Preliminary Epistles

To Noctua Aurita, in the Desert

    Dear Friend,

I HAVE attempted, as the Lord has enabled me, to comply with your request, in giving you some particulars respecting the good work the Lord has been pleased to work in my soul under the ministry of his Majesty's herald, now with us. I think it is more than three years ago that I first heard him preach a sermon from these words: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber." He gave such a description of the way that most professors entered into the loin, as quite astonished me. I could hardly credit it; but was not then left to contradict it; but I believed it could not touch me I thought it did me some good, as it led my heart out in gratitude to God that he had not left me to make such an entrance, for I was just in the state of the Laodicean church, thought myself rich and increased with goods, and to have need of nothing; but knew not that I was poor and wretched, miserable, blind, and naked. Had he asked me, at that time, of my experience, I should have told him that I had been on the mount of transfiguration with Peter, and in the third heaven with Paul.

I heard him for some time occasionally on Sabbath-day evenings. But he asserted such strange things respecting the first work of the Spirit's operation on a sinner's heart, when he came to convince him of sin, as was point-blank against my experience; therefore I thought I was a witness against him that he was wrong. His once asserting, that when the Spirit came to convict a sinner, and to convince him of unbelief, that such a soul could apply none of the promises of the gospel, this quite enraged me, and I declared I would never hear him preach another sermon I therefore left his ministry for, I believe, two or three months; during which time I found a great deal of enmity work against him, and his ministry too. However, conscience was not altogether silent at this time; and I should at times, have such thoughts as these, viz. Where does all this enmity spring from? It cannot be a fruit of the Spirit of God. However, these words of Paul used to set matters right at times: "To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." That I had the faith which is of the operation of God's Spirit, I believed no one that knew me doubted; but feeling this enmity rise high at times made me a little uneasy, and I thought I would hear him again, as he might be got more moderate. I had heard him but a few times before the Lord was pleased to strip me of all my supposed excellency. How true is that saying of the Psalmist, "When thou with thy rebukes correctest man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to assume like the moth." And so I found it. And I soon found the faith that I had so much boasted of to be nothing but bold presumption. God sent the killing commandment home to my conscience, which stirred up all the nest of uncleanness that lay hid in my heart before, and I could only view an angry God in a fiery law; and a dreadful sight it was to me; it made me, like Moses, to fear and quake. Here was no access to God. The flaming sword seemed to turn every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. Instead of faith, hope, joy, and peace, I felt my carnal mind was nothing but enmity against God. My heart was as hard as an adamant; my will was pregnant with nothing but stubbornness, perverseness, and rebellion; and, as to my affections, I knew not where they were; but I knew they were not fixed on God, where they ought to be. Pray I could not. I had no faith; and God's word declares that whatever is not at faith is sin, and that the prayer of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. This made me almost distracted. Every sermon I heard from him cut and condemned me; and the more it did so, the more I was riveted both to him and his preaching. I longed for the return of the Sabbath, that I might be tried and searched. I was now determined to leave the place I was joined to as a member, and attend his ministry on Sabbath mornings, as what I heard at the old place my soul could not endure; it was like singing songs to a heavy heart. How my soul loathed that daubing with untempered mortar! that peace which was spoken to my soul when God had spoken no peace! Blessed, for ever blessed be the Lord, who has delivered me from that empty profession, from that snare of the fowler. It was indeed sovereign mercy that delivered me from falling into that ditch, where the blind are leading the blind; and I was as blind as any one that is left behind, and perhaps far more presumptuous. Pardon this digression, dear sir, for Christ's love had just touched the handle of the lock, which made me thus wander. But to return. I went on so, I think about a year, groaning under this heavy burden. I could not unbosom myself fully to any one. I sometimes accidentally fell into the herald's company at the G____; and, as I wished much to have some conversation with him, I pressed him to favour me with a visit; and he said he would, which raised my expectation of having an opportunity to open my mind to him. But I believe it was a year after his first invitation before he came, which I assure you tried me not a little. The first time he called I could not persuade him to get off his horse. This distressed me much, and I concluded that no one cared for my soul, and so gave up all thoughts of ever having an opportunity of speaking to him, unless I went to him on purpose; and that I feared would be deemed too great a freedom; and, besides, I was afraid that I should not be able to make him to understand me, nor be able to point my case out so bad as it really was; and, should that be the case, I should be deprived of receiving a faithful sentence from his mouth. I believe he read my condemnation in my face, which used to make me tremble from head to foot. When I saw him come down from the pulpit stairs I thought he looked at me as if he wished I would never enter the chapel more. I think it was about a month after this, one Sabbath morning, he had been cutting and condemning me till I thought I was almost in the bottomless pit. I could no longer refrain, and therefore went to him into the vestry. He received me kindly, and gave me liberty to tell him all I wished; and, to my great surprise, he told me he really believed the Lord had begun a work on my soul, and that the Spirit of God was leading me to a sight and sense of my state by nature, and giving me to see that without Christ I could do nothing. What I felt at hearing this I cannot express; it was like life from the dead. I did not lose my burden, but I felt a gleam of hope from this consideration, that, if it was the Lord's work, I was not beyond the reach of mercy. I could, from this time, tell him my whole heart and soul without any reserve; and he was the only person to whom I could. And many words has he spoken to me in private which have helped me with a little help when I have thought I was near upon the borders of despair. He once preached from these words in Malachi: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom ye shall seek, shall suddenly come to his temple; even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall surely come, saith the Lord of Hosts." Under this sermon I seemed to have a glimpse of the person of Christ. I could not tell what it was then. I think it had some effect in attracting my affections, for I lost my burden for several days; and, though it was not attended with any appropriating faith, yet it produced a joy in my soul which I had not felt before. I nursed this frame till I lost it, and my burden returned heavier than ever Yet I cannot help thinking but that was the season that Christ knit my affections to himself; and it was the only season of real joy that I ever experienced till the Lord was pleased to break my fetters. As I before observed, my burden got heavier; and I found worldly cares got such hold of my mind that I was bowed down under them. My memory could retain nothing but what was against me. If I attempted to read but a chapter in the Bible, my thoughts were like the fool's eyes, wandering to the ends of the earth. If I attended the word preached, it was the same. And, though I was taught, by bitter experience, something of the importance of the truths I heard, yet, if I attempted to pray, though I knew I must perish everlastingly if the Lord did not give me the things I felt my need of, yet here worldly cares would so crowd into my mind that I have forgot what I came to God for. This I thought was a black mark indeed; this made my burden intolerable. His ministry still cut me off in the matter of faith. He would describe all I felt; and sometimes, under the word, I would have a little gleam of light to see something of the Spirit's work, which would give me a little hope that I was in the footsteps of the flock. But he was sure not to leave the pulpit till he had positively asserted that in such a soul, under those feelings, there was faith; which was like striking me dead; for I was well convinced I was quite destitute of that precious grace; and these two passages of scripture were to me quite a confirmation of it. The first is the words of Christ himself, when he says to his disciples, "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say to this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and it should be done." The mountain I conceived to be unbelief. The Saviour says the mustard seed is the least of all seeds; and I drew this inference from it, that if I had the least degree of faith in my heart, I should not be held so first under its power. The other passage is, what John says in one of his epistles: "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." But, with respect to my knowing any thing of this victory, my conscience bore witness that worldly cares so captivated my thoughts, that I could not keep them where I wished them to be for one minute. What it was which kept me from black despair I know not. All the hope I had was this: when I had a gleam of light to see that the path I was in had been trodden by many who had received pardon and peace in times past, then I thought perhaps God might save me. But then I knew not but that this hope might be cut off; and, should this take place, I must be lost for ever And I lived in daily expectation that this would be the case. At times I should find my burden get lighter; at least, I should feel myself more insensible of it. Then I thought I was in a worse situation than before; and I sought for it as if it had been my chiefest treasure; though I knew, when I had it, it almost made me distracted. I laboured long under a sharp temptation, and was saying, like one of old," I choose strangling rather than life." Any instrument of death I could not bear in my sight; and was afraid I should be left to be my own executioner. The Lord still held me up to the light, and to a sight of his justice and sovereignty; and I saw clearly that he would be just if he condemned me, and would be glorified in doing it, for I had procured it all to myself; and that my mouth would be for ever stopped, for I was under a threefold condemnation; condemned by the law, condemned by the gospel, and by my own conscience. But here I felt it cut closest; the thoughts of being condemned by the gospel, which is in itself good news and glad tidings, and in which is revealed a Saviour, who I saw was every way sufficient and able to save me. But it all rested on the act of his sovereign will; and whether that act would be put forth in mercy or in justice, I knew not Here all legal hopes are cut; no bottom in this dungeon. And this was the place where sovereign mercy took me up. About this time, God, in his kind providence, sent you down to the King's dale. You were, by appointment, to spend a day at the G____, and I was invited to meet you there. My case, at that time, seemed to be desperate. I had been for some time in great fear for losing my rationality, and was sure it must take place, if God did not appear for me; and then I thought I should be left to curse and blaspheme all that was good. This cut me to the quick. I was truly miserable, and thought myself not fit for the society of any that feared the Lord. I thought, if they did but know my heart, they would spurn me, and especially such an old servant of the Lord as I conceived you to be; for which reason I had a deal of pro and con in my mind that morning whether to go or not. I wanted to hear your conversation, and others whom I knew were to be there; and glad should I be could I have been shut in a closet for that purpose However, I at last concluded to go, but with this resolution, that I would by no means whatever open my mouth. You were almost a stranger to me, I having never been in your company but once before, nor never had any conversation with you. When I came I found you there, with several others, at dinner, and I was placed next to you. Even this circumstance made my heart ready to burst within me. O, thought I, did you but know what a wretch I am, you would not endure me so near you! I did try to hide my face with my bonnet as much as I could. But you had not sat many minutes at dinner before you related a circumstance of a woman who was brought under convictions by your ministry, and who at last was quite deprived of her rationality, and was put into a madhouse; and her husband said to you, "You always said it was the work of God on her soul; but what can you say now?" You said to him in answer," And so I do now; and I believe, in God's time, she will be brought to her right mind." This account was, indeed, like fuel to that fiery temptation I was then under; and no sooner was the word out of your mouth, than my sensations were such as I cannot describe. I thought I even seemed as if I felt my senses going from me. At this time, if I had all the world given me, I could not have helped bursting into tears; they came indeed from the abundant grief of my heart. You observed me, and turned to me very quick, and said to me," What do you weep for? Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." I answered, "If you knew my state, and what a wretch I am, you would not say so to me." You turned to me again, and said, "What do you cry for?" I made no answer, being determined, if possible, to keep my resolution. You repeated it several times, but could draw no more from me, till his Majesty's herald, who was present, said, "Sir, let her alone; perhaps she will tell you what the matter is by and by." You then left noticing me, and related a circumstance of a young woman who for some time had attended your ministry, and who was brought into great distress of soul; one who, I found, frequently visited you; and that she came to you one day, and said, "I am come to visit you for the last time, as it is of no use; all is over with me; there is no hope for me, I am certainly lost; I have neither strength nor power left, and sink I must." You said to her, "Well, girl, I see now your strength is gone, and you are brought to the place of promised deliverance; the work of stripping is done, there is nothing left; and I shall soon see you again with a new song in your mouth." These are the words, as near as they are brought to my recollection at this time. She went from you, and I think, if I am not mistaken, it was but a few days after, as she was attending your ministry, that the Lord appeared for her, burst her bonds, and delivered her soul; and the next time you saw her she told you a better tale, as you had predicted. This account took off the edge of those feelings which were communicated by the other relation, as I thought I saw a near resemblance between her condition and mine. When you had related this, you turned to me again, and asked me the same question as before, to tell you what was the matter with me. I did then open my mouth, and told you it was on account of the hardness and rebellion I felt in my heart. You then ordered a glass of beer, and one for me, and said, "Come, you and I will drink together." You asked me what I would drink to you. I answered, "I can drink my kind love to you." You said," Can you from your heart?" I said, "Yes." You said, "What can you love me for? It must be for something of God which you find in me; for no soul can love me for God's sake, unless they are loved of God; for we are to be hated of all men for his name's sake." And you added, "As sure as the Lord liveth, so sure shall you and I sit down together in the kingdom of heaven." That you should speak in such positive language to me, was very strange; neither could I credit you then. You then entered into conversation with me, and told me all my feelings, as if you had been privy to all that had passed in my heart for three years back; and even some particular things which I had been exercised with but a few days before, which I knew none could know but God and myself; and which I had not mentioned even to the King's herald; therefore I knew you could have no information of them from him. You came to me that day, as Christ came to the woman of Samaria, and told me all things that ever I did. And sent of God you was, I am well persuaded, by the blessed effects that followed. You had your commission from God to strengthen the weak hands, and to confirm the feeble knees; for my soul was refreshed; and I received a confidence at that time that God would appear for me; nor did I ever sink so low afterwards; and it was bout a month after this that God was pleased to appear and deliver my soul. You said unto me, "You shall not die in the pit, for in the pit I know you are." I shall never forget this interview, nor the effects of it, as long as I have an existence.

When the Lord saw that my strength was gone, and that there was none shut up or left, then he graciously appeared for me, and made the ministry of his excellency, by which I was alarmed and pulled down, the means of bringing me forth into the light and liberty of the children of God. The sermon was preached from these words: "Thou hast chastened me sore, but thou hast not given me over unto death." The Lord wrought faith in my heart, by that discourse, to believe in the dear Redeemer; and faith brought such joy into my soul as a stranger intermeddleth not with. I could now say, with David, that God had turned my mourning into dancing, and had taken off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness. And I really think, when I get to glory, that I shall sing the loudest of redeeming love and sovereign grace of any there. I must adopt, as my own, the language of Mr. Hart:

That sinners, black as hell, by Christ
Are sav'd, I know full well;
For I his mercy have not miss'd,
And I'm as black as hell.

I have sent you more than I intended when I sat down to write. But I believe every fact was brought to my mind by that blessed Spirit under whose operations they were wrought in my soul. Therefore I did not think that I should do right if I suppressed any part. I hope the homely dress in which it appears will not obscure it, so as to make it unintelligible. I believe you will find it out, as you have travelled the same path before I was brought into it. I present it to you with this request, that I may have an interest in your prayers, that the Lord would perfect that which is still lacking in my faith, and continue to work in me to will and to do of his own good pleasure; that I may be helped to deny self, and to take up the cross daily. And may the Lord long spare you to be useful in his vineyard, that you may daily see the fruit of your labours in espousing souls to Christ, which shall appear the crown of your joy and rejoicing in the great day, when you shall say," Here am I and the children which thou hast given me." This is the humble and earnest prayer of

The King's Dale.