A Short Account of the Experience of Mrs. S.N. Arminian Magazine XII (1789): 525-530, 581-585.
A Short Account of the Experience of Mrs. S. N.
[Written by Herself]
I believe I first found peace with God, when I was about three years old; in what manner, I cannot tell; but I remember that I was quite happy, and had no painful fear of God. How long I retained that peace, I do not remember; but it made such an impression on my mind, that I frequently wished (even since, I grow up) that I had died at that time.
When I was about six years old, I saw that I was a hell deserving sinner. This often made me very sad, and caused me to wish had never been born, or that I had never committed sin; for I thought, if the Lord required of us, all that is commanded in his word, it would be exceeding hard, if not utterly impossible for
me to be saved. But sin still appeared so dreadful, that I was determined to try to escape it: not doubting but God would forgive what was past if I served him well for the time to come. Therefore I made strong resolutions to avoid all I knew to be evil, and to do all the good I could. But these resolutions soon vanished away: and though often renewed they were as often broken; which made me very uneasy when I was alone.
As I grew older my convictions became stronger. And sometimes I spent several hours together in prayer, and self-examination. I also wrote down those sins which I knew I was guilty of, and confessed them to God, sometimes with much brokenness of heart, though at other times, my heart was so hard, that I could scarce be sorry for what I had done.
I used to wish to know what believing was, because the scripture testified that he that believeth not shall be damned. And I was exceedingly felicitous to know what was meant by being born again; and used frequently to consider our Lord’s answer to Nicodemus, but in vain. For this same purpose I turned over many religious books, and listened to the discourses delivered from the pulpit; but received no satisfaction from anything I heard or read.
When I was about nine years old I went to a boarding school in the neighbourhood, where I spent the summer-seasons. While I was there, I seldom felt much concern about my soul; or if I did, I banished it from my mind as soon as I could, to which the levity of my companions greatly contributed. But during the winter-seasons I was often under great distress, which made home very irksome; as every thing in that solitary way of life conspired to fill my mind with gloomy ideas.
I left school soon after I was fourteen years of age, when I thought myself completely wretched; for though I was naturally of a serious disposition, I had contracted such levity of spirit, that solitude was my aversion, and my father’s house almost
as insupportable as poison. But I was soon convinced that it was possible for me to be more miserable; for in a few weeks the Lord laid his afflicting hand on me, and seemed determined to bring me back to himself by multiplied afflictions, since I would not be won by love. But I was like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; for instead of hearing the rod, and him that appointed it, I flew in the face of God, and charged him with dealing hardly with me: nor would I humble myself before him, till I despaired of relief from any other quarter. But being convinced of this, I at last gave myself up to much prayer; and promised to serve him in future with my whole heart, if he would restore me once more. But as my disorder rather increased, than abated, I was often tempted to destroy myself, that I might put an end to my wretchedness: and so stupified was my mind, that I do not remember I had any fear of hell, or thought of going there if I died.
I continued in this unhappy condition, about two years. But meeting with the Death of Abel, then newly translated, I read it with astonishment; being amazed at the goodness of God to mankind, as there set forth in a variety of instances. The pleasing ideas it conveyed to me, greatly elevated my spirits; and while my thoughts were wholly taken up with this new discovery, a ray of divine light, darted into my mind, when I saw the unspeakable goodness of God in creating me, and in sparing me to the present moment. I also saw my exceeding sinfulness, in living in open rebellion against so indulgent a Being. On this I fell upon the ground (which I then thought not low enough for me) to adore Him, for suffering me to be out of hell, who had so much deserved it. From that time it was all my care to be reconciled to God; and therefore I cried for pardon day and night: in doing which I can truly say, I found more pleasure than ever I had done in the enjoyment of the world.
At these times many sweet portions of scripture were brought to my mind; especially Jer. xxxi. 9. I found great encouragement
also from Bunyan’s Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, and from a little book called, A Guide to Heaven, and also from Fox’s Tine, and end of Time; particularly from those words, “Assuring faith is attainable: pray for it, and vigorously press after it.” While I was doing this, it came to my mind that in baptism I was made a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. On recollecting this I was ready to leap for joy, and wondered I had never been sensible of it before. I now seemed to be in a new world, and thought myself the happiest creature breathing. Now I could bear with patience, what before I looked upon to be the greatest affliction, and only wished for the society of those who lived in the primitive times; for I thought, religion was now either banished from the earth, or else confined to Monasteries and Nunneries: to which I should gladly have gone, for the sake of having some to converse about the state of my soul.
For some weeks I was more happy than I can express, and longed exceedingly to depart and be with Christ. But after awhile, I found less pleasure in secret prayer, and by degrees was brought, in a great measure, to neglect it; by which means I lost the sense I had of the favour of God. And though I often strove to regain it, yet for want of persevering in prayer, &c. I strove in vain: and though my heart was sometime melted a little, it soon became hard again, and as much averse to duty as ever. In short, I was now very miserable. And finding no power to extricate myself, I thought my day of grace was ended, that the spirit of God had done striving with me, and feared that I was one of those whom St. Paul says, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. These thoughts occasioned me many melancholy hours, and caused me to envy the birds and the beasts, and to wish I could change conditions with the meanest reptiles, that I might not live for ever.
When I was about eighteen, I again felt the drawings of the Father and was enabled to be very conscientious in the discharge of secret duties. I was also more circumspect in my behaviour, and found at times great sweetness in reading, and, praying; but could not obtain the peace I once enjoyed, which made me sometimes think, God dealt hardly with me, as I had fought his favour much longer now, than I did before. At other times I feared he had cast me off for ever, and would no more have mercy on me: so that I thought it was in vain for me to seek him, which made me grow very remiss.
A little before I was nineteen years old, my mother desired me to receive the sacrament. But I was not willing, knowing myself to be in a bad state, and having no mind to be at the trouble of mending. But as I could not tell how to refuse, I took up my cross and went, after striving to repent of my past conduct, and resolving to live better for the future. But I received the bread and wine with fear and trembling: feeling a great sense of my own unworthiness. But when it was over, I was in such a solemn frame of mind, that I thought I could never be light and trifling any more. The rest of the day I spent in reading and prayer; and in the evening the Lord was pleased to shed his love abroad in my heart, and to give me an assurance that he had accepted me through the Son of his love: which made me rejoice with joy unspeakable, as he had accepted me at a time when I thought myself the most unworthy of his favour. Thus I continued very happy for a little time; but alas, through unwatchfulness and levity I again lost this pearl of great price.
In the winter following my friend and relative Miss Eden, who was then just awakened among the Methodists, asked me to hear one of them, which I had a desire to do. I thought, if they were what they pretended to be, I should like them, and had often wished to be acquainted with some of them, to know if they were such as I wanted to find. By what I had been told concerning the strictness of their doctrines, I
expected to have heard a sermon just to my mind; but on the contrary, it so disgusted me that I could not be prevailed on to bear them again. However, I knew, whatever they were, I was certainly wrong: and being provoked to jealousy by their behaviour, I determined to amend.
In consequence of this, on Feb. 1st, 1768, I began to alter my way of life, and to seek the Lord afresh. I retired as much as possible from the rest of the family; was very conscientious in observing my set hours of prayer; denied myself
of those things which I thought would be a hindrance to my leading a religious life; and took much pains to keep my mind fixed upon divine things. I went on in this manner, till Easter-Eve, when the Lord broke in upon my soul, and gave me to know that my sins were all forgiven and that he had again received me into his favour. For sometime I rejoiced greatly in the sense of this; but after a while I was again, I know not how, deprived of it, which made me very uneasy: for now I concluded that it was impossible that such a creature as I should keep such an invaluable blessing.
About this time Mr. T. Eden (who was converted a little before,) asked me if I knew my sins were forgiven? I told him I believed I did some time ago, but had no clear sense of it at that time; but knew not the reason why I had not. He said, I had certainly grieved the spirit of God, and thereby caused him to depart. He then exhorted me, to seek it again, and told me I should receive it as soon as I could believe: and that when I had received it I never need lose it any more, as it was the will of God we should always enjoy it. These were good tidings of great joy to me; for now the Lord called me as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and all I wanted was a constant sense of his favour. From that moment, I was resolved to seek him with my whole heart. And oh! how did I rejoice to think I might be always happy in him, if it was not my own fault: and doubting not, but I should soon obtain his favour again, I gave up the world entirely.
Soon after, going to Stroud and Bristol, I was fully convinced that the Methodists were true Bible-Christians; for they appeared to me to have the same mind in them which was also in Christ. On this I was fully determined that this people should be my people, and their God should be my God. But still, “this, was my grief, my curse, my shame; I could not love the bleeding Lamb.” On this account I was sometimes in great distress, at others in patient expectation that the Lord would return, and heal my backslidings. Sometimes I thought he was a respecter
of persons, and that I had done much more to obtain his favour than many others who had obtained it, or than I myself had formerly done. At other times I thought he would not give me this blessing for many years, or till just as I was dying, to punish me for my past abuse of his grace. These thoughts greatly augmented my distress, and I thought if I was again pardoned, it would be the greatest miracle of mercy that ever was known.
My trouble now daily increased; and hell appeared open before me, and destruction without a covering. I went mourning all the day long, for the arrows of the Almighty stuck fast within me, and his hand pressed me fore; but this was the constant language of my heart,“I’ll wait, perhaps my Lord may come, If back I go, hell is my doom: If I ne’er find the sacred road. I’ll perish trying out for God.”
I continued seeking the Lord till Nov. 10. 1768, at which time my father was reading an account of an Indian, in the life of D. Brainard, who said, he had “Often tried to give his heart to God, and thought that sometime he should be enabled so to do, and then he should be accepted; but now he saw it was for ever impossible for him to do it, and that he must perish after all that he had done, or could do.” I had been striving to make the same bargain with God; and he, in like manner, convinced me of the utter insufficiency of all my endeavours to procure salvation. I was much shocked at first to see myself stript of all, and left naked and helpless in the hands of God; till I remembered Mr. Brainard’s mentioning his being stript of all his own righteousness, about two days before he was justified; and then I was exceeding glad, thinking the time of my deliverance was near. The next morning, while I was at prayer, I saw in a manner I cannot express, that
Christ was the way to the Father; but I did not know this was the blessing that I wanted, and still strove to mourn for it; and when I could not (for frequently my heart was filled with joy) I was afraid I was quite hardened, and by grieving because I could not grieve, I sometimes lost sight of Christ as the way, and then I was wretched enough, without using means to make me so.
Nov. 20th, the Lord removed the mist from my eyes, and gave me to see that I had refused, and slighted his grace, which distressed me unspeakably. On this account I wept almost all day, and in the evening retired to give full vent to my grief, which I did with many tears. When I could weep no longer, I remembered two verses I opened upon in the morning, which were the 8th and 9th of the 16th chapter of Ezekiel. I read them over and over, striving to believe, but finding I could not, I laid down the book; but taking it up again, I read them once more, when I was enabled to believe , as to go on my way rejoicing.
I was no sooner brought into the liberty the children of God, than I began to look after the full renewal of my soul in righteousness, (which I then determined to do as soon as I heard it was attainable.) And this I was constrained to do more and more, as the Lord discovered to me the depths of iniquity that remained in my heart. And though I frequently met with many discouragements, yet I was enabled to persevere in seeking this blessing, in good earnest, till the first of April, when, as I was agonizing in prayer, it seemed to be brought very ar. I then thought, if the Lord would speak to me by his word and say, “Thou art made whole, go in peace, and sin no more,” I would believe; and for this purpose I took up the Bible, but to my no small surprise I opened on the following words, “This is an evil generation; they seek after a sign, but there shall no sign be given them.” I closed the book, and was afraid that the Lord was angry with me. But at that instant, he caused me to enter into this rest; when I seemed to be awed into a little child, and my
soul (which till that moment, was vehemently agitated) enjoyed a profound calm. But through the cunning craftiness of Satan, I was soon deprived of this blessing; and for half a year (or something more) I received and gave it up many times; partly through the temptations of Satan, and partly through the treatment I met with from some of the children of God, who set this salvation far from them. But, after I had thus gone without the camp, bearing the reproach of Christ, and suffered many things too tedious to relate, the Lord raised me up friends who had experienced this great salvation, to take my part: since which time I have been enabled to hold fast the profession of my faith without wavering. The last time I received a sense of his renewing love, was October 14, 1769, while I was reading these words in one of J. Cooper’s Letters, “One thing is needful for you in your present situation, even to cast yourself upon God, just as you are:” on which I was enabled to venture my soul upon Jesus; and I felt somewhat of “That prostrate awe which dares not move, before the great Three One!” From that time my heart daily owned and rejoiced in the kingly power of the Lord Jesus, and my delight was to sit at his feet, and to love and obey him.
Since I received the blessing of the Lord’s constant presence (which I did rather more than two years ago) I do not remember that I ever lost it above once, though I have been often perplexed with the temptation of, “Where is now thy God!” which has been an interruption of my happiness; but the vicissitudes of life interrupt me not, nor deprive me of a moment’s joy in God. I daily use both vocal and mental prayer, and prove the truth of this assertion, “He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God and God in him.”