For some of the last years of her life she found herself in a declining state and was always waiting for her dismission.[1] The clearness of her thought, vigour of mind and strength of memory held to the last; but she was often loaded with bodily infirmities and had many wearisome nights and days appointed her, which still made her the more desirous of her eternal rest.

While we were both afflicted together, the one with nephritic,[2] the other with hysteric pains,[3] it was advised by physicians that the one should make use of Bristol waters, the other of Bath, which were thought the properest remedies in both dangerous cases. In pursuance of these advices, in autumn 1719 we set out for Bath and spent the season with good success: at which juncture of time, just as we were leaving Bath, I was much surprised with very unexpected overtures[4] from a congregation in Bristol[5] to succeed in their pastoral charge upon the death of their late minister.[6] How improbable soever my compliance with this call seemed to me at first (by reason of some peculiar circumstances that perplexed it) yet I durst not dismiss it without some thought.[7] And the call still being urged, and the state of my health growing worse, and threatening me in a little time with a total disability for further service in my former station,[8] I resolved to refer myself entirely on the conduct of providence and the choice that God should make for me. And by much prayer and careful observation thereupon, we both apprehended it our duty to make a trial of the waters there for six months, and then to be at our liberty to return, if we thought fit.[9] Upon this concession we set forward for Bristol on the Fourth of April following and arrived there the Eighth. And to the Third of May we both enjoyed a very comfortable measure of health, and were purposing in a few days for Bath – though she often opposed it, alleging that she found no need of it, having never been better for seven years past than she had been since she came to Bristol.

But the providence of God soon altered the scene and hung our harps upon the willows.[10] On the same third day of May, as we had just entered into a friend’s house where we were to dine, she was immediately struck with an exquisite[11] pain in one ear, which presently caused such a deafness as to render her unsociable, upon which she desired to withdraw and went home. Her deafness continuing, a pleuritic fever soon followed, and after that a lethargy, which deprived us, in part, of what heavenly conversation we promised ourselves from her upon her deathbed.

In former illnesses, when she herself and everyone else thought her under the sentence of death, she was always so far above the fear of it (though naturally of a timorous spirit) that she triumphed over it, and sang, ‘O Death! Where is thy sting? O Grave! Where is thy victory? Thanks be to God, who giveth the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ [12]

‘I am fighting’, saith she, ‘under the great Captain of my salvation, and can bid defiance to all the powers of Hell, and boldly encounter Satan in his own kingdom.’ [13]

‘I am now in the dark valley,[14] but I see light at the end of it, and the gate of heaven stands open;[15] O let me go into endless love, and live that sinless life! When, Lord, shall I come to thee? Almost gone, and yet I cannot go.’

‘O my dear friends! Why so cruel? What should I live any longer for? My work is done, and why would you not have me go to rest? Give me up, I entreat you, to God, and do it cheerfully! My constant prayer has been to be always waiting and hoping, and this is my present frame.’

‘It is an abundant answer to all your prayers for me that I have peace and hope and comfort, without any doubt or fear or suspicious thought of my salvation.’

‘I am sure I have not flattered myself in the trial of my state, nor have been superficial in it, and am fully persuaded that God will not deceive me.’

‘I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.[16] It is but one push, and better now if God sees fit, or else I shall have all this to do again’

‘Father! into thy hands let me commend my spirit.’ [17]

With what pleasure she would feel her faltering pulse and say,

‘When wilt thou beat thy last? It is not death yet, but blessed be God ’tis pretty near it.’

‘I hope I shall not return to labour and sorrow and sin again.’

‘O that I had the wings of a dove, then would I fly and be at rest.’ [18]

She would often add,

‘We have need of patience, that after we have done the will of God, we might inherit the promises.’[19]

In her last illness she had the same steadfast faith and strong consolations as before, but a more difficult passage than was expected. We thought, by her lamentable groans for some days together, that her pains had been quite exquisite; but when it was asked her, she ordinarily answered, ‘I feel but little pain, only am restless.’ Her cold and excessive sweats continued for many hours together and were not more profuse in themselves than affecting to others.

Though the nature of her distemper forbad her to speak much, yet what she spoke was always rational and spiritual. Her mind was not only sedate but very placid and cheerful, as oft as she awaked: ‘O my God’, says she, ‘I wait for thy salvation[20] – This day I hope to be with Christ in paradise[21] – The promises of God are all yea and Amen in Christ Jesus;[22] and here my faith lays hold, and here it keeps its hold.’

On the Eleventh of May she prayed us, with much entreaty, to detain her no longer by our prayers, but resign up her soul to God – which we did with as much earnestness as ever we had asked for her life before. Such are God’s ways to wean us from our dearest enjoyments in this world.

At ten o’clock that night, the poor prisoner was released from all her bonds and obtained a glorious freedom. Her heaven-born soul, with its mighty guard, took wing for the realms of light, has heard its euge[23] and received its crown,[24] and is for ever safely lodged in the bosom of its dear Redeemer.

She died without any regret, unless it was that she had lived so long; and has left a name behind her more precious than that of sons and daughters, to the honour of her sex, relation and profession.[25]

She had often made it her prayer to God that she might come honourably off in her last encounter: that neither religion might be discredited nor her friends discouraged by anything that should be observed in her. And as God had abundantly answered so many of her prayers before, so he very graciously answered her in this. For such were the free and lively exercises of her faith and love that they wholly triumphed over all her fears, and carried her with full sail to glory. And to the great comfort of surviving friends, she left this world at last without either a sigh or groan, and with the pleasantest smile that was ever observed in her countenance before.

[1] William Burkitt (1650–1703): ‘though life be ever so miserable and painful, yet must we wait God’s time for our dismission and release’ – commentary on Matthew 5:21.

[2] Pertaining to the kidneys. Samuel Bury suffered greatly with kidney stones and associated infections, as recounted in the Diary.

[3] The meaning of ‘hysteric pains’ is uncertain, but some disturbance of the nervous system is indicated. Elizabeth Bury had lengthy bouts of temporary deafness and blindness, asthma and chest pain. The hysteric, according to ancient Greek medicine, displayed physical symptoms such as paralysis of the limbs, functional blindness and deafness, shortness of breath, pain in the chest, lumps in the throat, pain in the groin or legs, fainting fits, skin rashes, digestive disturbances etc. As to the cause, it was believed to be due to a disorder or displacement of the womb. Aristotle contended that the brain condensed vapours that emanated from the heart. This viewpoint was still current in the early 18th century, where “vapours” were believed to cause hysteric states. Well into the 19th century it was defined as ‘a disease of women, proceeding from the womb, and characterized by fits or spasmodic affections of the nervous system.’

[4] He was approached by Henry Chandler who had been his contemporary at Thomas Doolittle’s academy.

[5] Lewin’s Mead, the largest Presbyterian congregation in the West of England, and the larger of the two Presbyterian congregations in Bristol, having around 1600 members and adherents. This congregation had been founded by John Weeks, who had been ejected from Buckland-Newton in Dorset. In 1692, Weeks and his congregation sought an assistant and tried to interest both Edmund Calamy and Joseph Kentish, who had studied together at Samuel Cradock’s Dissenting Academy at Wickhambrook, near Bury St Edmunds. At length, Calamy persuaded Kentish to accept the charge. ‘Mr. Kentish…proved a great blessing to that city. He continued assisting good Mr. Weeks for the remainder of his life, and then succeeded him as pastor of his flock, continuing such to his death; and he was succeeded by Mr. Michael Pope, who in some time also died, and was succeeded by Mr. Bury, who after being several years greatly useful there, died in 1730, being succeeded by Mr. Diaper’ (Calamy).

[6] Michael Pope had died in 1718 with no successor. The pastors were John Weeks until 1698, Joseph Kentish 1698–1705, Michael Pope 1705–18, Samuel Bury 1720–30, John Diaper 1730–51, William Richards 1751–68.

[7] He would have remembered the struggles that Edmund Calamy and Joseph Kentish had in 1692 when invited to the work at Lewin’s Mead. To Calamy, the congregation and other Dissenting ministers in Bristol ‘all appeared desirous of my settlement there, and were very pressing in conversation’; but he declined and took up a call to a more difficult work with Matthew Sylvester in London on less than half the salary, though ‘there was an evident likelihood of much greater and more extensive usefulness, if I continued there, than I could have at Mr. Sylvester’s.’

Kentish was initially firmly against accepting, and ‘was not at that time to be prevailed with to parley upon the matter, or at all to take it into consideration’, but eventually complied after urging from Calamy; and though he ‘at first by no means liked a continuance at Bristol’, yet he was ‘reconciled to it by degrees; and he proved a great blessing to that city’ (Calamy).

Reflecting on the workings of Providence, Calamy writes, after the deaths of both Joseph Kentish and Samuel Bury, ‘I must own I have sometimes been apt to question…whether I might not have answered the great ends of my ministry by yielding to the persuasions of the people of Bristol…But without all doubt, Divine Providence had considerable purposes to serve this way.’

[8] Presbyterian church at Bury St Edmunds. See the diary entries May – August 1719.

[9] This is similar to Edmund Calamy’s reasoning with his friend Joseph Kentish to accept the invitation in his stead in 1692: ‘Whereupon I wrote with great freedom to my friend, Mr. Kentish, that I thought such a city as Bristol was not by any means to be neglected…that, perhaps, he might, upon trial, find it a more proper place to settle in than he could imagine at a distance; but that if, after all, he should think otherwise, he would remain as free to give the people there a denial at the last, as at first…At length, I, with much difficulty, prevailed with him to spend a month or two at Bristol, where he met with universal acceptance, as I could easily foresee he would.’

[10] Psalm 137:1–2 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

[11] Being in the highest degree; extreme; very sensibly felt.

[12] I Corinthians 15:55–57 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

[13] Hebrews 2:10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

[14] Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

[15] Genesis 28:17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

[16] Song of Solomon 6:3 I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.

[17] Luke 23:46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.

[18] Psalm 55:6 And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.

[19] Hebrews 10:36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.

[20] Lamentations 3:26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

[21] Luke 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.

[22] II Corinthians 1:20 For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

[23] Greek euge, ‘well done’. It is found in most manuscripts of Luke 19:17, ‘Well done, good servant!’

[24] II Timothy 4:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

Revelation 2:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

[25] Isaiah 56:5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.

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