The Author's Birth and Parentage and Manner of Life for the First Seventeen Years

WHEREAS it is now my intention to set forth in order before the Church of Christ, an account of the gracious dealings of God with my soul, from the commencement of my inward trouble and distress from a sense of sin and of my lost condition; surely a recital of some little things connected with the few first years of my natural life will not be irrele­vant; especially as it is my wish that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ should appear with all the advantages which it assumed when it rescued my soul from ruin. Besides, grace stands so high in my estimation, that I am willing to set forth its aboundings in a way as answerable to its vast worth as I am capable of; and thankful I am to Almighty God, that I have here something to say in commenda­tion of that special grace which saveth sin­ners from endless woe, and which hath raised me from a low condition, that I “should walk in newness of life,” Rom. 6. 4.

A change so radical, and so vastly impor­tant as this, and which nothing could have ef­fected but divine grace, ought to be published in the streets of Zion for the encouragement of souls in distress, and to gladden the hearts of those who love to hear grace talked about. And I wish many may be found to read this little work, that will feel disposed to give God the praise for the grace given unto me a sin­ner lost and undone. I however, am willing to “show to the generation to come, the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and the won­derful works that he hath done,” Psa. 78. 4.; and also to let men know what is the ground of my hope and rejoicing in the Lord of glory. Yea, I think my public standing in life as a minister of the gospel, and as an author, and an extensive traveler, make it incumbent on me to state publicly what God hath done for my soul.

If it be requisite for a man who is sent by an earthly court on some important embassy, that he produce good and sufficient creden­tials; surely it becomes much more requisite for a messenger whom God sendeth to declare his will to gospel Zion, that he show his au­thority to be from heaven, and to make it ap­pear that he runneth not in vain: “for not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth,” 2 Cor. 10. 18.

And hence I feel myself in conscience bound, to show to Zion at large what her God and Saviour hath wrought for me; and I wish the saints of Christ to consider this account of the work of the Lord on my soul, as my standing credential for preaching and writing in the name of the Saviour of sinners.

I was born in the month of October 1780, in the parish of Dunsfold in the county of Surry, and between thirty and forty miles from the city of London. My parents had fourteen children born to them, seven sons and seven daughters, and all but one lived to be men and women, and of the whole num­ber I was the last. It was rather in an unu­sual degree of sorrow that my mother brought me forth, and much sorrow has fallen to the lot of her youngest child; but worse it would yet have been with him, had not the Lord cast a propitious eye upon him and interfered on his behalf. And as this interference of grace in my favor, was not owing to any worth or worthiness on my part; so in early life I became a debtor to God’s distinguishing grace, and the inference now must be, “even so Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight,” Matth. 11. 26. I know not but the Lord might have raised large revenues of glory to him­self out of my eternal ruin, if it had been his pleasure so to have disposed of me; but that he should prefer the magnifying of his mercy in my salvation, can be attributed to nothing short of grace; and to this grace, every thing in the matter of my soul’s salvation, must be referred.

To all human appearance, my life was suspended on so slender a thread at the time of my birth, that all the attention which on such occasions is usually paid, was wholly with­holden from me, and I was laid aside as one whose stay in this world was but for a few hours. But although my body was thus ne­glected by my mother’s attendants, yet they made, as they thought, a very praiseworthy effort to secure my soul a place in the para­dise of God, by getting the clergyman of the parish to christen me forthwith. However, I have still some good reason to conclude this effort was not mixed with faith in those who made it, seeing it proved abortive and left my soul as much exposed to divine vengeance, as if the effort had not been made. And thus my soul, which they thought to screen from the storm of wrath, was left naked to devour­ing fire, while my body, which they neglected, was raised to vigor and health. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord,” Isa. 55. 8. And hence in my instance, the Lord raised up one, “and him as good as dead,” Heb. 11. 12, to carry tidings of life to men “dead in tres­passes and sins,” Eph. 2. 1.

My parents were of the High Church, and I was trained up in all the outward rites and ceremonies of that national establishment: and going to church once on a Sunday, and sometimes, reading a few portions out of the Common Prayer Book, was nearly or quite all the religion I saw among those people for the first Seventeen years of my natural life. As for a change of heart by the grace of God, or the spirit of the Lord quickening a dead sinner and enlightening his mind and bringing of him to see his lost and ruined state before God, and of receiving pardon and peace by Christ Jesus, and being made to rejoice in hope of the glory of God; I heard nothing of from the pulpit nor from any other quarter; nor have I any good reason to think that there was a person in all the parish that knew or understood any of those matters, or that was acquainted even with the letter of divine truth, to say nothing about the teaching of the Holy Spirit. I have every reason to be­lieve that the parson of the parish and all his parishioners, were in palpable darkness as to spiritual and eternal things, and as far from an experimental acquaintance with Christ Jesus and him crucified, as if they had been Pagans or Turks. And in all this darkness and ignorance I was raised, for the blind were leading of the blind, and all were satisfied with their situation. A frightful picture is this for a christian community!

As I was christened, and that too twice over, so likewise I had a godfather and a god­mother; and they in my name promised and vowed to renounce the devil and all his works, and the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and all the sinful desires of the flesh, etc. But I be­lieve the whole of this ended as did the christening, for I grew up in love with the works of Satan and with the vain and sinful maxims of carnal men, and was left to follow the course of this world, and to be taken cap­tive by the devil at his will. Indeed, I was suffered to wander an alien from Christ, hav­ing no hope and without God in the world; and as prone was my nature to go astray from the right way of the Lord, “as the sparks fly upward.” But I would here observe, that as I recovered from the low and dangerous con­dition in which I was born, so in the course of time, and according to the order of the High Church of England, I was taken to church and there publicly christened over again; and hence, “if any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more,” Phil. 3. 4; and yet, trust in the flesh I cannot, since “all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away,” 1 Peter, 1. 24.

We are told that “the Lord maketh poor and maketh rich,” 1 Sam. 2. 7; and poor, yes, very poor were my parents, and great at times were the sufferings of their little ones, arising from this state of great indigence. As my parents found it impossible for them to maintain so large a family of children, they applied to the parish for relief; and although some aid was granted them from that quarter, and also many private favors bestowed on them from time to time; yet notwithstanding all this, they for many years were bowed down under the weight of poverty. And with re­gard to schooling, we young ones got but little, and some none at all. I was favored with a small share of that blessing; and small as it was, I wish to feel thankful to the Lord for the indulgence, as it at least laid a founda­tion for future improvement. I remember going to two different schools, and the last was to a woman by the name of Stillwell, who I believe could teach children no farther than just to read a little; and hence the full extent of my learning from any of my fellow creatures, was that of my being able, though in a very broken manner, to read some of the more easy chapters in the New Testament. And thus of literature I had none then, nor have I any now, to be proud of. And yet upon the whole I have no just cause to com­plain on this ground, seeing it might have been much worse with me in my early days than what it was. Extreme poverty in child­hood and youth, though painful to nature, and otherways disadvantageous, makes and leaves some impressions on the mind which are very useful in future life. So I have found it to be, and I am thankful for the same; not thankful that I am illiterate, but thankful for the lessons which I have learned from poverty’s vale. I here also may venture to say, that what little I now know of literature has sprang from self-teaching, with the exception of the little I learned at the two schools above mentioned.

In those my early days, I at times have had such strange views, and thoughts, and feelings, in relation to a future state, that I have almost been beside myself; for what it all could mean, or what it arose from, or would end in, I knew not. Thoughts concerning eternity, or a world without an end, have so swallowed me up that I could scarcely tell what or who I was. I have also been dis­tressed almost out of measure because no one would come unto us from the dead to let us know to a certainty about whether or not there were such places as heaven and hell. Oh! thought I, if one would but just come from the dead and say the word, then all the dis­putes in my mind would be settled, and be might go directly back again. And I won­dered much that in all the many years the world had stood, and among so many people who had died, that not one of them all should be found to return to give us information concerning so solemn a subject. I have fretted and thought hard that there should be such a deficiency among the dead as not to let us know about this matter. By frightful and despairing dreams ii have also suffered much; for I have dreamed that the rooms where I had been were full of devils and evil spirits, and a darkness which I could no more pass through, or in any way remove, than I could a mountain. I two or three times dreamed this same dream over again, and it made strange work in my mind.

I also in those days experienced some very narrow escapes from death in different ways, which manifestly declared the providential care of the Lord over me when in a blind and ignorant state; but I saw not the hand of God in those matters, though at times he hath made me tremble by causing death and another world to make so powerful a seizure of my mind as to cause me to look with dread on futurity. But how any one could avoid sinking down into a world of misery, I knew nothing about; nor was there, as I said before, any person in the parish as I ever heard of that could teach me the way of life. And thus I had to stumble upon the dark mountains without a guide for my feet. But still I believe that God’s eye was upon me, and that in my wanderings, he never once lost sight of me, but followed me with judgments and mercies, and took special care of me when I could not fake care of myself.

I was in a wilderness dark and dreary; even a wilderness where there were no straight paths for my feet, nor goodly tents to dwell in, nor goodly fruits on which to feed, nor goodly heritage wherein to abide, but all the land was empty, void and waste, Job. 12. 13; Num. 24. 5; Jer. 11. 6; Psa. 16. 6; Nahum, 2. 10. And my own heart was in exact accordance with the land in which I lived, and yet the care of the Almighty was exercised towards me. I vexed his Holy Spirit, and yet he cut me not off. I rebelled against him, but still he forsook me not. I was wayward in my track, yet suffered he my manners in the wilderness. Surely there must have been thoughts of peace in his heart tome-ward, or how else am I to account for his long forbearance with me?

About this time I was taken from school, but why I know not unless the poverty of my parents compelled them so to do. I was then obliged to forage the fields and lanes for wood to burn, as that article was too dear for my poor parents to buy, and almost too scarce for their poor son to find. But this little change in my situation was greatly approved of by me, as my range was much more extensive and things around me appeared less gloomy than when I was at school. But still this way of living was attended with some ill consequences, for I became more loose and profane in my manners, and soon lost what little I had learned at school. But at times my conscience would be troubled about many things, and the thoughts of eternity would much depress my spirits and spoil my vain sport, nor could I tell what ailed me. Being at one time at play with other boys, my pleasure was checked all at once by my thoughts being hurried away into another world; and so far was I overcome by it, that I withdrew a few paces from my companions and stood like a statue for some considerable time, and so absorbed was my mind that I was pretty much insensible to things around me. At last I came to myself a little, and one of the boys came to me and asked me what had been the matter with me; I told him the devil had taken me away for awhile but he had now brought me back again and I should resume my sport.

It was not long that I continued living in this way, for my father called me in from the fields to learn his trade, and here I was kept close, which soon became a burden to me, for I was given to be wild and much prone to sin and vanity, and was often uplifted with the idea of arriving to a state of manhood, when I thought I should be able to sin with a high hand and go on in a course of vice without any restraint or remorse of conscience, and also indulge myself in whatever pleasures and sport that would best suit my nature. I have looked with envy upon those who were older than I, thinking that they could go on in sin just as they pleased, and so I thought I would so soon as ever I was as old as they were, and far enough I thought I would outstrip them in sinning. A man once gave me to under­stand, that from what he knew of me, it was his belief that I bid fair to make a most des­perate sinner and to be very expert in wick­edness; and this foolish remark was highly gratifying to my depraved nature; and I truly was so depraved and averse to all that was good, and sober, and solemn, that I remem­ber once telling my father how much I should dislike to be a parson or a doctor, as I thought it was required of such men to be very grave and temperate in all things.

But although my mind was become so sordid and corrupt, and opposed to every thing serious and solemn; yet eternity would at times bring me to a stand and to very close thinking, and very much would it damp my thirst for sin and vanity. Indeed it would spoil all the pleasures of sin, and throw my mind into a state of melancholy and great bitterness, insomuch that my life would be a burden to me. But as soon as ever the thoughts of futurity and of a judgment to come, would wear off from my mind, my former thirst for sin and folly would return again, and great happiness I have promised myself in the practice of vice. And thus did Satan strive to lead me blindfolded on to ruin before I arrived to the years of manhood, or else to make a tool of me through life to en­snare others, and then sink me down into endless night where hope is not known and mercy never visits. And to this end I as­suredly should have been brought, but for the grace of God; and hence to grace and to nothing else but grace, can I attribute my escape from endless woe. And that the Al­mighty should avert so dire a doom in my instance, is a marvelous circumstance, and a striking confirmation of the truth of these words, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” Rom. 9. 15.

One would be almost ready to think, that the sovereign grace of Almighty God might have been disposed of to much better advan­tage than to have been bestowed on me; but still we know that the Lord will do all his pleasure, be it what it may, and to this we ought quietly to vail. But that grace should respect me, and single me out from others, and save my soul, is to be admired and spoken of with feelings of great gratitude: nor can I now well keep from saying, “why me Lord? why me?” By nature there never was any thing in me worth grace’s notice; and grace might just as well have sought for merit in a nonentity as to have sought for it in me. Grace therefore, in raising me up from what the Psalmist David calls the “horrible pit and miry clay,” Psa. 40. 2, had to do it at its own expense, for I in no wise could help. And hence in this respect, salvation came cheap to me, for it cost me nothing. I gained not heaven by toiling nor by spinning; and yet I can say unto my reader, “that even Solo­mon in all his glory was not arrayed like my soul.”

I grant I suffered greatly in coming up from the pit; but still, as my deliverance was not the result of my own toil and labor, but was effected purely by divine grace; so grace henceforth shall be the copious matter of my song. But what this grace hath done for me at sundry times and in divers manners, and I the course it hath uniformly pursued whereby to raise itself in my esteem; or rather, where­by to raise its own fame and to demonstrate its origin to be wholly divine, will be illus­trated in pages yet to come.


Here pause my soul, and with gratitude think of the long forbearance of God to thee ward. I might have been cut off in wrath and punished in the hot displeasure of the Lord. I also might have been left to have gone on from bad to worse, and have been hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and at last have sunk down into perdition with my soul surcharged with guilt. Here also is an abundant cause for thee my soul, seriously to think how vastly conspicuous the Lord hath made his divine goodness to ap­pear in my instance, in showing a merciful regard to me, when there was nothing in me or about me to induce him to tenderness or to pity; for evil propensities did at an early age, and very strongly, put forth themselves in me. Yea, I studied how to do wrong, and was proud that I knew how to sin and to “do evil with both hands,” and to “plough wickedness and reap iniquity,” Micah, 7. 3; Hosea, 10. 13.

And although at times, this great thirst in me for sin and vice, received some severe checks, yet was I hurried impetuously on in the broad road that leads to the regions of woe, and fancied I should soon perform ex­ploits in the service of sin. And yet not­withstanding all this, the Lord seemed to say, “how shall I give thee up,” Hosea, 11. 8. Here then must have been love in the bosom of God towards me, even in those days; and “thoughts of peace” too, Jer. 29. 11; and they are what David calls “precious thoughts,” Psa. 139. 17; and these thoughts I believe have followed me ever since, and forever will follow me; and but for those thoughts, and love, and pity, and tenderness in the bosom of the Lord to me-ward, sin long before now would have reduced my soul to despair.

Sad is the state of man by nature, and low down has he sunk; but grace can raise him, and of a sinner make a saint; and of a foe make a friend; and of an alien make a son; and of a beggar make a prince. And so I trust the Lord hath dealt with me; and praise him, Oh my soul! “for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is comely,” Psa. 147. 1. Sin hath done much mischief in the world, but grace bath done more good, for “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” Rom. 5. 20. And strong as sin is, grace can conquer it, and bury it, and of sin’s seat make a dwelling place for God for he dwelleth in the heart of a saint.

Oh my soul, what surprising honor bath the Lord conferred on thee! Be not silent then, but “make a joyful noise unto God, and sing forth the honor of his name,” Psa. 66. 1. 2. Thou hast cause my soul, great cause, to shew forth the mighty acts of the Lord, and “abun­dantly to utter the memory of his great good­ness, and to sing of his righteousness,” Psa. 145. 7. It was always a principle in morality, that sweet and intimate friendship cannot be extended to many people; and there appear to be but a few on whom God bestoweth his love and grace; and on none for any good­ness in them, but “for his great name’s sake, and because it pleaseth him to make them his people,” 1 Sam. 12. 22. ‘The Lord bath an abundance of love in his heart, and his very name is love; and yet he chooseth to concen­trate it all in a few persons picked “out of the world’s wide wilderness,” called his spouse. And as I now have cause to believe that this immortal love bath been shed abroad in my soul, so I feel bound to “speak of the glory of Christ’s kingdom, and to talk of his power,” Psa 145. 11. And I sincerely hope that the blessing of God will accompany the relation which I am now about to give of the various exercises of my mind, and of the merciful dealings of the Lord with me.

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Elder James Osbourn--Part 1