LETTERS of J. C. Philpot (1831 - 1834)
September 7, 1831.
My dear William Tiptaft,—I trust you will deliberate much and long, and seek much the direction of the Spirit, before you venture on the step you meditate of resigning your living. You are placed in a very important station, and, according to your own testimony, have many opportunities of usefulness. You say your congregation is undiminished, that many come to hear you from distant parts, and that you have many spiritual hearers. You have no wish to remain for the sake of the 'loaves and fish', and would willingly give up your house and furniture and live in any obscure place that you might be placed in. All those who have left the Church agree in this, that a man should have a clear direction from the Spirit, and that if he leaves it without sufficient grounds, and seeing his way clearly, he will repent of it. Your eyes are partially open to see its defects, and most of your present intimates have either left her communion, or are dissatisfied with what they see in her. All this works on your mind and perplexes you.
Now, a good deal of what is merely carnal may here influence your mind. Your objections may arise, not from the teachings and leadings of the Spirit, but may be merely the workings of the flesh and the temptations of Satan, who would gladly see you removed from your present sphere of usefulness. I do not say you may not be under the leadings of the Spirit, but I say they should be very manifest and clear, much more so than they now seem to be, before you should take so important a step. My dear friend, do nothing rashly. Seek only to be led and taught of God. Cease from man—even spiritual men. They cannot direct you in such difficult circumstances. I would not wish you to stay a moment, if you were really led of the Spirit to leave the Church; but I am afraid of your acting on the suggestion of others, or from feelings merely carnal. The flesh, you know, is incredibly changeable, and can work just as well one way as another. It may work to keep you in, and it may work to turn you out. All I would say is, seek earnestly the direction of the Spirit, and do not move until you see your way clearly, either by inward light and manifestation, or outward providence. I think the Bishop will not bear with you much longer, and then you will see your way clearer.
You may think me carnal, and so on, but I cannot be wrong in advising you to seek earnestly direction from the Lord, and not to move without it. It will be a heavy blow for Sutton and its vicinity if you leave. I feel very sorry to think that many who now can hear you will not then be able, and I think, too, of Stadham. May the Lord guide and direct you. Do not act precipitately, or from merely carnal feeling, but wait to have your way very clearly made out.
I hope you will go over to Stadham, before you go away for a time. Can't you go over the day this reaches you? it is the usual lecture-night. I could wish that Brenton had more the gift of preaching, and could speak more to the comfort and edification of the people. His sermons are too dry and abstract, too much the reflections of his own mind, and need simplicity of statement and application. They are good and true as far as they go, but they lack that energy and speaking to the heart, and suiting it to the cares and needs of the hearers, which make preaching profitable. They require too much attention to follow, and a mind in some degree imbued with the truth, and able to catch it when obscurely stated, to be generally useful. I am thankful, however, for the seasonable help the Lord has sent me in him, and feel a confidence in him which I could not have done in another. Besides which, I trust the Lord will teach him, and apply the truth with such power to his heart, that he will be constrained to speak it with power to others. Preaching without book, too, will, I think, be useful in leading him to greater simplicity of statement, and bringing him out of that essay style into which he has fallen.
I fear I shall not be able to comply with the wishes of the Stadham people in taking a part of the service. In the first place, I need rest, especially during the winter, when each cold affects my chest; and, secondly, if I were sufficiently strong, I would not think it right to interfere with Brenton. I have left him there to be in my place, which he has kindly consented to occupy; and if I were to return, of course the whole would seem to revert to me, and he be only my assistant. I think it best to leave him in sole charge, and am thankful I can do it so much to my own satisfaction. His visits and conversation, and his lectures, perhaps may be more profitable than his preaching, and it may lead the children of God to pray for him, and so be beneficial to their souls and his.
I was much pleased with a little note from Mrs. T., in which she expressed herself as thankful for Brenton's being there, and seemed to imply this was the general feeling. I am anxious to know all about them. When you go over, make a point of seeing some of them, and let me know how their souls fare. I am glad Mr. — has come to hear you. There seems something like a shaking there. Few have, I believe, abused you more. His conversation was a web of oaths. I rejoice that Husband and you are so intimate. Your preaching at S. M. would, I am sure, give offence. The Pharisees can bear the Law better than the Gospel, and even the mild Husband now gives offence, and will do so more and more.
Miss — is, I fear, something like the robin spoken of in the "Pilgrim's Progress," who can eat sometimes grains of wheat and sometimes worms and spiders. I am quite sick of modern religion; it is such a mixture, such a medley, such a compromise. I find much, indeed, of this religion in my own heart, for it suits the flesh well; but I would not have it so, and grieve it should be so. We sadly need stirring up here. It is a trying situation to live altogether without spiritual society, and more worldly company comes to this house than is profitable to me, as I cannot altogether refuse to enter occasionally into their conversation.
I think of leaving about the 16th or 17th, and going to London, and thence to Petersfield. I cannot yet decide where I shall go to spend the winter. I wish to go to Plymouth, and think it very likely I may decide to go there. The back of the Isle of Wight would be better for my health; but I would have no fellowship there, and no opportunities of hearing anything profitable. At Plymouth I would find many friends, and have the opportunity of hearing the word. My sister is now staying at Stoke. The climate, I am told, is very damp and rainy, which is bad for me. I trust I shall be guided right. I heard Fowler preach at the little "Refuge" in Deal. Old John Kent, the author of "Gospel Hymns," was there, and I had the pleasure of shaking hands with him. He had heard and drunk tea with Bulteel about three weeks before. I do not think it likely I shall speak to the people at Deal; I do not see my way clear. I do not wish to give up Stadham and forget my licence, which I should in that case do. I trust I am not unwilling, should the Lord please, to forsake worldly honors and gain for Him; but I must see my way clear.
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I shall be glad to hear from you shortly again, and let me hear something about my Stadham people. I am sure Brenton would be glad for you to speak to the people, but on Tuesday night, being harvest-time, he was most likely apprehensive of not getting a congregation. May the Lord teach you out of His Holy Word, and make your ministry profitable to all His dear children.
Believe me to be, with true affection,
Yours in the Lord,
J. C. P.
September 23, 1831.
My dear Mrs. Rackham,—Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. I take the opportunity of my friend and brother Mr. Tiptaft's meeting me in London to send you a few lines to express my remembrance of and affection towards you in the Lord. I trust, during the season that has past since I saw you, that you have been enabled to trust in Him, who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. I hope the Lord has shown you more and more of His cleansing blood and justifying righteousness, and given you faith to look to the one and lay hold of the other. To feel our deep need of forgiveness and reconciliation is God's gift; to see that there is a Savior provided, who by His life and death put away sin and brought in everlasting righteousness, is God's gift; to lay hold of and believe on this Savior, so precisely suited to our lost and condemned state, is God's gift.
The whole plan and scheme of redemption in its first devising, after-execution, and individual application to the heart and conscience of the child of God is, from first to last, the work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is a truth of which we should be deeply and firmly persuaded. We must learn and feel our lost and helpless state as sprung from our Covenant Head, Adam, by natural generation. We must be deeply and inwardly persuaded that we are utterly dead and powerless in consequence of this original sin of Adam, in which we are involved by being in him at the time of his fall, and that we have neither will nor power to see, relish, or believe the things of the Spirit of God.
This conviction, applied by the Holy Spirit to our hearts, will stir us up to earnest prayer that the eyes of our understanding may be enlightened, that we may have the truth, as it is in Jesus, applied to our souls with power and the Holy Spirit, and much assurance, and that we may have an experimental divine faith in the Person and work of the Son of God wrought in our souls. I trust the Lord has shown you this, and thus stirred you up to true and earnest prayer that you may have the truth brought home to your soul by the Holy Spirit, and are desirous to experience all the powerful teachings of the Lord the Spirit, though the word of God in His hands should even, as in the Virgin Mary (Luke 2:35), be a sword to pierce your own soul, and divide asunder soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow, by discerning and revealing the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12). I mean by this that through grace you are willing to have the secret chambers of your heart laid open to your view, and be stripped of your own righteousness, that you may learn only to glory in the Lord. We must come to this, if we hope to be saved, and earnestly seek the Spirit's teachings, whatever sharp lessons He may teach us, and however He may humble us in our own sight.
Through mercy, my health is much recovered, though my chest continues weak, and is soon irritated by exertion; my general health is much restored, and I feel stronger and less nervous than I did at Stadham. The sea air has, through God's blessing, braced me, and, my chest excepted, I feel nearly as well, though not so strong, as before this attack. I was forced, by a concurrence of circumstances, to take an afternoon service a few Sundays back, as if I had not done so the church must have been either shut up, or served by a carnal minister. I was much helped at the time, and preached for nearly three-quarters of an hour, but suffered from it afterwards, my chest being weak and heated for two or three days. I trust that, during the interval which I have allowed myself for rest, it may please the Lord so far to restore me as to allow me to preach once more in the pulpits I have, through His mercy and providence, occupied among you.
I sincerely hope that during that time the Lord may teach and bless your present minister to the edification of many. Fail not to pray for him, that the Lord may speak in him and by him to the hearts of His people, and furnish him with food suitable to the weak and to the strong. I look to the prayer-meeting as a means of great good in the Lord's hands. May He give a spirit of grace and supplication to its members, and lead them privately and publicly to intercede with Him for a blessing for minister and people. Those who do not pray aloud in these meetings may plead earnestly with God, both at home and when assembled together, and these prayers He who searches the hearts will answer, if offered up by the Spirit who dwells in them.
Pray also that your own eyes, and the eyes of the church at Stadham and Chisleton, may be enlightened to discern the devices of Satan, and that that cruel wolf may not be allowed to rend the sheep. A praying church and a watchful church must flourish. When it becomes cold and lukewarm, when prayer is restrained and it ceases to be watchful, then the great adversary gains an advantage, and everything that is miserable creeps in, to the grief of God's children, to the joy of the world, and to the destruction of souls. Do not be unmindful that you have a God to glorify by your holy life and conversation, especially as being the mother and mistress of a family, before whom you should let your light shine, that they may see there is a truth, reality, and power in religion, and that it is not a mere change of opinions.
I was glad to hear Mr. B— has borrowed a religious book of Mr. Brenton. In your conversations with him I would have you avoid all disputes about election and such doctrines, and speak rather of such subjects as our natural sinfulness and condemnation, the necessity of having Christ for our perfect Savior, the efficacy of His blood and His blood alone, and the need of embracing this by faith, together with the necessity of being born again and being taught of God. Such subjects will either be so distasteful that he will cease to speak upon them, or will be of use to him. Disputes about election will only harass your own mind, and stir up in him a mere spirit of carnal reasoning which will only do him harm. Seek wisdom from the Lord to direct you, and speak in His strength only, and not your own. Buta holy, self-denying, and separated life is the best preacher.
I trust that, with respect to your temporal concerns, the Lord is teaching you the meaning of that text, Matt. 6:33, 34. Read the whole of that chapter, from verse 19 to the end, and seek of the Lord faith to believe and feel it in all its truth and power. Read also what the Apostle says to Timothy, 1 Tim. 6:6-16. Observe how God there tells us to be content with food and clothing, and declares that godliness with contentment is great gain. See what he says of those that desire to be rich; how that they err from the faith, and pierce themselves through with many sorrows, and bids the man of God flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness; and bids him keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is much instruction in these words if the Lord is pleased to seal it home on your heart and make it a principle of action. Let me advise you, my dear Mrs. Rackham, to be much in reading the Scriptures. Be like the Bereans, and search the Scriptures daily, Acts 17:11, and like David, Psalm 119:11, 97, 105, 140, 162, where he expresses his delight in God's word. See also the character given of the righteous man, Psalm 1 verse 2. Pray earnestly that the word may be wrought into your heart, that its precepts, truths, and promises may be the comfort of your days and nights, the motive of your actions, and the guide to all your ways. Remember that the Lord has helped you through many afflictions, and turned them into blessings; and so He will be ever with you, to keep, guide, and bless you. Only trust in Him.
Do not hanker after this wretched world, or desire its honors and riches for yourself or your children.Give them up to the Lord, and ask Him to put them into such situations of life as may be for their spiritual good and for His glory; and be willing that they should be poor and despised, if it be His will. Seek also earnest blessings for the church where you live and the Church of Christ in general, that the Lord may pour out His blessing richly upon it. Seek for a spirit of humility, faith, and love, and avoid everything that may produce contrary feelings in the brethren. Set your face against everything that is ungodly and profane, wherever you may meet it; and in the regulation and management of your own household act as a Christian mistress and a Christian mother. A Gospel practice is the only outward proof of a Gospel faith, and wherever the principles of God's word are wrought into the heart they must and will produce the fruits of holiness and godliness in the life and conversation.
I hope Elizabeth is able still to attend the Sunday-school, and that her class is improving. I would not wish her to set the children too long lessons, as I would sooner they should learn accurately and well, than much. And I would wish her to consider the different ages and capacities of the children, and set them their tasks accordingly. I do not like that they should learn to hate school, and what they are there taught, as it may have an unhappy influence all their days; and the way to teach them to love school and their teachers is by giving them to learn what they are able to accomplish easily, and by treating them with the greatest kindness and gentleness, and yet due strictness and severity, if needful.
Believe me to be,
Your affectionate Friend in the Lord Jesus,
J. C. P.
November 17, 1831.
My dear Mrs. Rackham,—Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied unto you through the love of God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. I thank my God that the word which I preached among you did not return unto God void, but was accompanied with the power of the Spirit to the heart of some, and among them, I trust, to you also. This gives me confidence in writing to you, and I hope I shall be enabled to say something which may profit and comfort you. It grieves me to think that the sheep of Christ among you should not be walking in that light and comfort which is their portion and privilege. It has pleased our heavenly Father, who does all things in wisdom and love, to unfit me for that work which once I performed among you, and which it is my desire again to commence when it shall be His will. But why should you not still enjoy what you once enjoyed? Christ is the same, and His Spirit is the same, and the word of God is the same. I am afraid the children of God have been looking at times past too much to the instrument, and not been looking simply to Christ, that they might be filled out of the fullness that is laid up in Him. And, therefore, I trust God is teaching them this lesson, to cease from man, and to wait only upon Him.
My desire is to labor again in the vineyard where I labored in times past, and I trust in God's good time I shall be allowed once more to go in and out among you. God has wonderfully restored my health since I left Stadham, though I am by no means so strong as I was before my illness, and am obliged to continue indoors when the weather is at all cold. Sir William Knighton discovered, I think, the cause of my illness under God, and said it arose entirely from over-exertion and exhaustion of the vital energy. By rest, through God's mercy, it is recovering; and here, I think, we may see the good hand of God in afflicting me with illness at the time He did. If I had gone on as before, most likely when illness came my constitution would have sunk under it. I trust now, by resting some little time longer, I shall have recovered sufficiently to labor again in the vineyard of the Lord. By this dispensation also God may be teaching His children at Stadham, Chisleton, and Ascot to depend more simply on Him for His teaching.
We know what the children of Israel said in the wilderness (Numb. 21:5), "Our soul loaths this light bread," and so, perhaps, where the children of God hear the sound of the Gospel so continually, they may become indifferent to it, and not receive it with that sweetness and power which they once did; and God has various ways of training up His children, and His ways are most wise, deep, and unsearchable. Jacob once said (Gen. 42:36), "All these things are against me," when those very things were working together for his good. But afterwards, when he saw his beloved son Joseph (Gen. 46:30), he could say, "Now let me die, since I have seen your face, because you are yet alive"; and again (48:11), "I had not thought to see your face; and lo, God has showed me also your children." And thus it is now; we cannot see the wisdom of God's dealings at the time, but can afterwards look back and see (Psalm 107:7), "He has led us forth by the right way, that we might go to a city of habitation." "Those that sow in tears shall reap in joy."
The advice which I would give to the children of God at Stadham, etc., is to search the Scriptures much for themselves, and be much in prayer for themselves and for each other. If they cannot derive that benefit which they would wish from their present minister, let them pray much for him, that God would teach him, and speak in him and by him to their souls. You may call to mind that when I left Stadham for a little while in May, 1830, the children of God were much in prayer that when I returned I might be enabled to preach more to their comfort and edification. I think they acknowledged at the time that the Lord, in a measure at least, heard their prayers. Let them now pray in the same way for their present minister, and the Lord will hear and answer. I really do not know where I could get a more satisfactory person. You all know how much trouble and anxiety it cost me, when Mr. T— left, to procure the aid of anyone even from Sunday to Sunday, and scarcely any except my dear friend Mr. G— preached to the edification of the saints. You should consider how much worse you might be off, and probably would be, should the Lord remove Dr. P—. I don't mean, my dear Mrs. Rackham, when I say "you," to admonish you in particular, but I speak to all the people of God who love to hear the sound of the Gospel. I believe that you love the truth, whoever preaches it, and desire to receive the engrafted word with meekness and humility.
In all your various trials, both personal and domestic, and what regards the Church of God, put in practice the command of the apostle, Philip. 4:6. If you do this, you will find the promise in the seventh verse made good, "And the peace of God," etc. Pray for yourself, for your family, for the children of God around you, for your present minister, for all saints (Ephesians 6:18), and for me also—that my health, if the Lord will, may be restored, and that I may come again to you, when I do come, "in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ" (Rom. 15:29). Pray that I may come unto you with joy, by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed (Rom. 15:32). Seek to be guided in all things by the Spirit; for "as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." Meditate upon James 1:5; John 16:13-15; 14:13, 14; Luke 11:13; 18:1; Prov. 2:3-6; 3:5, 6; Jer. 29:11-13.
I could fill my letter with sweet and comfortable passages, as, indeed, the Word of God is full of comfort and instruction. "Only believe; all things are possible to him that believes." If you are in trouble about temporal concerns, read over, and pray upon, Matt. 6:25-34, and Jer. 49:11, and ask the Lord for faith to believe and live upon these promises. The Lord seems to have helped you in inducing Mr. and Mrs. B.— to continue with you. The Lord, in sending bread, does not promise there shall be no trials and crosses with it. The bread is to be eaten in the sweat of the face (Gen. 3:19), and so those that do not labor bodily for it must often labor for it in their mind. We are obliged sometimes to "eat our bread by weight and with care" (Ezek. 4:16); but, if God wills, our countenances, if we eat only vegetables, "may appear fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat of the portion of the king's food" (Daniel 1:12, 15).
With respect to placing E— with Mrs. W—, I would have you do what you think right in your conscience. Do not for temporal advantages do anything which you think might hurt her soul. But I am not sufficiently acquainted with all the circumstances to give my advice. Seek the will of God in the matter, and act as you think right in His sight, without regard to man.
Remember me very kindly to your nieces, the Miss R—s. I trust they are cleaving to the Lord through evil report and good report, and glorifying their Savior in their life and conversation, separating themselves in heart and spirit from the world. The greatest kindness that you could do them is to tell them where they are wrong, if you see anything of that kind in them. "In many things," you know, "we all offend." Give my Christian love also to Mrs. L—, and tell her to look to Jesus for strength in all things; and let her light shine in that wicked neighborhood where she dwells, that they may take knowledge of her that she has been with Jesus. Remember me also very affectionately to Mrs. L— and Sally N—, and bid them watch over their hearts and tongues where they live, that they may not speak unadvisedly with their lips. May the Lord comfort and teach them, and make them shine as lights in the world. Give my Christian love also to Sally and Nanny H—. I trust the Lord is with them, to comfort them, and to say unto their souls, "I am your salvation."
Your mind may, perhaps, be troubled by what you hear from Oxford about Mr. Bulteel's change of views. Let not that trouble you. You know what truth God formerly blessed to your soul; hold it fast. Remember you are a poor sinner who can only be saved by Jesus, and that the promise is given to those that believe in Him, that they shall be saved. Cleave simply to this, that His blood cleanses from all sin, and let nothing drive you from that. Avoid all questions and strifes of words, and look simply to Him that died on Calvary, and is now risen again to make intercession for His people, and to appear a second time for their salvation. I trust I do not forget any of the children of God, though I may not now mention them. I have spoken to you of those whom you chiefly know; but I send my love to all.
Believe me to be,
Yours in true affection,
J. C. P.
November 28, 1831.
My dear Tiptaft,—When Brenton made me the offer of my coming to Stadham, it seemed to me, at first, the very opening I had been desiring and praying for. But since I have considered the subject more maturely, I have thought it best not to accept his offer. My desire is to do just what God pleases in the matter, and to be willing to go or stay just as He thinks best. At the same time, I find myself counting the weeks to next spring, and feel somewhat of what Laban said to Jacob, "You greatly longest after your father's house." But I think, all things considered, I am doing what is best in staying here. Though it has pleased God to restore me to much better health, yet it is not so far established as to enable me to face the fatigues and cold of the winter, and I could not think of turning Brenton out of his lodgings at this time of the year. Besides which, I trust I am not altogether without use here. If I did not think Brenton a child of God, and one who had the spiritual welfare of my people at heart, I would not stay away from them a day; but though he may not preach with power, or to much edification, I fully believe he declares the truth. I at times feel very anxious about them, and trust it may yet be the Lord's will that I may return to them.
I am glad you are not likely to leave the neighborhood of Sutton, as I believe you have been made useful there. You should take care to have your chapel sufficiently large to hold a good number, as it is likely to be much crowded. This step of yours is not likely to meet with the approbation of the vicar of Abingdon, nor, indeed, of many of our friends in your neighborhood; but if the Lord gives you His blessing, you need not mind what is said or thought. . .
To make light of "experience" cannot be right, for all the power of religion consists in it, and I fully believe, what you have often said, that where there is no experience there is no religion. I am sure, for my own part, that the only time when the truths of Scripture influence my mind and practice, is when they are felt experimentally in the heart; and, I am quite sure, if I knew more of the mighty operation of the Spirit in my soul, I would walk much more happily, humbly, and consistently. I fully agree to all you say about the work of grace in the soul, and earnestly desire the gift of the Spirit, that I may feel more and more deeply the things of Christ. God has given us His Son; in addition to that, He has promised to give His Spirit, to take the things of Christ, and show them to us; and if the possession of the Spirit does not distinguish the believer from the unbeliever, I know not what does.
Though it may be a trial, it is perhaps best for you to have no friend with whom you may readily consult upon the matters that interest you, as it must throw you more immediately upon God to obtain wisdom and counsel from Him. There are many promises of this in the word of God, and I believe, where the eye is single, the path is not in many cases very difficult. Scripture speaks much of patience, and I suppose we must be still before we shall see the salvation of God. I observe in the Old Testament that the saints waited much and long for the fulfillment of God's promises, and that, generally, help was delayed to the last extremity, and then afforded promptly and effectually. I was much struck the other day with Proverbs 16:9; I found it very applicable to my own case, as I was much perplexed about coming back to Stadham. My inclination is to go there, but I certainly, at present, do not see the way clear.
I often think of you and your great kindness to me last winter; indeed, I trust I shall never forget your unwearied attention to such an invalid as I was then. May the Lord richly reward you! I think I have, on the whole, enjoyed more of the power of the truth since I have been here, than I had done for some time previously; but I daily feel how much I have to learn. What I need is the gift of the Spirit; this is the promise of the Gospel, and without it all that Christ did, taught, and suffered, is nothing to us. I trust the Spirit has not left my people at Stadham. I am sometimes apprehensive of their becoming lukewarm and dead. But the Lord must keep those who are faithful to His promises, and can keep them without human means.
Yours affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
October 11, 1833.
My dear Joseph Parry,—Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied unto you through the experimental, soul-humbling, soul-melting, soul-rejoicing knowledge of the gracious and living Immanuel.
I am thankful to the God of prayer for having put a spirit of prayer into your heart for such a hard-hearted sinner as myself, as I doubt not you mingled, among your petitions for my coming among you, sundry desires for my own experimental acquaintance with divine things. I cannot, however, see my way to come among you at present, as I am still ministering to the little flock among whom I have been going in and out for some time past. My connection with the Establishment is not yet broken, but I am inclined to think it shortly will. The Lord, in answer to prayer, brought me back in so remarkable a way not two years ago, and so wonderfully strengthened me for my work, after being laid aside by illness one and a quarter years, that I have always felt I could not leave until I should see the way very clearly. For these last few months past I have laid the matter before Him, and sought of Him wisdom and guidance, as the corruption of the Establishment in practice and principle has been much opened to my mind. I think I now see symptoms of my way being about to be laid open, and that I am very likely to be put out of the curacy. If this should be the case, my way is open at once, as it is my ministry here which chiefly detains me in the Establishment. A few days will probably decide, and, should I be removed from the curacy, my present intention is to remain here until the spring (God willing), and then go into Kent for a season, where my friends reside, and where I would have an opening to preach the word.
There is not a soul upon earth to whom I have communicated these particulars, and therefore I beg you will for the present keep them secret. I have been informed upon the best authority that a complaint has been, or will be, laid against me before the bishop for certain comments, which I lately made, respecting the conduct of clergymen taking out shooting-licences; and if I stand to the ground I have taken, which I trust the Lord will give me grace to do, I think he will remove me. I would sooner be turned out, than go out. Let them thrust me out of the land of Egypt and the house of bondage and my way is clear enough. No one knows what it is to give up a people who love you, and whom you love, and a situation where the Lord has blessed you, but those who have the trial. I can safely say that my return here, Christmas, 1831, was the most direct answer to prayer I ever had in my life, and therefore I cannot leave until I see my way clearly opened in providence or grace. Be pleased to keep what I have communicated secret, as not a single person, not even my assistant, knows what steps are pursuing against me but the parties concerned.
Let me have your prayers that the Lord will guide me aright, give me a spirit of faithfulness, joined with meekness and humility, and separate me in His own time and way from a corrupt system; and more especially that He would be pleased to take present matters into His own powerful hand, and lead the devices of men to accomplish His own gracious and eternal purposes. Oh! for grace to believe and love, to seek His will, to have the mind of Christ, and a single eye to His glory! Oh! for a heart to fear none, and to please none, but the risen Lord, and to taste His love, constraining the soul to love, delight in, and obey Him!
Present my affectionate remembrance to Mrs. Parry; and believe me to be
Yours affectionately in Him who is the Lord of all.
J. C. P.
February 1, 1834
My dear Joseph Parry,—I have been partly prevented from answering your letter earlier by a painful inflammation of the eyes, which has been upon me this last fortnight, off and on, and is not yet subsided.
I could wish I could give a more satisfactory answer to it than I fear you will find this to be. But my own mind is very dark, and the arm of the Lord is not yet revealed to me. The affair which I communicated to you went off more quietly than I had expected. Either the bishop was not applied to, or did not think it worth while to interfere. While that matter was pending, I was quite satisfied to leave it in the hands of the Lord, and was indeed more desirous to be removed than to remain. But I felt then, that if it was not to turn me out, it would more settle me than before. And so it has proved, my mind being now less at work upon leaving than it was at the time I saw you. Towards this place and people I can almost say, 'Reuben, you are my first born; the beginning of my strength.' And thus I feel unwilling, I may say unable, to leave them without some clear direction in providence or in grace.
And I think, if you knew what a dark, dead, ignorant, lifeless, corrupt creature I was, your desire to see more of me would be much abated. Often do I seriously doubt whether I was ever converted at all, so much darkness, corruption, and infidelity do I find in myself. And as to the ministry, I feel myself more and more unfit for it, as having so little light, life, and power in my own soul, and knowing so little how to deal with the souls of the heaven-taught family. And these, I do assure you, are not the common-place confessions which every one professes to make, but what I really see and feel in myself. And what a grievous thing it is for a church to invite a man to minister for a few weeks, to be satisfied with his gifts and graces, and then find they have saddled themselves with one who knows nothing of the things of God spiritually, and therefore cannot build them up in the experimental truth as it is in Jesus! The people here are ignorant, and do not discern my deficiencies so clearly, perhaps, as I do myself; and as they profess at times to obtain good, I am led on from time to time to preach to them. But, as to leaving them and undertaking a new work in a new part of the vineyard without seeing my way clearly marked out, it is what I dare not do.
At the same time I adhere to what I have long felt and said, that is, that if I had more grace I would not remain in the Establishment. But this very lack of grace, which keeps me in it, would render my ministry unprofitable outside of it. In this day there is too much of the cry, 'Put me into one of the priests' offices, that I may eat a piece of bread;' and as it is like people, like priest, it is not very difficult for a man with tolerable gifts to secure himself a pulpit in a respectable chapel. But I trust this is far from my views and wishes. A minister to be profitable must be sent; and he who is sent will seek the glory of Him that sent him, and will desire, above all things, grace in his soul as a Christian, and grace as a minister, that the work of the Lord may prosper in his hands. And amid all my darkness and corruptions I desire nothing more than to have light, and life, and unction in my soul, both privately and ministerially.
This, then, you must accept as my answer to your very kind letter, that I do not see my way to leave my present post, and that I hope you will not delay on my account to settle over you such a minister as the Lord may send you. But should I come into your parts, and I consider myself at liberty to preach in chapels, and it meets your wishes, I would be very glad to accept your offer of preaching for a Lord's-day or so. But whether that time will ever arrive, or when it may arrive, I cannot just now say. The Lord will hasten it in His time. He is a Sovereign, and I would willingly see His sovereign hand and hear His sovereign voice directing me in the path wherein I should go. I have not seen Brother Tiptaft for some time, and am inclined to think he must be from home. I do fear he will think this letter unsatisfactory. I feel it to be so myself, but I know not how I can write otherwise. Give my Christian regards to Mrs. Parry, and accept the same from,
Yours very sincerely and affectionately,
J. C. P.
April 19th, 1834.
My dear Mr. Parry,—Our mutual friend Tiptaft informed me a few days ago of his visit to Allington and of your wish to hear from me. So dark, ignorant, and benighted is my mind, that if I were to give you a view of what is doing in the chambers of imagery, it would afford you but little pleasure or profit. The first time that I saw you, as we were standing in the churchyard together, I think I observed that I knew more of the dark than of the bright side of religion, and I feel it to be so still. I cannot, like some professors, make to myself wings to soar when I please to the third heaven, nor kindle a fire and compass myself about with sparks, and then walk in the light of it. I am obliged to come to this—"Behold, He shuts up a man, and there can be no opening." "When He hides His face, who can behold Him?"
Some of our professors here can always lay hold of the promises, and so strong is their faith, that they neither doubt nor fear; but this is a religion which I cannot come up to. And when I see that this faith of theirs is the work of man, and born of the flesh, I tell them that I would sooner have my unbelief than their faith. Not that I think unbelief and darkness good things, but this I learn from them, which few know in our day, that faith is "the gift of God"; and this, too, I know, that the feeling sense of our own helplessness and unbelief is the necessary, yes, the only preparation of the soul for the inward discovery and manifestation of Christ.
We have in our day too many spiritual thieves and liars. They first get their assurance by climbing over the wall, and then "boast themselves of a false gift," which, as Solomon says, is "like clouds and wind without rain," that is, has all the appearance of watering our souls, and then goes off without giving them a drop. From such a religion may the Lord keep us. It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. It is better to sigh and mourn over a heart full of unbelief and corruption, than to take to ourselves one promise which the Lord does not apply. Many will tell us to believe, and say, "You are idle, you are idle," who have never been in the iron furnace, nor sighed out of the low dungeon.
I believe, for myself, that the souls which can really and spiritually rejoice in the Lord are very few, and that their experience is very much chequered with seasons of darkness and distress. And as for that religion which tells us we must rejoice, because believers are told in the Bible to rejoice always, it savors to me too much of man's power and free-will to be of God.The religion which I want is that of the Holy Spirit. I know nothing but what He teaches me; I feel nothing but what He works in me; I believe nothing but what He shows me; I only mourn when He smites the rock; I only rejoice when He reveals the Savior. I do not say I can rise up to all this, but this is the religion I profess, seek after, and teach; and when the blessed Spirit is not at work in me, and with me, I fall back into all the darkness, unbelief, earthliness, idleness, carelessness, infidelity, and helplessness of my Adam nature.
True religion is a supernatural and mysterious thing. It is as much hidden from us, until God reveals it, as God Himself, who dwells in the light which no man can approach unto. It is the work of the Holy Spirit from first to last; and no text is truer than this—"No man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, but the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him." He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and He will have compassion on whom He will have compassion; and these favored objects of mercy, and these alone, know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. And that happy soul which is thus experimentally taught of the Holy Spirit, and brought into a heavenly fellowship with the Father and the Son, will enjoy forever the Triune Jehovah; when professors, high and low, doctrinal, experimental, and practical, Calvinist and Arminian, will be cast into the blackness of darkness forever. A man thus experimentally taught will be humble and abased, will be swift to hear and slow to speak, will have a tender conscience and a godly fear, will seek rather to please God than man, and would sooner speak with God for five minutes than with a frothy professor for an hour. This religion I am seeking after, though miles and miles from it; but no other will satisfy or content me.
I cannot say I am at all nearer leaving my post here than when I last wrote; indeed, while I am heard with acceptance, and have nothing to perform which presses on my conscience, I cannot move until I see my way. I am praying to be delivered from a carnal religious system, but my way out seems at present hedged up. Let me have your prayers that I may see my way clearly, and neither run before I am called out, nor stay after I hear the warning voice. I can't move just when and as I please, but must wait for "the pillar and the cloud".
Give my Christian regards to —, and believe me to be,
Yours affectionately, in Jesus Christ,
J. C. P.
October 1, 1834.
My dear Tiptaft,—I have been kept from writing to you, sometimes from occupation, sometimes from sloth, and sometimes from the feeling that I could write nothing profitable. Every day, indeed, I seem to see more and more that I have little or no grace. And at these times, when I can draw to the throne of grace and ask the Lord to work in and upon my soul, I seem to have less grace than ever. At such times, and I have been occasionally favored with a little earnestness, I feel everything in me so shallow, so unreal, so little like the mighty work of the Spirit on the soul. The fountains of the great deep are not broken up, and all my religion seems to consist in a little natural light, just as I know any point of history or language. These are my best seasons, at least in private, when, feeling I have no grace or religion, I ask the Lord to work on my soul. At other times, what with the workings of infidelity, unbelief, carelessness, pride, evil temper, and conceit, with all the silly, foolish, filthy, lustful imaginations which crowd in one upon another, my soul seems like the great deep, "without form and void" (in the original, "confusion and emptiness"), before the word of God said "Let there be light."
In my ministry, if I am shut up and cannot come forth, I care more for my own failure than the lack of profit to the people. And if I am favored with a little liberty, my proud heart takes all the glory, and gives none to God. So that what can you expect profitable to read from so silly and graceless, so earthly and carnal, a creature as I am? When I am in my right mind I would gladly feel something—law or gospel, conviction or consolations, cries or praises; anything of God would seem better than my present dark, blind, earthly, graceless state. I feel I shall run on so to perdition, unless sovereign grace interpose, and lift me up out of this fearful state. And yet at times only do I feel this, and at other times am as careless as if all was a fable from beginning to end. And then infidelity, with all its subtle doubts and questions, will creep in, and turn my prayers into mockeries. Your heart, I dare say, will echo all this; but what evidence is that to me? I shall perish in my carnal state unless sovereign grace steps in; and from that nothing can shake me. But I will not detail any more of my complaints. Only picture to yourself the proudest, hardest, most unbelieving and carnal person you can—and you have my picture.
I enjoy the Pinnells being so near very much. I have seen them quite often, and we always speak on the best things.
I scarcely expected by this time to have been curate here, as the bishop wrote to me about five weeks ago, reprimanding me for having had an assistant so long without his permission, and requesting an immediate answer, if I was able or willing to resume the whole duty immediately. I answered him very concisely, neither calling him "My Lord" nor "Right Reverend," and, after having stated a few particulars, said I could not dispense with an assistant. Of course, I expected to hear, in reply, of his intention to remove me; but no such answer has come, nor indeed any answer at all. I committed the affair to the Lord, and as fully expected to be turned out, and return to Abingdon. But here I still am, unmolested.
Clamp and three others walked over here on Lord's-day. I had much conversation with Clamp, and felt my soul refreshed, and found a union with him. On Sunday, 14th, I preached at Kennington, and was favored with some little liberty—at least, as far as I felt myself. G— was there, who seems awfully departed from the narrow way; and though I knew nothing of the circumstance at the time, I have been told that the sermon fitted him exactly. But so it is. We can hear so well for others, and never hear for ourselves. Mr. Clowes has been down at Wallingford, and is coming again for three weeks, so that we shall see him. I feel much union with, and regard for him. Jones, Mr. P—'s butler, a man of some light, though little grace, heard Gadsby at Gower Street. He described the congregation as excessive, and mentioned, though not to me, an expression of Gadsby—"There is enough filth in the hearts of the people here to make the very walls stench." His subject was Isa. 63, but this was said in explaining Zech. 3:3, 4.
A notion has got abroad that in your new edition of "Gadsby's Hymns" you mean to leave out all the experimental ones adapted to peculiar metres. This I have contradicted.
The Miss G—s are come to live here. They contend for the inward power of religion, and have been led to see P—'s "wood, hay, stubble." Much, however, still remains to come down. They speak of his ministry as powerless, and of his people as dead. He used to call on them about once a week, and never once talked on the things of God. I tried to bring his people to a point, but they seem to me like stones. If we are dark and dead, we know it; but they seem satisfied with their ignorance, and much like the Laodiceans of old. Tysdale preached the charity sermons for me, but did not, I hear, enter very deeply into the mystery of iniquity or the mystery of godliness. S— has been here lately. I liked him much. He has gone through Lam. 3 since we saw him, and spoke much of his dark paths. I took him to the Pinnells, who were much pleased with him, and were very kind to him. Pray come over soon after you arrive. I fear this letter will only carnalize you.
Kind regards to Mr. and Mrs. Keal.
Yours affectionately in Christ,
J. C. P.
December 11, 1834.
My dear Friend Parry,—Having a favorable opportunity of transmitting you a letter by a private hand, I sit down to write you a few lines.
And, first, let me ask how the things of the Lord are going on in your soul? Are you, like most of us in these parts, saying "My leanness, my leanness! woe unto me!" Are you putting your mouth in the dust—if so be there may be hope? Are you crying with Paul of old, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Are you indulged with views of the atoning blood and justifying righteousness of Immanuel? Do you see yourself complete in Him, and is He to you the chief of ten thousand and altogether lovely? Or are you buried in your farm and worldly business, and find your soul as hard as a rock and as barren as the sand? Is your continual experience, "The good that I would I do not, and the evil which I would not that I do"? And do you go about your farm restless, dissatisfied, weary of self, and yet unable to deliver your soul from darkness, guilt, and wretchedness?
It is commonly said that a fool can ask questions which a wise man cannot answer, and I find it a great deal easier to ask people about their souls' experience than to answer them myself. As to my own state, I have but little life, feeling, or power in my soul, and sometimes seem to have none at all—and to care no more for the things of God than a horse. The Bible seems at times to have neither food nor savor in it, and all its mysteries appear shut up from my view. The love of idols fills my heart, and I go a whoring after them all the day. No trifle is too foolish to engage my attention, and take off my thoughts; and my heart seems to be a sink of infidelity, lust, pride, filth, and obscenity. I am, indeed, kept from 'outward evil', but so very wicked and vile is my heart that I can throw a stone at nobody.
Rumor brings strange things to our ears respecting Mr.—. I fear he has departed from those things to which he once testified as the very life and power of inward religion and vital godliness. The last account represents him as renouncing baptism. These things must sadly trouble the church at —, and shake the weak and unestablished, more especially, I believe, his doubt of the reality and power of his own religion. But we are to meet with everything to trouble and perplex us, and what is more trying than when "a standard-bearer faints"? The fall of the officers is much more trying than the fall of the soldiers. "Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered," was true of the great Shepherd, and is to a certain extent of the under-shepherds.
The young gentleman who will convey this either to Allington or, at least, to Devises is a son of Mr. L., of that place, and has, I trust, in him something good toward the God of Israel. He comes over sometimes to my lectures on a week-night, and seems really desirous after an experimental work upon his soul.
How is your health? Do you sometimes murmur that you are not so strong and healthy as those around you; and does pain never depress your spirits, and almost make you say, "I do well to be angry"? Oh, our natural hearts are strange compounds of rebellion, peevishness, and perverseness, and full of unkindness and ingratitude. It is well if we are sometimes melted down with a sense of our baseness and unkindness towards the great God who has so blessed us. My health is always very weak in winter, and I stay pretty much at home; but I find the old corrupt, earth-loving nature as much at work as in the streets of London.
Believe me to be, with Christian regards to Mrs. Parry,
Yours affectionately in Christ Jesus,
J. C. P.
December 12, 1834.
My dear Mrs. Rackham,—Having an opportunity of sending a letter to town, I avail myself of it to redeem my promise of writing to you. You are now, doubtless, thoroughly settled in your new abode, and in some measure reconciled to your mode of life. The noise and bustle of Rochester must have seemed very strange to you at first, and I dare say you have often turned in thought to your former quiet abode, where almost the only noise was from the brook that ran by your window. But if faith is in exercise, the hand of God will be seen in this change. And besides, what does it really matter where we spend the few years of our pilgrimage here below? God is to be found, known, loved, and served as much in all the stirring noise of a town, as in the seclusion of a country village. His abode is in the heart, according to His promise, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them" (2 Cor. 6:16). Thus, also, He speaks in the following passages, to which you can easily refer—Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:11, 12; Isa. 57:15; Zech. 2. But you will say, "Would indeed it were so with me! Oh, that I could have the Lord God to dwell in me and walk in me!" If we look to our own fitness, we must say with Solomon of old (1 Kings 8:27), "Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain You—how much less this house that I have built?" If God indeed dwells with any soul, it is only through the Son of His love that He does so.
As to us, "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in us, but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." "As a fountain casts out her waters" (Jeremiah 6:7), so we cast out our wickedness. And in our hearts—I speak from experience—there is nothing to be found by nature but pride, unbelief, worldliness, idolatry, infidelity, and sensuality. It is a cage of unclean birds, a nest of scorpions, and often seems to realize John's description of Babylon (Rev. 18:2), "the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit." In ourselves, then, we shall ever be vile and sinful, and utterly unfit that Jehovah should dwell in us and walk in us. If we are acceptable to God at all, it is only so far as we are "accepted in the Beloved."
The Holy Spirit describes the Church (Ezekiel 16:5) as cast out in the open field, to the loathing of her person, in the day that she was born. This is our state by nature. But then He adds, verse 8—"Now when I passed by you, and looked upon you, behold, your time was the time of love." There is nothing beautiful or lovely in man to attract the notice of the Lord. No! on the contrary, he is vile and loathsome in His sight. Love, on the part of God, is free, as He says (Hos. 14:4), "I will love them freely." And it is from this free, eternal, sovereign, and unalterable love on His part, and not from any goodness or fitness on theirs, that He spreads His skirt over any poor soul (Ezek. 16:8), and enters into covenant with it.
But you, or rather your unbelieving heart, will say, "This is not for me." But, why not for you? Are you not a poor, helpless, sin-burdened creature? Are you not without hope, and without help? Well, these are the people for whom this free salvation is appointed! "He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away." The wine and milk of the gospel "is without money and without price." If you are weary and heavy laden, Jesus speaks to you, and invites you to come to Him, Matt. 11:28. I know well what an unbelieving heart is, and how it always takes part against us, and writes up bitter things; but still I would encourage you "to hope," like the father of the faithful, "against hope"; yes, "to hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:10).
Your trials, doubtless, are many, and I dare say at times you are well-near ready to sink under them. But these are the appointed lot of the true children of God. There is a needs-be for all their temptations, crosses, and afflictions, as Peter speaks, 1 Peter 1:6, 7.
It gives me pleasure to learn that you have met with a profitable ministry. I hope your present minister will wear well. It is one thing to hear profitably for a short time, and another to find a living spring in the minister's soul for a long time together, so as to minister grace and good to the children of God. I would advise you to be slow in forming any connection, either with a church as a member of it, or with professors in general. The best are the hardest to find out, and the most obtrusive are likely to be those whose religion lies more in word than in power. If the Lord sees good He can raise up for your comfort Christian friends, but it is better for a stranger like yourself to wait, than to form acquaintances which you must afterwards give up.
We are going on here much as usual. "My leanness, my leanness, woe unto me!" seems to be the general cry. But, indeed, from the shortness of the days and my liability to cold I have not been able to see much of the people lately. S. Hall seems to be a little revived from her deadness, though she is still full of complaints, and often speaks of you with affection. Indeed, I trust we all remember you with affection, and regret your departure. You mention, I think, in one of your letters, your thanks to me for having taught you much of the evil of your heart. I could wish I had been enabled to have taught you as much or more of Christ. We have two lessons to learn, one full of pain, the other full of pleasure. The first you have been learning, hitherto, in a small measure. The second, which consists in the experimental knowledge of Christ, is that which you have still to learn. And as you learn to know the cleansing, healing, purifying efficacy of His blood, love, grace, and righteousness, so will your heart rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.
Whatever some may say about experimental ministers building up their people in doubts and fears, I do not believe it is so. They are no enemies to gospel joy, if it be joy of the right sort and obtained in a right way. They are, indeed, enemies, and so may they ever be, to rotten hopes and false assurances; but when they see a heart truly broken and contrite, they love to see it healed by the great Physician. Though I have advised you to be slow to form religious friendships or even acquaintances, still if you can in your vast population find a few humble souls who are experimentally taught sin and salvation, it would be profitable for you sometimes to converse with them. Our cold, dead heart needs refreshing, and "as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."
But seek the Lord in solitude, as David of old; "commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still." The food which Christ gives is called "hidden manna," and the new name written on the white stone no man knows, except he who receives it (Rev. 2:17). One spiritual, believing view of Him in secrecy and in solitude is far better than to talk of Him with the tongue, and to hear of Him by the hearing of the ear for a twelvemonth. He will give you such visits as He sees good for you, and I believe you will generally find them before trouble, or in trouble, or after trouble.
Our assemblies at church and lecture have been fairly well attended of late, especially the latter. What we need is to be endued with power from on high. We need showers of blessing to make our hard hearts soft, and our barren hearts fruitful. When He is present with us, all is well; when He is absent, all is ill. Believe me to be, my dear Mrs. Rackham,
Your sincere and affectionate Friend,
J. C. Philpot.