TEXTS FROM ENGLISH RELIGIOUS HISTORY
Tears in time of Pestilence :
the Reverend Mr. JOHN FEATLY
now Printed for more general
London, Printed by W. Godbid, over against the Anchor Inn in Little Britain. 1665.
Although the smallness of the bulk and the seriousness of the design of the ensuing treatise might seem to render it improper to detain the reader with any tedious Preface, yet lest the Reverend Author should be prejudiced, or the discourse itself rendered less applicable to the peruser, I cannot but think it necessary to premise a few lines, partly to give some account of the former edition hereof, and partly to suit the matter to the present circumstances of time and persons. Both which shall be done with all convenient brevity.
The Reverend Author, Mr. John Featly (whose uncle, Dr. Dan Featly, was more eminently known) having been, by the distraction of our late unnatural War, forced from his relations and employment in this kingdom, betook himself to the Low Countries, where he found entertainment and exercise of his ministerial function at Flushing. There he finished and published this treatise with 26 other such affectionate pieces (which are mournful meditations on most other sorrowful conditions of Believers) under the title of A Fountain of Tears, anno 1646, humbly dedicated to King and Parliament. The whole was undertaken and perfected at the request of a pious gentlewoman of his acquaintance who complained that her sex was much neglected by divines, in that they had not penned meditations, soliloquies, etc. suited to the several sufferings of Christians, which might be of private use for the lamenting retirements of affected and mournful spirits. On which account it speaks all along in the person of one of that sex. And therefore the plainness of the style, the familiar method, and the affectionate copiousness of expression were not only excusable, but proper and necessary. However it may afford, I hope, considerable assistance to many of stronger abilities, when sadly sequestered from more public encouragements. But since it was penned 20 years ago, it will be needful to make it the more seasonable to our age by what shall afterward be told you.
I think I need not apologize for the publication, unless it be to the Author, if yet living, who nevertheless, I question not, would easily grant his leave and assistance, had we opportunity to consult him. But let it suffice to be here declared; that there is not the least of wrong to so worthy a person intended, but only a design of making more communicable that stream of his Fountain of Tears, which to us now is more generally seasonable.
If any judge it requisite to take notice of the objection of those that stumble at the forms of soliloquy and prayer herein, I refer them to the pious and moderate Author himself, who in his Preface to the whole book hath there words to obviate such objectors.
Here I hold an ewer, nay, a fountain of water to those that need it for the refreshing of their souls. Yet I hinder none from "turning their own cocks" and letting them run. If any condemn the work as needless in these "Brightest" times, set forms of prayer being by many disrelished, let them know these are not intended for them, but for those who do need and will use them. I confine not any of these forms, nor shall I deny them to any that will accept them, for enough to evidence his piety and moderation in this particular, as indeed both are abundantly manifested throughout the whole larger book. Moreover, the more to warrant his design, the pious reader will find his singular excellency herein, viz., that the whole is delivered as much as may be in scripture expressions and allusions, wherein the author is very happy and pertinent. We here deliver the very text of the author without alteration (which was once intended) lest it might render the discourse less uniform or persuasive. Wherefore let it be considered when it was first written (viz. between the years of 1641 and 1646) that it may the better appear what was the sense of the writer, and how it may proportionately be brought down to our present calamitous condition.
And now that the reader may be the better prepared for the pathetic strains that follow, I conceived it not unuseful for him to consider, with me, these following hints of the aggravations of the calamity in our present visitation. Next, of the special sins which we may reasonably charge as causes thereof.
And really, though every age hath had sufficient cause to weep over its own sin, yet now, if ever, we had need to have our heads waters, and our eyes fountains of tears (Jer. 9.1). For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces, to cut off the children from without, and the young men from the street (v. 21). The pestilence wastes at noonday, and spreading itself far and near about other places of the land, hath already swept away many thousands and is still increasing; which indeed hath formerly (though rarely) been our visitation. But methinks he must that his eyes close that sees not how it is attended by many other sore judgements, that ought to humble the most senseless amongst us. One deep calls to another, and our distresses come up hand in hand over the breadth of all our comforts. The carcasses of our fathers (it's true) were swept away as ours, but had they such plagues on their hearts as we? The horse then was pale and he that sat on him was death (Rev. 5:8). But have we as much reason to suspect that hell followed him then, as we have to fear it now? Let us lay the axe to the root of the tree, and not snarl at the stone but lament the sins which have flung it at us.
There is weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth in hell, but that which makes it hell is that sin is not there repented of. Oh! how much doth this debauched age anticipate the misery of that place of torment by adding drunkenness to thirst, continuing in sin even while afflictions abound! Pass over the Isles of Chittim, send unto Kedar, ask ye now amongst the heathen, who hath heard such things? Can the most savage pagans or infidels parallel the prevarications that we glory in? We have amongst us our Sodom and Gomorrah, both the names and things; but did they ever, as we do, provoke a jealous God by their fulness of bread, idleness, lust and wantonness, while the brimstone was showering down on their heads? Moab was at ease, because settled on his lies (Jer. 48.11). But behold an England that hath been emptied from vessel to vessel, and yet is still casting out her mire and dirt! (Is. 57:20). Oh! that men could once persuade themselves that daring wickedness is the very smoking of the fury of the righteous God, when he takes vengeance of a stiff-necked and provoking generation! But it may be carnal hearts are not moved with this and other spiritual judgments which I cannot stand now to name, although he may run that reads them. Let them then consider what woeful breaches sin hath made upon our lower comforts. While the pestilence is slaying its ten thousands at home, the sword is devouring at least this thousands in our foreign War. While that tumbles hundreds into the same grave on land, that makes others of our brethren meat for the monsters of the sea. And lest we should lack any of God's three scourges, see also the famine coming upon many, and towards more, like an armed man! Tis doleful for the sick to be destitute of physic and attendants, but surely more dreadful for them at the same time to want bread. Nor is it easy to foresee a likely way of relief for them, whilst by the miserable and universal decay of trade, those that have compassionate hearts have their hands tied by their own wants. Yea, (let this be added for the shame of them that are guilty) we are too credibly informed, that very many of the wealthy persons (especially in the suburbs) which have consulted their safety by flight, have not left considerably behind them for the sustenance of their famishing dependents here. The Lord convince them betimes of this their cruelty, and multiply the stores of them that are compassionate towards their brethren's extremity! But what shall we say of the general fears and damps that are on all men's spirits with reference to this contagion? Is not this also the Lord? We had not such reasons so to dread it this year, from the contagion of the air, or of our food, etc. (if our physicians and naturalists are not mistaken) as formerly. No, methinks, could the blazing stars and comets, which this year have been diverse and terrible, infuse this dread, for as much as they do as much concern other people to whom they were vertical and as visible as to us in sinful England.
Nor lastly, can it be reasonably referred to that softness of men's spirits now more than in former sicknesses; witness their courage to run upon the thick bosses of the Almighty's buckler, as that they still dare be wicked when God is visiting. But surely there is a reason, and if it be not, it might well be the general sense that all persons have of the prodigious wickedness of this age and nation, more than heretofore. Our sins, like Sodom's, are grievous and therefore we cannot easily question but God will come down now and see whether we have done altogether according to the cry that is come up to him (Gen. 18:21).
Our pious Author hath largely showed that sin is the cause of our present visitation, and suggests his thoughts concerning the particular sins, which will save me much labour. And yet I cannot but add a few other headings which seem to be now more than ever predominant and provoking.
First, let it be for a lamentation that there is found in England so much insolence and professed "atheism," though mostly under better pretenses, some professing it under the visor of Quakers; others, committing an intolerable rape upon ingenuity, dare to rank themselves amongst the virtuous, but the mouth declaring themselves to be moderate disinterested Gallio's & as if it were an indifferent thing for the creature to acknowledge his maker. Some, forsooth, reason themselves into this damning notion; others find it best consistent with their profane lives, and so miserably embrace it. But do these monsters in good sadness think that God will be baffled out of his Being and Providence? Whatever they dream, all men that have any sense of religion or manhood on their spirits cannot but think that God is coming now to recover his glory which he hath sworn he will not lose.
Second, hereunto must be joined all blasphemous venting and entertaining of such unreasonable, giddy, notions concerning God, Christ, faith, justification, holiness, the life to come, many which border upon atheism and paganism, popery, &etc, and raze the foundations of all serious godliness and rational morality. It would be long and, I fear, irksome to descend to particulars. I present it as an item for the reader to consult his experience and information. And I doubt not but he will see too great reason to refer hither much of our present sufferings. God once pronounced against them that call evil good, and good evil, etc. (Isa? 5, 20? 21?) and warrants me to apply the threat to them that give or willfully receive perverse notions in such momentous Articles of our Religion: wilful errors of the understanding being of all others the most provoking and destructive. Viz, the divines of Germany charged their Sabbath-breaking as one great cause of the desolations. A sin of which we, considering their rudeness and our present knowledge, are far more guilty I cannot stand bare to (can't read one word) the holy man that makes conscience of keeping the Lord's Day from Judaism &etc. (let who dost answer the pious and learned treatises to that purpose) but at present I shall entreat the reader to guess a little who are most like to be in the right, either the Articles of our Church of England, and all those sober and good men that would seriously, as they are able, keep all God's commandments, or else those vain and dissolute reproaches to Protestants that would make all days alike. ["third" is missing. ed.]
Fourth, do not we all, of all persuasions, pretend to worship God in spirit and truth? And yet is there any form of Professors amongst us that have not dreadfully neglected the inward and serious and spiritual pathos of God's service? Whatever be the inducement to this outside religion, whether faction, ignorance, superstition or profaneness, or all, God knows. This we know, that his jealousy is hottest about his altar. Nadab and Abihur felt it (Lev. 10:1,2) and therefore we may not wonder if God be sanctifying himself upon us, that hath not been as he ought, sanctified by s.
Fifth, we may not let pass what our Author well hints. I mean the insolent practices of the Papists in perverting the heads and seducing the affections of many wavering and prejudiced professors. His Majesties Laws against them, their emissaries and doctrines, are many and wholesome. But it is worth a few of thy tears (Reader) that by our sloth and indifference these little foxes have not been taken for us (Cant. 2:15).
Sixth, another general distemper (so much the worse because less lamented) is our unreasonable luxury in food and raiment. Fashions and customs have so prevailed, that sober men do as it were give us over as incurable in this particular. And this the more betrays the folly of the land, because I could never hear anything pleaded for living at such a prodigal rate, but "example" and "custom." We must wear as others wear, and spend as others spend, or else we shall be reputed base and sordid, &etc. But, in earnest, as men think that God will account the examples of fools and the reproaches of madmen a sufficient excuse for lavishing away our estates as if we had nothing to do with them by to vye with each other in provoking him that gave them? And if any think it yet a small matter, let him consider how many rich men are become bankrupts; how many poor men rendered miserable; how many hectors, cheats, highwaymen, murderers &etc. have been made and all by seeking unwarrantable means to support this ranting garb and intemperate life. This crying sin of the nation deserves a volume to check it, and calls for our serious examination of the cause of it, and of the design that the devil and his instruments have upon us by maintaining it. My work now is only to tell you that certainly God is much provoked hereby. Read the whole third chapter of Isaiah with seriousness and reflection.
Seventh, and what shall we say of our universal neglects of relative duties? Is not their hand in all this? Our rebellions, seditions, factions, schisms; or oppressions, self-seeking, violences, bad examples, let them all in the name of God be laid at the right doors, and acknowledged and lamented accordingly. We lay the blame of all our calamities on each other. But, if God have mercy for us, he will not let us alone till we all accept of the punishment of our own iniquities. But until then, let us not wonder, if we complain as Mic. 7:1,2 &etc, "Woe is me..." &etc.
Eighth, but God hath been grievously dishonoured in the house of his friends. You that profess yourselves to be better acquainted with the spiritual part of knowledge and duty, have your lives been answerable? For my part, I question not, but that, although God will not fail to make the brutish sinners in Zion afraid; yet also that fearfulness shall surprise the professing hypocrites if they repent not. God is a jealous and holy God, and everyone that names the name of Christ must depart from iniquity. And think you that God hath not a controversy with the land for your sakes? Think you the bitterness of your spirits against each other, your carnal lives and services, your evil examples, your stupendous vanity and lightness, your coldness and indifference in the things of God, and your dastardly compliance with the profane world in all the aforementioned provocations. Think you these are as small matters in God's eye as your own? Or do you fancy that he loves your sins better than the sins of other men? Be not deceived. God is not mocked. If you do indeed belong to God as you profess, you must expect to hear of his displeasure, and that in love and faithfulness. Think well on that place (Amos 3:2): You have known of all the families of the earth, therefore I will punish you for your iniquities. And on that, 1 Peter 4:17, the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.
Ninth, but then what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God? What shall become of the drunkenness, lust, swearing, cursing, stealing, cheating, ranting, murder, covetousness, and all sorts of insolent indignities offered to the Lord Almighty, that yet walk abroad bare-faced amongst us? I do but name those things which indeed ought not to be named amongst Christians and Protestants, because I cannot conceive that any person reflects on the sins that provoke God thus to punish us this day, but that his first charge is against these dreadful enormities.
The Lord put it into the hearts of superiors to restrain, of inferiors to disclaim, and of all to reform these crying abominations that have already provoked the great God, and in great measure rendered us the scorn of all sober nations round about us!
These things I thought it my duty to suggest as commonplaces and heads of Lamentations; not as if I thought here were all our provocations, but such as a Preface would admit, and as the variety of distempered spirits amongst us bear without offense, and that only in a general way. I must beg the Reader to be faithful, impartial, and particular in his own confession and tears, not sparing any person, himself or others, where he finds them guilty. And especially that he look upon our spiritual wickedness and our insensitivity to spiritual judgment, as the greatest cause of our contagious visitation; by how much more provoking in God's fight that other sins be.
Our Author here, then, invites us to our punishment, but such as is intended for our profit and comfort. Our work is to be serious and solemn. First, to give God the glory of his greatness, holiness, severity, yea and mercy too, to know the rod and who hath appointed it, and make account of it, that if God love us he will not remove this or as great afflictions till the work of affliction be done, viz. solemn humiliation and serious reformation.
This treatise may
help thee with some seasonable thought and (if you need them) pertinent
expressions for this present duty. Which yet was not intended either by
the first Author or present publisher to hinder any from using other helps,
by which God's goodness have been afforded us by other hands. But that
this and all others may be useful for the advantage of our souls, whilst
our bodies languish, is the hearty prayer of thy servant in the Lord,