Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pathos and Beauty

Among the examples of Puritan spiritual diaries, though the diary itself has been lost, that of Isaac Ambrose, extracted in part in his Media for the benefit of the reader, stands out as one especially worthy of contemplation and emulation. He speaks of this under the heading of "Experiences" and also "Self-Trial," and it is the latter which I cite below. These passages reflect, as one writer has described it in a biography of one of the greatest spiritual diarists of all (Oliver Heywood), the "pathos and beauty" of a soul that longs for more and encourages the same.

Joseph Hunter, The Rise of the Old Dissent, Exemplified in the Life of Oliver Heywood, p. v-vi:

The age of Mr. Heywood was peculiarly the age of diaries. There are many existing of his period; there are few earlier, and there are few later. They were part of the religious exercise of the devout of those days. One head of the advice given to him by his father when he entered the University was to keep a written record of his private meditations. Mr. Ambrose, a Puritan minister of Lancashire, Mr. Heywood's native county, had earnestly recommended the keeping of diaries as eminently serviceable to those who made it a principal object of their lives to establish themselves in all the thoughts and ways of piety; and in the book which he entitled Media, he gives a specimen of what, in his opinion, such diaries ought to be in extracts from his own. With such specimens before us we cannot but lament that the carelessness of later times should have suffered such a curious and valuable document to perish, for perished it is to be feared it is. There is a pathos and beauty in some of the passages which he has selected for publication, as when he speaks of his occasional retirements to his hut in "the sweet silent woods of Widdicre," which make one wish for more; and there is good historical information in what he relates of events in the civil wars, or of occurences in families, his contemporaries...

Prima, Media, et Ultima, or, The First, Middle and Last Things, Containing: Part I. The Doctrine of Regeneration, the beginning of a Godly Life. Part II. The Means, Duties, Ordinances, both Secret, Private, and Publick; for continuance and increase of a Godly life once begun, till we come to Heaven. Part III. Meditations on Life, Death, Judgment, Hell, the Sufferings of Christ, and Heaven. pp. 139-140:

To this purpose we read of many ancients that were accustomed to keep diaries or day-books of their actions, and out of them to take an account of their lives: Such a register (of God's dealings towards him, and of his dealings towards God in main things) the Lord put into a poor creature's heart to keep in the year 1641, ever since which time he hath continued it, and once a year purposes, by God's grace, to examine himself by it. The use and end of it is this;

1. 'Hereby he observes something of God to his soul, and of his soul to God. 2. Upon occasion he pours out his soul to God in prayer accordingly, and either is humbled or thankful. 3. He considers how it is with him in respect of time past, and if he hath profited in grace, to find out the means whereby he hath profited, that he may make more constant use of such means: or wherein he hath decayed, to observe by what temptation he was overcome, that his former errors may make him more wary for the future.'

Besides many other uses, as of his own experience and evidences, which he may, by the Lord's help, gather out of this diary.


The daily register of a weak unworthy Servant of Christ for some Years.

It may be expected, that I give some example hereof, wherein if I might any way advance Christ or benefit his church, though I lay in the dust, I should willingly publish and subscribe the daily register of a poor unworthy servant of Christ, indeed one of the meanest of his Master's family, for some space of time: As thus,

1651. MAY 13. I retired myself to a solitary and silent place to practice, especially the secret duties of a Christian: my ground is that of Cant. vii. 11, 12. Come my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, etc. there will I give thee my loves. 'The bridegroom of our souls, said Bernard, is bashful, and more frequently visits his bride in the solitary places.

MAY 14. In a pleasant wood, and sweet walks in it, the Lord moved and enabled me to begin the exercise of secret duties: and after the prolegomena, or duties in general, I fell on that duty of Watchfulness; the Lord then gave me to observe my former negligence, and to make some resolutions. I found the Lord sweet to me in the conclusion of the duty; Allelujah.

MAY 15. I fell on the duty of Self-trial, and in the morning confessed my sins before and since conversion, wherein the Lord sweetly melted my heart. In the evening I perused my diary for the last year, wherein many passages of mercies from God, and troubles for sin, etc.

MAY 16. In the morning I went through the duty of Experiences, and felt some stirrings of God's Spirit in my soul. In the evening I fell on the duty of Evidences, when I acted faith, and found my evidences clear. Oh how sweet was my God!

MAY 17. This day in the morning, I meditated on the love of Christ, wherein Christ appeared, and melted my heart in many sweet passages. In the evening I meditated upon eternity, wherein the Lord both melted, and cheered, and warmed, and refreshed my soul. Surely the touches of God's Spirit are as sensible as any outward touches. Allelujah.

MAY 19. In the former part of this day I exercised the Life of Faith, when the Lord strengthened me to act faith on several promises, both temporal, spiritual, and eternal. I had then sweet, refreshing and encouraging impressions on my soul against all the fearful, sinful, and doubtful dreams I had the night or two before dreamed. In the evening I considered the duty of Prayer, observed some workings of God's Spirit in my persuing the rules, and afterwards in the practice of this duty. Blessed be God.

MAY 20. In the morning I fell on Reading the word, perused the directions, and then searched into the 'common places and uses of my corruptions in nature and practice; of my comforts against the burdens of my daily infirmities; of establishing my heart against the fear of falling away: of directions in my calling; of comforts against outward crosses; of my privileges in Christ above all the wicked in the world: In every of these Christ appeared in some measure suitably to my soul. In the evening I proceeded in the common places and uses of sweet passages that melted my heart; of sensible comforts, and of places hard to be understood: In the first my heart was sweetly melted, in the second cheered, in the conclusion the Lord struck me with a reverence of his majesty and presence, filled my soul with spiritual refreshings, enlarged my heart with praises of him, and desires to live unto him, who hath given me in this time of love so many sweet visits, and kisses of his mouth, Allelujah.

MAY 22. Occasionally, though not in course, I fell on some parts of the duty of Self-denial: The Lord in mercy wrought in my soul some suitableness to that spiritual gospel-duty; 'Lord keep this fire up in a flame still. Oh it is a sweet, but a very hard lesson.'

MAY 31. I practised, as the Lord enabled, the duty of Saints-sufferings; into which condition as I was cast, so the Lord gave me to see my sin wherefore, and to bewail it, and to pray for the contrary grace and God's favour. The Lord was sweet to me in the preparations to, but especially in the improving of sufferings. Now the Spirit left in my soul a sweet scent and savour behind it. Allelujah. Amen, Amen.

I had proceeded in this diary, but that I doubt whether the knowledge of many such particulars may not prove offensive either to the weak or sinful. And I would not willingly occasion any matter of offense to those that are within or without the church. Thus much, only for edification and imitation, I have written. And though with David I declare what God hath done for my soul, Psalm lxvi. 16 yet with Paul, I ever desire to correct myself; I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.

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