Ejected from his pulpit for non-conformity and imprisoned for his calling Joseph Alleine writes to his flock encouraging them to holiness and the carrying out of that oft neglected puritan practice of self examination.
This letter was written from the common Gaol at Juelchester, Oct. 31, 1663.
Most dear and tender friends,
Whose I am, and whom under God I desire to serve; to build you up in holiness and comforts has been through grace my great ambition. This is that which I laboured for; this is that which I suffer for: and in short the end of all my applications to you, and to God for you.
How do your souls prosper? are they in a thriving case? what progress do you make in sanctification? does the house of Saul grow weaker and weaker, and the house of David stronger and stronger? beloved, I desire to be jealous of you with a godly jealousy, lest any of you should lose your ground in these declining times: and therefore cannot but be often calling upon you to look to your standing, and to watch and hold fast, that no man take your crown. Ah! how surely shall you reap in the end if you faint not! take heed therefore that you lose not the things you have wrought, but as you have begun well, so go on in the strength of Christ and give diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end, 'tis your thriving, I tell you, I drive at.
Do you need motives?
First, How much are you behind? Oh, the fair advantages that we have lost! what time, what Sabbaths, sermons, Sacraments, are upon the matter lost? how much work have we yet to do? are you sure of heaven yet? are you fit to die yet? surely they that are in so much poverty, under so many great wants, had need to set upon some more thriving courses.
Secondly, Consider what others have gained, whilst we sit down by the loss: Have we not met many vessels richly laden, while our souls are empty? Oh, the rich booties, the golden prizes that some have won? while we have folded the hands to sleep! have not many of our own stand∣ing in religion left us far behind them?
Thirdly, Consider what a spending time there is coming: affliction and tribulation seem to be not far from you: had you not need to be well stocked against such a day? go to the ant thou sluggard, she layeth up her meat in the summer. Happy man that can say to his soul on good grounds, what he vainly spake, Thou hast much good laid up for many years: who will not victual the castle against the siege? and the ship against the voyage?
Fourthly, Consider you will find all little enough when you come to die: the wise among the virgins have no oil to spare at the coming of the Bridegroom; distress and temptations, and death will put all your graces to it. How much ado have many poor Saints had at last to put into this harbour? David cries for respite till he had recovered a little more strength.
Fifthly, Consider how little it will avail you to thrive in your estates, and not thrive in your souls: Poor Gehazi! what did he get by it when he gained Naaman's talents, and came off with his leprosy?
Sixthly, Consider how short your time for gathering in probability is: the Israelites gathered twice so much Manna against the Sabbath as they did at other times, because at that time there was no Manna fell. Brethren you know not how long you have to lay in for.
Seventhly, Consider God's expectations are great from you: he has been lopping and pruning you, and now he looks for more fruit: he has had you for some time under his more severer discipline, and therefore expects you should be more proficient: he has tried new means with you, and is come to you with a rod; and he will be angry with a witness if he do not find you now to mend. Times of afflictions used to be gaining times to God's people; God forbid that you alone should be losers.
Do you ask for marks how you may know your souls to be in a thriving case?
First, If your appetites be more strong. Do you thirst after God, and after grace, more than before? do your cares for and desire after the world abate? and do you hunger and thirst after righteousness! whereas you were wont to come with an ill-will to holy duties, do you come to them as a hungry stomach to its meats?
Secondly, If your pulses beat more even. Are you still off and on, hot and cold. Or is the a more even spun thred of holiness through your whole course? do you make good the ground from which you were formerly often beaten off?
Thirdly, If your natural heat do grow more vigorous, and your digestion more quick. Do you take more notice of God in every thing, than before? and let none of his works, nor words pass without some careful attention, and observation? do you ponder upon, and pray over his Word, and his Providences?
Fourthly, If you do look more to the compass, and latitude of religion, and mind more than ever, the carrying on together the duties of both tables. Do you not only look to the keeping of your own vineyards, but do you begin to look more abroad, and to lay out your selves for the good of others, and are filled with zealous desires for their conversation, and salvation? do you manage your talk and your trade, by the rules of religion? Do you eat and sleep by rule? does religion form, and mould, and direct your carriage towards husband, wife, parents, children, masters, servants! do you grow more universally conscientious? Is piety more diffusive than ever with you, does it come more abroad with you, out of your closets into your houses, your shops, your fields? does it journey with you, and buy and sell for you? has it the casting voice in all you do?
Fifthly, If the duties of religion be more easy, sweet, and delightful to you. Do you take more delight in the Word than ever? are you more in love with secret prayer, and more abundant in it? cannot you be content with your ordinary seasons, but are ever and soon making extraordinary visits to heaven? and upon all occasions turning aside to talk with God in some short ejaculations? are you often darting up your souls heaven-wards? Is it meat and drink for you, to do the will of God? do you come off more freely with God, and answer his calls, and open at his knocks, with more alacrity and readiness of mind?
Sixthly, If you are more abundant in those duties which are most displeasing to the flesh. Are you more earnest upon the duty of mortification? are you more strict and severe than ever in the duty of daily self-examination, and holy meditation? do you hold the reigns harder upon the flesh than ever? do you keep a stricter watch upon your appetites? do you set a stronger guard upon your tongues? have you a more jealous eye upon your hearts?
Seventhly, If you grow more vile in your own eyes. Pride is such a choking weed, that nothing will prosper near it. Do you grow more out of love with men's esteem, and set less by it? are you not marvellous tender of being slighted? can you rejoice to see others preferred before you? can you heartily value, and love them that think meanly of you?
Eighthly, If you grow more quick of sense, more tender of sinning, more sensitive of Divine influences, or withdrawings. Are you more affraid of sin than ever? are your sins a greater pain to you than before? are your very infirmities, your great afflictions? and the daily workings of corruption a continual grief of mind to you?
Ninthly, If you are acted more by love to God and faith in these promises. Fear is a slavish principle: do you find that you are acted less by fear, and more by love? do you look more frequently to the things not seen than ever? and does the world abate in your esteem? do you go more out of your selves? do you live upon Christ as the spring of your life, and make more use of him upon all occasions than ever? do you prize the promise more, and hug and embrace them with greater dearness, and live more upon them.
Tenthly, If you grow of a more public spirit. A selfish spirit is unworthy of a Christian: are the common concernments of God's Glory, and the prosperity of the Church, much upon your hearts? will it no way content you to dwell in plenty, peace, and safety your selves, except you may see peace upon Israel? do the wounds in God's name and glory go deep into you? are the sins of others your sorrows?
Time, and room, and strength fails to add means too, as I intended. I have trespassed in length already, may these be helps to you to put you forward, and to help you in discerning your growth. I must conclude abruptly, and commend you to God with my dear loves to you all, I take leave, and can only tell you that I am,