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THE CHALLENGE AND THE FIRST TASTE OF PRISON 1648-1649.
Now, as I went towards Nottingham, on a Firstday, in the morning, going with Friends to a meeting there, when I came on the top of a hill in sight of the town, I espied the great steeple- house. And the Lord said unto me, “Thou must go cry against yonder great idol, and against the worshippers therein.”
I said nothing of this to the Friends that were with me, but went on with them to the meeting, where the mighty power of the Lord was amongst us; in which I left Friends sitting in the meeting, and went away to the steeple-house. When I came there, all the people looked like fallow ground; and the priest (like a great lump of earth) stood in his pulpit above.
He took for his text these words of Peter, “We have also a more sure Word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts.” And he told the people that this was the Scriptures, by which they were to try all doctrines, religions, and opinions.
Now the Lord’s power was so mighty upon me, and so strong in me, that I could not hold, but was made to cry out and say, “Oh, no; it is not the Scriptures!” and I told them what it was, namely, the Holy Spirit, by which the holy men of God gave forth the Scriptures, whereby opinions, religions, and judgments were to be tried; for it led into all truth, and so gave the knowledge of all truth. The Jews had the Scriptures, and yet resisted the Holy Ghost, and rejected Christ, the bright morning star. They persecuted Christ and His apostles, and took upon them to try their doctrines by the Scriptures; but they erred in judgment, and did not try them aright, because they tried without the Holy Ghost.
As I spoke thus amongst them, the officers came and took me away, and put me into a nasty, stinking prison; 52 the smell whereof got so into my nose and throat that it very much annoyed me.
But that day the Lord’s power sounded so in their ears that they were amazed at the voice, and could not get it out of their ears for some time after, they were so reached by the Lord’s power in the steeple-house. At night they took me before the mayor, aldermen, and sheriffs of the town; and when I was brought before them, the mayor was in a peevish, fretful temper, but the Lord’s power allayed him. They examined me at large; and I told them how the Lord had moved me to come. After some discourse between them and me, they sent me back to prison again. Some time after, the head sheriff, whose name was John Reckless, sent for me to his house.
When I came in, his wife met me in the hall, and said, “Salvation is come to our house.” She took me by the hand, and was much wrought upon by the power of the Lord God; and her husband, and children, and servants were much changed, for the power of the Lord wrought upon them.
I lodged at the sheriff’s, and great meetings we had in his house. Some persons of considerable condition in the world came to them, and the Lord’s power appeared eminently amongst them.
This sheriff sent for the other sheriff, and for a woman they had had dealings with in the way of trade; and he told her, before the other sheriff, that they had wronged her in their dealings with her (for the other sheriff and he were partners), and that they ought to make her restitution. This he spoke cheerfully; but the other sheriff denied it, and the woman said she knew nothing of it. But the friendly sheriff said it was so, and that the other knew it well enough; and having discovered the matter, and acknowledged the wrong, done by them, he made restitution to the woman, and exhorted the other sheriff to do the like. The Lord’s power was with this friendly sheriff, and wrought a mighty change in him; and great openings he had.
The next market-day, as he was walking with me in the chamber, he said, “I must go into the market, and preach repentance to the people.”
Accordingly he went in his slippers into the market, and into several streets, and preached repentance to the people. Several others also in the town were moved to speak to the mayor and magistrates, and to the people exhorting them to repent. Hereupon the magistrates grew very angry, sent for me from the sheriff’s house and committed me to the common prison.
When the assize came on, one person was moved to come and offer up himself for me, body for body, yea, life also; but when I should have been brought before the judge, the sheriff’s man being somewhat long in bringing me to the sessions-house, the judge was risen before I came. At which I understood the judge was offended, and said, “I would have admonished the youth if he had been brought before me”: for I was then imprisoned by the name of a youth. So I was returned to prison again, and put into the common jail.
The Lord’s power was great among Friends; but the people began to be very rude: wherefore the governor of the castle sent soldiers, and dispersed them. After that they were quiet. Both priests and people were astonished at the wonderful power that broke forth. Several of the priests were made tender, and some did confess to the power of the Lord.
Coming to Mansfield-Woodhouse, I found there a distracted woman under a doctor’s hand, with her hair loose about her ears. He was about to let her blood,53 she being first bound, and many people about her, holding her by violence; but he could get no blood from her.
I desired them to unbind her and let her alone, for they could not touch the spirit in her by which she was tormented. So they did unbind her; and I was moved to speak to her, and in the name of the Lord to bid her be quiet; and she was so. The Lord’s power settled her mind, and she mended. Afterwards she received the truth, and continued in it to her death; and the Lord’s name was honored.
Many great and wonderful things were wrought by the heavenly power in those days; for the Lord made bare His omnipotent arm, and manifested His power, to the astonishment of many, by the healing virtue whereby many have been delivered from great infirmities. And the devils were made subject through His name; of which particular instances might be given, beyond what this unbelieving age is able to receive or bear.
Now while I was at Mansfield-Woodhouse, I was moved to go to the steeple-house there, and declare the truth to the priest and people; but the people fell upon me in great rage, struck me down, and almost stifled and smothered me; and I was cruelly beaten and bruised by them with their hands, and with Bibles and sticks. Then they haled me out, though I was hardly able to stand, and put me into the stocks, where I sat some hours; and they brought dog- whips and horse-whips, threatening to whip me.
After some time they had me before the magistrate, at a knight’s house, where were many great persons; who, seeing how evilly I had been used, after much threatening, set me at liberty. But the rude people stoned me out of the town, for preaching the Word of life to them.
I was scarcely able to move or stand by reason of the ill usage I had received; yet with considerable effort I got about a mile from the town, and then I met with some people who gave me something to comfort me, because I was inwardly bruised; but the Lord’s power soon healed me again. That day some people were convinced of the Lord’s truth, and turned to His teaching, at which I rejoiced.
Then I went into Leicestershire, several Friends accompanying me. There were some Baptists in that country, whom I desired to see and speak with, because they were separated from the public worship. So one Oates, who was one of their chief teachers, and others of the heads of them, with several others of their company, came to meet us at Barrow; and there we discoursed with them.
One of them said that what was not of faith was sin, whereupon I asked them what faith was and how it was wrought in man. But they turned off from that, and spoke of their baptism in water. Then I asked them whether their mountain of sin was brought down and laid low in them and their rough and crooked ways made smooth and straight in them, — for they looked upon the Scriptures as meaning outward mountains and ways. But I told them they must find these things in their own hearts; at which they seemed to wonder We asked them who baptized John the Baptist, and who baptized Peter, John and the rest of the apostles, and put them to prove by Scripture that these were baptized in water; but they were silent. Then I asked them, “Seeing Judas, who betrayed Christ, and was called the son of perdition, had hanged himself, what son of perdition was that of which Paul spoke, that sat in the temple of God, exalted above all that is called God? and what temple of God was that in which this son of perdition sat?” And I asked them whether he that betrays Christ within himself be not one in nature with that Judas that betrayed Christ without. But they could not tell what to make of this, nor what to say to it. So, after some discourse, we parted; and some of them were loving to us.
On the First-day following we came to Bagworth, and went to a steeplehouse, where some Friends were got in, and the people locked them in, and themselves, too, with the priest. But, after the priest had done, they opened the door, and we went in also, and had service for the Lord amongst them. Afterwards we had a meeting in the town, amongst several that were in high notions.
Passing thence, I heard of a people in prison at Coventry for religion. As I walked towards the jail, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “My love was always to thee, and thou art in my love.” And I was ravished with the sense of the love of God, and greatly strengthened in my inward man. But when I came into the jail where those prisoners were, a great power of darkness struck at me; and I sat still, having my spirit gathered into the love of God.
At last these prisoners began to rant, vapor, and blaspheme; at which my soul was greatly grieved. They said that they were God; but we could not bear such things. When they were calm, I stood up and asked them whether they did such things by motion, or from Scripture. They said, “From Scripture.” Then, a Bible lying by, I asked them for that Scripture; and they showed me that place where the sheet was let down to Peter; and it was said to him that what was sanctified he should not call common or unclean. When I had showed them that that Scripture made nothing for their purpose, they brought another, which spake of God’s reconciling all things to Himself, things in heaven and things in earth. I told them I owned that Scripture also; but showed them that it likewise was nothing to their purpose.
Then, seeing they said that they were God, I asked them if they knew whether it would rain to-morrow. They said they could not tell. I told them God could tell. I asked them if they thought they should be always in that condition, or should change. They answered that they could not tell. “Then,” said I, “God can tell, and He doth not change. You say you are God, and yet you cannot tell whether you shall change or no.” So they were confounded, and quite brought down for the time.
After I had reproved them for their blasphemous expressions, I went away; for I perceived they were Ranters. I had met with none before; and I admired the goodness of the Lord in appearing so unto me before I went amongst them. Not long after this one of these Ranters, whose name was Joseph Salmon, published a recantation; upon which they were set at liberty.