Tuesday, February 22, 2011

“My body was in prison, but I was Christ’s freeman”

Tue 22 Feb 1757: I preached at Deptford. Even this wilderness does at length ‘blossom and bud as the rose’. Never was there such life in this little flock before nor such an increase in the number of hearers.
The following letter was wrote on Saturday 28:
Reverend and dear Sir,
When I was at Freshford, on January 30, in the morning, I scrupled singing those words,
Ye now afflicted are,
And hated for his name,
And in your bodies bear
The tokens of the Lamb.
I thought I was not afflicted or hated for the name of Christ. But this scruple was soon removed. For at Bradford, in the evening, I was pressed for a soldier and carried to an inn, where the gentlemen were. Mr. Pearce, hearing of it, came and offered bail for my appearance the next day. They said they would ‘take his word for ten thousand pound’; but not for me—I ‘must go to the round-house’, the little stone room on the side of the bridge. So thither I was conveyed by five soldiers. There I found nothing to sit on but a stone, and nothing to lie on but a little straw. But soon after, a friend sent me a chair, on which I sat all night. I had a double guard, twelve soldiers in all—two without, one in the door, and the rest within. I passed the night without sleep but not without rest; for, blessed be God, my peace was not broken for a moment. My body was in prison, but I was Christ’s freeman—my soul was at liberty. And, even there I found some work to do for God—I had fair opportunity of speaking to them who durst not leave me. And I hope it was not in vain.
In the morning, I had leave to go to a private house with only one soldier to guard me. About three in the afternoon I was carried before the commissioners, and part of the Act read which empowered them to take ‘such able-bodied men as followed no business and had no lawful or sufficient maintenance’. Then I said, ‘If these are the men you are to take, I am not a proper person. For I do follow a lawful calling, in partnership with my brother, and have also an estate.’ The Justice said, ‘If you will make oath of that, I think we must let you go.’ But the commissioners said, no man could swear for himself. I said, ‘Gentlemen, give me time and you shall have full proof.’ After a long debate, they took a fifty-pound bond for my appearance on that day three weeks. All the time I could bless God that he counted me worthy to suffer for his name’s sake.
The next day I set out for Cornwall. I tarried at home four days, and then, setting out with my brother James, came to Bradford last Saturday. On Monday in the afternoon I appeared before the commissioners, with the writings of my estate. When the Justice had perused them, and my brother had taken his oath, I was set at liberty. So the fierceness of man turns to God’s praise, and all this is for the furtherance of the gospel. I hope you will return God thanks for my deliverance out of the hands of unreasonable and wicked men.
William Hitchens

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