JOHN STRETTON: CORRESPONDENCE WITH ELIZA BENNIS

Correspondence of Eliza Bennis, Limerick, Ireland and John Stretton, Harbour Grace, Newfoundland 1770 - 1791; From: CHRISTIAN CORRESPONDENCE, BEING A COLLECTION OF LETTERS, WRITTEN BY THE LATE REV. JOHN WESLEY AND SEVERAL METHODIST PREACHERS, IN CONNECTION WITH HIM, TO THE LATE MRS. ELIZA : BENNIS, WITH HER ANSWERS, CHIEFLY EXPLAINING AND ENFORCING THE DOCTRINE OF SANCTIFICATION (Philadelphia: B. Graves for Thomas Bennis, 1809).
1. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Carbonear, 29 Oct. 1770.

Dear Madam,

A GRATEFUL sense of your kindness to me in Waterford, and a thankful remembrance of the Christian Admonitions you then pressed on me, I trust shall never be eradicated from my heart; emboldened by these, I take the liberty of acquainting you, with my safe landing here, my present situation and prospects &c.


Religion is scarce to be found in this country, a few professors scattered through the different Bays, that were awakened by the labours of Mr. Coughlan, who keeps up meetings among them in the winter season, for that is the only time they have to spare.

As to myself, I see more and more of the wickedness of my own heart, and it is now my constant cry to have the polluted fountain cleansed; let me entreat you to remember me at the throne of grace, for I fear evil getting the ascendancy over my best resolutions. It has pleased God to shake me over the very brink of the grave several times, since I left Ireland; and then I could see how unfit I was to appear before his dread tribunal. Once I narrowly escaped death by a fall from a loft, several times I was near perishing in the great deep, having been tossed about in an open boat for some hours in a heavy gale of wind, when my hope failed me and I could only cry for mercy. Oft have I been delivered, and yet I am unthankful! However my resolution is fixed to turn and seek him who can speak peace to my soul, and though I often find Sin stealing on me unawares, yet hope I shall be delivered from it, by that Almighty arm which restrained me from drinking down iniquity like water.

Requesting a letter from you next spring, and wishing you every happiness in time and eternity, I am Dear Madam, Yours most Respectfully

JOHN STRETTON


2. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 12 Nov. 1771.

Dear Madam

I AM truly thankful for your welcome letter, and shall keep it as a precious relic: your plainness I esteem, as a mark of your regard for my soul; but must observe you have mistaken an expression in mine; I can assure you I never wrote it with design to cover myself with the filthy rags of my own righteousness: I know my wickedness too well to impose such a covering upon myself, and I have a natural something within, that scorns to act the hypocrite, for I am sure I never professed myself to be what I really was not. I shall now act sincerely, and tell you that I am a very wicked creature; that I have made resolutions both in Ireland and here, and yet have broke them all; I would willingly hope that I am not abandoned, though I find it hard to tear that Delila, that darling sin from me. I hate sin, and yet I fall into it, is that consistent? I am a lump of inconsistence! and see that nothing less than an Almighty Arm can save me from my sins. May the blessed Jesus prove that he is Almighty to save, and strong to deliver; may he pluck me as a brand out of the burning.

If I am not too bad to merit one thought of yours, let me request you sometimes to think of the poor fugitive, particularly when you address the throne of grace; and favour me with a letter next Spring.

I am Dear Madam &c.

JOHN STRETTON


3. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 13 Nov. 1772.

Dear Madam,

I DO indeed sincerely thank you for your very kind letter of last spring, it has proved a cordial to my drooping spirits. Last winter I met constantly in the mens' class, which Mr. Coughlan formed in this place, and I believe was earnest in my search after happiness: oft have I been affected with true contrition, and was constant in my attendance at the throne of Grace; yet still, I was, I am, but an "almost christian." You will ask the cause! It is surely in me; I am in a world of hurry, confusion and noise; and it requires more Grace than I have yet attained, to stand even and steady upon these tumultuous wheels; as business increased, my devotion began to languish; the restless busy world, would fain engross the whole heart. Even now I am uneasy; this foolish fluctuating world, takes up too much of my thoughts and desires, and either flatters with delusive shades, or affrights with gloomy apprehensions. At this very instant, I feel the powerful influence of melancholy, and can hardly collect my scattered thoughts to write. I hope God will bring good out of this evil, and turn my reflections to a proper point, O may it end in my sound conversion. In whatever part of the world, providence may see fit to cast my lot, I shall ever bear a grateful remembrance of your friendship, and entreat a continuance of your prayers for a poor wanderer.

I am Dear Madam &c.

JOHN STRETTON


4. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 14 Nov. 1773.

Dear Madam,

A SENSE of my own insignificance, makes me at a loss to answer your last very kind and friendly letter; I ask myself, "how can this servant of Christ trouble herself with such a worthless cumber-ground?" Again, I reason thus with myself; "Art thou not ashamed to write the sincere sentiments of thy heart? Mrs. Bennis expects that thou canst now witness a good confession, and art now rejoicing in the love of God, and wilt thou undeceive her? if thou dost, she will look upon thee as a profligate wretch unworthy her regard"....I start at the supposition! I would not be despised, though I deserve it. At this instant my respect for you is so great, and the contempt I feel for myself so predominant, that I am apprehensive you will not trouble yourself to write me another letter; the thought is painful, for I have found your letters so useful, that I dread the loss of them; however I hope, I shall now and at all times, act consistent with the truth and honest plainness, let what will be the consequence....I have to say of myself that I often feel the want of a Saviour; and am clearly convinced that I cannot be happy, until Jesus the Lord, saves me from the guilt and the power of sin. I am often ready to lay hold on the promise, to take it as my own; but I want a power to believe. Blessed Jesus, thou canst give the power, thou only canst open the eyes of the blind, thou canst remove this Egyptian darkness, canst break this cursed barr of unbelief and turn my Hell to Heaven.

My Dear friend do not cease to pray for me, pray even now, that I might receive my sight.

I return you my sincere thanks for your delicate manner in disclosing the death of my Dear Mother; and for your wholesome advice, and all your admonitions, may the Lord bless you....I have now to inform you, that I have married a native of this land since I wrote last, she is blessed with many accomplishments, that would even grace an European, but the chief is, that she fears God and walks in his ways.

After all, I find that no creature or created thing can make me happy: nor can I rest short of an interest, in that Blood which cleanseth from all sin. I hope this will find you in perfect peace, and all around you happy; may a long continuance of spiritual and temporal blessings united, be your lot, is the unaffected wish, of Dear Madam Your real friend,

JOHN STRETTON


5. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbor Grace, 4 Nov. 1774.

DEAR MRS. BENNIS.

THIS moment I feel my heart glow with affection to you; I have just now read your welcome letter, and do sincerely thank you for it: your directions, with respect to married people, is exactly consistent with my sentiments, and I hope God will enable me to follow them....You observe that I am naturally aspiring, and you shew the consequences of applying or misapplying this disposition: I have indeed thirsted after fame, fortune, pleasure; owned they were empty shadows; and yet could not refrain from pursuing them: but blessed be God, the rapid stream is in a measure turned; now, I think that I thirst only for the "fountain of living Water." I believe I was never in earnest about the salvation of my soul, until the last winter; then it pleased God to lay a slight sickness on me, and at the same time to open my eyes to the danger I was in: the terrors of Death got hold upon me! I apprehended I was near my end, my fears were alarmed! I dare not look death in the face! my conscience accused me of all the evils I had committed, against light, against myself, my neighbour and my God; O what would I then give for an interest in Jesus; but tho' I prayed earnestly, I found my heart as adamant; I feared, I trembled, but could not weep, believe, or love. Then, Then, I saw that faith was the gift of God; and that he might justly withdraw it from me, who had so often sinned with my eyes open; and grieved his Holy Spirit: ...at last my spirit became somewhat composed, and my health returned. When I got up, my heart was bowed down, and oppressed with a guilty load; I took the bible, and the first place I opened was, the 53d. chapter of Isaiah; I read, and immediately felt my heart softened, I continued to read until I came to that glorious invitation, "Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money, and without price." Then I broke out involuntarily, into a refreshing flood of tears; I read, and wept, and prayed by turns, and thought I had faith to lay hold on the promise; I felt that I loved Jesus, I saw that he was willing to be reconciled to me, and yet some strange doubt interposed, and I did not believe that I was yet savingly converted;...I dared not presume to say, that "God had forgiven all my sins," this is staggering at the promise through unbelief...I have been struggling with this unbelief all the summer, sometimes I find my heart enlarged, and I can love God, and the very name of Jesus; can love his children unfeignedly, can even love my enemies: again I find a hard heart, unworthy thoughts of my Redeemer &c: then again these are dispersed, and I feel a kind affection for him return, This is as nearly as I can describe the state of my soul. I hope, and believe that God will soon disperse the mists. Shine upon my soul, and clear up my evidence for Heaven: Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus, come quickly!...Though I meet with many trials in life, feel a great deal of perplexity in and from my business, and find it hard to get forward with my worldly concerns; yet blessed be God, I sit in a measure loose to the world, and am resolved it shall not have all my heart; O cease not to pray for your affectionate friend:

JOHN STRETTON


6. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 14 Nov. 1775.

My very dear Mrs. Bennis.

YOU desire to know, who preaches here, since Mr. Coughlan's departure: I shall give you a short account, of the state of the Church...After Mr. Coughlan's sailing for Europe, the Justices (his avowed enemies) took upon them to read prayers in the Church, and laboured with all their might, to introduce the dullest formality in the room of the pure gospel, which he had preached; and partly succeeded therin; those that had received the truth under him used to meet as a class, in the Church on Sabbath evenings; but now their Worships would not suffer it. Mr. Arthur Thomey, (a respectable merchant, who was converted under Mr. C.) and I, being disgusted with this mode of action in the Justices; resolved to oppose the torrent of iniquity; we gathered a few togather, who we believe loved the Lord Jesus; and found amongst them, a poor illiterate fisherman, that was not ashamed of his Heavenly master; who boldly stood up, and spoke in his name; him we constantly attend to hear....Mr. Thomey also exhorts, and is endowed with both gifts and grace, this is done from house to house. We have joined ourselves into a society, and have drawn up rules as like Mr. Wesley as we could, consistent with local circumstances; our number about thirty, who I believe are sincere in heart.

At Carbonear about three miles from this; the people attend to hear a Mr. Pottle, who also received the truth under Mr. Coughlan; he reads prayers and expounds to them: but these have not yet formed themselves into a society: though some of them meet as a class, and are sincere followers of the Lamb.

Last October, a minister came to reside in Harbour Grace, in the room of Mr. Coughlan; he was sent by the "Society for propogating Christian knowledge," to Trinity bay, about fourteen years since and in all that time, there has not one soul, been awakened under him: I much fear the consequence of his coming here: He is a man of letters but oh! he is blind: though our society now attend his preaching, and received the Sacrament at his hands last Sunday; yet we continue to meet as before, following Mr. Wesley, in all things as near as we can. This is the state of the Church, in this wilderness; (and this is the only part of New-foundland where the truth has yet been received.) I shall now say something of myself; and to be circumstantial, must inform you, that our Society celebrated last Christmas day as the methodists do in Europe; (it was the first time of our drawing up rules.) In the morning before day, we sung the Nativity Hymns &c. and at night had a love feast: I gave out and raised the hymns: all the day my mind was agitated, and my body disordered; in the evening I grew very sick, and the distress upon my mind increased: I was tempted to go to bed; however, I resolved if possible, to go through with the love feast; just before we began I went to prayer alone, darkness overwhelmed my soul; yet in the midst I said, if I die, or if I perish, better perish thus crying for mercy. I went, and began with the first of Mr. Wesley's love feast hymns; no sooner had I given out the first lines, viz.

and mentioned the sacred name of Christ; but my heart glowed with affection: I burst out into tears, and continued with flowing eyes, to give out and sing the rest of the hymn, until I came to these lines;

then, O then I was so overpowered, that I could neither give out nor sing any more: I felt all the force of the expression; I then that moment felt, that he had burst the bands of Death in my soul; and that I did then breath his quick'ning spirit: all present were greatly affected; and a backslider that night professed to have found with me, the quickning influence of the spirit of our Lord: this was a night much to be remembered; Jesus sprinkled my soul, with his precious blood; and the destroying Angel had no power to hurt: I went to bed very much disordered in body, but my mind calm: but immediately I began to doubt; I could not believe that this was true faith; now I was left in darkness again; I knew not what to do, at last I concluded that as I could not believe, I was one of the fearful, that are mentioned in the Revelations, to be without the New-Jerusalem: I told my fears to my friend Thomey, he said my thoughts were false and vain; and asserted that the fearful above mentioned, were those who were afraid of Man, and ashamed of Jesus; yet I could not believe, until he proved his assertion, by the Notes of Mr. Welsey, and others on the text: now my doubts vanished, light broke in again upon my soul, his words were like dew; blessed be God, I yet find Jesus precious to my soul; when I find I love him, it is an evidence to me of my acceptance. As to temporals, I have gone through the furnace this summer; but I believe God will bring me out of all my troubles: I greatly approve of the Journal you recommend me to keep, and think now to begin it: Lord help me, I am a poor unfaithful creature, and have a poor stock of experience to begin with. I note every part of your letter, and particularly request you to write me a long and plain one, next spring your letters are always useful and welcome to your truly Affectionate Friend,

JOHN STRETTON


7. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 8 Nov. 1776.

MY DEAR SISTER BENNIS,

DO you think me worthy of being called a Brother, in the best of bonds? I cannot think myself worthy of such an honourable appellation even at present; for O how little of the mind that was in Christ is found in me; and when God is pleased to give me a sense of my heart, I find it still a cage of unclean birds: I know and feel that my work is not done now, that I am enabled to believe: I have a whole carnal mind, that is enmity itself to subdue; and there are spiritual wickedness in high places to be overcome; who is sufficient for these things? none but Christ; he conquered for me, and I trust he will conquer in me too; until all his enemies and mine are destroyed: The enemy of souls has often assaulted me, since I have tasted that the Lord is gracious, but blessed be God for free grace; my Jesus saved me when I could not save myself; I know sometimes that I love him, and I desire to do his will; but when I do not feel this flame in my heart, and clouds and darkness rest upon my soul; yet still my desire is towards him, for without his presence, I cannot take delight in any created good. This in short is the general course of my experience, the last year; last Christmas I began to exhort amongst our little society, very unwillingly; for it was reduced to this alternative, either for me to undertake the superintendence, or see the Society decay; then I thought myself called in the order of providence to do what I could; but still I am not persuaded, that I am called of God to preach his word; and should be glad if some person more worthy, and fitter for the work, was here to keep these few sheep together, and do them good; the reason I have to think so is this; there has not one soul been awakened by my speaking, that I know of, now near a year; I ventured to speak in public to a number of people almost savage, in the upper part of this bay, where business called me this summer; but I know not that any good was done; now I greatly fear being one of those that run, when they are not sent; yet if I know myself I think that in this I seek not my own glory and I fear to decline acting thus, least I should offend God and bring guilt upon my own soul. My Dear Sister pray earnestly for me, that I may persevere unto the end.

I assure you this is a trying country, and I believe as perplexing a business as any in the world; yet, there was one month this year, when I was engaged in the most complicated parts of it; and (O amazing mercy and unbounded grace!) I never enjoyed a more calm serenity in my life; therefore I conclude that no outward thing can effect the soul, if it keeps close to Christ: I wish I did so always. Lord help me I am a strange inconsistent creature! Would you think well, to consult Mr. Wesley about my doubts of being called to speak in public; and let me have his opinion thro' you. May the Lord Jesus, the good Shepherd of the Sheep, keep you safe to the Day of Eternity; prays your Affectionate Brother,

JOHN STRETTON


8. Eliza Bennis to John Stretton, Limerick, 22 Mar. 1777.

Dear Brother Stretton,

MAY he who has called you by his grace, to the great work wherein you are engaged, still keep you and make you faithful in your calling; your unfitness is no barr in his way who can send by whom he will; and generally chooses foolish and base instruments, that his power and grace may be manifest to all: Blessed be God that he does give you to feel your poverty, you have need of it, how oft would you have fallen through the pride of your own heart, if you had not this view of yourself; how gracious is it then, to keep us within sight of ourselves, that we may be equally balanced; and by feeling our necessities be led to look for help where only it is to be found; by our own experience, and that of others, we may notice, whatever blessing God is willing to bestow, he first gives us to feel the want of; he deals tenderly; does not break our spirits by discovering to us all at once the whole hateful picture of our heart; but by little and little as we are able to bear and with this view points out to us the remedy also; like the discovery of a rich mine, which though stored with inestimable treasure, yet requires labour to put us into the possession of it, we must dig before we reach the pearl; and if we would carry on the illusion, suppose to yourself a poor Beggar, having a discovery made to him of hid treasure; who instead of immediately exerting himself to dig and be rich, sits down on the spot to weep for his poverty; what would you say to such? would you not upbraid him for his folly? and bid him arise and seize the opportunity put into his hands...but suppose this man instead of doing so, still pleads his poverty as an excuse for his indolence; sits still and contents himself, with discovering the treasure to every passenger who goes by: Need I make the application? does not your own heart prevent me? what hinders your deliverance? the Lord has given you to feel your need, to feel the bitterness of sin; and has also discovered to you the remedy, then what hinders? will you plead your poverty? why this is the very thing should drive you forward; the good physician came not to heal the whole, but to cure the sick of every malady; O come taste, and see, how good he is! do not be content with recommending the blessing to others, this is holding the door open to all to pass through but yourself; the Lord bids you come, he asks "Wilt thou be made whole?" O let all excuses be laid aside, and venture your whole soul on his atoning blood; trust him, prove him and you shall find him all that he has promised to be.

I forget that I am writing to a Preacher, from whom I should receive instruction; the earnestness of my soul for you, carries me beyond my limits; I shall make no other apology than that I love your soul, and would have you as happy as God can make you: O may he remove every hindrance, and that his hand may not be stayed, see that you be a fellow worker together with him, lop off every thing that might be a hindrance to his work on your heart; let nothing be too little or too great to part with; often very small things hinder, because we are apt to hug these to our bosom, thinking that God will not dispute with us for such a trifle; and though his spirit reproves for it, yet we pass it by; still thinking that it is too small to be sin:...But my Dear friend, be honest and ingenuous with God: search your own heart, and be willing that God should see it all, and point out every lurking evil; and see that you on every such discovery, cut off the right hand: remember that "Flesh and blood cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven." If we will follow Christ, we must deny ourselves, and take up our Cross, and follow him manfully; else he will not receive us; the indulging the flesh in Meat, Drink, Sleep, Indolence or pleasure, will as effectually damn the soul, as open sin. God has given us a clear light to walk by; and he expects from us in proportion to what we have received; May the Lord help us to consider our calling, and to walk wisely and surely before him: and to this end what great need have we of watchfulness!

Might not the Devil himself be our example in this? he watches continually, and often finds us sleeping, and never fails to avail himself of our indolence: O then be watchful, be humble; consider you have nothing that you have not received; and what talents you have, were given you for the good of others; use them as his property who bestowed them, not your own; being assured that you must render a strict account to your master, and theirs for whose use they were given. Beware how you desist from your labour; the Lord has called you to work in his vineyard, wait then until he is pleased to dismiss you; but if you are self-willed, and will go before you make out your days work, you are not entitled to your penny; but may fall under the condemnation of the slothful servant, who hid his Lords money; rather give cheerfully, what the Lord has given graciously to you; if it be much, it is not yours; if it be little, he is able to increase it; leave that matter to him. Cast your mite into his treasury, and let him dispose of it as he sees fit. I am my Dear Friend's sincerely Affectionate,

ELIZA BENNIS


9. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 30 Jun. 1777.

I THANK you my very Dear Sister Bennis, for our sweet letter of last March; I gladly embrace the present uncommon opportunity to write, and do most earnestly beg a letter from you immediately, as the ship returns without making much delay in Ireland.

It is the desire of my heart, to attain to that perfect love, you have so well described in your letter, but yet how far short of it do I come! surely you must have experienced what you wrote, else your arguments could not be so conclusive; if you think me worthy, let me know; I humbly hope it would not be "casting pearls before swine"; I agree with you in sentiment, and do believe this perfection attainable; for our God is Almighty to save, and strong to deliver; and I doubt not his willingness to save to the uttermost, them that come to him; your letter has cleared up some doubts, and cast a light upon this subject; much more than many hours reading. Blessed be God for the least measure of his light, and I desire to bless his holy name, for bringing me acquainted with you.

You say you know I need not instruction from you; Indeed, my Dear Sister, you would not speak thus, if you knew me as well as I know myself; for after all my reading (which I am very fond of,) I find myself amazingly ignorant of spiritual things; and greatly feel the want of Christian converse; for the professors here, (except a few which are dispersed) are very ignorant, and unfit to keep up a conversation of any kind; therefore let me have in your next, and always as much of that sweet earnestness of heart, for my spiritual welfare, as you can possibly express; for I feel every line. With respect to my experience, I have to say, that I often find Jesus Christ precious to my soul, and when it is not so I am unhappy; when I feel His Love every thing pleases; when he is gone, the whole word is a wilderness; and Oh my Dear Sister! you can hardly think what barrenness, doubts, fears, sins, perplexities, and evil tempers I have to grapple with; so that I sometimes think, nobody is so violently assaulted as I am. Sometimes, with all these upon me, I am obliged to stand up in public to speak for God; and often find that my adorable master drives them away, cease not pray that my faith fail not, and that my labour be not in vain. In the Winter season, we have public preaching three times a week, from house to house in the evenings; (not having yet any meeting house) and in this, I often have the cross to take up; being so situated, that I must cross an arm of the sea for this purpose after night; which in this country, at that season is very dangerous and disagreeable; however I have found that my God is all- sufficient...In Summer our meetings can be only on Sundays; as the fishing business in which all here are employed prevents meeting during the week; not giving sufficient time for necessary sleep and food: however through many difficulties and discouragements, all that first joined in Society keep up together; and one only has been added: I cannot omit mentioning here, a sweet youth, of eighteen years old, (who made no profession) in a sudden violent distemper went to Heaven last March; leaving a clear testimony, of his dying in the Lord: last Winter I travelled over land, in this desolate country, about twenty-four miles: to a harbour that never heard the joyful sound; but my labour seemed in vain; the people there, but a remove from savage; yet I have since felt, as if God would bless the seed then sown.

Last spring Brother Thomey and I, went to St. John's, which lies about fourteen leagues from us; and there found Brethren; one of whom preaches; the society only eight persons, very poor; and yet they have built a neat little meeting house! to the admiration of even the reprobate world; we tarried with them a few days; they are Calvinists, but have the genuine mark of love; and wherever that is met with, we should joyfully give the right hand of friendship

Farewell my Dear Mrs. Bennis, may the Lord be your God in time and Eternity: prays your weak, and unworthy Brother in Christ.

JOHN STRETTON


10. Eliza Bennis to John Stretton, Limerick, 24 Jul. 1777.

I YESTERDAY received my dear Brother Stretton's welcome favour, of last month; and from a desire of giving you all the satisfaction in my power, take the earliest opportunity of answering it...If my last has been in any wise blessed to your soul, my end is answered; let the praise be given where only it is due, not to the instrument, but to the hand which conducts it...I thank our gracious Lord on your behalf, I do find you bound on my heart before the throne of grace:...Blessed be God that you do feel it the desire of your heart, to attain to that perfect love, which is the privilege of the children of God: without this desire, and an earnest pressing after it, you would be scarce able to retain what you have already received: and indeed I have observed, that every soul after having received a sense of pardon, is led by a natural, or rather supernatural propensity, to seek after a farther and deeper work of grace; this I think may discover to us, that it is not only our privilege; but if I may use the expression, our "right of inheritance;" our purchased possession, our land of Canaan; to inherit which we were called out of Egypt, led through the wilderness, fought many battles, and encountered many dangers: you may ask, then why do not all experience it? the Apostle tells us because of unbelief; as it was with the Israelites; they were brought out of Egypt, crossed the Red-sea, fed on the manna, drank of the rock, tasted of the grapes; yet by reason of unbelief never attained to the Inheritance:...Now apply the allegory in your own mind, and see if the comparison will not hold? if so what hinders? are you brought to Jordans banks? can you look and see the goodly prospect? and are the taste of the grapes delicious? then away with your cowardice; think not of the tall sons of Anack, nor the high walls of Jerico, nor the broad river of Jordan! let none of these affright or retard my friend; but look up, and see who leads the way! what are all your hindrances before the all powerful Jesus, the captain of your Salvation: then do not delay, reasoning about it; but bravely determine to venture on the word; and promise of him who cannot lie; and trusting in him, say with old courageous Caleb, "We are well able to go up, and take the good land;" be encouraged, believe, and enter in; may the Lord help you to try him now; to put his goodness to the proof this moment: whilst you are reading this letter; believe that he has purchased this great freedom, this inestimable privilege, this unspeakable deliverance for you; that he is now this moment willing to bestow it; that is it even reached out to you, with entreaties to accept it; then no longer refuse your own mercies, now dare to believe in spite of the Devil; venture your soul upon him, and see if he will not be faithful to his grace: O do not unbelievingly draw back, rather presumptuously believe, and the Lord will confirm it to your soul; remember the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the Lord of Heaven loveth and yieldeth to the violence of faith and prayer.

In the earnestness of my heart I can almost believe for you; may the Lord help you to believe for you; may the Lord help you to believe for yourself; indeed until you do, you can never be happy: but when you do, take care you do not look for, or expect more in that state, than God has promised; remember it is not a deliverance from temptations, trials, or natural infirmities; but a deliverance from Sin. If you keep this in view, it will much clear your way, and answer many doubts and perplexities which Satan may cast into your mind; it will also help you to bear the reproach, and answer the either real or scoffing questions which may be asked of you concerning this state; for when once you declare the glad tidings of Sanctification, you set yourself up as a mark for the seeking Soul to follow after; and for the scoffer to jeer at: and you will be likely to meet with far more of the latter than of the former, therefore remember, you are to be always ready to give an answer for the "hope that is in you"; and this will be more frequently sought for, in your general outward conduct and conversation; than by answers to particular questions; then what manner of persons should we be, (who profess the Lord Jesus to be a complete Saviour) in all holy living and conversation.

You ask, if I have experienced this perfection, indeed my Dear friend, your question has put my very heart to the blush; I do not choose to bring in my experience as a standard for any; I have cause of shame and self-reproach because of my unfaithfulness: yet for your satisfaction I must do my good and gracious God justice; to the praise of his holy and ever blessed name, I acknowledge, that I, unworthy as I am, have been made partaker of this great grace: a witness of his power, to save to the uttermost all that come to him; and had I been faithful to his grace, since the year 1763. I might be now a pattern to others:...but make no man your standard, look to your Lord Jesus, who says, "be ye holy for I am holy," and when you meet with blots and flaws in the greatest professors: remember our Lord's words, "what is that to thee, follow thou me," be determined to be as holy and as happy as God is willing to make you; and indeed you never can be completely happy, until the Lord has full possession of your heart; until the root of bitterness, the evil propensity is taken out of your heart; then you shall find it your meat and drink to do his will; because you love him with all your heart, and love makes all things easy...this love is the fulfilling of the law; for whilst we love, we cannot break any of his commandments; because we love him, we love all his laws; and love leads us willingly into all obedience; all constraint is taken away, love leads us as by a natural propensity to do his will; and it is not grievous because we do only what we love....My explanation is very imperfect, may the Lord write it clearly on your heart; and surely he will, his word is not yea and nay, but yea and Amen; sure as the pillars of Heaven: open your mouth wide and he will fill it; if you open it but a little, you will bet but a little morsel; but wide and extensive as your desires can stretch, the power of God extends; and his willingness will bestow: our faith only can limit his bounty; he puts a blank into our hands, to fill up for ourselves; and says "be it unto you, according to your faith." O my Dear Friend, here is a door thrown wide open; will you not now haste to enter, to believe, see and experience the wonders of redeeming love; I long for your complete deliverance, and feel my own soul happy, in the prospect of your happiness; O that I could say any thing, that could contribute to it; may the Lord speak to your heart, take away the hindrance and force you to believe....Be zealous, be diligent, active and laborious for God; and be content with your station; you know not for what end the Lord has sent or placed you where you are: but be assured it is for good, then take up your cross, willingly abandoning yourself to his care, and welcoming his will, whatever it be: seek wisdom, and christian experience from him; and you shall not feel the want of society; he will be more to you than many helps...I wish you to pursue the Diary, that I formerly recommended; you will find it a great help; I have often experienced much comfort in reading over past experience, and have often felt happiness and support in comparing past with present...I earnestly recommend you not to neglect it, but buy up opportunities for that purpose; only, do not write much at a time, that it be not burthensome; except when your heart is particularly enlarged; then it may not be well to cramp yourself, but let your heart and pen flow together, to the glory of God...May the Lord bless you with all your hearts desire, and give you success in your labours...Prays your sincere Friend.

ELIZA BENNIS


11. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 30 Nov. 1777.

MY DEAR SISTER BENNIS.

I THANK you, for your very affectionate letter of last July; and for your condescension, in answering that question I proposed; be assured it was not idle curiosity that induced me to ask it; but a desire to have some secret doubts resolved, and your answer has satisfied them: I am now fully persuaded that perfect love is attainable in this life; and in consequence of this persuasion, I proclaim the joyful news to others; but I do not experience it myself; I find in me, mountains of unbelief, of pride, the whole body of sin to grapple with: I feel sin in my prayers, and in all my performances; and do frequently experience, what Mr. Whitfield observed of himself; "that he never preached or prayed well, but he found the enemy near, saying well done George"--. These things make me often groan in secret; and sometimes I am ready to conclude, that on these accounts, I had better cease speaking in public; but when I see the absolute necessity there is for it, and consider that it might prove the disjointing of our Society; I again change my mind, and abandon myself, flying for protection to my Lord and master, and when I do this he comforts me: I have taken your advice as to the diary; and hope it may be profitable: but being often from home on my blessed masters business, and sometimes on my own, occasions disorder in it; but I still intend to continue it, as well as circumstances will admit. Our little society neither increases nor decreases; the generality of the people in this place are very wicked, and the dead ministry makes them quite regardless of hearing the truth: few here but had some serious impressions, while Mr. Coughlan was here; and these having drawn back, cannot now bear to hear the truth; therefore keep from our meetings: a few days past, I was called to speak to a very great audience: a mixed multitude, at the funeral of one of our friends who died in the Lord; the minister was present, a learned scribe, filled with the lumber of the schools: before I began, I felt some perturbation; but looking to the Lord, he enabled me to declare his truth with boldness; and to preach repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; proving this to be the doctrine of the Church of England from the articles, Homilies and Liturgy of that Church. The learned and Reverend Doctor, when I had done gave an extempore oration, of about five minutes; did not gainsay, nor enforce what I had advanced; his language seemed as heathen greek to the audience in general; he spoke much of the plastic power of Nature of the dignity, and mortality of Man, but not one word of the New Birth: I afterwards understood that some were affected with the truths they had heard; but O our enemies are not idle, we are scoffed and jeered at by almost all; we have many trials to go through, many crosses to take up; O pray for us, and get the select society to join you, in supplicating God for a revival in this wilderness.

I shall anxiously expect a long letter next spring, and therein speak plain, rebuke and exhort freely, for indeed all from you shall be most thankfully received; I have much reason to thank God for your letters, and that ever he laid me on your heart; surely I am a brand plucked from the burning; the Lord grant I may appear as a star in your crown of glory. May be bless you, and make you instrumental in his hand of doing much more good; is the sincere prayer of your truly Affectionate, &c.

JOHN STRETTON


12. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 2 Dec. 1778.

IT was late this fall, when I received my dear Mrs. Bennis's letter: and it proved as all the former, very profitable to me; though I have not attained the end it had in view. I hope your united prayers were heard in our behalf, for last Winter the Gospel trump was sounded through this desart land with some success, the people in the place where we live, being almost weary of the word my fellow labourer (Mr. Thomey) and I made an excursion of about sixty miles along the wild shores of this dreary country at Christmas, preaching in every place inhabited. The people flocked to hear, and were greatly pleased with the welcome sound. We again and again repeated our visits, in one place where was but four dry professors, a society was soon established of thirty-seven, near all believers, in one evening at a love feast, five were set at liberty; open profligates convinced and converted, also two aged sinners called in, one of one hundred years old, the other of eighty, who are yet alive. Surely nothing is too hard for our God. It would delight your heart, to see old and young flocking to the ordinances, in the most inclement weather, from one to five miles distant: at Pelican (nearly fifty miles from this) we met with an aged disciple called Haskins, who has gathered a little society; he was a member of Mr. Welsey's society in England near thirty years since: and enjoys the perfect love of God; he and we were much comforted and strengthened by this visit. In St. Johns a few soldiers and servants joined themselves in society, and though few and very poor, have built themselves a neat meeting house; we visited these also, their society prospers; they are Calvinists, but live the life of faith, and love is even manifest in their faces. The little society where I live, is at present in a very disordered state; the thorns and thistles are ready to destroy the good seed, the people are mostly very poor, the place in general growing more and more wicked, and a carnal minister makes them worse, so that those who are not of our society, will not even come to hear.

I continue to labour without intermission, though I meet with violent opposition both from within and from without, this last summer I have endured the most grievous trials I ever met with, through my dealings with evil men. The customs, manners and trade of this land is in my apprehension contrary to pure and undefiled religion: and it is remarkable that religion on these accounts flourish most in the winter season, when business is at a total stand. Blessed be God I am not yet quite overcome by mine enemies, though it sometimes seems as if all the powers of Hell were combined against me; I hope tribulation is working patience in me: my soul suffers on account of others; I feel their woes, I grieve for their faults, and I lament for their ignorance, carnality and spleen. May the Lord Jesus pity the few scattered sheep in this place, that the wolfe is ready to devour: O pray for us, call on all those with you, who love the Lord Jesus Christin sincerity and truth, to join you in storming the throne of Grace on our behalf, that we be not swallowed up by our enemies...I must entreat you to continue a correspondence so beneficial to me, let me have a letter in the spring, and O cheer my drooping spirits, for I am a poor creature, Lord help me:...may he forever dwell with you, and may you be useful to many others, as you have hitherto been to your unworthy Brother, but most grateful Friend.

JOHN STRETTON


13. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 18 Dec. 1779.

MY very Dear Sister Bennis's letter of last spring proved a comfort in time of need; blessed be my good God, I have this year experienced much of his goodness to me, and found his providential care over me in all my undertakings. The summer before last, all my property had like to be swallowed up the subtilty of wicked and designing men; who set themselves against me, because I openly reproved sin: they did me much hurt, but God has turned it to my good...Last January I was very near death with a quinsey, the effects of a severe journey taken that winter along this desart shore, doing I trust my Master's business. Last August I entered on a new business, having for the present given up the fishery, and commenced Shopkeeping; here I found that the hearts of all, even of the wicked, are in the hands of God, for instantly I had many of the gentlemen here ready to assist me: most of these a few months past were as ready to abuse me because I publicly condemned their doings; yet now they gave me encouragement without my seeking their good will; and what is better than all, God has blessed and is blessing my endeavours.

I am now jealous of my heart, business engages much of my thoughts, yet still I think that I would not give up my God for ten thousand worlds: O that I may never be guilty of the base idolatry, of worshipping the gift, and forgetting the giver.

With difficulty the professors here are kept together, and I think my business has not prevented my constantly attending on them every appointed time. Another remarkable Mercy I have to mention; the man that most grievously injured me last year, both in name and property, was last September taken Sick; on a Monday he was in a high fever, and wicked beyond description, blaspheming &c. on the brink of black despair: Tuesday night he sent for me, I forgave him all he had said and done to me, talked and prayed with him: that night and Wednesday he laboured under strong convictions; Wednesday night I sat by him expecting his death he was then calm and resigned; Thursday he was better, and rejoicing in God his Saviour. On Monday an Infernal, on Thursday a Saint: Behold! Admire the power of changing Grace. Since this he has joined our Society, and I hope will continue faithful; my Dear Sister my Spiritual Mother, my Best Friend; continue to pray for me, and cease not to comfort me by your affectionate advice. May the Lord bless you with every blessing of the Upper and Nether Spring, is the unceasing prayer of JOHN STRETTON 14. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 29 Jun. 1785. AFTER a silence of five years, I was exceeding glad to find, that my very Dear Sister Bennis, my mother, my friend was still alive; for I had heard you was removed to your eternal rest; but blessed be God you are yet spared to do more good in the earth:...I suppose you have lately seen Mr. Wesley, and possibly have had some conversation with him about me; I wrote to him last Fall, to send a preacher to this place, as the work of God seems to be at a stand here, and superstition and profaneness greatly increasing; he answered my letter, told me of Dr. Coke being in America, and said he would write to him to call here before he returned to England:...but he is not yet arrived:...surely if he comes, he will find this a desolate wilderness, and that it requires the spirit of martyrdom to carry on the work here: my Dear Friend and fellow labourer Arthur Thomey, who was instrumental in the conversion of many souls, and laboured incessantly many years in his Lords vineyard, is called hence to receive his eternal reward; he went to Portugal last November on business: just landed there, was in good health going to bed, and was found dead in the morning: you can hardly conceive what I have felt on this melancholy occasion; yet surely God is love, though I cannot see through this dark cloud!...O write to Mr. Wesley, not to forget us in this benighted corner; I know by experience that sweet persuasion dwells upon your tongue, and can you exercise it for a more beneficial purpose? let not these souls perish for lack of knowledge:...I still exercise my poor talents, but the society is broken up, and few come to hear me, and my present business prevents the excursions I used formerly to take:...yet blessed be God he keeps my own soul in peace, sweetly stayed upon him, and expectantly looking to him for a revival of his work even in this place; indeed were it not for this expectation, I should be tempted to return to Ireland: if it was the Lord's will, I would be glad to see you before you die; but may he direct...My Dear Sister, cease not pray for me while you breath: I really believe your prayers for me have been remarkably answered: O I cannot describe what a comfort it brings to my mind in the midst of afflictions, when I recollect, nay when I am sure, I have one faithful praying friend yet alive, may the Lord Jesus bless you, bless you in time, bless you in eternity, is the earnest prayer of your sincere friend and brother.

JOHN STRETTON


15. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 15 Nov. 1785.

I AM much obliged to my Dear Sister Bennis for yours of last August: the Lord has indeed supplied the place of Dear Thomey; for last month a preacher arrived here from London, sent by Mr. Wesley: his name John Magery; a good man, and a good preacher; I hope he will prove a blessing to this place.

We wanted one given wholly to the work; I see that a preacher should not be entangled with the affairs of this life. My heart is ready to accept your kind invitation, for be assured it is not the desire of geting rich that has kept me here; but I have been waiting to see the motion of the incumbent cloud. If I had left this, the very appearance of religion had vanished, and I dare not desert my post until lawfully discharged: yet if the Lord permits me to see Ireland, I would think little of travelling one hundred miles to see you: you who I may with propriety call my Mother in the Gospel: may the Lord encompass you with his favour as with a shield. You may well say you know the comfort of religious society, but I know very little of it, you can hardly conceive my situation in this respect, I may say that singly and alone, the Lord has enabled me to withstand the whole place where I dwell, but I am yet preserved by the power of God, through your prayers: blessed be God. Business prevents my enlarging at present. O let me partake of your thoughts, when you draw near to God.

December 12th, Every thing here appears so disagreeable to Mr. Magery, that I fear he will not abide long,--indeed whoever seeks ease or comfort is not likely to meet much of it in this Island.--Blessed be God who has so wonderfully kept and supported me for many years in much weakness, in many trials and sundry disagreeables, preaching a free Gospel in this dreary Region: but when I have been weak, then I was strong. An awful providence happened here this Summer, to a youth, whose family perhaps you know, the son of Mr. A.P. of Waterford: he had a violent fever in July, my soul was pained for him; he just recovered, was saved with the skin of his teeth; went on a party of pleasure (so called) on a Sunday, to an Island a little distance from this; rolled over the Cliff, and was taken up Dead, wounded, broken, bruised! I felt much on this occasion for I had a great regard for the youth, and had spoken much to him just before of the one thing needful: O when will the young take heed to their ways! fare well my dear Mother, forget not your Affectionate Son in Christ,

JOHN STRETTON


16. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 18 Nov. 1788.

MY Dear, old, faithful, afflicted friend: I did, I do sympathize with you in the furnace; but what can I say to mitigate the severity of the fire? May the Lord, the only good, the just, the wise be with you, while walking through the fire, and it shall not kindle upon you; by and by, Heaven will level all these distinctions in life, that men call fortunate and unfortunate; and then we shall with wonder see that nothing was snatched away from us but what would have hurted us, if left in our possession. But blessed be God, in the midst of affliction you abound in consolation also. O happy troubles, fortunate trials, blessed disappointments, that have turned all your family to seek the Lord, here is the answer of your many years prayers, the fruit of your many supplications; surely the Lord is with you, and the fire doth not, shall not kindle upon thee, he will uphold you with the right hand of his power, and you have seen, and shall see his great salvation.

I have nothing agreeable to write from this wilderness, Religion seems on the decline; for my part I am absolutely left alone, I have not ceased acting as a preacher, but the people have lost the form and power of Godliness; and though superstition and profanity abound yet still I continue to preach, and some few come to hear. Mr. Magery seems buried alive in Carbonear, he married a planters daughter, without her fathers consent, gave much offence, and his usefulness seems to be at an end. Temporal things have been unprosperous with me this year; but I hope my trust is not in the uncertain things that make to themselves wings, and fly away, let you and I stand still, and we shall see the salvation of our God! O blessed expression,--yes, Our God!

December 7th, I have just read over your last letter; I find it is through much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom of Heaven, you are drinking the bitter cup, but the Lord is holding your trembling hand and encouraging you to follow him through sufferings to glory: He has said (and can we doubt his word) all things shall work together for good to those that Love God: if so, the present dispensation is for good, for your good; for surely you can say with truth, "Lord thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee". I sometimes vainly wish that I was near you, to share your troubles, and mingle mine with yours, but were I to tell all the exercises of a public and private nature, that have agitated my spirits these two or three years past, it would require long time indeed, and I have not time to write it: Mr. John M'Geary came here as a preacher appointed by Mr. Wesley he came seemingly in the spirit of the Gospel full of love: He had natural talents for the work, and I gave him every help and encouragement in my power.

But Oh he laboured in vain, and left this place for England last month; nor do I know one professor or profane that wished his stay:...he brought upon himself multiplied vexations, and a flood of reproach upon the cause; I was constrained for the cause sake, and for my own credit sake, to keep at a distance from him for near a year past...In these troublesome times, with every possible discouragement, no friend or brother to assist, and reproach pouring down on the methodist name; I say with all this to discourage me, I began to build a meeting house in Harbour-grace, and opened it the last day of August this year: I built it at my own expense; for we have no society; and this is the only thing at present that keeps up the protestant name in this place: the protestant minister is worse than none, and few go to church, while Popery like a deluge sweeps away the rest:... In the midst of this I have to labour for the bread that perisheth, to suffer all the vexations, disappointments and fatigue, of a business the most precarious and perplexing perhaps in the world. But through all, my only comfort and support is this:..."I am not my own," I have already devoted myself, and all I have to God; to that God who openeth his hand and supplies the wants of an Universe:...this is the outlines, rather the preface to all I could tell you, were you siting where I now write, but you are not here! All we can do is to meet at the throne of grace in this world; by and by we shall meet in a better, to tell the labours of our feet, and various toils through all this vale of tears.

I have just wrote to the son of J.W. of Waterford to come out and preach the gospel here for one summer freely,...meeting such discouragement makes me fear, while I write on the subject...Is the young man fit for the work? Has he gifts and grace? do not let him come to do hurt; but O encourage him if he is likely to do good: may the next that comes be one that Christ the Lord shall send.

The Lord be with you, write me in the spring, and pray for your Son and Brother in the best of bonds.

JOHN STRETTON


17. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 18 Dec. 1790.

SHALL I again say, that I have sympathized with my very Dear Friend, in all these complicated troubles that have lately come upon you; but you know the mountains are high, and the vallies deep, the nearer the pilgrim is to mount Zion the city of our God. But as troubles abound, consolation also abounds; and what great consolation, to see all your children with their faces Zion-ward; is not this a greater comfort, than to see them rolling in gilded chariots to Hell? know this that all things shall work together for good to them that love God: have you not esteemed Him as your Chief Joy? cannot you still say, "Lord thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee" and then conclude that those exquisitely painful dispensations of his providence, are the very best things that could happen to you and yours: for "Crosses from his sovereign hand, are blessings in disguise".--I have felt your afflictions at many hundred miles distance, and have wept, and prayed for you: O what a mercy to have Jesus, a Saviour, a Friend, that was made for adversity, that sticketh closer than a brother; to fly to, in the hour of our distress: O leave all to him, trust him solely: he has, he does he will, turn all these seeming evils to you and your children's everlasting good; then shall you look back "and wonder at his grace, to all Eternity". I go on in a public way as usual; since I opened the meeting house, many attend on Sabbath evenings, but I cannot observe much good done; two or three were wrought upon last Winter, who seem still in earnest; but the general hurt done by the last preacher from Europe will not be easily recovered.

January 2, 1791. And is my Dear Sister Bennis, now a resident in Waterford, where I left her on a visit twenty years ago! few and full of evil have these days been with me in this dreary Region; and yet here I have been fed, and clothed by miracle, and here also the pillar of a cloud, was my guide, in this wilderness. Has not the same blessed and glorious guide, led you like old Jacob to see and bless all your children? and to rejoice in seeing Christ formed in the hearts of your offspring, and grace given to your children's children? surely your comforts are great, O rejoice in them, rejoice in him who is the Husband of the Widow, and who will never leave or forsake you: I thought before this time to be able to leave this land, but find myself year after year in the same place; I toil and toil for nothing; then I think I am placed here, if not for the defence of the gospel, at least to be a witness against, and reprover of the workers of iniquity: for O my friend, this place is like Sodom in every thing, but fulness of bread, and I am here alone, not one family heartily religious that I can associate with, or hold any profitable converse with all the dreary Winter.

Write to me next spring, and let me know all about you and yours, and O believe, you have a large share in the affection and prayers, of your truly sympathetic Son, Brother, and Friend.

JOHN STRETTON.


18. John Stretton to Eliza Bennis, Harbour Grace, 29 Nov. 1791.

Will it not rejoice my Dear Friend, to hear that the Lord has been pleased to revive his work in this place last August, in a most remarkable manner, through the instrumentality of a Mr. William Black from Halifax in Nova-Scotia: He is a ruling Elder in the Methodist Episcopal Church, came here on a visit, spent about six weeks amongst us, and then returned: while here many were converted, chiefly young people, and since his departure, I have gathered near sixty young persons, and many little children that have serious impressions on their minds....:This work was the most extraordinary I have ever seen, and as remarkable if particularized as in parts of the continent of America, that I have read of: O this is the day my soul has longed for, blessed be God for it, I could almost take up Simeons exclamation! surely he who has begun this great, this glorious work in the dreary wilderness, will carry it on, until this dark region is illuminated with Gospel light, knowledge and love: Amen.

Yours affectionately,

JOHN STRETON


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