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have by divine grace been enabled hitherto to keep. I went immediately to visit the survivor: and the affecting sight of one person already dead, and another expiring, in the same chamber, served more deeply to impress my serious convictions: so that from that time I have constantly visited the sick of my parishes, as far as I have had opportunity; and have endeavoured, to the best of my knowledge, to perform that essential part of a parish minister's duty.
Some time after this, a friend recommended to my perusal the conclusion of Bishop Burnet's History of his own Time,' especially that part which respects the clergy. It had the intended effect: I was considerably instructed and impressed by it. I was convinced that my entrance into the ministry had been the result of very wrong motives, was preceded by a very unsuitable preparation, and accompanied with very improper conduct. Some uneasiness was also excited in my mind concerning my neglect of the important duties of that high calling: and though I was enslaved by sin, and too much engaged in other studies, and in love with this present world, to relinquish my flattering pursuit of reputation and preferment, and to change the course of my life, studies, and employments; yet, at intervals, I experienced desires and purposes, at some future period, of devoting myself wholly to the work of the ministry, in the manner to which he exhorts the clergy.
All these things increased the clamorous remonstrances of my conscience; and at this time I lived without any secret religion, because, with
out some reformation in my conduct as a man and a minister, I did not dare to pray. My convictions would no longer be silenced or appeased; and they became so intolerably troublesome, that I resolved to make one more effort towards amendment. In good earnest, and not totally without seeking the assistance of the Lord by prayer, I now attempted to break the chains, with which Satan had hitherto held my soul in bondage: and it pleased the Lord that I should obtain some considerable advantages. Part of my grosser defilements I was enabled to relinquish, and to enter upon a form of devotion. Formal enough indeed it was in some respects; for I neither knew that Mediator through whom, nor that Spirit by whom, prayers are offered with acceptance unto the Father; yet, though utterly in the dark as to the true and living Way to the throne of grace, I am persuaded there were even then seasons when I was enabled to rise above a mere form, and to offer petitions so far spiritual, as to be accepted and answered.
I was now somewhat reformed in my outward conduct; but "the renewing in the spirit of my "mind," if begun, was scarcely discernible. As my life was externally less wicked and ungodly, my heart grew more proud; the idol self was the object of my adoration and obeisance; my worldly advancement was more eagerly sought than ever; some flattering prospects seemed to open, and I resolved to improve my advantages to the uttermost. At the same time every thing tended to increase my good opinion of myself: I was treated with kindness and friendship by persons from whom I
had no reason to expect it; my preaching was well received; my acquaintance seemed to be courted; and my foolish heart verily believed that all this and much more was due to my superior worth while conscience, which, by its mortifying accusations, had been useful to preserve some sense of unworthiness in my mind, was now silenced, or seemed to authorize that pride which it had before checked. And, having the disadvantage of conversing in general with persons who either favoured my sentiments, or, from good manners, or because they saw it would be in vain, did not contradict me; I concluded that my scheme of doctrine was the exact standard of truth, and that by my superior abilities I was capable of confuting or convincing, all who were otherwise minded. In this view of the matter I felt an eager desire of entering into a religious controversy, especially with a Calvinist : for many resided in the neighbourhood, and I heard various reports concerning their tenets.
It was at this time that my correspondence with Mr. Newton commenced. At a visitation, in May 1775, we exchanged a few words, on a controverted subject, in the room among the clergy, which I believe drew many eyes upon us. At that time he prudently declined the discourse; but a day or two after he sent me a short note with a little book for my perusal. This was the very thing I wanted and I gladly embraced the opportunity, which, according to my wishes, seemed now to offer-God knoweth, with no inconsiderable expectations that my arguments would prove irresistibly convincing, and that I should have the
honour of rescuing a well-meaning person from his enthusiastic delusions.
I had indeed by this time conceived a very favourable opinion of him, and a sort of respect for him; being acquainted with the character he sustained even among some persons who expressed a disapprobation of his doctrines. They were forward to commend him as a benevolent, disinterested, inoffensive person, and a laborious minister. But on the other hand, I looked upon his religious sentiments as rank fanaticism; and entertained a very contemptible opinion of his abilities, natural and acquired. Once I had the curiosity to hear him preach: and not understanding his sermon, I made a very great jest of it, where I could do it without giving offence. I had also read one of his publications; but, for the same reason, I thought the greater part of it whimsical, paradoxical, and unintelligible.
Concealing therefore the true motives of my conduct under the offer of friendship, and a professed desire to know the truth, (which, amidst all my self-sufficiency and prejudice, I trust the Lord had even then given me ;) with the greatest affectation of candour, and of a mind open to conviction, I wrote him a long letter; purposing to draw from him such an avowal and explanation of his sentiments, as might introduce a controversial discussion of our religious differences. The event by no means answered my expectation. He returned a very friendly and long answer to my letter; in which he carefully avoided the mention of those doctrines which he knew would offend me. He declared that he believed me to be one who
feared God, and was under the teaching of his Holy Spirit; that he gladly accepted my offer of friendship, and was no ways inclined to dictate to me; but that, leaving me to the guidance of the Lord, he would be glad, as occasion served from time to time, to bear testimony to the truths of the gospel, and to communicate his sentiments to me on any subject, with all the confidence of friendship.
In this manner our correspondence began; and it was continued, in the interchange of nine or ten letters, till December the same year. Throughout I held my purpose, and he his. I made use of every endeavour to draw him into controversy; and filled my letters with definitions, inquiries, arguments, objections, and consequences; quiring explicit answers. He on the other hand, shunned every thing controversial as much as possible, and filled his letters with the most useful and least offensive instructions; except that now and then he dropped hints concerning the necessity, the true nature, and the efficacy, of faith, and the manner in which it was to be sought and obtained; and concerning some other matters suited, as he judged, to help me forward in my inquiry after truth. But they much offended my prejudices, afforded me matter of disputation and at that time were of little use to me.
This however is certain, that, through the whole of the correspondence, I disputed, with all the arguments I could devise, against almost every thing which he advanced; and was very much nettled at many things that he asserted. I read great part of his letters, and some books which he