Thursday, October 29, 2009

A very, very ill John Wesley

[This post covers the period 28 Oct to 7 Nov 1741, during which JW was very ill. For the most part it is a letter which John wrote to Charles, but which he published in his journal]

The great comfort I found both in public and private, almost every day of the ensuing week, I apprehend was to prepare me for what followed; a short account of which I sent to London soon after in a letter, the copy of which I have subjoined, although I am not insensible there are several circumstances therein which some may set down for mere enthusiasm and extravagance.
Dear Brother,
All last week I found hanging upon me the effects of the violent cold I had contracted in Wales; not, I think (as Mr. Turner and Walcam supposed), by lying in a damp bed at St. Bride’s, but rather by riding continually in the cold and wet nights, and preaching immediately after. But I believed it would pass off, and so took little notice of it till Friday morning. I then found myself exceeding sick, and as I walked to Baptist Mills (to pray with Susanna Basil, who was ill of a fever), felt the wind pierce me, as it were, through. At my return I found myself something better. Only I could not eat anything at all. Yet I felt no want of strength at the hour of intercession, nor at six in the evening, while I was opening and applying those words, ‘Sun, stand thou still in Gibeon, and thou, moon, in the valley of Ajalon.’ I was afterwards refreshed and slept well, so that I apprehended no farther disorder, but rose in the morning as usual and declared with a strong voice and an enlarged heart, ‘Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith that worketh by love.’ About two in the afternoon, just as I was set down to dinner, a shivering came upon me and a little pain in my back, but no sickness at all, so that I eat [ate] a little, and then, growing warm, went to see some that were sick. Finding myself worse about four I would willingly have lain down. But having promised to see Mrs. G——, who had been out of order for some days, I went thither first, and thence to Weavers’ Hall. A man gave me a token for good as I went along: ‘Ay’, said he, ‘he will be a martyr too by and by.’ The Scripture I enforced was, ‘My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. But if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ I found no want either of inward or outward strength. But afterwards, finding my fever increased, I called on Dr. Middleton. By his advice I went home and took my bed—a strange thing for me, who had not kept my bed a day (for five and thirty years) ever since I had the smallpox. I immediately fell into a profuse sweat, which continued till one or two in the morning. God then gave me refreshing sleep, and afterwards such tranquillity of mind that this day, Sunday, November 1, seemed the shortest day to me I had ever known in my life.

I think a little circumstance ought not to be omitted, although I know there may be an ill construction put upon it. Those words were now so strongly impressed upon my mind that for a considerable time I could not put them out of my thoughts: ‘Blessed is the man that provideth for the poor and needy; the Lord shall deliver him in the time of trouble. The Lord shall strengthen him when he lieth sick upon his bed; make thou all his bed in his sickness.’
On Sunday night likewise I slept well and was easy all Monday morning. But about three in the afternoon the shivering returned, much more violent than before. It continued till I was put to bed. I was then immediately as in a fiery furnace. In a little space I began sweating, but the sweating seemed to increase rather than allay the burning heat. Thus I remained till about eight o’clock, when I suddenly awaked out of a kind of doze, in such a sort of disorder (whether of body or mind, or both) as I know not how to describe. My heart and lungs and all that was within me, and my soul too, seemed to be in perfect uproar. But I cried unto the Lord in my trouble, and he delivered me out of my distress.
I continued in a moderate sweat till near midnight, and then slept pretty well till morning. On Tuesday, November 3, about noon, I was removed to Mr. Hooper’s. Here I enjoyed a blessed calm for several hours, the fit not returning till six in the evening, and then in such a manner as I never heard or read of. I had a quick pulse, attended with violent heat; but no pain either in my head or back or limbs; no sickness, no stitch, no thirst. Surely God is a present help in time of trouble. And he does make all my bed in my sickness.
Wed. 4. Many of our brethren agreed to seek God today by fasting and prayer. About twelve my fever began to rage. At two I dozed a little, and suddenly awaked in such disorder (only more violent) as that on Monday. The silver cord appeared to be just then loosing, and the wheel breaking at the cistern. The blood whirled to and fro, as if it would immediately force its way through all its vessels, especially in the breast; and excessive, burning heat parched up my whole body, both within and without. About three, in a moment, the commotion ceased, the heat was over, and the pain gone. Soon after it made another attack, but not near so violent as the former. This lasted till half an hour past four and then vanished away at once. I grew better and better till nine. Then I fell asleep, and scarce awaked at all till morning.
Thur. 5. The noisy joy of the people in the streets[Guy Fawkes celebrations] did not agree with me very well; though I am afraid it disordered their poor souls much more than it did my body. About five in the evening my cough returned, and soon after the heat and other symptoms; but with this remarkable circumstance, that for fourteen or fifteen hours following I had more or less sleep in every hour. This was one cause why I was never light-headed at all, but had the use of my understanding, from the first hour of my illness to the last, as fully as when in perfect health.
Fri. 6. Between ten and twelve the main shock began. I can give but a faint account of this, not for want of memory, but of words. I felt in my body nothing but storm and tempest, hailstones and coals of fire. But I do not remember that I felt any fear (such was the mercy of God!) nor any murmuring. And yet I found but a dull, heavy kind of patience, which I knew was not what it ought to be. The fever came rushing upon me as a lion, ready to break all my bones in pieces. My body grew weaker every moment; but I did not feel my soul put on strength. Then it came into my mind, ‘Be still, and see the salvation of the Lord. I will not stir hand or foot; but let him do with me what is good in his own eyes.’ At once my heart was at ease. My mouth was filled with laughter and my tongue with joy. My eyes overflowed with tears, and I began to sing aloud. One who stood by said, ‘Now he is light-headed.’ I told her, ‘O no. I am not light-headed, but I am praising God. God is come to my help, and pain is nothing. Glory be to God on high.’ I now found why it was not expedient for me to recover my health sooner; because then I should have lost this experimental proof how little everything is which can befall the body, so long as God carries the soul aloft, as it were on the wings of an eagle.
An hour after, I had one more grapple with the enemy, who then seemed to collect all his strength. I essayed to shake myself and praise God as before. But I was not able: the power was departed from me. I was shorn of my strength, and become weak and like another man. Then I said, ‘Yet here I hold. Lo, I come to bear thy will, O God.’ Immediately he returned to my soul, and lifted up the light of his countenance. And I felt, ‘He rideth easily enough whom the grace of God carrieth.’
I supposed the fit was now over, it being about five in the afternoon, and began to compose myself for sleep, when I felt first a chill and then a burning all over, attended with such an universal faintness and weariness and utter loss of strength, as if the whole frame of nature had been dissolved. Just then my nurse, I know not why, took me out of bed and placed me in a chair. Presently a purging began, which I believe saved my life. I grew easier from that hour and had such a night’s rest as I have not had before, since it pleased God to lay his hand upon me.

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