LETTERS of J. C. Philpot (1846 - 1847)
April 24, 1846
My dear Sir—Few greater afflictions can befall the people of God than the removal of a faithful and beloved pastor. It generally happens, if he has been long going in and out before them, at his decease the candlestick is removed with him; I fear that this may prove to be the case at — with the spiritual hearers of the late Mr. —. Affection and respect cannot be transferred to a successor as easily as a pulpit, and even if truth be preached, the ear has become so habituated to a certain mode of stating it, that even a gracious man has to contend with difficulties and, I many almost add, prejudices, who follows a much-esteemed minister.
I am sorry to hear of your trial. I feel so many evils daily, and sometimes hourly, working in my heart, and see so many traps and snares laid for my feet in every direction that my wonder is, not that any fall, but that any stand; no, I am confident that all must fall were it not for everlasting love and almighty power, "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
Like yourself, I have been much puzzled by men and things in the professing world; but where I find a great assurance and unwavering confidence, unaccompanied by godly fear, and the other fruits and graces of the Spirit, I cannot receive it; I therefore set it down for presumption or delusion. The Blessed Spirit is not the author of confusion inwardly or outwardly; where He works faith He works sorrow for sin, deadness to the world, tenderness of conscience, brokenness of spirit, humility, simplicity, sincerity, meekness, patience, spiritual affections, holy and heavenly desires, hope and love toward the Lord and His people. Where we see, then, these fruits and graces of the Spirit lacking, or sadly deficient, there we must conclude that faith, the root from which they all grow, is lacking or deficient likewise.
There are no freaks in the kingdom of heaven. I mean such as have 'little hearts' and 'large heads', active legs and withered hands, nimble tongues and crippled arms; such freaks are more fit for a traveling circus than the Church of the living God.
Little things, or rather such as are so called by dead professors, for nothing can truly be called little which God does for the soul, and what is wrought in the heart and conscience by a divine power, far excel all great and high 'speculative notions'. To fear God, to tremble at His word, to be little and lowly in our own eyes, to hate sin and ourselves as sinners, to pour out our hearts before the Lord, to seek His face continually, and to lead a life of faith and prayer, to be dead to the world, to feel Jesus at times precious, to behold His glorious power, atoning blood, and justifying righteousness, and dying love by the eyes of living faith—these realities are almost despised and overlooked by many great professors in our day; but they will stand when pretensions to greater things utterly fall. It seems to me a day of small things generally in the Church of God. We may therefore usually suspect greater things, unless they are attended by strong evidences of their being of heavenly origin, as well as accompanied by the fruits and graces of the Blessed Spirit.
I fear with you that the gospel sun is set at —, it was so at Providence Chapel, London, when Mr. Huntington was removed. A minister whose years are prolonged generally buries his best people, and the others mostly follow him; the rest are often dispersed by providential dispensation, and their places are filled with those who knew not Joseph; then truth declines in purity and power, until place and people at last become like the salt which has lost its savor, fit only for the ash-heap. I hope this may not prove to be the case at —, but it is the history of many places where truth was once preached in purity and power.
Remember me affectionately to the friends, and believe me,
Yours sincerely, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
November 27, 1846
My dear friend, Thomas Godwin—I am glad you did not stand upon ceremony with me, and wait until I answered your first letter. I seem slower at writing letters than ever. Unless the heart indites a good matter the tongue is not the pen of a ready writer; and my heart just now seems to be inditing ("boiling or bubbling up," margin Psalm 45:1) anything and everything but a good matter. Everything vile and abominable I feel at work within me, and the more I sigh and cry the less help do I seem to find—
Deliverance shall I seek,
And find my foes so very strong,
Myself so very weak?"
It much casts me down and burdens me to feel so much of the power of temptation and so little strength against it. But I must bear my own burdens and carry my own perplexing trials. You well know how powerless is an arm of flesh to relieve and deliver. Whatever I may suffer, this must still be my feeling; "Have you not procured this to yourself?" I read part of Jer. 2 at Oakham chapel on Tuesday evening; what a picture is there of my heart, lips, and life!
I have been obliged to decline going to Zoar again. I have felt at times as I like to feel in that pulpit, and as I have not often felt except at Allington, sometimes at home, and more than once at Pewsey. My dear friend, you know the feeling I mean—not what is called liberty, that is, a flow of words, but a solemn, sweet, spiritual feeling, better experienced than described.
As editors of the Gospel Standard, we have erred often and shall, doubtless, err again. But are not our motives in the main sincere, and for the glory of God and the good of the Church? I am sure it has caused me little else but anxiety and labor; and I would gladly lay down my office tomorrow, if any one whom I could depend upon would take it off my hands. I have had many bullets shot at me, my dear friend, but am alive to this day, and can tell you earnestly that I am more afraid of myself, my lusts and passions, and strong and horrible corruptions than of anybody in the whole world. Self is and ever will be our greatest enemy; and all our enemies would be weak as water against us, were we not such vile wretches in ourselves.
You were exercised about your preaching when you were here the Lord's-day; but I believe it was blessed to the people. Our own feelings are not always to be the best judges whether the Lord has blessed the word or not.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
January 13, 1847
My dear friend, Thomas Godwin—I think sometimes that no one professing to fear the Lord can be more tempted, tried, and exercised, than I am with sin. Unbelief, infidelity, and blasphemy, obscenity, and powerful lusts, are continually worrying my poor soul. At times, I feel quite cut up and cut down with the power and prevalence of these monsters. When entangled and cast down by these sins I have cried to the Lord sometimes for an hour with tears, groans, and sighs to pardon, pity, and deliver. But still the conflict continues; and if for a few days the wild beasts lie a little still they soon wake up as bad as ever. You and friend —, and a few more seem similarly exercised; but none seem so weak against sin, and so madly bent upon backsliding as I. It has done me good sometimes to have known a little of his and your inside. I must have often cut myself off had I found no travelers in the same path. And yet, perhaps, this knowledge of sin and self has enabled us to dig more deeply into men's hearts. At any rate, it seems to have stripped me pretty well of self-righteousness, and natural notional religion, and has made me try to strip others bare too.
I am glad to hear that the Lord should bless my poor labors to any of His children. I feel unworthy of the least of His tender mercies.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
April 26, 1847
My dear friend, Beecher—I was glad to read your experimental letter, as I have many trials and temptations, both as regards myself and the ministry; and a word of encouragement is now and then desirable.
No one can know the mighty power of sin and the horrible love that there is to it in our carnal mind unless he has been beset by some temptation, and that at times night and day.
In this school have I learned to my shame and sorrow what I am as a fallen sinner. No more, our very slips and backslidings are mercifully overruled to show us what we are, to hide pride from our eyes, to make us loathe and abhor ourselves in our own sight, and to make us put our mouth into the dust and say, "I am vile." We have no stone to throw at the vilest and worst, and can feel for and sympathize with the tried and tempted of God's family. The Church said of old, "You have showed Your people hard things; You have made us to drink of the wine of astonishment" (Psalm 60:3, 4). And to know and feel painfully and experimentally what we are is, indeed, a draught of the wine of astonishment.
I am truly glad that what I was enabled to speak at Zoar when you heard me there, was blessed to your soul and made a word in season. It seems that I must travel through temptation in order to preach it; and thus some of the Lord's family derive profit and comfort from my services. May the Lord hold us up under our various trials, temptations, and besetments, for we have abundant proof that we cannot stand without Him. May His precious fear be manifestedly in our hearts as a fountain of life to depart from the snares of death. Grace, grace alone can suit and save such. Nature's strength, wisdom, loveliness, and righteousness, have received their death-blow, and we dare not glory in self any more.
I am glad my little productions have been blessed to your soul.
I am, yours affectionately,
J. C. P.
To the Readers of the "Gospel Standard"
It is with great reluctance that I bring forward any matters relating to myself; and yet to disarm (if possible) enemies, and to afford some explanation to friends, I have thought it best to publish the following correspondence.
It relates to the publication of my portrait—a circumstance most repugnant to my feelings, and a matter to me of unmixed annoyance and regret. J. C. Philpot.
My dear friend—If I may judge by my own feelings, many of your sincere friends will be much grieved at the announcement on the wrapper of the Standard [Gospel Standard, Wrapper, August, 1847. "Expected to be ready the 1st of September, a Portrait of Mr. Philpot, engraved on steel, by Freeman. Proofs, 4s.; prints, 2s."] of the publication of your portrait, as it will tend much to sanction that flesh-pleasing and money-getting system which appears to me so contrary to the simplicity of the gospel. If my view of the subject be correct, ought you not, if you have the power, to prevent the publication? If it is without your consent, and you cannot prevent it, ought you not publicly to avow it? Oh! my friend, these are not times to desire or allow such vain carnal trafficking, more especially in this case, when very many false brethren, and some unfriendly brethren, are doing what they can to vilify you, and render your ministry unacceptable to the people of God. I hope the Lord will enable you to weigh the matter, and to consider whether any possible good (not to say harm) will result, either to yourself or the Lord's people, from your portrait being exposed to the carnal gaze of hundreds. Let not custom sway your judgment. You will possibly think that such a lowly, empty mortal as I am, has taken a great liberty in writing thus to you, and that I am one of those who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel; but I can appeal to a heart-searching God, that, however wrong my judgment in the matter may be, the moving cause in my mind has been a love to you and to the church of God. Hoping you will excuse my writing, and that the Lord will bless all your trials and afflictions to your soul's prosperity, His church's good, and His own glory.
(Name and address withheld by request.)
August 2, 1847
My dear friend—I am obliged to you for your kind and faithful letter. I can assure you that the publication of my likeness is very repugnant to my feelings; but I will just explain the circumstances under which it was done. Last year, when I was in London, an artist, professing to be a child of God, called upon me, and said how much obliged he would be if I would allow him to take my likeness, as he knew several who wished to have it, and he could make copies for them. I at first refused; but being taken somewhat by surprise, and being overcome by his importunity, as he had brought his drawing implements with him, I at last consented. Not a word was said about publishing it; and he now denies that he had such an idea. I certainly would have refused to sit, had such an idea entered my head. I gave him several sittings, for having given him the first sitting, and occupied his time, I felt that I could not now justly draw back. Soon after I reached home, he wrote to me, requesting my permission to publish it. I wrote back a decided refusal. When I came to London this year, he called upon me, stating that Mr. Gadsby had consented to buy the drawing; that he had bestowed much time and labor upon it, which was his bread; that his circumstances were low; that he had a wife and increasing family, and wished to change his residence. I felt there was great force in these arguments; and though they seemed hardly able to overcome my repugnance, still they swayed my mind, which, when he first came into the room, was determined to refuse him. In justice to Mr. Gadsby, I should mention that he would not close the agreement with the artist until my consent was obtained. This consent the artist called on me to procure. I refused it for a considerable time; but at last he so appealed to my feelings, appearing almost distracted at my refusal, that at last—after, I dare say, half-an-hour's resistance—I gave way, and said I would be neutral in the matter. I can assure you that nothing but my compassion for the poor man induced me to give way. But I have been sorry ever since that my feelings were wrought upon contrary to my better judgment.
I derive from the whole transaction nothing but annoyance, as I not only much dislike the circumstance itself, but have all along felt that my enemies would take occasion by it to wound and injure me. I was wrong in the first instance in sitting to the man at all, and one wrong step is almost sure to bring on another, as I have frequently found to my cost. But I had not the remotest idea of publication, or should certainly have refused to sit to him. Yours very sincerely,
J. C. Philpot
This correspondence, but for a mistake at the office, would have appeared last month.
It is right to remark, that I have somewhat enlarged my original letter.
I am happy to say that Mr. Gadsby, in consideration of my repugnance to the publication of my likeness, has consented to waive bringing it out. I never had but one feeling about it as regards myself, nor should I have ever consented to its publication, but from compassion for the artist.
J. C. P.
August 19, 1847
My dear friend, John Grace—I am much obliged to you for your kind and affectionate letter, and for the unpublished letter by Huntington which it contained. It is a very acceptable gift for the Standard, and I will (D.V.) take an early opportunity of getting it inserted.
I feel with you that no man's writings (always excepting our favorite Hart's hymns) seem to possess the savor, unction, and power of Huntington's. I think I may say I scarcely ever take up his writings without some sensible feeling being communicated. I do not mean to say always, or often, deep and lasting; but something that is brought to my conscience, as of God speaking in the man. I might say "Where is the man in England that can write a letter from a real divine experience, such as you have sent me of his?" If there be such a man, I have never yet heard him preach, nor seen his letters. He was, indeed, "beloved of God," and, therefore, "abhorred of men." In divine things I feel myself a fool by his side, and to know nothing as I ought to know. But it is our mercy that the fountain is still the same, and that Jesus says, "If any man thirsts, let him come unto Me and drink." The same blessed Teacher of the Church of God who instructed Huntington is able to instruct us, and make us useful in our day and generation.
This is a poor wretched world, and it will be our mercy to get safely and honorably through it. Trials, temptations, exercises and afflictions we must expect ever to have; and, indeed, without them there is very little going on of a divine and spiritual nature in our own souls, or little profit attending our ministry.
The family of God are, for the most part, a tried and tempted people, and an unexercised minister is to them rather a plague than a profit.
We have both suffered much from the hands of friends. God grant it may prove a blessing to our souls.
I am here for the benefit of my health, which has suffered from too much preaching. My medical advisers recommend perfect rest for a time, and promise restoration with due care. I think I feel, through mercy, somewhat better.
J. C. P.
August 20, 1847My dear friend, Thomas Godwin—I hope I may say I am, through mercy, mending somewhat under the treatment I am passing through here. The doctors give me encouragement to believe that I shall eventually recover; but they say it will be a work of time, and that I must give up all ideas of preaching for a considerable period. I think they consider me in a very critical state, and that I might soon go into a consumption if I go on preaching. They say that my lungs are not diseased, but would soon become so if irritated, and that, if not arrested now, irritation would pass on into disease. I need not say that it will be a trial to me to give up preaching for a time; and no doubt it will be a trial to the people at Oakham and Stamford also. How mysterious are all the Lord's dealings, and how unable are we at the time to fathom them! I have never, I think, yet been in a trial in which I could at the time see the hand of the Lord. When seen, it has been afterwards. My enemies, no doubt, will rejoice and see judgments in it, but I hope the Lord will support me under, bless me in it, and bring me happily out of it.
I am here surrounded by the world, not a child of God to speak to. For nearly twenty years I have not seen so much of worldly people. But, through mercy, I feel at times a different spirit from them, and their presence and conversation, which I am almost obliged to listen to, is a weariness to me. I have a good bedroom fitted up as a sitting-room, and there I mostly pass my time when not walking or at meals. Sometimes I feel as carnal and as godless as any of the poor wretched creatures around me; but the Lord often favors me with a spirit of grace and supplications in my walks and on my bed, and I am often crying to Him, "Bring me near to Yourself," "Keep me from evil," and so on. But patients will stop and speak to me, and my mind often gets carnalized by their conversation, though it generally is upon our bodily ailments. I am not here by choice, and shall be glad to get away.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
October 18, 1847
My dear friend, Thomas Godwin—Knowing that I am poorly, you will not expect a long letter from me. Still I will (D.V.) try and write a few lines.
As regards my health, I am much the same; if anything, perhaps, a little better. But all serious afflictions of the lungs are in themselves so perilous, as well as uncertain, that I cannot say much about my health. My mind much fluctuates upon this point. Sometimes I feel as if my race were run, and at other times I think I may recover. The Lord has brought me through some severe illnesses, and can bring me through this if it be His gracious will. I am very sure I deserve, as well as need, very heavy strokes. Gentle taps are not enough for me; nor, indeed, will heavy stripes do me any good unless in a special manner sanctified and blessed.
At present I can see but two fruits of my affliction—1. Chastisement, and that deeply deserved; and 2. A deliverance thereby from a temptation which has long beset me, and caused me some groans and tears. When I say "a deliverance," I mean in a good measure, for the tail of the torch burns yet. I cannot say much about the dealings of the Lord with me during this illness, as I have felt generally stupid and hard; but the other day my heart was in some measure melted and softened toward the Lord in my walk, which is, you know, a sweet feeling while it lasts, makes all afflictions bearable, takes away the strong heart, fills the eyes with tears, and the heart with tenderness, meekness, patience, resignation and love.
I understand that some of —'s hearers are rejoicing at my illness, and expressing their hopes that my mouth is forever stopped. This is no new thing. Psalm 41:8 has been much in my mind, and I have sometimes breathed forth the cry, "Raise me up that I may requite them," not with anger and evil, but with what will grieve them more, declaring the goodness of the Lord to my soul. But is it not a horrid spirit, and one to be found almost only in professors? Who have slandered and persecuted me most, the world or professors? As a proof, the Stamford Mercury last week, mentioning my illness, spoke of me with kindness and respect; while those who profess so strict an adherence to the precepts of the gospel seem almost as if they thirsted for my blood.
I am glad you felt so at home at Allington. I believe it was mutual, for friend Parry mentioned how well you were heard, and what power and savor there was with the word. I have myself had most peculiar feelings in that pulpit, such as I have rarely had elsewhere, and much resembling what you describe—tender and soft, and a liberty of heart as well as of lip. I felt quite rejoiced there was such a mutual feeling at Allington, as I have a love and union to both, and I have thought sometimes I knew more of each and felt more towards each than they perhaps to one another. I mean more in a way of intimacy and friendship, for you were never brought much together.
Amid all the strife and confusion, what a mercy to feel a little real love and union to any of the Lord's family! I feel convinced that there cannot be this without real soul humility. Pride, self-esteem, and self-righteousness are brothers and sisters with strife, jealousy, and enmity.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
November 5, 1847
My dear friend, Thomas Godwin—I hope I may say I am gradually mending. Still, it is very slow; indeed, scarcely perceptible, and the time of year is against me. The inflammation, I hope, is slowly subsiding, but until that is fully removed I cannot recover strength, nor can I preach without danger of bringing it on again.
It tries my mind to be thus laid aside in many ways. I hope I may one day see more clearly the hand of the Lord in it. My mind just now is very dark and confused, and I can scarcely trace one grain of grace in my soul. But I at times know something of what you say in your letter of crying to the Lord to teach, lead, and guide me, for I am sure no one ever needed it more. Oh, how dark our mind is without His light, and how dead without His life! My religion is reduced to a very small compass, I can assure you, under these feelings.
Poor Dredge made a happy end, and was buried at Allington. My letter was read to him just before he died, and he sent me his dying blessing. . . .
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
November 24, 1847
My dear friend, Thomas Godwin—I was truly sorry to learn that you had been so seriously ill; but at the same time was equally glad to hear you were better. . . . In the autumn of 1822 I had, when a youth at College, a most severe attack of inflammation of the lungs. Indeed, the physician said that few survived so severe an attack; but I soon got round again when the inflammation was subdued. You must expect to be very weak for some time; but I trust, through the Lord's mercy, we shall see you by-and-by in the vineyard again. You have long enjoyed that great blessing health, and will doubtless learn to prize it more than you have yet done.
As to myself, I believe I may say I am better, and feel stronger and healthier. Still the inflammation is not wholly gone, and until that is fully subdued I cannot regain much strength.
I hardly know what to say about my soul. I seem such a strange being. Some days I am so earnest after the Lord, so prayerful and tender and pleading with Him to appear, as if I would and could take no denial. I have lain awake half the night and been pleading with the blessed Majesty of heaven for His sweet visits to my soul; and yet have, perhaps, the next day, for hours together, dropped into such a stupid, careless, insensible state, that I seemed to have no more religion than a horse. Today, for instance, had a person overheard me pleading with the Lord in the Park he might have thought how earnest I was, but this evening it seems as if there were not a desire in my soul after the Lord at all. To be taught, to be kept, to be blessed, to have the veil taken away, to have the Lord come into my soul to take full possession of me, how earnestly do I sometimes plead with the Lord for half an hour together. But it seems to pass away too much like the early cloud and morning dew.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
December 23, 1847
My dear friend, Thomas Godwin—I have been very poorly with the influenza, and, indeed, kept my bed nearly four days. I am now, through mercy, better, but still tender against the cold. . . In my illness I seemed to have little else but the workings of my most miserable self, with little power to read, or pray, or think upon anything spiritual or divine. Oh what a poor, helpless, miserable wretch is man, especially when he has a burden to carry, which he can neither bear patiently, nor cast upon the only Burden-bearer! In these seasons the question with me is, not how much grace I have, but have I one grain? For I am very sure I can neither see nor feel one. Oh how my heart wanders, wanders, wanders from the Lord! and how unable and how unwilling to return! And if for a few moments brought to His feet, how hard, how impossible to keep it there! As Berridge, I think, says, "Just like an eel," how it slips, and twines, and twists away out of one's hands.
I had just a little touch yesterday morning from reading the account of my old favorite Hannah (1 Sam. 1). I could see how long that tried creature mourned over her barrenness, and what a long row of fine children her rival had; and what taunting looks she could aim at poor Hannah, and how the poor barren wife felt it all; and how conscience gave her many a secret lash that her barrenness was a plain proof of the Lord's displeasure. But where did the poor thing go but where you and I, dear friend, for many years have been obliged to go—sometimes driven and sometimes drawn? To the mercy-seat, perhaps in her feelings for the very last time. And we know that she did not go in vain. I was glad her case was recorded in the Word of God; and have not thousands (dead and alive) felt communion with Hannah?
I am sorry to say that my younger sister, Mrs. Watts, is very poorly and in a very precarious state of health. I have great apprehensions about her. What a world of trial and sorrow we live in! I scarcely ever heard of greater grief than she felt at the loss of a child, about three years old, last year. She hardly had her senses for the first month. I fear it has ruined her constitution.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.