Memoirs of Mrs. Mary Churchman, relating to her conversion, and the difficulties she underwent from her own family, until the Lord appeared in her favour, in turning every one of them to himself.
Agreeable to what my parents educated me in, I was zealous for the established church, and thought all fanatics, who dissented from it. I had as much prejudice against dissenters, and as great an inclination to persecute as Paul had. There lay a way through my father’s yard, for Mrs. M. a godly woman, to go to the meeting, which she did every Lord’s day. I really thought it my duty to set his great dog to molest her, and used sometimes to encourage him for ha’f a mile together, with the most bitter incentives, such as saying, My dog would smell the blood of a fanatic, &c. The cur, though cursed to others, yet, such was the preventing providence of God, that he never once fastened upon this gracious person, notwithstanding, for a long time, I constantly made it my business to let him upon her.
When I was about eighteen years of age it pleased the Lord to lay on me a languishing fit of sickness, which raised in me some promises of a new life, and when recovered, at the persuasion of a neighbor, who had been very useful to me in my illness, I went with her to hear that great man of God Mr. Holcroft.* He preached powerfully of hell and judgment, which made me tremble and secretly wish I had never came there. Every time he named the name of Christ it was 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 came there, for now thought I, they will think me one of themselves, which I at the time was fully resolved against. I seemed now to like their persons worse than ever. Satan also suggested what would my relations say? they must never know that I had been at a meeting, and the like.
Thus in my great hurry and confusion, I sat till service was ended. After sermon, staying for my neighbor, the minister came to me, and asked where I lived? who I was? and whether I knew any thing of the Lord Jesus Christ? &c. 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 neighbor, but was very angry in my mind, that she should ever ask me to come amongst the dissenters. I grew worse and worse, insomuch that my mother sent for a doctor, fearing that I should be melancholy, which indeed greatly increased upon me. This was in the reign of king Charles II. at which time they were bringing in Popery 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 those words, Cant. ii. 16. My beloved is mine and I am his, he seedeth among the lilies.
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 as a hiding-pace from the storm and tempest, to which I saw my guilty and polluted nature had exposed me. O happy day indeed. I found him who 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 every where much. I had every thing I wanted to my decayed spirits. I well knew I should meet with hard things from my relations, but could now pray, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke xxiii. 34.
As soon as my father and mother knew that I went to the meeting, 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 them who frequented the meetings. This made it an hard thing for his own daughter to be a fanatic, which was what he could not bear. And 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 till my father was 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,† 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, but he immediately turned me out of doors, not suffering me to carry any thing with me, except the clothes on my back.
I went to a godly gentleman’s about four miles distant from my father’s, who had often told me I should be welcome to his house, where my employ should be to be the 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 shewed me too much favor. She was suffered to carry it very cruelly towards me, ordering my lodging with the meanest of the servants, and my diet likewise was course 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 one 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 thoughts, Matt. vi. 32. For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
I lived in this place with difficulty three years, but in all that time there 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 lasted sweet and good, it never cloyed, and I was always hungry, insomuch that I thought if seeing and hearing the saints sometimes here was so pleasant, what must it be to dwell for ever with them above! I was placed indeed among those, where I had frequent opportunities of being convinced, that good men are subject to like passions with others. This grieved me, 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 a Joseph’s promotion, being greatly valued by many noble families, and especially the 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 conditions, it is well aid, saith she, in holy writ, 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. xiii. 3.) But the greater the temptation the greater was the deliverance, from whose words, Rev. vii. 14. These are they which come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Also chap vi. II. And white robes were given to every one of the, &c. Blessed be God, satan by his assault only bruised my heel, my head remained whole.
While I was in this company, the commissioners came and searched our ministers. Mr. B. (the gentleman of the house) and Mr. Holcroft, were asleep in a private arbor. I ran with some difficulty and awoke them, and they made their escape through the hedges, but as I returned the officers surprised me. They went and found some slips of their clothes on the hedges, which made them roar like bloodhounds, after which they came and seized a whole house of goods. These men were major T. and colonel C.
But O! the great trial now came 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 a cloud by day. And O how do I remember this loving-kindness to me the least of all saints; he not only delivered me from fears, but even 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 that storm and tempest, and a strong rock in that 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 in common. As I well knew my circumstances were very precarious, not having any where to hide my head, when this worthy family was gone, this drew me into great straits. I fought the Lord time after time on this account, and it seemed as if he was 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 demands were to the contrary. I added in my letter, I should be all obedient to them, saving in matters relating to my God; and thought I had not been permitted to see them seven years past, yet could assure the, my affections for them were 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 a consent, and so prepared all things ready for my journey, and set out with my kind friends. Just before we reached Harwich, where we were to take shipping, a messenger from my father overtook me with a letter, the content of which were as follows. That if I would come home, I should have any liberty to worship God in my own way, but as to my leaving the land, this was what they cold not bear, therefore without fail I must come back with the messenger; which I did. Great was the sorrow of parting with my friends, but my duty to my parents surmounted all.
I no sooner entered my father’s house but my mother in receiving me fainted away, my father also, though a man of great spirits, 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 my liberty in matters relating to my God. I then humbly offered my obedience to them both on my knees. At supper 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 applied Jacob’s promise to myself, Gen. xxxii. 12. Thou saidest I will surely do thee good. The next sabbath, my father came into my chamber by break of day, and told me I should have a horse and a man to wait on me to the meeting, which was at a place called Taft. Mr. Oddy§ preached from those words, Psalm cx. 3. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power. 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 his grieving daughter, and in a little time left of drinking, which was the forerunner of all his other evils. Now I thought, I could give my very body to be burned 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 also 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 great satisfaction of seeing my dear father and mother also converted to the faith of Jesus, though at the eleventh hour. Yea such was the power and goodness of God, that he left not such much as a hoof behind in the whole family.
Surely now I may say, that nothing but goodness and mercy hath followed me all the days of my life. When we had free liberty from poverty and slaver, 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 the body, in the latter part of her life, but in the general she was very lively in her soul. At the age of seventy-four 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 this covenant was unalterable; and then further declared, that now, for months past, she had conversed with her Lord, face to face, in her private retirement, yes, saith she, such hath been my near communion with my God, that he hath 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 that she had not the least concern about future events, for now she believed the decrees of God, and knew that he did all things well. It rejoiced her that Christ was the great God and the king of peace, and that the government was upon his shoulders. The evening before she died, she called one of her children, and, though her speech a little faultered, she expressed herself thus: I have now, faith she, new comfort, which surpasseth all my former experience, from those words, Heb. vii. 25. Wherefore he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him. O, said she, that word uttermost is 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 the state of my widowhood; he hath saved me to the uttermost in all my afflictions, 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 neighbors, who were weeping, and said, Here is a word for you; Christ saves sinners to the uttermost: and then, she addressed 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 will 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. 12, 1734, in the 80th year of her age, and was interred at Saffron-Walden, in Essex.
Notes [added by Samuel James]
* Mr. Holcroft was one of the ejected ministers, and afterwards pastor of a congregational church, in Cambridgeshire, in which county, as well as in several other places, he was remarkably useful, both for the conversion and comfort of many.
† Near Melbourn, in Cambridgeshire, where her experience was given in, and which the woman meant by her preaching a sermon.
§ Assistant, or fellow pastor with Mr. Holcroft.
Text: Samuel James, An Abstract of the Gracious Dealings of God, with Several Eminent Christians, in their conversion and sufferings. Taken from authentic manuscripts, And Published For the Comfort and Establishment of Serious Minds. By the late Rev. Samuel James, A. M. [The fifth edition.] (London: printed, for the benefit of the widow, by H. Trapp, son-in-law and successor to M. Lewis, No. 1. Paternoster-Row; and sold by J. Buckland, G. Keith, J. Johnson, and B. Tomkins; also to be had of the Rev. Mr. Button, Charles-Street, Southwark; Mr. J. James, No. 49, Crispin-Street, Spital-Fields; and Mr. W. Burder, No. 25, Old-Street, MDCCLXXVIII. ), pp. 56-82.