.

John Nelson
His Marriage and
Ongoing Relationship to His Wife


Key Thought: I was advised not to preach a sermon by several of my neighbors; but I told them I durst not leave off preaching, for any thing that man could do unto me. They replied, “You should consider that you have a wife and children, and that your wife is now big with child; and if you be take from them, what can the poor woman do, or how must she provide for her children?” l said, “Let God look to that; if wicked men be sufficient to take away my life, for calling sinners to the blood of Jesus, the Lord, whose servant I am, will be a husband to the widow, and a father to the fatherless. And were I assured I should be banished or put to death for preaching, and my wife and children beg their bread barefoot, I durst not leave off; for the words of our Lord pursue me, ‘He that loveth father or mother, wife or children, or his own life, more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that would save his life shall lose it; and he that will lose his life for my sake shall save it.’ Therefore, pray for me, but do not tempt me to sin against my own soul.”

John Nelson's Wife and Marriage

When I was about nineteen, I found myself in great danger of falling into scandalous sins; and I prayed, I believe, twenty times that God would preserve me, and give me a wife, that I might live with her to His glory. He heard my prayer, and delivered me out of many dangerous temptations; for which I praise His holy name. The first time I ever saw my wife was at Tonge, where I was going to build the new church. I did not know who she was, nor where she came from; but, at first sight, I said in my mind, “That is the woman I asked of God in prayer;”

I fully determined, if I got married, I would live to His glory. But what are resolutions when made in our own strength! For, though I believe God gave me the most suitable wife that I could have had, in every respect, yet, for some years after we were married, I did not live to His glory, for I loved pleasure more than God: yet many times when I had been shooting a whole day, and had got the creature I pursued, I was quite unhappy, and ready to break my gun in pieces, resolving never to shoot or hunt any more. At last I said to my wife, “I am determined to leave off this course of life; yet it is impossible, if I stay here. Therefore, if thou art free, I will go to Sir Rowland Wynn’s, and see if I can get business there; if not, I will go somewhere else, at a distance from home.” To this she gladly consented. On Monday morning, we parted in great love, praying one for the other. As I went from our town, I made use of Jacob’s words, which he spake to the Lord as he went to Padan-aram; and the Lord blessed me in all my journey. I found work at Newark-on-Trent, and stayed about a month. All that time the hand of God was upon me, by convicting me of my former sins; so that the sense of His wrath being justly kindled against me, made me cry to Him for mercy, often forty times in the day. p. 25

But when they took my tools from me, and said, if I did not drink with them, I should not work while they were drinking, that provoked me, so that I fought with several of them. Then they let me alone. But that stifled my concern for salvation, and I left off prayer and reading in a great measure. I stayed better than half a year, and had not one hour’s sickness, nor did I want one day’s work all that time; so that by my hand labour I cleared, besides maintaining myself, twelve pounds fifteen shillings. p. 26

When I came home, I fell into my former course. I said to my wife, “I cannot live here.” So I set off for London again, ordering her to follow me in the wagon. We both got well there, and lived in a good way, as the world calls it; that is, in peace and plenty, and love to each other. pp. 26,27

After residing some years in London, my wife had not her health. Therefore we agreed that she should take our two children and go into the country, and I would follow at a certain season; which accordingly I did. But I could not rest night or day. I said, “I must go to London again.” Several asked me, “Why I would go again, since I might live at home as well as anywhere in the world?” My answer was, ‘I have something to learn that I have not yet learned;” but I did not know that it was the great lesson of love to God and man. When I got there, I fell to work presently, and all things prospered that I pursued. I then began to consider what I wanted to make me happy; for I was yet as a man in a barren wilderness, that could find no way out. I said to myself, “What can I desire that I have not? I enjoy as good health as any man can do; I have as agreeable a wife as I can wish for; I am clothed as well as I can desire; I have, at present, more gold and silver than I have need of; yet still I keep wandering from one part of the kingdom to another, seeking rest, and cannot find it.” Then I cried out, “O that I had been a cow, or a sheep!” for I looked back to se”e how I had spent above thirty years; and thought, rather than live thirty years more so, I would choose strangling. But when I considered that, after such a troublesome life, I must give an account before God of the deeds done in the body, who knew all my thoughts, words, and actions, I cried out, “O that I had never been born!” for I feared my day of grace was over, because I had made so many resolutions and broken them all. Yet I thought I would set out once more; for I said, “Surely, God never made man to be such a riddle to himself, and to leave him so: there must be something in religion, that I am unacquainted with, to satisfy the empty mind of man; or he is in a worse state than the beasts that perish.” In all these troubles I had none to open my mind to; so I wandered up and down in the fields. when I had done my work, meditating what course to take to save my soul. I went from church to church, but found no ease. pp. 27,28

Then he said, if I would not obey him, I should lose my business. I replied, “I cannot help it: though it may be ten pounds out of my way to be turned out of my work at this time of the year, I will not willfully offend God; for I had much rather want bread; nay, I would rather see my wife and children beg their bread bare-footed to heaven, than ride in a coach to hell.” He swore, if I went on awhile, I should be as mad as Whitfield; and added, “What hast thou done, that thou needest make so much ado about salvation? I always took thee to be as honest a man as any I have in the work, and could have trusted thee with five hundred pounds.” I answered, “So you might, and not have lost one penny by me.” He said, “What, hast thou killed somebody, or committed adultery, that thou art so much afraid of being damned?” I replied, “God takes the will for the deed; and though clear from those acts, I deserve to be damned tenfold for other crimes; for if I sin willfully against God, after He hath showed me such mercy, I may expect to have the hottest hell,” He said, “I have a worse opinion of thee now than ever.” I replied, “Master, I have the odds of you; for I have a much worse opinion of myself, than you can have.”

At night, when I went to receive my wages, he asked me if I were still obstinate. I answered, “I am determined not to break the Sabbath; for I will run the hazard of wanting bread here, before I would run the hazard of wanting water hereafter.” p. 39

In the time of my convictions, I never let my wife know of my trouble; but now I could not eat my morsel alone. I therefore wrote to her and all my relations, to seek the same mercy that I had found. However, all I said seemed as idle tales to most of them p. 40

A little after this, as I was reading the Scriptures, a letter came to me. I saw it was not from my wife: then I said, “I fear here is bad news.” Upon opening it, I found my daughter was dead, whom I formerly idolized; my son was so ill that his life was despaired of; my wife had fallen from a horse, and was lamed; my father-in-law was dead, and my mother was sick. It then came to my mind that, when I was at the sacrament, I had made a free-will offering to the Lord of my body and soul, wife and children, and all that was near and dear to me; but I thought, “How shall I bear it, now the Lord has taken them at my hand? “I went to prayer, and found my heart wholly resigned to the will of God. Then it came to me, “Let the dead bury their dead; but follow thou Me.” I began to read again, and the people of the house where I was, scolded me, because I did not weep, wring my hands, and stamp as they did, at the loss of a child, saying I was a hard-hearted father. I replied, “I cannot tell how to choose what is best; but God cannot err.” p. 47

When I got home I was greatly disappointed; for I expected to find many of my relations converted, as I understood they attended Mr. lngham’s preaching. But when I told them what it was to be converted, they said they never heard of such a thing in their lives. I told them I knew those things by happy experience. But they begged I would not tell anyone that my sins were forgiven; for no one would believe me; and they should be ashamed to show their faces in the street. I said, “I should not be ashamed to tell what God had done for my soul, if I could speak loud enough for all the men in the world to hear me at once.” My mother said my head was turned. I replied, “Yes, and my heart too, I thank the Lord.” My wife told me she was ashamed to put her head out of doors, for every one was talking about me, and upbraiding her with my sayings; and she wished I had stayed at London, for she could not live with me, if I went on as I did; for which reason she desired that I would leave off abusing my neighbors, or go back to London. I told her I did not care what all the people could say; for I was determined to reprove anyone that sinned in my presence. Then she cried, and said, I did not love her so well as I used to do. I replied, “Yes, I love thee better than ever I did in my life; and thou hast no reason to dispute my love; for I have been careful to provide for thee, whether I was at home or abroad; and we have been happy in each other upward of twelve years; but if thou wilt seek redemption in the blood of Christ, we shall be ten times happier than ever.” She then said, “Nay, my happiness with thee is over; for, according to thy words, I am a child of the devil, and thou a child of God.” Then she wept and said, “I cannot live with thee.” I said, “Why so? Thou shalt never want while I am able, by honest endeavors, to provide for thee. Nay,” I continued, “if thou wilt not go to heaven with me, I will do the best I can for thee; only I will not go to hell with thee for company; but I believe God will hear my prayer, and convert thy soul, and make thee a blessed companion for me in the way to heaven.” After this my wife began to be concerned about the salvation of her soul. pp. 58,59

My wife also was thoroughly convinced that she must experience the same work of grace, or perish. And during the time of her convictions she was seized with a pleuritic fever, and her case was thought to be very dangerous: then I besought the Lord for her with fasting and prayer. The next day she was worse; and the distress of her soul increased the disorder of her body, so that she seemed as if she could not subsist long. That night my house was filled with people, and none of them offered to dispute with me! But I read several portions of Scripture to them, some out of the Old, some out of the New Testament, and compared one with another, and prayed with them. As I was in prayer, my wife being in the parlor, and within hearing, fainted, and was as if she had just sunk into the gulf of God’s judgments: immediately she thought she felt the Lord Jesus catch her as she was falling; and lay his hand on her side, where the disorder was, and bade her be of good comfort: telling her, “Thy sins are forgiven.” When I came to the bedside, she was just come to herself, and said, “My dear, the Lord hath healed me both in body and soul! I will get up and praise his holy name,” which she accordingly did. From that hour her fever ceased, and her heart was filled with peace and love. Now God has raised up eight witnesses to him. pp. 63,64

Now a trial came upon me from another quarter. Some of them came to my house, when I
was from home, and talked with my wife, stirring her up against me, so that she was tempted to go to them and leave me; and the temptation was so strong, that she got out of bed three times to go to them; nay, the more I reasoned with her from Scripture, in ever so loving a manner, the more she was set against me. Then I had none but my old refuge: to get to God by prayer and fasting. And the Lord took the matter into his own hand, and showed her wherein she had been deceived, and made her a staff in my hand and a support to my soul again. p. 81

After I had labored in Yorkshire awhile longer, Mr. John Wesley sent for me to London; but by this time I had almost worn out my clothes, and did not know where the next should come from. My wife said I was not fit to go anywhere as I was; and I said, “I have worn them out in the Lord’s work, and he will not let me want long!” Two days after, a tradesman in our parish, that did not belong to our society, came to my house, and brought me a piece of blue cloth for a coat, and a piece of black cloth for a waistcoat and breeches: so I see the Lord is mindful of them that trust in him. p. 97

When I got home, I found my wife much better, though never likely to recover her former strength: owing to the persecution she met with at Wakefield, when Mr. Larwood was mobbed there. After they had abused him, she with some women set out for Hirstal. A mob followed them into the fields; and when they overtook them, she turned about and spake to them, upon which all the men returned without touching them; but the women followed them till they came to a gate, where they stopped them: they damned her, saying, “You are Nelson’s wife, and here you shall die.” They saw she was big with child, yet beat her on the body so cruelly, that they killed the child in her womb, and she went home and miscarried directly. This treatment she has reason to remember to her life’s end; but God more than made it up to her by filling her heart with peace and love. p. 105

I came to Margaret Townsend’s, and met with my wife, and sister Mitchell, who rejoiced to see my feet once more out of the prison. We sang praises to God for his great mercies to me at this time, and passed the afternoon in encouraging each other. Next morning I sent them out of town, and went, as I was ordered, to parade at the Blue-boar, at Castlegate, where the officers ordered Corporal W— to fetch me a gun and other warlike instruments; and though he seemed to shudder at the task, he was forced to obey; and when he brought them, and was girding them about me, he trembled as if he had the palsy. p. 109

At my return home, I was told that they were going to press men for his majesty’s service, and that severa1 of the alehouse-keepers and clergymen had agreed to press me for one. And I was advised not to preach a sermon by several of my neighbors; but I told them I durst not leave off preaching, for any thing that man could do unto me. They replied, “You should consider that you have a wife and children, and that your wife is now big with child; and if you be take from them, what can the poor woman do, or how must she provide for her children?” l said, “Let God look to that; if wicked men be sufficient to take away my life, for calling sinners to the blood of Jesus, the Lord, whose servant I am, will be a husband to the widow, and a father to the fatherless. And were I assured I should be banished or put to death for preaching, and my wife and children beg their bread barefoot, I durst not leave off; for the words of our Lord pursue me, ‘He that loveth father or mother, wife or children, or his own life, more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that would save his life shall lose it; and he that will lose his life for my sake shall save it.’ Therefore, pray for me, but do not tempt me to sin against my own soul.” pp. 117, 118

When the man and I were laid down on a little foul straw, "Pray you, sir," said he, "are all these your kinsfolk, that they love you so well? I think they are the most loving people that ever I saw in my life." I answered, "By this you may know that they are Jesus Christ's disciples; for this is the mark He Himself has given, whereby all men might know His disciples from the unbelieving world." At four in the morning, my wife and several more came to the dungeon, and spoke to me through the hole of the door; and I said, "Jeremiah's lot is fallen upon me." Then it came to my remembrance that, when I was about, thirteen or fourteen years old, I often thought, if God should make me like Jeremiah, to stand and speak His words to the people in the streets, as he did, I should not mind who cast dirt at me. And now I am in some measure, treated as he was, for persuading men to flee from the wrath to come. My wife said, "Fear not; the cause is God's for which you are here, and He will plead it Himself. Therefore be not concerned about me and the children; for He that feeds the young ravens will be mindful of us; He will give you strength for your day; and after we have suffered awhile, He will perfect that which is lacking in our souls, and then bring us 'where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest.'” So they all said that were with her at the door. I was greatly refreshed at finding my wife so strong in the faith, when she was like to be left with two children, and big with another at the same time; and said, "I cannot fear either man or devil, so long as I find the love of God as I do now; for He has cheered my heart as with sweet wine, ever since He suffered me to be cast into prison. O that I may be faithful unto death, and I shall receive the crown of life! For not one word of Jesus shall fall to the ground, till all be accomplished." pp. 130,131

The next morning I lay on the boards to rest me, and fell asleep: when I dreamt of Daniel in the lions’ den. I was awakened by one crying, “Nelson, Nelson!” and I started up, saying, “Who wants me?” That instant three women came to the door, and brought me some food. They were entire strangers to me, and I said to them. “But thou, Lord, carest for me.”

On Tuesday night, my wife and Sister Mitchell came to see me, and found me lying on the boards. I said, “Behold the fruits of the gospel: now you see the word of God is fulfilled, ‘They lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and he that turneth from evil maketh himself a prey.’ But God looks down from heaven, and will plead our cause; fear not.” “No,” answered they, “we do not fear; for our God is as able to deliver now as he was seventeen hundred years ago.” So they took their leave of me that night, wishing me a good repose on my wooden bed, where, thanks be to God, I slept as well as if I had been on a bed of down. The next morning they brought me something to eat, and bid me be strong in the Lord, and not fear them that can kill the body only. My heart was rejoiced to see them so steadfast in the faith. p. 138

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