MRS. MARY CHURCHMAN.
Agreeably to what my parents educated me in I was zealous for the Established Church, thought all fanatics who dissented from it, and had as great an inclination to persecute them as Paul had. As a proof, there lay a way through my father’s yard for Mrs. M., a godly woman, to go to meeting, which she did every Lord’s Day; and I really thought it my duty to set his great dog upon her to molest her, and used sometimes to encourage him for half a mile together with the most bitter invectives, such as saying, “My dog would smell the blood of fanatics.” The cur was thought savage to others, but such was the preventing providence of God, that he never once fastened upon this gracious woman, notwithstanding for some time I constantly made it my business to set him upon her.
When I was about 18 years of age, it pleased the Lord to lay on me a languishing fit of sickness, which raised in me some promise of a new life; and when recovered, at the persuasion of a neighbour who had been very useful to me in my illness, I went with her to hear that man of God Mr. Holcroft. He preached powerfully of hell and judgment, which made me tremble and wish secretly I had never come there. Every time he named the name of Christ it was as terrible as the thunder and lightning upon Mount Sinai. I wished myself covered with the mountains, and looked upon Christ as my terrible judge and enemy. This trouble I vented in floods of tears and many wishes that I had never been born, and that I had never come there; for now. thought I, they will think me one of themselves,
which I at that time was fully resolved against. I seemed now to like their persons worse than ever. Satan also suggested. What would my relatives say? They must never know that I had been to a meeting;
and the like. Thus, in a great hurry and confusion, I sat till service was ended.
After sermon, whilst staying for my neighbour, the minister came to me and asked me where I lived, who I was, and whether I knew anything of the Lord Jesus Christ. But such was my ignorance and such the hurry and confusion of my mind that dark was my answer. I told him I believed the world was at an end. Home I came;
and not one word did I speak to my neighbour, but was very angry in my mind that she should ever ask me to go amongst Dissenters. I grew, however, worse and worse in my mind, insomuch that my mother sent for a doctor, fearing that I should go melancholy, which indeed, greatly increased upon me. This was in the reign of King Charles II., at which time they were bringing in popery at a great pace.
The next opportunity which presented, I had an inclination to go to the meeting again, which I did, but very privately. My mother began to mistrust me, and repeated her charge, warning me not to go among such sort of creatures as fanatics, “for I believe,” said she, “they bewitch people into their persuasions.” However, I went on a week-day, and the same minister preached from these words: “My beloved is mine and I am his; he feedeth among the lilies.” (Cant. 2, 16.) He was a good Samaritan to me that day. The Spirit of the Lord shone round about me. O then I saw the Lord Jesus become my husband; he was to me a hiding-place from the storm and tempest to which I saw my guilty and polluted nature had exposed me. O happy day indeed! I found He who had a little before appeared as a terrible Judge was now become my beloved and I knew that I was His. O inexpressible joy! He was as a bundle of myrrh to my soul. I had not only here a little and there a little, but I had everywhere much. I had everything I wanted to my decayed spirit. I well knew I should meet with hard things from my relatives, but could now pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23, 34.)
As soon as my father and mother knew that I went to the meetings, Satan was in a great rage. My father was then high constable, and had an order from the justices to return all the names of those who frequented the meetings. This made it a hard thing for his own daughter to be a fanatic, which was what he could not bear. This also increased my difficulty in getting out on the Lord’s Day, which, notwithstanding, I sometimes did; and have walked eight, ten, yea, twelve miles to a meeting. If my father at any time understood where I was gone, he spent the day in nothing but oaths and curses, and resolves to murder me. My mother, though an enemy to fanatics, would frequently send a servant to meet me before I could reach
home, to tell me not to appear before my father had gone to bed; and I often hid myself in a wood-stack, where I have seen him pass by
with a naked knife in his hand, declaring he would kill me before he slept.
In this bondage I lived for one year; but the Lord carried on His work with much power, and enabled me to declare in Zion what He had done for my soul, which I did on a Lord’s Day, as the manner then was. I had some fear, indeed, lest my parents should hear of it, which they did within a fortnight after, by means of a basket-woman, who asked my mother if she had not a daughter. She answered, “Yes,” “O” said the woman, “I heard her preach such a sermon at Mildred*Cambs, as raised the admiration of all who heard her.” This my mother obliged her to attest before my father and me, who no sooner heard of it than he immediately turned me out of doors, not suffering me to carry anything with me except the clothes I had on my back. I went to a godly gentleman’s house, about four miles from my father’s who had often told me I should be welcome to his home, where my employ should be governess to his seven children; but there the Lord was pleased to try me greatly at my first setting out. My mistress, though a good woman, soon became uneasy, thinking her husband showed me too much favour. She was suffered to carry it very cruelly towards me, ordering my lodging with the meanest of the servants, and my diet likewise as coarse as theirs. It being a time of scarcity of provisions, we under-servants lived chiefly upon barley bread. I was obliged to borrow for necessary change of linen; nor did I know for months together what it was to have a penny in my pocket.
This great change of living, together with my grief at being banished from my father’s house, brought me so low that a sore fit of sickness ensued. My life not being long expected, the gentleman sent a messenger to acquaint my mother that I had a great desire to see her; but as soon as the messenger informed my father, he replied, if he did not immediately get out of his yard he would shoot him dead. However, about a fortnight after, my mother sent me a box of wearing apparel, which I received with these words on my mind;
“For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.” (Matt. 7, 32.) I lived in this place with difficulty three years, but in all that time never knew what it was to have one barren Sabbath. I thought my mercies equal to the children of Israel’s. I gathered my manna on the Sabbath, and it always tasted sweet and good; it never cloyed, and I was always hungry, insomuch that I thought if seeing and hearing the saints here was sometimes so pleasant, what must be to dwell with them above? I was placed indeed among those where I had frequent opportunity of being convinced that good men are subject to like passions with others.
This grieved me much; but God did me good by such disappointments, for hereby he brought me more off from the creature to the Creator.
The year following. Providence placed me twenty miles another way, where I obtained a Joseph’s character and Joseph’s promotion;
being greatly valued by many noble families, and especially Lady M., who told me she loved me years before she was personally acquainted with me. She gave me of her liberality, and maintained Christian communion with me. One remark this lady made I very well remember. Speaking of the suitableness of the Spirit’s applying the word to all ranks and contitions, “It is well said,” said she. “Not many noble are called; had it been expressed, not any noble, what a condition must I have been in!”
Persecution now came on apace. The Dissenters could have no meetings but in woods and corners. I myself have seen our companies often alarmed with drums and soldiers; every one was fined five pounds a month for being in their company. Here God left me to stagger. Satan suggested, If you give your body to be burned, and have not charity, it is nothing. (1. Cor. 13, 3.) But the greater the temptation the greater was the deliverance, from these words: “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb;” (Rev. 7, 14;) also, “And white robes were given to every one of them,” (6, 11.) Blessed be God, Satan by his assault only bruised my heel; my head remained whole.
While I was in this family the commissioners came and searched for ministers. Mr. B., (the gentleman of the house,) and Mr. Holcroft, were asleep in a private arbor. I ran, with some difficulty, and awakened them, and they made their escape through the hedges;
but as I returned the officers surprised me; they went and found some slips of cloth on the hedges, which made them roar like bloodhounds, after which they came and seized a whole houseful of goods. These men were Major T. and Colonel C.
But O the great trial was now come on; they found and seized my beloved pastor, Mr. Holcroft, and carried him to Cambridge Castle. But even there God appeared wonderfully for him; he preached, and many souls were converted in that place. Now God was with us much; He was indeed as a pillar of fire by night and of cloud by day. And how do I remember His loving-kindness to me the least of all saints. He not only delivered me from fears but even from death itself, nay, the very flames with which we were threatened were made familiar to me. I was enabled to say; “O death, where is thy sting?” The Lord was a covert from the storm and tempest, and a strong rock in the day of trouble.
Mr. B., with whom I lived, had a call to Holland; and as the persecution was very threatening in England, he thought it his duty
to accept the call. He gave me an invitation to go with him, assuring me that all things should be common. As I well knew my circumstances were very precarious, not having anywhere to hide my head when this worthy family was gone, I was drawn into great straits. I sought the Lord time after time on this account, and it seemed as if He were providing for me in another land. Grace taught me my duty to my parents, though they were enemies to the cross of Christ; accordingly, I acquainted them with this invitation, and that I should comply with it unless their commands were to the contrary I added, in my letter, I should be obedient to them saving in matters, relating to my God; and though I had not been permitted to see them for seven years past, yet I could assure them my affection for them was the same as ever. I begged they would consider of it, and let me know in eight days’ time, for all things were ready to embark in a fortnight. Not hearing from them in the time I set, I took their silence for consent; and so prepared all things for my journey, and set out with my friends. Just before we reached Harwich, where we were to take shipping, a messenger from my father overtook me with a letter, the contents of which were as follows, that if I would come home I should have my liberty to worship God in my own way; but as to my leaving the land, that was what they could not bear; therefore, without fail, I must come back with the messenger; which I did. Great was the sorrow at. parting with my friends; but my duty to my parents surmounted all.
o sooner entered my father’s house than my mother fainted away in receiving me. My father, also, though a man of great spirit, offered to fall on his knees to ask my pardon for his former cruelty. O amazing work of sovereign grace! When our ways please the Lord, He makes even our enemies to be at peace with us. My father immediately told me I should have my liberty in matters relating to my God. I then humbly offered my obedience to them both on my knees. At supper time there was not a mouthful eaten but with tears. I well knew my God had appeared to my father on my behalf, as he did to Laban of old; and I applied Jacob’s promise to myself: “Thou saidst, I will do thee good.” (Gen. 32, 12.) The next Sabbath my father came into my chamber by break of day, and told me I should have a horse and man to wait on me to the meeting, which was at a place called Taft** Mr. Oddy preached from these words: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” (Ps. 110, 3.) Then I could feel electing love the prime cause of all God’s dealings with me. There now appeared a great reformation in the whole family. My father feared to sin for fear of grieving his daughter, and in a little time left off drinking, which is the forerunner of all other evils.
Now I thought I could give my very body to be burnt for the souls of my dear relations. The Lord granted my request on their
behalf. In a few years I had not only the pleasure of seeing the conversion of my three brothers, but of seeing them eminently useful. I found my God reserved His greatest mercies for my greatest trials, for at the death of my dear sister I had not only the comfort of seeing her conversion but the greater satisfaction of seeing my dear father and mother also brought to a knowledge of the faith of Jesus, though at the eleventh hour. Yea, such was the power of God, that He left not a hoof behind of the whole family. Surely now I may say that nothing but goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life. When we had free liberty from popery and slavery under our great deliverer King William III, many were the favours which I enjoyed. God gave me the best and tenderest of husbands, a prophet of the Lord indeed, whose good instructions abide with my children to this day. In short, the Lord has sanctified every trial to me, and followed me with pleasure and comfort in my old age.
This excellent Christian was subject to much affliction of body in the latter part of her life; but in general she was very lively in her soul. At the age of 74 she had some near views of her approaching dissolution; and the last time she came down stairs, which was four days before her death, she said that her God might leave her to the trial of her faith, but his covenant was unalterable; and then further declared that for months past she had conversed with her Lord face to face in her private retirement. “Yea,” said she, “such has been my near communion with my God, that He has already given me the white robe of Christ’s righteousness as an earnest of my standing before His throne.” Her memory was very quick, and her understanding clear. She gave choice advice to her children, with the utmost caution and tenderness. She said she had not the least concern about future events, for now she believed the decrees of God, and knew He did all things well. It rejoiced her that Christ was the great God and the King of grace, and that the government was upon His shoulder.
The evening before she died she called one of her children, and though her speech was a little faltering, she expressed herself thus: “I have now a new comfort, which surpasseth all my former experience, from these words, “Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him.” (Heb. 25). “O,” said she, “that word ‘uttermost’ has gone into heaven before me. I now remember the days of His espousals, when I followed him in the wilderness. And when I was banished from my father’s house, then my God saved me to the uttermost; He saved me to the uttermost in all His providences when in a married state; He saved me to the uttermost in all my children; He saved me to the uttermost in my widowhood; He saves me to the uttermost in all my affliction; and
now He saves me to the uttermost in my sickness; yea, this High Priest saves my faith against all the assaults of Satan on my death-bed. As man He suffered; as God He saves to the uttermost.” After this she turned herself to her neighbours, who were weeping, and said, “Here is a word for you, Christ saves sinners to the uttermost;” and then addressing herself to her child, she said, “O my dear child, I want to take you with me to heaven; but Christ will save you to the uttermost. You have been the gift of God to me; but wherein you have been useful take heed of pride, for you have a corrupt nature.” She then gave charge concerning her funeral; and after having added, “God be with you, my child,” fell as it were asleep in the arms of her daughter. Thus the Lord favoured her with an easy passage to the mansions of glory. She departed this life Jan. 12th, 1734, in the 80th year of her age, and was interred at Saffron Walden, in Essex.
Gospel Standard 1860 pp.178-83
* Meklreth. Cambs.
** Toti. Cambs.