It was easy to observe a very lively impression of God’s image upon her soul; and the whole train of graces, in a beautiful exercise, through the whole course of her life and actions.

Her humility showed itself to others in her courteous carriage and familiar conversation with the poorest, especially where she thought she could have any advantage of doing good. And whenever she appeared before God, her diary shows how exceeding vile she was in her own eyes; how much she abhorred herself, by reason of the lerna malorum[1] (as she often calls it) which she always found in her sinful nature, which made her a burden to herself, and to look upon her heart as a lump of pollution, a sink of filth, a mass of sin. How greatly did it humble her to observe the condescensions of divine grace under all her infirmities: ‘What grace, and such grace to me, to unworthy me, to vile ungrateful me!’ There was nothing that affected her heart so much as the grace of God to such a sinner.

Her patience was very observable under all the chastisements of her heavenly Father: she would often profess her unfeigned submission to all his discipline.[2] ‘This’, says she, ‘or any other method, Lord, to take away sin! This flesh shall bear it, and this spirit shall not repine at it; this is a part of thy Covenant, and I am thankful for it; thou hast done me good by afflictions, and wilt do me more, and therefore I will glory in them.’ And under the unkind treatments of some (whom she had studied[3] to oblige to the uttermost, and whose interests she had espoused, to the apparent prejudice of her own) she showed a very exemplary carriage,[4] by keeping the possession of her own mind, and kissing the rod that lashed her, and rendering good to them for all their evil. Indeed, these were trials that sat closest to her of most others; but by the grace of God she was conqueror over all, she eyed God in all, and ever referred her cause to God.

As to this world, she was very thankful to God for the good provision she had in it, but often protested she would never take this for her portion, since God had offered heaven and himself to her. The cares and encumbrances and vexations, but more especially the sinfulness, of the world had wholly weaned her affections from it, and caused many restless and almost incessant cries to be delivered out of it. She was never elevated with its smiles, unless in thankfulness to God; and never dejected at its frowns, unless she apprehended sin as its cause. Her mind, for the most part, was equal[5] in every state, because she was always longing for her heavenly country and inheritance.[6] How often would she wish, ‘O for those realms of light and love and purity!’

Her love to the souls of others was manifest by her instructing, examining, reproving and advising them upon all occasions. There were very few [that] could escape her (after some acquaintance) but she would know whereabouts they were in religion; and when she had conversed with [them], she would earnestly pray for them in her closet, and be greatly thankful when she found any impression made. She constantly bewailed the ignorance, impiety, profaneness and immorality she saw or heard of in any; but in a more especial manner, the insensibleness, carelessness, and evil practices of the seed of the righteous – children of prayer, of providence, and vows.

Her love for the godly could not but be observed by all. She delighted greatly in their company, as looking upon them the excellent of the earth,[7] how mean and contemptible soever they appeared to others. She loved them as the children of God and fellow heirs of the Kingdom;[8] would diligently frequent their praying meetings, and always promote some spiritual conversation, which, if not forwarded[9] by others, was a disappointment and grief to her. We often (by her diary) find her praying that her visits may be made profitable to herself and others: that precious time might not be wasted by empty chat, but that they may be helpers of each others’ faith and joy, and have some comfortable talk of the Kingdom. She often bewailed it that the communion of saints, which was an article of the Christian creed,[10] was so much forgotten by most Christians; and sometimes, when she returned from unprofitable company, would complain that though she had ‘struck fire so often’, yet ‘it always fell upon wet tinder.’

Her zeal for God was manifest in promoting his worship and every profitable method for public service, having the interest of God at heart than any private or selfish interest whatever.

Her charity to the poor was known to many, especially to the household of faith,[11] whether to natives or to foreigners. She spared no pains and grudged no charges (in her widow state) to carry on her designs for the relief of miserable families exiled for religion; for erecting charity schools to educate the poor; for the maintenance of ministers and candidates; and for a stock of Bibles and practical books to be distributed as she should see occasion. So many long and expensive journeys she had taken in promoting these charitable designs amongst her acquaintance that she had sometimes this pleasant remark upon herself, ‘I have acted the part of a beggar so long, that I am now almost really one myself.’ She very much approved of everyone’s devoting a certain part of their estates to pious and charitable uses; ‘for then’ says she ‘they will not grudge to give out of a bag that is no longer their own.’ And as such as had no children, she thought it reasonable that they should appropriate a fourth part of their net profits (as well as she) to such necessary purposes.

Her faith in Christ and dependence on God’s Covenant was the daily exercise of her soul.[12] Her first and principal care was to clear up her interest in Christ and the promises,[13] in which she was cautious and exact. She then prepared and digested a very choice collection of promises suited to every state, duty, relation, frame, temptation and difficulty of life. This was the food of her faith, always prepared, and from which she had constant strength and comfort. She grounded her prayers upon these, took her arrows out of God’s own quiver, pleaded with God from his Word, and thus wrestled with him[14] in his own strength for herself and for others, in every business, in every circumstance and turn of life. Her diary shows what fast hold she took of God by his Covenant promise,[15] and how she kept her hold, sometimes hoping even against hope,[16] till she had baffled temptation, conquered corruption, and surmounted all her difficulties. The reaches of her faith after Christ, her solemn dedications of herself to him, and steady recumbency of soul upon him as her only Rock and Refuge,[17] were such as did not appear in common Christians. It might well be said of her, ‘O woman! great is thy faith!’ and it was often said of her, ‘Be it to thee even as thou wilt.’ [18]

[1]‘Lerna of evils’. In Greek mythology, Lerna was a forest and marsh near Argos, through which flowed a stream of the same name, the haunt of the multi-headed Hydra, whose heads grew again as soon as they were cut off.

[2] Hebrews 12:5–7 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? v.9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?

[3] Endeavoured diligently.

[4] Behaviour; conduct; deportment.

[5] Even; uniform; not variable.

[6] Hebrews 11:16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

[7] Psalm 16:3 But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.

[8] Ephesians 3:6 That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel. James 2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

[9] Advanced; promoted; aided in progress.

[10] ‘I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.’

[11] Galatians 6:10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

[12] Elizabeth Bury upheld the Reformed view of the Covenant: a covenant into which the believer becomes a party by faith and into which he is bound, wherein he personally covenants with God to observe all the duties and responsibilities of the Covenant. Her husband speaks of those who by her influence were brought ‘under the bonds of the Covenant’; and she herself, speaking of her baptism as an infant, declares, ‘Though the Lord foresaw all the evil I should do, and how little good, yet I was (as) on this day taken into his house under the bonds of his Covenant.’ This accords with the Reformers’ view of God’s dealings with his people, e.g. that ‘he bound them to himself with an indissoluble bond by the highest miracle of love’, and that ‘the entire Covenant was contained in the sacrament of the Covenant’, by which ‘God bound the faithful to himself, commanding that they adhere to him in faith and innocence’ (Bullinger).

It is clear that Elizabeth Bury had a very high regard for the sacraments as signs and seals of this Covenant, on the observance of which she renewed and confirmed her personal covenant with God. In a letter to a friend she writes, ‘think not of throwing off duty, especially your attendance on that comfortable sealing ordinance, the Lord’s Supper, which I have reason to recommend to all my afflicted tempted friends, since I find it no small mercy to go and renew my former covenant, or if I cannot find my fidelity therein, to make it anew; for surely God doth there renew his Covenant with every fallen child of Adam that heartily consents, though he cannot perfectly reach the terms according to his desire.’

This language was in marked distinction from trends among some separatists, antinomians and hypercalvinists, for many of whom the sacraments, given by God to the Church as signs and seals of his Covenant, were transmuted into badges of election, or, in the case of the Quakers, mere earthly shadows that were of no abiding value in a ‘spiritual’ Church.

[13] ‘The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation’ (Larger Catechism, Answer to Q.32).

[14] Genesis 32:24, 26, 29–30 And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day…And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me…And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

William Burkitt (1650–1703): ‘Almighty God takes pleasure in being urged in prayer by the holy importunity of his friends: never is he better pleased, than when his people, with holy Jacob, wrestle with him, and will not let him go till he hath blessed them’ – commentary on Luke 11:5.

[15] The Covenant came to expression in the spiritual promises of the Abrahamic covenant, to the extent that ‘all that God has done savingly in grace since the revelation of the Abrahamic covenant is the result and product of it’ (Reymond).

Genesis 17:1–2, 7–8 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly…And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.

Genesis 26:3–5 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father; and I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

Genesis 28:13–14 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

I Chronicles 16:15–17 Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations; even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac; and hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant.

Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. v.29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

[16] Romans 4:18 [Abraham] against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be.

[17] 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.

[18] Matthew 15:28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

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