A LETTER TO MR. GEORGE WHITEFIELD BY A PARISH CLERK
Worthy Sir, Although I am unknown to you in person, I trust I am, by the grace of God, awakened to a new and spiritual life. I think myself under an obligation to give my testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus, and to pay my grateful acknowledgments to the freeness of that divine grace which has made you so wonderfully instrumental in calling me, a most unworthy sinner, at this last hour of the day, from a state of darkness and insensibility to the marvellous light of the glorious gospel.
The circumstances of my conversion were as follows. I heard you were to preach on Thursday, 19th of April last, at Mr. Seward’s of Badsey (Worcestershire); and living at Bretforton, village about a mile from thence (where I had been clerk of the parish for about thirty years) being now in the sixty-third year of my age, my curiosity, as I then should have termed it, but as it is since evident by the consequences, the wonderful goodness and providence of the Almighty God, led me to hear you, which I did with great attention, and was much affected. The next day, being Good Friday, I attended your ministry again with great warmth, when you spoke with such demonstration of the Spirit and with power, from these words:
“What I say unto you, I say unto all. Watch”, that I was convinced I was in the state of the foolish virgins, who were unprepared to meet the Bridegroom, having been all my life long taken up with the lamp of an outward profession, thinking it sufficient that I duly and constantly attended public worship, the sacrament, and the like; but I soon found, to my great confusion, that I had been offering to God the sacrifice of fools, being destitute of the oil of grace in the heart, which alone could make me meet for the marriage supper of the Lamb. The new birth, justification by faith only, the want of free will in man to do good works without the special grace of God, and the like, were, as it were, strange language to me; for though I
remembered the letter of these doctrines, the spiritual sense thereof I was an utter stranger to. But, being very much oppressed in thought concerning those important truths which you delivered, as soon as I returned home, I searched an old exposition of the catechism, the church articles, and book of homilies, which I found exactly to correspond with that I had heard delivered by you.
Some days after this, being a tailor by trade, I was sent for to work at a little ale house, called Condercup, where (though one of the last places in which I should have expected food for the soul) the man of the house told me he had some old books which he got from Mr. F., a glazier and plumber in Tewkesbury, who had thrown them by in order to have sent them to the paper mills, as fit for no other purpose, but that he begged they might be given to him; that he had heard Mr. Whitefield and his sermon on the new birth; and that these old books spoke to the very same purpose as Mr. Whitefield did. Upon hearing this, I desired to see one of them, the other being then lent out, the title whereof was. General Directions for a Comfortable talking with God, by Robert Bolton, an old divine of our church. I had not read long before the light broke in upon my soul with such powerful evidence that I was from that instant clearly convinced, and I hope, by the grace of God, determined not to know anything save Jesus Christ and him crucified. Upon this I avoided all carnal acquaintance and reasonings as much as possible, and constantly attended the religious society at Badsey, where, by hearing your sermons and other religious exercises, I was daily strengthened and comforted.
Soon after this, I got the other old book, which was so providentially preserved from the paper mills, the title whereof is as follows: Six Evangelical Histories, viz: Water Turned into Wine; the Temple’s Purgation; Christ and Nicodemus; John’s Testimony; Christ and the Woman of Samaria; the Ruler’s Son Healed, contained in John 2, 3-4 opened and handled by the late faithful Servant of God, Daniel Dykes, anno 1617. This old book has been a very grateful cordial to my soul, and though I had lived under the sound of the gospel so many years and thought I did not want to be taught the first principles of Christianity at this age, being as I apprehended well thought of, and esteemed among my neighbours, yet I am fully convinced I knew nothing as I ought to know, and that the gospel was to me a sealed book; but by the wonderful free grace of God, I now read it as the savour of life unto life, and can say experimentally that the word of God is a light to my feet and a lantern to my paths. For this declaration of the truth, I
have suffered the reproach and derision of them that are round about me, but I trust that the grace of God, which hath called me when so old and dead in trespasses and sins, will also touch the hearts of my opposers and work in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure. I have been even threatened with the loss of my bread for the profession of the truth, but hope God will turn the hearts of my enemies. If not, and if it were His blessed will, I hope I shall be enabled to lay down my life in defence of that gospel which I can truly say is great tidings of great Joy to my soul; and I could, I think, be content with old Simeon to cry out in transport, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” the inward light and comfort I have felt being to me more miraculous than if I had seen one rise from the dead.
May the Lord prosper your labours and make them successful to the turning many souls to righteousness; and as you know in whom you have believed, so I am confident you will join with me in giving all the glory to that God who, I trust, hath created us anew in Christ Jesus; in whom I most humbly apd thankfully beg leave to subscribe myself,
Your most unworthy Servant,