« הקודםהמשך »
Almost twenty years have now elapsed since the ensuing Narrative was first published. During this time the Author has bad abundant opportunities of examining, over and over again, the principles wbich he then intended to inculcate. If, therefore, he had, on further reflection, materially altered his sentiments, he should have thought himself bound, by the strongest obligations, to retract what he had erroneously advanced. But he is thankful that, on the contrary, he feels it incumbent on him to declare most solemnly, as in the presence of God, that every thing which he has since experienced, observed, heard and read, has concurred in establishing his most assured confidence, that the doctrines recommended in this publication, are the grand and distinguishing peculiarities of genuine Christianity.
Very many verbal corrections, with a few retrenchments and additions, will be found in this Edition. In improvements of this kind, the Author has bestowed considerable pains : but, he bas been scrupulously, and al. most superstitiously, careful to admit no alteration, which can in the least degree change the meaning of any passage.
He feels thankful, that the leading desire of his heart, in publishing a work, which seems to relate almost exclusively to himself and his own little concerns, has not been wholly disappointed; but he would earnestly request
prayers of all, who favour the doctrines here inculcated, for a more abundant and extensive blessing on this, and all his other feeble endeavours, to contend earnestly “ for the faith once delivered to the saints.”
Chapel-Street, Oct. 16, 1798.
FORCE OF TRUTH.
An Account of the state of the Author's mind and conscience in the early part of his
life, especially shewing what his sentiments and conduct were, at the beginning of that change of which he proposes to give the history.
THOUGH I was not educated in what is commonly considered as ignorance of God and religion, yet, till the sixteenth year of my age, I do not remember that I ever was under any serious conviction of being a sinner, in danger of wrath, or in need of mercy; nor did I ever, during this part of my life, that I recollect, offer one hearty prayer to God in secret. Being alienated from God through the ignorance that was in me, I lived without him in the world, and as utterly neglected to pay him any voluntary service, as if I had been an Atheist in principle.
But about my sixteenth year I began to see that I was a sinner. I was indeed a leper in every part, there being “no health in me;" but, out of many external indications of inward depravity, conscience discovered and reproached me with one especially; and I was, for the first time, disquieted with apprehensions of the wrath of an offended God. My attendance at the Lord's table was expected about the same time ; and though I was very ignorant of the meaning and end of that sacred ordinance, yet this circumstance, uniting with the accusations of my conscience, brought an awe upon my spirits, and interrrupted my before undisturbed course of sin.
Being, however, an utter stranger to the depravity and helplessness of fallen nature, I had no doubt that I could amend my life whenever I pleased. Previously therefore to communicating, I set about an unwilling reformation ; and, procuring a form of prayer, I attempted to pay my secret addresses to the Majesty of heaven. Having in this manner silenced my conscience, I partook of the ordinance: I held my resolutions also, and continued my devotions, such as they were, for a short time: but they were a weariness and a task to me; and, temptations soon returning, I relapsed; so that my prayer-book was thrown aside, and no more thought of, till my conscience was again alarmed by the next warning given for the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Then the same ground was gone over again, and with the same issue. My “goodness was like the morning-dew that passeth away;" and, loving sin and disrelishing religious duties as much as ever, I returned, as “ the sow that is washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
With little variation, this was my course of life for nine years : but in that time I had such experience of my own weakness, and the superior force of temptation, that I secretly concluded reformation in my case to be impracticable. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ??" I was experimentally convinced that I was equally unable, with the feeble
barrier of resolutions and endeavours, to stem the torrent of my impetuous inclinations, when swelled by welcome, suitable, and powerful temptations : and being ignorant that God had reserved this to himself as his own work, and had engaged to do it for the poor sinner who, feeling 'his own insufficieney, is heartily desirous to have it done by him, I stifled my convictions as well as I could, and put off my repentance to a more convenient season.
But, being of a reflecting turn, and much alone, my mind was almost constantly employed. Aware of the uncertainty of life, I was disquieted with continual apprehensions, that this more convenient scason would never arrive; especially as, through an unconfirmed state of health, I had many warnings and near prospects of death and eternity. For a long time I entertained no doubt that impenitent sinners would be miserable for ever in hell: and at some seasons such amazing reflections upon this awful subject forced themselves into my mind, that I was overpowered by them, and my fears became intolerable. At such times my extemporary cries for mercy were so wrestling and persevering, that I was scarcely able to give over; though at others I lived without prayer of any sort! Yet, in my darkest hours, though my conscience was awakened to discover more and more sinfulness in my whole behaviour, there remained a hope that I should one day repent and turn unto God. If this hope was from myself, it was a horrid presumption; but the event makes me willing to acknowledge a persuasion that it was from the Lord: for had it not been for this hope, I would probably have given way to temptations, which frequently assaulted me, to put an end to my own life, in proud discontent with my lot in this world, and mad despair about another.
A hymn of Dr Watts' (in his admirable little book for children) entitled “ The all-seeing God," at this time fell in my way: I was much affected with it, and having committed it to memory, was frequently repeating it, and thus continually led to reflect on my guilt and danger. Parents may from this inconsiderable circumstance be reminded, that it is of great importance to store their children's memories with useful matter, instead of suffering them to be furnished with such corrupting trash as is commonly taught them. They know not what use God may make of these early rudiments of instruction in future life.
At this period, though I was the slave of sin, yet, my conscience not being pacified, and my principles not greatly corrupted, there seemed some hope concerning me; but at length Satan took a very effectual method of silencing my convictions, that I might sleep securely in my sins; and justly was I given over to a strong delusion to believe a lie, when I held the truth that I did know in unrighteousness. I met with a Socinian comment on the Scriptures, and greedily drank the poison, because it quieted my fears and flattered my abominable pride. The whole system coincided exactly with my inclinations and the state of my mind. In reading this exposition, sin seemed to lose its native ugliness, and to appear a very small and tolerable evil: man's imperfect obedience seemed to shine with an excellency almost divine ; and God appeared so entirely and necessarily merciful, that he could not
make any of his creatures miserable without contradicting his natural pro• pensity. These things influenced my mind so powerfully, that I was ena
bled to consider myself, notwithstanding a few little blemishes, as upon the whole a very worthy being. At the same time, the mysteries of the gospel being explained away, or brought down to the level of man's comprehension, by such proud and corrupt, though specious, reasonings; by acceding to these sentiments, I was, in my own opinion, in point of understanding and discernment, exalted to a superiority above the generality of mankind; and I pleased myself in looking down, with contempt, upon such as were weak enough to believe the orthodox doctrines. Thus I generally soothed my conscience: and if at any time I was uneasy at the apprehension that I did not thoroughly deserve eternal happiness, and was not entirely fit for heaven; the same book afforded me a soft pillow on which to lull myself to sleep: it
argued, and, I then thought, proved, that there were no eternal torments; and it insinuated that there were no torments except for notorious sinners, and that such as should just fall short of heaven would sink into their original nothing. With this welcome scheme 1 silenced all my fears, and told my accusing conscience, that if I fell short of heaven I should be annihilated, and never be sensible of my loss.
By experience I am well acquainted with Satan's intention, in employing so many of his servants to invent and propagate those pestilential errors, whether in speculation or practice, that have in all ages corrupted and enervated the pure and powerful doctrine of the gospel; for they lead to forgetfulness of God and security in sin, and are deadly poison to every soul that imbibes them, unless a miracle of grace prevent. Such, on the one hand, are all the superstitious doctrines of popery: purgatory, penances, absolutions, indulgencies, merits of good works, and the acceptableness of will-worship and uncommanded observances; what are these but engines of the devil to keep men quiet in their sins ? Man, resolved to follow the dictates of his depraved inclination, and not to bound his pursuits and enjoyments by the limits of God's holy law, catches at any thing to soften the horrible thought of eternal misery. This is the awakening reflection, God's sword in the conscience, which it is Satan's business, by all his diabolical artifices, to endeavour to sheath, blunt, or turn aside; knowing that while this alarming apprehension is present to the soul, he can never maintain possession of it in peace. By such inventions therefore as these, he takes care to furnish the sinner with that which he seeks, and to enable him t') walk according to the course of this wicked world, and the desires of depraved nature, without being disturbed by such dreadful thoughts. The same, on the other hand, is the tendency of all those speculations of reasoning men, which set God's attributes at variance with each other, which represent the Supreme Governor as so weakly merciful, that he regards neither the demands of his justice, the glory of his holiness, the veracity of his word, nor the peaceable order and subordination of the universe ; which explain away all the mysteries of the gospel ; and represent sin, that fruitful root of evil, that enemy of God, that favourite of Satan, as a very little thing, scarcely noticed by the Almighty, and which, contrary to the Scriptures and universal experience and observation, would persuade us that man is not a depraved creature.
To these latter sentiments I acceded, and maintained them as long as I could ; and I did it most assuredly, because they soothed my conscience, freed me from the intolerable fears of damnation, and enabled me to think favourably of myself. For these reasons alone, I loved and chose this ground: I fixed myself upon it, and there fortified myself by all the arguments and reasonings I could meet with. These things I wished to believe ; and I had my wish: for at length I did most confidently believe them. Being taken captive in this snare of Satan, I should here have perished with a lie in my right hand, had not the Lord whom I dishonoured, snatched me as a brand from the burning !
In this awful state of mind I attempted to obtain admission into Holy Orders! Wrapt up in the proud notion of the dignity of human nature, I had lost sight of the evil of sin, and thought little of my own sinfulness; I was filled with a self-important opinion of my own worth, and the depth of my understanding: and I had adopted a system of religion accommodated to that foolish pride; having almost wholly discarded mysteries from my creed, and regarding with sovereign contempt those who believed them. As far as I understand such controversies, I was nearly a Socinian and Pelagian, and wholly an Arminian : * yet, to my shame be it spoken, I sought to obtain ad
* Possibly some readers may not fully understand the import of these terms: and for their benefit I would obscrve, that the Socinians consider Christ as a mere man, and his death merely as an example of patience, and a confirmation of his doctrine, and not as a real atonement satisfactory to divine justice for man's sins. They deny the Deity and personality of the Holy Spirit, and do not admit that all Christians experience his renewing, sanctifying, and comforting influences; and they generally reject the doc. trine of eternal punishments. The Pelagians deny original sin, and explain away the scriptural history