John Nelson was the pioneer of Yorkshire Methodism. He happened to be working as an ornamental stonemason in London when he heard John Wesley preaching in the open air at Moorfields. He was soon converted and a year later returned to Yorkshire where he assisted Benjamin Ingham before he accompanied John Wesley on a preaching tour of Cornwall. Thereafter he became an intrepid evangelist, sometimes in the face of fierce persecution, throughout the north of England and then the Midlands.
Although John Nelson was a noteworthy revivalist, his journal is not filled with remarkable conversions, either in quality or quantity, though there are conversions enough mentioned in its pages. Rather it is a narrative of the struggles and hardships (as well as the joys) that go with “obeying God rather than man.”
It is the story of one man whom God called and who obeyed that call despite intense opposition both from the common people and, sadly, from those who name the name of Christ.
It is filled with a passionate commitment to be faithful to all of God’s truth, not just the comfortable bits, and of the conflicts that arise from that.
As there are no chapter headings in the book we have put around one third of its contents on this web-page.
I, JOHN NELSON, was born in the parish of Birstal, in the west-riding of the county of York, in October, 1707, and brought up a mason, as was my father before me.
When I was between nine and ten years old, I was horribly terrified with the thoughts of death and judgment, whenever I was alone. One Sunday night, as I sat on the ground by the side of my father’s chair, when he was reading the twentieth chapter of the Revelation, the word came with such light and power to my soul, that it made me tremble, as if a dart were shot at my heart. I fell with my face on the floor, and wept till the place was as wet, where I lay, as if water had been poured thereon. As my father proceeded, I thought I saw every thing he read about, though my eyes were shut; and the sight was so terrible, I was about to stop my ears, that I might not hear, but I durst not: as soon as I put my fingers in my ears, I pulled them back again. When he came to the eleventh verse, the words made me cringe, and my flesh seemed to creep on my bones, while he read, “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat thereon, from whose face the heavens and the earth fled away, and there was found no place for them: and I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things that were written in the books, according to their works.” O what a scene was opened to my mind! It was as if I had seen the Lord Jesus Christ sitting on his throne, with the twelve Apostles below him; and a large book open at his left hand: and as it were a bar fixed about ten paces from the throne, to which the children of Adam came up; and every one, as he approached, opened his breast, as quick as a man could open the bosom of his shirt. On one leaf of the book was written the character of the children of God; and on the other, the character of those that should not enter into the kingdom of heaven. I thought, neither the Lord nor the Apostles said any thing; but every soul, as he came up to the bar, compared his conscience with the book, and went away to his own place, either singing or else crying and howling. Those that went to the right hand were but like the stream of a small brook; but the others were like the flowing of a mighty river.
With thanks to the Revival Library.
God had followed me with convictions ever since I was ten years old; and whenever I had committed any known sin, either against God or man, I used to be so terrified afterwards, that I shed many tears in private: yet when I came to my companions, I wiped my face, and went on again in sin and folly. But, O! the hell I found in my mind when I came to be alone again; and what resolutions I made! Nevertheless, when temptations came, my resolutions were as a thread of tow that had touched the fire.
When I was about sixteen, I heard a sermon in our own church, which deprived me of rest in the night; nor durst I sin as I had done before for many days. But, alas! I looked the wrong way; for I watched those that were older and more learned than myself; and what they did, I thought I might safely do: so I turned back to sin and folly. O what evil do the old and learned do to those who are young and unlearned! When their lives are corrupt, they are certainly the most accursed beings on the earth. How many times has their example hardened my heart, and encouraged me in the broad way! Surely they are a curse to their own children and servants, as well as to their ignorant and unlearned neighbours.
When I was turned a little of sixteen, my father was taken ill, which I thought was for my wickedness: yet at that time, vile as I was, I prayed earnestly that God would spare him for the sake of my mother and the young children, and let me die in his stead; but the Lord would not regard my prayer. Three days before he died, he said to my mother, “Trouble not thyself for me; for I know that my peace is made with God, and he will provide for thee and the children.” I was greatly surprised at his words, wondering how he could know his peace was made with God.
In one of my times of trouble I was in a stable, and, falling into a slumber, I dreamed I prayed that God would make me happy. But I thought, “What will make me happy?” I also dreamed that I beheld Jeremiah the Prophet, standing on a large rock, at the west gate of Jerusalem. His countenance was grave, and with great authority he reproved the Elders and Magistrates of the city; for which they were enraged, and, pulling him down, cast him on a dunghill where the butchers poured forth the blood of their slain beasts: and I imagined I saw them tread him under their feet; but his countenance never changed, neither did he cease to cry out, “Thus saith the Lord, If ye will not repent and give glory to my name, I will bring destruction on you and your city.” He seemed so composed and so happy while he lay on the dunghill, and while they were treading him under their feet, that I said in my dream, “O God! make me like Jeremiah!” and, though it was but a dream, it left as great an impression on me, as if I had seen it with my eyes. And since then, thou, Lord, hast, in a small measure, given me to taste of his cup.
When I was about nineteen, I found myself in great danger of falling into scandalous sins; and I prayed, I believe, twenty times, that God would preserve me, and give me a wife, that I might live with her to his glory. He heard my prayer, and delivered me out of many dangerous temptations; for which I praise his holy name.
The first time I ever saw my wife was at Tonge, where I was going to build the new church. I did not know who she was, nor where she came from; but at first sight, I said in my mind, “That is the woman I asked of God in prayer;” and I fully determined, if I got married, I would live to his glory. But what are resolutions when made in our own strength! For, though I believe God gave me the most suitable wife that I could have had, in every respect; yet, for some years after we were marred, I did not live to his glory, for I loved pleasure more than God: yet many times when I had been shooting a whole day, and had got the creatures I pursued, I was quite unhappy, and ready to break my gun in pieces, resolving never to shoot or hunt any more. At last I said to my wife, “I am determined to leave off this course of life; yet it is impossible, if I stay here: therefore, if thou art free, I will go to Sir Rowland Wynn’s, and see if I can get business there; if not, I will go somewhere else, at a distance from home.” To this she gladly consented.
On Monday morning we parted in great love, praying one for the other. As I went from our town, I made use of Jacob’s words, which he spake to the Lord as he went to Padan-aram; and the Lord blessed me in all my journey. I found work at Newark-on Trent, and stayed about a month. All that time the hand of God was upon me, by convicting me of my former sins; so that the sense of his wrath being justly kindled against me, made me cry to him for mercy, often forty times in the day. Then I went to London, and got into business the day I arrived there. Here my concern for salvation increased for some time, and I continued to read and pray when I had done my work, refusing all company; and I believe, if I had had some one to show me the way, I should have closed in with the Lord in a saving manner. But I looked at men for example, and fell from my seriousness. The workmen cursed and abused me, because I would not drink with them, and spend my money as they did. I bore many insults from them, without opening my mouth to speak to them again. But when they took my tools from me, and said, if I would not drink with them, I should not work while they were drinking; that provoked me, so that I fought with several of them: then they let me alone. But that stifled my concern for salvation; and I left off prayer and reading in a great measure. I stayed better than half a year, and had not one hour’s sickness, nor did I want one day’s work all that time; so that by my hand-labour, I cleared, besides maintaining myself, twelve pounds, fifteen shillings.
When I came home, I fell into my former course. I said to my wife, “I cannot live here.” So I set off for London again, ordering her to follow me in the wagon. We both got well there, and lived in a good way, as the world calls it; that is, in peace and plenty, and love to each other.
After some time, I bad a sore fit of illness: then my conscience was alarmed, and I expected to die, and perish body and soul in hell. O the distress I was in! not through fear of death, so much as of the judgment that should follow. But the Lord rebuked the fever, and restored me to perfect health.
After residing some years in London, my wife had not her health; therefore we agreed that she should take our two children and go into the country, and I would follow at a certain season; which accordingly I did. But I could not rest night or day: I said, “I must go to London again.” Several asked me, “Why I would go again, since I might live at home as well as any where in the world?” My answer was, “I have something to learn that I have not yet learned” but I did not know that it was the great lesson of love to God and man. When I got there, I fell to work presently, and all things prospered that I pursued. I then began to consider what I wanted to make me happy; for I was yet as a man in a barren wilderness, that could find no way out.
I said to myself. “What can I desire that I have not? I enjoy as good health as any man can do; I have as agreeable a wife as I can wish for; I am clothed as well as I can desire; I have, at present, more gold and silver than I have need of; yet still I keep wandering from one part of the kingdom to another, seeking rest, and cannot find it.” Then I cried out, “O that I had been a cow, or a sheep!” for I looked back to see bow I had spent above thirty years; and thought, rather than live thirty years more so, I would choose strangling. But when I considered, that, after such a troublesome life, I must give an account before God of the deeds done in the body, who knew all my thoughts, words, and actions, I cried out, “O that I had never been born!” for I feared my day of grace was over, because I had made so many resolutions and broken them all. Yet I thought I would set out once more; for I said, “Surely, God never made man to be such a riddle to himself, and to leave him so: there must be something in religion, that I am unacquainted with, to satisfy the empty mind of man; or he is in a worse state than the beasts that perish.” In all these troubles I had none to open my mind to; so I wandered up and down in the fields, when I had done my work, meditating what course to take to save my soul.
I went from church to church, but found no ease. One Minister at St. Paul’s preached about man doing his duty to God and his neighbour, and when such came to lie upon a death-bed, what joy they would find in their own breast, by looking back on their well-spent life. But that sermon had like to have destroyed my soul; for I looked back, and could not see one day in all my life, wherein I had not left undone something which I ought to have done, and wherein I had not done many things wrong: and I was so far from having a well-spent life to reflect upon, that I saw, if one day well-spent would save my soul, I must be damned for ever. O what a stab was that sermon to my wounded soul! It made me wish my mother’s womb had been my grave. After that, I heard another sermon, wherein the Preacher summed up all the Christian duties; but he said, “Man, since the fall, could not perfectly fulfil the will of his Maker; but God required him to do all he could, and Christ would make out the rest: but if man did not do all he could, he must unavoidably perish; for he had no right to expect any interest in the merits of Christ, if he had not fulfilled his part, and done all that lay in his power.” Then I thought, “Not only I, but every soul must be damned” for I did not believe that any who had lived to years of maturity had done all they could, and avoided all the evil they might. Therefore, I concluded that none could be saved but little children. O what deadly physic was that sort of doctrine to my poor sin-sick soul!
I thought I would try others; and went to hear Dissenters of divers denominations; but to no purpose. I went to the Roman Catholics, but was soon surfeited with their way of worship. Then I went to the Quakers, and prayed that God would not suffer the blind to go out of the way, but join me to the people that worshipped him in spirit and in truth: I cared not what they were called, nor what I suffered upon earth, so that my soul might be saved at last. I believe I heard them every Sunday for three months: what made me continue so long was, the expectation of some help by hearing them; for there was one, almost at my first going, that spoke something that nearly suited the state my soul was in but he showed no remedy. I had now tried all but the Jews, and I thought it was to no purpose to go to them; so I thought I would go to church, and read and pray, whether I perish or not. But I was amazed, when I came to join in the Morning Prayer, to see that I had mocked my Maker all my days, by praying for things I did not expect or desire: then I thought none could be so ignorant as I bad been, nor so base, to draw near to God with their lips while their hearts were so far from him.
In the spring Mr. Whitefield came into Moorfields, and I went to hear him. He was to me as a man who could play well on an instrument; for his preaching was pleasant to me, and I loved the man; so that if any one offered to disturb him, I was ready to fight for him. But I did not understand him, though I might hear him twenty times for aught I know. Yet I got some hope of mercy; so that I was encouraged to pray on, and spend my leisure hours in reading the Scriptures. Sometimes, as I was reading, I thought, “If what I read is true, and if none are Christians, but such as St. John and St. Paul describe to be God’s people, I do not know any person that is a Christian either in town or country.” I said, “If things be so, I am no more a Christian than the devil;” and my hope of ever being one was very small. In this struggle I had but little sleep: if I slept four hours out of twenty-four, I thought it a great deal. Sometimes I started, as if I was falling into some horrible place. At other times I dreamed that I was fighting with Satan; and when I awoke, I was sweating, and as fatigued as if I had really been fighting. Yet all this time I was as capable of working, both in understanding and strength, as ever I was in my life; and this was an encouragement to me. In all this time I did not open my mind to any person, either by word or letter; but I was like a wandering bird, cast out of the nest, till Mr. John Wesley came to preach his first sermon in Moorfields. O that was a blessed morning to my soul! As soon as he got upon the stand, he stroked back his hair, and turned his face towards where I stood, and I thought fixed his eyes upon me. His countenance struck such an awful dread upon me, before I heard him speak, that it made my heart beat like the pendulum of a clock; and, when he did speak, I thought his whole discourse was aimed at me. When he had done, I said, “This man can tell the secrets of my heart: he hath not left me there; for he hath showed the remedy, even the blood of Jesus.” Then was my soul filled with consolation, through hope that God for Christ’s sake would save me; neither did I doubt in such a manner any more, till within twenty-four hours of the time when the Lord wrought a pardon on my heart. Though it was a little after Midsummer that I heard him, and it was three weeks after Michaelmas before I found the true peace of God, yet I continued to hear as often as I could, without neglecting my work. I had many lashes of love under the word, when I was at private prayer, and at the table of the Lord; but they were short, and often some sore temptations followed.
Now all my acquaintance set upon me, to persuade me not to go too far in religion, lest it should unfit me for my business, and so bring poverty and distress on my family: they said, “We wish you had never heard Mr. Wesley, for we are afraid it will be the ruin of you.” I told them, “I had reason to bless God that ever he was born, for by hearing him I was made sensible that my business in this world is to get well out of it; and as for my trade, health, wisdom, and all things in this world, they are no blessings to me, any farther than as so many instruments to help me, by the grace of God, to work out my salvation.” Then they said, they were very sorry for me, and should be glad to knock Mr. Wesley’s brains out; for he would be the ruin of many families, if he were allowed to live, and go on as he did. Some of them said they would not hear him preach for fifty pounds. But I told them I had reason to bless God that ever I heard him, and I intended to hear him as often as I could, for I believed him to be God’s messenger; and if I did not seek to be born again, and experience a spiritual birth, I could not enter into the kingdom of heaven, which was the doctrine he preached.
A little after Michaelmas, I had many trials again, and passion got advantage over me: they thought it was to no purpose for me to strive any longer; for every one endeavoured to provoke me, and I could not bear it. About this time, I was going out of the Park into Westminster, where was a soldier with his arms about him, as he was coming from guard, who began to talk to some other soldiers and a company of Welsh women. I was but a few paces from him: the tenor of his discourse was as follows: “ You know what manner of man I was some months ago; and none of you pitied me then, though I was going headlong to the devil; for I was a drunkard and a swearer, I was a whoremonger and a fighter, a sabbath-breaker and a gamester; nay I know no sin but I was guilty of it, either in word or deed; so that it is a miracle that my neck was not brought to the gallows, and my soul sent to hell long ago. At that time I durst not think of death; for I had no reason to think of aught but hell. I was therefore desperate in wickedness, and did not put a restraint on any lust or appetite: till one day, as I was coming out of the country by Kennington Common, Mr. John Wesley was going to preach, and I thought I would hear what he had to say; for I had heard many learned and wise men say, he was beside himself. But when he began to speak, his words made me tremble. I thought he spoke to no one but me, and I durst not look up, for I imagined all the people were looking at me. I was ashamed to show my face, expecting God would make me a public example, either by letting the earth open and swallow me up, or by striking me dead. But before Mr. Wesley concluded his sermon, he cried out, ‘Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.’ I said, ‘If that be true, I will turn to God to-day.’ I immediately went home, and began to read and pray, keeping out of bad company for about a fortnight, and hearing Mr. Wesley as often as I could. But my old companions missed me, and came to see what was the matter. When they found me reading the Bible, they cursed and swore, and dragged me away to an ale-house, where I sat down, and began to reason with them. But, O, how dangerous is it to encounter Satan on his own ground! for, as I talked, I began to drink a little; and the liquor getting into my head, I quarrelled with them and fought; and as I was going to my quarters, a lewd woman met me, and I had no power to resist her, and was again taken captive by the devil. Nevertheless, when I had slept, I was so terrified, I thought I never durst pray any more, or expect mercy. I was determined, however, to hear Mr. Charles Wesley that night; and by his preaching, I had some hopes that my day of grace was not over. Then I began to pray again, and read the Scriptures; and one Sunday morning, I called at Whitehall Chapel, where the sacrament was going to be delivered. I went to the table with trembling limbs and a heavy heart; but no sooner had I received, than I found power to believe that Jesus Christ had shed his blood for me, and that God, for his sake, had forgiven my offences. Then was my heart filled with love to God and man; and since then sin hath not had dominion over me.”
These sayings of the soldier were a blessing to me; for they sank deep into my mind, and made me cry, more earnestly, that God would work the same change in my heart. I found my soul much refreshed at the sacrament on the Sunday after, and mightily encouraged under Mr. Wesley’s sermon in the afternoon. All the week after I felt an awful sense of God resting upon me; and I had a great watchfulness over my words, and several short visits of love, having great hope that I had got complete victory over my besetting sin. But passion was yet too strong for me; for that night I fell again, and cried out immediately, “I am undone ; I have lost all hopes of mercy.” All the night I was as if I had been given up to Satan. In the morning, one prayed with me, but I found no answer; for my heart was as hard as a rock.
When I went back to my lodging at noon, dinner was ready; and the gentlewoman said, “Come, sit down: you have need of your dinner, for you have eaten nothing to-day.” But when I looked on the meat, I said, “Shall such a wretch as I devour the good creatures of God, in the state I am now in! No, I deserve to be thrust into hell.” I then went into my chamber, shut the door, and fell down on my knees, crying, “Lord, save, or I perish!” When I had prayed till I could pray no more, I got up and walked to and fro, being resolved I would neither eat nor drink, till I had found the kingdom of God. I fell down to prayer again, but found no relief; got up and walked again; then tears began to flow from my eyes, like great drops of rain, and I fell on my knees a third time; but now I was as dumb as a beast, and could not put up one petition, if it would have saved my soul. I kneeled before the Lord some time; and saw myself a criminal before the Judge: then I said, “Lord, thy will be done: damn or save!” That moment Jesus Christ was as evidently set before the eye of my mind, as crucified for my sins, as if I had seen him with my bodily eyes; and in that instant my heart was set at liberty from guilt and tormenting fear, and filled with a calm and serene peace. I could then say without any dread or fear, “Thou art my Lord, and my God.” Now did I begin to sing that part of the 12th chapter of Isaiah, “O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortest me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” My heart was filled with love to God and every soul of man: next to my wife and children, my mother, brethren, and sisters, my greatest enemies had an interest in my prayers; and I cried, “O Lord, give me to see my desire on them: let them experience thy redeeming love!”
In the afternoon I opened the book where it is said, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,” &c.; with which I was so affected, that I could not read for weeping. That evening, under Mr. Wesley’s sermon, I could do nothing but weep, and love, and praise God, for sending his servant into the fields to show me the way of salvation. All that day I neither ate nor drank any thing; for before I found peace, the hand of God was so heavy upon me, that I refused to eat; and after I had found peace, I was so filled with the manna of redeeming love that I had no need of the bread that perisheth for that season.
At night, when I came home, the gentlewoman of the house where I had lodged a long time, told me to provide a lodging; for I must stay there no longer than that one night, since her husband was afraid some mischief would come either on them or me, with so much praying and fuss as I had made about religion. I told them I would come on Wednesday night, and pay what I owed them, and fetch my clothes away, praying that God might reward them for the kindness they had showed me: for I had had a fever in the house; and no one could show more compassion to a stranger than they did to me at that time.
On Wednesday night, according to my promise, I went to my old lodging, and paid what I owed, and got my clothes ready to bring away. But having forgotten something, I stepped back into the room to look for it. In he mean time, the man said to his wife, ‘Suppose John should be right, and we wrong, it will be a sad thing to turn him out of doors.” When I came down, the woman stood at the door, and said, “You shall not go out of this house tonight.” I said, “ What, will you neither let me go nor stay?” She replied, ‘My husband is not willing you should go: for he saith, if God has done any thing more for you than for us he would have you show us how we may find the same mercy.” So I sat down with them, and told them of God’s dealings with my soul, and prayed with them. Soon after, they both went to hear Mr. Wesley, when the woman was made a partaker of the same grace; and I hope to meet them both in heaven.
On the Saturday following, the dragon stood ready to devour my new-born soul; for my master’s chief foreman came to me, saying, “John Nelson, you must look after such and such men to-morrow: there is a piece of work to be done with all speed; for the Lords of the Exchequer will be here on a particular day, by which time it must be completed.” “Sir,” I replied, “you have forgotten yourself: to-morrow is the Sabbath.” He said he knew that as well as I; but the King’s business required haste, and it was common to work on the Sunday for His Majesty, when any thing was upon the finish. I told him I would not work upon the Sabbath for any man in England, except it was to quench fire, or something that required the same immediate help. He said, “Religion has made you a rebel against the King.” I answered, “No, Sir; it has made me a better subject than ever I was.” I added, “ The greatest enemies the King has are the sabbath-breakers, swearers, drunkards, and whoremongers; for these pull down God’s judgments upon both King and country.” Then he said, if I would not obey him, I should lose my business. I replied, “I cannot help it: though it may be ten pounds out of my way to be turned out of my work at this time of the year, I will not wilfully offend God; for I had much rather want bread; nay, I would rather see my wife and children beg their bread barefooted to heaven, than ride in a coach to hell.” He swore, if I went on awhile, I should be as mad as Whitefield; and added, “What hast thou done, that thou needest make so much ado about salvation? I always took thee to be as honest a man as any I have in the work, and could have trusted thee with five hundred pounds.” I answered, “So you might, and not have lost one penny by me,” He said, “What, hast thou killed somebody, or committed adultery, that thou art so much afraid of being damned?” I replied, “God takes the will for the deed; and though clear from those acts, I deserve to be damned ten-fold for other crimes; for if I sin wilfully against God, after he hath showed me such mercy, I may expect to have the hottest hell.” He said, “I have a worse opinion of thee now than ever.” I replied, “Master, I have the odds of you; for I have a much worse opinion of myself, than you can have.”
At night, when I went to receive my wages, he asked me if I were still obstinate: I answered, “I am determined not to break the Sabbath; for I will run the hazard of wanting bread here, before I would run the hazard of wanting water hereafter.” He said, “Wesley has made a fool of thee, and thou wilt beggar thy family.” I had a glorious Sabbath the next day; for God blessed my soul wonderfully, both under the word, and at the sacrament.
I went on Monday morning to the Exchequer, to take care of my tools, not expecting to work there any more. But God hath the hearts of all men in his own hand; for he that was so wroth with me on the Saturday, now gave me good words, and bade me set the men to work. From that time he carved better for me than before; neither did he set any man to work on the Sabbath, as he had said he would. So I see it is good to obey God, and cast our care upon Him, who will order all things well; for if we refuse to join with the wicked, it will be a restraint to them.
In the time of my convictions, I never let my wife know of my trouble; but now I could not eat my morsel alone. I therefore wrote to her and all my relations, to seek the same mercy that I had found. However, all I said seemed as idle tales to most of them.
Some weeks after, three gentlemen (professed Deists) fell upon me, and reasoned with me for about an hour but the Lord put such words in my mouth, that made them say, Mr. Wesley had taught me his own lesson, and I was sunk so deep into enthusiasm that I was past recovery. Nevertheless, I see it is bad for weak believers to reason with men of corrupt principles; for after some time the enemy brought their words to my mind, and began to reason with me in this manner: “Suppose Jesus Christ should be an impostor, (as these men say he is,) thou art lost for ever.” O ! the distress I was in for a short time. But I made a stop, and said, “If Jesus Christ be not the Son of God, and my Saviour, I will be damned; for I will have no other.” Then the cloud broke, and my soul was so filled with love, that I thought if all the world, yea, and the devils in hell, were to set on me, they could not make me disbelieve that Jesus Christ is the very and true God, and my Redeemer.
I daily reproved all that sinned in the work where I was; so that none of them would swear in my presence. But having no Christian friend to converse with, I kept close to God in prayer, and read the Bible at all opportunities, and heard one of the Mr. Wesley’s every Sunday, and stirred up many others to hear them. And though I had many trials, I was so kept by the power of God, that nothing disturbed my peace for some time.
Once, however, as I was reading in the Bible, a gentlewoman (that lived in part of the house) brought me a book, and said, “You are often reading the Bible: if you please, I will lend you this book. My mother,” she added, “took delight in reading therein.” I thanked her, and began to read. For some pages it was agreeable to many things I had experienced in the time of conviction; but it was not at all correspondent to my experience, as to my conversion: pleading for sin after conversion, to keep the saints humble, and making God the author of all sin.
Then the enemy began to reason with me, that I ought not to reprove sin any more. From that time, my love began to cool both unto God and man, and my zeal for the salvation of others abated; and though the more I read, the worse I was, yet I was tempted to read it through.
Before I read in that book, I did not know there was a man in the world who held such an opinion; for, in my trials, I believed every threatening in the Bible was against the disobedient, and every promise to those that turn to God. But now I was tempted to think I was safe, do whatever I would. Yet I still prayed, “Lord, let me die, rather than live to sin against thee!”
I had never spoken to Mr. Wesley in my life, nor conversed with an experienced man about religion. I longed to find one to talk with; but I sought in vain, for I could find none.
One time as I was reasoning about what I had read, I opened the Bible on these words, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth liberally, and upbraideth not.” I then prayed, “O Lord, what I know not, do thou teach me!” And I thought I would wait upon the Lord in fasting and prayer, till he revealed his will to me; and I did, for several weeks, fast from Thursday night to eight o’clock on Saturday morning, spending the time I was off my work either upon my knees at prayer, or in searching the Scriptures; and before I opened my Bible, I prayed that God would open my understanding to comprehend what I read. I think the first scripture that was applied to me was, “As ye have received the Lord Jesus, so walk in him.” Then I remembered what state my soul was in, when I first received his Spirit in my heart; that it was filled with love to every soul, and I could pray for all my enemies as well as myself; but this book had turned me out of that blessed state, by setting me to reason about opinions that I never heard of in my life, till several weeks after I had received the love of Christ: therefore I said in my mind, “Let it be right or wrong, it is not necessary for salvation: I found the Lord to be my Saviour before I knew there was a man in the world of that opinion; and before I read it, I loved both God and man better than I have done since, and was more useful in reproving and doing good than I am now.” I then prayed that God would give me that simplicity and godly sincerity, that I walked in when he first revealed Christ in my heart. And he answered me in a wonderful manner so that my tongue was loosed to reprove, and my heart again enlarged to pray for every soul of man.
I now went on my way rejoicing for some days; and had so much of the Lord all the day long, that my soul seemed to breathe its life in God as naturally as my body breathed life in the common air. But, one day, I reproved a man for swearing, when he told me he was predestined to it, and did not trouble himself about it at all; for if he were one of the elect he should be saved; but if not, all he could do would not alter God’s decree: so that all I said to him seemed to take no more hold on him, than if I had thrown a leather ball against a rock. I thought God was very good to me, who kept me ignorant of these opinions till I knew my part in the all-atoning blood: for I feared if I had heard such things in. the time of my distress, they would have been the destruction of my body and soul. Yet I durst not say any thing against that opinion, but wished I had some experienced man to converse with about it; for I was brought into heaviness again by reasoning; but, alas I not one could I find.
I still continued to wait on the Lord, with fasting and prayer. One fast-day, being greatly perplexed, I opened the book on these words, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner.” Then my heart was set at liberty; and I cried out, “Glory be to thee, O Lord! for thou hast given me thy word, and thy Spirit in my heart, to bear witness that thou art no respecter of persons.”
Now I found such a desire for the salvation of souls, that I hired one of the men to go and hear Mr. Wesley preach, who hath since told me, it was the best thing both for him and his wife, that ever man did for them.
All that hard winter, I still fasted from Thursday night to Saturday morning; and gave away the meat that I should have eaten, to the poor, spending my time in praying and reading the Scriptures.
About this time, several came to see me, who, finding me at work, looked at each other like men amazed, and said they were glad to see me so well. I told them, I had not had one day’s sickness for six months. They said “A man that worketh at the Treasury with you, told us, you had been hearing that false prophet, Wesley; and he had made you go mad, and incapable of working.” “Well,” said I, “here is my master: he can testify that I have not lost one day’s work this half year; nor was I ever better able to do any work in all my life. But I have heard Mr. Wesley and have reason to bless God for it; for he is God’s messenger for my good.” Some words that I spoke seemed to stick in them: so that I hope Satan will lose ground by that false and ill-grounded report.
The enemy, however, now came upon me with other temptations, and prepared such instruments to destroy my soul, that I feared I should be overcome, and perish at last; for wherever I went, the snare was laid for me, and my soul was so harassed with my wicked dreams, that I have often awaked and found my pillow wet with tears, after thinking that the enemy would reason with me about some sin I had committed in my dream. But this drove me more to prayer, and showed me my corrupt nature in such a light that I abhorred myself, and thought the Lord never undertook to save one more like the devil in nature than I was: and it was often impressed on my mind, that if I held out to the end, I should have great reason to sing louder in the Redeemer’s praise than any other soul in heaven.
I would fain have known whether any one that had the grace of God in him was tempted day and night as I was; but my business being altogether at the court-end of the town, I had no one Io open my mind to. Then I took up the Bible, and, after praying, happened on these words of St. James: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of glory, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
One night, after a day of fasting, I dreamed that I was in Yorkshire, in my working-clothes, going home; and, as I went by Paul Champion’s, I heard a mighty cry, as of a multitude of people in distress; and I saw, in my dream, the large court behind John Rhodes’s as full of people as they could stand by one another. All on a sudden, they began to scream and tumble one over another. I asked, what was the matter; and they told me, Satan was let loose among them, and begged of me to get out of the way, for he was coming. But I said, “By the grace of God, I will not turn to the right hand or to the left for him.” Then I thought I saw him in the shape of a red bull, running through the people, as a beast runs through the standing corn; yet he did not offer to gore any of them, but made directly at me, as if he would run his horns into my heart. Then I cried out, “Lord, help me!” and immediately caught him by the horns, and twisted him on his back, setting my right foot on his neck, in the presence of a thousand people; and I bade them cry to Jesus, assuring them that what they had seen me do, he would enable them to do. When I awoke, I was in a sweat, and my body was as much fatigued as if I had been at hard labour; but my soul was filled with joy.
A little after this, as I was reading the Scriptures, a letter came to me; I saw it was not from my wife; then I said, “I fear here is bad news.” Upon opening it, I found my daughter was dead, whom I formerly idolized; my son was so ill that his life was despaired of; my wife had fallen from a horse, and was lamed; my father-in-law was dead, and my mother was sick. It then came to my mind, that when I was at the sacrament, I had made a free-will offering to the Lord, of my body and soul, wife and children, and all that was near and dear to me; but I thought, “How shall I bear it, now the Lord has taken them at my hand?” I went to prayer, and found my heart wholly resigned to the will of God. Then it came to me, “Let the dead bury their dead; but follow thou me.” I began to read again, and the people of the house where I was scolded me, because I did not weep, wring my hands, and stamp as they did, at the loss of a child; saying I was a hard-hearted father. I replied, “I cannot tell how to choose what is best: but God cannot err.”
The May following, I was ordered to take some men, and go to Lord Onslow’s, near Guildford, in Surrey, to do a piece of work that would last all summer. This was heavy tidings; for I thought I was but weak in faith, and should be deprived of hearing Mr. Wesley, and have no one to converse with. I desired to be excused; but all in vain. I believe I should have left my master, but I thought it would be unjust to leave him in such a busy time, when he had kept me employed all that hard winter. However, it made me cry to the Lord to go with me, and protect me from both my inward and outward enemies. And he was gracious to me, enabling me to reprove all that sinned in my presence; so that a young gentleman said to some of the men, “Of what religion is your foreman? Is he a Baptist, or is he a Quaker?” They replied, “No, Sir; be is of the Church of England.” He said, “He may tell you so; but he is no Churchman: for we can hardly speak at table, but he is reproving us; and if he say but one word we cannot persuade him to drink a glass more.” I overheard him, though he did not see me ; and said, “Sir, you give a bad character of the Church of England, if you say, a man cannot be a Churchman, that reproves others for cursing and swearing, and refuses to drink to excess.”
One day, the Speaker of the House of Commons came to visit my Lord: and taking a view of the work, he asked me many questions about it, which I answered as well as I could. He said, “This is a fine house, and a fine estate of land about it! But what will it signify? For a piece of land, six feet long and three broad will fit me shortly.” He then fetched a deep sigh, went away, and walked alone among the trees.
While I was at Guildford, I had several conversations with some Baptists. But alas! I their religion lay in notions. I found no true experience amongst them. I reasoned with them about the necessity of the new birth; and contended with many other sects that all religion without the life of Christ manifested in us would profit us nothing at last.
I heard that some, who were called serious people, said I was a dangerous man to converse with; and others shunned my company after I had talked with them. Then I thought, I would leave off reproving and reasoning, for I made myself to be abhorred. I cried out, “ Lord, show me what is thy will in the matter” and then laid me down in great heaviness. That night I dreamed, I saw a tall young person in a white vesture, whose face shone like the sun, standing at the foot of my bed, who said unto me, “Arise, and praise the Lord.” I thought a great light shone round my bed, by which I saw myself defiled from the top of my head to the sole of my foot; and answered, “How can such an unclean creature show forth the praises of God?” Then I thought he showed me a river as clear as crystal, with fine green grass growing at the bottom thereof, in which he bade me wash and be clean. I thought I went at his bidding; and as soon as my feet were dipped in the water, the filth dropped from my whole body; nevertheless, the water was not defiled by it, at which I was surprised. When I came to the middle of the river, it was deeper than I was high, and I knew I could not swim; yet my soul was so filled with the sense of God’s love, that my head was kept above water. I then thought I spread my hands, like a man who is going to swim, and as I laboured to swim, I rose up out of the water, and was carried, as on the wings of an eagle, above the clouds, and cried, “Hosanna to the King of heaven!” And though asleep, I sang so loud, that I awoke the people of the house. I now resolved to reprove again, and seemed to do it with more authority than before; and my words began to stick to some, and cause them to reform their lives.
About Michaelmas, I came back to London; and several that used to attend Mr. Wesley’s preaching, at Kennington-Common and Moorfields, who had also joined with him in the Foundery, came to see me; at which I was surprised, having no correspondence with them, any further than speaking one to another, as we went from place to place to hear him preach. At their first coming, I thought it was the thing I longed for; often wishing that I had some Christian friends to converse with. They said, they heard I was come to town, and the love they bore me made them come to see me. I answered, “I thank you: pray how does my good friend Mr. Wesley do?” They replied, “We do not know: poor dear man, he is wandering in the dark; but we hope our Saviour will open his eyes, and let him see that he is a blind leader of the blind.” Their words were as a sword running through my liver; and made me cry out, “Lord, have mercy upon me! What is the matter with him?” They answered, “Poor dear man, he is under the law, and does not know the privilege of the Gospel himself: therefore he preaches law and works.” I said, “Then he is strangely altered since I left London; for when I was in town, he preached repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus; teaching the necessity of both as clearly from Scripture as any man in England could, and showing the fruits of faith as plainly as it is possible for any man to do and I found his word to be more blessed to me than any man’s I ever heard in my life.” They told me that I had never heard the Gospel in my life, except I had heard the Brethren that preached in Fetter-Lane; for they were the men that were come to lead people into true stillness.” I said, “What do you mean by true stillness?” They replied, “It is to cease from our own works, such as fasting and prayer, reading the Bible, and running to church and sacrament; and wholly to rely on the blood and wounds of the Lamb.” I said, “I do not know that I ever heard either of the Mr. Wesley’s bid any man trust in prayer, or reading, or going to sacrament, or giving of alms, for salvation, either in whole or in part.” But they answered, “Why doth he teach men to do these things, if they are not to be saved by them?” I replied, “If I understand Mr. Wesley rightly, he only speaks of them as Christ and his Apostles speak of them, that is, to wait in them as a beggar waits for a morsel at a man’s door. I never spoke to Mr. Wesley in my life; therefore, I know not what he believes, any farther than by his preaching.” They told me, that most of the people who had followed him before I left London, had forsaken him, and were become happy sinners now; and wished I would go and hear the Brethren, for Mr. Wesley was only a John Baptist, to go before and prepare them for the Brethren to build up: adding, “If you go to hear him, he will bring you into bondage; and you will never be happy till you are free from the law; for we were never happy till we left him, and went to hear Mr. Molther; and till then we were under the law.” I replied, “Pray were you not converted before you left Mr. Wesley?” They answered, “Yes, we had gone through a great deal of trouble, and found great peace and joy, knowing our sins were forgiven; but when we heard Mr. Molther, we found we were yet under the law: for he showed the privilege of the Gospel, and we found we had not such a privilege; for if we broke the law in any little matter, we were quite unhappy; or if we neglected to pray, or missed a sermon or two, then we were uneasy; but now we are happy, for the Lamb hath done all for us.” I said, “Though he hath done his part, yet the Apostle teaches us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; and we are bidden to pray always, and search the Scriptures; and St. Paul fasted often, and kept his body in subjection, lest, when he had preached to others, himself should be a castaway. But you are become wiser than the Apostle, and have got another gospel: though he said, if he or an angel from heaven should preach another gospel let him be accursed. I am afraid you are deceived, and are seeking a happiness that is separated from holiness: if so, you are led away by a deceiving spirit; for if you commit sin, and break the righteous law of God, and still continue happy, without any conviction that God is offended with you, your consciences are seared as with a hot iron.”
They answered, “You are a poor unhappy man, and as blind as Mr. Wesley;” and so left me, without either praying with me or for me.
When I came to reason about what they had said, and to compare it with the words of our Lord and his Apostles, I saw their scheme of salvation was as contrary to that of Christ, as darkness is to light. This drove me to prayer, and made me double my diligence in reading the Bible.
In a few days after, two more, that were a little acquainted with me, came to see me: I asked them how Mr. Wesley was. They said, they did not know, for they did not hear him now. I asked, “Why do you not?” They replied, “He denieth the faith of the Gospel.” I said, “I am sorry for it; but I hope you are only wrong informed.” They answered, “We have heard ourselves.” I replied, “What do you call the faith of the Gospel?” They said, “Predestination and election.” I told them, I thought it was not the faith of the Gospel; but it was rather for every one to believe in his heart, that he is a fallen spirit, by nature a child of wrath, and by practice an heir of hell; and that the eternal Son of God out of love to me, a poor helpless and hell-deserving creature, laid his glory by, and for my sake fulfilled all righteousness, at last, giving his body for my body, and his soul for my soul; and that God, for the sake of his obedience and blood-shedding, hath forgiven all my sins. I said, “According to the light I have, this is the faith of the Gospel; and he that is a partaker of this faith hath received the Spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind; power to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live a godly, righteous, and sober life.” I added, “Pray, under whom were you converted?” They both replied, “Under Mr. Charles Wesley.” “Did he then preach what you now call the Gospel?” They replied, “No.” “Did God then reveal that to you to be the faith of the Gospel, as soon as he wrote pardon on your hearts?” They said, “No; when we were in our first love, we believed as Mr. Wesley believes; but now we see better, and hope his eyes will be opened shortly.” I said, “I fear yours are become dim: for I think you are more light and unwatchful than you used to be; and you own you have lost your first love. O remember, Christ bids you repent and do your first works, or he will remove your candlestick!” But they told me, “Do what we will, we cannot finally fall.” I answered, that as far as I could learn by their words and behaviour they were already fallen: and I wished they did not make a Christ of their opinions; for though, I allow, many good men hold these opinions; yet I judge, all that were converted under the two Mr. Wesleys were at first filled with love to every man, and a perfect hatred to all sin, and were inspired with a zeal for God’s glory, and the welfare of all mankind.” Was not this your state once?” They owned it was, till they heard Mr. Sawyers; and it was by him they saw into the electing love of God. I replied, “I fear you have sinned against light and love; and instead of going back to the Lord, by true repentance, and seeking a fresh pardon in the blood of Christ, you have been gadding about to seek new opinions: you have gone out of the highway of holiness, and have now got into the devil’s pinfold: you are not seeking to perfect holiness in the fear of God, but are resting in opinions, that give you liberty to live after the flesh: and if you continue so to live, you are safe in his hold, out of which you will be brought to the slaughter.” They told me I was as stupid as Mr. Wesley. I replied, Satan had preached that doctrine to me before they did; and God had armed me against both him and them. Then they left me in my blind estate, as they called it; and I prayed that I might never turn out of the way that God had called me into.
On Sunday, I had the opportunity of hearing Mr. John Wesley once more; and his word was precious food to my soul. Then I blessed the Lord, that had still kept his servant, as an iron pillar, in the same spirit in which I left him. But I observed a great part of the congregation were strangers to me; for many of the old hearers were gone, and others come in. When I found that some had turned to the Germans, and some to the Predestinarians, I said, “O Lord, I will praise thee, for thou doest all things well: thou by thy Providence didst send me out of town when the enemy was rending thy flock to pieces, and thereby thy servant hath escaped the snare.”
A few weeks after, I was at St. Paul’s, where Mr. John Wesley also was: and I contrived to walk with him after sacrament: for I had often wished I could speak with him, therefore I seized this opportunity; so we continued in discourse all the way from St. Paul’s to the farther end of Upper-Moorfields; and it was a blessed conference to me. When we parted, he took hold of my hand, and, looking me full in the face, bade me take care I did not quench the Spirit. I had not such an opportunity again while I stayed in London, either with him or his brother; but I kept close to God by fasting and prayer; and the Lord helped me through many trials.
One night, after I had been delivered from grievous temptations, my soul was filled with such a sense of God’s love, as made me weep before him. In the night I dreamed I was in Yorkshire, going from Gomersal Hill-Top to Cleck Heaton; and about the middle of the lane I thought I saw Satan coming to meet me in the shape of a tall, black man, and the hair of his head like snakes: but I thought I was not afraid at all; and I said, “Stand by me, O Lord; and I will not turn to the right hand or to the left.” Yet I thought I would not stand to fight with him as I used to do. When he came within about five paces of me, he stood: but I went on, ripped open my clothes and showed him my naked breast, saying “See, here is the blood of Christ.” Then I thought he fled from me as fast as a hare could run.
I was still attacked by the Moravians on one side, and the Predestinarians on the other; but the Lord enabled me to stop their mouths, and to show them that they had lost their first love. Yet they seemed to be hardened, and past all conviction. And the more I read the Scriptures, the more I was confirmed that they were fallen into carnal security; which made me pray more earnestly that God would preserve me from all the snares of the devil.
About ten days before Christmas, I went to St. Paul’s; and while I was at the communion-table, I felt such an awful sense of God resting upon me, that my heart was like melting wax before him; and all my prayer was, “Thy will be done! Thy will be done!” I was so dissolved into tears of love, that I could scarce take the bread; and after I had received, it was impressed on my mind, “I must, go into Yorkshire directly.” But I said in myself, “If I do, it will be ten pounds out of my way.” I had determined to go at May-day; but I thought, to stay for the sake of money would be wrong, when I believed it was the will of God I should go. So I packed up my clothes, and set out. I found much of the Lord’s presence all the way I went; but I had no more thought of preaching than I had of eating fire.
When I got home, I was greatly disappointed; for I expected to find many of my relations converted, as I understood they attended Mr. Ingham’s preaching. But when I explained to them what it was to be converted, they said they never beard of such a thing in their lives. I told them, I knew those things by happy experience. But they begged I would not tell any one that my sins were forgiven; for no one would believe me; and they should be ashamed to show their faces in the street. I answered, “I shall not be ashamed to tell what God has done for my soul, if I could speak loud enough for all the men in the world to hear me at once.” My mother said, “Your head is turned.” I replied, “Yes, and my heart too, I thank the Lord.” My wife told me, she was ashamed to put her head out of doors, for every one was talking about me, and upbraiding her with my sayings; and she wished I had stayed in London; for she could not live with me, if I went on as I did: for which reason, she desired, that I would leave off abusing my neighbours, or go back to London. I answered, I did not care what all the people could say; for I was determined to reprove any one that sinned in my presence. Then she cried, and said, I did not love her so well as I used to do. I replied, “Yes, I love thee better than ever I did in my life and thou hast no reason to dispute my love; for I have been careful to provide for thee, whether I was at home or abroad: and we have been happy in each other upwards of twelve years; but if thou wilt seek for redemption in the blood of Christ, we shall be ten times happier than ever.” She then said, “Nay, my happiness with thee is over; for according, to thy words, I am a child of the devil, and thou a child of God,” Then she wept, and said “ I cannot live with thee.” I said, “ Why so? Thou shalt never want while I am able, by honest endeavours, to provide for thee. Nay,” I continued, “if thou wilt not go to heaven with me, I will do the best I can for thee; only I will not go to hell with thee for company. But I believe God will hear my prayer, and convert thy soul, and make thee a blessed companion for me in the way to heaven.” After this, my wife began to be concerned about the salvation of her soul.
A few days after I had got home, David Taylor came to preach in our town, in Mr. Ingham’s Society, when I went to hear him: and a dry morsel his sermon was. Several that were acquainted with him followed me, and wanted to know how I liked the discourse. I was backward to tell them, but they pressed hard on me, and said, “Do you not think he is as good a preacher as Mr. Wesley?” I said, “ There is no comparison between his preaching and Mr. Wesley’s: he has not stayed long enough in the large room at Jerusalem.” After they had been gone some time, they came again to ask what I meant: I said, “He is not endued with power from on high.” They went and related to him what I said; and he told me since, that if I had been present, he could have stabbed me; yet he could not rest till he went to hear Mr. Wesley in London. Then he found what was said was true; and he came down to Sheffield and into Derbyshire, preaching what he called, Wesley’s doctrine, and awakened and converted many scores of people, till the Germans got to him, and made him deny the law of God: then he became again as salt without savour.
I went afterwards to a meeting of Mr. Ingham’s, where one read in an old book for near an hour; then sung a hymn, and read a form of prayer. I told them that way would never convert sinners, and began to relate some of my experience; and several were struck with convictions while I was speaking, some of whom became witnesses of the same grace that God showed me.
In a little time all I said was noised abroad; and people of all denominations came to dispute with me. As soon as I came home from work, my house was filled with people, which made my wife uneasy; for she could do no work, and did not yet believe what I said was true. Generally when I came in and sat down, some one would ask me a question, and others would begin to dispute with me, while others stood by to hear.
When any began to cavil, I commonly asked, “What church do you belong to?” and if they said, the Church of England, then I replied, “Do you know your sins forgiven?” Several said, “No, nor ever expect to know it in this world.” Then I replied, “ You are no members of the Church of England, if you have not a full trust and confidence, that God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Read the Homilies of the Church, and you will see what I say is true.” I used to have the Bible and Common Prayer-Book by me; and I showed them the Articles of the Church, saying, “You deny inspiration; and the Church you profess to belong to, says, ‘ Before the grace of Christ, and the inspiration of his Spirit, no good works can be done.’ So if the Church speak rightly, you must be inspired by the Spirit of Christ, to enable you to bring forth good fruit, or you must be the fuel of hell. And how dare you to pray to have your thoughts cleansed by the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, if you do not believe there is any such thing to be attained in this world? O! do not mock God any more, by asking for things with your mouths when you do not believe in your hearts he will grant them.” But one said, “I have been with a very learned clergyman of a neighbouring church, and he told me, there was no such thing to be attained in this life.” I answered, “I think you have mistaken him, for I was at that church last Sunday, and heard him declare all I have said to you.” He said, “I was there, and heard no such thing mentioned.” I replied, “No! did you not hear him affirm, ‘that God had given power and commandment to his ministers, to declare and pronounce to his people, being penitent, the absolution of their sins?’ And he farther declared, ‘that God pardoneth and absolveth all those that truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his Gospel.’ Therefore, it is plain, you never did repent nor unfeignedly believe his Gospel, if God has not pardoned and absolved you from your sins. Else both he and all that are in priest’s orders in England are false witnesses before God and man. And how many times have you besought God to ‘give you true repentance; and to forgive you all your sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue you with the grace of his Holy Spirit, that you