[ABOVE—Detail of Joseph Alleine memorial plaque on the wall of the arch of the south chantry chapel, at St Mary Magdalene, where he pastored [via findagrave.com]]
Joseph Alleine was the devoted pastor of Taunton. A non-conformist (that is one who rejected the practices of England’s state church) he was driven from his pulpit when a restictive law was enacted. Because he refused to be muzzled, traveling about preaching, he was thrown into prison. When released, he resumed preaching and went back to prison. This happened again and again. Finally he died, worn out, at the young age of 34. Friends buried him in Taunton.
Not one-sided, he was a loving husband to Theodosia Alleine, and a scientific thinker who associated with the founders of the Royal Society. He preached, prayed, wrote and pleaded with his contemporaries to follow Christ. His most famous work, An Alarm to the Unconverted, also known as The Sure Guide to Heaven, is still in print.
History of Christianity is a six part survey designed to stimulate your curiosity by providing glimpses of pivotal events and persons in the spread of the church.
While in prison, Alleine penned a number of letters, exhorting his followers to a deeper walk with Christ. We present one of these below, with minor edits to make the language more contemporary.
Alleine’s letter from prison to believers in Luppit.
To my dear Friends, the Servants of Christ in Luppit, Salvation.
Having taken up a resolution to write to, and to endeavor to confirm, all the places where I have gone up and down preaching the kingdom of God, you were by no means to be omitted. You were the people that were last upon my heart before my taking up; and had I not been made a prisoner, I think I had in a few hours after the time of my apprehension been with you. Now I can no way, but by prayers, letters, and counsels, visit you, and so have sent these to let you know that you are upon my heart, and that your welfare is dear unto me. I bless the Lord to hear that His work does not cease among you. It is the joy of our bonds, beloved, to hear that the Word is not bound, and that Satan has not [success in] his design upon the people of God, who doubtless intended, by these sufferings, to have struck terror into them, and to have made their hands weak.
Know, dear Christians, that the bonds of the gospel are not tedious through grace unto us ; that Christ is a master worth suffering for; that there is really enough in religion to defray all our charges, and to quit all the cost and expense you can be at in or upon it; that you may build upon it, that you can never be losers by Jesus Christ; that Christ’s prison is better than the world’s paradise; that the Divine attributes are alone an all-sufficient livelihood; that the influences of heaven, and shines of God’s countenance, are sufficient to lighten the darkest dungeon, and to perfume and sweeten the stinkiest prison to a poor believer; that if you can bring faith and patience, and the assurance of the Divine favor with you to a prison, you will live comfortably, in spite of earth and hell. These are truths that the prisoners of Christ can in a measure seal unto, and I would have you to be more soundly assured of and established in them.
Brethren, we are of the same mind in a prison that we were of in the pulpit; that there is no life equal to a life of holiness; that Christ, and His yoke, and His cross, are worthy of all acceptation; that it is the best, and wisest, and safest, and most gainful course in the world, to stick close to Christ and His ways, and to adhere to them in all hazards. Come on, beloved Christians, come on ; slack not your pace, but give diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, and be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Strengthen the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees. If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
Cheer up, my brethren; look what a crown, what a kingdom here is! What say you? Is not here a worthy portion, a goodly heritage? Were it not pity to lose all this for want of diligence and patience? Come, dear Christians and fellow-travellers, I pray you, let us put on. Pluck up the weary limbs; our home is within sight. Lift up your eyes from the Pisgah of the promises. You may see the land of rest. Will any of you think of returning into Egypt? God forbid. A little patience, and Christ will come. Behold, the husbandman waits for the precious fruits of the earth, and has long patience till he receive the early and latter rain. Be also patient, establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draws near. He is not a Christian indeed who cannot be content to wait for his preferment in another world. Cast upon it, my brethren, that your kingdom is not of this world; that here you must have tribulations; and that all is well as long as we are secured for eternity. Exhort one another daily; strive together in prayer, unite your strength therein, and pull amain. Mercy will come sooner or later; however, we will be content to wait till the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ah, how surely will He come! He will render tribulation to them that trouble us; and to us that are troubled, rest with Him. Only believe and wait.
What! not watch with him one hour? Why the Judge is even at the door ! And how blessed will you be if you do but continue and hold fast till He come! Watch therefore, and stand fast, acquit yourselves like men: Be zealous, and let your hearts be strong: God is your friend, and you may trust Him. He is able to bear you out and bear you up. Faint not therefore, but be steadfast, unmoveable, abounding in the work of the Lord. Speak often one to another. Provoke to love, and to good works. Let the bay of opposition against godliness make the torrent of your zeal break over with the more violence. But it is time to end. I have been bold to call upon you, you see, and to stir you up by way of remembrance. May the Spirit of the Most High God excite you, encourage you, inflame you! May these poor lines be some quickening to you! May the goodwill of Him who dwelt in the bush dwell with you! My dear loves to you all. Pray for the prisoners. Farewell, dear brethren, farewell in the Lord.
I am, yours in the bonds of the Lord Jesus,