Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  An Angelic Dispensation

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

An Angelic Dispensation

By John Woolman (1720–1772)

[From The Works of John Woolman. 1774.]

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 color, 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 that henceforth I 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 I had heard with my ears before; I believed it was the voice of an angel, who spake to the other angels. The words were: “John Woolman is dead.” I soon remembered that I once was 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 heathen 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 light-headed, for I told them not what the angel said, nor was I disposed to talk much to any one, 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 I said: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ that 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.

Soon after this I coughed and raised much bloody matter, which I had not done during this vision, and now my natural understanding returned as before. Here I saw that people getting silver vessels to set off their tables at entertainments were often stained with worldly glory, and that in the present state of things I should take heed how I fed myself from out of silver vessels.

Soon after my recovery, I, going to our monthly-meeting, dined at a Friend’s house where drink was brought in silver vessels, and not in any other; and I, wanting some drink, told him my case with weeping, and he ordered some drink for me in another vessel.

The like I afterward went through in several Friends’ houses in America, and have also in England, since I came here; and have cause, with humble reverence, to acknowledge the loving-kindness of my heavenly Father who hath preserved me in such a tender frame of mind that none, I believe, have ever been offended at what I have said on that occasion.

After this sickness, I spake not in public meetings for worship for near one year, but my mind was very often in company with the oppressed slaves as I sat in meetings, and though under this dispensation I was shut up from speaking, yet the spring of the gospel ministry was many times livingly opened in me, and the divine gift operated by abundance of weeping in feeling the oppression of this people. It being so long since I passed through this dispensation, and the matter remaining fresh and livingly in my mind, I believe it safest for me to commit it to writing.