Mary Egerton Scott,
The History of Mrs. Wilkins
Mary Egerton Scott (c. 1765-1840), like Jane Houseman, was not connected with any of the Dissenting sects, but she was closely aligned in her evangelical sentiments with her long time friend, Maria Grace Saffery. Her prose works reflect the same qualities exemplified by nearly all women writers of evangelical tracts, whether Anglican or Dissenter. Scott published at least five works: The Path to Happiness Explored and Illustrated (London, 1796; 2nd ed., 1797; American edition, 1798); The Happiness of having God for a Friend in Time of Trial, or the History of Mrs. Wilkins. Addressed to Pregnant Women (London, 1797); The Advantages of Early Piety: or the History of Sarah Thompson and Lydia Green (London, 1806); Plain Truth for Plain People; or, Dialogues between Joseph Chisel and Thomas Wood (London: L. B. Seeley, 1807); and finally, Memoir of Elizabeth Moulder, Who Resided Nearly Thirty Years in the Family of the Rev. Thomas Scott (London, 1822). The History of Mrs Wilkins, Advantages of Early Piety, and Plain Truth were still in print in 1829, appearing in an advertisement in the Baptist Magazine that year in conjunction with the works of Thomas Scott, with Mrs Wilkins a popular title with the Religious Tract Society. The Memoir of Elizabeth Moulder also appeared as ‘A Short Account of Elizabeth Molder’ in the Christian Guardian 14 (1822), 97-100. Mary Scott may have published other anonymous works, but they remain unidentified. In her prose writings, Scott assumes an authorial persona that embodies the authority (not the actual role) of the preacher, an authority accessible to the woman writer through her anonymity and readily granted to her by her audience as a result of her proficiency as a writer and imitator of sermonic discourse. The History of Mrs. Wilkins, though a conventional moral tract, nevertheless enjoyed wide distribution by evangelicals in their mission to evangelize the working classes of England and beyond. In her writings, Scott mounts her printed pulpit and delivers stern pronouncements to her readers, even young pregnant women, whose minds, like that of the “old” Mrs Wilkins, were not properly focused on spiritual concerns.
For more on the life of Mary Egerton Scott, click here for her entry in the Biographical Summaries; for a fully annotated edition of Mrs. Wilkins and several other works by Scott, see Timothy Whelan, Nonconformist Women Writers, 1720-1840 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011), vol. 7, pp. 243-56.
God for a Friend
in Time of Trial,
History of Mrs. Wilkins.
Addressed to Pregnant Women
Printed by Jaques and Thomas: and sold by Jordan, Fleet Street;
Mathews, Strand; and at No. 2 Chapel Street, Grosvenor Place.
[Price 2d.or 12s. per 100.].
To the Reader
In such a trying season as that which is before you, my dear reader, it is a great blessing to have skilful assistance and good advice. But if it is desirable to contribute to the present comfort of our fellow creatures, it is still far more important to do something for their eternal welfare. With this view you are intreated to read attentively the little book now put into your hands:—It is given from a sincere desire to do you good and to make you happy; and should you, by the blessing of God, be led really to imitate the example, and follow the advice it contains, there is reason to hope you will be thankful for it to all eternity.
Mrs. Wilkins kept a little green grocer’s shop in a court near Fleet Street.—She had a young and increasing family; but as her husband was a hard working man, they got a tolerable living, and might have gone on very comfortably, if it had not been their own fault: but Mrs. Wilkins was mostly murmuring and complaining; and if her husband did come home when his day’s work was ended, he had seldom any peace or comfort. The place was always at sixes and sevens. The lodgers and his wife were quarrelling and the children crying; and, as she said she could never bear to be trampled upon, and thought it was a mark of a mean pitiful spirit when people would not stand up for their own, words often ran very high between them; and home grew so uncomfortable that at last John Wilkins liked much better to spend his evenings at the Red Dragon.
Evil ways seldom prosper even in this life. While much of the husband’s earnings were spent at the publick house, the wife’s disagreeable temper made the custom fall off from the shop. They had already three children, and poor Mrs. Wilkins was now big of a fourth; and though to see them run dirty as they did all day about the streets, you would certainly think there could not be much laid out on either their cloaths or schooling, yet so badly did their parents manage, that they were sometimes even pinched for food. Indeed one great reason of this might be, that when their mother got a little more money than usual, instead of laying it out to the best advantage she would needs indulge in something nice and costly, such as hot rolls with a deal of butter, pickled salmon, oysters, &c. &c; when homelier food would have been better for them. But from whatever cause it arose, things certainly began to grow worse and worse; so that, what with present difficulties and the view of the trying season before her, for which little or no provision was made, she began to think herself one of the most miserable women in the world.
In the same court with Mrs. Wilkins there lived a very good kind of woman whose name was Clark. She had two children that she had brought up with great care, and who are now placed out at service in very creditable families: and having had the misfortune to lose her husband just after his return from a long voyage; the shock made such an impression on her mind, and so convinced her of the vanity of this life and all things in it, that from that time she began to turn her thoughts more to the concerns of another world. Mrs. C. used to take in a little washing, and this with a trifle that came to her at her husband’s death, enabled her to get on very comfortably. To be sure she was an excellent manager; and though nobody could be more neat and tidy in her appearance, she contrived to lay out as little as she could upon herself, that she might be able now and then to lend a helping hand to a person in want: for nothing gave Mrs. C. more pleasure than to do a good turn to anyone; though many of those she served were so wicked and ungrateful, as to call her hard names, because she disapproved of their evil ways.
One day when poor Mrs. Wilkins had been almost crying her eyes out, this good woman happened to step in; and seeing how sadly she had been fretting, kindly enquired what was the matter with her?— ‘Matter enough, neighbor Clark, I think’ (replied she.) ‘I am sure if things go on long with us as they do now, my husband must go to a jail, and I must be brought to bed in the workhouse. And as if this were not enough, John Wilkins can hardly give me a civil word; but when he comes home of a night from the alehouse, and I am full of pain, and quite worn down with working for him and his children, he does nothing but snap and snarl, and lay all our ill luck at my door. Our family is already larger than we know how to maintain: I don’t know how we shall do when the other young one comes. I am sure it is a very hard case for poor people to be plagued with so many children; and to suffer so much as they do, in bearing them, and bringing them into the world.’ ‘Come come, neighbor Wilkins,’ (answered Mrs. Clark) ‘you must not give way to this murmuring spirit, but consider that all these things are ordered by God’s good providence. Children, you know, are his gift; and as to the pains and sorrows of childbirth, (as Mr. F– said in his sermon last night) they are come upon us for our sins and sin of our first parent Eve; (Gen.iii.16-19.) and so it is our duty to bear them with patience. I am sure, I am very sorry to see you in such distress; and I dare say what with one thing and another, and so poorly as you are, you must have a deal to bear with, yet after all, when we are in trouble, I always think we should look at home, and see whether some of it may not be of our own making. For all you say about your husband’s crossness, I can’t help thinking, if you were kinder to him, and tried to make things more agreeable at home, he would go less abroad, and he kinder to you. I know what it is to be a wife, and I never found that any thing was to be got by standing it out with my husband; but by giving up my own way I have often brought things about again: besides you know the Bible says it is the duty of wives to submit to their husbands.’
‘Ah!’ (replied Mrs. W.) ‘this may do very well for some of your poor tame creatures, that are afraid to say their soul’s their own; for my part I have too high a spirit to submit to such treatment; and as to what the Bible says about it, I neither know nor care. It is not for such poor hard working folks as I to spend our time in reading the Bible, and going about to hear preaching; though it may do for you.’—‘As for that Mrs. Wilkins,’ (answered Mrs. C. in a meek and gentle manner,) ‘I have my bread to work for as well as you, and should think it very sinful to be slothful and negligent: but I know that I have a soul to be saved; and if I were to chuse, I own I had rather starve here, than be miserable for ever hereafter; though after all, I never knew any body that was the poorer for being religious. But pray what do you think will become of you in another world, if you don’t serve God in this?’—‘Think, Mrs. Clarke – why what should I think? You talk, as though I were no better than a heathen; and for aught I know, though I don’t make such a to do about it, I may be in the main as good a Christian as yourself. If I don’t very often go to church, I never did any body a harm, and I pay every one their own as far as I have it; so that I don’t see but what I stand quite as good a chance as my neighbours.’—‘Ah my good friend,’ (answered Mrs. Clark, shaking her head,) ‘I remember when I once thought just the same myself: but you know I am a plain spoken body, and I should not discharge my conscience if I did not tell you, that you are sadly deceiving yourself. It is not enough, Mrs. Wilkins, to do our duty to our fellow creatures, (and in this the best of us sadly fall short,) but God has told us we should love him with all our heart, and mind and strength; and Jesus Christ says unless we “repent and believe and gospel we shall all perish.” ‘Believe!’ (replied Mrs. W. very nettled) ‘what then, do you take me for an unbeliever?’ ‘Don’t be angry,’ (said Mrs. C.) ‘I should be very sorry to give you offence – but now we are talking on this important matter I have too much regard for you not to speak out what I think. But pray, before I say any thing more, do tell me what you mean by believing?’—‘Mean!—why I believe in God and in his Son Jesus Christ to be sure, as the Belief tells us.’ ‘And yet you will hardly mind any thing God commands you!—He bids you keep holy the sabbath day, and you spend the greatest part of it in your shop! He tells you to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and bids you “strive to enter in at the strait gate, for strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it:” and yet, by your own confession, you seldom give yourself any concern about these things! Oh! dear Mrs. Wilkins, do but consider the worth of your immortal soul! As our Saviour says, “what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”—As for time to serve God – why, where there’s a will there’s a way. Take my word for it, you will not find such excuses stand you instead at the day of judgment. Nay, you will perhaps not think of them yourself as you do now, when you come to lie on a dying bed.—I hope you’ll excuse my freedom, but I am the more earnest because of your present condition. To be sure God Almighty has been very merciful, and given you very good times hitherto: but you know life is always uncertain. Do pray earnestly to God not only that He would bring you safely through your time of trial; but give you his grace, that however it may go with you then, you may have your sins pardoned and be made fit for heaven.’
While good Mrs. Clark was thus earnestly talking to her neighbour with the tears in her eyes, Mrs. Wilkins reddened with anger, and replied ‘that indeed she did not want to hear any of her preaching; that she had not lived so many years in the world to need to go to school to learn of her; and that it much better became people to stay at home and mind their own business than to go about finding fault with their neighbours, because they did not pretend to be such saints as they thought themselves.’ There is no knowing how long she would have run on in this manner; but just then a customer happening to drop in, put a stop to her railing, and set poor Mrs. C. at liberty to go home.
This good woman was not much surprised at the treatment she had met with, neither did she feel any anger or resentment at it.—No: on the contrary, she sincerely pitied Mrs. W. and prayed earnestly that God would change her heart, and enable her to lead a new life. Considering too the situation that her poor neighbor was in, and that she was likely in a short time to be greatly strait’ned for several things she stood in need of; she began to think in what way she could do her a service; (for Mrs. Clark always made the word of God her rule, wherein we are commanded to return good for evil:) and recollecting that some charitable ladies whom she worked for, lent out childbed linen, she immediately set out to get them for Mrs. Wilkins; and being so fortunate as to succeed, sent them to her as soon as she got home; having walked several miles, and carried a great bundle part of the way.
The thing that most concerned Mrs. Clark, about the discourse she had had with Mrs. Wilkins was, lest she should, without the least intending it, have said any thing that might seem like self preference, or looking with disdain on her poor neighbor: for though she could not help knowing that (by the grace of God) her way of life was on the whole very different, she was one of the humblest creatures in the world; and so far from thinking herself a great saint, and deserving the Almighty’s favour, she used to think herself unworthy the least of his mercies. And the reason of this was, that instead of comparing herself with others, or with what she had formerly been,—she always compared her heart and life with the holy law of God, and the example of our blessed Saviour;—which led her to see clearly, that after all she could do, she was at best but a poor sinner, that could only hope to go to heaven through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
Mrs. Wilkins could not help feeling surprised and pleased at her neighbour’s kindness in getting her the childbed linen: but after all, she liked her best at a distance; for in truth, the discourse she had had with her was too true not to give her some little uneasiness. The time came, however, for Mrs. Wilkins to be delivered, without her having once thought of following her friend’s good advice, and seeking help of God, who alone can bring us safely through all our troubles and dangers, and give us strength and patience to behave under them in a proper manner. And here I cannot but observe, what an awful thing it is for poor women to come to such a trying hour as this, and have no real ground for hope in God! How many there are who think themselves good Christians, just because they have been baptized by their parents, and were born in a Christian land; when in fact they are not a bit better than heathens – nay, are a great deal worse; because they have had the means of grace and salvation, and have neglected them. In such a time as this, I say to see them without comfort and hope in God, or what is still more dreadful, having only a false hope, is such a grievous thing that is makes one’s heart bleed to think of it.
However, after all the warning she had received, so it was with Mrs. Wilkins; and if the Lord had then been pleased to have called away her poor soul in that unprepared state, one could not believe the truth of what God says, and think any other than that “it had been better for her never to have been born.” But through the Lord’s unmerited goodness she had both a quick and safe time; (though to be sure upon the whole, it was sharp and trying:) and yet from the state of mind in which she appeared to be afterwards, she seemed as much wanting in gratitude to God for the mercy she had received, as she had before been negligent in praying for his protection.
Life and health are always uncertain; and it often happens that when people think themselves most secure, they are just then the nearest danger. Though it pleased God to give Mrs. Wilkins such a safe time, about a fortnight after she was all at once taken very bad. Whether this was from any imprudence or mismanagement, (for poor woman she was too impatient of control, and apt to indulge in what was not proper) I cannot quite determine; but in a few days she got so much worse, that her life was thought to be in danger. It is a sad thing that people are often as bad as Mrs. Wilkins was, and yet are not in the least aware of it. But happily this was not the case with her.—Very soon after she was taken the thought struck her, that perhaps she should not recover; and all at once the discourse she had with Mrs. Clark rushed into her mind.—She could not help thinking how ungrateful and unkind she had been to that good woman, who had behaved in such a Christian manner to her. She thought much on the good advice she had given her; especially what she had said about the worth of her soul, and the necessity of repentance; and was almost overpowered with grief to think that she had neglected it till such a time as this. Then she began to look over her past life;—to think how passionate and ill tempered she had often been: how neglectful in bringing up her children; how provoking and disobedient to her husband:—but above all, how she had offended God, by neglecting his word and worship; breaking his sabbaths; taking his holy name in vain*; and many other sinful practices; which though few people think any thing of, will no doubt, if not pardoned through faith in Christ, all appear against them at the judgment day.
For the first time in her life Mrs. Wilkins now really tried to pray: for though indeed she had often been used to repeat a little prayer that had been taught her when a child; she had never known before what it was to beg of God with all her heart, to give her the mercy and grace she stood in need of, just as a poor condemned criminal would sue for life, or a starving creature would ask for a morsel of bread. But alas! poor woman, she was so weak, and her thoughts were so confused, that she was not able to attend to any thing long together: and this shews what an awful thing it is for people to put off repentance till they come to sick bed! Poor creatures; they forget that repentance is the gift of God, and that if they provoke his wrath by their sinful neglect of him, he will perhaps never bestow this blessing on them; but give them up to a hard unbelieving heart. Besides, as one observes, what a foolish thing it is for people to think of turning to God, when they are hardily so much as able to turn upon their beds!
So it was with poor Mrs. Wilkins that she could get no rest, night nor day; and at last, nothing would satisfy her but that the minister should be sent for, to pray by her and give her the sacrament. John Wilkins, though not the kindest husband in the world, was nevertheless sorry to see his wife in such a mournful condition; and tried all he could to pacify her with the same excuses he made use of to quiet his own conscience: but, through the goodness of God, she was become too sensible of her own real state and character to be so easily deceived; so that all John’s endeavours were of no avail.
The Rev. Mr. B. who lived in the next street, was a very pious benevolent man; and took such a pleasure in doing good that he was always willing to visit the poorest person in the parish, if there was the least hope of doing him any service.—When Wilkins therefore begged of this gentleman to go and see his wife, he of course very readily consented to visit her; though for good reasons which we shall presently hear, he was not so willing to give her the sacrament.
When Mr. B. came into the room he found Mrs. Wilkins in a very low condition.—His heart ached, as it often did, to see a poor creature perhaps just about to enter the eternal world, without any real knowledge of the “things that belonged to her peace.”
‘My friend,’ said he, ‘I am truly sorry to see you in such an afflicted state of body; but I shall be happy to find that God hath made use of this affliction to create in you a concern for your immortal soul.’—‘Ah, Sir,’ (replied the poor woman with the tears in her eyes and a faultering voice) ‘I am afraid it is now to late – I believe it will soon be all over with me – I have been an ungrateful wicked creature, and can hardly tell how to hope the Lord will mercy on such a sinner as I. If God Almighty were to spare my life, I might indeed hope by a better course, to make amends for what is past, but as it is, I know not what to think.’—‘That shews you to be quite ignorant of Jesus Christ and the gospel,’ replied Mr. B. ‘If you were to live an hundred years and were to become the most pious woman that ever lived, you could not make amends for your past sins, were they never so few. If a person had run in your debt, Mrs. Wilkins, but always afterwards brought ready money for what he bought, you would not think that was paying off the old score, would you?’—‘No certainly Sir.’—‘Well that is just our case with respect to God: we have all of us run deeply in his debt, by breaking his holy law times without number, in thought, word and deed; and so far from paying off any thing of what is due, the very best man on earth is continually adding to it. There is not a day of our lives but what, as the church service says, ‘We have done those things we ought not to have done, and have left undone those things which we ought to have done.’ Nay, our very prayers and devotions need forgiveness, because in speaking to so great and holy a God we feel no more reverence and love to him. How then do you think you can do any thing to merit God’s favour, when the scripture tells us “Cursed is he who continueth not in all things written in the law to do them;” and when even our best services are mixed with sin?’—‘Alas! Sir,’ (replied Mrs. Wilkins) ‘I don’t see indeed what then can become of me. According to what you say, I don’t know how it is possible for any body to get to heaven.’ – ‘“With man it is impossible,” (answered Mr. B.) “but with GOD all things are possible,” “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”—“He “gave himself as a sacrifice for their sins,” “that “whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but “have everlasting life.”—If your sins were a hundred times greater than they are, they might all be pardoned for his sake: but then you must pray to God to give you true faith; but then you must pray to God to give you true faith; for to repent, and believe in Jesus Christ is a very different thing than what the most of people suppose.’—‘Pray Sir, may I be so free,’ (said Mrs. Wilkins) ‘as to ask what true repentance and faith are?’—‘Sincere repentance’ (answered Mr. B.) ‘consists in a conviction that we are sinners, and deserving of God’s wrath; in humbling and hating ourselves for our sins, as you know Job did, when he said, “Behold I am vile, I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” And true faith leads us so to credit God’s word that we believe every thing he tells us. Not in a light trifling manner; as we should believe some story that does not at all concern us: but as that on which our eternal happiness or misery depends.—When people, by faith in God’s word, are brought to see themselves as condemned sinners deservedly in danger of everlasting punishment: then and not before, they will begin to believe in a Saviour; to seek earnestly forgiveness through him, and do what he commands them.’
‘I used to think Sir, a little while ago,’ (said Mrs. Wilkins) ‘that I was a pretty good Christian; but from some discourse I had with a good neighbor of mine, and what I have since found out of myself, I am now ready to fear I never really believed in all my life.’—‘I am very glad to hear you say so (replied Mr. B.) though I don’t wish by any means to give you uneasiness; but in order to get a cure, you know, we must first find out the disease. It is a dreadful delusion for people to think they shall go to heaven while their hearts remain unchanged and unholy. Christ said, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” (John iii. 3) We are all “born in sin and the children of wrath:” and every man’s heart is by nature wicked and deceitful. You may see this, only by observing in your children the evil tempers and dispositions they shew, before they are even able to speak plain. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary, that a change should be made in every one’s heart by divine grace. Most men either quite neglect the service of God, or at best think it only a weariness and a task; and how is it possible that persons of such a disposition, can be fit for the enjoyment of heaven, and the company of holy saints and angels, who are continually worshipping God day and night?’—‘Oh! Sir,’ (said Mrs. Wilkins) ‘what of all the rest lies the heaviest upon my conscience is, that I have so shamefully neglected my duty in these things. I used to think such poor folks as I had something else to do than to mind such matters: though sure enough I could waste my time, almost by the hour together, in gossiping with my neighbours, when I might have been better employed. It goes to my very heart to think how many Sundays have passed over my head without my setting foot within the church doors: and as to the sacrament, I never received it in all my life. It would be a great comfort to my poor soul, Sir, if you would have the goodness to give it to me before I die.’—‘But then, Mrs. Wilkins, I am afraid I should be the means of giving you false comfort, and of leading you to build your hopes on a wrong foundation. Numbers of people, it is to be feared, are fatally deceived on this subject. The receiving of the sacrament merely, cannot procure you the forgiveness of your sins. If you were a real believer you might be saved just the same without it; and if you are not, it can be of no use. The Lord’s supper was ordained by our Saviour, chiefly that his disciples might thereby make a publick profession of their faith in him; and that by eating bread and drinking wine they might remember his dying love, in giving his body to be broken, and his blood to be shed on the cross for their redemption: so that, as the church catechism says, it is only an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is the duty of every true Christian, who is able, constantly to attend on this sacred ordinance but it is by no means that which most concerns you at present. Your great business now is, to be earnest in praying to God to pardon your sins, and change your heart. You must also beg of him to teach you to pray, for we can do nothing spiritually good without his help:—and though it is indeed a sad thing to defer this great work of repentance to a sick bed, and you have great cause to be humble for such neglect; yet do not dishonour God by doubting of his willingness to save you, if you are really willing to come to him as a poor sinner, pleading only the name and merits of Jesus Christ; and desiring to serve and love him with all your heart. The scripture says he will give his holy Spirit to all who ask him, and that “he is rich in mercy to all them that call upon him.”’
After having said these things to Mrs. Wilkins, and prayed very earnestly and affectionately with her, Mr. B. went away, promising to call again the first opportunity; and leaving her a good deal affected by the good advice and encouragement he had given her.
It is not possible to relate here all the different conversations he had with her:—but this kind gentleman called several times on poor Mrs. Wilkins during her illness; and her good neighbour Mrs. Clark, on hearing of the state she was in, went immediately to see her, and did all in her power to make her situation comfortable. Indeed she acted a most christian part to this afflicted woman, sitting up with her and waiting upon her, just as if she had been her own sister. Mrs. Wilkins was not well enough to read the Bible herself, but she took a great delight in hearing her friend read it, especially some chapters that Mr. B. had pointed out to her –Is. liii. Luke xi. John iii. Rom. iii. Coloss. iii.
It was a very different thing to wait on Mrs. Wilkins now to what it had been formerly; for she was so much more patient, contented, and thankful, that it was quite a pleasure to do any thing for her. She lay for some weeks very ill; but at last, contrary to all expectation, she began to recover: and through the goodness of God, she had so profited by her severe illness, Mr. B’s good instructions, and the example of her neighbor, that when she got about again she was so altered for the better, that no one who knew her could help observing it.
The scripture says, “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature,” and had you known this good woman, you would have said ‘She is a new creature indeed!’ To be sure this great change did not take place in a day;—and after all that was done, Mrs. Wilkins was by no means free from faults.—No, it cost her much striving and many earnest prayers: and the longer she lived, the more she saw of her own weakness and corruption: and the need she had in every thing, to depend on the grace of God to pardon her sins and sanctify her soul.—Many a tear did she shed in secret, when no eye but God’s saw her, over the working of evil dispositions in her heart: but then, even in these tears there was a pleasure beyond any this earth can give; and she often felt that “peace which passeth all understanding, and which the world can neither give nor take away.”
Mrs. Wilkins was now become more industrious than ever; for true religion always teaches people to be diligent in their lawful callings: but she could not now make her worldly business an excuse for not minding the one thing needful. Her husband was at first, to be sure, a good deal displeased at her going constantly to publick worship, and shutting up shop on a Sunday: but the meekness and patience with which she bore all his ill tempers, the great pains she took to make every thing agreeable to him, and the neatness of her house and person, altogether so won upon his heart, that he not only became reconciled to her conduct, but at last was even led to follow her example: So that in process of time, these very people who were once always snarling at each other, became the happiest couple in the neighbourhood! Their friends and acquaintance indeed laugh at them for their strictness, and above all for Wilkins’s custom of daily reading and praying with his family: but yet, from many things the neighbours have observed in him, they have now such a high opinion of his honesty and uprightness, that they say they would as soon take John Wilkins’s word as most people’s bond.
It would do you good if you could see how well they bring up their children, and how nice and tidy they look. There is nothing now Mrs. Wilkins dislikes so much as letting them run about the street, and get acquainted with other children, of whom they may learn bad words and wicked ways. Instead of this, they are sent to a little school on the week days, and on Sundays they go to church twice a day, and read the Bible, and say Dr. Watts’s hymns and catechisms at home. And dearly as their mother loves them, she would think it her duty to beat them soundly, if she found them telling lies, or doing any of those little pilfering tricks, that numbers are guilty of, and which in the end bring many a one to the gallows.
These good people were first a little afraid, that by refusing to serve customers on the Lord’s day, and avoiding those sinful ways of giving short weight and measure which they used to be guilty of, they should grow poorer than before: but God who has all hearts in his hand, raised them up so many friends, and so blessed their honest frugal endeavours, that they soon became more prosperous than ever they had been in their lives. To be sure it makes a great deal of difference in this respect, that Wilkins now brings home to his family what he used to spend in drinking with his companions. Formerly when his poor wife lay in, she could hardly get necessaries to carry her through: but now he has such a sense of the tenderness due to her in this time of trial, that I suppose he would sooner go without a drop of beer for weeks together, than not let her have what she stands in need of. And here I must observe, that of all the cruelties men are guilty of to their wives, there is none more wicked and shameful than to neglect them in such a situation; and to squander for their own pleasure, the money which should procure them needful support. It is to be feared that many poor women sink into their graves through such unkindness; and that at the great day of account their husbands will appear to have been their murderers.
But it is very different indeed with Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins.—Next to serving God, their great business is to make one another and every body about them as comfortable as they can: and instead of murmuring and repining, as too many people do; they are almost always cheerful and contented; being sensible how much kinder providence is to them than they deserve; and how happy those are, however poor or afflicted, who have God for their friend and heaven for their home.
And now my dear reader, as I should rejoice to see you happy, I wish I could prevail on you to follow the example of good Mrs. Wilkins.
You may perhaps have an unreasonable husband and much to bear with; but remember that “a soft answer turneth away wrath,” and that “Christ hath set us an example that we should follow his steps, who did not sin, neither was guile found in his lips; who when he was reviled reviled not again, when he suffered threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin should live unto righteousness.” (1 Pet. ii. 21-24.) So that whatever provocations you may meet with, you will not be excused for returning evil for evil and railing for railing.
Consider also the important duties required of you as a parent, and the solemn account you will one day have to give of them.—The bodies and souls of your children are entrusted to your care.—Use your utmost endeavours to afford them all the exercise and cleanliness needful for their health; and beware of that shameful practice, of which numbers are guilty, of giving them strong liquors and other things to make them sleep, by which many poor infants are hurried out of the world, or made to suffer cruelly all their lives, that their mothers or nurses may be a little more at liberty. But above all make it your great business to bring up your children in the fear of God.—Watch over their tempers and dispositions, and do not suffer a sinful indulgence to prevent your giving them the timely correction they require, and which the scripture recommends (Prov. xiii. 24. xxiii. 13,14.) At the same time take care that you do this with tenderness and prudence; not in the heat of passion, or for every little offence, but from love and compassion to their souls: else your own bad example will prevent the good effect, and you must not expect a blessing on your endeavours.
To conclude. Let me intreat you very seriously to consider your present situation.—Remember, that whatever skill and care may be used by those who attend you, God alone can bring your safely through it.—To him you must look for every blessing; but oh! above all, seek the blessings of his grace, without which you can neither be happy here nor hereafter.—Never let a day pass over your head without praying earnestly to God, both morning and evening, to give you true repentance, and that faith which purifieth the heart and overcometh the world.—Consider the various blessings temporal and spiritual, that both you and your’s stand in need of; and make them matter of constant prayer: and do not suppose that saying over a few unmeaning words for the space of five or fix minutes is sufficient for the discharge of this important duty: it will be of no avail to draw near unto God with your lips, if your heart be far from him. Take care that no worldly business or pleasure prevail upon you to break the sabbath day, and do not fail constantly to read the word of God, at the same time begging of him to enable you to understand it.
It is possible indeed, that this may fall into the hands of one, who thinks she has no need of such an exhortation. In such a case you will say perhaps—‘I am not only unlike what Mrs. Wilkins once was, (being a dutiful obliging wife and a kind careful parent,) but I constantly keep the Sabbath go to church and read my bible.’—But though all this is very commendable as far as it goes; let me warn you not to rest your hope of heaven upon it: above all not to think that any duties you perform can merit the favour of an infinitely pure and holy God, whose favour you have forfeited by your transgression of his strict and spiritual law; and to whom there is no way of being reconciled but through the sacrifice and mediation of Jesus Christ. The salvation of your soul is of such unspeakable importance, that you cannot be too careful not to build on a wrong foundation. Nicodemus was no doubt though a very good kind of man, in his day: yet even to him, as to us all, Christ said, “Ye must be born again.” (John iii.) A mere formal attendance on religious duties is a very different thing from feeling the life and power of religion in the soul; since numbers of people have all their lives long been constant in reading the bible, and saying over the church prayers, without once enquiring into the real meaning of the words they heard and repeated, or feeling any true concern about their own salvation. Unless you are brought really to lead a life of daily repentance and faith, and are taught to take pleasure in serving and obeying God – do not deceive yourselves – you cannot be fit for the kingdom of heaven. Examine yourselves therefore, (as St. Paul says) whether ye be in the faith[xiv]; and if you have hitherto been living a careless ungodly life – oh! do not any longer put off the great work of conversion; do not make any worldly concerns an excuse for neglecting your immortal soul. If a person were to offer you a great estate, but required you to bestow much time and pains, or to go a long journey in order to receive it; I dare say you would rather spare time from eating and sleeping than neglect it; and when the King of heaven invites you, and promises to make you happy both here and for ever, can you dare to refuse his offer?—When even Jesus Christ, He who in the beginning was with God and was God, (John i.1.) came down from heaven and died upon the cross to save us, how can you escape if you neglect so great salvation? (Heb. ii.) What are all the pleasures and riches of this poor vain life, compared to the favour of God, and a well grounded joyful hope of heaven, which will make you calm and comfortable in a dying hour? Remember too, that nothing less than an Eternity of happiness or misery depends upon the choice, and that every day we live brings us nearer and nearer to our long home.—Yes – Ere long we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, when – awful thought! if you despise the advice now given you, these very word which are written from a sincere love to your soul will rise up to your condemnation. But I would fain hope better things of you, my dear reader, and pray that He, who is every ready to receive the returning penitent, would new create your heart by his holy Spirit, and lead you into all goodness and truth.
And should you (as I pray God you may) be raised up from your confinement; do not forget the debt of gratitude you owe to the Lord and to your kind benefactors; and how much it is your duty to pray for a blessing on those who have been the instruments of your safety and comfort. Do not forget the pains you have felt, and return with a vain light heart to the world: but consider if these pains are so dreadful to endure, what must be the bitter pains of Eternal Death!
May God Almighty give you grace to devote the remainder of your days to his service; that living and dying you may be the Lord’s; and that when the trials of this life are ended you may dwell with him in everlasting glory and felicity! Amen.
*The use of the words God, Lord, Christ, in common discourse is an awful way of breaking the third commandment, which numbers are guilty of.
At the end of this brief pamphlet is the following notice: ‘Lately published, by the same Author | And sold at the above mentioned places, | The path to happiness, by M.— price 1s.’ Also are notices for twelve works by her husband, Thomas Scott, all of which, of course, are identified under his full name.