Chapter 21 » 21.64

Suffering and healing

John Woolman (1720–1772) of Mount Holly, New Jersey, restricted his business interests for reasons of conscience; he travelled widely in the ministry especially to urge Friends to give up the ownership of slaves. His journal (see especially 2.57, 13.25, 20.46 & 27.02) has become a religious classic.

In a time of sickness with the pleurisy, a little upward of two years and a half ago, I was brought so near the gates of death that I forgot my name. Being then desirous to know who I was, I saw a mass of matter of a dull gloomy colour between the south and the east, and was informed that this mass was human beings in as great misery as they could be, and live, and that I was mixed in with them, and henceforth might not consider myself as a distinct or separate being. In this state I remained several hours. I then heard a soft, melodious voice, more pure and harmonious than any voice I had heard with my ears before; and I believed it was the voice of an angel who spake to other angels. The words were John Woolman is dead. I soon remembered that I was once John Woolman and being assured that I was alive in the body, I greatly wondered what that heavenly voice could mean. I believed beyond doubting that it was the voice of an holy angel, but as yet it was a mystery to me.

I was then carried in spirit to the mines where poor oppressed people were digging rich treasures for those called Christians, and heard them blaspheme the name of Christ, at which I was grieved for His Name to me was precious. Then I was informed that these heathens were told that those who oppressed them were the followers of Christ, and they said amongst themselves, ‘If Christ directed them to use us in this sort, then Christ is a cruel tyrant’.

All this time the song of the angel remained a mystery; and in the morning my dear wife and some others coming to my bedside, I asked them if they knew who I was, and they telling me I was John Woolman, thought I was only light-headed, for I told them not what the angel said, nor was I disposed to talk much to anyone, but was very desirous to get so deep that I might understand this mystery.

My tongue was often so dry that I could not speak till I had moved it about and gathered some moisture, and as I lay still for a time, at length I felt divine power prepare my mouth that I could speak, and then said, ‘I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, is by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.’ Then the mystery was opened, and I perceived there was joy in heaven over a sinner who had repented, and that that language, John Woolman is dead, meant no more than the death of my own will.

John Woolman, 1772

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