The Conversion of James Fraser
An extract, with slight editing, from Memoirs of the Rev James Fraser of Brea.1
Being at the University, and being at the age of 17 or 18 years, our minister proposed to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, of which he gave warning the Sabbath preceding the celebration thereof. I purposed (I know not upon what ground) to partake thereof. I had always a reverent esteem of that ordinance, and was under deep impressions of eating and drinking my own damnation. I knew I was in an unconverted condition, and that, if between that day and the next Lord’s Day, I were not converted, I would draw on myself a very grievous evil; and, eating unworthily, I might give over hopes of ever thereafter being converted.
The Lord did therefore put it in my mind, both by ordinary and extraordinary means, to do my utmost endeavour to win to a converted condition. Nor was I of the judgement that conversion was within the compass of my own power, but I hoped that, doing diligence, the Lord might help. And for this cause I set to work immediately, beseeching God that he would once effectually work upon my spirit, seeing all former means had been used in vain. I went to sermon and I found a better relish in the sermon than I had been wont to find and had an ear to hearken more attentively than at other times. After we were gone from church, I spent the rest of the day in spiritual exercises, and so was continuing very diligent in seeking the Lord, growing daily in the knowledge and love of his ways, seeing a beauty and finding a relish that I never knew before. Books and discourses of practical divinity were only sweet, and so were spiritual exercises. I had now tasted of the wine, but had not bought it.
But on Wednesday, by 6 o’clock at night, finding by marks I had read in books that I was not converted, and not getting that extraordinary thing I expected, and withal fully resolved to partake of the sacrament, I feared that I should eat and drink damnation to my own soul, and then that the remedilessness of my condition would be out of doubt. Sometimes I thought that I would suspend communicating at that time; and if this resolution had prevailed, I would not have troubled myself with religion at that time; for this was the day of my visitation and this made me take pains even to eat and drink worthily. Therefore, hoping still for some good, I continued in my resolution; but as I said, when I saw all in vain, and that I did not meet with what I expected – though I met with more than ever I did before – discouragements did quite overwhelm me, and fears of drawing on more guilt did load me. And this apprehension lay heavy on me and haunted me like a ghost: that it was in God’s mind never to do me good; so that fear, discouragement, vexation and despair, and some horror and grief, did all take hold of me. I resolved to set the next day apart for fasting, and therein to seek God, hoping that these extraordinary means might do something.
Hanging therefore by this small thread, I went to prayer with many sad complaints; and the Lord, while I was, like the prodigal son, yet a great way off, ran to meet me. I addressed myself to speak to the Lord Christ, and then was there a gospel view given me of him; and some considerations and representations of Christ were brought into my mind, that he was the Mediator, a friend and Saviour to poor sinners, their only helper, the way and the truth and the life, that died for them, and one willing to be reconciled. What shall I say? While I was thus exercised, a marvellous light shined on my understanding, and with the eyes of my mind, not of my body, I saw that Just One in his glory and love and offices and beauty of his person, such a sight as I never did see anything like it, and which did so swallow me up that I turned speechless and only said, What is this? And where am I now? The glory, love, and loveliness of Jesus, revealed to me, did very far exceed all that ever I saw or could see in the world, insomuch that there was no comparison.
I was drawn by this and, after I had recovered, I said, O Lord, thou hast overcome me! Heart and hand and all that I have is thine; I am content to live and die with thee. Begone, poor world and beggarly vanities, and despiteful devil and flesh, I will serve you no longer; I know now of a master and lover to whom henceforth I will dedicate myself. Now are all my doubts loosed, and now I see that I have not sinned the sin against the Holy Ghost. What shall I now do for the Lord? Let heaven and earth, angels and men, praise him, for he has looked graciously upon me, and that in my low condition. What am I, or my father’s house, that thine eye should be cast on me? There followed upon this such liberty as I thought I could spend the whole night in prayer. Now was I persuaded that I was converted and was come to that pitch which formerly I lacked, and all the clouds vanished which were between the Lord and my soul. This continued in its strength only for a quarter of an hour, and then it abated as to its measure, though not altogether; but something remained.
After I rose from prayer, I went to the fields and there sang songs of triumph. I comforted myself in my new condition, and prophesied much more to myself, seeing these were but the beginnings. Nor did I think that my happiness could be equalled by any; and now was I fully content to communicate. I longed for some quiet place to pour out my soul unto the Lord, for I thought he would return, but he did not. I bore the first repulse, hoping that at last the Lord would return. All scruples, fears and doubts were banished. I went to bed and, when I had lain down, Now, said I, sleep securely, and so thou mayest, seeing thou art reconciled to God. Never could I do it one night before; but now let heaven and earth go together.
I thought now: No Scriptures for me but such as were directed to saints, and therefore I read some chapters of the Second Epistle of Peter but found little life. This did shake me. I read some of Isaac Ambrose,2 and some marks he had of worthy communicants, of faith, love and knowledge, and the evidence of the Spirit shining. I thought I had these marks; yet the withdrawing of my life and glory raised doubts in me until, by prayer, I again saw some of the glory of Christ, which revived me. And I was much affected with reading Isaac Ambrose’s New Birth, and I thought there was never anything so sweet.
- Published in 1889 (Inverness). Previous to the time described here Fraser experienced a period of severe conviction of sin. Fraser (1639-98) was ordained by a Covenanter presbytery and ended his days as parish minister of Culross, in Fife. The Memoirs are available in Volume 2 of the set, Scottish Puritans: Select Biographies (Banner of Truth, 2008). It may be noted that Fraser expresses a peculiar doctrine of redemption in his Justifying Faith, which he wrote while a prisoner on the Bass Rock; this volume, however, may not reflect his more mature views; it was only published after his death.
- A noted Puritan writer.
This extract from Scottish Puritans appeared in the August 2009 issue of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from which this article is taken with permission.
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