In this my relation of the merciful working of God upon my soul, it will not
be amiss, if, in the first place, I do, in a few words, give you a hint of
my pedigree, and manner of bringing up; that thereby the goodness and bounty
of God towards me, may be the more advanced and magnified before the sons of
For my descent then, it was, as is well known by many, of a low and
inconsiderable generation; my father's house being of that rank that is
meanest and most despised of all the families in the land. Wherefore I have
not here, as others, to boast of noble blood, or of a high-born state,
according to the flesh; though, all things considered, I magnify the
heavenly Majesty, for that by this door he brought me into this world, to
partake of the grace and life that is in Christ by the gospel.
But yet, notwithstanding the meanness and inconsiderableness of my parents,
it pleased God to put it into their hearts to put me to school, to learn
both to read and write; the which I also attained, according to the rate of
other poor men's children; though, to my shame I confess, I did soon lose
that little I learned, and that even almost utterly, and that long before
the Lord did work his gracious work of conversion upon my soul.
As for my own natural life, for the time that I was without God in the
world, it was indeed according to the course of this world, and "the
spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Eph 2:2,3).
It was my delight to be "taken captive by the devil at his will"
(2 Tim ). Being filled with all
unrighteousness: the which did also so strongly work and put forth itself,
both in my heart and life, and that from a child, that I had but few equals,
especially considering my years, which were tender, being few, both for
cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.
Yea, so settled and rooted was I in these things, that they became as a
second nature to me; the which, as I also have with soberness considered
since, did so offend the Lord, that even in my childhood he did scare and
affright me with fearful dreams, and did terrify me with dreadful visions;
for often, after I had spent this and the other day in sin, I have in my bed
been greatly afflicted, while asleep, with the apprehensions of devils and
wicked spirits, who still, as I then thought, laboured to draw me away with
them, of which I could never be rid.
Also I should, at these years, be greatly afflicted and troubled with the
thoughts of the day of judgment, and that both night and day, and should
tremble at the thoughts of the fearful torments of hell fire; still fearing
that it would be my lot to be found at last amongst those devils and hellish
fiends, who are there bound down with the chains and bonds of eternal
darkness, "unto the judgment of the great day."
These things, I say, when I was but a child, 'but nine or ten years old,'
did so distress my soul, that when in the midst of my many sports and
childish vanities, amidst my vain companions, I was often much cast down and
afflicted in my mind therewith, yet could I not let go my sins. Yea, I was
'also then' so overcome with despair of life and heaven, that I should often
wish either that there had been no hell, or that I had been a devilĖĖ
supposing they were only tormentors; that if it must needs be that I went
thither, I might be rather a tormentor, than 'be' tormented myself.
A while after, these terrible dreams did leave me, which also I soon forgot;
for my pleasures did quickly cut off the remembrance of them, as if they had
never been: wherefore, with more greediness, according to the strength of
nature, I did still let loose the reins to my lusts, and delighted in all
transgression against the law of God: so that, until I came to the state of
marriage, I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company,
into all manner of vice and ungodliness.
Yea, such prevalency had the lusts and fruits of the flesh in this poor soul
of mine, that had not a miracle of precious grace prevented, I had not only
perished by the stroke of eternal justice, but had also laid myself open,
even to the stroke of those laws, which bring some to disgrace and open
shame before the face of the world.
In these days, the thoughts of religion were very grievous to me; I could
neither endure it myself, nor that any other should; so that, when I have
seen some read in those books that concerned Christian piety, it would be as
it were a prison to me. Then I said unto God, "Depart from me, for I
desire not the knowledge of thy ways" (Job
Yet this I well remember, that though I could myself sin with the greatest
delight and ease, and also take pleasure in the vileness of my companions;
yet, even then, if I have at any time seen wicked things, by those who
professed goodness, it would make my spirit tremble. As once, above all the
rest, when I was in my height of vanity, yet hearing one to swear that was
reckoned for a religious man, it had so great a stroke upon my spirit, that
it made my heart to ache.
'But God did not utterly leave me, but followed me still, not now with
convictions, but judgments; yet such as were mixed with mercy. For once I
fell into a creek of the sea, and hardly escaped drowning. Another time I
fell out of a boat into Bedford river, but mercy yet
preserved me alive. Besides, another time, being in the field with one of my
companions, it chanced that an adder passed over the highway; so I, having a
stick in my hand, struck her over the back; and having stunned her, I forced
open her mouth with my stick, and plucked her sting out with my fingers; by
which act, had not God been merciful unto me, I might, by my desperateness,
have brought myself to mine end.'
'This also have I taken notice of with thanksgiving; when I was a soldier,
I, with others, were drawn out to go to such a place to besiege it; but when
I was just ready to go, one of the company desired to go in my room; to
which, when I had consented, he took my place; and coming to the siege, as
he stood sentinel, he was shot into the head with a musket bullet, and
'Here, as I said, were judgments and mercy, but neither of them did awaken
my soul to righteousness; wherefore I sinned still, and grew more and more
rebellious against God, and careless of mine own salvation.'
Presently after this, I changed my condition into a married state, and my
mercy was to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly. This woman
and I, though we came together as poor as poor might be, not having so much
household stuff as a dish or spoon betwixt us both, yet this she had for her
part, The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven, and The Practice of Piety, which
her father had left her when he died. In these two books I should sometimes
read with her, wherein I also found some things that were somewhat pleasing
to me; but all this while I met with no conviction. She also would be often
telling of me, what a godly man her father was, and how he would reprove and
correct vice, both in his house, and amongst his neighbours; what a strict
and holy life he lived in his day, both in word and deed.
Wherefore these books with this relation, though they did not reach my
heart, to awaken it about my sad and sinful state, yet they did beget within
me some desires to religion: so that, because I knew no better, I fell in
very eagerly with the religion of the times; to wit, to go to church twice a
day, and that too with the foremost; and there should very devoutly, both
say and sing as others did, yet retaining my wicked life; but withal, I was
so overrun with a spirit of superstition, that I adored, and that with great
devotion, even all things, both the high place, priest, clerk, vestment,
service, and what else belonging to the church; counting all things holy
that were therein contained, and especially the priest and clerk most happy,
and without doubt, greatly blessed, because they were the servants, as I
then thought, of God, and were principal in the holy temple, to do his work
This conceit grew so strong in little time upon my spirit, that had I but
seen a priest, though never so sordid and debauched in his life, I should
find my spirit fall under him, reverence him, and knit unto him; yea, I
thought for the love I did bear unto them, supposing they were the ministers
of God, I could have lain down at their feet, and have been trampled upon by
them; their name, their garb, and work, did so intoxicate and bewitch me.
After I had been thus for some considerable time, another thought came into
my mind; and that was, whether we were of the Israelites, or no? For finding
in the Scriptures that they were once the peculiar people of God, thought I,
if I were one of this race, my soul must needs be happy. Now again, I found
within me a great longing to be resolved about this question, but could not
tell how I should. At last I asked my father of it; who told meóNo, we
were not. Wherefore then I fell in my spirit as to the hopes of that, and so
But all this while, I was not sensible of the danger and evil of sin; I was
kept from considering that sin would damn me, what religion soever I
followed, unless I was found in Christ. Nay, I never thought of him, nor
whether there was one, or no. Thus man, while blind, doth wander, but
wearieth himself with vanity, for he knoweth not the way to the city of God
But one day, amongst all the sermons our parson made, his subject was, to
treat of the Sabbath-day, and of the evil of breaking that, either with
labour, sports, or otherwise. Now I was, notwithstanding my religion, one
that took much delight in all manner of vice, and especially that was the
day that I did solace myself therewith, wherefore I fell in my conscience
under his sermon, thinking and believing that he made that sermon on purpose
to show me my evil doing; and at that time I felt what guilt was, though
never before, that I can remember; but then I was, for the present, greatly
loaden therewith, and so went home when the sermon was ended, with a great
burden upon my spirit.
This, for that instant, did 'benumb' the sinews of my 'best' delights, and
did imbitter my former pleasures to me; but behold, it lasted not, for
before I had well dined, the trouble began to go off my mind, and my heart
returned to its old course: but oh! How glad was I, that this trouble was
gone from me, and that the fire was put out, 'that I might sin again without
control!' Wherefore, when I had satisfied nature
with my food, I shook the sermon out of my mind, and to my old custom of
sports and gaming I returned with great delight.
But the same day, as I was in the midst of a game at cat, and having struck
it one blow from the hole, just as I was about to strike it the second time,
a voice did suddenly dart from heaven into my soul, which said, Wilt thou
leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go to hell? At this I
was put to an exceeding maze; wherefore, leaving my cat upon the ground, I
looked up to heaven, and was, as if I had, with the eyes of my
understanding, seen the Lord Jesus looking down upon me, as being very hotly
displeased with me, and as if he did severely threaten me with some grievous
punishment for these and other my ungodly practices.
I had no sooner thus conceived in my mind, but suddenly this conclusion was
fastened on my spirit, for the former hint did set my sins again before my
face, that I had been a great and grievous sinner, and that it was now too
late for me to look after heaven; for Christ would not forgive me, nor
pardon my transgressions. Then I fell to musing upon this also; and while I
was thinking on it, and fearing lest it should be so, I felt my heart sink
in despair, concluding it was too late; and therefore I resolved in my mind
I would go on in sin: for, thought I, if the case be thus, my state is
surely miserable; miserable if I leave my sins, and but miserable if I
follow them; I can but be damned, and if I must be so, I had as good be
damned for many sins, as to be damned for few.
Thus I stood in the midst of my play, before all that then were present; but
yet I told them nothing: but I say, I having made this conclusion, I
returned 'desperately' to my sport again; and I well remember, that
presently this kind of despair did so possess my soul, that I was persuaded,
I could never attain to other comfort than what I should get in sin; for
heaven was gone already, so that on that I must not think; wherefore I found
within me a great desire to take my fill of sin, still studying what sin was
yet to be committed, that I might taste the sweetness of it; and I made as
much haste as I could to fill my belly with its delicates, lest I should die
before I had my desire; for that I feared greatly. In these things, I
protest before God, I lie not, neither do I feign this sort of speech; these
were really, strongly, and with all my heart, my desires; the good Lord,
whose mercy is unsearchable, forgive me my transgressions.
And I am very confident, that this temptation of the devil is more usual
amongst poor creatures than many are aware of, even to overrun their spirits
with a scurvy and seared frame of heart, and benumbing of conscience; which
frame, he stilly and slyly supplieth with such despair, that though not much
guilt attendeth the soul, yet they continually have a secret conclusion
within them, that there is no hopes for them; for they have loved sins,
"therefore after them they will go" (Jer 2:25, 18:12).
Now therefore I went on in sin with great greediness of mind, still grudging
that I could not be so satisfied with it as I would. This did continue with
me about a month, or more; but one day, as I was standing at a neighbour's
shop-window, and there cursing and swearing, and playing the madman, after
my wonted manner, there sat within, the woman of the house, and heard me,
who, though she was a very loose and ungodly wretch, yet protested that I
swore and cursed at that most fearful rate, that she was made to tremble to
hear me; and told me further, That I was the ungodliest fellow for swearing
that ever she heard in all her life; and that I, by thus doing, was able to
spoil all the youth in a whole town, if they came but in my company.
At this reproof I was silenced, and put to secret shame, and that too, as I
thought, before the God of heaven; wherefore, while I stood there, and
hanging down my head, I wished with all my heart that I might be a little
child again, that my father might learn me to speak without this wicked way
of swearing; for, thought I, I am so accustomed to it, that it is in vain
for me to think of a reformation, for I thought it could never be.
But how it came to pass, I know not; I did from this time forward so leave
my swearing, that it was a great wonder to myself to observe it; and whereas
before, I knew not how to speak unless I put an oath before, and another
behind, to make my words have authority; now, I could, 'without it,' speak
better, and with more pleasantness, than ever I could before. All this while
I knew not Jesus Christ, neither did I leave my sports and plays.
But quickly after this, I fell in company with one poor man that made
profession of religion; who, as I then thought, did talk pleasantly of the
Scriptures, and of the matters of religion; wherefore, falling into some
love and liking to what he said, I betook me to my Bible, and began to take
great pleasure in reading, but especially with the historical part thereof;
for, as for Paul's epistles, and Scriptures of that nature, I could not away
with them, being as yet but ignorant, either of the corruptions of my
nature, or of the want and worth of Jesus Christ to save me.
Wherefore I fell to some outward reformation, both in my words and life, and
did set the commandments before me for my way to heaven; which commandments
I also did strive to keep, and, as I thought, did keep them pretty well
sometimes, and then I should have comfort; yet now and then should break
one, and so afflict my conscience; but then I should repent, and say I was
sorry for it, and promise God to do better next time, and there get help
again, 'for then I thought I pleased God as well as any man in England.'
Thus I continued about a year; all which time our neighbours did take me to
be a very godly man, a new and religious man, and did marvel much to see
such a great and famous alteration in my life and manners; and, indeed, so
it was, though yet I knew not Christ, nor grace, nor faith, nor hope; and,
truly, as I have well seen since, had then died, my state had been most
fearful; well, this, I say, continued about a twelvemonth or more.
'But, I say, my neighbours were amazed at this my great conversion, from
prodigious profaneness, to something like a moral life; and, truly, so they
well might; for this my conversion was as great, as for Tom of Bedlam to
become a sober man. Now, therefore, they began to praise, to commend, and to
speak well of me, both to my face, and behind my back. Now, I was, as they
said, become godly; now, I was become a right honest man. But, oh! When I
understood that these were their words and opinions of men, it pleased me
mighty well. For though, as yet, I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite,
yet I loved to be talked of as one that was truly godly. I was proud of my
godliness, and, indeed, I did all I did, either to be seen of, or to be well
spoken of, by man. And thus I continued for about a twelvemonth or more.'
'Now, you must know, that before this I had taken much delight in ringing,
but my conscience beginning to be tender, I thought such practice was but
vain, and therefore forced myself to leave it, yet my mind hankered;
wherefore I should go to the steeple house, and look on it, though I durst
not ring. But I thought this did not become religion neither, yet I forced
myself, and would look on still; but quickly after, I began to think, How,
if one of the bells should fall? Then I chose to stand under a main beam,
that lay overthwart the steeple, from side to side, thinking there I might
stand sure, but then I should think again, should the bell fall with a
swing, it might first hit the wall, and then rebounding upon me, might kill
me for all this beam. This made me stand in the steeple door; and now,
thought I, I am safe enough; for, if a bell should then fall, I can slip out
behind these thick walls, and so be preserved notwithstanding.'
'So, after this, I would yet go to see them ring, but would not go further
than the steeple door; but then it came into my head, How, if the steeple
itself should fall? And this thought, it may fall for ought I know, when I
stood and looked on, did continually so shake my mind, that I durst not
stand at the steeple door any longer, but was forced to flee, for fear the
steeple should fall upon my head.'
'Another thing was my dancing; I was a full year before I could quite leave
that; but all this while, when I thought I kept this or that commandment, or
did, by word or deed, anything that I thought was good, I had great peace in
my conscience; and should think with myself, God cannot choose but be now
pleased with me; yea, to relate it in mine own way, I thought no man in
England could please God better than I.'
'But poor wretch as I was, I was all this while ignorant of Jesus Christ,
and going about to establish my own righteousness; and had perished therein,
had not God, in mercy, showed me more of my state of nature."