Having set out for heaven thus soon, and continuing her resolution for God and religion and the eternal interests of her soul, she often advised[1] with herself and others upon the properest and most effectual means to promote and carry on her spiritual and pious designs; and at last determined on this one: to keep a daily memorial of what she did, which should be a witness betwixt God and her own soul (as she expresses it).

I cannot be certain when she began this, but, as I conjecture, it must be about the 18th or 20th year of her age.[2] After that, for betwixt twenty and thirty years, she concealed her accounts in shorthand, which cannot be recovered by me, nor, I believe, by any other, because of the many peculiar characters and abbreviations of her own. The first I have gathered begin in the year 1690 (with some short references to former years), and from that time she continued them in longhand (for the most part) to the end of her life.

In this diary, both morning and evening, she strictly observes, with a very great liberty and happy variety of expression:

The most remarkable providences of God with respect to herself and others, and sometimes in the minutest circumstances of them;

The solemn transactions betwixt God and her own soul in her closet, in her family, in the assembly, and in her daily walk and conversation with others;

The substance of what she had read or heard that was most affecting in her present case, or might direct her future practice;

Her preparations for holy duties; the influences, impressions, assistances, withdrawings, and consolations of the Spirit of God in them;

Her daily infirmities, afflictions, supports, self-examinations, evidences and foretastes of eternal life;

Her advances in religion, and her suspected decays;

The matter of her prayers for herself and others, and the manner, time and seasonableness of God’s answers;

The temper of her soul, especially on Sabbaths and at sacraments; and in days of solemn fasting and humiliation and thanksgiving, public, private or secret; and in days she set apart for self-trial and searches into her own soul;

The various scenes of her life; her comforts and exercises in each of them;

The state of her servants, and others, committed to her care;

Her merciful protections in journeys;

The directions of providence as to all the places of her abode, and the gracious visitations of God to her soul in all such places;

The uncommon events that either befell herself, or family, or friends or the Church of God;

The burdens that pressed hardest upon her;

The joys that most relieved her;

The manner and form of her covenanting with God;

God’s faithfulness to his Covenant,[3] in every relation and state of life;

The indulgences of providence to her;

The advantage of Christian conversation;

Her constant intercession for ministers and their people;

Her faithful reproofs;

Her success with young ones;

Her concern for the health and maintenance of the poor;

Her reflections upon the unwary slips of her conversation;

Her esteem of the Holy Scriptures, learned expositors and practical writers;

Her annual recapitulation of mercies, and sins, and afflictions, and resolutions, and self-dedications;

Her special remarks upon days of mercy, either to herself or family; and her manner of entering on a New Year[4] etc.

It would be almost impossible to enumerate the several heads and articles of which her diary constituted, and therefore what is proposed to public view is but a very little part of what we find under her hand and must still remain for private use.

She found it of singular advantage to herself to observe this method, and would often say that, were it not for her diary, she should neither know what she was, or what she did, or what she had.[5] But by her recourse to this in all her afflictions, and trials, and temptations, and surprises, she ordinarily had great relief. Let her mind never be so much muffled, the exercise of reason and grace never so much interrupted, yet the review of former experience was an extraordinary help to future confidence.[6] And this brought her again to her great Rock and Refuge[7] and Rest, till she recovered her usual cheerfulness. And hence it was she so often recommended this practice to others, that God might not lose the glory, nor they themselves the comfort of their lives.


[1] Deliberated; considered; consulted.

[2] 1662–64. Nussbaum (op. cit.) is mistaken when she states, ‘The inception of her diary and her moment of conversion seem to correspond’, for Samuel Bury writes (see above), ‘The certain time and particular means of her conversion she could not positively determine, but she thought it was about the tenth year of her age.’ And Elizabeth Bury (born 1644) herself writes in 1690, ‘When I was nine or ten years old, I first began the work of self-examination, and begged the all-searching God to try and discover me to myself: and I think I may date my conversion about that time.’ There were many years between her conversion and keeping a diary, and this is fatal to Nussbaum’s hypothesis that ‘her belief that she exists, that she possesses an identity, depends quite literally on its textual transcription.’ The proposition that Elizabeth Bury had no self-awareness apart from her keeping a diary is absurd: consciousness does not depend on literacy, and one cannot keep a deeply personal spiritual diary (written in the first person) without belief in one’s existence and identity. ‘Self-consciousness is coextensive with humanity: everyone who can say ‘I’ has an acute sense of self…Ontogenically and phylogenetically, it is the oral word that first illuminates consciousness with articulate language, that first divides subject and predicate’ Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (1982).

[3] References to God’s Covenant by the Puritans were usually synonymous with the Covenant of Grace (see below) through which God executes his eternal decrees and brings the elect to salvation. The Puritans also developed the concept of a Covenant of Works. References to these dual covenants are found in the Westminster standards developed by the Westminster Assembly, the subordinate standards of the Presbyterian churches.

In this dual covenant scheme, the constitution under which Adam was placed at his creation is known as the Covenant of Works (also called Covenant of Life, and Covenant of Nature). The parties to that covenant were God, the moral Governor, and Adam, a free moral agent and the federal head of all his posterity (Ro 5:12–19). The promise was eternal life (Mt 19:16–17; Ga 3:12) on condition of perfect obedience to the law. The penalty for breaking the covenant was death (Ge 2:16–17). Adam violated the condition of this covenant, and his sin was imputed to all whom he represented federally, bringing condemnation upon all.

But ‘God doth not leave all men to perish in the estate of sin and misery, into which they fell by the breach of the first covenant, commonly called the Covenant of Works; but of his mere love and mercy delivereth his elect out of it, and bringeth them into an estate of salvation by the second covenant, commonly called the Covenant of Grace’ (Westminster Assembly’s Larger Catechism, Answer to Question 30).

In the Covenant of Grace, the Father represents the Godhead in its indivisible sovereignty, and the Son represents his people as their surety (Joh 17:4,6,9; Isa 42:6; Ps 89:3). ‘The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed’ (Larger Catechism, Answer to Q.31).

Christ, as the second Adam, fulfils all the conditions of the Covenant of Works on behalf of his people as their federal head, assuming their place and undertaking all their obligations: perfect obedience to the law (Ps 40:8; Isa 42:21; Joh 9:4–5), and suffering its penalty of its violation in their stead (Isa 53:1–12; 2Co 5:21; Ga 3:13).

Thus the Covenant of Works, resting on the immutable justice of God, is fully satisfied by Christ, and in him all whom he represents federally – the elect. On condition of their faith (itself a gift of God) they receive the imputed righteousness of Christ, leading to justification and eternal life: they are translated from being ‘in Adam’ to being ‘in Christ’.

[4] Throughout her diary, Elizabeth Bury used the dating convention used in Scotland, i.e. the Julian calendar with January 1 (‘Circumcision’) as the first day of the year. The official English civil or legal calendar reckoned the year as beginning on Lady Day, March 25 (‘Annunciation’: 9 months before December 25), e.g. March 25, 1720 immediately followed March 24, 1719. To add to the confusion, England, Scotland and Russia used the Julian Calendar, whereas many European states used the Gregorian Calendar, which advanced ahead of the Julian Calendar at the rate of three days every four hundred years. Denmark and the Protestant states in the Netherlands and Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700.

The following examples show some of the variations in use during Elizabeth Bury’s lifetime; the date in the right hand column is the date in England when each respective state celebrated its own New Year’s Day 1720:

State Reckoned from Calendar Date in England

England March 25, ad 1 Julian March 25, 1720

Scotland January 1, ad 1 Julian January 1, 1719

France January 1, ad 1 Gregorian December 21, 1719

Regarding the days of the month, Britain was 10 days adrift from ‘Continental’ practice from 1582 to 1699, and 11 days from 1700 to 1752. Thus on March 24, 1719 in London (New Year’s Eve), the date was March 24, 1720 in Edinburgh, and April 4, 1720 in Paris. The British system was aligned to Continental practice in two stages: firstly the English calendar was aligned to Scottish usage so that following December 31, 1751, a new year, 1752, began on January 1; nine months later both countries were aligned to the Gregorian calendar so that Wednesday September 2, 1752 (September 13, 1752 in the Gregorian calendar) was immediately followed by Thursday September 14, 1752: 11 days, September 3–13, 1752, were omitted. Sweden came into line with the Gregorian calendar the following year.

A vestige of the old calendar survives in the British Fiscal (tax) year – to compensate for the loss of 11 days in September 1752, the tax year ran from March 25, 1752 to

April 5, 1753, and has ended on April 5 every year since.

[5] Nussbaum (op cit) at the head of her chapter “Of Woman’s Seed” Women’s Spiritual Autobiographies ascribes this sentence in the third person singular to Elizabeth Bury, whereas it is by her husband. Julia Martin (Self and Subject in Eighteenth Century Diaries) has the attribution correct, but Nussbaum confuses the writers over the same quotation when she asserts, ‘In fact, speaking in the third person, she writes that she knew who she was only because she kept a diary; “were it not for her Diary, she should neither know what she was or what she did, or what she had.” ’ It is this that Nussbaum relies on to underpin her proposition that ‘her belief that she exists, that she possesses an identity, depends quite literally on its textual transcription.’ But it would be fantastic if belief in one’s existence depended on writing – scribo ergo sum. On the contrary, it was not the recording of Elizabeth Bury’s affairs that gave her an identity, but her ‘recourse to this in all her afflictions’ and her ‘review of former experience’ (i.e. what she was, did and had in former times) that helped her form a godly perspective. Thus Prior, Women in English Society, 1500–1800 (London, 1985): ‘Writers often noted that they had read through old volumes of their diaries to give them insight into current problems.’ The daily memorial was a means to an end: the ‘properest and most effectual means to promote and carry on her spiritual and pious designs.’ Samuel Bury employs similar phraseology when dealing with his wife’s reaction to the recounting by others of former events: ‘She was never more palled in conversation than in hearing what others did, and what they had, and what they said; what dresses were worn, what entertainments were given, what company was present, and what discourse passed amongst them.’ ‘What others did’: e.g. what entertainments were given; ‘what others had’, e.g. what dresses were worn; ‘what they said’, e.g. what discourse passed between them.

[6] With regard to recording her covenanting with God, Elizabeth Bury was following the advice of Joseph Alleine who, in his Alarme to Unconverted Sinners, advised ‘This covenant I advise you to make…not only in word, but in writing…Keep it as a memorial of the solemn transactions that have passed between God and you, that you may have recourse to it in doubts and temptations.’

[7] Psalm 62:7 In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.

Psalm 94:22 But the LORD is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.

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