About Easter 1735 John Cennick experienced a period of deep conviction of sin. It was a time of great misery for him:
‘I felt at once an uncommon fear and dejection … through the strength of convictions and the fear of going to hell … I knew not any weight before like this.’ No amusement could lift the load. Getting away from the town for a walk in the country did no good, for even there ‘the terrors of the Lord came upon me, and the pains of hell took hold of me’.
A light-hearted companion eased the burden, but only for a time, for when they separated, the burden returned.
‘Whoever I met I envied their happiness. Whatever I heard grieved me; whatever I said or did so troubled me, that I repented that I stirred or broke silence. If I laughed at any thing my heart smote me immediately; and if the occasion was a foolish jest or lie, I thought, alas! I helped not only to ruin my own soul, but the souls of others too.’
He gave up worldly amusements, he even considered going into a monastery to get peace of mind, but it was all to no avail. Often he would be haunted in bed at night by confused thoughts. He tried exercise, eating and medicine, but all proved useless. He confesses that although he was convicted of sin he had no power over sin: ‘I committed it continually, though not in the eyes of the world. My chief sins were pride, murmuring against God, blasphemy, disobedience, and evil concupiscence; sometimes I strove against them, but finding myself always conquered I concluded there was no help.’ In church his mind wandered. It seemed to him that his worship was a mockery of God. At one point he left off praying for he considered the prayers of the wicked an abomination. The devil suggested to him that there was no God. He cried out, ‘Have I sinned more than all the sons of Adam? O that I had never been born.’
He was convinced that heaven was closed to him. He described these times: ‘I stood still and fixed my heavy eyes on the trees, walls or on the ground, amazed above measure, and often crying with a bitter cry, “What must I do to be saved?”‘ He thought of going to the country to be a plough-boy, of even starving himself to death, but he could not get any peace. ‘I could not be thankful for any temporal blessings, because I thought myself so unsettled, and because no blessing satisfied my craving soul or made me wish to stay behind on earth a day … nor could meat, drink, or raiment give me any comfort; I only wanted to know if I had any part in Jesus.’
He tried mortification, eating only once a day and fasting from Friday breakfast until Sunday noon, when he had Communion, but it was no good: ‘No alms, or fasting, or prayers, or watchings could cover my naked soul from almighty wrath.’ This period of conviction lasted for about two years during which even Scripture brought him no comfort: ‘To me all beside the law and the judgements and their terrors were like a book sealed so that I could not read it (as I thought) to profit by it at all.’
He was eventually converted in 1737