Is arrested for holding unlawful assemblages and conventicles, and lies in jail twelve years. The trial of parting from his wife and children. His spiritual experiences in prison.
HAVING made profession of the glorious Gospel of Christ a long time, and preached the same about five years, I was apprehended at a meeting of good people in the country; among whom had they let me alone I should have preached that day; but they took me away from amongst them, and had me before a justice; who, after I had offered security for my appearing the next sessions, yet committed me, because my sureties would not consent to be bound, that I should preach no more to the people.
At the sessions after, I was indicted for an upholder and maintainer of unlawful assemblies and conventicles, and for not conforming to the national worship of the Church of England; and after some conference there with the justices, they taking my plain dealing with them for a confession, as they termed it, of the indictment, did sentence me to a perpetual banishment, because I refused to conform. So being again delivered up to the jailer's hands, I was had home to prison, and there have lain now complete twelve years, waiting to see what God would suffer these men to do with me.
In which condition I have continued with much content, through grace; but have met with many turnings and goings upon my heart, both from the Lord, Satan, and my own corruptions: by all which, glory be to Jesus Christ, I have also received, among many things, much conviction, instruction, and understanding; of which at large I shall not here discourse; only give you a hint or two, a word that may stir up the godly to bless God and to pray for me; and also to take encouragement, should the case be their own, not to fear what man can do unto them.
I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the word of God as now. Those Scriptures that I saw nothing in before, are made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now: here I have seen and felt him indeed. Oh that word! "We have not preached unto you cunningly devised fables;" 33 2 Peter 1:16 and that, "God raised Christ from the dead, and gave him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God," 34 1 Peter 1:21 were blessed words unto me, in this my imprisoned condition.
These three or four Scriptures also have been great refreshments in this condition to me, (John 14:1-4.35 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. John 16:33.36 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. Colossians 3:3,4.37 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Hebrews 12:22-24).38 But 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. So that sometimes, when I have been in the savour of them, I have been able "to laugh at destruction, and to fear neither the horse nor his rider."39 Job 5:22; Exodus 15:1 I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world. Oh the Mount Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable company of angels and God the Judge of all, and the spirits of just men made perfect, and Jesus, have been sweet unto me in this place! I have seen that here, which I am persuaded I shall never, while in this world, be able to express. I have seen a truth in this Scripture, "Whom having not seen ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory."40 1 Peter 1:8
I never knew what it was for God to stand by me at all turns, and at every offer of Satan to afflict me, &c., as I have found him since I came in hither; for look how fears have presented themselves, so have supports and encouragements; yea, when I have started, even as it were at nothing else but my shadow, yet God, as being very tender of me, hath not suffered me to be molested, but would, with one Scripture or another, strengthen me against all, insomuch that I have often said, "Were it lawful, I could pray for greater trouble, for the greater comfort's sake."
Before I came to prison, I saw what was a-coming; and had especially two considerations warm upon my heart. The first was, how to be able to encounter death, should that be here my portion. For the first of these, that Scripture was great information to me, namely, to pray to God "to be strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long suffering with joyfulness."41 Colossians 1:11 I could seldom go to prayer before I was imprisoned, but for not so little as a year together, this sentence, or sweet petition, would, as it were, thrust itself into my mind, and persuade me, that if ever I would go through long suffering I must have patience, especially if I would endure it joyfully.
As to the second consideration, that saying was of great use to me, "But we had the sentence of death in ourselves that we might not trust in ourselves, but in God that raiseth the dead."42 2 Corinthians 1:9 By this Scripture I was made to see, that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must first pass a sentence of death upon every thing that can properly be called a thing of this life; even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all as dead to me, and myself as dead to them.
The second was, to live upon God that is invisible; as Paul said in another place, the way not to faint is, "to look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."43 2 Corinthians 4:18 And thus I reasoned with myself: If I provide only for a prison then the whip comes unawares; and so doth also the pillory. Again, if I only provide for these, then I am not fit for banishment. Further, if I conclude that banishment is the worst, then if death come I am surprised. So that I see the best way to go through sufferings, is to trust in God through Christ, as touching the world to come; and as touching this world, to "count the grave my house, to make my bed in darkness, and to say to corruption, Thou art my father; and to the worm, Thou art my mother and sister;"44 Job 17:13-14 that is, to familiarize these things to me.
But notwithstanding these helps, I found myself a man encompassed with infirmities. The parting with my wife and poor children hath often been to me, in this place, as the pulling the flesh from my bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries, and wants that my poor family was likewise to meet with; especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had beside. Oh! the thoughts of the hardships I thought my blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces.
Poor child, thought I, what sorrow art thou like to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure the wind should blow upon thee. But yet recalling myself, thought I, I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you. Oh! I saw in this condition I was as a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children; yet thought I, I must do it, I must do it. And now I thought on those two milch kine that were to carry the ark of God into another country, to leave their calves behind them.45 1 Samuel 6:7-8
But that which helped me in this temptation was divers considerations, of which three in special here I will name. The first was, the consideration of those two Scriptures, "Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive, and let thy widows trust in me:"46 Jeremiah 49:11 and again, "The Lord said, Verily, it shall go well with thy remnant: verily, I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil," &c.47 Jeremiah 15:11
I had also this consideration, that if I should now venture all for God, I engaged God to take care of my concernments; but if I forsook him and his ways, for fear of any trouble that should come to me or mine, then I should not only falsify my profession, but should count also that my concernments were not so sure, if left at God's feet, whilst I stood to and for his name, as they would be, if they were under my own care, though with the denial of the way of God. This was a smarting consideration, and as spurs unto my flesh. That Scripture also greatly helped it to fasten the more upon me, where Christ prays against Judas, that God would disappoint him in his selfish thoughts, which moved him to sell his master. Pray read it soberly. (Psalm 109:6-8, &c.)48 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
I had also another consideration, and that was, the dread of the torments of hell, which I was sure they must partake of, that for fear of the cross, do shrink from their profession of Christ, his words and laws, before the sons of men. I thought also of the glory he had prepared for those that in faith, and love and patience, stood to his ways before them. These things, I say, have helped me, when the thoughts of the misery that both myself and mine, might for the sake of my profession, be exposed to, hath lain pinching on my mind.
When I have indeed conceited, that I might be banished for my profession, then I have thought of that Scripture, "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins, and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy;"49 Hebrews 11:37-38 for all they thought they were too bad to dwell and abide amongst them. I have also thought of that saying, "The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, that bonds and afflictions abide me."50 Acts 20:23 I have verily thought, that my soul and it have sometimes reasoned about the sore and sad estate of a banished and exiled condition, how they are exposed to hunger, to cold, to perils, to nakedness, to enemies, and a thousand calamities; and at last, it may be to die in a ditch, like a poor, forlorn, and desolate sheep. But I thanked God, hitherto I have not been moved by these most delicate reasonings, but rather by them more approved my heart to God.
I will tell you a pretty business: I was once above all the rest, in a very sad and low condition for many weeks, at which time also I being but a young prisoner, and not acquainted with the laws, had this lain much upon my spirit, "That my imprisonment might end at the gallows for aught that I could tell." Now therefore Satan laid hard at me, to beat me out of heart, by suggesting thus unto me: "But how if, when you come indeed to die, you should be in this condition; that is, as not to savour the things of God, nor to have any evidence upon your soul for a better state hereafter?" for indeed at that time all the things of God were hid from my soul.
Wherefore, when I at first began to think of this, it was a great trouble to me; for I thought with myself, that in the condition I now was, I was not fit to die; neither indeed did I think I could, if I should be called to it; besides, I thought with myself, if I should make a scrambling shift to clamber up the ladder, yet I should, either with quaking, or other symptoms of fainting, give occasion to the enemy to reproach the way of God and his people, for their timorousness. This therefore lay with great trouble upon me; for methought I was ashamed to die with a pale face, and tottering knees in such a case as this.
Wherefore I prayed to God, that he would comfort me, and give strength to do and suffer what he should call me to. Yet no comfort appeared, but all continued hid. I was also at this time so really possessed with the thought of death, that oft I was as if on a ladder with a rope about my neck. Only this was some encouragement to me, I thought I might now have an opportunity to speak my last words unto a multitude which I thought would come to see me die; and, thought I, if it must be so, if God will but convert one soul by my last words, I shall not count my life thrown away, nor lost.
But yet all the things of God were kept out of my sight, and still the tempter followed me with, "But whither must you go when you die? What will become of you? Where will you be found in another world? What evidence have you for heaven and glory, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified?" Thus was I tossed for many weeks, and knew not what to do: at last this consideration fell with weight upon me, "That it was for the word and way of God that I was in this condition; wherefore I was engaged not to flinch an hair's breadth from it."
I thought also, that God might choose whether he would give me comfort now, or at the hour of death; but I might not therefore choose whether I would hold my profession or no. I was bound, but he was free; yea, it was my duty to stand to his word, whether he would ever look upon me, or save me at the last; wherefore, thought I, save the point being thus, I am for going on, and venturing my eternal state with Christ, whether I have comfort here or no. If God doth not come in, thought I, "I will leap off the ladder, even blindfold into eternity; sink or swim, come heaven, come hell. Lord Jesus, if thou wilt catch me, do; if not, I will venture for thy name."
I was no sooner fixed upon this resolution but the word dropped upon me, "Doth Job serve God for naught?"51 Job 1:9 As if the accuser had said, "Lord, Job is no upright man; he serves thee for by-respects: hast thou not made an hedge about him?" &c. But put forth now thine hand, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. How now, thought I, is this the sign of a renewed soul, to desire to serve God when all is taken from him? Is he a godly man that will serve God for nothing rather than give out? Blessed be God then, I hope I have an upright heart; for I am resolved, God giving me strength, never to deny my profession, though I had nothing at all for my pains. And as I was thus considering, that Scripture was set before me, (Psalm 44:12, &c.)52 Thou sellest thy people for nought, and dost not increase thy wealth by their price. Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us. . . All this is come upon us; yet have we not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. Our heart is not turned back, neither have our steps declined from thy way; Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered way; Though thou hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death. . . Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Awake, why sleepest thou O Lord? arise, cast us not off forever.
Now was my heart full of comfort, for I hoped it was sincere. I would not have been without this trial for much; I am comforted every time I think of it; and I hope I shall bless God forever, for the teachings I have had by it. Many more of the dealings of God towards me I might relate, "but these out of the spoils won in battle have I dedicated to maintain the house of God."53 1 Chronicles 26:27