THE FORCE OF TRUTH
(First published in 1779)
Some time in November 1777, I was, by a then unknown friend, furnished with a considerable number of books, written in general by the old divines, both of the church of England, and of the dissenters. And, to my no small surprise, I found that those doctrines which are now deemed novel inventions, and are called methodistical, are in these books everywhere discoursed of as
known and allowed truths; and that the system which, despising to be taught by men, and unacquainted with such authors, I had for near three years together been hammering out for myself with no small labour and anxiety, was to be found ready made to my hand in every book I opened.
I do not wonder that the members of the church of England are generally prejudiced against the writings of dissenters; for I have seen so myself to an excessive degree. We imbibe this prejudice with the first rudiments of instruction, and are taught by our whole education to consider it as meritorious: though no doubt it is a prejudice of which every sincere inquirer after truth ought to be afraid, and every pretended inquirer ashamed; for how can we determine on which side truth lies, if we will not examine both .sides? Indeed, it is well known to all those who are acquainted with the church histories of those times, that till the reign of James I there were no controversies between the established church and the puritans concerning doctrine; both parties being in all matters of importance of the same sentiments: they contended only about discipline and ceremonies, till the introduction of Arminianism have occasion to the Calvinists being denominated Doctrinal Puritans. Until this period all our church writers were Calvinistical in doctrine; and even after that time, many might be mentioned, who were allowed friends to the church of England, that opposed those innovations, and agreed in doctrtine with every thing above stated. Let it suffice, out of many, to recommend the works of Bishop Hall, especially his “Contemplations on the Life of Jesus,” a book not easily to be prized too highly; and Dr. Reynolds’s works. To these, no true friend to the church of England can reasonably object, and in general, I believe and teach nothing but what they plainly taught before me.
The outlines of my scheme of doctrine were now completed: but I had been so taken up with doctrinal inquiries, that I was still, in a great measure, a stranger to my own heart, and had little experience of the power of the truths I had embraced. The pride of reasoning, and the conceit of superior discernment, had all along accompanied one; and, though somewhat broken, had yet considerable influence.
Hitherto, therefore, I had not thought of hearing any person preach; because I did not think any one, in the circle of my acquaintance, capable of giving me such information as I wanted. But, being at length convinced that Mr. N. had been right, and that I had been mistaken in the several particulars in which we had differed, it occurred to me that, having preached these doctrines so long, he must understand many things concerning them to which I was a stranger.
Now, therefore, though not without much remaining prejudice,
and not less in the character of a judge than of a scholar, I condescended to be his hearer, and occasionally to attend his preaching, and that of some other ministers: and I soon perceived the benefit; for from time to time the secrets of my heart were discovered to me, far beyond what I had hitherto noticed; and I seldom returned from hearing a sermon without having conceived a meaner opinion of myself, without having attained to a further acquaintance with my deficiencies, weaknesses, corruptions, and wants; or without being supplied with fresh matter for prayer, and directed to greater watchfulness.
I likewise learned the use of experience in preaching, and was convinced that the readiest way to reach the hearts and consciences of others, was to speak from my own. In short, I gradually saw more and more my need of instruction, and was at length brought to consider myself as a very novice in religious matters.
Thus I began experimentally to perceive our Lord’s meaning, when he says, “Except ye receive the kingdom of God as a little child, ye shall in no wise enter therein.” For though my proud heart is continually rebelling, and would fain build up again the former Babel of self-conceit, yet I trust I have from this time, in my settled judgment, aimed and prayed to be enabled to consider myself as a little child, who ought simply to sit at the Master’s feet, to hear His words with profound submission, and wait His teaching with earnest desire and patient attention.
From this time I have been enabled to consider those persons, in whom knowledge has been ripened by years of experience, and observation, as fathers and instructors, to take pleasure in their company, to value their counsels, and with pleasure to attend their ministry. Thus, I trust, the old building which I had purposed to repair, was pulled down to the ground, and the foundation of the new building of God laid aright: “Old things passed away; behold, all things were become new;” “What things were gain to me, those I have counted loss for Christ.” My boasted reason I have discovered to be a blind guide, until humbled, enlightened, and sanctified by the Spirit of God; my former wisdom, foolishness; and that when I thought I knew much, I knew nothing as I ought to know.
Since this period, every thing I have experienced, heard, or read, and every thing I observe around me, confirms and establishes me in the assured belief of those truths which I have received; nor do I in general any more doubt whether the sun shines, when I see its light, and am warmed with its refreshing beams. I see the powerful effects of them continually among those to whom I preach; I experience the sower of them daily in my own soul; and, while by meditating on and glorying in the cross of Christ, I find the world crucified unto one, and I unto the world, by preaching Jesus Christ and Him
crucified, I see notoriously immoral persons taught by the saving grace of God to deny ungodliness and worldly lust, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, being examples to such as before they were a scandal to.
And now, by this change, the consequences of which I so much dreaded, what have I lost, even in respect of this present world. Indeed, I have lost some degree of favour, and I escape not pity, sensure, scorn, and opposition: but the Lord is introducing me to a few and far more desirable acquaintance; even to that of those whom the Holy Spirit hath denominated the excellent of the earth;
say, the Lord the Spirit condescends to be my Comforter. In general, I enjoy an established peace of conscience, through the blood of sprinkling, and continual application to the heavenly advocate; with a sweet content, and “that peace of conscience which passeth all understanding,” in “casting all my cares upon him who careth for me:” and I am not left utterly without experience of that “joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.” These the world could not give me, were I in favour with it; of these it cannot deprive me by its frowns.
My desire, henceforth, God knoweth, is to live to His glory, and
by my whole conduct and conversation “to adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour,” and “to show forth his praises, who hath called me out of darkness into his marvellous light;” to be in some way or other useful to His believing people, and to invite poor sinners, who ‘are walking in a vain show, and disquieting themselves in vain,” to taste and see how gracious the Lord is, and how blessed they are who put their trust in Him.
“Now would I tell to sinners round
What a dear Saviour I have found,
Would point to His redeeming blood,
And cry, Behold the way to God!”
Thus hath the Lord led me, a poor blind sinner, in a way that I knew not; “he hath made darkness light before me, crooked things straight,” and hard things easy, and hath brought me to a place of which I little thought when I set out; and having done these things for me, I believe, yea, I am undoubtedly sure. He will never leave me nor forsake me. To Him be the glory of His undeserved and long-resisted grace: to me be the shame, not only of all my other sins, but also of my proud and perverse opposition to His purposes of love towards me. But all this was permitted, that my high spirit and stout heart being at length humbled and subdued, “I might
remember, and be confounded, and never open my mouth any more, because of my shame, now that the Lord is pacified to me for all that I have done.”
And now, as in the presence of the heart-searching Judge, I have given, without one wilful misrepresentation, addition, or material omission, a history of the great things God hath done for my soul; or if that suit not the reader’s view of it, a history of that change which hath recently taken place in my religious sentiments and conduct, to the surprise of some, and perhaps the displeasure of others, among my former friends.
The doctrines I have embraced are indeed charged with being destructive of moral practice, and tending to licentiousness; but though I know that my best righteousnesses are as filthy rags, yet I trust I may return thanks to God, that by His grace He hath so upheld me since this change took place, that I have not been permitted to disgrace the cause in which I have embarked by any immoral conduct. “My rejoicing,” in this respect, “is this, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, I have my conversation in the world.” I can confidently avow, that the belief of these doctrines hath a quite contrary effect upon me. I most earnestly desire, aim, endeavour, and pray to be enabled to love God, and keep His commandments, “without partiality, and without hypocrisy;” and so to demean myself as by “well-doing to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” That I fall so very far short in every thing, is not the effect of my new doctrines, but of my old depraved nature and deceitful heart. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!”
Â•Continued from Vol. 9, p.315.
There is a further section in the original publication of this work in which the author reviews his experience. As the whole book has now been reprinted during the time it has taken us to reach this point, this final section will not be re-printed in this magazine but may be read in the new edition of “Force of Truth” available from the Ossett Bookshop.