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blish his own righteousness. He vainly presumed, that by diligent and persevering efforts, he should recommend himself to the favour of God. He was accordingly very abundant in his religious services. He not only abandoned those amusements in which he had delighted, and forsook, in a great measure, the society of those who took no interest in the subject of religion, but he spent much time in retirement, earnestly crying to God for mercy. He would often repair to the field and forests for this purpose, and he sometimes spent a large part of the night in prayer. In this way he expected to obtain the forgiveness of his sins, and the peace and consolation which God has promised to his people. But after labouring for some time in this manner, he became alarmed at his want of success. God seemed to pay no regard to his prayers ; and how to account for this fact he knew not. At this crisis he was assailed by infidel doubts. The question arose in his mind, whether he had not proved the Bible to be false. It is written,
Ask, and ye shall receive ; seek, and ye shall find.” He said to himself, “ I have asked, but I have not received ; I have sought, but I have not found. How, then, can these promises be true ? and how can the book which contains them be the word of God ?" He found himself disposed to cherish these doubts, and to seek for further proof that the Bible is not true. He searched the Scriptures on purpose to find contradictions in them; and he even went so far as to begin to doubt the existence of a God. Like the fool, he said in his heart, “ There is no God;" that is, he wished there were none, for he was sensible that if there was a God, he was not reconciled to his character ; and he wished the Bible to
; be false, because he saw that it condemned him. But his efforts to satisfy himself that religion is not a reality did not succeed. The thought would sometimes arise, “What if the Bible should prove to be true? Then I am lost for ever!” This would fill him with inconceivable horror.
These struggles in his mind led him to a more just knowledge of his character and condition. He began to see the plague of his own heart. His doubts respecting the truth of the promises which God has made to those who ask and seek, were dispelled by the painful conviction, that he never had asked and sought as God requires. The commandment came, sin revived, and he died. He saw that God looks on the heart, and that he requires holy
and spiritual service of his creatures ; that “he seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth.” He saw, at the same time, that in all his religious services he had been prompted by selfish motives. He saw that in all which he had done he had had no love to God, and no regard to his glory; but that he had been influenced solely by a desire to promote his own personal interest and happiness. He saw that in all the distress which he had experienced on account of his sin, there was no godly sorrow-no true contrition. He had not hated sin because it was committed against God, but had merely dreaded its consequences.
During this period he read President Edwards' narrative of the revival of religion in Northampton, and the memoir of Brainerd. These served very much to deepen the conviction of his utterly lost condition. The preaching which he heard from time to time also greatly distressed him. As he says in his narrative, every sermon condemned him. Nothing gave him any relief. He seemed to be sinking daily deeper and deeper in guilt and wretchedness. One day, while alone in the field, engaged in prayer, his heart rose against God, because he did not hear and answer his prayers. Then the words of the apostle, “The carnal mind is enmity against God," came to his mind with such overwhelming power, as to deprive him of strength, and he fell prostrate on the earth. The doctrines of the gospel-particularly the doctrines of divine sovereignty and election-were sources of great distress to him. There was much talk respecting these doctrines, at that time, in North Killingworth. Some disbelieved and openly opposed them. He searched the Scriptures with great diligence, to ascertain whether they are there taught; and although his heart was unreconciled to them, he dared not deny them, for he was convinced that they were taught in the Bible. He would sometimes say to himself, “If I am not elected, I shall not be saved, even if I do repent.” Then the thought would arise, “If I am not elected, I never shall repent." This would cut him to the
I heart, and dash to the ground all his self-righteous hopes. For a long time he endured these conflicts in his mind.
Meanwhile, he became fully convinced that the commands of God are perfectly just—that it was his immediate duty to repent --and that he had no excuse for continuing another moment a rebel against God. At the same time, he saw that such was the wickedness of his heart, that he never should repent unless God should subdue his heart by an act of sovereign grace. With these views of his condition, his distress was sometimes, almost insupportable. At one time he really supposed himself to be dying, and sinking into hell. This was the time of which he speaks in his narrative, when he says, “An unusual tremor seized all my limbs, and death appeared to have taken hold upon me.” For several hours his horror of mind was inexpressible.
Not long after this, there was a change in his feelings. He felt a calmness for which he knew not how to account. He thought, at first, that he had lost his convictions, and was going back to stupidity. This alarmed him ; but still he could not recall his former feelings. A sweet peace pervaded his soul. The objects which had given him so much distress be now contemplated with delight. He did not, however, for several days, suppose that he had experienced a change of heart; but finding, at length, that his views and feelings accorded with those expressed by others, whom he regarded as the friends of Christ, he began to think it possible that he might have passed from death unto life. The more he examined himself, the more evidence he found that a great change had been wrought in his views and feelings respecting divine things. Old things had passed away—all things had become new. The character of God now appeared lovely. The Saviour was exceedingly precious ; and the doctrines of grace, towards which he had felt such bitter opposition, he contemplated with delight, and had now no doubt of their truth. He saw clearly, that if there was any good thing in him towards the Lord God of Israel, it was not the result of any effort of his own, but of the sovereign and distinguishing will of God.
It was about ten months, as has been already intimated, from the time when Mr. Nettleton's attention was first seriously turned to the subject of religion, before he obtained peace in believing. With him what the old divines termed the law-work was deep and thorough. This protracted season of conviction gave him a knowledge of the human heart which few possess, and which was doubtless intended by God to prepare him for his peculiar labours as a minister of Christ. As one observes, “ God prepares for himself the souls which he destines to some important work. We must
prepare the vessel before we launch it on the mighty deep. If education is necessary for every man, then is a particular education necessary for those who are to influence the generations in which they live.”
But although he enjoyed great peace of mind, he never expressed to others a very high degree of confidence that he was a child of God. He had such a deep and abiding sense of the deceitfulness of the human heart, and of the danger of self-deception, that not only at this period, but ever afterwards, he was exceedingly cautious in speaking about his belief that he was accepted of God. At one time, being asked whether he had any doubts respecting his interest in the promises, he replied, “I have no doubt that I have religious enjoyment; but the question is, whether it is of the right kind." At another time he said, " The most that I have ventured to say respecting myself is, that I think it possible I may get to heaven." It was always painful to him to hear persons express great confidence of their interest in the Divine favour. He feared they did not realize how deceitful the human heart is. This cautious reserve proceeded from godly jealousy over himself, and over others, in regard to inferring an interest in Christ, from superficial and partial change of feeling. It did not interfere with his own enjoyment of God, nor did it prevent him urging on others the calm joy that arises from beholding what God has given us in his Son; but it led him always to direct special attention to what was fitted at once to give true views and deepen all right feelings.
Dr. Nettleton visited England in 1831, when it was our privilege to make his acquaintance. He made some attempts at preaching, but without any noticeable success, and soon desisted. He seemed a meek and loving man, with but little vigour of either body or mind, clothed with humility, and full of holy love. After a long course of zealous labour, he was called to enter into the joy of his Lord. His biographer thus narrates the closing scene:
“A short time before his death, when he was very ill, and when he thought it probable that he had but a short time to live, I said to him, “ You are in good hands. Certainly,' he replied. Are you willing to be there ?' 'I am. He then said, 'I know not that I have any advice to give my friends. My whole preaching expresses my views. If I could see the pilgrims scattered abroad, who thought they experienced religion under my preaching, I
should like to address them. I would tell them that the great truths of the gospel appear more precious than ever, and that they are the truths which now sustain my soul. He added, 'You know I have never placed much dependence on the manner in which persons die.' He spoke of a farewell sermon which he preached in Virginia, from these words, ' While ye have the light, walk in the light.' He told the people that he wished to say some things to them that he should not be able to say to them on a dying bed. And he would now say to all his friends, “While ye have the light, walk in the light.' While making these remarks, there was a peculiar lustre on his countenance. I said to him, “I trust you feel no solicitude respecting the issue of your present sickness. He replied with emphasis, ‘No, none at all. I am glad that it is not for me to say. It is sweet to trust in the Lord.'
“During the last twenty-four hours of his life he said but little. In the evening of the day before his death, I informed him that we considered him near the close of life, and said to him, 'I hope you enjoy peace of mind.' By the motion of his head he gave me an affirmative answer. He continued to fail through the night, and at eight o'clock in the morning he calmly fell asleep, as we trust, in the arms of his Saviour. May all his friends remember his dying counsel : 'While ye have the light, walk in the light.”
THE PRESERVATION OF THE BIBLE.
WITH what wonder should we gaze upon a fortress that had withstood the assaults of successive generations for thousands of years ! And with what strange interest should we look at a man who, during the life of many centuries, had often been cast into the sea without being drowned, and drugged with prussic acid without being poisoned, and riddled with bullets without being numbered with the slain! Thus has it been with the word of God during all its history, Men have made it their enemy by their bad lives, and then have be
come its enemies, and hated it, and sought to destroy it.
Jehoiakim, as we read, cut to pieces the Divine roll, and threw it into the fire. About one hundred and seventy years before Christ, Antiochus caused all the copies of the Jewish Scriptures to be burnt, Three hundred and three years after, Dioclesian, by an edict, ordered all the Scriptures to be committed to the flames; and Eusebius, the historian, tells us he saw large heaps of them burning in the market-place. Nor has this spirit ever failed to show itself. The Bible