The remarkable experience of Mrs. Gertrude Clarkson, second daughter of the late Rev. Mr. David Clarkson, given to the church with whom she lived in communion; with a short account of her comfortable end.
My education has been very strict. The constant instruction and example of my parents had so early an influence, that it is hard to tell which was my first awakening. Ever since I can remember any thing of myself, I have had frequent convictions of the danger of sin, and an unregenerate state, attended with fears of the punishment due to it, therefore was desirous of an interest in Christ, by whom I might be pardoned and saved from the wrath of God. This made me very fearful of omitting duties, or committing known sins, and though these convictions wore off, yet they often returned, and rendered me uneasy, unless I was praying or learning scriptures, or something which I thought good. In these exercises, I was well satisfied, though it was my happiness to be under the most careful inspection and judicious helps for the informing of my judgment.
Before I apprehended what it was to rely upon all-sufficient Savior for righteousness and strength, I remember my notion of things was this, that I was to hear, and pray, and keep the sabbath, and avoid what I knew to be sin, and when I thought God was obliged to save me; that I did what I could, and so all that he required; and I further conceived, that if at any time I omitted secret prayer, or any other duty, yet if I repented it was sufficient; and on this consideration I have often ventured upon the commission of sin, with a resolve to repent the next day, and then having confessed the transgression, my conscience has been easy, and I was well satisfied. Indeed sin, at the time, was not burdensome. I truly desired that my sins might be pardoned, but thought the ways of religion hard, and, though I durst not live in the constant neglect of duty, yet I secretly wished that I had been under no obligation to perform it. When I reflect on the thoughts and workings of my heart and affections in these times, and the confused apprehensions which I then had both of sin and grace, I am fully persuaded that, through grace, there is a real, and, in some measure, an universal change wrought* in my soul.
After my father’s death I was reading one of his manuscripts, wherein both the object and nature of saving faith was described, and the great necessity of it pressed, &c.† The plain and clear definition there given of the saving act of faith, caused other apprehensions of things than I had before. I then began to see, how short I had come in all my performances, of that disposition of soul which the gospel called for, and how guilty I was while depending upon these performances for acceptance with God, not casting myself wholly and alone upon Christ, and resting on his righteousness, entirely, for pardon and justification. The concern of my mind was very great, that I had lived so long ignorant of those things which related to my eternal welfare. I was sensible, the means and helps I had been favored with, for improvement in knowledge, were beyond what is common, but I had refused instruction, the consideration of which was very terrible to my thoughts, fearing lest I had sinned beyond all hope of forgiveness.
But in the most discouraging apprehensions of my case, my heart was much enlarged in the confession of sin, and in bewailing my captivity to it, which was attended with earnest wrestlings with the Lord, for pardoning and purifying grace. Those absolute promises in the 36th chapter of Ezekiel, of a new heart and right spirit, were my continual plea, together with Matt. v. 6. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. I found longings and panting of soul after that righteousness, and saw that it could only be received by faith, this faith I earnestly begged, and that the Lord would pardon that great sin of unbelief, which so provoked and dishonoured him, and that he would, by his own Spirit, enable me to embrace Christ, as freely held forth in the gospel.
About this time I was much affected with the consideration of Christ’s offices, as prophet, priest, and king. And though I durst not claim an interest in them, yet was often meditating upon them, admiring that infinite condescension which is manifested therein. I thought whatever my condition was in this world, yet if I might be under his powerful and effectual teachings as a prophet, and have the benefit of this atonement and intercession as a priest, and be entirely subject to him in every faculty of my soul, as my Lord and King, then how satisfied and happy should I be!
I was under these strugglings a long time, before I came to any comfortable persuasion, that I was accepted. Sins against light and love, deeply wounded me, and the many aggravating circumstances which attended them, were so represented by satan, that I could not tell how to believe, such iniquities as mine would be forgiven. But in the midst of these distressing thoughts, I found that manuscript of my father’s that none but unworthy sinners, who are empty of all good in themselves, were the objects of pardoning mercy, that the whole needed not the physician, but the sick. This encouraged me to plead with hope, that the Lord would glorify the freeness of his own grace in my salvation, and to urge that Christ called the weary and heavy laden to him with a promise of rest. (Matt. xi. 28.)§
I found my soul was extremely burdened with sin; it appeared more exceeding sinful than ever before; sins of thought, as well as words and actions, were then observed with sorrow, and lamented before them. Yea, even the sins of my most holy things, those swarms of vain thoughts, and wanderings of heart and affections, of which I was conscious in my secret retirements, and most solemn close dealings with God. In short, my own soul was my intolerable burden, which made me often question, whether there were not more provoking sins in me than God usually pardons. O I found how every power and faculty was depraved, and that I could not do the good I would!
It would be tedious to relate, the many particular discouragements and temptations I laboured under, sometimes pouring forth my soul with some hope in his free mercy, sometimes only bewailing my condition without hope, till it pleased him, whose power and grace no impenitent heart can resist and prevail, to put a stop to my unbelieving reasonings, from the unlikelihood of such sins being pardoned sins so aggravated and so provoking as mine, by giving me an awful sense of his absolute sovereignty from those words, Exodus xxxiii. 19. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. Also Isaiah lv. I. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, saith the Lord. These considerations were so impressed on my mind, and struck such an awe upon my spirits, that I durst not any longer gave way to my carnal reasonings; I thought I could commit myself to his sovereign pleasure, let him do with me as seemed him good.‡
After some time my mother perceiving my concern, conversed very freely with me, and asked if I was not willing to accept of Christ, to sanctify, as well as to save me? I told her I desired this above all things. She then said he had certainly accepted of me, adding that it was Christ who had made me willing to close with him, and that he never made any soul thus willing, but he had first pardoned and accepted that soul. I shall never forget with that weight these words were impressed on my heart. I thought it was as a pardon sent immediately to me. I could not but say, I was above all things desirous to be entirely subject to Christ in every power and faculty of my soul, that every thought might be brought to subjection to Christ, and nothing might remain in me contrary to hi, but that there might be a perfect conformity to his image and will in all things.
After this conversation, I found great composure in my mind, believing that the Lord had created those desires in me, which nothing but himself, and the enjoyment of himself, could satisfy, and that he would answer them with himself; that he would not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoaking flax, Matt. xii. 20. My delight was now in nothing else but meditating upon, and admiring of, the free and sovereign grace of God in Christ, which distinguished me from many others who had not so highly provoked him, having called me out of such gross darkness which I had been long in, and given me any glimmerings of the light of the knowledge of the glory of his grace. My desires greatly increased after further discoveries, and clearer light into the deep mysteries of the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus: and all diversions from these meditations were a burden.
O I then thought all old things were passed away, and every thing has become new! I experienced a universal change in mind, will, and affections; the bent of them was turned another way. The ordinances, which were once irksome, were above all things pleasant, and the return of sabbaths continually longed for. I was very thankful it was my duty as well as privilege to set apart the whole day for the worship and glory of my Lord.** I bewailed much that I could love him no more, that there was so much sin remaining in me, and which I found mixed with all that I did, and that I was not wholly taken up with those blessed and delightful employments, without the least interruption. O I longed for that state wherein all these fetters should be knocked off, and my soul set at liberty in the worship and praise of my God, being freed from corruptions within or temptations without.
My soul was thus delightfully carried out for some time, in which I heard a discourse from those words, John xxi. 17. Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee. The scope of this sermon was for a trial, whether our appeal could be made to him who knows all things, that we loved him? Under this discourse I found my heart greatly carried out in love to Christ, in all his ordinances, and the discoveries made of his will therein. These subjects concerning the love of Christ, and his people’s love to him, being long continued, one sermon after another, I found I sat under the word with great pleasure and enlarged affections.
At this time my mother was persuading me to join in communion with some church, which greatly startled me at first. I could by no means think of that, not apprehending myself to have come so far yet, I thought there must be something more in me, or I should eat and drink damnation to myself.†† But being better informed both as to the nature and end of the ordinance, and that it was intended for the increase of grace and strength, and that it was a positive command of my Lord, with whose will in all things I was desirous to comply, I was at last prevailed with to venture on that great ordinance, and was much refreshed and satisfied in my renewed resignation, and enlarged expectations, of receiving all needful supplies, from him who is the head of the church. O the condescending love and grace of my Redeemer, represented to me in these transactions, how greatly did they delight and affect my soul? I wished I might have been always thus exercised, expecting with great pleasure the return of those seasons, wherein I might hope for further manifestations, and larger communications, of grace and love.
But after some time my affections, began to cool. I had not such sweetness and enlargement in my approaches to God in public, as I used to find. I thought the preaching more empty, and come short of what I found I wanted. This deadness continuing, filled me with no small concern, fearing I should fall off. I was very far from charging the ministry I sat under, but my own wicked wavering heart. I have often gone to the house of God with raised expectations, of receiving those quickenings I used to be blessed with, but found sad disappointments. This frame of spirit as to public worship, was matter of continual mourning and bewailing in secret. I was often examining my heart as to its aims and ends in my public approaches, and could not but conclude my desires were above all things to glorify my lord in all his appointments, and to receive those blessings from him which might enable me so to do.
The missing of the Lord’s presence under the means, in the use of which he had commanded me to expect it, and which he had heretofore in some measure vouchsafed, was very grievous. I earnestly begged a discovery of every sin that might be hid from me, which might be the cause of this withdrawing. But the decay of my affections still remaining, it caused great misgivings of heart, that things were not right with me. Yet still I had supports in my secret applications to God, that his grace would be sufficient for me, and that I should be kept by his almighty power, through faith unto salvation, which encouragements kept me still waiting with hope, that he would yet return and bless me.
After some time being providentially brought to this place, I found the preaching of your§§ pastor so suited to my case, that I was greatly enlarged in thankfulness to God, who had so directed me. Those sermons upon Gal. vi. 3. For if a man thinketh himself something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself, though I had heard your minister before with great satisfaction, brought me to a resolution of fitting under his ministry. I do not question but you remember what unusual and deep heart-searching discourses they were. I wish I could express what they were to me. They razed me again to the very foundation, and discovered the many secret holds satan had in my heart, which before I thought not of, and how many ways I was taken up with something which was nothing.
These discourses caused deep humblings of spirit, and enlarged desires after further enlightnings. O I found these things reached me! I needed to be led into the depths of my own deceitful heart, and thereby observe, that secret proneness there was in me, to be laying hold on something in self to rest upon and expect from. In short, I now saw that utter insufficiency and weakness in myself, and every thing done by myself, to satisfy the cravings of my immortal soul, which I had not so much as once thought of before.
I have been also led more to that fulness, from when only I can receive what may render me acceptable to the Father, and have, never found so much sweetness and solid satisfaction in my accesses to God, as when most sensible of my own unworthiness, and entire emptiness, of any thing agreeable to him in myself, and all my performances, and when most apprehensive of that infinite fulness and suitableness of grace laid up in Christ Jesus, from when I am commanded and encouraged to be continually receiving fresh supplies. O those infinite inexhaustible treasures! nothing, nothing less can satisfy the restless cravings and pantings of my soul! By this preaching, I have been continually led to this fresh spring that never fails, and have experienced great quickenings in my applications to Christ, and comfortable rejoicings in him. Notwithstanding all those miserable defects and failures in my poor performances, this gives me comfort that there is a perfect righteousness wrought out for me, which I may receive freely by faith, and therein stand compleat before God for ever.
The insisting on such truths as these, which have a direct tendency to lead from self to Christ, by opening and unfolding the mysteries of grace laid up in him, so admirably suited to answer all the necessities of poor helpless guilty creatures, I find above all things encourages me to, and enlivens me in, duty.‡‡ My low improvements under these suitable instructive helps fill me with mourning, to think there should be no greater establishment, upon the sure foundation of a Redeemer’s righteousness, on which I hope I have been enabled to build.
At times I can apprehend with some clearness that this righteousness was wrought out for me, and can apply to him with confidence and joy, as the Lord is my righteousness and strength, and gladly hope, that through that strength I shall be more than a conqueror over every disturbing corruption and temptation. Yea that I shall see him shortly, as he is, in the full displays of the glory of that grace and love which I cannot now comprehend, and by the transforming sight be made like him. But O how short! how seldom are these interviews! my unbelieving heart still returns to its former darkness and distrust, and gives me frequent occasions to bewail the fluctuations of my weak faith. O that it was stronger! that it was more stedfast! But blessed be his name in whom I put my entire trust, there is grace in him, to help me under all decays and failings, through weakness. ‘Tis from hence I receive strength to elevate and excite the acts of faith and love, when sunk so low that I cannot raise them. Yea, it is from the same fulness I receive grace, to regulate the actings of grace, and to set my soul from time to time, in a right way of improving the grace I received, and for obtaining pardon for all my defects, as well as for the removing all my defilements.***
These are the truths that feed and support my faith, and without these were set home with power on my soul, I must give up, under the great aboundings of my indwelling corruptions. I desire a submissive waiting for further manifestations of his love, in his own time and way. And although I have not those constant shines of the light of God’s countenance, with which some of his people are blessed, yet I humbly adore him for the little light he hath afforded me, and beg your prayers that I may be kept close to him, and have such constant discoveries as may strengthen my faith, by a close adherence to hi, and firm reliance on him, without wavering. But I am sensible that I am too apt to be looking off from the only support and foundation of my faith and hope, and to be depending on, and expecting from, the frame of my own spirit, and workings of my affections towards spiritual things.†††
O the unsearchable deceitfulness of my heart! which is so many ways betraying me into an unbelieving temper of spirit! I find I need greater helps than those may who are more established, and I dare not neglect those helps which my Lord has provided for his church. I need to be watched over, and excited and encouraged under difficulties, from those experiences which others have of the dealings of the Lord with them. I have been wishing for these advantages for a considerable time, being fully convinced that those who are members of his church, should be building up one another. I bless the Lord that he has discovered his will to me in this point, and that he hath provided greater helps than what I had been before acquainted with, for my furtherance in my progress to heaven. Accordingly I would chearfully and thankfully fall in with his will herein, and so take hold of his covenant in his church, expecting the blessing promised to those that are planted in his house.
This excellent woman died in London, April 23, 1701. Her funeral sermon was preached and printed by Dr. Ridgley, who was then pastor of that church to which she belonged, and who, among other things, observes the following concerning her. That her mind was rightly informed, and richly furnished with experimental knowledge of the things of Christ, and of the work of grace, carried on with power in her soul. And although she had sometimes a well-grounded hope, yea, a full persuasion of the love of God; yet so far was this from leading her to pride or carnal security, that it can scarce be conceived, what low thoughts she had of the best of self, and what a deep sense of the power of indwelling sin, or with what sorrow lamented the same. What a firm dependance of indwelling sin, or with what sorrow lamented the fame. What a firm dependance on Christ, as able to do nothing without him! how watchful over her actions and thoughts! and how much afraid of sin, even of the iniquity of her holy things!
There was in her conversation, a becoming mixture of gravity and pleasantness, not daring on the one hand to make things sacred, a prey to the exuberancies of wit and fancy, nor on the other, of giving the least occasion to their false conceit, who suppose, that religion always chuses the dark retreat of a melancholy temper, or is directly opposite to what is chearful or agreeable in common conversation.
She was a conscientious attender on the ordinances of Christ, in season and out of season, valuing all opportunities wherein she might hope for further acquaintance with God; she called the sabbath her delight, and rejoiced at the returns thereof. Her soul was very much affected with those doctrines that have a tendency to advance the sovereignty of divine grace, and to set forth the nothingness of the creature.
Her last sickness was short. She was on a sudden seized with a very painful distemper§§§ which she perceived to be the harbinger of death, but when it made its nearest approaches she declared it was welcome. She did not fly from it as an enemy, nor see any thing afrighting in its countenance. When all about her were almost overwhelmed with grief, she was the only person that seemed unconcerned, being as willing to be gone as death was to call.
Though her pain was violent for many hours and very much hindered the desired composure of her thoughts, yet in this she was submissive to the divine will, and patient under his hand. But it pleased God to give her ease the remaining part of her time, when she took occasion to express the inward joy that she experienced. When cordials were applied for the refreshment of weak and fading nature, she said that she had better cordials to refresh her than those.
The last two days of her life, she seemed wholy unconcerned about, and quite disengaged from, anything in this world, as one that had taken her leave of every thing her below, and was at leisure for nothing but heavenly contemplations. Her discourse was very affecting. Whenever she spoke of herself it was with the most soul-humbling expressions, but how often did she extol and admire the love of God in Christ! the same truths that she was refreshed with in life were her comfort and delight in death. She had the same self-abasing, yea, full-abhoring and grace-advancing thoughts. She had a full assurance of salvation, and an abundant entrance with a kind of triumph administered into it, often speaking in the words of the apostle, 2 Tim. i. 12. I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. And with joy unspeakable, making use of those words with application to herself, Jude v. 24. Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.‡‡‡
Her inward peace was too great to be expelled, as she said, Time will fail me to express what comfort I have. When nature was very weak, and her strength and spirits exhausted, the blessed God that her faith did not fail. No; that was strongest when outward comforts were at a very low ebb, and she had hereby those clear manifestations of Christ, and foul-refreshing prelibations of glory, which were a kind of heaven in her way to it. Her last words were with a rapture of admiration, O those rays of glory! Thus her soul took its flight into the bosom of Jesus, to enjoy what it had long waited for, namely, further discoveries of his love, and to be cloathed with immortality and enjoy eternal life.
Note, Mrs. Clarkson had a third daughter, named Catherine, who never was married, she was eminent for piety, and lived many years at Hitchin, where she died, Jan. 11, 1757, aged 84 years. Her frame in her last illness was comfortable, and her soul longed earnestly to be gone, A discourse was preached at her interment, from Psalm xxxvii. 37. Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright, for the end of that man is peace.
Notes [added by Samuel James]
* A good rule for doubting Christians to judge of their state by, to look back and compare themselves with themselves, what they once were with what they now are, at least desire to be. Surely most on such a review may say with the blind man, John ix. 25. One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. They may see their former blindness and darkness, and distance from God, and those few desires after and delight in him, &c.
† See Mr. Clarkson’s volume of sermons before referred to in Mrs. Combe’s account. And it is very remarkable, these discourses concerning faith, were greatly blessed to both daughters after their father’s death.
*§ This is a word in season, indeed, to him that is weary, has been useful to thousands under first concern, as well as afterwards. And it is spoke by him that is holy, him that is true, and may therefore be depended on; under the greatest discouragements that can be thought of.
‡ This was a remarkable instance of Christian submission and resignation, which shewed not only the truth, but strength of faith. And those who are thus enabled to go and venture themselves upon God in Christ have sufficient warrant to conclude that their state is safe, even when their frame is the least comfortable.
** I cannot help observing (and O that the Lord the Spirit may impress it powerfully on the consciences of all whom it may concern!) how different her frame from many professors, who through sloth and indolence attend public worship but one part of the Lord’s day, as if they looked upon it as a perfect talk or drudgery, and secretly said, Behold what a weariness is it! Mal. i. 13. Or as the prophet Amos describes their sad character, When will the sabbath be gone, that we may set forth wheat? &c. Amos viii. 5.
†† This is a useful device of the devil’s to prevent true believers joining in church-fellowship, suggesting that they must see themselves more worthy and prepared before they venture on this solemn ordinance. Whereas in fact, that person comes most worthily to Christ and his table too, who is made most sensible of his own unworthiness. The best preparation that I know of is to see our own unpreparedness, and that the whole ground of our acceptance, depends entirely, on the blood and righteousness of the dear Redeemer. And that damnation the Apostle speaks of, I Cor. xi. 29. Which has struck so much terror into the minds of many, and over-awed them into a sinful neglect of their duty, does not intend eternal damnation, but some temporal judgment, chastisement, or correction, in a fatherly way, which the original word properly signifies, and is the only damnation the Lord’s people are liable to, for there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, Rom. viii. I.
§§ The Rev. Mr. T. Gouge, it being the same church to which her sister Combe removed her communion. Both sisters had formerly belonged to some Presbyterian congregation, which was the reason of these accounts being given upon their admission at Mr. Gouge’s, who was of the Independent persuasion, and a very valuable man.
‡‡ A plain proof that the doctrines of grace do not, neither can they, lead to licentiousness. No, wherever they come with power, I will venture to say, they are the strongest motives that can be to universal holiness: the love of Christ constraineth us, (2 Cor. v. 14) obliges and binds us to every duty. If a felt sense of this love does not, I am sure nothing can, nothing will.
*** She expresses herself here with so much judgment, as shews that she had not only a large acquaintance with the things of Christ, but a deep insight into herself, those secret workings of her own heart, and entire insufficiency, to do any thing of herself, agreeable to the words of our Lord to his disciples, John xv. 5. Without me ye can do nothing.
††† Christians are too apt to live upon their frames instead of Christ’s fulness, which keeps them so low and lifeless, and lays the foundation of those endless complaints that are found among many. Though frames vary as the wind, yet this is the comfort, God is unchangeable, and the covenant is sure.
§§§ The cholic, which carried her off in four days.
‡‡‡ These words were the subject of her funeral discourse, being often repeated by her in her illness, and a wonderful support to faith in her last moments.
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. 43-66.