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from Memorable Providences Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions


Cotton Mather, son of Increase Mather [q.v.], was born in Boston, graduated from Harvard in 1678, and was ordained in 1685 in the Congregational Church. He assisted and then succeeded his father in the Second Church pastorate, Boston. Although he countenanced the Salem witchcraft trials and executions (1692-93), he did not directly participate in them; he did however have a hand in choosing some of the Salem judges and wrote to them during the trial, urging the rejection of spectral evidence (testimony of attacks by the specters of people otherwise known to the victim) and the merciful treatment of those who confessed (his counsel in each case was rejected). Then, having tried to be a moderating influence on the trials, he damaged his own reputation by writing Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), condemning the excesses of the trials but defending several of the trials’ resulting convictions. Cotton’s book was published at the same time as Increase’s attack on the use of spectral evidence in the Salem trials, Cases of Conscience. Even though Increase was different in his assessment of the witch trials, Increase is said to have publicly burned Robert Calef’s More Wonders of the Invisible World in Harvard Yard, a book attacking Cotton’s book.

Cotton Mather’s discussion of suicide is distinctive in its quasi-medical character. He is particularly concerned with the etiology of suicidal acts; once suicidal ideation begins, it is intensified and taken advantage of by the intervention of devils (hence the title, “A Discourse on the Power and Malice of the Devils”). Nevertheless, it is possible to take steps to avoid this. In what may seem to modern readers to anticipate the role of psychiatric intervention, Mather emphasizes the importance for the potential victim of suicide of not keeping silent and of speaking with friends, physicians, and neighbors about feelings of guilt, sin, and what would now be identified as depression.


Cotton Mather, Memorable providences, relating to witchcrafts and possessions. : A faithful account of many wonderful and surprising things, that have befallen several bewitched and possessed persons in New-England. Particularly, a narrative of the marvellous trouble and releef experienced by a pious family in Boston, very lately and sadly molested with evil spirits. : Whereunto is added, a discourse delivered unto a congregation in Boston, on the occasion of that illustrious providence. : As also a discourse delivered unto the same congregation; on the occasion of an horrible self-murder committed in that town. : With an appendix, in vindication of a chapter in a late book of remarkable providences, from the calumnies of a Quaker at Pen-silvania. Boston: Richard Pierce, 1689. Material in introductory passage from Stephen Latham.

Facsimile available online from the Yale University Library.


Temptations to Self-Murder, may likewise be fierce upon some unhappy people here. Tis almost unaccountable, that at some times in some places here, melancholy distempered Ragings toward Self-Murder, have been in a manner Epidemical. And it would make ones hair stand, to see or hear what manifest Assistence the Devils have given to these unnatural Self-executions when once they have been begun. Tis too evident, that persons are commonly bewitch’t or possess’t into these unreasonable Phrensies. But What shall these hurried people do?

My Advice is,

Don’t Conceal, much less Obey the motions of your Adversary. Failing in this, made a poor man, after a faithful Sermon in a Neighbouring Town, presently to drown himself in a pit that had not two foot of Water in it.  If you will not Keep, that is the way not to Take the Devil’s Counsel. Let not him Tie your Tongues, and it is likely he will not gain your Souls. Complain to a good God of the Dangers in which you find your selves; cry to Him, Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me. Complain also to a wise Friend. Let some prudent and faithful Neighbour understand your Circumstances: Tis possible you may thereby escape the Snares with which the cruel Fowlers of Hell hope to trapan you into their dismal Clutches for evermore. Your Neighbours may do much for you; and may prove your Keepers if God shall please. It may be the unkindness of some Friend, may have thrown you into your present Madness. Now the Kindness of some Friend may prove the Antidote. Many times, a Natural Distemper, is that by which the Devil takes advantage to get the souls of Self-Destroyers into his bloody hands. In this case, for the tempted persons to disclose their Griefs, will be the way to obtain their cures. Their Neighbours ought now to consult a skilful Physician for them; and oblige, yea, constrain them to follow his Directions. When the Humours on and by which the Devil works, are taken away, perhaps he may be starved out of doors. Many times, again, The sin of Slothfulness gives the Devil opportunity to procure the Self-Destruction of the sluggard. In this case too, the Tempted person may be succoured by the standers-by becoming sensible of their Circumstances. Their Neighbours may now compel them to follow their business. A Calling, the Business of a Calling, is an Ordinance of God, sanctified by Him to deliver us from the evil spirits that enter into the empty house,

But most times, There may be some old and great Sin unrepented of, where Temptations to Self-Murder have a violence hardly to be withstood,  There was once a man among us, who in the horrours of Despair, uttered many dreadful speeches against himself, and would often particularly say, I am all on a light Fire under the wrath of God!  This man yet never confessed any unusual sin, but this; that having gotten about Forty pounds by his Labour, he had spent it in wicked Company:  But in his Anguish of spirit he hanged himself.  There was once a woman among us, who under Sickness had made vowes of a New Life; but apprehending some defects in her conversation afterward, she fell into the distraction wherein she also hanged herself.  And the Sin of Adultery and Drunkenness has more than once issued in such a destructive Desperation.  In case of this or any such Guilt, Confession with Repentance affords a present Remedy.  To fly from Soul-Terrour by Self-Murder, is to leap out of the Frying-pan into the Fire.  Poor tempted People, I must like Paul in prison, cry with a loud voice unto you, Do your selves no harm; all may be well yet, if you will hearken to the Counsels of the Lord.

Now, Do thou, O God of peace, bruise Satan under our Feet. World without end, Amen.

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A Call to the Tempted: A Sermon on the Horrid Crime of Self-Murder


Increase Mather, commonly considered the most gifted member of the prominent Mather family and the first to be born in America, was a religious, educational, and political leader of early Puritan New England. A graduate of Harvard and Trinity College, Dublin, Mather was a skilled writer and orator who delivered sermons to congregations throughout England and New England. He was elected acting president of Harvard in 1685, later rector and president, but was forced to resign by political rivals in 1701 on a technicality. Mather wrote many religious treatises, political pamphlets, and sermons, as well as A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians (1676). A conflicted critic of the Salem witch trials like his son Cotton Mather [q.v.], Increase Mather’s Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits (1693) and its critique of spectral evidence is credited with stemming the tide of witchcraft executions.

Increase Mather’s sermon, A Call to the Tempted: A Sermon on the Horrid Crime of Self-Murder (1682, published 1723), is a passionate and reasoned attack on suicide, addressed directly to those who might be tempted—as Mather believed, by the devil—to commit it. The text was put into pamphlet form from his notes 40 years after its oral delivery, and its cover advertises the sermon’s objective: “for a Charitable Stop to Suicides.”

Although Mather had often thought of preaching on the subject, the final motivation for the sermon came as he walked alone in his garden: “This day my former thought about preaching on the evil of self-murder, returning upon me again. I looked up to GOD, and as I was lifting up my heart to Him . . . I was strangely moved and melted. Tears gushed from my eyes. And it seemed as if it were said unto me, ‘Preach on that subject, and thou shalt save bodies and souls from death.’ ” The following Sunday, Mather preached a sermon based on Acts 16:27–28 in which he outlined the reasons why such an act is unacceptable.

For Mather, suicide is often the act of trying to escape suffering through sin. The sin lies in hating one’s own flesh—the flesh that was created in God’s image—and in forfeiting the grace of life, as well as in murdering the one person to whom we are closest, that is, ourselves (murder perpetrated on one’s mother or brother, for Mather, is worse than one committed on a stranger). Mather’s view presupposes the doctrine of election, but even though a person might be tempted to suicide by despair over the belief that he or she is already damned—the sermon is particularly addressed to those who see themselves as sinners—Mather holds out some hope: “Thou are not sure that thou shalt not be saved.” Even though Mather hints that God is merciful and will not necessarily condemn all who commit suicide, on a practical level, one should never pardon any self-murderer, since a charitable view of suicide will only serve to encourage the practice: “Lest by being over-charitable to the dead, we become cruel to the living.”

Increase Mather, A Call to the Tempted: A Sermon on the Horrid Crime of Self-Murder [dated Boston, May 23, 1682], printed by B. Green, sold by Samuel Gerrish, 1723–24 (spelling and grammar modernized).


The Occasion of the Publication

Among the remarkables in the life of the memorable Dr. Increase Mather, there is this passage. “The doctor felt once upon his mind a strong impression to preach a sermon about the crime of self-murder, but he resisted, he declined, he laid it aside. He then wrote in his diary: This day my former thoughts about preaching on the evil of self-murder, returning upon me again; I looked up to God, and as I was lifting up my heart to Him, then walking in my garden, I was most strangely moved and melted. I could not speak a word for some time. Tears gushed from my eyes. And it seemed as if it were said unto me, Preach on that subject, and thou shalt save bodies and souls from death. The lion is among thy flock, refute him with the Sword of the Spirit, and the sheep committed unto thy charge shall be rescued out of his bloody hands! What the meaning of this is I know not; but wonder at it. There may be something of Heaven in it, more than I am aware of. The next Lords-day, he preached the sermon [on Acts 16: 27, 28.] And behold, soon after it, there came such to him, as informed him, that at that very time, the temptations to self-murder were impelling of them with an horrible violence, but God had blessed that happy sermon for their deliverance! They afterwards joined to his church.

A religious and honorable person, upon the reading of this passage, hoping that the sermon might be again blessed [more than forty years after the first preaching of it,] made enquiry, whether the Notes of the Sermon could be recovered: And here is all that could be recovered. The venerable author, who in the sixty-six years of his ministry did not use his notes in the public, did not so write his notes, as to have all the lively, instructing, affecting amplifications of the pulpit in them. The reader will perceive something of this, in the minutes of the sermon here exhibited. And the transcriber durst not make any unjustifiable interpolations. But his inserting sometimes the words of the texts that are quoted may be allowed him.

The design of the worthy gentleman who demanded this publication, is the same now that has been in many others to which he has generously contributed, that is, to do good. And if any one poor tempted soul, be rescued from the hands of the Destroyer, by what is here offered, I am sure he will count his expenses richly reimbursed. It may also comfort him to have such a token for good, that as Dr. Mather has his friend united with him in the services of the kingdom now, so they will be hereafter united in the glorious enjoyments of it.

Do Thyself No Harm

Acts 16: 27, 28

“He would have killed himself; — but Paul cried with a loud voice, Do thyself no harm.”

In the context, the Evangelist gives an account concerning the imprisonment of Paul and Silas for preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and a most remarkable occurrence happening thereupon which proved the conversion of the jailer who had dealt very cruelly with them. We have, here withal, a relation of what proved the occasion of that strange conversion. It was brought to pass by means of a miraculous earthquake which happened at midnight. The jailer being, by this earthquake, frightfully waked out of sleep, was full of distress and consternation. While he was thus distressed in his mind, the devil took advantage to fall upon him with horrid temptations.

Two things are noted in the words before us. First, there is noted the evil which the jailer was tempted unto, to wit, self-murder. He drew his sword, and was just ready to heath it in his own wretched bowels. Secondly, there is noted that which was the happy means of diverting him from the evil; to wit, the apostles speaking to him. He cried with a loud voice, very earnestly. And it was time to be in earnest. It was a matter of life and death!

Indeed, he used the most effectual argument that could be, to dissuade him from persisting in his attempt of self-murder. He convinced him, that the temptation which hurried him on to the barbarous and bloody fact, by him defined, was a mere needless fear. He was afraid, the prisoners were gone, and therefore the magistrates who committed them to prison would put him to death for letting them escape. Therefore Paul says, We are all here. How the Apostle knew that this was his temptation, this is not expressly declared. Probably, the jailer might utter some words to that purpose. However, he was distressed with a causeless fear. And yet this distress did, through the instigation of Satan, prevail so far that he was just upon the point of making himself away. Such is the subtlety of Satan and his great power over the minds of men. When God shall see meet to let him loose, so that he can, from mere imaginary fears, put them upon no less an evil than self-destruction. It was with the jailer so, and the temptation had prevailed, if Paul had not earnestly cautioned him from hearkening to it.


People distressed with temptation had sometimes need to be earnestly cautioned against the sin of self-murder.

There are two things to be now spoken to: First, what the distresses and temptations are that put men upon the sin of self-murder. And then, the reasons why they that are so tempted should be earnestly cautioned against this evil.

Question 1. The distresses and temptations that often put men upon the sin of self-murder: What are they?

I. Sometimes men are tempted unto this evil, so that they may not fall into the hands of those that they think will put them to a miserable death. This was the temptation of the jailer now before us. According to the law among the Romans, if the jailer let his prisoner go he was to suffer the same punishment which the prisoner should have undergone. Hence, Acts 12: 18, 19. When Peter escaped, the soldiers that were set for his keepers, Herod ordered them to be put to death. Sinful creatures think with themselves that if they live a while longer, they shall be put to a more miserable death, and therefore it may be said of them, sin hast thou chose rather than affliction! They will destroy themselves, rather than stay for other men to do it. We have several instances of this in the sacred scriptures. Saul, bloody Saul, was one of them. He will die by his own hands rather than the Philistines. Achitophel was another of them. He might well conclude, when his counsel was not hearkened to, that David would prevail, and then he must needs die for his treasons. What is it that we read of Zimri? I King 16: 18. When he saw the city was taken, and he must fall into the hands of his enemies, he burnt the king’s house over him and he died. Human history gives us many other instances. Among the rest, Hannibal poisoned himself, that he might not fall into the hands of his enemies. Demosthenes did the like. The wicked Jews blasphemously imagined that the Holy Son of God, the blessed Jesus, would have killed himself for fear of falling into their hands. John 8: 22. Then said the Jews, ‘Will he kill himself?’

II. The fear of disgrace in the world puts men upon it. There was this also in the temptation of the jailer. He thought it a disgraceful thing to be put to death in a way of judicial proceeding and with a public execution. And therefore! —– Sometimes a proud Spirit had rather commit the greatest sin against God than undergo a little disgrace from men. This was the temptation of Abimeleck to murder himself, or (which is the same) to desire another to kill him. Judges 9:54. Slay me that men may say not of me, ‘a woman slew him. There have been some that, when they have committed foul and shameful sins, have, through fear of punishment and disgrace among men, destroyed themselves. To a proud spirit there is nothing so bitter as disgrace and infamy. When this temptation overcomes them, they will choose death rather than such a misery. And thus also it is when men, for fear of want, shall desperately destroy themselves. They think it will be a disgraceful thing to be beholden unto others for their subsistence, and it may be, to be brought unto a morsel of bread and live like a beggar! Such a temptation is too hard for them, and therefore they think to be eased of it by a self-destruction.

III. Distress of conscience is that from which the devil does many times, take occasion to tempt men unto the sin of self-murder. Saul was in distress of conscience as well as otherwise distressed, and therein he would have starved himself to death. See I Sam. 28: 15,22,23. ——— Judas is in distress of conscience, and then! —— He flies to the halter that he may let out his wretched soul. The burden of a guilty and a wounded conscience is intolerable. It is said, Prov. 18: 14. Who can bear it? Poor creatures having such a wounded spirit, and being under the strong delusions of Satan, often think to obtain some ease by ruining of themselves. Especially when inward & outward troubles meet together, (as oftentimes they do). Miserable creatures are in danger of becoming guilty of this crime. Satan takes this advantage to tempt them unto it. It seems as if Job were thus tempted, though he had the grace to resist and conquer the temptation. He was in affliction upon temporal accounts. At the same time he thought God was his enemy. He felt the terrors of God in his soul. God suffered Satan to terrify him with frightful dreams. He was tempted hereupon to choose the most ignominious death, rather than be in such misery. He says, John 7: 15 My soul chooseth strangling and death rather than life. But the mercy of God preserved him from laying violent hands upon himself! —-

Question 2. For what reasons are they that are so tempted, earnestly cautioned against complying with the temptation?

I. Temptations to self-murder, Satan is in them! Such temptations are not from the holy and blessed God. Let no man say, when he is thus tempted, I am tempted of God! —- Job’s wife tempted him to commit such a sin as would bring a quick death upon himself. Curse God and die! She was an instrument of Satan. It was the devil that put her upon giving that cursed and bloody counsel to her husband. The devil would persuade men to think of getting out of affliction by sin. Yea, and to die sinning, that the last act which they do before they go out of the world should be to commit some great sin against the glorious God. He knows this will render them unfit to die! Thus the devil says, murder and die!— Stab thyself,— shoot thyself,— choke thyself— and die! The devil is therefore said to be–John 8: 44. A murderer. Yea, Satan has a most peculiar hand in the perpetration of this crime. As is evident from the strange manner how sometimes it is accomplished:— by drowning, in a small puddle of water, — hanging upon a small twig, not enough to bear the weight of a man, —or with knees resting on the ground. Satan must needs have a great hand — the invisible world is most sensibly at work in such things as these!

II. Self-murder is a very great sin. Murder is the greatest sin against the second table of the Law. Tis a great provocation in the sight of God. Hence is that expression in the scripture, concerning a most abominable thing.—Isa. 66: 3. It is as if he killed a man. Tis a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance! –See Acts 28: 4.— But self-murder is the worst kind of murder. — Tis the most unnatural! — For a man to murder a near relative tis worse than for him to murder another. And the nearer the relation is, the greater the sin.— Therefore, ——- tis a most complicated sin?

The self-murderer sins against the glorious God in defacing of his image, and in dishonoring of His name. —Especially, if he be a person that has made any pretences to religion. ———

He sins against himself, — against his own body, as if hating his own flesh. — And it may be said unto him, Thou hast sinned against thy own soul. His reputation also, is forever destroyed.

He sins against his relatives to whom he causes the greatest grief, and the greatest dishonor, that can be. ——

III. A willful and impenitent self-murderer cannot be saved! We are taught, 1 John 3: 15. Ye know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. Then, most certainly, no self-murderer — without repentance — which, in many cases, how can it be supposed!

Its true, the elect of God may be grievously tempted unto this sin. The jailer was one of those. — Yea, many of the elect have been so, in the pangs of the new-birth, at their first conversion unto God, and some have been so after their conversion. The best of saints upon earth may be so. Of Job I have told you. I may tell you of Luther, and of many more, when the devil has no hope of prevailing, yet he will tempt unto this crime. He will do it only to vex and molest the faithful servants of God! He therefore tempted our blessed Jesus Himself unto it. See Matt. 4: 6. —

But, except it be in case of destraction, it is a rare thing for Satan thus to prevail over any that belong unto God. If he do, yet the execution cannot be so dispatched as to leave no space of repentance. Therefore, it is very observable that though we read of some of the elect of God in the scripture that have been tempted unto this crime, yet none were left actually to commit it. But such as we have cause to look upon as reprobates; were a Saul, an Achitophel, a Zimri, & a Judas, any other?

As for secret things and extraordinary cases, we must leave them to God. Nevertheless, it is a clear scriptural principle, that an impenitent murderer cannot be saved. There are some sins, that an elect person shall be preserved from. Such particularly is the unpardonable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And such is final impenitency. Therefore, it concerns them that have the use of reason and know what they do, to beware of this sin as they bear any respect unto the salvation of their precious and immortal souls.

IV. Life is a great mercy. Men should be cautioned against despising and willfully casting away the mercies of God. Life in this world, is an invaluable mercy: because whilst there is life there is hope: Eccl 9: 4. To him who is joined unto all the living there is hope. As long as persons are alive, there is an hopeful possibility that they may repent and turn and live unto God: — that they may obtain an assurance of an interest in Jesus Christ, — that the pardon of their sins may be secured. But when life is at an end, there is no hope of repentance or of getting a part of Christ, or of getting sin to be forgiven. We are told, Heb. 9: 27. After death the judgment. If those things are not made sure of before the soul of a man is out of his body, and his probation-time is over, it will be too late forever. So we read, Isa. 38: 18. —They that go down to the pit cannot hope for thy truth.

Use I. We may here take notice of the folly & unreasonableness of those temptations, whereby sinful creatures are sometimes put upon self-destruction. — As particularly, — that fear of disgrace in the world. — For any man to do himself harm for fear of that, is marvelous folly! A man cannot more disgrace himself than by committing such a sin. He leaves an everlasting blot upon his name, as long as he shall be spoken of in the world. And there is besides, an everlasting contempt which such persons, dying impenitently, must at the last day be exposed unto. When besides all their other sins, there shall be this alleged against them, that they were guilty of the most unnatural wickedness in the world. Is it not folly for men to bring upon themselves an eternal shame and confusion world without end, that they may escape a temporal!

Thus, when men shall do harm unto themselves for the fear of want, it is unspeakable folly and madness in the children of men to do so, because they do that act,[without repentance] throw themselves into that place where they shall want every good thing; and, Psal. 49: 19. They shall never see light. In hell there is the want of everything. No spiritual blessings are there, no Sabbaths, nor any means of Grace are there. No, nor any earthly comforts neither. Not so much as a drop of water, to relieve a tongue in torments there!

There is another poor creature thus tempted of the devil. I am a reprobate, and I am sure I shall not be saved and therefore, if I destroy myself, I shall have less punishment in Hell than if I lived longer in the world. I answer; thou canst not know thy reprobation. It is not God, but Satan, who tells thee, that thou art a reprobate. Thou art not sure that thou shalt not be saved. The Lord says no such thing unto thee, but says, Isa. 45: 22. Look unto me, all the ends of the earth and be ye saved. Be it how it will with thee, do thyself no harm: Thoumay for ought any one can say, yet be saved forever. Nor is this true, that thy damnation will be the less if thou destroy thyself. For damnation and punishment in hell will be the greater and the deeper according to the aggravations of the sins which have brought the sinner thither. Now self-murder is a sin so heinous and aggravated, that if thou die impenitently under the guilt of it, thy damnation will doubtless be the greater for it.

It may be said, I will repent and pray for the pardon of my sin before I do it. I answer, what a delusion of Satan! I have read indeed of a philosopher who called upon his Gods, and so threw himself into the fire to his own destruction. But canst thou think, that God will hear such prayers’? No, — Psal. 66: 18. If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me. If thou comest before God, with bloody resolutions in thy heart, God will not accept of thy prayers. He says, Isa. 1: 15. When you make many prayers, I will not hear; your hands are full of blood. Nor can this be called repentance: For a man to confess a sin and be resolved still upon the commission of it! No, tis he who confesseth and forsaketh that shall find mercy.

Use 2. Hence it is an evil thing to speak favorably either of self-murder or of self-murderers. There have been those who have undertaken to justify self-murder in some cases. [See Voet. fol. 4, Desp. de lesione Jui-ipsius.] Pagan Philosophers taught, that it was lawful for persons to murder themselves, that they might save their reputation or prevent falling into the hands of their enemies — Famous the Story of Lucretia.——-

In what we call, the Second Book of the Maccabees, we find celebrated, an action of one Rasis, for which the Jews cry him up as a martyr, but Austin censures him for a criminal self-murderer with reasons that cannot be answered.

Yea, some Christians have cried up those, who to save their chastity, and so themselves, from disgrace, have destroyed their own lives. And the crying up of such a fact has given occasion unto many others to become guilty of that horrible thing, that unnatural sin. But must Saul’s self-murder be lawful too?

To extol the persons of self-murderers to Heaven is an evil and a dangerous practice. We should rather leave secret things unto God, and unto the discoveries of the Great Day! Indeed, if a mans life and conversation were as becomes the gospel, we are not positively and absolutely to say, that he is damned, though he killed himself. Because we know not but that he might be at that time under some distraction and it is not impossible but that God may suffer Satan to possess, and torment, and kill the bodies of some whose souls may yet be saved in the Day of the Lord. Yet on the other hand, if there were no sign of distraction appearing before they went to destroy themselves, nor any evidence of repentance after such attempts, we should not say such persons are gone to Heaven. Left by being over-charitable to the dead, we become cruel to the living. The saying, such persons are saved, may occasion and encourage others to do the like, and the everlasting destruction of bodies and souls follow upon it.

Use 3. Beware of this iniquity.

One would think there should be no great need of such an exhortation; To call upon men, to do themselves no harm! Since there is in every man, a principle of selfpreservation. Yet there is too much occasion for it. One self-murder makes way for another. Saul did for that of his amour bearer. ———–

It is a lamentable thing that in a place of so much light and profession as this, it should be said unto a self-murdering devil; —Thou shalt persuade and prevail also! —- That in such a place, there should be any need of insisting on such a subject! — Yet there has been so and there is! Above four years ago, I saw occasion to insist on a subject of this importance because within the space of but five weeks, there had been five self-murders! The Lord knows how many others may be tempted at this time, unto the like. I am not without apprehensions, that the bloody lion, who goes about seeking whom he may devour, may be let loose among the flock. And, therefore I thought it my duty to withstand him with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Not knowing, but that I may, by such means, rescue poor creatures out of his hands!

My Advice on the Occasion is this:

First, be humbled in the sight of god. Be humbled for all thy sins. — And be humbled under temptations to this sin. — Be humbled as long as thou hast a day to live. Because they have not been humbled, Satan has been let loose upon some with greater violence. When a sin has been repented of, there will not now be so much danger of that sin as there was before.

Secondly, Beware of such sins as may provoke the holy and righteous God, to leave thee unto this most horrid evil.

Beware of pride. When men will rather not be at all, than be what God would have them to be. What cursed pride is that!

This produces murmuring at the providence of God; and causes people to say, 2 kings 6: 33. What should I wait for the Lord any longer?

Beware of selfconfidence. Be sensible of thy weakness, let him that stands take heed lest he fall. Be not confident of thy own strength to encounter the adversary. If God should let Satan loose upon thee, he’ll be too hard for thee.

Beware of an heart glued unto the world. When the world is a mans idol he will rather part with his very life, [with his own hands give it away!] than part with the world.

Beware of unbelief.— Distrust not the fatherly care of the heavenly Father.

Beware of despair. I Thes. 5: 8. Putting on for an helmet, the hope of salvation. Say not, The day of grace is over with me. — Say not, I have sinned unpardonably! — Vain Imaginations!

Beware of the more heinous crimes; which are in a special manner God-provoking evils. The sins against nature are so. Some that have been guilty of such sins, in secret, and have not repented of them. God has for such things left them to this, which is a sin against nature too! [Se Voetii Disp.. ubi supra.]

There are other atrocious crimes; Whereof this has been the consequence—Judas and Pilate, are two fearful examples of it! ——

Finally, beware of backsliding from God, and from good beginnings in religion. Remember that word, Hos. 8: 3. He hath cast off the thing that is good, the enemy shall pursue him. Some have left off prayer in their families; Left off their attendance on lectures; left off Godly exercises which they have been used unto. Therefore the enemy of their souls is let loose upon them and he pursues them even to self-destruction.

Thirdly, resist the tempter. Tis the counsel, Jam. 4: 7. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

—How, resist him? Do it by crying to God. —- If the avenger pursue thee, fly to a Christ, as the City of Refuge. Resist the devil! —- The next words are: Draw nigh to God.

But then, employ the word of God for the resisting of the temptation — It was Luthers method. — Yea, our Jesus has given us a pattern of it, — It is written!

Do one thing more, discover the temptations of the devil. Make a discovery, not unadvisedly unto all the world; but unto some faithful minister, or unto some other able Christian. One that cut his own throat a while ago, said before his expiration; O! That I had told, how I was tempted! If I had, I believe I should never have come to this!

Fourthly, above all a true faith is to be labored for. By faith embrace an offered Savior; this will keep thee from the destroyer. Being by faith, safe in the hands of thy Savior. The devil shall not pluck thee out of those hands. Tis directed, Eph. 6: 16. Above all, take the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. As by faith we obtain a victory over the world; [1 John 5: 4.] So we obtain a victory over Satan too. He has not such power over a true believer, as he has over others.

Act faith on the victory of thy Savior over Satan; Hoping and looking for a share in that!

And by faith, look up unto thy Savior, as unto one who knows how to succor the tempted. ——–

Boston, 23 May 1682



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from Table Talk


The German religious reformer, Martin Luther, was born in Saxony, the son of a prosperous but strict entrepreneur and local politician. In 1505, Luther received a master’s degree from the University of Erfurt, one of Germany’s finest schools. According to his father’s wishes, he began to study law, but that same year, after being thrown to the ground from his horse during a violent thunderstorm, he vowed that he would become a monk if he survived. He was ordained to the priesthood in an Augustinian monastery in 1507, and in 1512, received his doctorate in theology from the University of Wittenberg. During this time, Luther, who suffered from depression, underwent an internal, spiritual crisis. He felt that no matter how well he lived his life, he was unable to please God. Out of this crisis was, he fashioned the essential theology of Protestantism: Faith, not good works, is the key to salvation.

In 1517, outraged by the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences, or pardons that seemed to Luther to permit those who had sinned to buy their way out of punishment, he posted his famous “Ninety-Five Theses” on the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg. The Theses were widely distributed and aroused strong public reaction. He also published other works attacking the papal system as a whole, including his famous “Address to the Christian Nobles of Germany” (1520) and his treatise On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520). Luther was called upon to recant his views, including his denial of the supremacy of the pope, but he refused, burning the papal bull in public. He was excommunicated in January of 1521. That spring, he was summoned to the Imperial Diet at Worms; again he refused to recant, holding that his position was supported by Scripture; the Edict of Worms declared him an outlaw and banned his writings. In the next years, under the protection of Frederick of Saxony, Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into German, a project that would prove to be of central importance to both the standardization of the German language and the consolidation of the Protestant Reformation.

Following the German Peasants’ War, the Augustinian friars abandoned the Black Cloister in Wittenberg. In 1524, it was opened to Luther, his wife Katherine von Bora, a former nun whom he married in 1525, and their six children. For the rest of his life, Luther continued to teach and write, and in 1534, 12 years after his New Testament translation, he published a translation of the entire Bible, including the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. His works also include many letters, sermons, lectures, scriptural commentaries, catechisms, and hymns. On February 17, 1546, he suffered a heart attack and died the next day.

Luther’s theology, based largely on his studies of the New Testament and St. Augustine, changed the course of Western religious history. His turn from canon law to scripture as the center of faith, the justification of man by faith, and the belief in the priesthood of all Christians tried to move the Church away from the bureaucracy of the established clergy; it established not only Protestantism as a result of the Reformation, but found further effect in the Counterreformation within the Catholic Church.

The selection presented here is a group of three short notes drawn from different parts of the so-called Table Talk (1566). Luther frequently entertained visitors at dinner, and the opinions he articulated on these occasions were often noted by his visitors. The Table Talk was later assembled from different note-takers; over the years, more than a score of men had taken notes at Luther’s dinner table. In the short notes presented here, Luther comments on the etiology and consequences of suicide, and although he attributes suicide to the power of the devil, he insists that this does not entail that the victim is damned.


Luther, Martin, Table Talk entries DLXXXIX, DCCXXXVIII, in The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, tr. William Hazlitt, London: David Bogue, 1848, pp. 254, 303;  entry 222 (April 7, 1532),  in Luther’s Works, American Edition, vol. 54.  Ed. and trans. Theodore G. Tappert, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967, p. 29.


It is very certain that, as to all persons who have hanged themselves, or killed themselves in any other way, ‘tis the devil who has put the cord round their necks, or the knife to their throats.

Mention was made of a young girl who, to avoid violence offered her by a nobleman, threw herself from the window, and was killed.  It was asked, was she responsible for her death?  Doctor Luther said: No: she felt that this step formed her only chance of safety, it being not her life she sought to save, but her chastity.

I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned.  My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to according to which it [the suicide’s corpse] is not carried over the threshold, etc. Such persons do not die by free choice or by law, but our Lord God will dispatch them as he executes a person through a robber. Magistrates should treat them quite strictly, although it is not plain that their souls are damned. However, they are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.

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from Utopia
from A Dialogue of Comfort Against    Tribulation


Born in London, the son of a prominent judge, Thomas More was educated at Oxford and Lincoln’s Inn, where he studied law. His humanist philosophy was influenced by his wide reading from scripture, the Church Fathers, classical literature, and the new learning of the Renaissance, as well as by his friendship with the noted philosopher and scholar Desiderius Erasmus. More spent some years in personal debate as he considered taking the priesthood at a Carthusian monastery; by the time of his election to parliament in 1504 and his first marriage in 1505, he had decided to live as a lay Christian. After some experience with trade negotiations, he was elected an undersheriff in 1510, a position that brought him recognition for his oratorical skills, as well as his impartiality and fairness in public affairs. In 1513, he began work on his historical narrative, The History of Richard III, to which William Shakespeare [q.v] is indebted, in Latin and English, and he wrote a series of Latin poems celebrating Henry VIII’’s accession to the throne.

More’s best known work is Utopia (1516), which attacks unjust economic and social conditions in Europe and depicts an ideal communal state founded upon principles of reason. The book was an immediate success; its intelligent, ironic commentary on a variety of controversial issues established More’s reputation as a leading humanist. More’s later writings include numerous religious essays defending the Roman Catholic Church against the writings of Martin Luther and other Protestant reformers and heretics.

More’s success in public and foreign negotiations led to his appointment in the royal service. In 1518, he joined the king’s council; he was knighted in 1521; and a series of honors and responsibilities led to his appointment as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1523. In 1529, More was named to the position of Lord Chancellor, the realm’s highest office, succeeding Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. He resigned in 1532, in part because of ill health, but also because he saw that Henry VIII must break with Rome if he were to divorce Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. He refused to take the Oath of Supremacy, which would impugn the pope’s spiritual authority and grant the king authority over the English church, and was charged with high treason. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535; his head was displayed on the London Bridge. He was canonized in 1935.

In the selection from Utopia, More outlines the place of suicide in a rational, non-Christian society; it might be described as “encouraged suicide” for the hopelessly ill—but only after full medical care has been provided. Suicide in hopeless or terminal illness is never to be forced; suicide without official approval is rejected.

In A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (1557), written while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534–35, More uses the form of a lengthy dialogue between an older uncle, Anthony, and his nephew Vincent to distinguish between two types of suicide, one the result of pusillanimity or cowardice, and the other the result of boldness and pride. The latter case leads to a discussion of how to distinguish the devil’s illusions from true spiritual revelations. In this discussion, More is confronting Augustine’s justification of certain Biblical suicides, such as Samson, as a response to God’s direct command; here, More raises the question of how someone who feels that he is being directed to kill himself can know whether he is being tempted by the devil or commanded by God. He is particularly concerned with the ways in which the devil exploits personality traits, determined by bodily “humors,” to instill suicidal obsessions, casting erosive self-torment into the mind of the melancholic, or self-destructive fury into the choleric temperament. The central section of the Dialogue is organized to respond to the fears itemized in Psalm 91:5, “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday,” though there is no evidence that More himself was suicidal or was tempted to suicide, even while in the Tower of London awaiting execution. To be sure, he had deliberately chosen a course of action—refusal to sign the oath that Henry VIII demanded—almost certain to lead to his death. But as Frank Manley points out, More may have been uncertain of whether his choice could be evidence of spiritual pride—the same sort of temptation by the devil that, More believed, led so many others to suicide. More’s advice for dissuading a potential suicide from the act, in which he recommends both a “physician for the body” and a “physician for the soul,” shows a conception of suicide as partly due to psychophysiological causes.


Thomas More, Utopia, Book II. tr. Ralph Robinson, in Three Early Modern Utopias, ed. Susan Bruce. Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 89-90; Thomas More, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation With Modifications to Obsolete Language, from chapters XV, XVI, ed. Monica Stevens,, 2005, available online from Project Gutenberg text # 17075. Quotations in introduction from A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, ed. Frank Manley, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977, p. xxxii.


Of Sick Persons

The sick (as I said) they see to with great affection, and let nothing at all pass concerning either physic or good diet, whereby they may be restored again to their health.  Such as be sick of incurable diseases they comfort with sitting by them, with talking with them, and, to be short, with all manner of helps that may be.  But if the disease be not only incurable, but also full of continual pain and anguish, then the priests and the magistrates exhort the man (seeing he is not able to do any duty of life, and by overliving his own death is noisome and irksome to other and grievous to himself), that he will determine with himself no longer to cherish that pestilent and painful disease.  And, seeing his life is to him but a torment, that he will not be unwilling to die, but rather take a good hope to him, and either dispatch himself out of that painful life, as out of a prison or a rack of torment, or else suffer himself willingly to be rid out of it by other.  And in so doing they tell him he shall do wisely, seeing by his death he shall lose no commodity, but end his pain.  And because in that act he shall follow the counsel of the priests, that is to say, of the interpreters of God’s will and pleasure, they show him that he shall do like a godly and a virtuous man.  They that be thus persuaded finish their lives willingly, either with hunger, or else die in their sleep without any feeling of death.  But they cause none such to die against his will, nor they use no less diligence and attendance about him, believing this to be an honourable death.  Else he that killeth himself before that the priests and the council have allowed the cause of his death, him as unworthy either to be buried or with fire to be consumed, they cast unburied into some stinking marsh.



VINCENT:  Verily, good uncle, you have in my mind well declared these kinds of the night’s fear.

ANTHONY:  Surely, cousin, but yet are there many more than I can either remember or find. Howbeit, one yet cometh now to my mind, of which I thought not before, and which is yet in mine opinion. That is, cousin, where the devil tempteth a man to kill and destroy himself.

VINCENT:  Undoubtedly this kind of tribulation is marvellous and strange. And the temptation is of such a sort that some men have the opinion that those who once fall into that fantasy can never fully cast it off.

ANTHONY:  Yes, yes, cousin, many a hundred, and else God forbid. But the thing that maketh men so to say is that, of those who finally do destroy themselves, there is much speech and much wondering, as it is well worthy. But many a good man and woman hath sometime–yea, for some years, once after another–continually been tempted to do it, and yet hath, by grace and good counsel, well and virtuously withstood that temptation, and been in conclusion clearly delivered of it. And their tribulation is not known abroad and therefore not talked of. But surely, cousin, a horrible sore trouble it is to any man or woman whom the devil tempteth with that temptation. Many have I heard of, and with some have I talked myself, who have been sore cumbered with it, and I have marked not a little the manner of them.

VINCENT:  I pray you, good uncle, show me somewhat of such things as you perceive therein. For first, whereas you call the kind of temptation the daughter of pusillanimity and thereby so near of kin to the night’s fear, me thinketh on the other hand that it is rather a thing that cometh of a great courage and boldness. For they dare with their own hands to put themselves to death, from which we see almost every man shrink and flee, and many of them we know by good proof and plain experience for men of great heart and excellent bold courage.

ANTHONY:  I said, Cousin Vincent, that of pusillanimity cometh this temptation, and very truth it is that indeed so it doth. But yet I meant not that only of faint heart and fear it cometh and growth always. For the devil tempteth sundry folk by sundry ways. But I spoke of no other kind of that temptation save only that one which is the daughter that the devil begetteth upon pusillanimity, because those other kinds of temptation fall not under the nature of tribulation and fear, and therefore fall they far out of our matter here. They are such temptations as need only counsel, and not comfort or consolation, because the persons tempted with them are not troubled in their mind with that kind of temptation. but are very well content both in the tempting and in the following.

For some have there been, cousin, such that they have been tempted to do it by means of a foolish pride, and some by means of anger, without any fear at all–and very glad to go thereto, I deny not. But if you think that none fall into it by fear, but that they have all a mighty strong stomach, that shall you well see to be the contrary. And that peradventure in those of whom you would think the stomach more strong and their heart and courage most bold.

VINCENT:  Yet is it marvel to me, uncle, that it should be as you say it is–that this temptation is unto them that do it for pride or anger no tribulation, or that they should not need, in so great distress and peril, both of body and soul to be lost, no manner of good ghostly comfort.

ANTHONY:  Let us therefore, cousin, consider an example or two, for thereby shall we better perceive it. There was here in Buda in King Ladilaus’ days, a good poor honest man’s wife. This woman was so fiendish that the devil, perceiving her nature, put her in the mind that she should anger her husband so sore that she might give him occasion to kill her, and then should he be hanged because of her.

VINCENT:  This was a strange temptation indeed! What the devil should she be the better then?

ANTHONY:  Nothing, but that it eased her shrewish stomach beforehand, to think that her husband should be hanged afterward. And peradventure, if you look about the world and consider it well, you shall find more such stomachs than a few. Have you never heard a furious body plainly say that, to see such-and-such man have a mischief, he would with good will be content to lie as long in hell as God liveth in heaven?

VINCENT:  Forsooth, and some such have I heard.

ANTHONY:  This mind of his was not much less mad than hers, but rather perhaps the more mad of the twain. For the woman peradventure did not cast so far peril therein. But to tell you now to what good pass her charitable purpose came:

As her husband (the man was a carpenter) stood hewing with his chip axe upon a piece of timber, she began after her old guise to revile him so that he waxed wroth at last, and bade her get herself in or he would lay the helm of his axe about her back. And he said also that it would be little sin even with that axe head to chop off the unhappy head of hers that carried such an ungracious tongue in it. At that word the devil took his time and whetted her tongue against her teeth. And when it was well sharpened she swore to him in very fierce anger, “By the mass, whoreson husband, I wish thou wouldst! Here lieth my head, lo,” and with that down she laid her head upon the same timber log. “If thou smite it not off, I beshrew thine whoreson’s heart!” With that, likewise as the devil stood at her elbow, so stood (as I heard say) his good angel at his, and gave him ghostly courage and bade him be bold and do it. And so the good man up with his chip axe and at a chop he chopped off her head indeed.

There were other folk standing by, who had a good sport to hear her chide, but little they looked for this chance, till it was done ere they could stop it. They said they heard her tongue babble in her head, and call, “Whoreson, whoreson!” twice after the head was off the body. At least, thus they all reported afterward unto the king, except only one, and that was a woman, and she said that she heard it not.

VINCENT:  Forsooth, this was a wonderful work! What became, uncle, of the man?

ANTHONY:  The king gave him his pardon.

VINCENT:  Verily, he might in conscience do no less.

ANTHONY: But lest you might reject…these examples, thinking they were but feigned tales, I shall put you in remembrance of one which I reckon you yourself have read in the Conferences of Cassian. And if you have not, there you may soon find it. For I myself have half forgotten the thing, it is so long since I read it.

But thus much I remember: He telleth there of one who was many days a very special holy man in his living, and, among the other virtuous monks and anchorites that lived there in the wilderness, was marvellously much esteemed. Yet some were not all out of fear lest his revelations (of which he told many himself) would prove illusions of the devil. And so it proved afterwards indeed, for the man was by the devil’s subtle suggestions brought into such a high spiritual pride that in conclusion the devil brought him to that horrible point that he made him go kill himself.

And, as far as my mind giveth me now, without new sight of the book, he brought him to it by this persuasion: He made him believe that it was God’s will that he should do so, and that thereby he should go straight to heaven. And if it were by that persuasion, with which he took very great comfort in his own mind himself, then was it, as I said, out of our case, and he needed not comfort but counsel against giving credence to the devil’s persuasion. But marry, if he made him first perceive how he had been deluded and then tempted him to his own death by shame and despair, then it was within our matter. For then was his temptation fallen down from pride to pusillanimity, and was waxed that kind of the night’s fear that I spoke of. And in such fear a good part of the counsel to be given him should have need to stand in good comforting, for then was he brought into right sore tribulation.

But, as I was about to tell you, strength of heart and courage are there none in that deed, not only because true strength (as it hath the name of virtue in a reasonable creature) can never be without prudence, but also because, as I said, even in them that seem men of most courage, it shall well appear to them that well weigh the matter that the mind whereby they be led to destroy themselves groweth of pusillanimity and very foolish fear.

Take for example Cato of Utica, who in Africa killed himself after the great victory that Julius Caesar had. St. Austine  [Augustine] well declareth in his work De civitate Dei [The City of God] that there was no strength nor magnanimity in his destruction of himself, but plain pusillanimity and impotency of stomach. For he was forced to do it because his heart was too feeble to bear the beholding of another man’s glory or the suffering of other worldly calamities that he feared should fall on himself. So that, as St. Austine well proveth, that horrible deed is no act of strength, but an act of a mind either drawn from the consideration of itself with some fiendish fancy, in which the man hath need to be called home with good counsel; or else oppressed by faint heart and fear, in which a good part of the counsel must stand in lifting up his courage with good consolation and comfort.

And therefore if we found any such religious person as was that father whom Cassian writeth of, who were of such austerity and apparent ghostly living as he was, and reputed by those who well knew him for a man of singular virtue; and if it were perceived that he had many strange visions appearing unto him; and if after that it should now be perceived that the man went about secretly to destroy himself–whosoever should hap to come to the knowledge of it and intended to do his best to hinder it, he must first find the means to search and find out the manner and countenance of the man. He must see whether he be lightsome, glad, and joyful or dumpish, heavy, and sad, and whether he go about it as one that were full of the glad hope of heaven, or as one who had his breast stuffed full of tediousness and weariness of the world. If he were found to be of the first fashion, it would be a token that the devil had, by his fantastical apparitions, puffed him up in such a childish pride that he hath finally persuaded him, by some illusion showed him for the proof, that God’s pleasure is that he shall for his sake with his own hands kill himself. …

ANTHONY:  Occasion, I say, you shall not lack to enquire by what sure and undeceivable tokens a man may discern the true revelations from the false illusions. A man shall find many such tokens both here and there in divers other authors and all together in divers goodly treatises of that good godly doctor, Master John Gerson, entitled _De probatione spirituum._ As, whether the party be natural in manner or seem anything fantastical. Or, whether the party be poor-spirited or proud. The pride will somewhat appear by his delight in his own praise; or if, of wiliness, or of another pride for to be praised of humility, he refused to hear of that, yet any little fault found in himself, or diffidence declared and mistrust of his own revelations and doubtful tokens told, wherefore he himself should fear lest they be the devil’s illusion–such things, as Master Gerson saith, will make him spit out somewhat of his spirit, if the devil lie in his breast. Or if the devil be yet so subtle that he keep himself close in his warm den and blow out never a hot word, yet it is to be considered what end his revelations tend to–whether to any spiritual profit to himself or other folk, or only to vain marvels and wonders. Also, whether they withdraw him from such other good virtuous business as, by the common rule of Christendom or any of the rules of his profession, he was wont to use or bound to be occupied in. Or whether he fall into any singularity of opinions against the scripture of God, or against the common faith of Christ’s Catholic Church.…

But now for our purpose: If, among any of the marks by which the true revelations may be known from false illusions, that man himself bring forth, for one mark, the doing or teaching of anything against the scripture of God or the common faith of the church, you may enter into the special matter, in which he can never well flee from you. Or else may you yet, if you wish, feign that your secret friend, for whose sake you come to him for counsel, is brought to that mind by a certain apparition showed unto him, as he himself saith, by an angel–as you fear, by the devil. And that he cannot as yet be otherwise persuaded by you but that the pleasure of God is that he shall go kill himself. And that he believeth if he do so he shall then be thereby so specially participant of Christ’s passion that he shall forthwith be carried up with angels into heaven. And that he is so joyful for this that he firmly purposeth upon it, no less glad to do it than another man would be glad to avoid it. And therefore may you desire his good counsel to instruct you with some substantial good advice, with which you may turn him from this error, that he be not, under hope of God’s true revelation, destroyed in body and soul by the devil’s false illusion.

If he will in this thing study and labour to instruct you, the things that he himself shall find, of his own invention, though they be less effectual, shall peradventure more work with him toward his own amendment (since he shall, of likelihood, better like them) than shall things double so substantial that were told him by another man. If he be loth to think upon that side, and therefore shrink from the matter, then is there no other way but to venture to fall into the matter after the plain fashion, and tell what you hear, and give him counsel and exhortation to the contrary. Unless you wish to say that thus and thus hath the matter been reasoned already between your friend and you. And therein may you rehearse such things as should prove that the vision which moveth him is no true revelation, but a very false illusion.…

ANTHONY:  Nay, Cousin Vincent, you shall in this case not need to ask those reasons of me. But taking the scripture of God for a ground for this matter, you know very well yourself that you shall go somewhat a shorter way to work if you ask this question of him: Since God hath forbidden once the thing himself, though he may dispense with it if he will, yet since the devil may feign himself God and with a marvellous vision delude one, and make as though God did it; and since the devil is also more likely to speak against God’s commandment than God against his own; you shall have good cause, I say, to demand of the man himself whereby he knoweth that his vision is God’s true revelation and not the devil’s false delusion….

VINCENT:  Yet then this religious man of whom we speak, when I show him the scripture against his revelation and therefore call it an illusion, may bid me with reason go mind my own affairs. For he knoweth well and surely himself that his revelation is very good and true and not any false illusion, since for all the general commandment of God in the scripture, God may dispense where he will and when he will, and may command him to do the contrary. For he commanded Abraham to kill his own son, and Sampson had, by inspiration of God, commandment to kill himself by pulling down the house upon his own head at the feast of the Philistines.

Now, if I would then do as you bade me right now, tell him that such apparitions may be illusions, and since God’s word is in the scripture against him plain for the prohibition, he must perceive the truth of his revelation whereby I may know it is not a false illusion; then shall he in turn bid me tell him whereby I can prove myself to be awake and talk with him and not be asleep and dream so, since in my dream I may as surely think so as I know that I do so. And thus shall he drive me to the same bay to which I would bring him.

ANTHONY:  This is well said, cousin, but yet could he not escape you so. For the dispensation of God’s common precept, which dispensation he must say that he hath by his private revelation, is a thing of such sort as showeth itself naught and false. For it never hath any example like, since the world began until now, that ever man hath read or heard of, among faithful people commended.

First, as for Abraham, concerning the death of his son: God intended it not, but only tempted the towardness of the father’s obedience. As for Sampson, all men make not the matter very sure whether he be saved or not, but yet therein some matter and cause appeareth. For the Philistines being enemies of God and using Sampson for their mocking-stock in scorn of God, it is well likely that God gave him the mind to bestow his own life upon the revenging of the displeasure that those blasphemous Philistines did unto God. And that appeareth clear enough by this: that though his strength failed him when he lacked his hair, yet had he not, it seemeth, that strength evermore at hand while he had his hair, but only at such times as it pleased God to give it to him. This thing appeareth by these words, that the scripture in some place of that matter saith, “The power or might of God rushed into Sampson.” And so therefore, since this thing that he did in the pulling down of the house was done by the special gift of strength then at that point given him by God, it well declareth that the strength of God, and with it the spirit of God, entered into him for it.

St. Austine also rehearseth that certain holy virtuous virgins, in time of persecution, being pursued by God’s enemies the infidels to be deflowered by force, ran into a water and drowned themselves rather than be bereaved of their virginity. And, albeit that he thinketh it is not lawful for any other maid to follow their example, but that she should suffer another to do her any manner of violence by force and commit sin of his own upon her against her will, rather than willingly and thereby sinfully herself to become a homicide of herself; yet he thinketh that in them it happened by the special instinct of the spirit of God, who, for causes seen to himself, would rather that they should avoid it with their own temporal death than abide the defiling and violation of their chastity.

But now this good man neither hath any of God’s enemies to be revenged on by his own death, nor any woman who violently pursues him to bereave him by force of his virginity! And we never find that God proved any man’s obedient mind by the commandment of his own slaughter of himself. Therefore is both his case plainly against God’s open precept, and the dispensation strange and without example, no cause appearing nor well imaginable. Unless he would think that God could neither any longer live without him, nor could take him to him in such wise as he doth other men, but must command him to come by a forbidden way, by which, without other cause, we never heard that ever he bade any man else before.

Now, you think that, if you should after this bid him tell you by what way he knoweth that his intent riseth upon a true revelation and not upon a false illusion, he in turn would bid you tell him by what means you know that you are talking with him well awake and not dreaming it asleep. You may answer him that for men thus to talk together as you do and to prove and perceive that they do so, by the moving of themselves, with putting the question unto themselves for their pleasure, and marking and considering it, is in waking a daily common thing that every man doth or can do when he will, and when they do it, they do it but for pleasure. But in sleep it happeneth very seldom that men dream that they do so, and in the dream they never put the question except for doubt. And you may tell him that, since this revelation is such also as happeneth so seldom and oftener happeneth that men dream of such than have such indeed, therefore it is more reasonable that he show you how he knoweth, in such a rare thing and a thing more like a dream, that he himself is not asleep, than that you, in such a common thing among folk that are awake and so seldom happening in a dream, should need to show him whereby you know that you be not asleep.

Besides this, he to whom you should show it seeth himself and perceiveth the thing that he would bid you prove. But the thing that he would make you believe–the truth of his revelation which you bid him prove–you see not that he knoweth it well himself. And therefore, ere you believe it against the scripture, it would be well consonant unto reason that he should show you how he knoweth it for a true waking revelation and not a false dreaming delusion.

VINCENT:  Then shall he peradventure answer me that whether I believe him or not maketh to him no matter; the thing toucheth himself and not me, and he himself is in himself as sure that it is a true revelation as that he can tell that he dreameth not but talketh with me awake.

ANTHONY:  Without doubt, cousin, if he abide at that point and can by no reason be brought to do so much as doubt, nor can by no means be shogged out of his dead sleep, but will needs take his dream for a very truth, and–as some men rise by night and walk about their chamber in their sleep–will so rise and hang himself; I can then see no other way but either bind him fast in his bed, or else essay whether that might hap to help him with which, the common tale goeth, a carver’s wife helped her husband in such a frantic fancy. When, upon a Good Friday, he would needs have killed himself for Christ as Christ did for him, she said to him that it would then be fitting for him to die even after the same fashion. And that might not be by his own hands, but by the hand of another; for Christ, perdy, killed not himself. And because her husband would take no counsel (for that would he not, in no wise), she offered him that for God’s sake she would secretly crucify him herself upon a great cross that he had made to nail a new-carved crucifix upon. And he was very glad thereof. Yet then she bethought her that Christ was bound to a pillar and beaten first, and afterward crowned with thorns. Thereupon, when she had by his own assent bound him fast to a post, she left not off beating, with holy exhortation to suffer, so much and so long that ere ever she left work and unbound him (praying nevertheless, that she might put on his head, and drive well down, a crown of thorns that she had wrought for him and brought him), he said he thought this was enough for that year. He would pray God to forbear him of the rest till Good Friday came again! But when it came again the next years, then was his desire past; he longed to follow Christ no further.

VINCENT:  Indeed, uncle, if this help him not, then will nothing help him, I suppose….

VINCENT:  I think, uncle, that folk fall into this ungracious mind, through the devil’s temptation, by many more means than one.

ANTHONY:  That is, cousin, very true. For the devil taketh his occasions as he seeth them fall convenient for him. Some he stirreth to it for weariness of themselves after some great loss, some for fear of horrible bodily harm, and some (as I said) for fear of worldly shame.

One I knew myself who had been long reputed for a right honest man, who was fallen into such a fancy that he was well near worn away with it. But what he was tempted to do, that would he tell no man. But he told me that he was sore cumbered and that it always ran in his mind that folk’s fancies were fallen from him, and that they esteemed not his wit as they were wont to do, but ever his mind gave him that the people began to take him for a fool. And folk of truth did not so at all, but reputed him both for wise and honest.

Two others I knew who were marvellous afraid that they would kill themselves, and could tell me no cause wherefore they so feared it except that their own mind so gave them. Neither had they any loss nor no such thing toward them, nor none occasion of any worldly shame (the one was in body very well liking and lusty), but wondrous weary were they both twain of that mind. And always they thought that they would not do it for anything, and nevertheless they feared they would. And wherefore they so feared neither of them both could tell. And the one, lest he should do it, desired his friends to bind him.

VINCENT:  This is, uncle, a marvellous strange manner.

ANTHONY:  Forsooth, cousin, I suppose many of them are in this case.

The devil, as I said before, seeketh his occasions. For as St. Peter saith, “Your adversary the devil as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” He marketh well, therefore, the state and condition that every man standeth in, not only concerning these outward things (lands, possessions, goods, authority, fame, favour, or hatred of the world), but also men’s complexions within them–health or sickness, good humours or bad, by which they be light-hearted or lumpish, strong-hearted or faint and feeble of spirit, bold and hardy or timorous and fearful of courage. And according as these things minister him matter of temptation, so useth he himself in the manner of his temptation.

Now likewise as in such folk as are full of young warm lusty blood and other humours exciting the flesh to filthy voluptuous living, the devil useth to make those things his instruments in tempting them and provoking them to it; and as, where he findeth some folk full of hot blood and choler, he maketh those humours his instruments to set their hearts on fire in wrath and fierce furious anger; so where he findeth some folk who, through some dull melancholy humours, are naturally disposed to fear, he casteth sometimes such a fearful imagination into their mind that without help of God they can never cast it out of their heart.

Some, at the sudden falling of some horrible thought into their mind, have not only had a great abomination at it (which abomination they well and virtuously had), but the devil, using their melancholy humour and thereby their natural inclination to fear for his instruments, hath caused them to conceive therewith such a deep dread besides that they think themselves with that abominable thought to be fallen into such an outrageous sin that they are ready to fall into despair of grace, believing that God hath given them over for ever. Whereas that thought, were it never so horrible and never so abominable, is yet unto those who never like it, but ever still abhor it and strive still against it, matter of conflict and merit and not any sin at all.

Some have, with holding a knife in their hand, suddenly thought upon the killing of themselves, and forthwith, in devising what a horrible thing it would be if they should mishap to do so, have fallen into a fear that they would do so indeed. And they have, with long and often thinking thereon, imprinted that fear so sore in their imagination, that some of them have not afterwards cast it off without great difficulty. And some could never in their life be rid of it, but have afterward in conclusion miserably done it indeed. But like as, where the devil useth the blood of a man’s own body toward his purpose in provoking him to lechery, the man must and doth with grace and wisdom resist it; so must the man do whose melancholy humours and devil abuseth, toward the casting of such a desperate dread into his heart.

VINCENT:  I pray you, uncle, what advice would be to be given him in such a case?

ANTHONY:  Surely, methinketh his help standeth in two things: counsel and prayer.

First, as concerning counsel: Like as it may be that he hath two things that hold him in his temptation; that is, some evil humours of his own body, and the cursed devil that abuseth them to his pernicious purpose, so must he needs against them twain the counsel of two manner of folk; that is, physicians for the body and physicians for the soul. The bodily physician shall consider what abundance of these evil humours the man hath, that the devil maketh his instruments, in moving the man toward that fearful affection. And he shall proceed by fitting diet and suitable medicines to resist them, as well as by purgations to disburden the body of them.

Let no man think it strange that I would advise a man to take counsel for the body, in such spiritual suffering. For since the body and the soul are so knit and joined together that they both make between them one person, the distemperance of either one engendereth sometimes the distemperance of both twain. And therefore I would advise every man in every sickness of the body to be shriven and to seek of a good spiritual physician the sure health of his soul. For this shall not only serve against peril that may peradventure grow further by that sickness than in the beginning men think were likely, but the comfort of it (and God’s favour increasing with it) shall also do the body good. For this cause the blessed apostle St. James exhorteth men in their bodily sickness to call in the priests, and saith that it shall do them good both in body and soul. So likewise would I sometimes advise some men, in some sickness of the soul, besides their spiritual leech, to take also some counsel of the physician for the body….

The manner of the fight against temptation must stand in three things: that is, in resisting, and in contemning, and in the invocation of help.

Resist must a man for his own part with reason, considering what a folly it would be to fall where he need not, since he is not driven to it in avoiding of any other pain or in hope of winning any manner of pleasure, but contrariwise he would by that fall lose everlasting bliss and fall into everlasting pain. And if it were in avoiding of other great pain, yet could he avoid none so great thereby as the one he should thereby fall into.

He must also consider that a great part of this temptation is in effect but the fear of his own fancy, the dread that he hath lest he shall once be driven to it. For he may be sure that (unless he himself will, of his own folly) all the devils in hell can never drive him to it, but his own foolish imagination may. For it fareth in his temptation like a man going over a high bridge who waxeth so afraid, through his own fancy, that he falleth down indeed, when he would otherwise be able enough to pass over without any danger. For a man upon such a bridge, if folk call upon him, “You fall, you fall!” may fall with the fancy that he taketh thereof; although, if folk looked merrily upon him and said, “There is no danger therein,” he would pass over the bridge well enough–and he would not hesitate to run upon it, if it were but a foot from the ground. So, in this temptation, the devil findeth the man of his own foolish fancy afraid and then crieth in the ear of his heart, “Thou fallest, thou fallest!” and maketh the foolish man afraid that he should, at every foot, fall indeed. And the devil so wearieth him with that continual fear, if he give the ear of his heart to him, that at last he withdraweth his mind from due remembrance of God, and then driveth him to that deadly mischief indeed. Therefore, like as, against the vice of the flesh, the victory standeth not all in the fight, but sometimes also in the flight (saving that it is indeed a part of a wise warrior’s fight to flee from his enemies’ traps), so must a man in this temptation too, not only resist it always with reasoning against it, but sometimes set it clear at right naught and cast it off when it cometh and not once regard it so much as to vouchsafe to think thereon.

Some folk have been clearly rid of such pestilent fancies with very full contempt of them, making a cross upon their hearts and bidding the devil avaunt. And sometimes they laugh him to scorn too, and then turn their mind unto some other matter. And when the devil hath seen that they have set so little by him, after certain essays, made in such times as he thought most fitting, he hath given that temptation quite over. And this he doth not only because the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked, but also lest, with much tempting the man to the sin to which he could not in conclusion bring him, he should much increase his merit.

The final fight is by invocation of help unto God, both praying for himself and desiring others also to pray for him–both poor folk for his alms and other good folk of their charity, especially good priests in that holy sacred service of the Mass. And not only them but also his own good angel and other holy saints such as his devotion specially doth stand unto. Or, if he be learned, let him use then the litany, with the holy suffrages that follow, which is a prayer in the church of marvellous old antiquity. For it was not made first, as some believe, by that holy man St. Gregory (which opinion arose from the fact that, in the time of a great pestilence in Rome, he caused the whole city to go in solemn procession with it), but it was in use in the church many years before St. Gregory’s days, as well appeareth by the books of other holy doctors and saints, who were dead hundreds of years before St. Gregory was born.

And holy St. Bernard giveth counsel that every man should make suit unto angels and saints to pray for him to God in the things that he would have furthered by his holy hand. If any man will stick at that, and say it needs not, because God can hear us himself; and will also say that it is perilous to do so because (they say) we are not so counseled by scripture, I will not dispute the matter here. He who will not do it, I hinder him not to leave it undone. But yet for mine own part, I will as well trust to the counsel of St. Bernard, and reckon him for as good and as well learned in scripture, as any man whom I hear say the contrary. And better dare I jeopard my soul with the soul of St. Bernard than with that of him who findeth that fault in his doctrine.

Unto God himself every good man counseleth to have recourse above all. And, in this temptation, to have special remembrance of Christ’s passion, and pray him for the honour of his death, the ground of man’s salvation, to keep this person thus tempted from that damnable death…

And I doubt not, by God’s grace, but that he who in such a temptation will use good counsel and prayer and keep himself in good virtuous business and good virtuous company and abide in the faithful hope of God’s help, he shall have the truth of God (as the prophet saith in the verse afore rehearsed) so compass him about with a shield that he shall not need to dread this night’s fear of this wicked temptation.

And thus will I finish this piece of the night’s fear. And glad am I that we are past it, and come once unto the day, to those other words of the prophet, “A sagitta volante in die.” For methinketh I have made it a long night!

VINCENT:  Forsooth, uncle, so have you, but we have not slept in it, but been very well occupied. But now I fear that unless you make here a pause till you have dined, you shall keep yourself from your dinner over-long…

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