The Choice experience of Mrs. Rebecca Combe, eldest daughter of the late Rev. Mr. David Clarkson, delivered by her on her admission into fellowship with the church, late under the care of the late Rev. Mr. Thomas Gouge. 
In giving an account of the dealings of God with my soul, I desire truly and sincerely to represent the state of my case; I am sensible it will be in much weakness, but I hope my end is that God my have to glory of his own work, which he hath wrought on so mean and unworthy a creature as myself.
I had the advantage, and the invaluable blessing of a religious education, both my parents being eminent for wisdom and grace. Under the instructions of my good mother, I had early and frequent convictions, though these impressions lasted not long, for I wore them off, either by a formal engaging in some religious duties, or else, by running into such diversions, as were suited to my childhood. But my convictions being renewed as I grew up, and it being impressed on my mind that this way of performing duties, by fits and starts, merely to quiet and accusing conscience, would not satisfy the desires of an immortal soul capable of higher enjoyments than I took up with; this put me on serous thoughtfulness what method to pursue, in order to bind myself to a more stated performance of those duties, which, I was convinced, the Lord required of me.
Accordingly I made a most solemn resolution, to address myself to God by prayer, both morning and evening, and never, on any occasion whatever, to neglect it, calling the Lord to witness against me, if I broke this solemn engagement. But, alas! I soon saw the vanity of my own resolutions, for as I was only sound in the performance of duty through fear and as a task, and, having once omitted it at the set-time, I concluded my promise was now broke, and from that time continued in a total neglect of prayer, till it pleased the Almighty Sprit, to return with his powerful operations, and set my sins in order before me. Then my unsuitable carriage under former convictions, together with my breaking the most solemn engagements to the Lord, wounded me deep. Indeed I was tempted to conclude that I had sinned the unpardonable sin, and should never be forgiven.
Yet, in my greatest distress and anguish of the spirit, I could not give up all hope, having some views of the free and sovereign grace of God, as extended to the vilest and worst of sinners, though I could not take the comfort of it to myself. My sins appeared exceedingly sinful. I even loathed and abhorred myself on account of them, and was continually begging a deeper sense and greater degrees of humiliation. I thought I could have been content, yea, I was desirous, to be filled, with the utmost horror and terror of which I was capable, if this might be a means of bringing me to that degree of sorrow, which I apprehended the Lord expected, from so vile a creature. The heinous nature of my sins, and their offensiveness to the pure eyes of his holiness was ever before me, insomuch that I thought I could not be too deeply wounded, or feel trouble enough.
This put me on a constant and restless application to God through Christ, from whom alone I now saw all my help must come. I had tried the utmost I could do, and found it left me miserably short of what the law required and I wanted. I was convinced that an expectation of some worthiness in myself, as the condition of my acceptance before God, was that which had kept me so long from Christ and the free promises of the gospel; and therefore, as enabled, I went to the Lord, and pleaded those absolute promises of his word, which are made freely to sinners in his Son, without the least qualification to be found in me. I was enabled to urge those encouraging word, Rev. xxii. 17. Let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will let him take the water of life freely. Also Isaiah lv. I. Without money and without price; with many more of the like nature, which would be too tedious to mention. I desire to come to Christ, unworthy as I was, and cast my soul entirely upon him, for I clearly saw that all I had heretofore done profited me nothing, since my very prayers, considered as a sinner, were an abomination to the Lord. There was nothing left therefore for me to take the least comfort and encouragement from, but the free grace of God in Christ Jesus, which I continued to plead with much earnestness, and found my soul enlarged beyond whatever I had expected before.
Soon after, I providentially opened a manuscript of my father’s, and cast my eye upon that part of it, where he was shewing, what please a sensible sinner might make use of in prayer. Many things were mentioned which were very reviving. I was miserable, and that might be a plea. I might also plead his own mercy, the suitableness, the largeness, and the freeness of his mercy. I might plead my own inability to believe, of which I was very sensible. – I might also plead the will of God, for he commands sinners to believe, and is highly dishonoured by unbelief. – I might likewise plead the descent of faith, it is the gift of God, and the nature of this gift which is free. Yea I might plead the examples of others who have obtained this gift, and that against the greatest unlikelihood and improbabilities that might be. I might and could plead further, my willingness to submit to any thing, so that I might but find this favour with the Lord. Moreover I might plead Christ’s prayer, and his compassions – the workings of his Spirit already began; – that regard which the Lord shews to irrational creatures; he hears their cries, and will he shut out the cries of a poor perishing sinner? – In short, I might plead my necessity and extreme need of faith, a sense of which was deeply impressed on my soul.*
On reading these pleas I found great relief, yea, they were to me as a voice from heaven, saying, This is the way walk in it. I was enabled to go and act faith upon a Redeemer, and could give up† my all to him, and trust in him alone for all. I was now convinced by his Spirit, that he would work in me what was well-pleasing and acceptable to God, and that he required nothing of me but what his free rich grace would bestow upon me. Now was Christ exceeding precious to my soul, and I longed for clearer discoveries of him, both in his person and offices, as prophet, priest, and king.
And O how did I admire his condescending love and grace to such a poor, wretched, worthless creature as myself! I was greatly delighted in frequent acts of resignation to him, desiring that every faculty of my soul might be brought into an entire obedience, and could part with every offensive thing, and would not have spared so much as one darling lust, but was ready to bring it forth and slay it before him. In short, I could now perceive a change wrought in my whole soul! I now delighted in what before was my greatest burden, and found that most burdensome in which I before most delighted. I went on pleasantly in duty; my meditation on him was sweet, and my heart much enlarged, in admiring his inexpressible love and grace, so free and sovereign, to so wretched a creature, which even filled my soul with wonder and love.
But this delightful frame did not long continue, for I was soon surprised with swarms of vain thoughts, which appeared in my most solemn approaches to God, and such violent hurries of temptation, as greatly staggered my faith, which was weak. Hereupon I was ready to give up all, and to conclude that I had mocked God, and cheated my own soul; that these wandering thoughts, and this unfixedness of mind in duty, could never consist with a sincere love to the things of God. I thought my heart had been fixed, but, O! how exceeding deceitful did I then find it? which greatly distressed me, and made me conclude my sins were rather increased than mortified, insomuch that I was ready to cry out, O wretched creature that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death! and in consideration of the power and prevalency of indwelling corruptions, and daily temptations, which I had to grapple with, I was ready to say, I shall one day fall by the hands of these enemies.
But these discouragements were fully removed, by reading some of my father’s writings, where it was observed, that a person had no reason to conclude his sins were more increased, merely because they appeared more, and became more troublesome, since this arose from the opposition they now met with, from that principle of grace which now was implanted. Hence I learned, that before, the flesh reigned quietly in me, and therefore I perceived not the lusts thereof, but now all the powers and faculties of my soul were engaged against them, they gave me the greatest disturbance, and struggled more and more. Also these words were impressed on my mind with efficacious power, 2 Cor. xii. 9. My grace is sufficient for thee, which gave me peace in believing that it should be to me according to his word.
Thus after many conflicts, comforts, and supports, I determined to give myself up to some church, that I might partake of the Lord’s Supper, and have my faith confirmed in the blood of that everlasting covenant, which I hoped the Lord had made with me, since he had given me his Spirit as the earnest thereof. I accordingly was joined to a church, and in coming to this ordinance found great delight: my faith was strengthened, and my love increased, from that sweet communion I then enjoyed with my Lord by his blessed Spirit, who often filled me with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Thus I walked under the sweet and comfortable sense of his love, and whilst in the way of my duty, I was thus indulged with such sights of the Redeemer’s glory, and such a taste of his grace, I frequently wished that I might never more go back to the world again.
But after all these manifestations; O wretched creature! God in his providence calling me more into the world by changing my condition; this new relation brought new affections and new temptations, which, being too much yielded to, insensibly prevailed, and brought me into such perplexing darkness that I want words to express it. I lost the sense of the love of God, and hence my duty was performed without that delight I had once experienced, the want of which made me often neglect it, and especially in private, while I attended on public worship with little advantage or pleasure.
The consideration of this decay in my love, and the loss of those quickening influences of the Spirit which I used to experience in duty, increased my darkness, and I had doleful apprehensions of my state. And my inordinate love to the creature, and want of submission to the will of the Lord, in disposing of what I had so unduly set my heart on, prepared me to look for awful things, in a way of judgment from the righteous God, which I afterwards found; his hand was soon laid on that very object by which I had so provoked him; for a disorder seized him, under which he long languished till it ended in his death.†
This was a melancholy stroke, and the more so as I saw his hand stretched out still, for I continued in an unsuitable temper, and without that submission which such a dispensation called for. The Lord still hid his face on me, and it is impossible to give a particular account of those perplexing thoughts, and tormenting fears which filled my mind. Every thing appeared dreadfully dark both within and without. O, were it possible to describe it to others, as I then felt it, they would dread that which will separate between them and God! I expected, if the Lord did return, it would be in a terrible way, by some remarkable judgment or other, but oftentimes, from the frame I was in, I could see no ground to hope he would ever return at all.
But was it to me according to my dismal apprehensions and fears? Oh I no; my soul and all that is within me bless and adore his name, under a sense of his free and sovereign grace, who manifested himself unto thee as a God, pardoning iniquity, transgression and sin. This was the title by which he manifested himself to Moses, when he caused his glory to pass before him (Exod. xxxiv. 6,7.) And it was in the clear apprehension, and powerful application of this by the Almighty Spirit, that I was brought to admire so greatly, the free grace of God, thus discovered to me in so extraordinary a manner, that it even transported my very soul with love and thankfulness, beyond any thing that I had experienced in the whole of my past life.
The beginning of this wonderful alteration in my frame, was hearing the experience of one, which I thought very much like my own, when the Lord first began to work on my soul. I concluded that this person was the subject of a real and universal change; on this occasion I determined to consider my former experience, in doing of which I found the blessed Spirit of all grace assisting me, and witnessing to his work upon my heart, insomuch that ere I was aware, my soul was like the chariots of a willing people; I was wonderfully enlivened in duty, and enlarged in thankfulness to God, for thus manifesting himself, and directing me to those means which he had so inexpressibly blessed, beyond my expectation.§
Thus the Lord drew me by the cords of love, and lifted up the light of his countenance upon me, so that in his light I saw light, which scattered that miserable cloud of darkness, that had enwrapped my soul for so long. Yea, he dispelled all those unbelieving thoughts which were apt to arise, on account of that low estate out of which he had newly raised me. It was suggested to me that this was not his ordinary way of dealing with such provoking creatures as myself, but that they are usually filled with terrors, and brought down even to a view of the lowest hell, &c. Thus Satan endeavoured to hold me under believing fears, but the blessed Spirit, by taking of the things of Christ, and shewing them unto me, prevailed over temptation.
I had a discovery of the glory of the Father’s love, as unchangeable, free, and eternal which was discovered in pitching on me before the foundation of the world. And the glory of the Son as proceeding from the Father, and offering a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling favour, and in bringing in an everlasting righteousness, which by his Spirit he enabled me to rest wholly and alone upon, as the foundation of every blessing which I have received, or he has promised for the whole of my acceptance before God, for my justification, sanctification, and full redemption. On this foundation he has enabled me stedfastly to rely, which greatly enlivens and enlarges my soul, in its addresses to the Father, through the Son, by the assistance of the holy Spirit, for pardon and strength, against those powerful corruptions which still remain in my heart.
O the love! the infinite, condescending, and unchanging love of the Father! and, O that fulness of grace which is treasured up in my Redeemer, to be bestowed on me, by his promised Spirit! of which so much hath already been communicated, that my soul is even overwhelmed under the sense and consideration of it! The Lord appears to me as resting in his love, and joying over me with singing, as it is expressed, Zeph. iii. 17. which scripture, with many others, has been so opened, and applied, as makes my approaches to him exceeding delightful. And this sense of his love lays me low, in the views of my own vileness and unworthiness, and constrains me to love him and live to him, and to give him all the glory of that change, which of his own free, and sovereign grace, he has wrought in me. There was nothing in me to move him to this, yea, what was there not in me to provoke him to cast me off for ever? But, thus it hath pleased him to magnify his grace and mercy, on a creature the most unworthy of any, that ever received a favour at his hands.
I know not where to end. He has recovered me from amongst the dead, and he shall have the glory of it whilst I live: yes, I will praise him, and tell of the wonders of his love to others, that so he may be honoured, and none may distrust him. He has filled me with his praises, though he has not given me that natural capacity which some have been blessed with, to express what I feel and find, of his work on my soul. But this I can say, I have found him whom my soul loves, he hath manifested himself to me, and there is nothing I dread so much as losing sight of him again. His preference makes all his ordinances, and all his providences, and every thing delightful unto me. It is impossible to express the joy of my soul in sweet converses with him, with a sense of his love and the experience of his presence, under the influences of his Spirit, whose office it is to abide with me, and to guide, direct, and comfort me for ever.
‘Tis from a sense of duty and a desire to follow the direction of that blessed Spirit, that I request fellowship with you of this church.‡ Amongst you my Lord has been pleased to discover himself to me, and to make the ministry you sit under exceeding useful and comfortable to my soul; by it I have been built up and settled on the right foundation, the righteousness of Christ, that rock that shall never be moved. Your order likewise appears to me very beautiful and lovely, being, as I apprehended, most agreeable to the rules of my Lord. Hence I desire to have communion with you, that so by your example and watchfulness over me, and the other advantages arising from church-fellowship, I may find what I expect, and earnestly desire in communion with you, namely, that I may experience fellowship with the Father, and the Son, through the eternal Spirit, whilst I wait upon him in the ways of his own appointment.
Dec. 17, 1697.
This valuable christian lived to a good old age; she was confined by illness for four years before her death, during which she had large experience, and greatly valued her stated habitual seasons for converse with God, and longed much for the time when all hindrances and restraints should be for ever removed. She slept in Jesus, Nov. 20, 1744, aged 79 years and her remains were interred in Bunhill-Fields.
Notes [added by Samuel James]
* See the above pleas excellently enlarged on in Ms. Clarkson’s volume of Sermons and Discourses, published since his death, page 123, &c.
† Her husband died of a consumption at Hitchin, but in what year I know not.
§ This shews the benefit of communicating experiences. As in water face answers to face, so the heart of men to men, Prov. xxvii. 19. And though this great duty is much neglected, by christians in the present day; yet I am persuaded, the Lord would bless it for mutual comfort, quickening, and establishment. As the wise man speaks, ver 17. Iron sharpeneth iron, so a men sharpeneth the countenance of his friend; i.e. it gives him a whet, and, as it were, sets a new edge upon him. Good mens graces are sharpened by converse with those that are good, and bad mens lusts and passions are sharpened by those that are bad. So. Mr. Henry.
‡ A church in London, then under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Thomas Gouge, to which she removed her communion, and at the time of her admission gave his account.
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. 26-42.