Chapter 9

Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners

HAVING thus, in few words, given you a taste of the sorrow and affliction that my soul endured by the guilt and terror that these my wicked thoughts did lay me under, and having given you also a touch of my deliverance therefrom, and of the sweet and blessed comfort that I met with afterwards, which comfort dwelt about a twelvemonth with my heart, to my unspeakable admiration, I will now, God willing, before I proceed any farther, give you in a word or two what I conceive was the cause of this temptation, and also after that, what advantage at the last it became unto my soul.

For the causes, I conceive they were principally two, of which two also I was deeply convinced all the time this trouble lay upon me. The first was, for that I did not, when I was, delivered from the temptation that went before, still pray to God to keep me from the temptations that were to come; for though, as I can say in truth, my soul was much in prayer before this trial seized me, yet when I prayed only, or at the most principally, for the removal of present troubles, and for fresh discoveries of his love in Christ, which I saw afterwards was not enough to do, I also should have prayed that the great God would keep me from the evil that was to come. Of this I was made deeply sensible by the prayer of holy David, who, when he was under present mercy, yet prayed that God would hold him back from sin and temptation to come; “for then,” saith he, “shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression.” Psa. 19: 13. By this very word was I galled and condemned quite through this long temptation.

That was also another word that did much condemn me for my folly in the neglect of this duty: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Heb. 4: 16. This I had not done, and therefore was thus suffered to sin and fall, according to what is written: “Pray that ye enter not into temptation.” And truly this very thing is to this day of such weight and awe upon me, that I dare not, when I come before the Lord, go off my knees until I entreat him for help and mercy against the temptations that are to come; and I do beseech thee, reader, that thou learn to beware of my negligence by the afflictions that for this thing I did for days and months and years with sorrow undergo.

Another cause of this temptation was, that I had tempted God; and on this manner did I do it: upon a time my wife was great with child, and before her full time was come, her pangs, as of a woman in travail, were fierce and strong upon her, even as she would have immediately fallen into labor and been delivered of an untimely birth. Now at this very time it was that I had been so strongly tempted to question the being of God; wherefore, as my wife lay crying by me, I said, but with all secrecy imaginable, even thinking in my heart, “Lord, if now thou wilt remove this sad affliction from my wife, and cause that she be troubled no more therewith this night”—and now were her pangs just upon her—”then shall I know that thou canst discern the most secret thoughts of the heart.” I bad no sooner said it in my heart but her pangs were taken from her, and she was cast into a deep sleep, and so continued till morning. At this I greatly marvelled, not knowing what to think; but after I had been awake a good while, and heard her cry no more, I fell asleep also. So when I awaked in the morning it came upon me again, even what I had said in my heart the last night, and how the Lord had showed me that he knew my secret thoughts, which was a great astonishment unto me for several weeks after.

Well, about a year and a half afterwards, that wicked, sinful thought of which I have spoken before went through my wicked heart, “Let Christ go if he will” So when I was fallen under guilt for this, the remembrance of my other thought, and of the effect thereof, would also come upon me with this retort, which also carried rebuke along with it: “Now you may see that God doth know the most secret thoughts of the heart.” And with this, that of the passages that were between the Lord and his servant Gideon fell upon my spirit how because that Gideon tempted God with his fleece, both wet and dry, when he should have believed and ventured upon his words, therefore the Lord did afterwards so try him as to send him against an innumerable company of enemies, and that too, as to outward appearance, without any strength or help. Judg. 7: 7. Thus he served me, and that justly; for I should have believed his word, and not have put an if upon the all-seeingness of God.

And now to show you something of the advantages that I also gained by this temptation; and first, by this I was made continually to possess in my soul a very wonderful sense both of the blessing and glory of God and of his beloved Son. In the temptation that went, before, my soul was perplexed with unbelief, blasphemy, hardness of heart, questions about the being of God, Christ, the truth of the word, and certainty of the world to come: I say, then I was greatly assaulted and tormented with atheism; but now the case was otherwise; now was God and Christ continually before my face, though not in a way of comfort, but in a way of exceeding dread and terror. The glory of the holiness of God did at this time break me to pieces, and the bowels and compassion of Christ did break me as on the wheel; for I could not consider him but as a lost and rejected Christ, the remembrance of which was as the continual breaking of my bones.

The Scriptures also were wonderful unto me; I saw that the truth and verity of them were the keys of the kingdom of heaven: those that the Scriptures favor must inherit bliss; but those that they oppose and condemn must perish for evermore. Oh, this word, “for the Scriptures cannot be broken,” would rend the caul of my heart; and so would that other: “Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted; but whose sins ye retain, they are retained.” Now I saw the apostles to be the elders of the city of refuge. Josh. 20:4. Those that they were to receive in, were received to life; but those that they shut out, were to be slain by the avenger of blood. Oh, one sentence of the Scripture did more afflict and terrify my mind—I mean those sentences that stood against me, and sometimes I thought they every one did—more, I say, than an army of forty thousand men that might come against me. Woe be to him against whom the Scriptures bend themselves.

By this temptation I was made to see more into the nature of the promises than ever I had before; for I now lay trembling under the mighty hand of God, continually torn and rent by the thundering of his justice. This made me, with careful heart and watchful eye, with great fearfulness to turn over every leaf, and with much diligence, mixed with trembling, to consider every sentence, together with its natural force and latitude. By this temptation also I was greatly holden off from my former foolish practice of putting by the word of promise when it came into my mind; for now, though I could not draw that comfort and sweetness from the promise which I had done at other times, yet, like a man sinking, I would catch at all I saw. Formerly I thought I might not meddle with the promise unless I felt its comfort; but now it was no time thus to do, the avenger of blood too hardly did pursue me.

Now therefore was I glad to catch at that word, which yet I feared I had no ground or right to own, and even to leap into the bosom of that promise that yet I feared did shut its heart against me. Now also I would labor to take the word as God hath laid it down, without restraining the natural force of one syllable thereof. Oh, what did I see in the blessed sixth chapter of John “And him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” John 6: 37. Now I began to consider with myself that God had a bigger mouth to speak with than I had a heart to conceive with; I thought also with myself that he spoke not his words in haste, or in an unadvised heat, but with infinite wisdom and judgment, and in very truth and faithfulness.

I would in these days often, in my greatest agonies, even flounce towards the promise, as the horses do towards sound ground, and yet stick in the mire; concluding, though as one almost bereft of his wits through fear, on this will I rest and stay, and leave the fulfilling of it to the God of heaven that made it. Oh, many a pull hath my heart had with Satan for that blessed sixth chapter of John. I did not now, as at other times, look principally for comfort, though Oh how welcome would it have been unto me; but now a word, a word to lean a weary soul upon, that it might not sink for ever, it was that I hunted for. Yea, often when I have been looking to the promise, I have seen as if the Lord would refuse my soul for ever; I was often as if I had run upon the pikes, and as if the Lord had thrust at me to keep me from him as with a flaming sword. Then would I think of Esther, who went to petition the king contrary to the law. I thought also of Benhadad’s servants, who went with ropes upon their heads to their enemies for mercy. The woman of Canaan also, that would not be daunted, though called dog by Christ, and the man that went to borrow bread at midnight, were also great encouragements unto me. Esth. 4:16; 1 Kings 20: 31, etc.; Matt. 15: 22, etc.; Luke 11:5-8, etc.

I never saw such heights and depths in grace and love and mercy as I saw after this temptation—great sins to draw out great grace; and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when showed to the soul, appears most high and mighty. When Job had passed through his captivity, he had twice as much as he had before. Job 42: 10. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ our Lord. Many other things I might here make observation of, but I would be brief, and therefore shall at this time omit them, and pray God that my harms may make others fear to offend, lest they also be made to bear the iron yoke as I did. I had two or three times, at or about my deliverance from this temptation, such strange apprehensions of the grace of God, that I could hardly bear up under it; it was so out of measure amazing, when I thought it could reach me, that I do think if that sense of it had abode long upon me it would have made me incapable for business.

Now I shall go forward to give you a relation of other of the Lord’s dealings with me at sundry other seasons, and of the temptations I then did meet withal. I shall begin with what I met with when first I joined in fellowship with the people of God in Bedford. After I had propounded to the church that my desire was to walk in the order and ordinances of Christ with them, and was also admitted by them, while I thought of that blessed ordinance of Christ which was his last supper with his disciples before his death, that scripture, “Do this in remembrance of me,” Luke 22:19, was made a very precious word unto me, for by it the Lord did come down upon my conscience with the discovery of his death for my sins, and as I then felt, did as if he plunged me in the virtue of the same. But behold, I had not been long a partaker at that ordinance, but such fierce and sad temptation did attend me at all times therein, both to blaspheme the ordinance and to wish some deadly thing to those that then did eat thereof, that, lest I should at any time be guilty of consenting to these wicked and fearful thoughts, I was forced to bend myself all the while to pray to God to keep me from such blasphemies; and also to cry to God to bless the cup and bread to them, as it were, from mouth to mouth. The reason of this temptation, I have thought since, was because I did not with that reverence that became me at first approach to partake thereof. Thus I continued for three quarters of a year, and could never have rest nor ease; but at the last the Lord came in upon my soul with that same scripture by which my soul was visited before; and after that I have been usually very well and comfortable in the partaking of that blessed ordinance, and have, I trust, therein discerned the Lord’s body as broken for my sins, and that his precious blood hath been shed for my transgressions.

Upon a time I was something inclining to a consumption, wherewith about the spring I was suddenly and violently seized with much weakness in my outward man, insomuch that I thought I could not live. Now began I afresh to give myself up to a serious examination of my state and condition for the future, and of my evidences for that blessed world to come; for it hath, I bless the name of God, been my usual course, as always, so especially in the day of affliction, to endeavor to keep my interests in the life to come clear before mine eyes. But I had no sooner began to recall to mind my former experience of the goodness of God to my soul, than there came flocking into my mind an innumerable company of my sins and transgressions; among which these were at this time most to my affliction, namely, my deadness, dullness, and coldness in my holy duties; my wanderings of heart, my wearisomeness in all good things, my want of love to God, his ways, and people, with this at the end of all: “Are these the fruits of Christianity? are these tokens of a blessed man ?”

At the apprehensions of these things my sickness was doubled upon me, for now I was sick in my inward man, my soul was clogged with guilt; now also were my former experiences of God’s goodness to me quite taken out of my mind and hid, as if they had never been or seen. Now was my soul greatly pinched between these two considerations: Live I must not; die I dare not. Now I sunk and fell in my spirit, and was giving up all for lost; but as I was walking up and down my house as a man in a most woful state, that word of God took hold of my heart: “Ye are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 3: 24. But Oh, what a turn it made upon me. Now was I as one awakened out of some troublesome sleep and dream; and listening to this heavenly sentence, I was as if I had heard it thus spoken to me: “Sinner, thou thinkest that because of thy sins and infirmities I cannot save thy soul; but behold, my Son is by me, and upon him I look, and not on thee, and shall deal with thee according as I am pleased with him.” At this I was greatly enlightened in my mind, and made to understand that God could justify a sinner at any time; it was but his looking upon Christ, and imputing his benefits to us, and the work was forth with done.

And as I was thus in a muse, that scripture also came with great power upon my spirit: “Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” 2 Tim. 1: 9. Now was I got on high; I saw myself within the arms of grace and mercy; and though I was before afraid to think of a dying hour, yet now I cried, Let me die; now death was lovely and beautiful in my sight, for I saw we shall never live indeed till we be gone to the other world. Oh, methought, this life is but a slumber in comparison with that above. At this time also I saw more in these words, “heirs of God,” Rom. 8:17, than ever I shall be able to express while I live in this world. Heirs of God! God himself is the portion of the saints. This I saw and wondered at, but cannot tell you what I saw.

Again, as I was at another time very ill and weak all that time also the tempter did beset me strongly—for I find he is much for assaulting the soul when it begins to approach towards the grave; then is his opportunity—laboring to hide from me my former experience of God’s goodness; also setting before me the terrors of death and the judgment of God, insomuch that at this time, through my fear of miscarrying for ever, should I now die, I was as one dead before death came, and was as if I had felt myself already descending into the pit. Methought I said, ” There is no way, but to hell I must;” but behold, just as I was in the midst of those fears, these words of the angels carrying Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom darted in upon me, as if it were said, “So shall it be with thee when thou shalt leave this world.” This did sweetly revive my spirits, and help me to hope in God, which, when I had with comfort mused on a while, that word fell with great weight upon my mind: “0 death, were is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory?” 1 Cor. 15:55 At this I became both well in body and mind at once, for my sickness did presently vanish, and I walked comfortably in my work for God again.

At another time, though just before I was pretty well and savory in my spirit, yet suddenly there fell upon me a great cloud of darkness, which did so hide from me the things of God and Christ that I was as if I had never seen or known them in my life. I was also so overrun in my soul with a senseless, heartless frame of spirit, that I could not feel my soul move or stir after grace and life by Christ; I was as if my loins were broken, or as if my hands and feet had been tied or bound with chains. At this time also I felt some weakness seize upon my outward man, which made still the other affliction the more heavy and uncomfortable to me.

After I had been in this condition some three or four days, as I was sitting by the fire I suddenly felt this word to sound in my heart, I must go to Jesus. At this my former darkness and atheism fled away, and the blessed things of heaven were set in my view. While I was on this sudden thus overtaken with surprise, “Wife,” said I, “is there ever such a scripture, ‘I must go to Jesus?'” She said she could not tell; therefore I stood musing still, to see if I could remember such a place. I had not sat above two or three minutes but that came bolting in upon me: “And to an innumerable company of angels;” and withal, the twelfth chapter of Hebrews, about the mount Sion, was set before mine eyes. Then with joy I told my wife, “Oh, now I know, I know.” But that night was a good night to me; I have had but few better: I longed for the company of some of God’s people, that I might impart unto them what God had showed me. Christ was a precious Christ to my soul that night; I could scarce lie in my bed for joy and peace and triumph through Christ.

This great glory did not continue upon me until morning, yet the twelfth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews was a blessed scripture to me for many days together after this. The words are these: “Ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” Through this sentence the Lord led me over and over, first to this word, and then to that, and showed me wonderful glory in every one of them. These words also have oft since that time been great refreshment to my spirit. Blessed be God for having mercy on me.