“The best help you can have from a book is to read one full of such truths, instructions and awakening informations as force you to see and know who and what and where you are; that God is your All; and that all is misery but a heart and life devoted to him. This is the best outward prayer book you can have, as it will turn you to an inward book and spirit of prayer in your heart.” So wrote William Law (1686-1761) in The Spirit of Prayer (1749; excerpted in Robert Llewellyn and Edward Moss, eds., Daily Readings with William Law, Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1987, p. 68).
I have found such a book; it’s a little 120-page book by the early English Quaker William Shewen, first published in 1683 and just now reprinted by Inner Light Books in San Francisco (Hardcover, ISBN 978-0-9797110-0-8, $25; paperback, ISBN 978-0-9797110-1-5, $15; http://www.innerlightbooks.com). Its title is Counsel to the Christian-Traveller: Also Meditations & Experiences. Among the short works in this slim volume is “A Treatise Concerning Thoughts & Imaginations,” which deserves reading by every person of faith that’s ever endured mental anguish.
Let me share a few sample passages here from Shewen’s Meditations & Experiences:
From No. XVII: This one word or sentence may try all the sects in Christendom, and others who profess themselves lovers of the law of God, yet have not peace in their dwellings; these have not the answer of a good conscience, which keeps void of offence towards God and man. They have not that peace which passes the understanding of man in the fall; they know not their hearts and minds kept by it; but are found in the evil-doing, where the tribulation and anguish is, and in that fear which brings torment. (p. 42)
From No. XIX: This is my testimony, that none can receive the joy of God’s salvation, enter into the Sabbath of rest, or keep holy-day to the Lord, further than they know a ceasing, and a being saved from thinking their own vain thoughts, following their own wills, and obeying their own wisdom…. So it is a blessed thing for people to meet and wait together, and walk in this heavenly light and day of salvation, which discovers and judges every vain thought and foolish imagination, subdues them, and brings them down into the obedience of Christ. In this, as they walk and abide, they truly differ from all other families of the earth…. In this stands their happiness and safety: Out of this, they are as weak as other people. (pp. 44-45)
From No. XXX: It is a very blessed state, to be found true waiters for, and witnesses of the second coming of Christ, which is without sin unto salvation; for true happiness does not consist in … being witnesses of his first appearance, wherein he convinces and reproves for sin; but in waiting for the witnessing his second coming to cleanse, save and redeem from sin: herein is the joy of God’s salvation felt and enjoyed. (p. 50)
From No. XXXV: It is a blessed thing, and a high and heavenly state, for every individual to be witnesses within themselves, that self is made of no importance. … Denying of self, and taking up the Cross, are inseparable, and must precede Discipleship; yet this state is short of being a friend of God, and co-heir with Christ, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh; and short of sitting down with him at the right Hand of God in the kingdom of heaven; …short of knowing it meat and drink to do the will of God, and his fruit sweet to their taste, and to sit under his shadow with great delight, glorified with that glory which Christ had with the Father before the world began. (pp. 55-56)
In the past few days I’ve experienced both a touch of the unspeakable sweetness of God and immersion in the angry nastiness of my own offended self-importance. I’ve also been given a clear warning against the familiar detours from the right way that bring me into those patches of thorns and nettles. In the midst of all this, with his book riding with me on all my travels, I’ve found William Shewen to be a sensitive and faithful friend who’s very familiar with all the territory I cover, and I’ve been hearing my Shepherd’s own voice in his. Higher praise to a book I don’t know how to give.