Anguished Conversion

IN HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Thomas Shepard (1605–1649), pastor in Newtown, Massachusetts, described the anxieties leading to his conversion. Brief excerpts:

The first two years I spent in Cambridge was in studying and in much neglect of God and private prayer I fell from God to loose and lewd company to lust and pride and gaming and bowling and drinking.

I drank so much one day that I was dead drunk. And when I awakened I went out into the fields and there spent that Sabbath lying hid in the cornfields where the Lord who might justly have cut me off in the midst of my sin did meet me with much sadness of heart and trou bled my soul for this and other my sins.

Three main wounds

I did see my atheism, I questioned whether there were a God, and my unbelief, whether Christ was the Messiah, whether the Scriptures were God’s word or no I felt all manner of temptations to all kind of religions, not knowing which I should choose, whether if I had been educated up among the Papists I should not have been as verily persuaded that Popery is the truth.

After many prayers, meditations, duties, the Lord let me see three main wounds in my soul:(1) I could not feel sin as my greatest evil; (2)I could do nothing but I did seek myself in it and was imprisoned there, and though I desired to be a preacher, yet it was honor I did look to like a vile wretch; (3)I felt a depth of atheism and unbelief.

Because I did question whether Christ did cast out devils from Beelzebub, etc., I did think and fear I had [committed the unpardonable sin), and now the terrors of God began to break in like floods of fire into my soul. For three quarters of a year this temptation did last, and I had some strong temptations to run my head against walls and brain and kill myself.

And I did see God like a consuming fire and an everlasting burning, and myself like a poor prisoner leading to that fire, and the thought of eternal reprobation and torment did amaze my spirits.

Slow assurance

Whereupon walking in the fields the Lord dropped this meditation into me: Be not discouraged therefore because thou art so vile, but make this double use of it: (1) loathe thyself the more; (2) feel a greater need and put a greater price upon Jesus Christ who only can redeem thee from all sin—and this I found of wonderful use to me. I began to forsake my loose company wholly. But yet I had no assurance Christ was mine.

The Lord therefore brought Dr. Preston to preach upon 1 Corinthians 1:30: Christ is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. And when he had opened how all the good I had, all the redemption I had, it was from Jesus Christ, I did then begin to prize Him, and He became very sweet unto me. But yet after this I had many fears and doubts.

The Lord also letting me see my own constant vileness in everything put me to this question: Why did the Lord Jesus keep the law, had no guile in his heart, had no unbrokenness but holiness there? Was it not for them that did want it? And here I saw Christ Jesus’ righteousness for a poor sinner’s ungodliness, but yet questioning whether ever the Lord would apply this and give this unto me.

The Lord made me see that so many as receive him, he gives power to be the sons of God (John 1:12), and I saw the Lord gave me a heart to receive Christ with a naked hand, even naked Christ, and so the Lord gave me peace.

By Thomas Shepard

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #41 in 1994]

Thomas Shepard (1605–1649), was pastor in Newtown, Massachusetts.
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