John Newton's Letters
Eighteen letters to several friends
To Miss M****.
September 10, 1760
I address my letter to you, but consider myself as writing to the whole of the little society I had the pleasure of meeting at your house, and at Miss K****'s. I still reflect with pleasure on the opportunities I was favored with among you; and if, as I hope, my little visits were not unacceptable to each or any of you, let us not lose a moment in apologies or compliments to each other, but refer the whole praise where it is wholly due.
Salvation, in its whole extent, and in each particular step, is of the Lord. Though we can but lisp a little word about his goodness—yet when he is pleased to be near us, his presence and blessing can work by the smallest instruments, and cause our hearts to burn within us. On the other hand, when he withdraws, we can no more help each other than we can help ourselves: then, the very best of us prove miserable comforters, fruitless teachers, and blind guides! Could I bring my heart to this point, to regard myself as insufficient to think one good thought, or to speak one profitable word, any further than is influenced by that enlivening Spirit which Jesus is exalted on high to bestow, I would be well; but, alas! I am often hurt by a fond desire of being or doing something considerable, and this, so often as it prevails, like a sudden fatal blast, spoils my fairest blooming prospects of comfort and usefulness.
It is a great point to be constant and diligent in the use of all appointed means, and yet to have our souls waiting only upon God, in a deep persuasion that neither the best means, nor the closest attendance upon them, can do anything for us in themselves; and that nothing short of renewed communications from him, can either satisfy or sanctify our hearts!
The best advice I can send, or the best wish I call form for you, is, that you may have an abiding and experimental sense of those words of the apostle, "LOOKING UNTO JESUS!" The duty, the privilege, the safety, the unspeakable happiness, of a believer, are all comprised in that one sentence!
Let us first pray that the eyes of our understanding may be opened and strengthened; and then let us fix our whole gaze upon Him! But how are we to behold Him? I answer, in the looking-glass of his written Word! There He is represented to us in a variety of views. The wicked world can see no loveliness in the portraiture He has given of Himself; yet, blessed be God, there are those who can "behold His glory as the glory of the only begotten Son of God, full of grace and truth!" And while they behold it, they find themselves, changed into His image," by the transforming influence of His Spirit.
In vain we use reasonings, and arguments, and resolutions, to beat down our corruptions, and to silence our fears. A believing view of Jesus is the only effectual means!
When heavy trials in life are appointed us, and we are called to give up, or perhaps to pluck out, a right eye—it is an easy matter for another to say, "Be comforted;" but this is totally useless. Only a believing view of Jesus will sustain us! When we can fix our thoughts upon Him, as submitting, for our sakes, to drink our whole bitter cup of the wrath of God to the very dregs; and when we further consider, that He who thus suffered in our nature, who knows and sympathizes with all our weakness, is now the Supreme Disposer of all that concerns us, that He numbers the very hairs of our heads, appoints every trial we meet with in number, weight, and measure, and will allow nothing to befall us but what shall contribute to our real good—this view, I say, is a medicine suited to every disease, and powerfully reconciles us unto every affliction.
So when a sense of sin prevails, and the tempter is permitted to assault us with dark and dreadful suggestions, it is easy for us to say, "Do not be afraid;" but those who have tried, well know that looking to Jesus is the only and sure remedy in this case—if we can get a sight of him by faith, as he once hung between the two thieves, and as he now pleads within the veil, then we can defy sin and Satan, and give our challenge in the apostle's words, "Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes, rather, who is risen again; who also makes intercession for us!" (Romans 8:34.)
Again, we are afraid of being swallowed up by our many restless enemies; or are weary of our long pilgrimage through such a thorny, tedious, barren wilderness. A sight of Jesus, as Stephen saw him, crowned with glory—yet noticing all the sufferings of his poor servants, and just ready to receive them to himself, and make them partakers of his everlasting joy—this will raise the spirits, and restore strength; this will animate us to hold on, and to hold out! This will do it, and nothing but this can!
So, if obedience is the thing in question, looking unto Jesus is the object that melts the soul into love and gratitude, and those who greatly love, and are greatly obliged, find obedience easy. When Jesus is upon our thoughts, either in his humbled or his exalted state, either as bleeding on the cross, or as worshiped in our nature by all the host of heaven, then we can ask the apostle's question with a befitting disdain, "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. What! Shall I sin against my Lord, my Love, my Friend, who once died for my sins, and now lives and reigns on my behalf; who supports, and leads, and guides, and feeds me every day? God forbid. No! rather I would wish for a thousand hands and eyes, and feet, and tongues, for ten thousand lives—that I might devote them all to His service: he should have all then; and surely he shall have all now! "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith!" Hebrews 12:2
Alas, that in spite of myself, there still remains something that resists his will! But I long and pray for its destruction; and I see a day coming when my wish shall be accomplished, and I shall be wholly and forever the Lord's!
I am your affectionate servant.
To Miss M****.
November 2, 1761
My dear sister,
Your letter was welcome and comfortable. I praise the Lord on your behalf, and shall not cease to pray, that you may be filled with his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may go on to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things; and that a sense of his presence and power, who so loved us as to wash us from our sins in his own blood—may be your establishment, and strength, and comfort continually. You have reason, indeed, to praise him, and so have I. O what a wonder of grace, that he should say to those who were children of wrath, "Behold, I go to my Father—and to your Father; to my God—and to your God." "Henceforth I call you not servants—but friends," and as a proof of it, "Ask what you will—and it shall be done unto you." Here are words sufficient either to raise our souls up to heaven, or to bring heaven down into our souls, according to that glorious promise which to many is fulfilled even in our day. "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:3
Let us not be greatly discouraged at the many tribulations, difficulties, and disappointments which lie in the path which leads to glory. Our Lord has foretold us, that "in this world, you will have many trials and sorrows." Yet he has also made a suitable provision for every case we can meet with; and is himself always near to those that call upon him—as a sure refuge, an almighty strength, a never-failing, ever-present help in every time of trouble! "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas!" Psalm 46:1-2
Seeing likewise that he himself was a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief for our sakes. He drank the whole cup of unmixed wrath for us; shall we then refuse to taste of the cup of affliction at his appointment; especially when his wisdom and love prepare it for us, and proportions every circumstance to our strength; when he puts it into our hands, not in anger—but in tender mercy, to do us good, to bring us near to himself; and when he sweetens every bitter draught with those comforts which none but he can give? Let us rather say, None of these things move us, neither do we count anything on this side eternity dear, so that we may finish our course with joy, and run with patience the race which is set before us.
The time is short—and the world is passing away! All its troubles and all its vanities will soon be at an end! In a little while, "we shall see Him as He is!" Every veil will be taken away, every seeming frown will be removed from His face—and every tear wiped away from ours! We shall also be like Him! Even now, when we contemplate His glory as shining in the looking-glass of the Gospel—we feel ourselves, in some measure, transformed into His image! What a sudden, wonderful, and abiding change we shall then experience, when He shall shine directly, immediately, and eternally upon our souls, without one interposing cloud between! We likewise shall shine forth as the sun, in our Savior’s brightness! Then shall we sing with understanding those glorious songs, Isaiah 12:1-6, Isaiah 61:10, Revelation 5:9, and Revelation 7:10, without one jarring note, or one wandering thought forever.
"Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord!" "Let us lay aside every weight." "Let us not be slothful," but followers of that cloud of witnesses who in every age have set their word to the truth and power of God. They were once as we are now—they had their afflictions and their fears, their enemies and temptations; they were exercised with a wicked heart, and a wicked world; and I doubt not but many of them, in a fit of unbelief, have been ready to conclude, "I shall one day perish by the hand of Saul," but, at length, the "blood of Jesus, and the word of his testimony, made them more than conquerors, and now, their warfare is finished, they are before the throne of God and the Lamb, and shall go no more out." While we are sighing, they are singing; while we are fighting, they are triumphing; but their song, their triumph, their joy, will not be complete, until we are called up to join them. The Lord prepare us for, and hasten, the happy hour.
The strain of your present experience requires you, above all others, to be humble and watchful, and I trust you are so. However, it is our duty to exhort one another daily. One of the greatest contradictions in human nature, and the very strongest proof of our depravity, is, that the communication of extraordinary measures of divine comforts, which in their own nature have a direct tendency to humble—has, through our corruptions, sometimes a contrary effect; not in the present moment, indeed that is impossible—but afterward. Paul himself was liable to danger in this matter, see 2 Corinthians 12:7. You will do well, therefore, to entreat the Lord to give you a double guard on this side, to keep you in continual remembrance what you were by nature, and what you still are in yourselves. We are often forced to learn this hard lesson by bitter experience.
Again, be watchful—many eyes are upon you. Satan envies you. Oh! he hates to see any people, especially young people, walking very closely with God; so far as he is permitted, he will spread snares for your feet every hour! He desires to have you, "that he may sift you as wheat." Farther, the world observes you; many would rejoice at your halting; and a little slip in you, would give them more pleasure and advantage in opposing the truth, than a greater slip in some others who are content to plod on in the common way. Nay, it is well if there are not some even among yourselves, professors and members, who would be glad to see you brought down to a level with themselves—since they cannot persuade themselves to join and imitate you. These things you know without my telling you, and I do not mention them to discourage you. No, were every leaf upon the trees, and every blade of grass a sworn enemy to our souls, we are safe under the shadow of our great Rock: the blessing is his, and he will not withhold it; but the appointed means are our part, and it is our wisdom and happiness to be found waiting on him in the use of them.
To Miss M****
April 5, 1761
I desire to praise God on your behalf, and frequently to remember you both at the throne of grace; I may say each of you, for I understand Miss S**** is now returned to Y—-, I consider her as a part of my correspondence. I hope the Lord is with her likewise, and that she can, by sweet experience, set her seal to that comfortable truth—that all things, both shall, and do, work together for the good of those that love God!
Things continue much with us as they were when I wrote last. For myself, I every day have proof that the Lord is gracious, merciful, and kind. I hope my experience in some measure corresponds with yours; I say, in some measure; for I think you rather describe what I would be—than what I am. Blessed be his name for a taste, though it be but a taste, of the water of life! I long for fuller draughts, and I trust he has given me that hungering and thirsting after his righteousness, which shall at length be satisfied, and which cannot be satisfied with anything short of his love! Often I cry out, "Oh! remember me with the favor you bear to your own people." I know there are heights and depths in communion with God, to which many of his dear children are admitted, which are far beyond my present attainments. But this rather encourages me than otherwise; for they (even the very best of them) were once as poor as myself; and have nothing now any more than I, that they can call their own. And he who has done so much for them, is rich enough to do as much for me! The fountain of grace, though ever-flowing, is ever full. And as the sun shines as easily and powerfully on ten thousand, as upon a single person—so the Sun of Righteousness can enlighten and comfort all his children with one single glance of his love. I desire to praise his name for what he has already shown me, and to hope in His mercy that I shall yet "see greater things than these."
As I have nothing particular to impart of my own, I shall transcribe part of a letter I lately received from a young woman, a relation of mine, in London. She is not a member of a congregational church—but a hearer of Mr. Jones. She used to make herself merry at my expense—for being what she called a Methodist. After the Lord awakened her, she walked three years in the valley of the shadow of death, almost without a glimpse of hope. How it is with her now, I shall give you in her own words. She writes thus, among other things, for I have not time to give you the whole:
"All the glory to himself who is worthy! I find the Lord better to me than all my hopes, and all my fears. Though I am often beset with temptations of various kinds, from without as well as from within—yet my gracious Lord gives me to wrestle with him until he gets the better for me, for it is not in me. I know, and blessed be the Lord for teaching me—that I am but a poor, weak, helpless creature—but he strengthens me, and blesses me, and gives me to rejoice in him almost all the day long. Though I have not always love, and joy, and peace alike—yet I have not let him go since I wrote to you last. I can hold him fast, and I pray, and hope, and trust I ever shall. I believe 'my Beloved is mine—and I am his.' From what I have found already, I dare not doubt his love or his power; though, to my shame be it spoken, I too often wander from my God, if not in word or deed—yet, alas, my heart too often betrays me! I find the Lord to be a jealous God, who will not accept of a divided heart; and, indeed, if I know anything of myself, it is the whole desire of my soul to give up all and everything, myself, my soul, my body, my health, my strength, my friends, my all—as a willing sacrifice into his hand. I bless my God for such a disposition, and often find the sweetness of it; and I always find that the more watchful I walk, the more comfortable I am."
She then adds: "I believe it is a month since I wrote the above; and thanks and praises to my dear Lord, I have had much of his presence and love in my heart ever since. I find that stupidity and deadness which I have had much of in times past, greatly removed. The Lord has kept my soul so open to prayer, that I can pray and praise all the day long. I never find anything keeps me so low at the throne of grace, as a sense and feeling of the loving-kindness of the Lord to my soul: it makes me nothing, it so empties me of self. It is not a sense of sin without the love of God, -which will humble me; I think that only makes me peevish and dissatisfied. But when the Lord lifts up the light of his countenance upon me, then it is that everything in me falls low at his foot stool. I have found such power lately as I never had before; I used to be as ready to yield to temptation—as the devil was to tempt! But now (all the glory be to him who gives me this power) I find that word to be faithful and true, 'Resist the devil—and he will flee from you.' When temptation besets me, instead of reasoning with the enemy until I lose all the Lord has given me, I flee to Christ, and tell him how it is with me, and cry mightily to him—until he makes me more than conqueror."
I hope this little extract from my cousin's letter will be acceptable. I have several from her in the same strain, for she is not now in what is called the warmth of her first love—but has been walking comfortably in the Lord's way three or four years past; I think, indeed, every letter reveals a growth upwards in knowledge and love—and downwards in humility! May the Lord enable us so to do.
To Miss K****.
June 1, 1761
Dear Miss K.,
I frequently reflect with pleasure on our little interviews the last year. I trust the Lord was with us in truth. Surely my heart burned within me, and I have, and shall have, much reason to bless the Lord for those sweet and unexpected opportunities. The remembrance of them has exceedingly engaged my heart to you both. I think a sight of the very ground we walked over together, would bring to my mind much of what occurred in our conversation. May the same gracious Lord enable me so to write, and you to read—that we may experience a fellowship in spirit, and may drink plentifully of the refreshing streams of His love and grace.
It gives me much pleasure to hear that the Lord leads you into the green pastures of his love, so that you are constrained to cry out, "How great is his goodness! How great is his beauty!" May he show you yet greater things than these, and make your soul fresh and flourishing as a tree planted by a continual stream. Then am I sure you will love, and serve, and praise him; you will not be ashamed of his name and cause; you will not be backward to speak for him; you will not find fault with any of His dispensations. In a word, then your life and conversation will be a proof of your heavenly calling, and all who behold you will be constrained to acknowledge that you have been with Jesus indeed!
This is the way, and there is no other, to glorify him in the world. We know, from experience, how little reading, and hearing and resolving—can do for us, when the Lord is absent, and our hearts in a hard and stupid frame. Alas! how can we render to God—unless we first receive from him? But, oh, when His spirit and power is with us, what a delightful surprising charge! then, old things become new, hard things easy; and out of weakness—we are made strong! Then our enemies attempt in vain to bind and ensnare us; he enables us to run through their troops, to leap over their walls, to esteem their darts and swords as straw, and to go forth in his strength conquering and to conquer. I hope my letter will find you in this experience, with your bow abiding in force, and your enemies under your feet, and may it long continue. This is a privileged, glorious slate indeed; but it calls for much watchfulness and prayer. The Lord expects a particular closeness and obedience from those whom he thus delights to honor, and Satan watches with envy and rage to find an opening by which to assault such a soul.
I hope you will remember, that all your comfort and prosperity depends upon keeping near to him who is the sun, the shield, the life of his poor children, and that neither experiences, knowledge, nor attainments, can support us, or maintain themselves, without a continual supply from the fountain. This supply is to be kept up by constant prayer, and prayer will languish without continual watchfulness. I trust you will bear me to put you in mind of these things, though you know them. We are yet in an enemy's country, and are directed to exhort one another daily, lest we be surprised by some stratagem and scheme of our bitter adversary, who has many thousand snares and instruments to employ against us, and well knows how to use them to the most advantage, and to avail himself of our weak side. Yet we need not fear him, if we take, and keep, and use, the whole armor of God, and remain under the shadow of that Rock which is higher than ourselves.
As to me, the Lord deals gently with me—my trials are few and not heavy; my experiences run in a kind of even thread; I have no great spiritual enlargements, and am seldom left to great darkness and temptations. I am often wandering away—but the Lord seeks me out, and brings me back from time to time, much sooner than I could expect. I am enabled, through grace, to keep myself from the evil of the world, so that I have not been left to bring a blot on my profession. But, alas! my heart is a filthy, defiled heart still. It is well that he alone knows what is within me—and how to bear with me. My comfort is comprised in this one sentence, "I know whom I have believed,"—I know that Jesus is mighty to save; I have seen myself lost in every view—but the hope of his mercy; I have fled to him for safety; I have been preserved by him thus far; and I believe he will keep that which I have committed to him even to the end. Blessing and honor, and glory and praise, be to his name, who has loved poor sinners, and washed them in his most precious blood! Amen.
For the rest, alas! alas! I am unfaithful and unprofitable to a degree you would hardly believe; yet, vile as I am, I taste of his goodness every day, and live in hope, that in his own time he will enable me to show forth his praise. I have been much exercised with respect to the ministry; my heart is led that way—but the Lord's hand keeps me in; I need much humbling; there is that in me which seeks great things, though I am, as I said, sadly unfaithful in small ones; therefore, for my pride, I am set aside for the present. I hope you will help me with your prayers; entreat the Lord to empty me of all creature-dependence, that I may live to him alone.
I am your unworthy servant.
To Miss M****.
May 25, 1762
My dear madam,
How can I begin better than with the apostle's words; "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and God of all consolation, who, according to His abundant mercy, has begotten us again to a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." What a fountain of life, and joy, and praise is here! that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ should condescend to be our Father, our God; that he who is the source of all mercy and consolation, should direct the streams of his fullness to flow into our souls; that, when we were dead in sins, he should look upon us and bid us to live; that, when we were sunk into the depth of despair—he should send his Word and raise us to a lively hope; that he should give us such a bright prospect, and such a sweet foretaste of the exceeding riches of his glory. Oh! who can say which is the most wonderful part of this wonderful subject—that he should provide such a happiness for such hell-deserving wretches, and that he should commend His great and undeserved love to us in such a wonderful way, as to give his own and His only Son to be born, to be buffeted, to be crucified for us!
Alas! alas! for our stupidity, that we can write, or hear, or speak of these things, with so little feeling, affection, and fruitfulness. Oh! that the power of God would set my heart and pen at liberty while writing, and fill your hearts while reading—that we may rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Oh, this unbelief! Why can we not pierce through the veil of flesh and blood, and by faith behold the humble worship of heaven? What countless multitudes have gone before us in the path that leads to that kingdom! They were, in their time, followers of an unseen Savior, as we are now; but now they see him as he is, face to face, in all His glory, and in all his love; with them are joined the innumerable hosts of angels. Angels and saints, however distinguished, are joined in one happiness, and one employment. Even now, while I write, and while you read, they are praising the Lamb that was slain, and casting their crowns at his feet.
Perhaps this scene is not so far distant as we imagine. Where is heaven? Is it some millions of leagues from us—far beyond the sun and the fixed stars? What have immortal spirits to do with space and place? Who knows but a heaven-born soul, who is freed from the clog of this vile body, and filled with all the fullness of God, may pass as easily and quickly from one verge of the creation—to the other; just as easily as our thoughts can change and fly from east to west, from the past to the future? Perhaps, even now, we live in the midst of this glorious assembly.
Heaven is where our God and Savior displays himself; and do not you feel him near you, nearer than any of his visible works? Perhaps there is nothing but this thin partition of flesh and blood between us and those blessed spirits that are before the throne; if our eyes were open, we perhaps would see the mountains around us covered with chariots and horses of fire; if our ears were unstopped, we would hear the praises of our great Immanuel resounding in the air, as once the shepherds heard. What a comfortable meditation is this—to strengthen our weak faith in such a dark declining day as this, when sense would almost persuade us that we are left to serve God alone.
When we are wearied with looking on careless sinners, and backsliding professors, let us remember that we have invisible friends present in our assemblies, our conferences, and our closets; who watch over us, and, in ways which we cannot possibly conceive, are helpers of our joy, and witnesses of our conflicts. They are with us now—and we shall soon be with them. Ah! how little does the vain world think of the privileges and the company in which a believer lives! And, what is worse, how faintly do we think of these things ourselves! and this is the reason we are so full fears and complaints, so prone to distrust the Lord's methods of dealing with us, and so easily drawn aside to seek for something to rest upon in creatures like ourselves.
With respect to my own experience, I have little now to add to what I have formerly offered; at least, little variety—for, in one sense, every new day is filled up with new things: new mercies on the Lord's part—and new ingratitude on mine; new proofs of the power of sovereign pardoning grace—and new instances of the vileness of my nature; new hills of difficulty, new valleys of humiliation—and now and then (though, alas! very short and seldom) new glimpses of what I would be, and where I would be. The everlasting love of God; the unspeakable merits of Christ's righteousness; and the absolute freeness of the Gospel promises—these form the threefold cord by which my soul maintains a hold of that which is within the veil.
Sin, Satan, and unbelief, often attempt to make me let go and cast away my confidence—but as yet they have not prevailed; no thanks to me, who am weaker than water—but I am wonderfully kept by the mighty power of God, who is pleased to take my part, and therefore I trust in him that they never shall prevail against me. A vile sinner, indeed, I am; but, since God, who alone has a right to judge, is pleased to justify the believer in Jesus, who is there that shall dare to condemn? I bless the Lord for that comfortable portion of the Scripture, Zech. 3:1-5. When the Lord is pleased to pluck a brand out of the fire to save it from perishing, what power in heaven or earth shall presume or prevail to put it in again? No! He has done it, and who can reverse it? He has said it—and His Word shall stand. And I humbly believe, (Lord, help my unbelief,) that not one good thing shall fail of all that the Lord my God has, in his Word, spoken to me of.
Yet, alas! I must still charge myself with a great want of watchfulness and diligence; the enemy cannot destroy my foundation—but he spreads many nets for my feet, to weaken me, and to interrupt my peace; and, to my shame I must confess, he too often prevails. The Lord in great mercy preserves me from such sins as would openly dishonor my profession; and a mercy I desire to esteem it, for I can infer from my heart what my life would be, if I were left to myself. I hate sin; I long to be delivered from it—but it is still in me, and works in me. "Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me?" I bless God for Jesus Christ my Lord. To his grace I commend each of you.
To Miss M****.
September 18, 1762
I rejoice to find that the Lord prospers his work in your hearts, and that you can say from experience, He is a faithful and good Shepherd. Oh! happy they who are in such a case, who know for themselves how good it is to draw near unto him, to sit down and rest under his refreshing shadow, and feast upon his pleasant fruits
Through grace I also continue waiting on him after my feeble measure; and I trust in his love, that through I sometimes faint, I shall not utterly tall; though I too often step aside, he will not suffer me to wander quite away
There is, indeed, an evil heart of unbelief that would lead me I know not where; but, oh, what a precious mercy to be walled in on every side by everlasting love and free grace! Do not your hearts rejoice in that word, "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms?" And if He is pleased and engaged to uphold us, what power or policy can force us from him? No; we may rejoice in it as a certain truth, let Satan and unbelief say what they will to the contrary, that the Lord's afflicted people on earth are as safe, though not so quiet, as his glorified people in heaven. They are embarked on a troubled sea, the tempests often roar around them, and the waves seem ready to swallow them up; but they have an anchor within the veil, sure and steadfast, which can neither be broken nor removed. They have a Pilot, a Guardian, whose wisdom and power are infinite, and who, of his own good pleasure, has engaged his truth and honor, that He will bring them safe through all, to the haven of eternal rest. Let us therefore trust, and not be afraid; let us rejoice, and say, "The Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song, and he also is become my salvation."
How happy should we be, could we always believe the glorious things which are spoken to us as children, in the Word of him who cannot fail of accomplishing his promise. But are we not fools and slow of heart in this matter? at. least, I am, and hence proceed my many complaints. Alas! what a hard heart have I, that can doubt, and repine, and limit the Lord, after all the great things he has shown me! Wretched heart, that can stand it out still, against oaths, and promises, and blood. Methinks I may sum up all my wants and prayers in one sentence—Lord, give me faith! Oh, if faith was in daily exercise, how little would the world, and the things of time and sense, seem in my eyes! What a dreadful thing would sin appear, that spilt my Savior’s blood! And how would my very heart rejoice at the sound of Jesus' name? If I had faith to pierce within the veil, and see what is going forward in yon blessed world, how earnestly should I long to be dissolved, that I might join in worship there; and how willingly should I spend and be spent for the Gospel's sake. However, though it is not with us as we would wish, we have reason to bless God it is so well with us as it is; that we are not altogether dead in trespasses and sins, strangers and enemies to the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. We have reason to be thankful that we know something of our disease and our Physician. He who has taken our case in hand will, in his own time, perfect the cure. An hour is coming on when we shall no more say, I am sick; we shall see him as he is; we shall be like him; we shall weep no more, all tears shall be wiped from our eyes, and the days of our mourning shall be ended
Having, therefore, such promises, let us be animated to run the way of the Lord's commandments with an enlarged heart. Let the joy of the Lord be our strength. Opposition, temptation, affliction, we must expect; these things lie in the path-way to glory; but we may remember him who has trod the path before us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps. I say, tempted and opposed we may be; but it is not probable that we shall be spit upon, buffeted, and crucified for him, as he was for us.
We shall have but a taste, at the most, of that bitter cup which he drank off to the dregs. And he is near us to support us in our distresses, to carry us through, to make us more than conquerors, and then to put the crown of righteousness and victory on our heads with his own hands. Let us then go forth without the camp, bearing his reproach; let us not hang down our heads like bulrushes—but rather count it all joy if we are called to the honor of suffering disgrace, or any kind of inconvenience, for his name's sake. Above all, let us pray to have our conversation as befits the Gospel of Christ; that those who speak evil may be ashamed and put to silence, when they behold our meekness, humility, and Christian carriage
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Remember to pray for your unworthy friend.
To Miss M****.
March 22, 1763
My dear madam,
I gladly embrace the first opportunity that has offered of writing post-free since I was favored with your last letter. It gives me great pleasure to hear from you; and, if our correspondence is made mutually profitable and pleasant, I trust we shall join in giving all the praise to him who has taught us to lisp something of the gracious truths of his Gospel. He is pleased to hide these things from the wise and prudent, and to reveal them unto babes. We have, indeed, something whereof to glory—but not in ourselves; the right hand of the Lord has been exalted in our behalf; the right hand of the Lord has brought mighty things to pass. When we were utterly helpless and hopeless—he saw and pitied us, and bid us "live!" He did not cut us off in the midst of our sins, (as is the case of thousands,) but waited to be gracious; and, when His hour was come, his time of love, he revealed himself as our mighty Savior, he poured oil and wine into our wounds, he gave us beauty for ashes, the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness; he opened our blind eyes, he unstopped our deaf ears, dispossessed the legion of demons, and brought us to sit at his feet clothed, and in our right minds. What a wonder of mercy is this, considered in itself!
But much more if we think of the means by which it was effected; that, in order to bring about this blessed change, that mercy and truth might meet together in our salvation, and the righteousness of God harmonize with the sinner's peace—the Lord Jesus, who was rich, humbled himself to become poor; to live an obscure and suffering life, in the form of a servant, and to die a shameful, painful, and accursed death—that we, through his poverty, might be made children and heirs of God; that we might receive grace to serve him here, and dwell with him in glory forever. For this end he willingly endured the cross, and despised the shame; he hid not his face from shame and spitting, he gave his back to the smiters, his cheeks to those who plucked off the hair, he submitted to wear a crown of thorns, to be nailed by the hands and feet to the accursed tree, to endure the fiercest assaults of Satan—yes, to drink the full cup of the wrath of God when "it pleased the Father to bruise him, and to make his soul an offering for sin!"
The apostle well knew the force of his argument to a believing soul, when he said, "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God." Surely nothing can be more reasonable, than that we should live to him—who thus died for us. Shall we, we who are redeemed from hell at such a price—shall we continue in sin? God forbid! Shall we not rather say, "The love of Christ constrains us" to devote ourselves, our all, to him alone; to abstain from all appearance of evil; to hate every false way, and to know, study, desire, and love nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified, that we may feel the power of His resurrection, have fellowship in his sufferings, and be made conformable to his death.
What you observe of the way in which the Lord makes his precious promises food to his children's faith, namely—by inclining their hearts to watchfulness and diligence in all his appointed means, and enabling them to walk unspotted from the vanities and pollutions of the world, waiting for the consolations and teaching of his Holy Spirit—is, I hope, the very sense of my soul. The promises were not given to slacken our endeavors—but to animate us to earnestness. An evangelical dependence on the Lord for righteousness and strength, and an evangelical obedience to his commands, are well suited to each other; they are, indeed, inseparable, and in equal proportion; where one declines, the other cannot flourish. Too many, as you say, are for separating what God has joined together. But let their mistakes humble and warn us, and show us the necessity of keeping close to the Lord. We must not presume; for our hearts are as deceitful as others. Yet we need not be terrified; for the Lord whom we serve is able to keep us from falling, and to preserve us from every evil.
We live in dangerous times—the work of the Lord is greatly on the revival in many places, and therefore errors and offences abound; for, where the good seed is plentifully sown, the enemy will always find means to sow his tares. But our Lord will keep his own children that wait upon him for strength and direction every day. He will give us to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of his truth; and, by the words of his lips, we shall be kept from the paths of the destroyer.
Let us further comfort ourselves with the prospect of a future time, when every evil and infirmity shall cease. You know who has said, "Surely, I come quickly." And do not our hearts echo to his words? Do not the Spirit and the Bride agree? Yes, "Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus!" Come, and put an end to our fears and failings! Come, and deliver us from this scene of strife and confusion! We are weary of living in the tents of Mesech. We are weary of ourselves. Oh! we can hardly bear to pass day after day with such faint unworthy apprehensions of your beauty and your goodness. We are weary and ashamed of our holy things. So much coldness and wandering in prayer, in reading the Word, in your public ordinances, that we cannot but say, 'Oh, that I had wings like a dove—that I might fly far away from this vain ensnaring world!' When will this conflict cease? When shall all our tears be wiped away? When shall we see you as you are, and be formed into your complete resemblance? Well, the time is short, and passing fast away. Hold out, faith and patience, a little longer, and he who shall come—will come, and will not tarry. In the mean time, may we have grace to improve the present, as the only opportunity we can have of glorifying our Lord and Savior in a sinful world. When we get safely home, we shall not think we have done and suffered too much along the way.
To Miss M****.
June 11, 1763
Since my return from Yorkshire, I have had but little leisure to recollect all I have seen, and heard, and been partaker in, for nearly these two months past. These occasional opportunities are now at an end for a season; and my principal fellowship must be with him who is always near. Oh! for grace to improve this high privilege aright; then I shall have no need to regret the defects or loss of creature-converse.
The Lord has led me to many pleasant streams; but I desire especially to rejoice in liberty to draw near to the fountain. Methinks my heart joins with the desire of those who said, "We would see Jesus!" When we come to heaven, without doubt we shall find great pleasure in communion with the "general assembly of the church of the first-born;" but the very heaven of all—will be to behold him who, for our sakes, was crowned with thorns, and nailed to the cross! All the rest would be but poor company—if he were absent. And thus proportionably I find it to be on earth. I delight in his people; but they can only profit me so far as I am enabled to see him in them, and to feel his presence in my own soul. My whole study and desire is comprised in this short sentence, "To walk with God,"—to set the Lord always before me; to hear his voice in every creature, in every dispensation, ordinance, and providence; to keep him in view as my Portion, Sun and Shield; my Strength, Advocate and Savior.
All my complaints may be summed up in this one—a proneness to wander from him. This is too frequently the case with me, I hardly know how or why. Through mercy, I am in a measure delivered from the love of this present evil world; the desire of my heart is towards God; I account his loving-kindness to be better than life, and esteem all his precepts concerning all things to be right, and just, and good. I do not even wish for a dispensation to admit any rival into my heart; he richly deserves it all, and I am willing and desirous to be his alone—and to be wholly conformed to him. Yet still I find the effects of a depraved nature; and, not withstanding all my struggles against inward and outward evil, I am too often carried away from the point of simple faith and dependence.
The lively experience of a Christian is not hard to be described; neither is it hard to say much about it. But, to feel what we say, to sit down under the shadow of the tree of life, to abide in Christ, to feed on him in my heart by faith with thanksgiving, this I find a rare attainment, easily lost, and not so soon regained. I know enough of it to make me desirous of more, and yet so little, that I have frequent cause to cry out, My leanness, my leanness! and to lie low in the dust before God. A remaining root of pride and self-righteousness often springs up and interrupts my peace. Indeed, as to the ground of my hopes and acceptance, I am mercifully kept from doubts and fears; I trust in him who has wrought out a perfect righteousness for my justification, and has stretched out an everlasting arm for my salvation. I see the honor of the divine attributes effectually secured, and that God is not only merciful and good—but faithful and just, in saving an unworthy believing sinner. But what I want, is not only to expect a heaven hereafter—but to experience a heaven begun below, to live up to the privileges of the Gospel, to have enlarged desires after holiness, and those desires abundantly answered. I want more of the influences of the Holy Spirit under His various characters, as the Teacher, Quickener, Comforter, and Sealer of the people of God. I want to know more clearly what the apostle desired for his friends, in those two comprehensive prayers, Ephesians 1:17-20, and Ephesians 3:16-19. How little do I understand of that height and depth, and breadth and length, he there speaks of! How faint are my ideas of the glorious hope of his calling, and the exceeding greatness of his mighty power! Well, blessed be God for the little I have; I trust it is a pledge of more; he has given me to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and he has said I shall be filled.
I remember the time when I was easy enough about these things; the language of my heart was, "Depart from me!" Yes, I resisted his Spirit, despised his mercy, and counted the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing. But, oh, he "was found by me—who sought him not!" He passed by me, and bid me "live!" He saved me in spite of myself; he would not give me up; be appeared in the hour of my distress, snatched the prey from the hand of the mighty, and delivered the lawful captive. And ever since, how good has he been to me! How gently has he led me! How often has he restored me when wandering, revived me when fainting, healed my breaches, supplied my needs, heard my prayers, and set up a seasonable standard against my enemies, when they have been coming in upon me like a flood! And even now he is with me, he is never weary of doing me good, and I believe he will be with me, even to the end, until at length he brings me home to his kingdom to be near him forever.
Hence, indeed, arises a great part of my grief—to think that I should be so cold, and barren, and unprofitable, under such amazing displays of undeserved love! O Lord, touch the rocky heart—and cause the waters to flow; soften and inflame my heart, that I may at length become your disciple indeed!
I trust you will continue to prize the means of grace, and to watch against every appearance of evil. Take heed lest either of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Beware of that worst of evils—spiritual pride. Pray earnestly for a deep sense of your own insufficiency. I did not thoroughly approve the question that was proposed concerning a power in ourselves, though I believe you understand it in a good sense; but let us beware of trusting in any other power than the power of Christ received continually by faith. I know carnal minds will abuse this principle, and so they will every other doctrine of the Gospel; but let it suffice us that he who knows us best has said, "Without me you can do nothing."
I am your affectionate and obliged servant.
To Miss M****.
January 3, 1764
It is a time of trial among your friends here; nor have I wholly escaped. My dear wife has been confined in her chamber more than ten weeks; and we see no present prospect of her recovery. Her illness is a fever, attended with a illness in her head and stomach, which medicines seem insufficient to remove. Through mercy, her illness has not often risen to a very high degree; but, continuing so long, it has rendered her very weak and feeble.
I sympathize for my friends, and I feel for myself. But, blessed be God, I do not mourn as those who have no hope. I know it is not an enemy has done this. It is the Lord who has saved me out of all afflictions, he who gave me all my good things, he to whom I have surrendered myself and my all; he it is that has laid this trial on me for my good. I believe it to be necessary, because he is pleased to appoint it; and, though at present it is not joyous—but grievous, I trust that in the end he will cause it to yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness. I desire to submit to his will in all things; and though I feel the depravity of my nature too often—yet, upon the whole, he enables me to trust to him, and leave all in his hands. I pray that her health may be restored when he sees best—but especially that her sickness may be sanctified to both our souls. In this we hope and desire the concurrence of your prayers.
At such times as these, the unspeakable blessing of having a hope in God according to the Gospel, appears with double evidence. Faith in Jesus prepares us for every event. Though he puts forth his hand, and seems to threaten our dearest comforts—yet when we remember that it is his hand, when we consider that it is his design, his love, his wisdom and his power—we cannot refuse to trust him. The reluctance we feel is against our judgment; for we are sure that what he chooses for us must be best. Then again, to think how much less our sufferings are than our sins have deserved; how many mercies we still enjoy on every hand; how much heavier burdens are the portion of many around us; to compare the present momentary affliction with the exceeding weight of glory which shall be revealed; to recollect that the time is short, and the hour is swiftly approaching when the Lord shall wipe away all tears, and constrain us with wonder and joy to sing, "He has done all things well." Such considerations as these, together with the remembrance of what he suffered for us, are always at hand to compose our souls under troubles, and will be effectual according to the degree of faith.
Our faith also is strengthened by affliction; we learn more of our own insufficiency, and the vanity of all things about us; and we discover more of the power, faithfulness, and nearness of a prayer-hearing God. Upon this ground, Habakkuk could sit down and rejoice under the loss of all. He could look at the blasted fig-tree and the withered vine, see the herds and flocks cut off, and every creature-comfort fail; yet, says he, "I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation." Oh, the name of Jesus, when we can speak of him as ours—this is the balm for every wound, cordial for every care; it is as ointment poured forth, diffusing a fragrance through the whole soul, and driving away the hurtful fumes and fogs of distrust and discontent!
I am, affectionately yours.
To Miss M****
I am afraid before this, you have charged me with neglect and unkindness. I confess I have delayed too long—but can truly say, my affection for you and all my dear friends at Y— remains unaltered and unabated. Let my various removals, and the necessary new engagements they have brought upon me, plead my excuse, especially as I have not been often faulty in this way; and I hope I shall not in future give you so just reason of complaint.
The Lord has at length brought me into the ministry according to my desire, and beyond my hopes placed me in a fruitful part of his vineyard, where his Gospel is known, loved, professed, and possessed by many. I have a large congregation, and a comfortable prospect of usefulness. This, I doubt not, will rejoice you, and stir you up to praise him on my behalf, and to pray for me—that I may devote my all to his service, and, in a deep sense of my own insufficiency, depend continually upon him for wisdom, strength, and grace to help in time of need. I can justly ask this of you, as I am sure you have a constant place in my heart, and a frequent remembrance in my prayers.
I long to know how you go on—I hope, comfortably. I hope you still find that the joy of the Lord is your strength, that his service is perfect freedom; that it is good to wait upon him, and that you daily enjoy His presence both in public and in private. Are you not often filled with admiration and love—at the thought of his distinguishing grace in calling you out of darkness into light? And when you are enabled by faith to view Jesus as dying for sin, and now pleading for sinners before the throne, are not your hearts melted into godly sorrow, and inflamed with a holy zeal to hate every false way, and to cleave to him with full purpose of heart? These are sure signs that you are walking in the good old way, that you are savingly interested in the blessings of the everlasting covenant, and you may be confidently assured, that he who has begun the good work in you—will perform the same unto the day of Christ Jesus.
We must expect to meet with many trials and troubles in our progress up the narrow path that leads to eternal life; but this one consideration outweighs them all—the Lord is on our side; and, if he is for us, none can be against us to harm us. In all these things we shall be more than conquerors, through him who has loved us. Afflictions, though not in themselves joyous—but grievous—yet when sanctified, are among our choice mercies! In due time they shall yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness; and even at present, they shall surely be attended with seasonable and sufficient supports.
One great desire of the believer, is to understand the great Word of God more and more; and one principal means by which we advance in this knowledge is, the improvement we are enabled to make of our daily trials. The promises are generally made to an afflicted state; and we could not taste their sweetness, nor experience their truth—if we were not sometimes brought into the circumstances to which they relate. It is said, "I will be with them in trouble;" but how could we know what a mercy is contained in these words, unless trouble was sometimes our lot? It is said to be the believer's privilege to glory in tribulation. But we never could know that this is possible, unless we had tribulation to glory in. However, this is matter of joy and glory indeed—to find peace and comfort within—when things are disagreeable and troublesome without. Then we are enabled to set to our seal that God is true; then we learn how happy it is to have a refuge which cannot be taken from us; a support which is able to bear all the weight we can lay upon it; a spring of joy which cannot be stopped up by any outward events.
A great part of the little we know of our God, his faithfulness, his compassion, his readiness to hear and to answer our prayers; his wisdom in delivering and providing when all our contrivances fail; and his goodness in overruling everything to our soul’s good; I say, much of what we know of these things—we learned in our trials, and have therefore reason to say, It was good for us to be afflicted!
And, as the Lord has brought us safely through thus far, we have good ground to trust him to the end. We know not what is before us. Perhaps we may meet greater difficulties along the way, than we have ever yet seen; but, if we keep in mind who delivered us from the lion and the bear, we may face the Philistine also without terror. God will be with us, and strengthen us with strength in our souls. Only it is our wisdom to keep close to him, that, when the evil day comes—we may have confidence before him in all our troubles. When afflictions overtake us in a careless frame, and find guilt upon the conscience, then they are doubly troublesome!
To Miss M****
July 20, 1768
My dear sister,
We agreed to exchange a letter once every three months—but we both began in the same week. I have been waiting ever since for yours; and perhaps our letters may cross upon the road again. If so, we shall be still puzzled; but, if you have not yet written, let me have an answer to this within one month, and then you may expect one from me about a quarter of a year afterwards. Indeed, some things I have lately engaged in, will oblige me to drop a great part of my correspondence; but I cannot prevail with myself to give up yours, because, both present and absent, the Lord has helped and comforted me by you; and so long as I can remember some precious seasons I have enjoyed at Y—-, so long will you have a special place in my heart. However, you must not expect two for one.
I wish you all could (the more the better,) come and see us at Olney. So I told you when I saw you; so I tell you again. I think you would like to spend a little time with us. Through mercy, we continue to go on very comfortably; our society has been enlarged by several additions; and all in general are in a thriving way. Soon after I returned from Yorkshire, I began to expound the Pilgrim's Progress in our meetings on Tuesday evenings; and, though we have been almost seven months traveling with the pilgrim, we have not yet left the house Beautiful; but I believe shall set off for the Valley of Humiliation in about three weeks. I find this book so full of matter, that I can seldom go through more than a page, or half a page at a time. I hope the attempt has been greatly blessed among us; and for myself, it has perhaps given me a deeper insight into John Bunyan's knowledge, judgment, and experience in the Christian life, than I would ever have had without it.
The Lord is pleased to supply me still in public service, and to continue my acceptance with his people. But with regard to what passes between him and my own soul, there is, for the most part, a very awful distance. I mourn under such a deadness and barrenness in secret duties, as I believe very few, who are in any measure alive, are exercised with. It puts me often to a stand, and affords the enemy a handle to present the most distressing doubts and fears as to my own state. I dare not plead in answer to his suggestions, that I must be right, because the Lord is pleased to assist and own me in the work of the ministry; because the apostle plainly supposes, a man may speak like an angel to others and be but sounding-brass himself; he may speak to good effect to them, and be himself a cast-away. But, though I dare not rest upon this plea, the Lord affords me a better; and has been pleased to give me such a view of the all-sufficient righteousness of Jesus, and the certainty of the promises in Him, that these doubts seldom pierce more than skin-deep; and, at the bottom of my dry, complaining frames—he is pleased to maintain a stable peace. I trust I am safe; but I am sure I am not comfortable.
I have everything to make me so that this world can afford; but I hope the whole of this world would not satisfy me without the light of his countenance, and a more cheerful ability to love, serve and praise him. For this I sigh, for this I pine. After all, he knows what is best for me, to humble the pride of my heart, and to maintain in me a spirit of dependence and self-abasement. Perhaps he sees I am not fit to be trusted with spiritual comforts, especially when my outward path is in all respects so very smooth. I hope his grace is in a measure with me, otherwise I would grow quite careless, or the evils I feel in my heart would break out to the observation of others; neither of which, I hope, is at present the case. To him, and not to me, be the praise; for, if He did not hold me up continually, I am sure I would soon woefully fall.
I rejoiced to hear it was well with you—yes, it is well; you have a good Shepherd who is able to keep you from falling, and to supply all your needs, to shield you from all dangers, to feed you with heavenly manna and living water; and, before long, you shall see his face without a veil, and shine like the sun in his kingdom forever. May I not address you with the angel's salutation, Hail, you who are highly favored; the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women. I need not tell you, that it befits you to be deeply humbled, you know it, and desire it. It befits you likewise to be highly thankful. Complain not of crosses along the way; who was ever spiritually-minded without them? These are among the evidences that you are children; and the Lord will make a rich amends for all. Then we shall weep—we shall sin no more!
Your truly affectionate brother and servant.
To Miss M****.
March 1, 1769
I now write a little before the time appointed, lest some hindrance should again make you think me forgetful.
I was glad to find you were all living, as I had some apprehensions concerning Miss M****, and especially glad to find that you are all alive in the very best sense, even to God. We have need enough to mourn over our unfruitfulness; but let us remember that it is a special mercy of God—to be enabled to hold fast our profession. For we live in perilous times, when there are such dreadful falls of professors as might well shake and terrify us, if we were not, indeed, founded upon a rock. But the Lord knows those who are his, and he will keep them; yes, he teaches them to improve the miscarriages of others, as motives to stir them up to greater watchfulness, and to show them the necessity of crying daily to him, "Hold me up—and I shall be safe!"
I suppose you have heard the unhappy case of a man whom I loved as a friend, and honored as an eminent believer—how often have his letters made me ashamed! His dreadful fall has affected me more than anything of the kind I ever met with, since the Lord gave me acquaintance with his people. Oh, how great is the deceitfulness of the heart, of sin, and Satan! How should the apostle's words be laid to heart, "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall? 1 Corinthians 10:12. However, as I said, those who feel their weakness, whose dependence upon Jesus is scriptural; such a dependence as makes them diligent in the use of appointed means, and desirous of being kept from the appearance of evil; these shall be preserved.
That is a gracious and supporting promise, (to those who feel they can do nothing for themselves, are jealous over their own hearts, and see the snares that are continually spread for their feet,) which the Lord makes to all his faithful people, "Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth." Revelation 3:10. Alas! unless he keeps the city—the watchman wakes but in vain. But faith in His name and promise, gives us confidence and encouragement to aim at that watchfulness on our parts, to which his Word exhorts us. The Lord does not keep his people by teaching them so to rest in the promises of his care, as to sit down secure and careless in themselves. But he preserves them from falling away from him, and into sin—by putting his fear in their hearts, by making them sensible of their dangers, and drawing them to come boldly to his throne of grace, that they may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in every time of need. And when his Spirit bears witness with our spirits, that we are thus looking to him in the way of duty, weak and unworthy as we are, we may triumph in his salvation, and be firmly persuaded, that neither the world nor Satan shall be able to separate us from his love.
Great is the consolation provided for humble souls in what the Scripture declares concerning the power, grace, offices, faithfulness, and compassions of the Redeemer. These things are always equally true in themselves—but not always equally evident to us; for we cannot comfortably apply them—but in proportion as his Spirit is with us. It is therefore wisely and mercifully appointed, that if we grow slack and careless, our comforts and peace should decline, that we may perceive in time that we are getting out of the right path, and cry to the Lord to restore us again.
While those who are always alike, who can talk of assurance and perseverance while they are evidently indulging a trifling and careless spirit, and expect the promises will be accomplished in another way than that path of diligence, humiliation, and prayer which the Lord himself has marked out; these people, I say, always give cause to fear, that they know very little of what they are talking about.
My paper is almost full, and all that I have written is quite beside my first intention. But it may not be the worse for that; I love to give up my heart and pen, without study, when I am writing. The Lord knows the state of my friends, their present temptations, etc. and I look to him to give me a word in season.
Things with us are as usual. The great Shepherd is still pleased to guard our fold, so that the enemy has not yet been allowed to distract us with errors and divisions, nor has one turned back after having fully joined us. Our number increases every year, though not very fast. As to myself, I am much exercised with a deadness of spirit in secret, which makes me often groan. But, through grace, I can say, that, as I never saw more of my own vileness—so, I think, I never saw Jesus more precious and desirable, or was more clearly sensible of the vanity of everything without him, than I have of late. "None but Jesus!" is my motto. All wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and happiness, which does not spring from and center in him, I renounce.
May the Lord bless each of you with an abiding sense of his precious love, that your hearts may burn, and your lives shine!
To Miss M***B.
I duly received your letter of the 15th of December, and am very willing still to include Mrs. H**** in our correspondence. I hope she finds in every change of life, that Jesus is still the same, gracious and precious to her soul; and my prayer is, that neither the comforts nor cares of a married state—may dampen the frame of her spirit towards him. The heart is deceitful, the world ensnaring, the enemy subtle and powerful; but we know who has said, "My grace is sufficient for you." He is able to keep us, not only safe as to the end—but also lively, faithful, and dependent along the way, in every circumstance and station to which his providence calls us.
I observe your last is written in a more complaining style than usual. Causes of complaint are, indeed, innumerable; but remember, "the joy of the Lord is your strength."
Do not be surprised that you still find the effects of indwelling sin—it must and will be so. The frame of our fallen nature is depraved throughout, and, like the leprous house, it must be entirely demolished, and raised anew. While we are in this world, we shall groan, being burdened. I wish you to long and breathe after greater measures of sanctification; but we are sometimes betrayed into a legal spirit, which will make us labor in the very fire to little purpose. If we find deadness and dryness stealing in upon us, our only relief is to look to Jesus—to His blood for pardon—to His grace for strength; we can do nothing of ourselves. To pore over our own evil hearts will not cure them; but He who was typified by the brazen serpent is ever present, lifted up to our view in the camp; and one believing sight of Him will do more to restore peace to the conscience, and life to our graces, than all our own lamentations and resolutions!
Farther, we must expect changes. Were we always the same—we would dream that we had some power or goodness inherent in ourselves; he will therefore sometimes withdraw, that we may learn our absolute dependence on him. When this is the case, it is our part humbly to continue seeking him in his own appointed means, and patiently to wait his promised return.
It is a point of great wisdom to know our gospel liberty, and yet not abuse it; to see that our hope stands sure and invariable, distant from all the changes we feel in our experience, that we are accepted, not because we are comfortable or lively—but because Jesus has loved us, and given himself for us; and yet, at the same time, to be longing and thirsting for the light of his countenance, and a renewed sense of his love upon our hearts.
Two things we should always guard and pray against; that the knowledge of our acceptance may not make us secure and careless; and likewise, that our endeavors after conformity to his revealed will, may not subject us to a spirit of bondage. The apostle, who well knew the nature of our warfare, exhorts us to "rejoice in the Lord always." He knew what conflicts we would meet with from afflictions, imperfections, temptations, and desertions; yet he says, always; which can only be practiced by those who see and keep in mind that they are complete in Christ; that he is all in all to them; their Righteousness, Wisdom and Strength; their Sun and Shield; their Friend and Representative before the throne; their Shepherd and their Husband. If I may speak my own experience, I find that to keep my eye simply upon Christ, as my peace, and my life, is by far the hardest part of my calling. Through mercy, he enables me to avoid what is wrong in the sight of men—but it seems easier to deny self in a thousand instances of outward conduct, than in its ceaseless endeavors to act as a principle of righteousness and power.
John Bunyan, in his advanced years, took notice of the abominations that had still too much place in his heart; one of them was, he says, a secret cleaving to the covenant of works. I am sure this is no small abomination in a believer; but, alas! it cleaves as close to me as my skin, and costs me many a sigh.
To Mrs. H****.
September 21, 1770
As the engagements you lately have entered into have not separated you from each other, I can, as formerly, write to you both at once. I would be glad to hear that the third in our correspondence was as comfortably settled in H——likewise. However, I beg you will mention my love to her when opportunity offers, and tell her, that I hope to be always mindful of her. Your being both removed from Y— must doubtless be a great trial to her; but I trust she will find an all-sufficient God always near to make good every change and every loss.
I congratulate Mrs. C**** on her marriage, and Mrs. H**** on the Lord's goodness in preserving her life, and giving her a living child; for the rest I may speak to you without distinction. The grace of God enabled you both to walk honorably in a single life; I trust the same grace will enable you to adorn your profession in the married state. I need not tell you, that both the sphere of your comforts and your trials is now enlarged. Your opportunities for usefulness will be increased; so likewise will the snares and temptations in the path of duty. I take it for granted that you are very happy, that you are united to your husbands, not only by marriage—but by mutual affection, and, what is better still, by mutual faith; and that, as you sought the Lord's direction before the marriage was formed, so you came together evidently by his blessing. What then shall I say to you? Only, or chiefly this—Beware of being too happy—beware of idolatry. Husbands, children, possessions, everything by which the Lord is pleased to afford us contentment or pleasure—are full of snares. How hard is it to love a creature just as we ought; and so to possess our temporal blessings—as neither to over value nor undervalue them! How rare is it to see a believer go on steadily, and in a lively, thriving spirit, if remarkably favored with prosperous circumstances! It is hard—but it is not impossible—impossible, indeed, it is to us; but it is easy to him who has said, "My grace is sufficient for you."
My desire is, that you may be both witnesses of the Lord's faithfulness to this his good promise. I wish you health, peace, and prosperity; but, above all, that your souls may prosper; that you may still prefer the light of God's countenance to your chief joy; that you may still delight yourselves in the Lord; be daily hungering and thirsting after him, and daily receiving from his fullness, even grace for grace; that you may rejoice in his all-sufficiency, may taste his love in every dispensation; that every blessing of his common providence may come to you as a fruit and token of his covenant-love; that the frame of your spirits may be heaven-ward, your conduct exemplary, and your whole conversation may breathe the meekness, simplicity, and spirituality, which befit the Gospel of Christ. I have strong confidence in the Lord for you, my dear friends, that it shall be even thus. And it will rejoice my heart to hear that it is so.
However the Lord may be pleased to indulge us with comforts and mercies here in this world, still this is not—and cannot be, our rest. Indwelling sin, the temptations of Satan, changing dispensations, and the vanity which is inseparably entwined with every earthly connection, will more or less disturb our peace. But there is a brighter world, where sin and sorrow can never enter; every moment brings us nearer to it! Then every imperfection shall cease, and our best desires shall be satisfied beyond our present conceptions—then we shall see him whom having not seen we love—we shall see him in all his glory, not as now—but face to face, without a veil. We shall so see him, so as to be completely transformed into his perfect image. Then likewise we shall see all his redeemed, and join with an innumerable multitude of all nations, people, and languages, in singing the triumphant song of Moses and the Lamb forever! Then we shall look back with wonder on all the way which the Lord led us through this wilderness, and shall say, "He has done all things well!" May this blessed hope comfort our hearts, strengthen, our hands, and make us account nothing dear or hard—so that we may finish our course with joy. Pray for us; and believe me to be.
Your affectionate friend and servant.
To Mrs. C****.
May 2, 1771
I spent about five weeks at London lately, which has occasioned me to delay answering your letter something longer than usual. But I have not forgotten you. The change of your situation, will probably change the methods of Satan in his unwearied attempts to disturb the peace of those who love the Lord; for he knows how to suit himself to our circumstances, whatever they be. It may likewise draw forth the weakness of indwelling sin, in ways different from your former experience, and give you new views of the evil and deceitfulness of the heart. But, as I trust, you had an eye to the Word, Spirit, and Providence of God—when you entered into the marriage relation, and sought his blessing by repeated prayer—you need not fear but his grace will be sufficient for you.
The more the Lord blesses you in earthly things, the more sensible you will be (if your heart is kept alive) that true happiness is only to be found in himself; for sin and vanity are closely connected with everything beneath the skies! In this view I trust he will enable you to number your troubles among your mercies, as necessary to keep your soul from cleaving to the dust, and to quicken your prayers and desires heavenwards. Our necessary relationships in this life, especially those which are most pleasing, are attended with many snares. May the Lord keep you sensible of the danger, that you may be continually crying, "Hold me up—and then I shall be safe!" and be watchful against the first appearances of a decline in the power of the life of faith. I am, however, fully persuaded that a due attention to the concerns of our relative duties and callings in this world, can never be properly hindrances to us, of walking with God. These earthly things may require some of our thoughts, and much of our time; but if we can manage them in obedience to His will, and with a reference to his glory, they are then sanctified, and become pious actions. And I doubt not but a believer, acting in a right spirit, may be said to worship God in the shop or kitchen, no less than when waiting on him in prayer and Scripture meditation.
But he must teach us to do this, for we have no sufficiency of ourselves; yes, he must teach us and strengthen us continually, for we cannot live by past experience, without a new supply of grace from hour to hour—and this he has promised, see Isaiah 27:3. It is not the action, (if lawful,) but the spirit with which it is performed, which the Lord regards. We are naturally desirous to do some great thing; but all the law is fulfilled, evangelically, by love. A person called by providence to sweep the streets, if he does it to the Lord, performs as acceptable a service as another who should preach the Gospel to thousands!
As to cares and anxieties which are unnecessary, and therefore sinful, you will not be wholly without them while there is any unbelief and sin remaining in the heart. Your great mercy will be to be humbled for them, and to take occasion from all that you feel amiss, to adore the free grace of God, to rejoice in the perfect work, boundless compassion, and prevailing intercession of Jesus. He knows our frame, and remembers that we are but dust. And though many evils arise in our hearts which are new to us, they are not new to him. He knew what we were, and what we would be, before he called us; and yet it pleased him to make us his people!
I am sorry to hear that you have uneasiness and differences in your church—for, through mercy, I wish well to all the Lord's assemblies without respect to names and parties. I shall be glad to hear that the Healer of breaches is pleased to settle you comfortably again. In the mean time, I trust you will account it a privilege that you live in a place where the preaching of the Gospel is not confined to one denomination.
I bless God, we are still favored with peace here. May we prize it—it is that to the soul, or to a church, which health is to the body. There may be life—but there can be no comfort without it. While Satan can prevail to break a church's peace, there is usually a full stop put to edification. There may be preaching, and hearing, and praying; but everything will be weak and languid. For the Holy Spirit, whose emblem is the peaceful dove, will not dwell in the midst of strife and contention. It is an awful token that he is withdrawn already, when these evils are greatly prevalent. When ordinances are powerful, and both ministers and people taste that the Lord is gracious, things may arise, through human infirmity and Satan's subtlety, to threaten the continuance of peace; but then it will be as at the breaking out of a fire, where everyone exerts himself to extinguish it before it can get to a head. We have many combustibles in our hearts, and the enemy will throw sparks upon them to set all in a flame; but happy are those who so value peace, as to be willing to give up anything but truth to preserve it. We join in love to you both. Pray for us.
I am affectionately yours,
To Mrs. C****.
February 11, 1772
I find by the date of your last letter, that I have not been so punctual to answering as formerly. Indeed, business of one kind or another so grows on my hands, that I am in arrears to many.
I hope the Lord, who has mercifully given you children, will enable you to bring them up in his fear, and accompany your endeavors with his blessing; and make them in due time partakers of his grace, that they may know and love the Lord God of their parents.
Your spiritual warfare, it seems, still continues; and it will continue while you remain here in this world. But he is faithful who has promised to make us more than conquerors in the last conflict—then we shall hear the voice of war no more forever. Whatever we suffer along the way—the end will make amends for all. The repeated experience we have of the deceitfulness of our own hearts, is a means which the Lord employs to make us willing debtors to his free grace, and teach us to live more entirely upon Jesus. He is our peace, our strength, our righteousness, our all in all. And we learn from day to day, that, though diligence and watchfulness in the use of appointed means is our part—yet we are preserved in life, not by our care—but his. We have a watchful Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps; his eyes are always upon his people; his arm underneath them; this is the reason that their enemies cannot prevail against them. We are conscious to ourselves of many unguarded moments, in which we might be surprised and ruined if we were left without his almighty defense. Yes, we often suffer loss by our folly; but he restores us when wandering; revives us when fainting; heals us when wounded; and, having obtained his help—we continue to this hour; and he will be our Guard and Guide even unto death. He has delivered, he does deliver; and in him we trust that he will yet deliver us.
We have had but few changes here, since my last letter; only that of late the Lord has been pleased to give His Word a more convincing power than for some time before. We have had several awakened within these few months, who appear to be truly in earnest. Upon the whole, though we have many causes of humiliation, I hope it is with us in some measure according to that pleasing description, Act. 9:31. Help us to praise the Lord for his goodness to us.
As to myself, there is little variation in my path. The law of sin in my members distresses me; but the Gospel yields relief. It is given me to rest in the finished salvation, and to rejoice in Christ Jesus as my all in all. My soul is athirst for nearer and fuller communion with him. Yet he is pleased to keep me short of those sweet consolations in my retired hours which I could desire. However, I cannot doubt, but he is with me, and is pleased to keep up in my heart some sense of the evil of sin, the beauty of holiness, my own weakness, and his glorious all-sufficiency. His I am, and him I desire to serve. I am, indeed, a poor servant; but he is a gracious Master. Oh! who is a God like unto Him—who forgives iniquity, and casts the sins of his people into the depths of the sea? I shall not always live at such a poor rate—the land to which we are going is far different than this wilderness through which he is now leading us. Then we shall see his face—and never, never sin!
If either of you or your's should come towards London, we shall be glad to see you; but, if not here, we hope to meet in glory. There is but little probability of my seeing you in Yorkshire. We may meet however at present, as I hope we do—at a throne of grace. I entreat a frequent remembrance in your prayers, both for me and mine. This is the best proof we can give of our love to our friends, to bear them upon our hearts before the Lord. Afford me this, and I will pay you in kind as the Lord shall enable me.
Yours in the best friendship.
To Mrs. C****.
June 5, 1776
My dear friends,
I might apologize for my long silence—but you set me the example; so let us exchange forgiveness. You are busy—and I can assure you I have but little leisure time. However, I can say with you, that my regard remains. I still remember with pleasure past times, in which we have taken sweet counsel together; and I look forward to the happy period of all interruptions, when I trust we stall meet to spend an everlasting Sabbath in praise to Him who has loved us, and washed us from our sins in his blood.
My wife and I are still, by the Lord's mercy, spared to each other. She joins me in love to you both, and to your husbands. We are not only spared—but highly favored with health, peace, and an abundance of temporal mercies. I am still supported, and in some measure owned, in the pleasing service of preaching the glorious Gospel to my fellow sinners; and I am still happy in an affectionate, united people, Many have been removed to the better world—but others have been added to us; so that I believe our numbers have been rather increased than diminished from year to year. But most of our old experienced believers have finished their course, and entered into their rest. Some such we had, who were highly exemplary and useful ornaments to their profession, and very helpful to the young of the flock. We miss them; but the Lord, who has the fullness of the Spirit, is, I hope, bringing others forward to supply their places.
We have to sing of abounding grace, and at the same time to mourn over the abounding of sin; for too many in this neighborhood have resisted convictions so long, that I am afraid the Lord has given them up to hardness of heart; they are either obstinately determined to hear no more, or sit quietly under the preaching, and seem to be sermon-proof. Yet I hope and pray for a day of power in favor of some who have hitherto heard in vain. Blessed be God, we are not without some seasons of refreshment, when a sense of his gracious presence makes the ordinances sweet and precious. Many miracles he has wrought among us in the twelve years I have been here. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, and the dead are raised to spiritual life. Pray for us, that his arm may be revealed in the midst of us.
As to myself, I have had much experience of the deceitfulness of my heart, much warfare on account of the remaining principle of indwelling sin. Without this experience I would not have known so much of the wisdom, power, grace, and compassion of Jesus. I have good reason to commend him to others, as a faithful Shepherd, an infallible Physician, an unchangeable Friend! I have found him such. Had he not been with me, and were he not mighty to forgive and deliver—long ago I would have been trodden down like mire in the streets. He has wonderfully preserved me in my outward walk, so that they who have watched for my halting have been disappointed. But he alone knows the innumerable backsliding, and the great perverseness of my heart. It is of his grace and mercy that I am what I am! Having obtained help from him, I continue to this day! And he enables me to believe that he will keep me to the end, and that then I shall be with him forever.
I hope your souls prosper, and that all the comforts, employments, cares, and trials of life—are sanctified by his blessing, to lead you to a more immediate dependence upon himself; that he enables you to glorify him in your families and connections, and conforms you to his image, in love, spirituality, meekness, and resignation. Many things must be attended to in their places; but, oh, the blessing of being taught to do and to bear all things for his sake! The life of faith is—to be continually waiting on him, receiving from him, rendering to him, resting in him, and acting for him. In every other view, the present state is but vanity and vexation of spirit. But, when the love of Jesus is the leading and constraining motive of our conduct—the necessary business of every day, in the house, the shop, or the field—is ennobled, and makes a part of our spiritual worship; while every dispensation of Providence, whether pleasant or painful to the flesh, is received and rested in as an intimation of his will, and an evidence of his love and care for us. Happy are they who do not stop short in names, forms, and notions—but are desirous of knowing what effects such a Gospel as we profess is capable of producing in the spirit and conduct of those to whom it comes, not in word only—but in the demonstration and power of the Holy Spirit.
I commend you and your's to the Lord. I shall always be glad to hear from you; and remain your affectionate friend and servant.
To Mrs. C****.
June 12, 1779
My dear friend,
Your last letter was long in coming; but I have deprived myself of all right of complaining, by the slowness of my answer. You plead lack of time; allow me to plead the same. During the first years of our correspondence you had no family, and I had few engagements compared to what I have had since. As we grow older, connections and businesses multiply, while, alas! for my part, my ability to attend to the many things which call upon me, seems rather to decline. My regard for you still exists, and I use you no worse than I am constrained to use many others whom I have long and dearly loved, and who have equal reason to say I am become a poor correspondent.
For three years past, my wife has experienced much ill health; and this alone has abridged me of many of those hours which I used to employ in writing to my friends. Of late she has been better upon the whole—but seldom comfortably well for many weeks together. But in the course of these trials we have had much experience of the Lord's goodness and compassion; and I have found him, and still find him, a prayer-hearing God, and a very present help in time of trouble. She joins with me in love to you both, to Mrs. H****, and my other friend at Y****, whose name used to stand with your's, and of whom I have heard nothing for a long time.
The life of leisure you once had, is now changed for the care of a family. It is an honorable and important charge. I hope the Lord continues to bless you in it; and that you have comfort in seeing your children grow up like olive plants about your table. May he give you wisdom and success in your attempts to bring them up for the Lord; that in due time you, and the children he has given you, may appear together at his right hand.
As to myself, though I have now entered the sixteenth year of my ministry here, and have almost finished the fifty-fourth of my life; my health and strength, through his blessing, continue firm; and through his mercy I feel myself no more weary in his service, or weary of it, than at first. I have comfort in the flock he has committed to my care; I have seen many of them depart in peace, and I rejoice to think they are safely housed out of the reach of storms. He has from time to time raised up others to supply their places, and in general they walk agreeably to the Gospel, in peace among themselves, and united in affection to me. I speak of the serious people chiefly. Multitudes in the town are mere hearers; and some will not hear at all. But all behave civil, and give me no other trouble than that which I ought to feel most sensibly, a concern for their precious souls, that, when the light of the Gospel shines around them, there should be so many who prefer darkness to light, because their deeds are evil.
Every year, and indeed every day—affords me new proofs of the evil and deceitfulness of my heart, and of my utter insufficiency to think even a good thought by myself! But I trust, in the course of various exercises, I have been taught more of the power, grace, and all-sufficiency of Jesus. I can commend him to others, not from hearsay—but from my own experience. His name is precious; his love is wonderful; his compassions are boundless. I trust I am enabled to choose him as my all, my Lord, my Strength, my Savior, my Portion. I long for more grace to love him better; for, alas! I have reason to number myself among the least of saints and the chief of sinners.