Anonymous Conversion Narrative (c. 1740s)

This undated spiritual account, or ‘experience’, was copied by Anne Cator Steele onto some loose foliums and inserted into volume VI of her diary; the author is unknown, but most likely it was a woman seeking membership in the Broughton church and who, like Jane Attwater, Mary Steele, and Sophia Williams, wrote out her experience, either as a preliminary means of helping organize her thoughts prior to presenting them extemporaneously to the church, or to be read to the church either by herself or the pastor. The membership of the Broughton church at this time was predominantly Calvinistic, split between High Calvinists (Anne Steele seems most comfortable with this group) and those of a more moderate Calvinist persuasion (William Steele IV and Mary Steele); it is likely there were Arians present as well, since the church allowed Job David to preach in the pulpit in the early 1770s. The writer of the above account is thoroughly orthodox, which may explain why Anne Cator Steele thought fit to keep it as a memorial in her diary.

Anonymous Conversion Narrative of a woman applying for membership in the Baptist congregation in Broughton (copied by Anne Cator Steele)

[opening line is torn away] when I was very young for I remember when I was first at Broughton by hearing religious convers in my uncles family put me upon thinking there was another life after this & I was desireous to know how I should get an intrest in Christ for I was told that was the way to happyness & that I could do nothing my self. I heard a Sermon at Wallop yet I forgot the text but I then tho’t it very usefull to me & a sence of it abade upon my mind a long time while I heard a Sermon at another time at Broughton on her ways are ways of pleasantness & all her paths are peace which shewd me their was nothing unpleasant in religion but that it was the way to happyness & peace. I remember I went to God in prayer as well as I was capable and beg’d of him to direct me to the knowledge of himself & his ways & soon after that Scripture was bro’t to my mind search the Scriptures for they are they that testifie of me & as I remember I did so but Childish vanitys soon stiffle’d those good impressions & I can remember but little more of my concern til my Bros death at which time I was under a great deal of trouble on account of his soul as well as his body & also about my own soul & being apprihensive of the distemper he died of I was under great concern how to appear before God if I died but this wore off in time without any good effect and I went along having many convictions from time to time, I was often uneasie about Election & sometimes tho’t if I was Elected I should be sav’d but if I was not twas to no purpose to endevour and as near as I can remember that verse come unto me all ye that labour & are heavy laden & I will give you rest was of use to me to make me keep on in my duty for I hope I had then some sence of the burthen of sin heard a sermon on the lord is a sun & a shield he will give Grace & Glory & no good thing will he withhold from them that walk up rightly this shew’d me what a protection God was to those that trust in him but that did not hold long for that folow’d me the prayers of the wicked are abomination to the Lord for then I seem’d to know twas never the reason for me to pray & this deter’d me from prayer a long time for if I kneel’d down it follow’d me til I did rise & go away to the neglecting my duty but after some time I tho’t this coars would not do for it was now wors then before then. I endevourd to be found in my duty & that came often I will go to God if I perish I perish & sometimes I found relief but often in a stuppid sort of a way since this I have been exercis’d with a variety of tryals & afflictions particularly the death of my Sister which was a trouble so great I could hardly bear up under it but sometimes hopes I found support from God yet often in dutys my sins & corruptions did appear to be exceeding great & I could see I should never be justified out of Christ agreeable to that if thou lord shouldest be strict to mark Iniquity who could stand or answer one of a thousand, thus I have [next two lines not readable due to paper being torn away] led away having no strength to resist such powerfull enemies some time since under some great affliction I thot what was the near for me to keep on in this way not being invested in Christ if I died I should be miserable forever & that was impress’d upon my mind there is no hope no I have loved Strangers & after them I will go sometime after that came tho: ye have lain among pots yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove cover’d with silver & your feathers with yelow Gold which I found a great relief last sumer under some great tryals which I cant here describe & what added to my terror was what is in the first of Pro: because I have called & ye have refused I have stretched forth my hand & no man regarded but ye have set at nought all my counsels & would have none of my reproof I also will laugh at your calamity I will mock when your fear cometh this I tho’t was very applycable to my case then I heard a sermon on who is this that cometh out of the wilderness leaning upon her beloved this stir’d me up to desire to lean on Christ. The minister compar’d this world to a wilderness wherein was a multitude of bryars & thorns to intangle & draw away the soul from God he mentioned a great many snares & temptations which I knew I had experence’d to my cost under some of my sore temptations this Scripture have been of great comfort I have loved thee with everlasting Love therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee I heard a sermon on turn thou me & I shall be turned & this having been before often upon my mind & I had so many times beg’d it of God it made great Impression on my mind and I found was usefull, but being much with one that Exalted Natural reason above the holy Scriptures it made me very thotfull & I had many questiongs about it yet I hope it did not hurt me for being (as I hope) overruld by providence have a means to establish me more in that religion I had been bro’t up in being often assisted in my dutys of prayer which made me very thankfull.

This last Spring I was visited with a dangerous Illness I was then & many times since under unspeakable Anguish about my everlasting state and was very much troubled because I had not been found in my duty with regard to Baptism for I had some grounds to hope there was a change wrote in me thinking on this If thou believest with all thy heart thou maist & I tho’t I could say as He did I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God & that there is Salvation in none but him for there is no other name given under Heaven whereby we can be sav’d I believe Christ to be God & man & so was & continued to be God & man in two distinct natures & one person forever for had he been God & not man he could not have dy’d & had he been man only He could never have redeem’d fallen creatures I believe Christ to be a prophet to teach & instruct sinners, & [our priest] that offerd himself a sacrifice for < > his body on the tree as a King He reigns over us & in us & I desire I may always rest in his power for protection & in all things submit to his Righteous Government begging to be kept by his Almighty power thro faith unto Salvation for I know I can do nothing in my own strength. I have been made sencable of the unsatisfaction of all earthly things and that I hope by his Spirit being very earnest in prayer to God that I might know if I had an Intrest in Christ & if I did believe aright for I saw cause to be very jealous of my own heart being often very dul & low & that came for my relief comfort ye comfort ye my people saith my God speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem & cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished that her Iniquity is pardoned. Before I came this journey I desir’d there might be some way for me to come to the enjoyment of the ordinances of the house of God yet I despair’d of it because of my unworthyness & I tho’t I could not speak my mind to any one by reason of my fears & extreem Lowspiritedness yet thot if I lost this oppertunity my life must be very uncomfortable providence having provided my future Habitation in a town where there are great divisions in the Baptist Intrest & now I have been under great distress in a sence of my Ignorance my many Corruptions & my departings from God fearing I am not his child for I tho’t if I was I should find more assistance in this great work, I also feard if I make a profession & after fall into sin that will be very dreadfull yet I hope God will enable me to persivere to the end, alone in the strength of Christ. For I know that in me that is in my flesh dweleth no good thing, I believe justification to be an act of Gods free grace wherein he pardoneth all our sins & accepts all [paper torn] only for the Righteousness of Christ imputed to us & < > sanctified by his grace & am willing to be made holy & pure as well as happy hereafter and without holyness none shall see the lord. I hope I can say I love the people of God for the Excelency’s I see in them above others & for their likeness to Christ whom I desire to love above all things & would be found obedient to his commands & the ordinance of Baptism I believe to be one & that it signifies or holds forth to us the death burial & resurrection of Christ which lays me under an obligation to die to sin & to live to righteousness agreeable to this Scripture therefore we are buried with him by Baptism into death that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the Glory of the father even so we also should walk in newness of life, by the Institution of the Lords Supper I understand is held forth the suferings & death of Christ the bread signifieing his broken body & the wine his blood shed & he said this do in remembrance of me.

July 14 1751

Text: STE 2/1/3, Steele Collection, Angus Library, Oxford; for the fully annotated text, see Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 8, pp. 30-33.