CHAPTER VI

Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners

AT this time also I sat under the ministry of holy Mr. Gifford, whose doctrine, by God's grace; was much for my stability. This man made it much his business to deliver the people of God from all those hard and unsound tests that by nature we are prone to. He would bid us take special heed that we took not up any truth upon trust, as from this or that, or any other man or men; but cry mightily to God that he would convince us of the reality thereof, and establish us therein by his own Spirit in the holy word; for, said he, if you do otherwise, when temptation comes, if strongly upon you, you not having received the word with evidence from heaven, will find you want that help and strength now to resist, that once you thought you had.

This was as seasonable to my soul as the former and latter rain in their season, for I had found, and that by sad experience, the truth of these his words; for I had felt that no man can say, especially when tempted by the devil, that Jesus Christ is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Wherefore I found my soul through grace very apt to drink in this doctrine, and to incline to pray to God that, in nothing that pertained to God's glory and my own eternal happiness, he would suffer me to be without the confirmation thereof from heaven; for now I saw clearly that there was an exceeding difference between the notion of the flesh and blood, and the revelation of God in heaven; also a great difference between that faith that is feigned and according to man's wisdom, and that which comes by a man's being born thereto of God. Matt. 16: 17; I John 5:1.

But Oh, how was my soul now led from truth to truth by God; even from the birth and cradle of the Son of God, to his ascension and second coming from heaven to judge the world. Truly I then found upon this account the great God was very good unto me, for to my remembrance there was not any thing that I then cried unto God to make known and reveal unto me, but he was pleased to do it for me—I mean, not one part of the gospel of the Lord Jesus, but I was orderly let into it. Methought I saw, with great evidence from the four evangelists, the wonderful works of God in giving Jesus Christ to save us, from his conception and birth even to his second coming to judgment: methought I was as if I had seen him born, as if I had seen him grow up, as if I had seen him walk through this world from the cradle to the cross; to which also, when he came, I saw how gently he gave himself to be crucified and nailed on the cross. for my sins and wicked doings. Also, as I was musing on this his progress, that passage dropped on my spirit: He was ordained for the slaughter. 1 Pet. 1 : 11, 20. When I have considered also the truth of his resurrection, and have remembered that word, "Touch me not, Mary," etc., I have seen as if he had leaped out of the grave's mouth for joy that he was risen again, and had got the conquest over our dreadful foes. John 20 : 17. I have also in the spirit seen him a man on the right hand of God the Father for me; and have seen the manner of his coming from heaven to judge the world with glory, and have been confirmed in these things by these scriptures : Acts 1 : 9 ; 7 : 56 ; 10 : 42 ; Heb. 7 : 24; Rev. 1 : 18 ; 1 Thess. 4 ; 17, 18.

Once I was troubled to know whether the Lord Jesus was man as well as God, and God as well as man; and truly in those days, let men say what they would, unless I had it with evidence from heaven, all was nothing to me; I counted myself not set down in any truth of God. Well, I was much troubled about this point, and could not tell how to be resolved; at last that in Rev. 5 : 6 came into my mind: "And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb." In the midst of the throne, thought I, there is the Godhead; in the midst of the elders, there is manhood. Oh, methought this did glister. It was a goodly touch, and gave me sweet satisfaction. That other scripture also did help me much in this : "Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Isa. 9 : 6. Also, besides these teachings of God in his word, the Lord made use of two things to confirm me in this truth: the one was the errors of the fanatics, and the other was the guilt of sin; for as the fanatics did oppose the truth, so God did the more confirm me in it by leading me into the scripture that did wonderfully maintain it.

  1. The errors they maintained were,
  2. That the holy Scriptures were not the word of God.
  3. That every man in the world had the Spirit of Christ, grace, faith, etc.
  4. That Christ Jesus, as crucified and dying sixteen hundred years ago, did not satisfy divine justice for the sins of the people.
  5. That Christ's flesh and blood were within the saints.
  6. That the bodies of the good and bad that are buried in the churchyard shall not rise again.
  7. That the resurrection is passed with good men already.
  8. That that man Jesus that was crucified between two thieves on mount Calvary, in the land of Canaan, by Judea, was not ascended above the starry heaven.
  9. That he should not, even the same Jesus that died by the hands of the Jews, come again at the last day, and as man judge all nations, etc.

Many more vile and abominable things were in those days fomented by them, by which I was driven to a more narrow search of the Scriptures, and was, through their light and testimony, not only enlightened, but greatly confirmed and comforted in the truth.

And as I said, the guilt of sin did help me much, for still, as that would come upon me, the blood of Christ did take it off again and again, and that too sweetly, according to the Scriptures. Oh, friends, cry to God to reveal Jesus Christ unto you; there is none teacheth like him.

It would be too long here to stay to tell you in particular how God did confirm me in all the things of Christ; and how he did, that he might do so, lead me into his words; yea, and also how he did open them unto me, and make them shine before me, and cause them to dwell with me, talk with me, and comfort me over and over, both of his own being and the being of his Son and Spirit, and word and gospel. Only this, as I said before, I will say unto you again, that in general he was pleased to take this course with me: first to suffer me to be afflicted with temptations concerning them, and then reveal them unto me. As sometimes I would lie under great guilt for sin, even crushed to the ground therewith, and then the Lord would show me the death of Christ; yea, so sprinkle my conscience with his blood, that I would find, and that before I was aware, that in that conscience, where but just now did reign and rage the law, even there would rest and abide the peace and love of God, through Christ.

Now I had an evidence, as I thought, of my salvation from heaven, with many golden seals thereon, all hanging in my sight; now could I remember this manifestation, and the other discovery of grace with comfort; and would often long and desire that the last day were come, that I might be for ever inflamed with the sight and joy and communion with Him whose head was crowned with thorns, whose face was spit upon, and body broken, and soul made an offering for my sins; for whereas before I lay continually trembling at the mouth of hell, now methought I was got so far therefrom that when I looked back I could scarce discern it; and Oh, thought I, that I were fourscore years old now, that I might die quickly, that my soul might be gone to rest.

But before I had got thus far out of these my temptations, I did greatly long to see some ancient godly man's experience, who had written some hundreds of years before I was born; for those who had written in our days, I thought—but I desire them now to pardon me—that they had written only that which others felt; or else had, through the strength of their wits and parts, studied to answer such objections as they perceived others were perplexed with, without going down themselves into the deep.

Well, after many such longings in my mind, the God in whose hands are all our days and ways, did cast into my hand one day a book of Martin Luther's; it was his Comment on the Galatians. It also was so old that it was ready to fall piece from piece, if I did but turn it over. Now I was pleased much that such an old book had fallen into my hands, the which when I had but a little way perused I found my condition in his experience so largely and profoundly handled, as if his book had been written out of my heart. This made me marvel, for thus thought I: this man could not know any thing of the state of Christians now, but must needs write and speak the experience of former days. Besides, he doth most gravely also in that book debate of the rise of these temptations, namely, blasphemy, desperation, and the like; showing that the law of Moses, as well as the devil, death, and hell, hath a very great hand therein, the which at first was very strange to me; but considering and watching, I found it so indeed. But of particulars here I intend nothing, only this methinks I must let fall before all men: I do prefer this book of Martin Luther upon the Galatians, excepting the Holy Bible, before all the books that ever I have seen, as most fit for a wounded conscience.

And now I found, as I thought, that I loved Christ dearly. Oh, methought my soul cleaved unto him, my affections cleaved unto him; I felt my love to him as hot as fire; and now, as Job said, I thought I should die in my nest: but I quickly found that my great love was but too little, and that I, who had, as I thought, such burning love to Jesus Christ, could let him go again for a very trifle. God can tell how to abase us, and can hide pride from man.

Quickly after this my love was tried to purpose; for after the Lord had in this manner thus graciously delivered me from this great and sore temptation, and had established me so sweetly in the faith of his holy gospel, and had given me such strong consolation and blessed evidence from heaven touching my interest in his love through Christ, the tempter came upon me again, and that with a more grievous and dreadful temptation than before: and that was, to sell and part with this most blessed Christ—to exchange him for the things of this life, for any thing. The temptation lay upon me for the space of a year, and did follow me so continually that I was not rid of it one day in a month; no, not sometimes one hour in many days together, unless when I was asleep. And though in my judgment I was persuaded that those who were once effectually in Christ, as I hoped through his grace I had seen myself, could never lose him for ever: for " the land shall not be sold for ever ; for the land is mine," saith God. Lev. 25 : 23. Yet it was a continual vexation to me to think that I should have so much as one such thought within me against a Christ, a Jesus who had done for me as he had done; and yet then I had almost none others but such blasphemous ones.

It was neither my dislike of the thought, nor yet any desire and endeavor to resist it, that in the least did shake or abate the continuation or force and strength thereof; for it did always, in almost whatever I thought, intermix itself therewith in such sort that I could neither eat my food, stoop for a pin, chop a stick, or cast mine eyes to look on this or that, but still the temptation would come, Sell Christ for this, or sell Christ for that; sell him, sell him. Sometimes it would run in my thoughts not so little as a hundred times together, Sell him, sell him, sell him; against which I may say, for whole hours together I have been forced to stand as continually leaning and forcing my spirit against it, lest haply before I was aware some wicked thought might arise in my heart that might consent thereto; and sometimes the tempter would make me believe I had consented to it; but then I would be as tortured upon a rack for whole days together.

This temptation did put me to such fears lest I should at sometimes, I say, consent thereto and be overcome therewith, that by the very force of my mind in laboring to gainsay and resist this wickedness, my very body would be put in action or motion, by way of pushing or thrusting with my hands or elbows, still answering as fast as the destroyer said, "Sell him," "I will not, I will not, I will not; no, not for thousands, thousands, thousands of worlds;" thus reckoning, lest I should in the midst of these assaults set too low a value on him, even until I scarce well knew where I was, or how to be composed again. At these seasons he would not let me eat my food in quiet; but forsooth, when I was set at the table at my meat, I must go hence to pray; I must leave my food now, and just now, so counterfeit holy would this devil be. When I was thus tempted, I would say in myself, Now I am at meat, let me make an end. No, said he, you must do it now, or you will displease God and despise Christ. Wherefore I was much afflicted with these things, and because of the sinfulness of my nature. If, imagining that these were impulses from God, I should deny to do it, would it not be as if I denied God? and then should I not be as guilty, because I did obey a temptation of the devil, as if I had broken the law of God indeed?

But to be brief, one morning as I lay in my bed I was, as at other times, most fiercely assaulted with this temptation to sell and part with Christ, the wicked suggestion still running in my mind, "Sell him, sell him, sell him, sell him," as fast as a man could speak; against which also in my mind, as at other times, I answered, "No, no, not for thousands, thousands, thousands," at least twenty times together; but at last, after much striving, even until I was almost out of breath, I felt this thought pass through my heart, "Let him go if he will;" and I thought also that I felt my heart freely consent thereto. Oh the diligence of Satan; Oh the desperateness of man's heart!

Now was the battle won, and down fell I, as a bird that is shot from the top of a tree, into great guilt and fearful despair. Thus getting out of my bed, I went moping into the fields; but, God knows, with as heavy a heart as mortal man I think could bear, where for the space of two hours I was like a man bereft of life, and as now past all recovery, and bound over to eternal punishment.

And withal that scripture did seize upon my soul: "Or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" Heb. 12 :16, 17.

Now was I as one bound; I felt myself shut up into the judgment to come. Nothing now, for two years together, would abide with me but damnation, and an expectation of damnation; I say, nothing now would abide with me but this, save some few moments for relief, as in the sequel you will see. These words were to my soul like fetters of brass to my legs, in the continual sound of which I went for several months together. But about ten or eleven o'clock on that day, as I was walking under a hedge, full of sorrow and guilt, God knows, and bemoaning myself for this hard hap that such a thought should arise within me, suddenly this sentence rushed in upon me: "The blood of Christ remits all guilt." At this I made a stand in my spirit. With that this word took hold upon me: "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." 1 John 1 : 7.

Now I began to conceive peace in my soul; and methought I saw as if the tempter did leer and steal away from me, as being ashamed of what he had done. At the same time also I had my sin and the blood of Christ thus represented to me: that my sin, when compared to the blood of Christ, was no more to it than this little clod or stone before me is to this vast and wide field that here I see. This gave me good encouragement for the space of two or three hours; in which time also methought I saw by faith the Son of God as suffering for my sins: but because it tarried not, I therefore sunk in my spirit under exceeding guilt again; but chiefly by the aforementioned scripture concerning Esau's selling of his birthright; for that scripture would lie all day long in my mind, and hold me down, so that I could by no means lift up myself; for when I would strive to turn to this scripture or that for relief, still that sentence would be sounding in me: "For ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" Sometimes, indeed, I would have a touch from that in Luke 22:32: "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not;" but it would not abide upon me; neither could I indeed, when I considered my state, find ground to conceive in the least that there should be the root of that grace in me, having sinned as I had done. Now was I torn and rent in a heavy case for many days together.

Then began I with sad and careful heart to consider of the nature and largeness of my sin, and to search into the word of God, if I could in any place espy a word of promise, or any encouraging sentence, by which I might take relief. Wherefore I began to consider that of Mark 3:28: "All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme" Which place, methought at a blush, did contain a large and glorious promise for the pardon of high offences; but considering the place more fully, I thought it was rather to be understood as relating more chiefly to those who had, while in a natural state, committed such things as there are mentioned; but not to me, who had not only received light and mercy, but who had, both after and also contrary to that, so slighted Christ as I had done. I feared therefore that this wicked sin of mine might be that sin unpardonable of which he there thus speaketh: "But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation." Mark 3: 29 And I did the rather give credit to this, because of that sentence in the Hebrews: "For ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." And this stuck always with me. And now was I both a burden and a terror to myself; nor did I ever so know as now what it was to be weary of my life, and yet afraid to die. Oh, how gladly now would I have been any body but myself—any thing but a man, and in any condition but my own; for there was nothing did pass more frequently over my mind than that it was impossible for me to be forgiven my transgression, and be saved from the wrath to come.

And now I began to labor to call again time that was past, wishing a thousand times twice told that the day was yet to come when I should be tempted to such a sin; concluding with great indignation, both against my heart and all assaults, how I would rather be torn in pieces than be found a consenter thereto. But alas, these thoughts and wishes and resolvings were now too late to help me; this thought had passed my heart: God hath let me go, and I am fallen. Oh, thought I, that it was with me as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me. Job 29 :2.

Then again, being loath and unwilling to perish, I began to compare my sin with others, to see if I could find that any of those that were saved had done as I had done. So I considered David's adultery and murder, and found them most heinous crimes, and those too committed after light and grace received. But yet, by considering that his transgressions were only such as were against the law of Moses, from which the Lord Christ could, with the consent of his word, deliver him; but mine was against the gospel, yea, against the Mediator thereof; I had sold my Saviour: now again would I be as if racked upon the wheel, when I considered that besides the guilt that possessed me, I should be so void of grace, so bewitched. What, thought I, must it be no sin but this? Must it needs be the great transgression? Must that wicked one touch my soul? Psa. 19: 13; 1 John 5: 18. Oh, what sting did I find in all these sentences! What, thought I, is there but one sin that is unpardonable—but one sin that layeth the soul without the reach of God's mercy? and must I be guilty of that; must it needs be that? Is there but one sin, among so many millions of sins, for which there is no forgiveness; and must I commit this? Oh unhappy sin! Oh unhappy man! These things would so break and confound my spirit, that I could not tell what to do; I thought at times they would have broken my wits and still to aggravate my misery, that would run in my mind: "Ye know how that afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected." Oh, no one knows the terrors of those days but myself.

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