I take this opportunity of giving you a short Account of the dealings of God with my foul for a few years last past: together with some account of his work in Newfoundland.
In March, 1774, I left London, went down to Poole in Dorsetshire, and embarked for Newfoundland. My design was to work there, till I got enough money to pay my passage to New England; where I intended to keep a school for my living; to work out my salvation, and to spend my little remains of life (being in my fifty-fifth year) with the people of God; and, as far as I was able, to help forward the salvation of others.
When I was about fourteen years of age, I tasted of the love of God, and felt the powers of the world to come. From that time I had frequently strong desires to live to God; to give myself wholly unto him.
In 1746, I first heard the Methodists at Bristol. The word fell on my soul as dew on the tender herb. I received it with joy, and soon joined the Society. In about three weeks I received a clear sense of forgiveness; but soon fell into reasoning and doubting. Sometimes I was in heaviness through manifold temptations; and it was near ten years before I had the abiding Witness. Oh, how flow of heart to believe! and how unwilling to give up all to God!
After a passage of five weeks I arrived at Trinity, in Newfoundland. I saw myself indeed a poor pilgrim on the earth, having no money; nor did I know one person in the place. As I was walking about on the shore, seeing a few low, xxx houses, or rather huts, built with wood; and a rocky, desolate country: and mediating on the destruction which sin hath made in the world, I rejoiced exceedingly, that I was under the care and protection of an almighty and all-gracious God. Going by one of these houses, I heard a child cry; and thought, as there was a family, there might be some person with whom I might advise how to get into business: yet I was afraid, as I had been on board a ship with a crew of English, cursing, swearing, savages, left I should meet with the like people in this barren and uncultivated country. However I knocked at the door; when a woman, the mother of the family came out, and asked me and my son (a lad about sixteen who was with me) to come in. She gave us some Seal and bread to eat, and some coffee to drink, the best the house afforded. She then directed me to several places, where she thought I might get business. The Minister of the place advised me to keep a school at Old Perlican, a place seven leagues from thence, across the Bay. Accordingly I went in a boat to Old Perlican. The people received me, and were glad of one to teach their children; there being about fifty families in the place. They likewise desired I would read prayers, and a sermon to them on Sundays: there being no manner of public worship before; neither Sundays nor week-days.
I accepted the call, as from God, knowing it was my duty to do all the good I could, to the souls as well as bodies of my fellow- creatures. Accordingly I read the Church Prayers, and some of your Sermons, and sung your Hymns, by myself alone, for many weeks. For my congregation did not know how to behave in divine service; no not even to kneel in prayer, or to sing at all: but would stand at a distance and look at me, as if I had been a monster: and yet they called themselves members of the Church of England.
I then, according to my poor ability, began to explain to them, some parts of the Common-Prayer, the ARticles of the Church, and the most essential parts of the religion of the heart: such as repentance, remission of sins, and holiness. I insisted on the necessity of conversion. I told them, Ye must be born again; you must know your sins forgiven, or you cannot be saved; you must have the witness in yourselves: God's Spirit to witness with your spirit that ye are the children of God. From that spirit of faith and love, dwelling within you, will spring forth the fruits of good living, in all holiness of live and conversation; and you are to grow in grace daily, till you are finally renewed, and all that is within you is holiness unto the Lord.
Sometimes in reading the Sermons, I spoke a few words extempore, to make them (if possible) understand the meaning of what was read.
A few now began to be more serious, and would kneel in prayer, and help me to sing. Soon after, I perceived six or seven were awakened, and had a real desire to flee from the wrath to come. I advised them to meet together once a week, to help each other in working out their salvation, and told them I would meet with them. Accordingly we met on Sunday evenings. Our number soon increased to sixteen. And two or three in a little while testified that they knew their sins were forgiven.
About this time, Mr. Arthur Thomy, (an Irish merchant) came here on business. He advised me to preach extempore; which from that time I did, after my poor, broken manner.
About a year after, Mr. Thomy came and preached two or three times, and confirmed what had been spoken before.
Our Society is now increased to forty. Eight are believers: the rest are earnestly groaning for redemption.
A few days before Easter, in the year 1788, an uncommon circumstance occurred: a woman, named Honour Read, saw herself on the brink of hell. Suddenly a light darted down the chimney into the house where she was. Though it was in the night, the house, she said, was as light as in the middle of the day. Her husband, David Read, was a few nights after, visited in the same manner. They spend several whole nights in wrestling with God, for a blessing. On Easter-Sunday, after I had done preaching in the morning, a few of us stayed in the house. Honour Read began to speak of what God had done for her soul. Six or seven cried out aloud, "What shall we do to be saved?" They then kneeled down, praying and crying so loud, that it alarmed the neighbourhood. Several came to know what the matter was? They stood amazed, and could say nothing. I kneeled down, and endeavoured to pray with them: and then I stood up to sing a verse or two of a hymn; but their cries drowned my voice, so that I could not be heard for near half an hour. The person who first spoke, found a clear manifestation of God's love to her soul. So did several others also: and most of them hold their confidence still, and evidence the truth of it in their life and conversation.
The winter before last, while I was in England, the Spirit of the Lord was among them in an uncommon manner. They met together, as usual, twice a week (besides Sundays) to strengthen each others hand in God. About the middle of January, there was a very extraordinary out-pouring of the Spirit upon them, and it spread throughout the whole harbour. The great point they fought to know, was the forgiveness of their sin. And those who expected it, cried to God and received it in a very short time. In about a month, thirty believers were added to the little number we had before, and twenty to the Society. When they were met together for prayer, which they did then almost every evening, there was such a crying out for mercy as astonished all who heard, or saw them. So long and earnest, were they in prayer; sometimes four or five hours together. And they could not rest till they clearly knew that their sins were all washed away.
Upon one person (a young man, an under Agent to a merchant, Mr. Lester, of Pool) convictions wrought so strong, and afterwards the love of God was poured into his soul in so full a manner, that some thought him almost delirious: on which his deputy Master took him away by force, and has since sent him to England.
Several children, and young persons were greatly affected: and come soon to know the love of God. My son also at that time, received remission of sin. A lad about fifteen, when his father wanted to send him in a boat to work on a Sunday, wept and fell into fits. His father is since convinced and converted, and is become a new man. His mother also and two of his brothers are earnestly seeking salvation.
A woman, fifty-seven years of age (mid-wife to the parish) who could not read a letter in a book, was convinced, and found redemption, in a wonderful manner. She said, she saw as it were, her sins all laid before her where she was kneeling down, and then that they were all taken away in a moment: she continued praying, and praising God from that time, till the last moment of her life. Yea so earnest and servent were her prayers and praises, that not content to pray in the house, she would frequently, in the night, go out and kneel down in the snow, and pray to and praise God.
I visited her in her last sickness, when she was strong in faith giving glory to God. She said, she saw angels about her, ready to carry her to her Saviour, whom she saw waiting to receive her. I asked her which she would choose, to die now, or to recover and live longer with us? She said, if it was her Saviour's will she should live longer, she would submit: but would rather die and go to him. She often said in her sickness, the stronger her pain was, the greater was her joy.
She lay ill about a fortnight, and then sweetly fell asleep in Jesus, without a groan or a sigh. From the time of her conversion to her death, was about six months.
August 10, 1780. Three weeks after, another sister died happy in God. In her last sickness, some of her neighbours, who were self-righteous, came to see her. She shouted them, with great earnestness to repent: and told them if they did not, they would go to hell -- Though she had some conflicts with the enemy, she had not a doubt of the love of God in all her illness; which was about three weeks. Hearing of the work of God, in this place, people from several harbours (or parishes) many miles distance, came purpose to enquire, and to see into the truth of it. Five or six from a village eight miles off, (called Island-Cove) have been here, and heard, and felt for themselves the truth as it is in Jesus. They have now built a house for divine service in their own place, where they meet together to worship God in spirit and in truth. There are thirty of them joined in Society; twenty are believers, the rest (almost the whole place) are seeking the Lord.
Blessed be the Lord, his work goes on swiftly here, and in several parts of this island; but in Harbourgrace and Carbonear, where Mr. Coughlan laboured, it is dwindled almost to nothing, chiefly by means of Calvinism and Antinomianism. I must beg your prayers for me, that I may not hinder his work. For I am a poor, weak, and helpless creature: slow of heart to believe; unable to do any thing for God as I ought, or would. But there is one circumstance that gives me encouragement; we are despised and persecuted for Christ's sake. Our enemies have threatened to pull our church down; and the merchants have given out, that they will send me out of the country.
At the time God wrought powerfully on the souls of the people, they send for Mr. Thomy. He came near fifty miles, and preached to, and exhorted them to continue in the faith; when God blessed the word to many souls. But the enemy stirred up some of the Irish to persecute him. Accordingly several of them came on evening, armed with clubs, and swore they would kill him. While he was preaching they came into the church, and one, with his club, struck at him, in order to cleave his skull; but missed him, and struck the candlestick. The people then got between and pushed them off. As he was going to his lodgings, several more, with clubs, came in fury, like men athirst for blood, and swore they would kill him. They foamed at the mouth, and came towards him, crying, Where is he! where is he! But, though he passed by, very near to them, they could not see him: so he got away from them unhurt.
About the middle of August, 1780, I went over to Trinity, with an intent to preach there. And though many were willing to hear, they were afraid to let me have a house to preach in. However, I went to several of their houses, and conversed about the ways of God, and gave them some books. After staying three or four days, I went to one of the Merchants, to ask him to let me go in one of his boats that was going to Perlican. I was informed by his Clerk that he was on board one of his ships in the harbour. I went on board in order to speak to him. Presently one of the sailors came to me and said, Will you preach us a sermon? The next salutation was, a dab in my face with the tar-brush, full of tar. Then one or two of them held me behind, while two or three more daubed me, almost all over with tar: the rest looking on: the Merchant and Captain were below in the cabin at the same time -- I heard afterwards that the Merchant said, if they had asked him, he would have given them feathers to have feathered me all over.
When they loosed me, I got into the boat that carried me on board, in order to go on shore, when they threw a piece of wood after me: but it did not hurt, being guided by an unseen hand. They then cursed me, and said, You will preach that people will be damned, will you? When we see you on shore we will make an end of you. All that I said to them, from first to last, was, What harm have I done to any one of you? To which they made me no answer. The Merchant and Captain being asked about it, were ashamed; and said, if they had known, I should not have been used so.
The next day some of the sailors went about looking for me: one of them went with a knotted rope in his hand, to beat me, or any of the converts (as they called the people) that the, could find. As I was walking about, looking for a boat, not knowing their design, I went by Him with the knotted rope; but he was asleep on the ground. When he awoke, he went in quest of some of the converts; and coming where some men were standing, one pointed to a poor man, signifying he was one of them. On this the sailor took hold of him, and beat him in a terrible manner. The poor man prayed him not to beat him so: assuring him, he was no convert, neither came from Perlican; but from English Harbour, (a fishery about three leagues from Trinity.) As for me, all the boats in the harbour were forbid to take me in; however, one from Perlican came by stealth, and took me away.
I am now old and grey headed; and it is time to make the most of the few days I may have left, to the glory of God, and the benefit of my own soul.
As to the necessaries of life, I am in some measure provided for at present by the poor people here. Many who have but little food and raiment for themselves, gladly give me a port of that little, out of love to God and their own souls: but more they cannot give. As to any thing farther I leave it with you, Sir, to do as you think best. But if you can do no more, you will please to write me a few lines of instruction and advice, which I want very much.
I cannot conclude without informing you that this Summer I went over to Trinity, where I was so used last year, and made a second attempt to preach there. The day after I arrived, which was Sunday, I gave away at the Church-door, about twenty little books. The people received them very thankfully. Every day the week after I visited from house to house, when many were inquisitive to know what this new Religion (as they called it) was? The next Saturday in the afternoon, I put up a paper on the Church- door, to give notice, that if there was no preaching in the Church, I would preach in the Church-yard at Eleven o'clock in the forenoon on Sunday. Accordingly I went at the time appointed. But the flag was hoisted, and the Church-doors were opened for service, though there had been no service in the forenoon all the summer before. I went into the Church, and about six persons with me. We sat some time, but no Preacher nor people came. (The man the reads there is a fisherman, who does it for part of his livelihood.) I therefore sang some verses of a hymn, and kneeled down to pray. While I was at prayer, a person, who calls himself the Constable, came and laid hold on me, and said, I must go with him before the Justice. He pulled out a paper and read it to me, wherein was an order the no person should preach in the Church-yard, which was the property of the people of the harbour. When I came before the Justice, he said he sent for me, to warn me not to preach in the Church-yard. I told him, if any one would let me have a house to preach in, I would not. He asked me by what authority I went about preaching? I took out my Bible and told him my commission was in that book. He did not insist upon seeing it, but told me he could not hinder me from preaching in any house, or out of doors on Rider's hill, or any where else about the harbour, so I did not cause any riots. I said, I did not cause any riots, but endeavoured to promote peace and good-will amongst men. He said, he advised me for my own safety, to keep myself out of danger; for there were some sailors, and other rude fellows, who purposed to abuse me; and as he was a Justice of the Peace, he must endeavour to prevent riots, or any disorder in the harbour. He also said he would have punished the men that abused me so on board the ship last year, if I had complained to him. The Constable and he then went out of doors, and I followed them, and came away without any hurt.
In the afternoon, a man came to me and asked me to go home with him, and told me I should be welcome to preach in his house. Accordingly I preached that evening to a small congregation, who behaved very devout and attentive all the time, and expressed a desire to hear again. I therefore preached on Monday evening: when they came again, and several of their neighbours with them. We had a comfortable meeting, and the power of God was present. I believe the word sunk into many hearts. The next evening, I preached again, and (as I understood afterwards) soon after I began, the house was beset with sailors and others. But I continued speaking, and finished in great peace.
I now beg to hear of the progress of the gospel in London, and how the work in general goes on; which will be an encouragement in the little flock here, and
Rev. and dear Sir,
To your unworthy Son in the Gospel,
Old Perlican, Newfoundland
October 15, 1781.