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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Spiritual Experiences of a Puritan

By Thomas Shepard (1605–1649)

[Born in Towcester, England, 1605. Died at Cambridge, Mass., 1649. A Private Diary Containing Meditations and Experiences. Written 1640.]

NOVEMBER 25. I found my heart and mouth straitened on the Lecture-Day, and for want of enlargement much troubled. Hence I essayed to humble my soul before God, which the Lord helped me to do in this Manner:

1. I saw the Vanity of Honor, and therefore, why should I be troubled for the loss of it by the want of enlargements?

(1) Because it was but a Conceit in men’s minds of itself.

(2) Because it was naturally most dear, and so stood between me and Christ.

2. I saw how fit it was, that the Will of Christ should be done, as well in denying, as in giving enlargements; though he should strip me naked of them and all other things.

3. When my heart objected, can you be content that Christ should lose his Honor, and his Ordinance be blemished by your straitening? I then saw I was to be content to want them in Regard of my own unworthiness; and so,

(1) To be vile in my own eyes for my sin, that moves the Lord to deny.

(2) To mourn that he should not glorify himself by me.

(3) Then to pray him the more earnestly to glorify himself by doing for me by his own Hand.

(4) I saw therefore that I should leave myself with the Lord for that end, with him who all had, and only did all….

January 9. As I was walking in my Study, musing on my Sermon in Q. 10. That God’s Mercy was himself, as his Justice also was; the one to the men that come to Christ; and to those that are out of Christ, the other. Hence I considered, when I come to Christ there is no Wrath or Justice to devour, but sweet Love. Wrath there is for refusing him, not else. It was then objected, But it is to the Elect only. The Lord let me then see I had nothing to do with that but to look on his Truth, which is to them that come to him, that he would stand as a Rock between the scorching Sun and their Souls. Hence my heart was sweetly ravished, and began to long to die, and think of being with him. And my heart said, Remember to comfort yourself thus, when you come to lie on your sick bed, to lie under this Rock, as in a hot Day. If one saw a Rock in a hot Day, should he say, That Rock will cool me if I be elected to it, and God has purposed it; so keep off in fears? No, God has purposed thus to be a Rock to all that come to him, and are drawn by his Love….

January 12. On Lecture-Day morning I began to feel my heart slight and vilify what I was to deliver. But the Lord put it into my mind, that though the truth is a poor, mean thing in itself, as every ordinance also is; yet very glorious, as it is appointed and separated of God for his own ends. Hence I came to see the glory of God’s ordinances, where it did lie; and that was, not in themselves, but in God’s sanctifying them for most sweet ends, to communicate his Presence and his lovely Pleasantness, and this love operating with power.

January 19. I saw my loose walking without God; and so was put to a stand, what to say of myself. I saw that hypocrites are far from humbling, because far from conviction: they hope something there is in them. But I brought my heart to consider thus, If my state is good, then there is cause of deeper mourning for abusing the Lord, so good; or my state is not good, and then there is cause of breaking because I am so wretched still; and so I went to prayer.

March 17. I began to question, whether Christians generally were so good as they seemed to be? I thought, [1] They were not so good as the Lord would have them to be, from two arguments. (1) From the want of assurance generally among men. Which argues God is angry, when he doth not appear according as he doth use to do to them who love his Name. (2) Because men are better generally under the rod, than under mercy. We see what an admirable Spirit there is under sore afflictions, which men cannot attain to, or keep, but then. Now [2dly] I thought that Men were not so good as they appeared to be, (1) Because very few are recovered to that frame before death, which God will bring them to, that get assurance. Few recover holiness by mercy, or feel the eternal good of sore afflictions. (2) Because many eminent professors fall off and fall away. If they continue long, by some trial or other they are made transparent. (3) Because, though others of less holiness may be upright; yet for us that have more means, not to be more holy and humble, nay not so humble and holy as those that want means, cannot stand with uprightness, generally. My counsel therefore is, Let all take Heed of being led by example of men, and thinking, We are good because we are like them that be so….

On the evening of this day before the Sacrament, I saw it my duty to sequester myself from all other things for the Lord the next day. And (1) I saw, I was to pitch on the right end, (2) on the means, all things to lead me to that end. I saw mine own ends were, to procure honor, pleasure, gain to myself and not the Lord: and I saw how impossible it was for me to attain those ends I should attain, viz., To seek the Lord for himself, to lay up all my honor, pleasure, etc., in him. Or if I did, it was for myself, because good unto me. So the Lord helped me thus. To see,

(1) If honor, pleasure was good; Oh, how good was he who gave them, and could have cut me short of them? And so my heart was raised up a little unto God.

(2) I saw my blessedness did not chiefly lie in receiving good and comfort from God, and in God; but in holding forth the Glory of God and his Virtues. For ’tis, I saw, an amazing, glorious Object, to see God in a Creature; God speak, God act; the Deity not being the Creature and turned into it, but filling of it, shining through it; to be covered with God, as with a cloud; or as a glass lantern, to have his beams penetrate through it. Nothing is good but God; and I am no further good, than as I hold forth God. The Devil overcame Eve to damn herself by telling her she should be like God, O that ’s a glorious thing! And should not I be holy, and so be like him indeed?

Hereupon I found my heart more sweetly drawn to close with God, thus as my end, and to place my happiness in it. And also I saw, it was my misery to hold forth sin and Satan and self in my course. And I saw one of those two things I must do. Now because my soul wanted pleasure, I purposed thus to hold forth God, and did hope it should be my pleasure so to do, as it would be my pain to do otherwise….

November 24. I felt over night much darkness and unbelief; and saw, that if Satan had once made us begin to doubt, he would hold us with doubts continually, about the Being of God and Truth of the Scriptures. And I saw the next morning this error; viz., That I did believe what the Lord spake, because I saw it agreeable to my reason, and so made that my last resolution of all doubts. And I began to think, how it should be otherwise? So I saw I was indeed to see the things God spake, in the reality of them, and in their agreement with reason, but not to make this the last resolution of doubts, though a resolution. But then, when I had seen things so agreeable to reason, yet to look upon God’s Testimony of them in Scripture as the last and chief Light and Ground of Settlement; and not to believe these things are true, because I see they are true, but to believe the Lord sees them more clearly than I: and he knowing them to be so, I see them so, and believe them upon his Testimony much more: For, if I believe any thing to be true because I see it so, much more because God saith it, who sees it better, and whose Word stakes me down, and confirms me in it.