I encountered Sarah Crosby and her story of Christian Perfection first through a letter she wrote to John Wesley. It starts out with her opinion on his latest publication on holiness — he gets her approval with a suggestion to nuance his wording on one part — and then she launches into her personal story:
“It is now twenty-three years since I felt a want of something more than I had, having been justified near six months. But the predestinarians made perfection to appear such a bugbear, I was affrighted at the thought of it, yet continued to be very uneasy at times. When reading your [John Wesley’s] sermon on perfection I said, provided this is what Mr. Wesley means by perfection, this is what I want, and I believe God can and that he will make me thus perfect. And I can never rest until I attain it. After this time, I often thought of the only words I remember in your sermon, the first time I heard you, which were, ‘If it is possible for God to give us a little love, is it not possible for him to fill us with love?’ … At length the keen sense of want of constant union and communion with him, who was indeed the beloved of my soul, constrained me to cry mightily to him for help. For though I was favored with much nearness to and communion with him at times, I knew not how any longer to bear the feeling of anything that I knew displeased him, though in a less degree than ever. And my prayers and tears were not in vain. For Jesus showed me that as he had answered for my actual transgressions in his own body on the tree, so he answered for my original sin and for every deviation from the perfect law. He then gave my heart a power to believe him thus my whole Savior, which I never could do before. And now I felt a peace come into my soul, superior to all I had ever known….
But in answer to your question, dear Sir, whether I now experience what I did then? I freely acknowledge I have not uninterruptedly enjoyed so great a degree of the glorious liberty where with Christ made me free sixteen years past, as I did then….And glory be to his ever adorable name, I now find him as precious and present with me as ever. He is the center of all my hopes, the end of my enlarged desires. I have no pursuits nor wishes but to please him and no fears but to offend him. I would live to do his will, or would die to see him. He knows I love him with a measure of the same love wherewith he has and does love me.”
I was moved by her story, and the maturity that she expressed in reflecting back on years of ups and downs in her spiritual experience. She showed grace for herself and wisdom in what she offered to others. This was clearly someone I wanted to know more about.
The historian in me was also intrigued by this letter. Who was this that offered critique to John Wesley on his latest theological treatise? Who was this who suggested she was only slightly moved by his preaching during the Methodist revival? More over who was this that offered her own story to Wesley himself spiritual counsel? And the hint that I might actually be able to answer these questions came in the throw away line: “There were many more particulars, which I haven’t room for, and have acquainted you with many years ago.” More on that in my next blog post.
The letter quoted here is published in: Paul Wesley Chilcote (ed.) Early Methodist Spirituality: Selected Women’s Writings. Nashville: Kingswood, 2007.