul was then in every word. I would cry with pangs after God, that he would be merciful unto me; but then I would be daunted again with such conceits as these: I would think that God did mock at these my prayers, saying, and that in the audience of the holy angels, "This poor simple wretch doth hanker after me, as if I had nothing to do with my mercy but to bestow it on such as he. Alas, poor soul, how art thou deceived. It is not for such as thee to have favor with the Highest."

Then hath the tempter come upon me also with such discouragements as these: "You are very hot for mercy, but I will cool you; this frame shall not last always. Many have been as hot as you for a time, but I have quenched their zeal;" and with this, such and such who were fallen off would be set before mine eyes. Then I would be afraid that I should do so too; but, thought I, I am glad this comes into my mind. Well, I will watch, and take what care I can. "Though you do," said Satan, "I shall be too hard for you. I will cool you insensibly, by degrees, by little and little. What care I," saith he, "though I be seven years in chilling thy heart, if I can do it at last? Continual rocking will lull a crying child asleep. I will ply it close, but I will have my end accomplished. Though you be burning hot at present, I can pull you from this fire. I shall have you cold before it be long."

These things brought me into great straits; for as I at present could not find myself fit for present death, so I thought, to live long would make me yet more unfit, for time would make me forget all, and wear even the remembrance of the evil of sin, the worth of heaven, and the need I had of the blood of Christ to wash me, both out of mind and thought; but I thank Christ Jesus, these things did not at present make me slack my crying, but rather did put me more upon it, like her who met with the adulterer, Dent. 22 : 27, in which days that was a good word to me, after I had suffered these things, a while: "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, etc., shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus." Rom. 8:39. And now I hoped long life would not destroy me, nor make me miss of heaven.

I had some supports in this temptation, though they were then all questioned by me. That in Jer. 3: 1, was something to me; and so was the consideration of verse four of that chapter, that though we have spoken and done as evil things as we could, yet we shall cry unto God, "My Father, thou art the guide of my youth," and shall return unto him. I had also once a sweet glance from that in 2 Cor. 5: 21, "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." I remember that one day, as I was sitting in a neighbor's house, and there very sad at the consideration of my many blasphemies, and as I was saying in my mind, "What ground have I to think that I, who have been so vile and abominable, should ever inherit eternal life?" that word came suddenly upon me: "What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" That also was a help unto me: "Because I live, you shall live also." But these words were but hints, touches, and short visits, though very sweet when present, only they lasted not, but like Peter's sheet, of a sudden were caught up from me to heaven again. Rom. 8: 13; John 14: 19; Acts 10: 16.

But afterwards the Lord did more fully and graciously discover himself unto me, and indeed did quite not only deliver me from the guilt that by these things was laid upon my conscience, but also from the very filth thereof; for the temptation was removed, and I was put into my right mind again, as other Christians were. I remember that one day, as I was travelling into the country and musing on the wickedness and blasphemy of my heart, and considering the enmity that was in me to God, that scripture came into my mind: "Having made peace through the blood of His cross." Col. 1: 20. By which I was made to see, both again and again, that God and my soul were friends by his blood; yea, I saw that the justice of God and my sinful soul could embrace and kiss each other, through his blood. This was a good day to me; I hope I shall never forget it.

At another time, as I sat by the fire in my house and was musing on my wretchedness, the Lord made that also a precious word unto me: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Heb. 2:14, 15. I thought that the glory of these words was then so weighty on me, that I was both once and twice ready to swoon as I sat, yet not with grief and trouble, but with solid joy and peace.

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