Suffering for our sins...

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Native Americans attacked Fort Casco (Maine) in May of 1690. Along with her children, Hannah Swarton was taken captive. Her husband had been killed when the fort was taken and her eldest son was killed several months later. Early in her captivity, Hannah was separated from her three remaining children.

Over the course of the following year, Hannah traveled with her Indian captors. Poorly clothed, often freezing, and just as often famished, she learned to eat foods she was not accustomed to. Once, there was nothing to eat but a moose bladder which...

they boiled, drinking the broth. They could not eat it since it was too tough to chew and filled with maggots.

Another time Hannah ate a roasted eel and considered it “the most savory food I [had] ever tasted."

After arriving in Canada, her Indian master sent her to some French settlers to beg for food. The French took pity on her, eventually ransoming her from the Indians. No longer an Indian captive, Hannah was now a slave to the French. Initially they treated her well, but as time went by they sought to convert her to Catholicism. After all, they were papists.

Throughout her captivity, Hannah recalled various Scriptures that kept her from sinking into utter despair. She reckoned that God would deliver her from these French Catholics who were threatening to send her back to France where she would be burned at the stake as a Protestant. Hannah had faith that God had “fit me for what he called me to suffer for his sake and name.” She argued theology with these Catholics, answering them from Scripture about Roman Catholic errors such as prayer to angels, prayers to the Virgin Mary, and the mythical place Roman Catholics call "Purgatory."

During the torment of her captivity, Hannah quite understandably began to question her own salvation. Did she had a saving interest in Jesus?

By God's grace (working through the kindness of some of her fellow captives), Hannah had gotten hold of a Bible in English as well as a few good books. She took Jonah’s prayer as her own: “I am cast out of thy sight, yet will I look again towards thy holy temple.” She resolved to do as Jonah had done. Continuing to meditate on this Scripture, the Lord was pleased to come into her soul by His Spirit, and to “fill me with ravishing comfort that I cannot express.”

Another Scripture came to mind: the words of the Apostle Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration when he said: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”

Hannah concluded this was true of her and wished she could die right then so that she might never again sin against her Lord. She was so full of joy: “I desired to see all my sins and to repent of them with all my heart.”

Hannah was especially burdened about one particular sin that lay heavy on her heart. She and her husband had moved to a place, “for worldly advantages.” This move separated them from public worship and the ordinances of God, thereby depriving her and her children of what she now saw they had truly needed.

After two years, the Lord answered Hannah's prayers and she was able to return home, though without two of her remaining children.

What should we learn from this narrative written by Hannah Swarton and recorded for us in Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana (The Great Works of Christ in America), volume 2, published in 1702?

  1. Memorize the word of God more than you did last year.
  2. Do not forsake public worship and the ordinances of God.
  3. Examine yourself. Hannah did and she concluded that her captivity was discipline for her sins and that she hadn’t been disciplined as severely as she deserved. Is that how most believers would react to difficult circumstances today? If you have any question about the answer to that question, you’re just as deluded as I am.
  4. What do you read? Hannah was a reader and received strength from Scripture and “good books.” Where are we today? Teenage church kids read, If God loves me, why can’t I get my locker open. Christian women read Joyce Meyer or Christian sex manuals and their men read Max Lucado. 

God have mercy on us. Let's read things that will build our faith.

David Wegener

David is an ordained Teaching Elder (Pastor) in the Central Indiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. Formerly serving in theological education in Africa with Mission to the World, he and his wife currently live in their hometown of Bloomington, IN.