Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Gift of Tears

Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick (1624-1678), was the wife of Charles Rich, daughter of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork (1566-1643), 1st Earl of Cork, and brother of Robert Boyle (1627-1691), considered to be one of the founders of modern chemistry. Puritan minister Nathanael Ranew was inspired to write his treatise entitled Solitude Improved by Divine Meditation (1670) by her example as he notes in the dedication:

The first occasion of this undertaking was from observation made of your exemplary and eminent practice of, and experienced sweetness felt in the breathings of your soul up this hill of holy meditation; it being so frequently, and with such complacency discoursed by you.

Her diary, written over a twelve year period, records her meditations and tells of many tears shed by a heart melted by the grace of God, exemplifying the words of David that "a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psalm 51.17). "The 1300 manuscript folios of the diary Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick, wrote between 1666 and 1678 are noteworthy for the many tears the countess shed sometimes two, even three times a day. In a Protestant culture inclined to disparage weeping as womanly and childish, hers is not simply an extreme worldly sorrow. The tears of a broken and contrite heart are for Rich ultimately godly sorrow, a traditional sign of the regenerate soul that has received the grace of God. Compunction, repentance, and sorrow are bound together in her seventeenth-century understanding of the grace and gift of tears." (Raymond A. Anselment, "Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick, and the Gift of Tears," Seventeenth Century, 22:2 (2007), 336.

Below is one Sabbath extract which is representative of her meditations and tears before God:

Sept. 23 [1666], Sunday morning. -- I rose very early and went into my closet, and upon reading that passage in Scripture of Christ's asking Peter whether he loved Him, and Peter's answering that He knew he love Him, God was pleased to melt my heart exceedingly, and to make me, with abundance of tears, to say, as he did, that He knew I loved Him above all things in heaven and earth. I felt the love of God made great work in my breast; then I went and meditated upon the passage of Christ, in order thoroughly to melt my heart; and God was pleased to encourage me to come to His table by bringing most sweet promises to my mind. I had great encouragement to come, by finding some inward persuasion that God, through Christ, would accept me; He was pleased then to give me sweet communion with Him. When I had prayed earnestly to God, and blessed Him heartily for giving me leave to come, I went to the chapel. In the prayer, the desires of my heart went out exceedingly after God. When the sacrament was brought to me, my heart did pant and breathe after it, and God was pleased to give a great deal of comfort in that ordinance, and much assurance of His love; I had then a lively sense of His love in my heart, and could steadfastly believe that I was my Beloved's, and He was mine. After the sacrament was over, I instantly went up from thence, while my heart was warm, to bless God, and to beg strength to keep the promises I had made of new obedience. God was pleased there to give me sweet communion with Him, and much soul- satisfaction. After the public duties of the day were over, in which my heart continued still to breathe after God, I did alone, in the evening, meditate upon the privileges of God's children, and upon His unchangeable love to them, which made the meditation of Him to be very sweet to me: then, after supper, I committed myself to God in a short prayer before bed-time. Lord, I bless Thee for this day; oh, that I might have many more such! . . . .

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