Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners

ABOUT this time the state and happiness of these poor people at Bedford were thus in a kind of vision presented to me. I saw as if they were on the sunny side of some high mountain, there refreshing themselves with the pleasant beams of the sun, while I was shivering and shrinking in the cold, afflicted with frost, snow, and dark clouds. Methought also between me and them I saw a wall that did compass about this mountain. Now through this wall my soul did greatly desire to pass, concluding that if I could I would even go into the very midst of them, and there also comfort myself with the heat of their sun. About this wall I bethought myself to go again and again, still prying as I went to see if I could find some way or passage by which I might enter therein, but none could I find for some time. At the last I saw as it were a narrow gap, like a little doorway in the wall, through which I attempted to pass. Now the passage being very strait and narrow, I made many efforts to get in, but all in vain, even until I was wellnigh quite beat out by striving to get in; at last, with great striving, methought I at first did get in my head, and after that, by a sidelong striving, my shoulders and my whole body ; then I was exceeding glad, and went and sat down in the midst of them, and so was comforted with the light and heat of their sun.

Now this mountain and wall were thus made out to me. The mountain signified the church of the living God; the sun that shone thereon, the comfortable shining of his merciful face on them that were therein: the wall I thought was the wall that did make separation between Christians and the world; and the gap that was in the wall I thought was Jesus Christ, who is the way to God the Father. John 14: 6 ; Matt. 7: 14. But forasmuch as the passage was wonderful narrow, even so narrow that I could not but with great difficulty enter in thereat, it showed me that none could enter into life but those that were in downright earnest and unless also they left that wicked world behind them, for here was only room for body and soul, but not for body and soul and sin. This resemblance abode upon my spirit many days, all which time I saw myself in a forlorn and sad condition, but yet was provoked to a vehement hunger and desire to be one of that number that did sit in the sunshine. Now also would I pray wherever I was, whether at home or abroad, in house or field; and would also often, with lifting up of heart, sing that of the fifty-first Psalm, "O Lord, consider my distress," for as yet I knew not where it was.

Neither as yet could I attain to any comfortable persuasion that I had faith in Christ; but instead of having satisfaction here, I began to find my soul to be assaulted with fresh doubts about my future happiness, especially with such as these: Whether I was elected. But how if the day of grace should be past and gone? By these two temptations I was very much afflicted and disquieted, sometimes by one and sometimes by the other of them.

And first, to speak of that about my questioning my election, I found at this time that though I was in a flame to find the way to heaven and glory, and though nothing could beat me off from this, yet this question did so offend and discourage me that I was, especially sometimes, as if the very strength of my body also had been taken away by the force and power thereof. This scripture did also seem to me to trample upon all my desires; "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." With this scripture I could not tell what to do, for I evidently saw, unless the great God of his infinite grace and bounty had voluntarily chosen me to be a vessel of mercy, though I should desire and long and labor until my heart did break, no good could come of it. Therefore this would stick with me: How can you tell that you are elected? And what if you are not? How then? O Lord, thought I, what if I am not indeed? It may be you are not, said the tempter. It may be so indeed, thought I. Why then, said Satan, you had as good leave off and strive no further; for if indeed you are not elected and chosen of God, there is no hope of your being saved, for "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." Rom. 9: 16. By these things I was driven to my wits end, not knowing what to say or how to answer these temptations. Indeed, I little thought that Satan had thus assaulted me, but thought it was my own prudence thus to start the question: for that the elect only obtained eternal life, that I without scruple did heartily close withal; but that myself was one of them, there lay the question.

Thus therefore for several days I was greatly assaulted and perplexed, and was often, when I had been walking, ready to sink where I went with faintness in my mind; but one day, after I had been so many weeks oppressed and cast down therewith, as I was now quite giving up the ghost of all my hopes of ever attaining life, that sentence fell with weight upon my spirit "Look at the generations of old, and see ; did ever any trust in God, and were confounded?" at which I was greatly enlightened and encouraged in my soul, for thus at that very instant it was expounded to me: "Begin at the beginning of Genesis, and read to the end of the Revelation, and see if you can find that there was ever any that trusted in the Lord and was confounded." So coming home, I presently went to my Bible to see if I could find that saying, not doubting but to find it presently, for it was so fresh and with such strength and comfort on my spirit, that it was as if it talked with me. Well, I looked, but found it not, only it abode upon me. Then did I ask, first this good man and then another, if they knew where it was, but they knew no such place. At this I wondered that such a sentence should so suddenly and with such comfort and strength seize and abide upon my heart, and yet that none could find it, for I doubted not but that it was in the holy Scriptures. Thus I continued above a year, and could not find the place; but at last, casting my eye upon the Apocryphal books, I found it in Ecclesiasticus, 2 : 10. This at the first did somewhat daunt me; but because by this time I had got more experience of the love and kindness of God, it troubled me the less, especially when I considered that though it was not in those texts that we call holy and canonical, yet, forasmuch as this sentence was the sum and substance of many of the promises, it was my duty to take the comfort of it; and I bless God for that word, for it was of good to me: that word doth still ofttimes shine before my face.

After this that other doubt did come with strength upon me: But how if the day of grace should be past and gone? How if you have overstood the time of mercy? Now I remember that one day as I was walking in the country, I was much in the thoughts of this: But how if the day of grace is past? And to aggravate my trouble, the tempter presented to my mind those good people of Bedford, and suggested thus unto me: that these being converted already, they were all that God would save in those parts, and that I came too late, for these had got the blessing before I came. Now was I in great distress, thinking in very deed that this might well be so; wherefore I went up and down bemoaning my sad condition, counting myself far worse than a thousand fools for standing off thus long, and spending so many years in sin as I had done, still crying out, Oh that I had turned sooner; Oh that I had turned seven years ago. It made me also angry with myself to think that I should have no more wit but to trifle away my time till my soul and heaven were lost.

But when I had been long vexed with this fear, and was scarce able to take one step more, just about the same place where I received my other encouragement, these words broke in upon my mind: "Compel them to come in, that my house may be filled; and yet there is room." Luke 14:22. These words, but especially those, "and yet there is room," were sweet words to me, for truly I thought that by them I saw there was place enough in heaven for me; and moreover, that, when the Lord Jesus did speak these words, he then did think of me, and that he, knowing that the time would come that I should be afflicted with fear that there was no place left for me in his bosom, did before speak this word, and leave it upon record, that I might find help thereby against this vile temptation. This I then verily believed. In the light and encouragement of this word I went for some time; and the comfort was the more when I thought that the Lord Jesus should think on me so long ago, and that he should speak those words on purpose for my sake, for I did think verily that he did on purpose speak them to encourage me withal.

But I was not without my temptations to go back again—temptations, I say, both from Satan, mine own heart, and carnal acquaintance; but I thank God these were outweighed by that sound sense of death and of the day of judgment which abode as it were continually in my view. I would often also think of Nebuchadnezzar, of whom it was said he had given him all the kingdoms of the earth. Dan. 5: 18, 19. Yet, thought I, if this great man had all his portion in this world, one hour in hell-fire would make him forget all. This consideration was a great help to me.

I was almost made about this time to see something concerning the beasts that Moses counted clean and unclean. I thought those beasts were types of men: the clean, types of them that were the people of God; but the unclean, types of such as were children of the wicked one. Now I read that the clean beast chewed the cud; that is, thought I, they show us we must feed upon the word of God. They also parted the hoof. I thought that signified we must part, if we would be saved, with the ways of ungodly men. And also, in further reading about them, I found that though we did chew the cud as the hare, yet if we walked with claws like a dog, or if we did part the hoof like the swine, yet if we did not chew the cud as the sheep, we are still for all that but unclean; for I thought the hare to be a type of those that talk of the word, yet walk in the ways of sin, and that the swine was like him that parteth with his outward pollution, but still wanteth the word of faith, without which there would be no way of salvation, let a man be ever so devout. Deut. ch. 14. After this I found, by reading the word, that those that must be glorified with Christ in another world, must be called by him here—called to the partaking of a share in his word and righteousness, and to the comforts and first-fruits of his Spirit, and to a peculiar interest in all those heavenly things which do indeed prepare the soul for that rest and house of glory which is in heaven above.

Here again I was at a very great stand, not knowing what to do, fearing I was not called; for, thought I, if I be not called, what then can do me good? None but those who are effectually called, inherit the kingdom of heaven. But Oh, how I now loved those words that spoke of a Christian's calling; as when the Lord said to one, " Follow me;" and to another, "Come after me;' and Oh, thought I, that he would say so to me too; how gladly would I run after him. I cannot now express with what longings and breathings in my soul I cried to Christ to call me. Thus I continued for a time all on a flame to be converted to Jesus Christ; and did also see at that day such glory in a converted state, that I could not be contented without a share therein. Gold! could it have been gotten for gold, what would I have given for it! Had I had a whole world, it had all gone ten thousand times over for this, that my soul might have been in a converted state. How lovely now was every one in my eyes that I thought to be a converted man or woman. They shone; they walked like a people that carried the broad seal of heaven about them. Oh, I saw the lot was fallen to them in pleasant places, and that they had a goodly heritage. Psalm 16: 6.

But that which made me sick was that of Christ in Mark, "He went up into a mountain, and called to him whom he would, and they came unto him." Mark 3:13. This scripture made me faint and fear, yet it kindled a fire in my soul. That which made me fear was this, lest Christ should have no liking to me, for he called whom he would. But Oh, the glory that I saw in that condition did still so engage my heart, that I could seldom read of any that Christ did call, but I presently wished, Would that I had been in their clothes; would that I had been born Peter; would that I had been born John; or would that I had been by and heard him when he called them how would I have cried, O Lord, call me also. But Oh, I feared he would not call me.

And truly the Lord let me go thus many months together, and showed me nothing, either that I was already or should be called hereafter; but at last, after much time spent and many groans to God that I might be made partaker of the holy and heavenly calling, that word came in upon me: "I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed; for the Lord dwelleth in Zion" Joel 3: 21. These words, I thought, were sent to encourage me to wait still upon God, and signified unto me, that if I were not already, yet the time might come when I might be in truth converted unto Christ.

About this time I began to break my mind to those poor people in Bedford, and to tell them my condition; which when they had heard, they told Mr. Gifford of me, who himself also took occasion to talk with me, and was willing to be well persuaded of me, though, I think, from little grounds. But he invited me to his house, where I should hear him confer with others about the dealings of God with their souls; from all which I still received more conviction, and from that time began to see something of the vanity and inward wretchedness of my wicked heart, for as yet I knew no great matter therein; but now it began to be discovered unto me, and also to work at a rate it never did before.

Now I evidently found that lusts and corruptions put forth themselves within me in wicked thoughts and desires, which I did not regard before; my desires also for heaven and life began to fail. I found also, that whereas before my soul was full of longing after God, now it began to hanker after every foolish vanity; yea, my heart would not be moved to mind that which was good; it began to be careless both of my soul and heaven. It would now continually hang back, both to and in every duty, and was as a clog upon the leg of a bird to hinder him from flying. Nay, thought I, now I grow worse and worse—now I am further from conversion than ever I was before; wherefore I began to sink greatly in my soul, and began to entertain such discouragement in my heart as laid me as low as hell. If now I should have burned at the stake I could not believe that Christ had a love for me; alas, I could neither hear him, nor see him, nor savor any of his things. I was driven as with a tempest; my heart would be unclean, and the Canaanites would dwell in the land.

Sometimes I would tell my condition to the people of God, which when they heard they would pity me, and would tell me of the promises; but they had as good have told me that I must reach the sun with my finger, as have bidden me receive or rely upon the promises, and as soon I should have done it. All my sense and feeling were against me, and I saw I had a heart that would sin, and that lay under a law that would condemn. These things have often made me think of the child which the father brought to Christ, who, while he was yet coming to him, was thrown down by the devil, and also so rent and torn by him that he lay and wallowed foaming. Mark 9: 20 ; Luke 9:42.

Further, in these days I would find my heart to shut itself up against the Lord and against his holy word. I have found my unbelief to set as it were the shoulder to the door to keep him out, and that too even then when I have with many a bitter sigh cried, Good Lord, break it open; Lord, break these gates of brass, and cut these bars of iron asunder. Psa. 107:16. Yet that word would sometimes create in my heart a peaceful pause, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Isa. 45: 5. But all this while, as to the act of sinning, I was never more tender than now; my hinder parts were inward; I durst not take a pin or stick, though but so big as a straw, for my conscience now was sore, and would smart at every touch. I could not now tell how to speak my words, for fear I should misplace them. Oh, how cautiously did I then go, in all I did or said. I found myself as in a miry bog, that shook if I did but stir, and was as there left both of God and Christ and the Spirit, and all good things.

But I observed, though I was such a great sinner before conversion, yet God never much charged the guilt of the sins of my ignorance upon me, only he showed me I was lost if I had not Christ, because I had been a sinner. I saw that I wanted a perfect righteousness to present me without fault before God, and this righteousness was nowhere to be found but in the person of Jesus Christ. But my original and inward pollution, that, that was my plague and affliction; that I saw at a dreadful rate always putting forth itself within me; that I had the guilt of to amazement; by reason of that, I was more loathsome in mine own eyes than a toad, and I thought I was so in God's eyes too. Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart, as water would bubble out of a fountain. I thought now that every one had a better heart than I had. I could have changed heart with any body. I thought none but the devil himself could equal me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell therefore, at the sight of my own vileness, deeply into despair; for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; sure I am given up to the devil, and to a reprobate mind. And thus I continued for a long while, even for some years together.

While I was thus aficted with the fears of my own damnation, there were two things would make me wonder. The one was, when I saw old people hunting after the things of this life as if they should live here always, the other was, when I found professors much distressed and cast down when they met with outward losses, as of husband, wife, child, etc. Lord, thought I, what ado is here about such little things as these. What seeking after carnal things by some, and what grief in others for the loss of them. If they so much labor after and shed so many tears for the things of this present life, how am I to be bemoaned, pitied, and prayed for. My soul is dying, my soul is damned. Were my soul but in a good condition, and were I but sure of it, ah, how rich should I esteem myself, though blessed but with bread and water. I should count those but small afflictions, and should bear them as little burdens. A wounded spirit who can bear?

And though I was much troubled and tossed and afflicted with the sight and sense and terror of my own wickedness, yet I was afraid to let this sight and sense go quite off my mind; for I found that unless guilt of conscience was taken off the right way, that is, by the blood of Christ, a man grew rather worse for the loss of his trouble of mind than before. Wherefore, if my guilt lay hard upon me, then would I cry that the blood of Christ might take it off; and if it was going off without it, for the sense of sin would be sometimes as if it would die and go quite away, then I would also strive to fetch it upon my heart again, by bringing the punishment of sin in hell-fire upon my spirit, and would cry, Lord, let it not go off my heart but in the right way, by the blood of Christ and the application of thy mercy through him to my soul, for that scripture did lay much upon me: "Without the shedding of blood there is no remission." Heb. 9: 22. And that which made me the more afraid of this was, because I had seen some, who though when they were under the wounds of conscience would cry and pray, yet feeling rather present ease for their trouble than pardon for their sins, cared not how they lost their guilt, so they got it out of their minds. Now, having it got off the wrong way, it was not sanctified unto them; but they grew harder and blinder and more wicked after their trouble. This made me afraid, and made me cry to God the more that it might not be so with me. And now I was sorry that God had made me man, for I feared I was a reprobate. I counted man unconverted as the most doleful of all creatures. Thus being afflicted and tossed about my sad condition, I counted myself alone and above the most of men unblessed.

Yea, I thought it impossible that ever I should attain to so much godliness of heart as to thank God that he had made me a man. Man indeed is the most noble by creation of all creatures in the visible world; but by sin he has made himself the most ignoble. The beasts, birds, fishes, I have blessed their condition, for they had not a sinful nature ; they were not obnoxious to the wrath of God; they were not to go to hell-fire after death. I could therefore have rejoiced had my condition been as any of theirs.

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