Mary Steele (1753-1813)

For information on Mary Steele's life, click here; for selections from her letters, click here; for a selection of Mary Steeles poetry, click here; for the two poems dedicated to Mary Steele on becoming a woman poet, composed by her aunt, Mary Steele Wakeford, in 1769, click here.

Mary Steele's Spiritual Autobiography, addressed to her Father

c. 1780

Will the Dearest of Friends & best of Fathers forgive my formality in thus addressing him by Paper, when I live dwell under the Sunshine of his Eye & converse daily with him? but having often in vain endeavor’d in vain to express myself intelligibly on the most interesting of all Subjects in Conversation, I am now determined to attempt it in writing, & simply to tell him the History of my mind at least the little part I can remember of it from my earliest Childhood; & tho’ most of it my Dear Father is already acquainted with yet as I cannot give him a just Idea of the present state of my mind without relating the past, I must write as tho’ all were before unknown. Few Persons have been favored with so much ^religious^ instruction in Religion and lived as myself, & fewer ^still^ perhaps ever made so little improvement by of it.

Besides the general instructions of a Religious kind given me by you & my Dear Mother, my Aunt us’d frequently to talk to me in private when I was very young in a very affecting & serious manner. – Jenny Morrant Whitmarsh and Betty Wade with whom I was always almost constantly us’d to converse much on Religious Subjects, without regarding ^me^ as they did not imagine I suppose that I should take notice of what they said, I did however, & by that means learnt to talk of things I did not understand, as the Temptations of Satan &c, and sometimes have been greatly terrified with the Idea of Hell &c. Almost the first Ideas I had of a Religious kind were that the mercy of God was limited to a very small number of his Creatures, that the rest were in a state of Condemnation, & that it was impossible that we could render ourselves acceptable to him by any Duties we could perform; however just the last of these assertions may be properly explain’d it had a most pernicious tendency on my mind. “We can do nothing ourselves” was a maxim I often heard, & the Consequence ^was^ I really did nothing. I hoped indeed I should be made Good one Day or other (to express my Childhood Ideas in Childish language) but how this was to be brought about I knew ^not^ & till it was I conceiv’d all Endeavors of my own to attend to Religion useless.

Such was the state of my mind till I went to School at Hackney.[1] It was the fashion at Mrs Kings to wear the Garb of Piety & to introduce Religion on every Occasion & those Girls who but a moment before ^perhaps^ had been quarreling with their Companions asserting falsehoods &c would in their little Billets to each other talk of singing Hallelujahs at around the Throne of the Lamb &c. Mrs Kings design I believe was to form the Children[s’] minds to early Habits of Piety, but surely never was a more injudicious method chosen to effect it; instead of ways of pleasantness & paths of peace – she made them Scenes of melancholy austerity. This gave me early a very strong dislike to every thing that had the appearance of Canting, & perhaps disqualified me from expressing my thoughts about Religious Concerns, as it inspired me with an aversion to Commonplace Phrases &c yet here it was (if ever) that I really felt the influence of Religion. One Evening while Mrs King was at Prayer I had suddenly such a Conviction of Sin awaken’d in my mind as I never felt before, nor but once if at all since it was occasioned by nothing in the Prayer for to that I was inattentive but like one Awak’d out of Sleep I was astonish’d that I could live so many years inattentive to those important Things that now rush’d on my Mind. It was not any one particular Sin that my Conscience upbraided me with, but a conviction that I had liv’d regardless of that God who had ^call’d me into Being^ & supported me all my life long a regard to whose Commands ought to have regulated every Action. I us’d to think if I sat still & was grave while my Father was reading ^praying^ &c it was enough but I was now clearly convinced that God is a Spirit & must be worshipp’d in Spirit & in Truth. I was shock’d at my own Impiety & Ignorance. To Love God with all the heart & strength & mind was I now ^found^ infinitely more than I had imagined it to be; I saw myself ^justly^ condemn’d not only by the righteous Law of God but by the unalterable Obligations arising from the Relation of a Creature to its Creator. I had heard indeed often of a Savior but Reason told me he would not be a Savior to those who never applyed to him nor paid ^him^ any regard, & this I knew I had never done. My Distress was so apparent that when I went to Bed the Servant who attended us observ’d that I knew not what I did. I was indeed incapable of attending to what pass’d around from the Agony of my Mind which was so great that it kept me awake the a great part of the night – but my thoughts at length fix’d on a dying Savior & his Mercy & Compassion in condescending to become flesh & dwell with Men on Earth, & in particular his bleeding & dying in inexpressible Agonies & all for guilty Sinners appear’d so vast, so unbounded, that ^it^ totally banish’d Despair from my mind & fill’d it with such Hope & Joy ^& Gratitude^ as I have never felt since & as effectually kept me from sleeping as Distress had done before. I implor’d the Mercy of this Benevolent Savior & determin’d to trust his in him for deliverance from the wrath to come. I resolv’d to lead a new Life for that appear’d to me to be the indispensable Condition of partaking [of] his Mercy & indeed the feelings of my mind at that time would have prompted ^me^ to this independently of a Sense of Duty.

My peace of mind & my attention to Religion ^religious duties^ continued a considerable time; I had a pleasure in the Contemplation of religious Objects which I cannot express. It was my Solace under every disagreeable Occurrence, & I long’d for Sundays as much as I us’d to do for an Holiday. Happy, Happy, Days when I was ignorant of these perplexing Distinctions which have since tortur’d me almost to Madness! Mr Palmer’s preaching was at this time peculiarly pleasing to me. I remember he said something of this kind about that Time: that young people when their minds were impress’d with Religion were apt to be very sanguine, to imagine that all was well & to make no doubt but they should continue what they now were, but that many who went a little way in Religion with great fervor soon after a short time turn’d back & like the Stony Ground Hearers wither away &c. These were not his words but as near as I can recollect his Idea. I mention them as they seem’d with regard to me prophetic for too soon Alas did I verify them.

My Religious impressions grew weaker & weaker, the Holidays arriv’d & the Pleasures & Amusements of them effaced all my former feelings. I could not indeed return to my former Ignorance but I think I felt more of a secret dislike to Religion than before perhaps from the ^increas’d^ consciousness of acting in opposition to its dictates. Indeed before I could scarcely be ^said to^ know what Religion was – yet I cannot say I was totally void of Reflections – ^At intervals^ my former Ideas return’d – I had flatter’d myself the Emotions of mind I had felt was that great Change of which I had heard so much but Time had convinc’d me it was not so, for let Religion consist in what it would I had always ^thought^ it was an abiding principle of Action, a total not a transient Change of disposition. I had ever been accustom’d to consider Mankind as passive in this great this all important Affair & had heard often of irresistible Grace determining the will &c &c. As I knew the impressions I had felt amounted not to this I could see nothing for me to do but to sit still & listen to the denunciations of wrath of to Sinners & wait till this happy moment arriv’d if ever it did arrive when I was to act from new motives – but alas this Reasoning tended rather to drive me from God than to lead me to him. It is impossible the heart should relent at the views of Divine Mercy while it supposes itself excluded from it & many a time have I omitted attempting to pray when my Conscience prompted to it because for because I could see no motive for it. “The Prayers of the Wicked are an Abomination” & it was not till some years after that a treatise of Mr Groves shew’d me the fallacy of this Reasoning. I came home from School but my mind continued much in the same state till my Grandfathers Death. That awful Event rouz’d me from my Lethargy & it added tenfold bitterness to my share in the general Sorrow, to reflect that theirs was only a transient parting, mine in all probability an Eternal one.

Soon after this awful event Mr Evans preach’d that excellent Sermon ^which^ he has since favored me with a manuscript of from “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found call ye upon him while he is near.” Never was I so much affected with a Discourse in my Life, it enter’d into the secret Reasonings of my Heart & answer’d those Questions I had been so often asking in myself. These were his words, “But it may be objected, Can any Man convert himself? I answer No – nor will be the part of any Man’s Condemnation, that he did not convert himself, tho’ it is to be fear’d it will be an awful part of many a man’s Condemnation, that he neglected & trifled with, & abused many precious private, golden Opportunities which were granted ^to^ him. For these we are justly accountable & Oh! what an account will it be.” It answer’d for ye time my Objections & I went home determined to follow his closing advice to perish if I perish’d at ye feet of Divine Mercy.

But Alas this fervor too soon declin’d, & left me in the same unhappy state of uncertainty as before. I had no settled principles to recur to, all depended on Emotions not in my own power to excite; while these lasted all was well, I could hope I was one of the chosen few – but as soon as they subsided, all was darkness. My Bible was an almost useless Book I had never dared to interpret it for myself but always ^read it^ with a preconceiv’d System in my mind. Thus when I met with such Texts as “Seek & ye shall find” “Knock & it shall be opened to you” &c the Comment was ready, that is address’d to the genuine Believers in disciples of Christ to those who seek aright &c. “Not for ours only but for the Sins of the whole World” &c ie the whole world of Believers &c &c.

But at length involuntary Doubts arose concerning those Doctrines I had hitherto considered as sacred. Mr Evans tho’ he had silenced me for the present had not remov’d all my difficulties – the freedom of the will tho’ totally ignorant of the abstruse Speculations that are connected with that subject engaged much of my thoughts. Can a God of infinite mercy condemn his Creatures for impossibilities? was a Question that frequently arose. If we have no power to refuse or accept of Mercy but are determin’d by irresistible Grace or unconquerable propensities to Evil how can we be condemn’d for rejecting it? Or if there is no Saviour provided for those who finally perish how can their Condemnation be aggravated by neglecting this great Salvation?

But we never perhaps seek in good earnest for happiness in a future state till we are convinc’d of the impossibility of attaining it in the present. My Dear Aunt’s Affliction began about this time to confine her to her Chamber. My peace & Comfort was ever dependent on that of my Friends. The fond Expectations of Youth were at once destroy’d, my hopes of earthly felicity vanish’d. Starting I woke & found myself undone. I felt the need of more settled principles & surer hopes & tir’d with the fruitless attempt of finding Comfort in the path track I had so long trodden I determined to consult the Oracles of Truth & divesting myself as much as possible of every preconceiv’d Opinion read the New Testament with as much attention as I could. And Oh! what a different prospect open’d on my view! & how infinitely more merciful did its doctrines appear than the explanations I had been accustomed to hear of them. Thus I saw or thought I saw myself address’d as a reasonable Being capable of Choice else why those merciful entreaties, else why those expostulations with which almost every page abounds, else why the Lamentation of the weeping Saviour over the ungrateful City Jerusalem “How often (said he) would I have gather’d ye ^thy Children together^ as a Hen gathereth her Chickens under her wings & ye would not.”

Fallen indeed from his Original Rectitude & dreadfully deprav’d in his their inclinations the Scriptures every where represent mankind to be – but the Text that proves his their Ruin points out the Remedy: “Therefore as by the offence of one Judgment came upon all men to Condemnation even so by the Righteousness of one the free Gift came upon all Men unto Justification of Life Romans 5 & 18.” That Chapter more than any other convinced me of what is calld General Redemption – for if the Benefit of Christ’s Death were limited in the manner the Calvinists suppose, it appears to me to destroy the whole force of the Apostle’s Reasoning – for if Adam’s Sin condemn’d all Mankind to inevitable destruction & Christ’s Righteousness rescued only a small number of them, How could Grace ^be said^ much more ^to^ abound? It may indeed be said reply’d that it was but one offence that brought destruction but the free Gift is of many Offences to Justification but still according to this representation. Mankind in the aggregate must have suffer’d much more from Adam than were bestow’d on ^them^ by ^in^ Christ – but the whole Chapter seems ^design’d^ to prove the contrary of this, hence the Apostles holy triumph, hence his grateful exultation, Where Sin abounded Grace did much more abound! For if thro’ the offence of one many be dead much more the Grace of God & the Gift by Grace – which is ^by^ one man hath Jesus Christ hath abounded unto many, but if the Cases were not in some measure parallel where would be the propriety of ^ye^ Comparison. That none are excluded from mercy but by their own willful rejection of it appears clearly to me to be the doctrine of the New Testament. This is the Condemnation that Light is come unto the World & men loved Darkness better yn Light &c. If any Man Sin we have an Advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ the righteous &c. He is the propitiation for our Sins & not for ours only ^but^ for the Sins of the Whole World – Can Language ^be more^ explicit or positive? Tis true there are such things mentioned in Scripture as Election & Predestination (Reprobation perhaps it may be difficult to find there) but one that well knew has said that in Paul’s Epistle are many things hard to be understood and I think strongly intimates that they ought not to be so explain’d as to limit the mercy of God ^to his Creatures.^ Every account says he that the long suffering of God is Salvation. In any Science of but Divinity it would be thought abus’d to explain the ^plain^ part by the obscure yet ^surely they do this^ who torture such plain Texts as the foregoing to make them consistent (according to their apprehensions) with ^some of^ the most abstruse & mysterious parts of Holy Writ.

There are a thousand mysteries which Human Intellect can never fully comprehend & not few perhaps that it finds itself more unequal to ^than^ that of reconciling the Divine Prescience with the Freedom of Will in man & yet Reason & Revelation ^appear to me^ to concur in asserting both – “Could we comprehend God Him He could not be God.” It has been said, that if we believe the foreknowledge of God Predestination must follow of course – it may be so, perhaps to metaphysicians & Philosophers, but surely to plain common Sense to permit & to ordain are two different things however difficult it may be to us to explain & distinguish between them ^when apply’d to ye Great Omniscient.^ A power of Self Determination seems necessary to render Man an accountable moral Agent.

But I did not intend this digression. Secret things belong unto God, whether He has in infinite wisdom set apart a select number of the human Race for some particular purposes in his dispensation of Providence & Grace, or whether those passages that seem to favor this Sentiment are to be interpreted in a more general Sense as some suppose is comparatively of little Consequence to determine & is no longer a source of Distress to me. It is enough that none are excluded from mercy that He that seeketh findeth & that to him that knocketh it shall be opened Ask & it shall be given &c “nor must it be said” (says the excellent Mr Bennet) “that we cannot ask aright no doubt we are capable of such asking as is required & is made the Condition of receiving otherwise here was a promise & no promise, a promise to mock us rather yn encourage us.” Here then I found a motive to action & a Ground of Hope which I had long sought in vain. Whatever my present state might be here was no Reason to lie down in Despair. I felt not such pleasure delight & such strong Emotions as the Time I mention’d when I was at School, but I had a calm a rational delight pleasure – I hope I deceived not my own Soul but God only knoweth – Dr Young’s Night Thoughts which I then first read ^(with pleasure)^ contributed to fire my Sentiments with a delight I cannot express have I often repeated –

I trust in Thee & know in whom I trust

Or Life or Death is equal neither weighs

All weight is this O let me live to Thee!

It would be ungrateful not to mention that my Dear Mother’s & my much Lov’d Friend Miss Scott’s Conversation contributed to strengthen my mind as I found their Sentiments were not very different from ^my own^ – & a still higher pleasure was it when I found from occasional Conversation that ^my views of things in some respects corresponded with those of^ the Dear Honored Friend to whom I am now writing. My thoughts too with regard to the Doctrine of Imputed [Righteousness] were different from those I had been accustomed to entertain; indeed it is scarcely possible to reconcile the Calvinistical Explanation of this matter with views I now had of the extent of the Efficacy of the Christ’s Obedience & Suffering & the possibility of Salvation in this respect for all mankind. I can truly say I form’d my Ideas on this Subject simply from Scripture – nor did I know till some years after when I read Mr Hervey’s Theron & Aspasio that they were deem’d so heretical as I have since found they are, but as I did not enter so deeply particularly into this debate at this time as I have since done I shall defer what I wish to say on this to me still at times a painful Subject till my narrative leads me to it.

About this time Mr Rawlins settled here; it was an unfortunate Event for me as I never received either Improvement or Pleasure from his Ministry. Where the Judgment Understanding is disgusted the heart generally refuses to be edified & had I not been convinced that Public worship was an important Duty enjoin’d on us by divine Authority I should seldom have frequented it so much more pleasure & I hope improvement too could a Book in private afford me. My mind continued much in the same state some years, sometimes imprest by Religious Subjects Objects but too frequently Cold & unmov’d by them at best perhaps but lukewarm. Conscious that my views were different in some respects from those ^of^ my Friends & fearful of giving them pain, especially my Aunt, I studiously avoided religious Conversation & lost by that means one of the noblest benefits of Friendship. It taught me however one useful Lesson which I have ever found a ^most^ difficult & painful one – The insufficiency of every ^Earthly^ support! My Friends on whom I leant for happiness assistance in every other respect could have offer’d me none. I was necessitated to think for myself, necessitated to seek superior direction, – Oh that I may but finally obtain it & it is enough!

I do not recollect anything particular till the time of my dear Uncle’s Death[xxxii] – I hope I was not then wholly destitute of those Consolations which are neither few nor small but if ever I felt the blessing of Divine Support it was at the moment of my Life when I most needed it. A few weeks after my uncle’s Death you was taken extremely ill. It was at the time when my Sisters were innoculated & their Mother was with them. I was sitting up ^with you^ one night when you was at worst; the Disorder had increas’d & I was greatly alarmed. I fear’d the heaviest Calamity I could sustain in this World was about to befall me. My very heart sunk within me & it seem’d as ^if^ I must die ^too^ for Life appear’d absolutely insupportable depriv’d of my Earthly All, when in the midst of these desponding thoughts I had such a Sense of the absolute dependance of every Creature upon God awakened on my Mind & such an undoubting Confidence in his mercy & consciousness, of entire Reliance on him, that it calm’d the Tempest of my Soul at once. Several Texts of Scripture occur’d but to my great Regret I have forgotten them but their Effects will ^I hope^ never be forgotten.

It seem’d as if I could contentedly exist tho’ all Creation were Annihilated, while I enjoy’d such a Sense of Reliance on God & belief of interest in his favor. I was myself not well & in much pain but it rendered me absolutely forgetful of it for a Season Time, yet it lessen’d not the tendency of my Affection for the best of Fathers; it only taught me to resign what was dearer to me than my self life to the disposal of Him who was absolute Sovereign of both. But how needful & how just is this apostolic Admonition – let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.[xxxiv] The impending blow was averted, my Dear Father recover’d – but the Great Restorer was by me Alas soon forgotten:

Though woo’d and awed,

Blest & chastis’d, A flagrant Rebel still!

When Time had in some degree calm’d the anguish of my mind occasioned by the loss of my much lov’d Uncle, the things present again engross’d all my attention & those important ones that are unseen were again forgotten disregarded – by degrees I fell sank into such ye most dreadful state of forgetfulness of God. I do not remember a time since I began to think of Religion at all when my heart was so greatly estranged from it as during the next Summer. Often have I stepp’d aside harshly mutter’d a few words instead of Prayer while my heart was totally engross’d by some approaching Employment & often have I been astonish’d at the Mercy of the Almighty in not striking me dead at the instant for thus mocking him with my Lips while my heart was far from him & how often Alas is this still the case.

I began insensibly to doubt as it were of the Existence of some things which in my Rational Hours I had never questioned, particularly of Divine Influences on the human mind not that I ever seriously disbelieved that reality He who form’d the Heart could have access to it, but I practically disregarded it & contented myself with general vague acknowledgements of it. In short Dr Doddrige [sic] has described my fears Situation – “And possibly to sum up all (says he after having described represented the low of spiritual decay &c) this disorder’d State of mind may lead you into some prejudices against those very principles which might be ye most ^Effectual^ for your Recovery ... You may think it a great improvement in understanding that you have learnt from some new Masters that if a man treat his fellow Creatures with Humanity & Good nature He must needs necessarily be in a ^very^ good state tho’ he pretend not to converse much with God provided that he think respectfully of him & do not provoke him by any gross immoralities.” But can any who ^have ever^ really had the Love of God shed abroad in their Hearts be thus forget of alienated from him for so long a Season.

For ^many^ months for years I may almost ^say^ did I continue in this stupid state not always equally so but at best but half awaken’d. It has sometimes been a great Consolation to me to reflect when I reflected that I never have been more than ordinarily inattentive & hardened but God (may I not say since every tendency of mind toward Religion must come from him) hath been pleas’d ^by some means or other^ to arouse me, but alas how transient too often have these Convictions been. One such Day I remember in the following Summer when I indeed thought of God & was troubled, without any Occurrence to lead to it. But And another remarkable Incident of this kind I shall never forget which occurred in the year 1778 soon after my return from London. My heart had long been engross’d by vanity so much so that I had scarcely had a serious Reflection for a long season. When standing one Day & looking out of my Chamber window in a vacant thoughtless mood all of a sudden such a Sense of my ingratitude to God & the Sinfulness of my Conduct rush’d into my mind that all was horror & despair. The Charms of nature, & the pleasing Scenery ^around me^ (for Summer smil’d in all its luxuriance) seemd to aggravate my Distress – whilst I wandered in ye Garden I was ready to say what is all this to me when perhaps I may be in Hell Tomorrow. I continued in this perturbed state of mind a Day & a night – but then softer Sensations succeeded the Goodness & Mercy of God so visible in every Object around me, seem’d to melt my heart & inclin’d ^it again^ to seek & hope ^in^ that Mercy I had so ^often^ insulted & abused.

I did not again I hope become quite so harden’d but severer Strokes were necessary (& perhaps ^more^ severer still are yet so) ^to arouse my thoughts since.^ The Hour approach’d when Providence was about to address me not in the language of Mercy but Affliction. The Sword which had been so long suspended as it were over my Head by a Cobweb Thread at length dropped. The Hour my Soul had shudder’d at so long came – & Death depriv’d me of my Dearest Aunt – whose Instructive Admonitions, whose partial fondness, whose sympathetic tenderness I had enjoy’d from the earliest hour of Remembrance. Oh how shall I bear the Recollection of these Hours of Anguish, those Days & Months of Darkness & Horror that succeeded. These were her parting Admonitions never will ^they^ be obliterated from my Heart: All [that] is term’d legal Obedience [is] totally unacceptable to the Divine Being; that flows from the dread of Punishment & yet I do not see on this Scheme how it is possible to act from any other motive unless we were first favor’d with some supernatural Revelation information that we are some of the Chosen Few – but above all how is this representation of things to be reconciled with the Account our Savior himself has given us of the ^Transaction of the^ last great Day & particularly with the Parable of the Talents? & indeed a variety of other Scriptures, “This is ye Condemnation (it is said) that Light is come into the World & ye loved Darkness rather than Light.” Of a Truth I perceive that God is no respecter of Persons but every one that feareth Him & worketh Righteousness is accepted of him & those awful Words “Be not deceived God is not mocked whatever a man seweth that shall he reap.”

Such were a few of the Doubts (for the Wanderings of my Mind on that Subject are endless) which involuntarily arose & tortur’d me almost to madness, And Oh with what Anxiety have I search’d & research’d the Sacred Oracles on this Subject & yet Alas remain still at times in doubt tho’ I believe I never should have discovered the Calvinistic Account of imputed Righteousness in the sacred writings had I not been accustomed to hear certain Tenets so explain’d. There are few Passages that appear to me ^so^ favorable to this System as Romans 3d 22d & 23d “But now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested being witnessed by the Law & the Prophets even the Righteousness of God which is ^by^ Faith of Jesus Christ unto all & upon all them that believe for there is no difference.” The Phrase upon all seems to imply perhaps if detach’d from what precedes & follows it that this Righteousness is made strictly & properly ours – but even then there appears much difficulty in it – for none will assert I apprehend that Christ’s Righteousness as God is made ours; no it must be all allowed as man’s. And how is this Sense of the Text reconcilable with the Apostle’s Reasoning which follows in the next chapter? “Abraham believed God it is said & it was imputed unto him for Righteousness. Here thought I

[The preceding passage was marked out by Steele, rewritten on another piece of paper and attached by a pin over the marked out passage. The original passage reads as follows:

There are few Passages that appear to me favorable to it than Romans 5 & 22 where the Apostle speaks of the Righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all & upon all that ym that believe for there is no difference but however Christ fulfilling the Law for us & now justified in consequence of Obedience to him if by this is meant Christs personal righteousness or his fulfillment of ye Law for us & in our stead how can it be a Justification when without the Deeds of the Law as it is said affirmd to be in the preceeding verse – or is this sense of ye Text reconcilable with the Apostle[’s] reasoning in the next Chap were it is said Abraham believed God & it was imputed unto him for Righteousness here thought I ...]

when this Text first caught my particular attention shall I find the Great Truth I have been so long seeking for, but in vain it gave me not the desired Certainty. We are clearly indeed inform’d in the preceding Chapter that all the World are become guilty before God, that by the Deeds of ^ye Law^ shall no flesh living be justified, & that Salvation we are justified freely by his Grace thro’ the Redemption that is in Christ Jesus &c, but where is the Doctrine for which I was seeking? If it be supposed to be contained in ye Text first quoted, “^But now^ the Righteousness of God is manifested &c” ^the question recurs,^ how must I understand the following Chapter? Can it be thought that by Abraham’s faith (for that is the antecedent) is meant Christ’s Righteousness especially when it is said expressly afterwords His Faith was counted unto him for Righteousness. “But is it not most easy to discern says my favorite Mr Baxter (after showing the absurdity of such an interpretation of the Words) that the plain sense is Christ being presupposed the Meriter of our Justification & Salvation which he has given the World conditionally by a Law of Grace (or Covenant Donation) by which he now ruleth & judgeth us. All that this Covenant Gift or Law requireth on our part to make us Righteous & entitle us to the Spirit & everlasting Life is that ^as^ penitent believers we accept Christ & [live] according to the Nature End & Uses of the Gift & this also by his Grace.” & again in ye same page, “Christ’s Righteousness is imputed or reckoned to be as it is the total sole meritorious Cause of all that grace & Glory given us in & by the Conditional Law or Covenant of Grace & of our Grace for the performance of the Conditions & it needeth nothing at all of ours to make it perfect to this use nor hath our Faith any such supplemental Office.”

But it is doing Injustice to Mr Baxter’s Reasoning thus to transcribe by piecemeal one Sentence; however, concerning Faith. I will add & then must refer to the Book itself, “The Faith by which we are justified is not a believing that we are justified, not a believing yt Christ is ours more than other men’s, or that we shall be saved but a believing in Christ that he may be ours & that we may be saved by him.” Dr Doddgrige’s Sermons on Salvation by grace[xliv] too afforded me much Satisfaction & they perhaps would please some People better as he uses no obnoxious words but tho’ ye Terms are varied he appears to me to agree in Substance with Mr Baxter but his is a practical & devotional view of the Subject, Mr B a Controversial one.

But tho’ these were my spontaneous Sentiments, at the time I now refer to I endeavor’d to adopt very different ones & to place the Subject in an Opposite Light. My Dear Aunt’s Admonition was ever present with me it words had all the weight ^with me^ which such an Admonition at such a Time & from such a Friend must necessarily possess & how eagerly was every thing catch’d at that could throw Light on this interesting Subject ^but^ all was doubt & I was ready ^as I before said^ to ascribe all my want of practical Religion of Holiness of Heart & Life to this Source. It is common to charge who deviate from those of the Sentiments I have been expressing as trusting in their own Righteousness building on the Sand &c &c & this I fear’d was my case. Sometimes for a short Interval my difficulties seem’d remov’d & I bow’d submissive to what I was ready to think must be Truth tho’ I could not as I wish’d discern the proofs of it. One incident occurr’d which is too remarkable to be omitted tho’ it seem’d so Enthusiastical that I should scruple to mention to almost any but the Friend to whom I am now writing – my Birth-Day in the year 1779. As I had long been ruminating in a very gloomy Frame on this Subject in my own Chamber I had suddenly such a Conviction of Christ having fulfill’d the Law for all who are finally sav’d by him & for me in I hoped too for myself in particular that I was astonish’d at myself for ever doubting it. I wanted to proclaim my Gratitude ^& my felicity^ to all the World & felt that if I were releas’d from all moral Obligation ^such a Sense of the Love of Xst^ must constrain to the most exact Obedience to his Commands. For a short Time all was Rapture & I could do nothing but weep for Joy yet soon a doubt arose whether this might not be delusion as I could not tell from whence it arose it was neither suggested by Reason nor Revelation. A passage in Miss Talbot’s Essays Reflections &c which I had just been reading occurr’d. I return’d to it to find if I could reconcile it with my present Sensations & all vanished at once as a Dream & left my Mind exactly in the same State as before. Tell me, Oh Tell me my Dearest Friend & Father, what regard I aught to pay to this Scene & whether I should consider the strong impressions I felt at this time as the cool dispassionate reasoning of my Mind at other Seasons as the best Decision of Truth.

Time at length calm’d the Tumult of my Soul, my mind subsided into Tranquility, rather from its being wearied out with fruitless Enquiry than from having attain’d ye Satisfaction of its Doubts. And when I consider that this great mystery of Godliness is what the Angels desire to look into & perhaps are but poor Proficients in I condemn my presumption in searching perhaps with too cold a Curiosity into this unfathomable Mine of Mercy.

“Its depths can mortal thought explore?

’Tis ours to wonder & adore”

At length I began to perceive (what indeed till these Days of Perplexity I had been accustom’d to think) that Faith in Christ is not so much a clear Apprehension of the Manner in which he has wrought out his great Salvation as a Belief of its Reality & a Consequent Reliance of Soul upon him as able to save to the uttermost since he has declar’d himself to be so. He that cometh unto God must believe that He is & that he is the diligent Rewarder of them that ^diligently^ seek him is the Apostles Apostolic definition of Faith. To redeem a lost World was the Work given to the blessed Savior to perform (& Oh who can comprehend the height & the depths of that Love that passeth Knowledge). To believe & to obey his Gospel is ours.

But how easy Alas is the transition from Ease to criminal Indifference, from calmness to Stupidity. My mind sunk by degrees into that State of Torpidity to which I have ever been so prone nor do I recollect anything particular in the Situation of my Mind since that Time; I hope I have not however ^at any time^ been so totally lost to Reflection since as I often was before, but alas Lukewarmness is the prevalent Temper of my Soul. Mr Dunscombe (whose Conversation on this Subject I own afforded me more Satisfaction yn any one else) [...]

Frequently do I fear that I have never felt that conviction of Sin nor Contrition for it which are necessary to endear a Savior. “The Sincerity of a true Religious Principle (says Mr Mason in his excellent Treatise on Self Knowledge) cannot be better known than by the Readiness with which our thoughts advert to God & the pleasure with which they are employ’d in Devout Exercises.” But alas how seldom is God in all my thoughts tho’ every moment of my Life is a new & unmerited mercy from him. If a Friend or a Stranger confer but a trifling favor on me my heart is apt enough to swell with Gratitude, but to that so called Miraculous display of divine mercy which the Gospel gives how cold, how unmov’d – I hear it as a Tale that is told. To them yt believe a Savior ^is precious, but how seldom have I felt him so to me^ & how little how next to nothing do I know of the pleasure resulting from devotional Exercises (for it is of the the general Temper of the mind must fix its Character not ^its^ transient Emotions). Scarcely a serious thought of the Almighty ^sometimes^ even when attempting to address him, a secret Reluctance instead of delight to meditate on the things that concern my everlasting Peace, and the Sabbath, Alas how often ^is it^ a weariness!

Can the smallest degree of Love to God dwell in a heart so alienated from him? Or can such hope for an interest in the prevalent Intercession of Christ who feel not his Love constraining them to cheerful Obedience to his Commands? But above all it is the prevalence of Evil thoughts I have to lament & the power of Evil Habits. Real Christians I apprehend do grow in Grace tho’ sometimes but slowly & are enabled in some measure to subdue the Sin that easily besets them, but with me the Case is different. The same evil thoughts Sins the same follies which I have a thousand times resolved against & sometimes fancy’d I had overcome arise again & tyrannize over me, bringing me into Captivity to the Law of Sin & Death – & while traveling on apace in the Journey of Life I fear I become no fitter for its awful Close.

I say not these things from an Affectation of Humility but in the Sincerity of my Soul would I confess them, O my Dear Father. I need not say Pray for me, for I know I have your Prayers & I trust they will not be in vain. It is a mercy at last I hope it will prove such that God has not left me ignorant of my Salvation & given up to a false Peace since I have slighted so many awful Admonitions – but to be convinced is not [to] be converted. We may feel & know ourselves deserving of Punishment & yet love the Sin that occasion it

“Still hug the Traitor that destroys our Peace

And stabs our Comforts in the vital part”

Dr Stennet has exactly described my feeling & ^I think^ situation. In his Discourse on the Divine Origin of Religion speaking of those who are thus halting as it were between God & Belial he says, “They know they acknowledge they could be happy without having their natures renewed & yet while they seem to wish a Renovation, that Renovation is not affected.” And yet when I compare the present with the past & reflect how much stronger were the Emotions which Religion excited in my mind yn Alas it now does – I am some times ready to think in spite of all my doubts whether I that I err’d in not acknowledging that Glorious home in which, as far as I know my heart, I desire to place all my Confidence & that God hath now given me up to the devices of my own heart, applying to myself those emphatic words of the Prophet, “He feedeth on Ashes a deceived heart hath turned him aside so that he cannot deliver his Soul nor say Is there not a lie in my right hand.” At other Seasons I am happy in the thought that I have not added this instance of Presumption & Hypocrisy to the number of my Sins & consider my difficulties as a kind Barrier placed by Providence to keep me from approaching that Table to which I have no right.


[1] Mrs. King’s school which was located close enough to the Independent chapel in Mare Street, Hackney, for the girls to walk to services there to hear William Langford and a young Samuel Palmer. Mrs. King was the sister of Dr. William King (1701-69), Independent minister at Hare Court, Aldersgate, London, 1740-69. Despite her desire for salvation, religious affections, and assurance of faith, Steele did not become a member (and hence partake of communion) at the Baptist church in Broughton until 1795, despite having attended regularly since childhood. Her statement for admission to the Broughton congregation is an abbreviated version of the above statement to her father.

Text: STE 5/9/iv, Steele Collection, Angus Library, Regent's Park College, Oxford, c. 1780. For a fully annotated text of Steele's spiritual autobiography, see Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 3, pp. 179-95.