John Newton's Letters
Eight letters to a Christian friend
My dear Madam,
The spiritual conflict which you express, is inseparable from a spiritual acquaintance with our own hearts. I would not wish you to be less affected with a sense of indwelling sin. It befits us to be humbled into the dust—yet our grief, though it cannot be too great, may be under a wrong direction; and if it leads us to impatience or distrust, it certainly is so.
Sin is the sickness of the soul, in itself mortal and incurable, as to any power in heaven or earth—but that of the Lord Jesus only. But he is the great, the infallible Physician. Have we the privilege to know his salvation? Have we been enabled to put ourselves into his hand? Then we have then no more to do but to attend his prescriptions, to be satisfied with his methods, and to wait his time.
It is lawful to wish we were well; it is natural to groan, being burdened—but still he must and will take his own course with us; and, however dissatisfied with ourselves, we ought still to be thankful that he has begun his work in us, and to believe that he will also complete it. Therefore while we mourn—we should likewise rejoice! We should encourage ourselves to expect all that he has promised; and we should limit our expectations by his promises.
We are sure, that when the Lord delivers us from the guilt and dominion of sin, he could with equal ease free us entirely from sin—if he pleased. The doctrine of sinless perfection is not to be rejected, as though it were a thing simply impossible in itself, for nothing is too hard for the Lord—but because it is contrary to that method which he has chosen to proceed by. He has appointed that sanctification should be effected, and sin mortified, not at once completely—but little by little; and doubtless he has wise reasons for it. Therefore, though we are to desire a growth in grace, we should, at the same time, acquiesce in his appointment, and not be discouraged or despond, because we feel that conflict which his Word informs us will only terminate with our lives.
Again, some of the first prayers which the Spirit of God teaches us to put up, are for a clearer sense of the sinfulness of sin, and our vileness on account of it. Now, if the Lord is pleased to answer your prayers in this respect, though it will afford you cause enough for humiliation—yet it should be received likewise with thankfulness, as a token for good. Your heart is not worse than it was formerly—only your spiritual knowledge is increased. And this is no small part of the growth in grace, which you are thirsting after—to be truly humbled, and emptied, and made little in your own eyes.
Further, the examples of the saints recorded in Scripture prove (and indeed of the saints in general), that the greater measure any person has of the grace of God in truth, the more conscientious and lively they have been, and the more they have been favored with assurances of the Divine favor—so much the more deep and sensible, is their perception of indwelling sin and infirmity. So it was with Job, Isaiah, Daniel, and Paul.
It is likewise common to overcharge ourselves. Indeed we cannot think ourselves worse than we really are! Yet some things which abate the comfort and alacrity of our Christian profession, are rather impediments than properly sinful, and will not be imputed to us by Him who knows our frame, and remembers that we are but dust.
Thus, to have an infirm memory; or to be subject to disordered, irregular, or depressed spirits—are faults of the constitution, in which the heart and will has no share; though they are all oppressive, and sometimes needlessly so, by our charging ourselves with guilt on their account. The same may be observed of the unspeakable and fierce temptations of Satan, with which some people are pestered—but which shall be laid to him from whom they proceed, and not to them who are troubled and terrified because they are forced to feel them.
Lastly, it is by the experience of these evils within ourselves, and by feeling our utter insufficiency, either to perform duty or to withstand our enemies—that the Lord takes occasion to show us the suitableness, the sufficiency, the freeness, the unchangeableness of his power and grace! This is the inference Paul draws from his conflicts; and he learned it upon a trying occasion from the Lord's own mouth, 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.
Let us then, dear madam, be thankful and cheerful! And while we take shame to ourselves—let us glorify God, by giving Jesus the honor due to his name. Though we are poor—he is rich. Though we are weak—he is strong. Though we have nothing—he possesses all things. He suffered for us. He calls us to be conformed to him in sufferings. He conquered in his own person, and he will make each of his members more than conquerors in due season.
It is good to have one eye upon ourselves—but the other should always be fixed on him who is our Savior, Husband, Sustainer, and Shepherd. In him—we have righteousness, peace, and power. He can control all that we fear; so that if our path should be through the fire or through the water, neither the flood shall drown us, nor the flame kindle upon us! Before long he will cut short our conflicts, and say, 'Come up higher!' "Then shall our grateful songs abound—and every fear be wiped away." Having such promises and assurances, let us lift up our banner in his name, and press on through every discouragement.
With regard to company which has not a savor of the best things: As it is not your choice, I would advise you (when necessary) to bear it as a cross. We cannot suffer by being where we ought to be, except through our own impatience; and I have an idea, that when we are providentially called among such (for something is due to friends and relations, whether they walk with us or not), that the hours need not be wholly lost. Nothing can come to us—which man not be improved; the most trivial conversation may afford us new views of the heart, new confirmation of Scripture, and renew a sense of our obligations to sovereign and distinguishing grace, which has made us in any degree to differ from the ones who are visiting us.
I would wish when you go among your friends, that you do not confine your views to getting safely away from them without loss—but entertain a hope that you may be sent to do some of them good. You cannot tell what effect a word or a look may have—if the Lord is pleased to bless it. I think we may humbly hope, that while we sincerely desire to please the Lord, and to be guided by him in all things—he will not allow us to take a journey, or hardly to make a short visit—which shall not answer some good purpose to ourselves or others, or both!
While your mirthful friends affect an air of raillery, the Lord may give you a secret witness in their consciences; and something they observe in you, or hear from you—may set them on thinking perhaps after you are gone, or after the first occasion has entirely slipped your memory, "Cast your bread upon the waters—for after many days you will find it again." Ecclesiastes 11:1.
For my own part, when I consider the power, the freedom of Divine grace, and holy sovereignty of the Lord in the choice of the instruments and means by which he is pleased to work—I live in hopes from day to day of hearing of wonders of this sort. I despair of nobody's salvation! And if I sometimes am ready to think such or such a person seems more unlikely than others to be brought in, I relieve myself by a possibility that that very person, and for that very reason—may be the first saved! The Lord's thoughts are not like ours. In his love and in his ways there are heights which we cannot reach, depths which we cannot fathom, lengths and breadths beyond the range of our feeble sight. Let us then simply depend upon Him, and do our little best—leaving the event in his hand!
In a letter I received from Mrs. **** yesterday, she writes thus: "I am at present very ill with some disorder in my throat, which seems to threaten my life—but death or life, things present or things to come—all things are mine, and I am Christ's! O glorious privilege! precious foundation of soul-rest and peace, when all things concerning us are most troublous! Soon we shall be at home with Christ, where sin, sorrow, and death have no place! In the mean time, our Beloved will lead us through the wilderness. How safe, how joyous are we—in the most dire case!"
If these should be some of the last notes of this 'swan', I think them worth preserving. May the Lord grant that you and I, madam, may be happy in the same assurance, when we shall have death and eternity near in view!
My dear Madam,
Your welfare I rejoice in; your warfare I understand something of. Paul describes his own case in few words, "Conflicts on the outside, fears on the inside." Does not this comprehend all you would say? And how are you to know experimentally either your own weakness—or the power, wisdom, and grace of God, seasonably and sufficiently afforded—but by frequent and various trials? How are the graces of patience, resignation, meekness, and faith, to be discovered and increased—but by exercise? The Lord has chosen, called, and armed us for the fight; and shall we wish to be excused from the battle? Shall we not rather rejoice that we have the honor to appear in such a cause, under such a Captain, such a banner, and in such company? A complete suit of armor is provided, formidable weapons, and precious balm to heal us—if we receive a wound, and precious cordials to revive us—when we are in danger of fainting!
Further, we are assured of the victory beforehand; and, O what a crown is prepared for every conqueror, which Jesus, the righteous Judge, the gracious Savior—shall place upon every faithful head with his own hand!
So let us not be weary and faint, for in due season we shall reap! The time is short—yet in a little while, the struggle of indwelling sin, and all the conflicts surrounding us, shall be known no more! "Be faithful, even to the point of death—and I will give you the crown of life!" Revelation 2:10
You are blessed, because you hunger and thirst after righteousness. He whose name is Amen has said you shall be filled. To claim the promise—is to make it our own; yet it is befitting for us to practice submission and patience, not in temporal things only—but also in spiritual things. We should be ashamed and grieved at our slow progress, so far as it is properly chargeable to our faults and failures. Yet we must not expect to receive everything at once—but wait for a gradual increase; nor should we forget to be thankful for what we may account a little, in comparison of the much we suppose others have received. A little grace, a spark of true love to God, a grain of living faith, though small as mustard-seed—is worth a thousand worlds! One draught of the water of life gives a saving interest in, and pledge of, the whole fountain!
It befits the Lord's people to be thankful. To acknowledge his goodness in what we have received—is the surest, as well as the pleasantest method of obtaining more. Nor should the grief, arising from the evo;s which we know and feel of our own hearts, rob us of the honor, comfort, and joy, which the Word of God designs for us, in what is there recorded of the person, offices, and grace of Jesus, and the relations he is pleased to stand in to his people. Psalm 23:1; Isaiah 54:5; Son. 5:16; John 15:15; 1Jo. 2:1; John 15:1; Jer. 23:15; 1Co. 1:30; Mat. 1:21-23. Give me permission to recommend to your consideration Psalm 139:15-18. These verses may be called the Believer's Triumph. Though they are nothing in themselves—yet having all in Jesus, they may rejoice in his name all the day. May the Lord enable us so to do! The joy of the Lord is the strength of his people. But unbelief makes our hands hang down, and our knees feeble, dispirits ourselves, and discourages others; and though it steals upon us under a semblance of humility, it is indeed the very essence of pride.
By inward and outward trials, the Lord is promoting the best desire of your heart, and answering your daily prayers. Would you have assurance? True solid assurance is to be obtained no other way. When young Christians are greatly comforted with the Lord's love and presence, their doubts and fears are for that season at an end. But this is not assurance; so soon as the Lord hides his face they are troubled, and ready to question the very foundation of hope. Assurance grows by repeated conflict, by our repeated experimental proof of the Lord's power and goodness to save. When we have been brought very low and divinely helped; sorely wounded and divinely healed; cast down and divinely raised again; have given up all hope, and been suddenly snatched from danger, and placed in safety; and when these things have been repeated to us and in us a thousand times over—we begin to learn to trust simply to the Word and power of God, beyond and against appearances; and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance; for even assurance has degrees.
You have good reason, madam, to suppose, that the love of the best Christians to an unseen Savior—is far short of what it ought to be. If your heart is like mine, and you examine your love to Christ by the warmth and frequency of your emotions towards him—you will often be in a sad suspense whether or not you love him at all. The best mark to judge, and which he has given us for that purpose, is to inquire if his Word and Will have a prevailing, governing influence upon our lives and temper. If we truly love him—we do endeavor to keep his commandments. If we have a desire to please him—we undoubtedly love him. Obedience is the best test; and when, amidst all our imperfections, we can humbly appeal to God concerning the sincerity of our hearts, this is a mercy for which we ought to be greatly thankful. He who has brought us to desire—will likewise enable us to obey, according to his good pleasure.
I doubt not but the Lord whom you love, and on whom you depend, will lead you in a sure way, and establish and strengthen and settle you in his love and grace. Indeed he has done great things for you already. "The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need!" Psalm 23:1. The Lord is your Shepherd! This is a comprehensive word. The sheep can do nothing for themselves. The Shepherd must guide, guard, feed, heal, recover. It is well for us—that our Shepherd is the Lord Almighty! If his power, care, compassion, fullness, were not infinite—the poor sheep would be forsaken, starved, and die! But we have a Shepherd full of care, full of kindness, full of power, who has said, "I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak!" Ezekiel 34:16. How tender are these expressions, and how well fulfilled! His sheep feed in the midst of wolves—yet are safely preserved; for, though they cannot see him—his eye and his heart are upon them!
Do we wonder that Daniel was preserved in the lion's den? Why, it is a common case.
Which of God's children have not cause to say, "My soul is among lions!" But our Shepherd stops their mouths, or only permits them to gape and roar, and show their teeth! He does not allow them to bite and tear us at their own will. Let us trust our Shepherd—and all shall be well.
As to daily occurrences, it is best to trust that a daily portion of comforts and crosses—each one the most suitable to our case—is adjusted and appointed by the hand which was once nailed to the cross for us! We must trust, that where the path of duty and prudence leads us—that there is the best situation we could possibly be in at that time. We are not required to chasten ourselves immoderately for what is not in our power to prevent, nor should anything that affords occasions for mortifying the spirit of self, be accounted unnecessary.
I have been hoping some time to hear from you—but an acquaintance informed me that you were ill. This news prompted me to write as soon as I could find leisure. The Lord has seen fit to visit you with much sickness of late; I say He has seen fit, for all our trials are under his immediate direction, and we are never in heaviness without a needs-be. I trust he does and will give you strength equal to your day, and sweeten what would be otherwise bitter—with the essence of his precious love. I hope soon to hear that you are restored to health, and that you have found cause to praise him for his loving rod.
How happy is the state of a believer, to have a sure promise that all shall work together for good in the end; and in the mean time, he has a sure refuge where to find present relief, support, and protection! How comfortable is it, when trouble is near, to know that the Lord is near likewise, and to commit ourselves and all our cares simply to him, believing that his eye is upon us, and his ear is open to our prayers. Under the conduct of such a Shepherd, we need not fear. Though we are called to pass through fire and water, through the valley of the shadow of death—he will be with us, and will show himself mighty on our behalf.
It seems almost needless to say, that we were very happy in the company of ****. The only inconvenience was, that it renewed the pain it always gives me to part with them. Though the visit was as long as I could possibly expect, it seemed very short. This must be the case while we are here—our earthly pleasures are short, interrupted, and mixed with troubles. This world is not, and cannot be our rest. But it will not be always the case. We are traveling to a better world, where every evil and imperfection shall cease; then we shall be forever with the Lord, and with each other. May the prospect of this blessed hope revive our fainting spirits, and make us willing to endure hardships as good soldiers of Jesus Christ! Here we must often sow in tears—but there we shall reap in joy, and all tears shall be wiped from our eyes forever.
I hope the conversation of friends whom I so greatly love and honor, afforded me not only pleasure but profit. It left a savor upon my mind, and stirred up my languid desires after the Lord. I wish I could say the good effect has remained with me to this hour—but, alas! I am a poor creature, and have had many causes of humiliation since. But, blessed be God! amidst all my changes—I find the foundation stands sure; and I am seldom or never left to doubt either of the Lord's love to me—or the reality of the desires he has given me towards himself. Though when I measure my love by the degree of its exercise, or the fruits it produces, I have reason to sit down ashamed as the chief of sinners and the least of all saints. But in Him I have righteousness and peace, and in Him I must and will rejoice!
I would willingly fill up my sheet—but feel a straitness in my spirit, and know not what further to say. O for a ray of Divine light to set me at liberty, that I might write a few lines worth reading, something that might warm my heart, and comfort yours! Then the subject must be Jesus—but of him what can I say that you do not know? Well, though you know him, you are glad to hear of him again and again. Come then, magnify the Lord with me—and let us exalt his name together. Let us adore him for his love, that love which has a height, and depth, and length, and breadth, beyond the grasp of our poor conceptions; a love that moved him to empty himself, to take on him the form of a servant, and to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; a love that pitied us in our lost estate, that found us when we sought him not; a love that spoke peace to our souls in the day of our distress; a love that bears with all our present weakness, mistakes, backslidings, and shortcomings; a love that is always watchful, always ready to guide, to comfort, and to heal; a love that will not be wearied, cannot be conquered, and is incapable of changes; a love that will in the end prevail over all opposition, will perfect that which concerns us, and will not leave us until it has brought us perfect in holiness and happiness, to rejoice in his presence in glory.
The love of Christ! it is the wonder, the joy, the song of angels; and the sense of it shed abroad in our hearts makes life pleasant and death welcome. Alas! what a heart have I—that I love him no better! But I hope he has given me a desire to make him my all in all, and to account everything loss and dross, which dares to stand in competition with him.
I heard of your being laid on the bed of affliction, and of the Lord's goodness to you there, and of His raising you up again. Blessed be His name! He is all-sufficient and faithful; and though He causes grief, He is sure to show compassion in supporting and delivering.
Ah! the evil of our nature is deeply rooted and very powerful—or such repeated, continual corrections and chastisements would not be necessary! And were they not necessary, we would not have them. But such we are—and therefore such must be our treatment. For though the Lord loves us with a tenderness beyond what the mother feels for her nursing child—yet it is a tenderness directed by Infinite Wisdom, and very different from that weak indulgence which in parents we call fondness, which leads them to comply with their children's desires and inclinations, rather than to act with a steady view to their true welfare.
The Lord loves His children, and is very indulgent to them so far as they can safely bear it—but He will not spoil them! Their sin-sickness requires strong medicines, some of which are very unpalatable. But when the case calls for such, no short-sighted entreaties of ours can excuse us from taking what He prepares for our good. But every dose is prepared by His own hand, and not one is administered in vain, nor is it repeated any oftener than is absolutely needful to answer His purposed end. Until then, no other hand can remove what He lays upon us. But when His merciful design is answered, He will relieve us Himself; and in the mean time He will so moderate the operation, or increase our ability to bear up—that we shall not be overpowered.
It is true, without a single exception, that all His paths are mercy and truth, to those who fear Him. His love is the same, when He wounds—as when He heals; when He takes away—as when He gives. we have reason to thank Him for all—but most for His loving corrections and chastisements.
I received a letter from you which mentions dear Mrs. ****'s case, a very trying one—but in this likewise, we see the Lord's faithfulness. Our own experience, and all that we observe of his dealings with others—may convince us that we need not be afraid to entrust ourselves and our dearest concerns in his hands; for he can and will make everything work for good.
How little does the world know, of that sweet fellowship which is carried on between heaven and earth; what petitions are daily presented, and what answers are received at the Throne of Grace! O the blessed privilege of prayer! O the wonderful love, care, attention, and power of our great Shepherd! His eye is always upon us! When our spirits are almost overwhelmed within us—he knows our path. His ear is always open to us. No matter who will overlook and disappoint us—he will not. When means and hope fail, when everything looks dark upon us, when we seem shut up on every side, when we are brought to the lowest ebb—still our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth! To him all things are possible; and before the exertion of his power, when he is pleased to arise and work, all hindrances give way and vanish, like a mist before the sun. And he can so manifest himself to the soul, and cause his goodness to pass before it, that the hour of affliction shall be the golden hour of the greatest consolation.
He is the fountain of life, strength, grace and comfort—and of his fullness his children receive according to their needs. But this is all hidden from the world; they have no guide in prosperity—but hurry on as they are instigated by their blinded passions, and are perpetually multiplying mischiefs and miseries to themselves! And in adversity they have no resource—but must feel all the evil of affliction, without inward support, and without deriving any advantage from it. We have therefore cause for continual praise. The Lord has given us to know his name as a resting-place and a hiding-place, a sun and a shield. Circumstances and creatures may change—but he will be an unchangeable friend. The way is rough—but he trod it before us, and is now with us in every step we take; and every step brings us nearer to our heavenly home. Our inheritance is surely reserved for us, and we shall be kept for it by his power through faith. Our present strength is small, and without a fresh supply, we would be quickly exhausted—but he has engaged to renew it from day to day; and he will soon appear to wipe all tears from our eyes; and then we shall appear with him in glory!
I am very sorry if our friend Mr. **** appears to be aiming to reconcile things that are incompatible. I am indeed afraid that he has been for some time under a spiritual decline; and, as you justly observe, we meet with too many instances to teach us, that many of those who express the warmest zeal at their first setting out in the Christian race—do not always prove the most steady and thriving afterwards. Yet I am willing to hope, in this case, that he will revive and flourish again. Sometimes the Lord permits those whom he loves to wander from him for a season. And when his time comes to heal their backslidings—they walk more humbly, thankfully, and fruitfully afterwards—from a sense of his abounding mercy, and the knowledge they have by experience acquired of the deceitfulness and ingratitude of their hearts. I hope and pray it will be so with him. However, these things for the present are grievous; and usually, before the Lord heals such breaches, he makes his people sensible, that it is an evil and bitter thing to forsake him when he led them by the way.
Indeed London is a dangerous and ensnaring place to professors. I account myself happy that my lot is cast at a distance from it. It appears to me like a sea, wherein most are tossed by storms, and many suffer shipwreck. In this retired situation, I seem to stand upon a cliff; and, while I pity those whom I cannot help, I comfort myself in the thoughts of being safe upon the shore. Not that we are without our trials here; the evil of our own hearts, and the devices of Satan, cut us out work enough—but we are happily screened from many things which must be either burdensome or hurtful to those who live in the way of them; such as political disputes, winds of false doctrines, scandals of false professors, parties for and against particular ministers, and fashionable amusements, in some measure countenanced by the presence of people in other respects exemplary.
In this view, I often think of our dear friend's expression, upon a certain occasion, of the difference between London grace—and country grace. I hold it in a twofold sense. By London grace, when genuine, I understand grace in a very advanced degree. The favored few who are kept alive to God, simple-hearted, and spiritually minded in the midst of such snares and temptations, appear to me to be the first-rate Christians of the land. I adore the power of the Lord in them, and compare them to the young men who walked unhurt in the midst of the fire. In another sense, the phrase London grace conveys no great idea to me. I think there is no place in the kingdom where a person may set up for a professor upon a smaller stock of grace. If people can abstain from open immoralities, if they will fly to all parts of the town to hear sermons, if they can talk about the doctrines of the Gospel, if they have something to say upon that useless question, Who is the best preacher? if they can attain to a speaking acquaintance with other professors—then they expect to pass muster. I am afraid there are many who, upon no better evidences than these, deceive both themselves and others for a course of years.
I have almost filled the sheet of paper somehow; and if a line or a word may be a means of suggesting a seasonable and comfortable thought to you, I have my end. Through mercy, we are all pretty well. My soul is kept alive as it were by miracle. I feel much inward warfare; the enemy thrusts sore at me, that I may fall; and I have abundant experience of the evil and deceitfulness of my heart—but the Lord is gracious, and, in the midst of all conflicts, I have a peace springing from the knowledge of his power and grace, and a consideration that I have been helped to commit myself to him.
We are much obliged to you for your visit; and I am glad to find that the Lord is pleased to give you some tokens of his presence when you are with us, because I hope it will encourage you to come again. I ought to be very thankful that our Christian friends in general are not wholly disappointed of a blessing when they visit us.
I hope the Lord will give me an humble sense of what I am, and that broken and contrite frame of heart in which he delights. This is to me the chief thing. I had rather have more of the mind that was in Christ, more of a meek, quiet, resigned, peaceful, and loving disposition—than to enjoy the greatest measure of sensible spiritual comforts, if the consequence should be (as perhaps it would) spiritual pride, self-sufficiency, and a lack of that tenderness to others which befits one who has reason to style himself the 'chief of sinners'. I know indeed that the proper tendency of sensible consolations is to humble—but I can see, that, through the depravity of human nature, they have not always that effect. And I have been sometimes disgusted with an apparent lack of humility, an air of self-will and self-importance, in people of whose sincerity I could not at all doubt. It has kept me from envying them those pleasant frames with which they have sometimes been favored; for I believe Satan is never nearer us—than at some times when we think ourselves nearest the Lord! What reason have we to charge our souls in David's words! "My soul, wait only upon God." A great stress should be laid upon that word only. We dare not entirely shut him out of our regards—but we are too apt to allow something else to share with him. This evil disposition is deeply fixed in our hearts; and the Lord orders all his dispensations towards us with a view to rooting it out; that, being wearied with repeated disappointments, we may at length be compelled to betake ourselves to Him alone.
Why else do we experience so many changes and crosses? why are we so often in heaviness? We know that He delights in the pleasure and prosperity of his servants; that He does not willingly afflict or grieve his children—but there is a necessity on our parts, in order to teach us that we have no stability in ourselves, and that no creature can do us good—but by His appointment.
While the people of Israel depended upon Him for food, they gathered up the manna every morning in the field—but when they would hoard it up in their houses, that they might have a stock within themselves, they had it without his blessing—and it proved good for nothing; it soon bred worms, and grew offensive. We may often observe something like this occurs, both in our temporal and spiritual concerns.
The Lord gives us a dear friend for our comfort—but before long we forget that the friend is only the channel of conveyance, and that all the comfort is from Himself. To remind us of this, the stream is dried up, the friend torn away by death, or removed far from us, or perhaps the friendship ceases, and a coolness insensibly takes place, we know not how or why. The true reason is, that when we rejoiced amiss in our gourd, the Lord, for our good, sent a worm to the root of it!
Instances of this kind are innumerable; and the great inference from them all is, Cease from man, cease from creatures, for wherein are they to be accounted of? My soul, wait only, only upon the Lord, who is (according to the expressive phrase, Heb. 4:13.) he with whom we have to do for soul and body, for time and eternity!
What thanks do we owe, that though we have not yet attained perfectly this great lesson—yet we are admitted into that school where alone it can be learned; and though we are poor, slow scholars—the great and effectual Teacher to whom we have been encouraged and enabled to apply, can and will bring us forward! He communicates not only instructions—but capacities and abilities. There is none like him! He can make the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak! And how great is his condescension and patience! How does He accommodate himself to our weakness, and teach us as we are able to bear! Though all are dunces when He first receives them, not one was ever turned out as incapable. For He makes them what He would have them to be! "The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." John 14:26. "He began to teach them many things." Mark 6:34
O that we may set Him always before us, and consider every dispensation, person, thing, we meet in the course of every day, as messengers from Him, each bringing us some line of instruction for us to copy into that day's experience! Whatever passes within us or around us may be improved (when he teaches us how) as a perpetual commentary upon his good Word. If we converse and observe with this view, we may learn something every moment, wherever the path of duty leads us, in the streets as well as in the closet, and from the conversation of those who know not God (when we cannot avoid being present at it), as well as from those who do.
Separation of dear friends is, as you observed, hard to flesh and blood—but grace can make it tolerable. I have an abiding persuasion that the Lord can easily give more than ever he will take away. Which part of the alternative must be my lot, or when, he only knows—but in general I can rely on him—to appoint the time, the manner; and I trust his promise of 'strength suited to the day' shall be made good. Therefore I can for the most part rejoice, that all things are in the hand and under the direction of him who knows our frame, and has himself borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows, in his own body.
A time of weeping must come—but the morning of joy will make amends for all! Who can expound the meaning of that one expression, "An exceeding and eternal weight of glory?" The case of unconverted friends is still more burdensome to think of—but we have encouragement and warrant to pray and to hope. He who called us—can easily call others! And he seldom lays a desire of this sort very closely and warmly upon the hearts of his people—but when it is his gracious design, sooner or later, to give an answer of peace. However, it befits us to be thankful for ourselves, and to bow our concerns and reasonings before his sovereign will, who does as he pleases with his own.
Methinks winter is your summer. You have been, like the bee, collecting from many flowers; I hope you will carry good store of honey home with you. May you find the Lord there, and he can easily supply the failure of means and creatures. We cannot be in any place to so much advantage—as where the call of duty leads. What we cannot avoid—may we cheerfully submit to, and not indulge a vain thought that we could choose a better situation for ourselves (all things considered) than he has chosen for us!
When we have opportunity of enjoying many ordinances, it is a mercy to be able to prize and improve them—but when he cuts us short for a season, if we wait upon him, we shall do well without them. Secret prayer, and the holy Scriptures, are the chief wells from whence we draw the water of salvation. These will keep the soul alive when creature-streams are cut off. But the richest variety of public means, and the closest attendance upon them, will leave us lean and pining in the midst of plenty, if we are remiss and formal in the other two. I think David never appears in a more lively frame of mind—than when he wrote the 42d, 63d, and 84th Psalms, which were all penned in a dry land, and at a distance from the public ordinances!
I can assure you of my sincere sympathy with you in your trials. I can in some measure guess at what you feel, from what I have seen and felt myself in cases where I have been similarly concerned. But my compassion, though sincere, is ineffectual. If I can pity—I cannot relieve. All I can do is, as the Lord enables me, to remember you before His throne of grace.
But there is One whose compassion is infinite! The love and tenderness of ten thousand earthly friends, of ten thousand mothers towards their nursing infants, if compared with His—are less than a drop of water, compared to the ocean!
And His power is infinite too. Why then do our sufferings continue, when He is so compassionate, and could remove them with a word? Surely, if we cannot give the particular reasons (which yet he will acquaint us with hereafter, John 13:7), the general reason is at hand. He does not afflict us needlessly—but for our profit; to make us partakers of His holiness, and because He loves us!
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face!
I wish you much comfort from David's thought, Psalm 142:3, "When my spirit was overwhelmed within me—You knew my path." The Lord is not withdrawn to distant universe—but His eye is upon you! He does not see you with the indifference of a mere spectator—but he observes with loving attention—He knows, He considers your path. Yes, he appoints it—and every circumstance about it is under His direction! Your trouble began at the hour which He saw best—it could not come before! He has marked the degree of it, to a hair's breadth; and the duration to the minute! He knows likewise how your spirit is affected; and such supplies of grace and strength, and in such seasons as He sees needful—He will afford. Therefore, hope in God, for you shall yet praise Him!
I shall pray that the waters of the sanctuary there, may be healing and enlivening to you all. Our all-sufficient God can give seasons of refreshment in the darkest hours, and break through the thickest clouds of outward affliction or distress. To you it is given not only to believe in Jesus—but to suffer for his sake. We do so, not only when we are called to follow him to imprisonment or death—but when he enables us to bear afflictive dispensations with due submission and patience. Then he is glorified. Then his grace and power are manifested in us. Then the world, so far as they know our case, has a proof before them that our religion is not merely notional—but that there is a power and reality in it. And the Lord's people are encouraged by what they see of his faithfulness to ourselves. And there are more eyes upon us still. We are a spectacle to the universe, to angels as well as to men!
Cheer up. the Lord has put you in your present trying situation, that you may have the fairer opportunity of adorning your profession of the Gospel; and though you suffer much, he is able to make you abundant amends. Nor need I remind you that he has suffered unspeakably more for you! He drank for your sake, a cup of unmixed wrath; and only puts into your hand—a cup of affliction mixed with many mercies.
The account you gave of the poor man detained in the inn was very affecting. Such scenes are or should be instructive, to teach us resignation under the trials we must meet with every day. For not only are we visited less than our iniquities have deserved—but much less than many of our fellow-creatures daily meet with. We need not look about far or long—to find others in a worse situation than ourselves! If a fit of the gout or cholic is so grievous and so hard to bear, what do we owe to him who delivered us from that place of unutterable torment, where there is weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth forever, without hope or respite!
And if we cannot help interesting ourselves in the groans of a stranger, how ought the groans of Jesus to be as it were, continually sounding in our ears? What are all other sufferings compared to his? And yet he endured them freely. He needed not to have borne them, if he would have left us to perish—but such was his love, he died that we might live, and endured the fiercest agonies that he might open to us the gate of everlasting peace and happiness.
How amazingly perverse is my heart—that I can be more affected with a sad story in a newspaper concerning people I never saw—than with all that I read of His bitter passion in the garden and on the cross—though I profess to believe that He endured it all for me!
Oh, if we could always behold Him by faith—as evidently crucified before our eyes—how would it compose our spirits as to all the sweets and bitters of this poor life! What a armor would it prove against all the snares and temptations whereby Satan would draw us into evil! I long for more love to Jesus—that I may be preserved humble, thankful, watchful, and dependent upon Him. To behold the glory and the love of Jesus—is the only effectual way to be changed into His image!
We are to set out tonight from the Interpreter's house towards the hill Difficulty—and hope to be favored with a sight of the Cross along the way. To stand at the foot of the Cross, with a softened heart and melting eyes; to forget our sins, sorrows, and burdens, while we are wholly swallowed up in the contemplation of Him who bore our sins in his own body upon the cruel tree—is certainly the most desirable situation on this side the grave. To speak of it, and to see it by the light of the Spirit, are widely different things. And though we cannot always enjoy this view—yet the remembrance of what we have seen is an excellent means of encouragement to mount the hill, and to face the lions.
I believe I shall hardly find leisure to fill my paper this time. It is now Saturday evening, and growing late. I am just returned from a serious walk, which is my usual manner of closing the week when the weather is fine. I endeavor to join in heart with the Lord's ministers and people, who are seeking a blessing on tomorrow's ordinances. At such times, I especially remember those friends with whom I have gone to the house of the Lord in company, consequently you are not forgotten. I can venture to assure you, that you have a frequent share in our prayers; yes, are loved and remembered by many here—but as we are forgetful creatures, I hope you will always refresh our memory, and quicken our prayers, by a yearly visit.
What a multitude of eyes and hearts wait at the Throne of Grace! He has a numerous and necessitous family—but He is rich enough to supply them all—and His tender compassions extend to the poorest and most unworthy of them! Like the sun—He can cheer and enlighten millions of His poor pensioners at once! He gives to each one as bountifully—as if there were no others to partake of His favor!
His best blessings are not diminished—by being shared among many. The greatest earthly monarch would soon be poor—if he was to give but a pittance to all his subjects. But Jesus has unsearchable, inexhaustible riches of grace to bestow!
The innumerable assembly before the Eternal Throne are all continually supplied from His fullness; and yet there is enough and to spare for His earthly children also—and for all who shall come after us! May He give us an eager appetite—a hunger and thirst that will not be satisfied with anything short of the Bread of Life. We may confidently open our mouths wide—for He has promised to fill them! "Let us therefore approach the Throne of Grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need!" Hebrews 4:16
Since I wrote last, the Lord has been gracious to us here. He crowned the last year with his goodness, and renews his benefits to us every day. He has been pleased to bless the preaching of his Gospel among us, both to consolation and conviction; and several are, I hope, earnestly seeking him, who were lately dead in trespasses and sins.
Dear Mr. **** was released from all his illnesses on the 25th of November. A few days before his death, he was enabled to speak more intelligibly than usual for about a quarter of an hour, and expressed a comfortable hope, which was a great satisfaction to us; for though we had not the least doubt of his being built upon the Rock, it was to us an answer to prayer that he could again speak the language of faith; and much prayer had been made on this account, especially that very evening. After that night he spoke little—but continued chiefly drowsy until he died. I preached his funeral sermon from Lam. 3:31-33.
Mrs. L****'s illness grows worse and worse. she suffers much in her body, and has much more perhaps to suffer—but her consolations in the Lord abound. He enables her to maintain faith, patience, and submission, in an exemplary manner; and shows us, in his dealings with her, that he is all-sufficient and faithful to those who put their trust in him.
I am glad to hear that you had comfortable seasons while at Bath. It is indeed a great mercy, that God's ordinances are established in that place of dissipation; and I hope many who go there with no higher view than to drink the Bath waters, will be brought to draw with joy the waters of life from those wells of salvation. He does nothing in vain; and when he affords the means, we may confidently hope he will bestow the blessing.
The lowness of spirituality which you complain of, when you are in a strange place, is, I suppose, felt by most, if not by all, who can be satisfied in no place without some token of the Lord's presence. I consider it rather as an infirmity than a sin, strictly speaking; though all our infirmities are sinful, being the effects of a depraved nature. In our present circumstances, new things excite new ideas; and when our usual course of life is broken in upon, it disjoints and unsettles our thoughts. It is a proof of our weakness. It may and ought to be lamented—but I believe we shall not get the better of it, until we leave the mortal body to molder into dust!
Perhaps few suffer more inconvenience from this particular than myself; which is one reason why I love home, and seldom leave it without some reluctance. And it is one reason why we should love heaven, and long for the hour when, at liberty from all encumbrance, we shall see the Lord without a veil, and serve him without distraction!
The Lord, by his providence, seconds and confirms the declarations of his Word and ministry. We read and know much concerning the emptiness, vanity, and uncertainty of the present state. When our minds are enlightened by his Holy Spirit, we receive and acknowledge what his Word declares to be truth. Yet if we remain long without changes and trials, and our path is very smooth—we are for the most part but faintly affected with what we profess to believe. But when some of our dearest friends are taken from us, the lives of others threatened, and we ourselves are brought low with pain and sickness, then we not only say—but feel that this world must not, cannot be our rest! You have had several exercises of this kind of late in your family; and I trust you will be able to set your seal to that gracious word, That though afflictions in themselves are not joyous—but grievous—yet in due season they yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness.
Various and blessed are the fruits which afflictions produce. By affliction prayer is quickened, for our prayers are very apt to grow languid and formal in a time of ease. Affliction greatly helps us to understand the Scriptures, especially the promises; most of which being made to times of trouble. We cannot so well know their fullness, sweetness, and certainty, as when we have been in the situation to which they are suited, have been enabled to trust and plead them, and found them fulfilled in our own case. We are usually indebted to affliction—as the means or occasion of the most signal discoveries we are favored with of the wisdom, power, and faithfulness of the Lord. These are best observed by the evident proofs we have that he is near to support us under trouble, and that he can and does deliver us out of it. Israel would not have seen so much of the Lord's arm outstretched in their behalf, had not Pharaoh oppressed, opposed, and pursued them.
Afflictions are designed likewise for the manifestation of our sincerity to ourselves and to others. When faith endures the fire, we know it to be of the right kind; and others, who see we are brought safe out, and lose nothing but the dross, will confess that God is with us of a truth; Dan. 3:27-28. Surely this thought should reconcile us to suffer, not only with patience but with cheerfulness—if God may be glorified in us. This made the Apostle rejoice in tribulation, that the power of Christ might be noticed, as resting upon him, and working mightily in him.
Many of our graces likewise cannot thrive or manifest themselves, without trials—such as resignation, patience, meekness, long-suffering. I observe some of the London porters do not appear to be very strong men—yet they will trudge along under a burden which some stouter people could not carry so well. The reason is, that they are accustomed to carry burdens, and by continual exercise their shoulders acquire a strength suited to their work. It is so in the Christian life. Activity and strength of grace is not ordinarily acquired by those who sit still and live at ease—but by those who frequently meet with something which requires a full exertion of what power the Lord has given them.
So again, it is by our own sufferings, that we learn to pity and sympathize with others in their sufferings. Such a compassionate disposition, which excites our feelings for the afflicted, is an eminent branch of the mind which was in Christ. But these feelings would be very faint, if we did not in our experience know what sorrows and temptations mean.
Afflictions do us good likewise, as they make us more acquainted with what is in our own hearts, and thereby promote humiliation and self-abasement. There are abominations which, like nests of vipers, lie so quietly within, that we hardly suspect they are there—until the rod of affliction rouses them! Then they hiss and show their venom! This discovery is indeed very distressing—yet, until it is made, we are prone to think ourselves much less vile than we really are, and cannot so heartily abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes.
But I must write a sermon rather than a letter—if I would enumerate all the good fruits which, by the power of sanctifying grace, are produced from this bitter tree of affliction! May we, under our several trials, find them all revealed in ourselves, that we may not complain of having suffered in vain. While we have such a depraved nature, and live in such a polluted world; while the roots of pride, vanity, self-dependence, self-seeking, are so strong within us; we need a variety of sharp afflictions to keep us from cleaving to the dust! "I know, O Lord, that Your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness You have afflicted me!" Psalm 119:75. "Before I was afflicted I went astray—but now I obey Your Word." Psalm 119:67. "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness." Hebrews 12:10
The very painful illness which Mrs. **** so long endured, had doubtless not only prepared you to expect the news of her death—but made you more willing to resign her. You are bereaved of a valuable friend—but life in her circumstances was burdensome; and who can be sorry to consider her now as freed from all suffering—and possessed of all happiness? But, besides this, I trust the Lord has favored you with an habitual sense of the wisdom and propriety of all his appointments; so that when his will is manifested by the event, you are enabled to say, "All is well!" "I was silent, and opened not my mouth, because You are the one who has done this!"
She is gone a little before you; and, after a few more changes, you will meet her again to unspeakable advantage, and rejoice together before the Throne forever! There every tear will be wiped away, and you shall weep no more. The Lord could have prevented the cause of her great sufferings—but I doubt not, that he afflicted her in wisdom and mercy. He could easily have restored her to health—but the time was hastening when he purposed to have her with him—where he is, that she might behold his glory, and have all the desires he put into her heart, abundantly satisfied. Precious in his sight—is the death of his saints! Every circumstance under the direction of Infinite Wisdom. His sovereignty forbids us to say, "Why have you done this?" And his love assures us that he does all things well!
I have lost a friend likewise. I believe I may say few people, not immediately related to her, could value her more highly than myself; and though of late years I could not have the pleasure of her company, it was a constant satisfaction to me to know I had such a friend.
Her husband's sickness and death, followed immediately upon this stroke. I doubt not, but you have been much affected with this dispensation likewise. But here again we have the same stronghold to retreat to. The Lord has done it! What a pleasing prospect of increasing usefulness is now cut off! How many will mourn his loss! Yet we are sure the work which the Lord had appointed him was finished. They who loved his ministry, and were profited by it, are left apparently destitute—but Jesus, the good Shepherd, is able to take care of his own, and will fulfill his promise to them all. He has promised, and truly they shall be fed.
We have had trying and dying times here. Almost half of my time has been taken up with visiting the sick. I have seen death in a variety of forms, and have had frequent occasion of observing how insignificant many things, which are now capable of giving us pain or pleasure—will appear, when the soul is brought near to the borders of eternity. All the concerns which relate solely to this life, will then be found as trivial as the traces of a dream from which we are awakened! Nothing will then comfort us—but the knowledge of Jesus and his love! Nothing will then grieve us—but the remembrance of our unfaithful hearts to him, and what poor returns we made to his abundant goodness. May the Lord forbid that this thought should break our peace! No! faith in his name may forbid our fear, though we shall see and confess we have been unprofitable servants. There shall be no condemnation to those who are in him—but surely shame and humiliation will accompany us to the very threshold of heaven—and ought to do so. I surely shall then be more affected than I am now—with the coolness of my love, the faintness of my zeal, the vanity of my heart, and my undue attachment to the things of time. O these clogs, fetters, valleys, and mountains, which obstruct my course, darken my views, slacken my pace, and disable me in service! Well it is for me that I am not under the law—but under grace.
Tomorrow is the Sunday. I am usually glad when it returns, though it seldom finds me in that frame of mine which I would desire. But it is my happiness to live among many who count the hours from one ordinance to another. I know they pray that I may be a messenger of peace, and an instrument of good to their souls; and I have cause to hope their prayers are in a measure answered. For their sakes, as much as my own, I am glad to go up to the house of the Lord. O that in watering others—I may be also watered myself!
I have been praying that tomorrow may be a day of power with you and with us, and with all who love Jesus in sincerity; that we may see his glory, and taste his love in the sanctuary! When it is thus, the Sunday is a blessed day indeed—a pledge of heaven. There they keep an everlasting Sabbath, and cease not night or day admiring the riches of redeeming love, and adoring Him who washed his people from their sins in his own blood.
To have such imperfect communion with Him as is in this state attainable in this pleasing exercise, is what alone can make life worth the name. For this I sigh and long, and cry to the Lord to rend the veil of unbelief, scatter the clouds of ignorance, and break down the walls which sin is daily building up to hide him from my eyes. I hope I can say, My soul is athirst for God, and nothing less than the light of his countenance can satisfy me! Blessed be his Name for this desire—it is his own gift, and he never gives it in vain. He will afford us a taste of the water of life along the way; and before long we shall drink abundantly at the fountain-head, and be done with illness forever. May we be thankful for what we have received—and still earnestly desirous of more.