Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners

PRESENTLY after this I changed my condition into a married state, and my mercy was to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly. This woman and I, though we came together as poor as poor might be, not having so much household stuff as a dish or spoon between us both, yet this she had for her part, "The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven" and "The Practice of Piety," which her father had left her when he died. In these two books I would sometimes read with her, wherein I also found some things that were somewhat pleasing to me; but all this while I met with no conviction. She also would be often telling me what a godly man her father was, and how he would reprove and correct vice, both in his house and among his neighbors; and what a strict and holy life he lived in his days, both in words and deeds.

Wherefore these books, with the relation, though they did not reach my heart to awaken it about my sad and sinful state, yet they did beget within me some desires to reform my vicious life and fall in very eagerly with the religion of the times, to wit, to go to church twice a day, and that too with the foremost; and there I would very devoutly both say and sing as others did, yet retaining my wicked life; but withal I was so overrun with the spirit of superstition that I adored, and that with great devotion, even all things, both the highplace, priest, clerk, vestment, service, and what else belonging to the church-counting all things holy that were therein contained, and especially the priest and clerk most happy, and without doubt greatly blessed, because they were the servants, as I then thought, of God, and were principal in the holy temple, to do his work therein.

This conceit grew so strong in a little time upon my spirit, that had I but seen a priest, though never so sordid and debauched in his life, I should find my spirit fall under him, reverence him, and knit unto him; yea, I thought, for the love I did bear unto them—supposing they were the ministers of God—I could have laid down at their feet, and have been trampled upon by them, their name, their garb, and work did so intoxicate and bewitch me.

After I had been thus for some considerable time, another thought came into my mind, and that was whether we were of the Israelites or no; for finding in the Scriptures that they were once the peculiar people of God, thought I, if I were one of this race, my soul must needs be happy. Now again I found within me a great longing to be resolved about this question, but could not tell how I should; at last I asked my father of it, who told me we were not. Wherefore then I fell in my spirit as to the hopes of that, and so remained. But all this while I was not sensible of the danger and evil of sin; I was kept from considering that sin would damn me, what religion soever I followed, unless I was found in Christ: nay, I never thought of him, nor whether there was such a one or no. Thus man, while blind, doth wonder, but wearieth himself with vanity, for he knoweth not the way to the city of God. Eccles. 10: 15.

But one day, among all the sermons our parson made, his subject was to treat of the Sabbath-day, and of the evil of breaking that, either with labor, sports, or otherwise. Now I was, notwithstanding my religion, one that took much delight in all manner of vice, and especially that was the day that I did solace myself therewith; wherefore I fell in my conscience under this sermon, thinking and believing that he made that sermon on purpose to show me my evil-doing. And at that time I felt what guilt was, though never before that I can remember; but then I was for the present greatly loaded therewith, and so went home when the sermon was ended with a great burden upon my spirit.

This for that instant did benumb the sinews of my best delights, and imbitter my former pleasures to me; but behold it lasted not, for before I had well dined, the trouble began to go off my mind, and my heart returned to its old course; but Oh, how glad was I that this trouble was gone from me, and that the fire was put out, that I might sin again without control. Wherefore, when I had satisfied nature with my food, I shook the sermon out of my mind, and to my old custorn of sports and gaming I returned with great delight.

But the same day, as I was in the midst of a game of cat, and having struck it one blow from the hole, just as I was about to strike it a second time, a voice did suddenly dart from heaven into my soul, which said, "Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell?" At this I was put to an exceeding maze; wherefore, leaving my bat upon the ground, I looked up to heaven, and was as if I had with the eyes of my understanding seen the Lord Jesus looking down upon me, as being very hotly displeased with me, and as if he did severely threaten me with some grievous punishment for these and other ungodly practices. I had no sooner thus conceived in my mind, but suddenly this conclusion was fastened on my spirit, for the former hint did set my sins again before my face, that I had been a great and grievous sinner, and that it was now too late for me to look after heaven, for Christ would not forgive me nor pardon my transgressions. Then I fell to musing on this also; and while I was thinking of it, and fearing lest it should be so, I felt my heart sink in despair, concluding it was too late, and therefore I resolved in my mind to go on in sin; for, thought I, if the case be thus, my state is surely miserable-miserable if I leave my sins, and but miserable if I follow them: I can but be damned; and if it must be so, I had as good be damned for many sins as be damned for few.

Thus I stood in the midst of my play before all that then were present, but yet I told them nothing: but, I say, having made this conclusion, I returned desperately to my sport again; and I well remember, that presently this kind of despair did so possess my soul, that I was persuaded I could never attain to other comfort than what I should get in sin, for heaven was gone already, so that on that I must not think; wherefore I found within me great desire to take my fill of sin, still studying what sin was yet to be committed, that I might taste the sweetness of it; and I made as much haste as I could to fill my belly with its delicacies, lest I should die before I had my desires, for that I feared greatly. In these things, I protest before God I lie not, neither do I frame this sort of speech; these were really, strongly, and with all my heart, my desires. The good Lord, whose mercy is unsearchable, forgive my transgressions. And I am very confident that this temptation of the devil is more usual among poor creatures than many are aware of, even to overrun the spirits with a seared frame of heart and benumbing of conscience; which frame he stilly and slily supplieth with such despair, that though no peculiar guilt resteth upon them, yet they continually have a secret conclusion within them that there is no hope for them, for they have loved sins, therefore after them they will go. Jer. 2: 25; 18: 12.

Now therefore I went on in sin with great greediness of mind, still grudging that I could not be satisfied with it as I would. This continued with me about a month or more; but one day, as I was standing at a neighbor's shop-window, and there cursing and swearing and playing the madman after my wonted manner, there sat within the woman of the house, and heard me, who, though she was a very loose and ungodly wretch, yet protested that I swore and cursed at that most fearful rate that she was made to tremble to hear me; and told me further, that I was the ungodliest fellow for swearing that she ever heard in all her life, and that I by thus doing was able to spoil all the youth in the whole town, if they came but in my company. At this reproof I was silenced and put to secret shame, and that too, as I thought, before the God of heaven; wherefore while I stood there hanging down my head, I wished with all my heart that I might be a little child again, that my father might learn me to speak without this wicked way of swearing; for, thought I, I am so accustomed to it that it is in vain for me to think of reformation, for I thought that could never be.

But—how it came to pass I know not—I did from this time forward so leave my swearing that it was a great wonder to myself to observe it; and whereas before I knew not how to speak unless I put an oath before and another behind to make my words have authority, now I could without an oath speak better and with more pleasantness than ever I could before. All this while I knew not Jesus Christ, neither did I leave my sports and plays. But quickly after this I fell into company with one poor man that made profession of religion, who, as I then thought, did talk pleasantly of the Scriptures and of the matter of religion; wherefore, falling into some love—and liking to what he said, I betook me to my Bible and began to take great pleasure in reading, but especially the historical part thereof; for as for Paul's epistles and such like scriptures I could not away with them, being as yet ignorant both of the corruption of our nature and of the want and worth of Jesus Christ to save us: wherefore I fell to some outward reformation both in my words and life, and did set the commandments before me for my way to heaven; which commandments I also did strive to keep, and as I thought did keep them pretty well sometimes, and then I would have comfort, yet now and then would break one, and so afflict my conscience; but then I would repent and say I was sorry for it, and promise God to do better next time, and there got help again, for then I thought I pleased God as well as any man in England.

Thus I continued about a year, all which time our neighbors did take me to be a very godly man, a new and religious man, and did marvel much to see such great and famous alteration in my life and manners; and indeed so it was, though I knew not Christ, nor grace, nor faith, nor hope, for, as I have well since seen, had I then died my state had been most fearful. But, I say, my neighbors were amazed at this my great conversion from prodigious profaneness to something like a moral life; and truly so they well might, for this my conversion was as great as for Tom of Bedlam to become a sober man. Now therefore they began to praise, to commend, and to speak well of me, both to my face and behind my back. Now I was, as they said, become godly—now I was become a right honest man. But Oh, when I understood those were their words and opinions of me, it pleased me mighty well, for though as yet I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite, yet I loved to be talked of as one that was truly godly. I was proud of my godliness, and indeed I did all I did either to be seen or to be well spoken of by men; and thus I continued for about a twelvemonth or more.

Chapter 1Table of ContentsChapter 3
Validated by HTML Validator