The Conversion of John Warburton’s Wife
From John Warburton’s Mercies of a Covenant God.
For many years John Warburton’s great trial was that his wife, whom he had married when he was unregenerate, was a complete stranger to the things of God. Here he tells how his prayers were wonderfully answered.
O the blessings that broke through these clouds that I had so much dreaded [the death of a little daughter]! I never can tell a thousandth part of them, for there broke forth a blessing that I had prayed for for nearly twenty years; I mean the salvation of my dear wife.
When the dear Lord first set my soul at happy liberty, how her soul was laid upon my mind! O the wrestling that I had with the Lord that He would be pleased to open her eyes; and sometimes I received such blessed testimonies from His dear Word that my poor prayer was heard, and that the Lord would answer my request, that my soul rejoiced in the blessing, believing I should live to see it and prove my God to be a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering Jehovah.
But again, at other times it all appeared completely overturned, and fear would arise that she was a vessel of wrath, fitted for destruction. I wanted her to go and hear the preaching when she had an opportunity; but sometimes she would answer me very crossly, that I went after preaching and prayer meetings enough for twenty people; and she thought if people would mind their families, and do their duty, and trust to the mercy of God, it was quite enough.
O how these speeches used to enter my heart like a dagger!
Then my soul would go out again with such wrestlings that I felt as if I could sooner die than be denied the blessing.
One day in particular, which I think I shall never forget, before I began to preach, we were in sore trials in providence, as she had a child at the breast and had been a long time without anything to eat. I had taken my work home and been to the shop to get some provisions, and while they were getting ready she dropped down in a very severe fit, and for a long time I expected every moment she would be gone.
O how I staggered and reeled to and fro, and was at my wits’ end!
I cannot tell the feelings I had. But at length she came to herself and revived again, but for several days she was much affected by it. O the dreadful shakings I now had of soul! For here the devil set me hard and fast. “Look at your situation,” says he, “with five small children, you yourself over head and ears in debt, and your wife will never be able to do for them any more. God will take away her senses and the use of her limbs, and you will be brought to the workhouse, and die in black despair.”
O the bitter agonies of soul that I passed through for three or four nights and days no tongue can tell, nor pen describe.
But a little hope sprang up again that the Lord was able to cure her, and that He could prevent her having any more fits. And now I began to pray nearly from morning till night that the Lord would grant that she might have no more fits; but in a few days she fell down in another very severe one indeed. Now all hope seemed to be gone, and it appeared to me to be of no use to pray any more, for I thought God would never hear me.
What I passed through between two or three months, as nearly as I can recollect, God only knows, for she had sometimes one and sometimes two fits in a week. Sometimes I thought I could perceive, as I thought, her faculties much injured. O what scenes there were pictured before my eyes! Sometimes I thought I should see her deprived of her senses and of the use of her limbs, and then the devil roared again, “Where is your God? Where are your prayers? Now what do you think of her being a vessel of mercy? Where is your good hope now that you have talked about? The Word of God saith, ‘Hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart’; but you are ashamed of your hope.”
O how I sank down into the very pit of despair, and could only whisper, “Let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.”
And now the devil began to threaten that a thousand worse things should befall me if I dared either to mutter, groan, sigh, or even think Godward; but this I could not comply with, for groan I must, and I told him plainly that groan I must, if I was damned for my groans, for groaning was in my heart, and I could not silence it or the devil either.
So on I was obliged to groan, “Let not the pit shut her mouth upon me,” till one night when I had been to the prayer meeting, which I then attended as often as I could, and as I was coming home through the fields, my poor wife’s case respecting her affliction was so powerfully brought to my soul and came with such weight upon my poor heart that I felt it impossible for me to carry it any longer.
I got, therefore, into a large field, and went into the middle of it as nearly as I thought, and it being a very dark night, I thought none could see nor hear me but God.
Here I fell upon the ground with such a burden that I felt as if I could neither stir hand nor foot; and here I lay sighing, crying and wrestling with the Lord. I told Him and begged He would not be angry with me, but I assured Him I could not, I must not, I would not rise up from that place till He had answered my request.
I told Him that I must either have my request or die on the spot, when these words came to my mind as I lay wrestling with Him, “Let Me alone, for the day breaketh”; but my soul cried out, and my mouth, too, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.”
Here I lay quite passive in His hands for either life or death, and I said to Him, if it be more for His honour to deny me my request, and take my poor, weighted, burdened, distressed, afflicted soul out of the body, His will be done.
But by and by He came with such glory and with such majesty that my poor soul was quite overwhelmed with joy as He spoke the words, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
For a few moments I could neither speak nor stir, for His glory overshadowed me with such a weight of it, that for a few minutes I was quite lost. But He spoke again, and with the words, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt,” there came light and strength so that I could answer it. And O how my poor soul answered Him with such humility, “Lord, my request is that my dear wife shall have no more fits; this is my request; be not angry with me, but in tender mercy answer my petition.” He answered me with such a smile, “It is done as thou hast requested.”
O what confidence I felt that God had heard and answered my cries!
My body and soul leaped up like a giant refreshed with new wine. Not one devil was to be found, nor even heard to whisper, for the sun had risen upon my poor soul, and they had all gathered themselves together into their dens, and my delighted soul went to her work of praise and love to my dear God and Saviour; for I was like a bird let loose from the snare; the snare was broken, and I was escaped.
When I arrived home it was very late, and I found my wife in great fear and distress lest something had happened to me, but I told her that all was well and right. I could not help exclaiming, “Dear soul, you will never have another fit, for God has answered my prayers.” Poor thing, she exclaimed, “I wish you may tell true.” My heart and my mouth answered, “Blessed be my God! it is done, and the Lord hath told me so.”
It is now between thirty and forty years ago, and she has never had one fit since.
O the lovingkindness of a covenant God and Father!
How many times have I sung and enjoyed a few verses of Psalm 116: “I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplication. Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech Thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and He helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.”
Now I felt again sweet liberty in praying that He would open her eyes and bring her out of darkness into His marvellous light. And here I was crying that the Lord would save her soul; and as He had been kind enough to hear my poor prayers for her body, that He would hear me for her soul.
O the many times for the space of twenty years that my soul has believed that I should have the blessing! yea, and have thanked and blessed His dear name for it many years before I saw it manifested.
Sometimes I thought it was nothing but flesh and blood, and that all my tears and prayers arose from nothing but natural affections; but, blessed be God, I have lived to prove that they were prayers that were indited by the Holy Ghost, and I have had them blessedly answered to my soul’s satisfaction.
After I returned from Brighton [where he had been preaching], for several weeks I saw a great difference in my wife, but I thought it perhaps arose from losing the child, and would end in nothing but natural sorrow.
But one evening, poor thing, she was in such distress that she could not conceal it any longer, and burst out in a flood of tears, exclaiming, “O I am lost, I am lost for ever; and I believe my very senses are going, and I shall go mad.”
I told her that I hoped her senses were coming in the best sense of the word, and I asked her if her distress was about losing the child. “O no,” said she, “it’s my never-dying soul that will be lost for ever.”
I asked her how she began to think anything about her soul, when she told me that a little before I left home, before the child was taken ill, I was preaching about the awfulness of the ungodly being cut down in their sins, and the awful eternity that these poor souls would have to suffer, and feel the wrath of a just God, and I came out with this word three times: “O eternity, eternity, eternity!”
“O,” said she, “it entered into my heart like a sword, and I saw and felt that I was the one that must endure eternal wrath for ever and ever.”
O the joy that entered into my heart when she told me these feelings.
“Bless the Lord,” exclaimed my heart and tongue, “God is not showing thee these things to send thy poor soul to hell.”
I believed in my soul that it was the work of God, and I felt my heart sweetly opened to speak to her of the mercy, grace and kindness of a dear Jesus to every poor, lost, ruined sinner.
But the more I tried to comfort her, the more she cried out, “I am undone, I am undone! I am not of the number that He died for! O what shall I do? and whither shall I flee? O,” cried she, “I cannot see it possible how God can have mercy upon me.”
I could not help feeling keenly for her in her distress, but could not but bless and praise God that He had brought her to see and feel herself to be a poor, lost sinner; and I told her that God would in His own time reveal it to her joy and comfort that she was not only a lost sinner, but a saved sinner.
But, poor thing! she could not take this in till the happy time arrived that it took her in; and here she was shut up unto the faith that should hereafter be revealed.
Many times did the devil tempt her to put an end to her existence; but when the set time to favour Zion was come, God delivered her, and that preciously. I was attempting to preach from these words: “May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3. 18, 19); and as I was showing in my little way the characters that were interested in this love, God sent the word home to her heart, blotted out all her iniquities like a cloud, and assured her that He had loved her with an everlasting love, and that with lovingkindness He had drawn her.
O the joy and peace she came out of the chapel with!
We then lived out of the town, and generally called at the house of one of our deacons for a short time after evening service before we went home. The mistress of the house asked her if she would come on Tuesday, and take a cup of tea before the evening service, to which she answered quite freely and pleasantly, “Yes; if the Lord enables me I will.”
I turned my face and looked at her, and said, “How can you think about coming on Tuesday evening? What is there for you? You say you are out of the secret, and the things of God belong not to you.”
But she answered with a smile and a pleasant countenance, “Bless the Lord! I know what it is to feel the love of God, and I am sure that I am one of those that are interested in the love of God, for I feel its preciousness in my heart.”
O the blaze of glory that came into my soul that the day had arrived which I had so longed to see with my eyes and to hear with my ears! and O the melting of soul that I felt that God had answered my prayer, though the devil had so often told me I never should see it! But what struck me with wonder above all the rest was that He should make use of my poor mouth to pluck her out of the devil’s kingdom, and likewise to lift her soul from off the dunghill, and set her amongst the princes of His people.
I blessed Him, I thanked Him, I told Him He had well rewarded me for waiting twenty years, and I told Him that the blessing appeared too great for so worthless a wretch as I.
What happy and comfortable nights and days we had after this!
Everything appeared right for a time, particularly with my wife, and for a short time it was all love and praise with her. Bless God! He brought her and taught her in such a precious manner that we had one heart, one way and one voice in the things of God and truth.
By John Warburton
Mrs. Warburton died on May 21st, 1862, aged 86. Her last audible words were, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” In her last days she loved the hymn, “All hail the power of Jesus’ name,” and said, “Crown Him! Crown Him! I will crown
Him through a vast eternity.”