Letters of John Berridge, 1716-1793
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To Rev. John Newton,
Oh, what is man! How easily we spy the vanity and inconsistency in another, and how hardly we discern it in ourselves.
The foulest stain, and worst absurdity in our nature, is pride! And yet this vile hedgehog so rolls himself up in his bristly coat, that we can seldom get a sight of his claws.
Pride cleaves to us, like a shirt soaked in tar cleaves to the skin. No sharp ploughing and harrowing will clear the ground of it. This foul weed will be sure to spring up with the next rain!
Pride follows me like my shadow!
This diabolical sin has brought more scourges on my back than everything else! It is of so insinuating a nature, that I know not how to rid myself of it.
I hate it, and love it.
I quarrel with it, and embrace it.
I dread it, and yet allow it to lie in my bosom.
It pleads a right, through the fall, to be a tenant for life. It has such an amazing appetite that it can feed both on grace and garbage! It will be as warm and snug in a monastery, as a brothel—and be as much delighted with a fine prayer, as a foul curse!
Lord, save me! If pride must dwell with me, let it not be a lordly master, but a loathed viper!
Oh, that I could once say unto you, foul pride: "Farewell forever!"
There is no Christian grace—but pride will creep into its bosom, and mix with it as freely as oil with oil.
Nor is Lady Pride ever so delighted as when she becomes intimate with humility, and by soft caresses and kind speeches, encourages the sweet damsel to think highly of herself, even when she looks and talks humbly.
One moment she whispers and tells me that I am a fine fellow—and then I am elated.
By and by, she calls me a fool—and then I am sullen.
I can do no religious act—but pride is skulking at my elbow, and much affecting me both by her smiles and frowns.
This foul pride besieges my heart, besets all my steps, and meets me at every turn.
Pride has more heads than a Hydra! (A mythological serpentine water monster which had many heads. Every time someone would cut off one of them, two more heads would grow out!)
Pride has more shapes than Proteus! (A mythical Greek figure who could assume a different shape at will.)
It is such an odd mysterious evil—that I can even be proud of loathing my pride.
Henceforth if you ask my real name, it is Pride!
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The death of your godly daughter
I received your letter, about the death of your godly daughter — and hope that you will soon learn to bless your Redeemer for snatching her away so speedily. Methinks I see great mercy in the suddenness of her removal; and when your affections have done yearning for her — you will see it too.
O! what is she snatched from? Why, truly, from the plague of an evil heart, a wicked world, and a crafty devil — snatched from all future bitter grief, and from everything which might wound her ear, afflict her eye, or pain her heart!
And what is she snatched to? To a land of everlasting peace, where every inhabitant can say, 'I am no more sick!' No more affliction in the body, no more plague in the heart — but all full of love and full of praise; ever seeing with enraptured eyes, ever blessing with adoring hearts — that dear Lamb who has washed them in His blood, and has now made them kings and priests unto God, forever and ever!
Oh, madam! What would you rather have? Is it not better singing in heaven, 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!' — than crying out on earth, 'O wretched woman that I am!'
Is it not better to have your daughter taken to heaven — than to have your heart divided between Christ and her? If she was a silver idol before — might she not prove to be a golden idol afterwards?
She has gone to the most blessed place, and will see you again by and by — never more to part. Had she crossed the sea and gone to Ireland — you would have born it; but now that she is gone to heaven — should this be difficult for you? Strange love is this!
Such behavior in others would not surprise me — but I could almost chasten you for it. And I am sure your daughter would chasten you too, if she was called back but one moment from the glories of heaven — to gratify your fond desires! I cannot soothe you — and I must not flatter you. I am glad the dear creature has gone to heaven before you. Lament, if you please; but 'Glory, glory, glory be to God!' says John Berridge.
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A letter of John Berridge, to Mr. Edwards on the death of his wife, March 26, 1771
I have been informed of the loss of your dear wife. You once knew she was mortal; but she has now put off mortality, and is become immortal. Can this grieve you? Oh that I was where she now is!
"Safe landed on that peaceful shore
Where pilgrims meet, to part no more."
She was once a mourning sinner in the wilderness; but she is now a glorified saint in Zion! The Lord has become her everlasting light; the days of her mourning are ended.
Does this trouble you?
She was once afflicted with bodily pains and weakness, encompassed with cares, and harassed with a crowd of anxious needless fears! But she has now arrived at her Father's house; and Jesus, dear Jesus, has wiped away all tears from her eyes, and freed her in a moment from all pains, cares, fears, and needs. And shall this trouble you?
You have not lost your wife—she has only left you for a few moments.
She has left an earthly husband to visit a heavenly Father.
She expects your arrival there soon, to join the hallelujah for redeeming love.
Are you still weeping? Shame on you, brother!
Are you weeping, because your wife can weep no more!
Are you weeping, because she is eternally happy!
Are you weeping, because she is joined to that assembly where all are kings and priests!
Are you weeping, because she is daily feasted with heavenly manna, and hourly drinking new wine in her Father's kingdom!
Are you weeping, because she is now where you would be, and long to be eternally!
Are you weeping, because she is singing, and singing sweet anthems to her God and your God!
O shameful weeping!
Jesus has fetched your bride triumphantly home to his kingdom, to draw your soul more ardently thither! He has broken up your cistern, to bring you nearer, and keep you closer to the fountain! He has caused a moment's separation, to divorce your affections from the creature! He has torn a wedding-string from your heart, to set it a bleeding more freely, and panting more vehemently for Jesus.
Hereafter you will see how gracious the Lord has been in calling a beloved wife home, in order to betroth your husband more effectually to Himself.
Remember that the house of mourning befits and befriends a sinner. Remember that sorrow is a safe companion for a pilgrim, who walks much astray until his heart is well-nigh broken.
May all your tears flow in a heavenly channel, and every sigh waft your soul to Jesus! May the God of all consolation comfort you through life, and in death afford you a triumphant entrance into His heavenly kingdom!
So prays your friend and brother in the gospel of Christ,
"Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their Shepherd;
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes!" Revelation 7:16-17
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(The following is an excerpt from a letter of John Berridge to a fellow minister who recently had a bad fall. April 22, 1761)
I received your letter, and dare not say that I am sorry for your fall, nor indeed for any afflictions that God lays on His children; they are tokens of His fatherly love, and needful medicine for us. Rather would I pray that while God keeps you in the furnace, you may be still, and feel your dross and tin being purged away.
The Lord Jesus gives me a dose of this medicine most days; and I am never so well as when I am taking it, though I frequently make a crooked face at it. If your heart is as my heart, it will need many a bitter potion to cleanse and strengthen it! Afflictions have been to me some of my greatest mercies.
No lasting gain do I get, but in a furnace. Comforts of every kind make me either light or lofty, and swell me, though imperceivably, with self-sufficiency. Indeed, so much dross, native and acquired, is found in my heart, that I have constant need of a furnace. Jesus has selected a suitable furnace for me, not a hot and hasty one, which seems likely to harden and consume me, but one with a gentle and lingering heat, which melts my heart gradually, and lets out some of its dross. Though I cannot love a furnace—yet the longer I live, the more I see of its need and its use. A believer seldom walks steadily and brightly, unless he is well-furnaced.
Why do you write to me with so much reverence? Is this befitting language from one sinner to another sinner? Ought the dust of the earth to elevate his kindred ashes? Should a frog croak out a compliment to a toad?
May the Lord water your soul, and your vineyard, and teach you to know nothing, and preach nothing but Jesus Christ!
For His sake, I am your servant,
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In November I gathered strength enough to preach, and through mercy have continued preaching ever since. For the last month I have shared with my neighbors in a bad cold, which has kept me wheezing and coughing, and pulled me down, but not laid me up.
Oh, how needful is the furnace, both to reveal our dross, and to purge it away! How little do we know of ourselves, of the pride, sensuality, and idolatry of our hearts—until the Lord lays us on a bed of suffering, and searches all our inward parts with His candles. My heart, I knew, was bad enough, but I scarcely thought there was half the baseness in it which I find, and yet I know not half its plague!
How sweet is the mercy of God, and how rich is the grace of Jesus—when we have had an awful peep into our hearts! This makes us prize the gospel, embrace the Savior, and fly to his cross! At times I am so overwhelmed with the filth and mire of my nature, that I can scarcely look through it unto Jesus. And when he has put on a little of his eye-salve, and scoured the scales off my eyes—I stand amazed to think that He can touch such a leper! And yet where the sun shines clear for a season, and my dung-hill is covered with snow, I forget my leprosy, or become a leper only in notion. I think it perhaps, but do not feel it, nor am I humbled by it. What a heap of absurd contradiction is man!
After an affliction, I think I can say with David: It is good for me to have been afflicted. I can see and feel some profit attending it. Indeed, I never grow really wiser or better, unless when I am baptized both with the Holy Spirit and with fire. If the Dove comes without a furnace, my heart is soon lifted up; pride steals in, and Heaven's blessed beams turn everything sour within me! We learn nothing truly of ourselves, or of grace, but in a furnace.
The heaviest afflictions on this side of Hell are less, far less than my iniquities have deserved! Oh, boundless grace! The chastening rod of a reconciled Father, might have been the flaming sword of an avenging Judge! I might now have been weeping and wailing with devils and damned spirits in Hell! I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him. It is of His mercy alone, that I am not consumed!
Strong medicine has become needful for the nation!
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The times are awful; and likely to become more so. Rods have been used without effect, and now the scorpions are coming. May their bite awaken us, but not destroy us!
National pride, infidelity, and profligacy are growing very rampant, and will grow from bad to worse unless restrained by heavy judgments.
The worst evil God can bring upon a nation is to say to it, as once He said to Ephraim, "Let him alone!" But if the Lord intends our good, He will chastise us sorely. This is the Bible-road to reformation.
On this account, however formidable His judgments are, I know not whether I should fear them more, or bid them welcome. Strong medicine has become needful for the nation; and however nauseous to the palate, or painful in the operation, it must be deemed a blessing. May the Lord prepare us for the tempest, and prove to be our hiding-place!
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(A consolatory letter to a Christian friend under severe afflictions, by John Berridge)
I grant that your circumstances are very severe and difficult—but let me beg of you not to construe your afflictions as a token of God's displeasure, or a sign of your not belonging to Him. This is an old temptation of Satan's, with which he often assaults the afflicted Christian; but take the shield of faith, that you may quench the fiery darts of Satan!
Alas! Crosses and afflictions are the common lot of the people of God in this poor world. Our Lord has told us, that in this world we shall have many trials and troubles! Every saint has his own particular difficulties, temptations and conflicts to grapple with.
We are too apt to settle on our lees, too apt to be absorbed with the vanities of this passing world. We are now chastened, that hereafter we may not be condemned with the world.
Ah! happy afflictions—which wean us from this wretched, dying world! They are a means to mortify our corruptions; to teach us to live more constantly by faith in Jesus Christ; and to fix all our hopes and expectations on another and better world!
Sanctified afflictions are a thousand times rather to be chosen—than unsanctified prosperity. These may consist with, yes are often the effects of God's special love, "Those whom I love—I rebuke and discipline." Revelation 3:19. God sees that we need afflictions—and He knows that they will work for our good.
God is infinitely wise—and knows what is best for me. God is infinitely gracious—and will be tender of the weakest of His children. God is infinitely sovereign—and may do what He pleases with His own!
The heaviest afflictions on this side of Hell—are less, far less than my iniquities have deserved! Oh, boundless grace! The chastening rod of a reconciled Father, might have been the flaming sword of an avenging Judge! I might now have been weeping and wailing with devils and damned spirits in Hell! I will bear the indignation of the Lord—because I have sinned against Him. It is of His mercy alone, that I am not consumed!
Oh, it is but a little while—and then there will be an eternal end of all your sorrows, fears, trials and disappointments! That heavenly Bridegroom, who has betrothed you to Himself, will, before long, bring you into His eternal kingdom, where you will forget all the storms and tempests, clouds and darkness—in your passage through this wilderness world—and all shall be eternally filled with joy and peace, love and praise!
No troubles or afflictions shall ever assault you in that glorious place—but you shall dwell eternally under the immediate shinings of divine love, and shall sing with the strongest believers, yes with the highest and most glorious archangels in heaven—the wondrous mysteries of redeeming grace! The comforts and blessedness of that state of everlasting rest, will be more brightened and endeared—by all your tears and sighings here below. The remembrance of the gall and wormwood of afflictions, will tend to sweeten the taste of heavenly enjoyments.
I pray that God may be with you—to support and comfort you with the divine consolations of His Holy Spirit, and establish you in His own due time. He is a faithful God—and therefore will not lay upon you more than He will enable you to bear. 1 Corinthians 10:13. If you have less of this world—may you have more of His comfortable presence! Oh, blessed exchange! May you be supported with His everlasting arms—and have Him to sustain and uphold you in every time of need!
Remember your once dying, but now exalted Redeemer. Is the servant greater than his Lord? Shall we not joyfully tread in His steps—that we may at last be where He is? Can, or ought we to repine—if God deals with us as He did with His own well-beloved Son?
May the Lord help you willingly to submit to Him. Doubt not, but that at the appointed time, when He sees it will be for your good and His own glory—that your heavenly Father will bring you out of your affliction. You should rejoice to think that He is carrying on the great work of your eternal salvation, amidst all your troubles and disappointments, and under all your difficult afflictions. Oh, say then, with Job: "Though He slays me—yet will I trust in Him!" Job 13:15. Though I am surrounded with terrors—I will bless Him that I am out of Hell!
Oh that you may be embraced in the arms of everlasting love, and enjoy the comforts of your pardoned state! Let me beg of you, once more, dear sister—not to allow the disappointments and crosses of this world, however sore and trying in themselves—to drive from your mind the frequent and joyful forethought of what free, rich, and sovereign grace has designed for you in the eternal glorious world—and is fitting and preparing you for, every day you live.
Let not the hardships of your journey—make you forget, but rather long for your eternal home. Oh, think on that Heaven which neither sin, nor death, nor hell—shall ever be able to deprive you of; in which you through sovereign grace, shall spend the endless ages of a blessed eternity!
"Do then, Lord, what You please with me—so that I may but die to this world, overcome my corruptions, live more upon Christ, bring more glory to Your name, and have more comfortable tastes and pledges of Your love. May Your will be done!"
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After having been so free already as to disclose to you the secrets of my heart, you will not think it strange if I subjoin a third letter. There is one point more that deserves animadverting upon, and that is notional sins, which I believe are too often overlooked by many professors, or at least very superficially regarded. If it does not amount to an outward act, it is too often passed over with silence; but truly I think there may be a committing adultery in the heart. So the statute law of Heaven runs: it is out of the heart that all evil proceeds; the seeds of it are sown there, and it takes root and grows, blossoms, buds, and brings forth fruit in the soul, and no eye but Omniscience sees it.
How often have notional evils been acted in the heart! The heart has been both the adulterer and adulteress. Sin has been begotten, nursed, and bred up, and acted its part upon the theater of the heart. How often have sinful objects been represented to the imagination by speculation! Do I speak the experience of others, or only my own? The heart can bring forth, dress up, and act the part of anything; and there has been not only an interview, but a fellowship and sinful familiarity.
There has been many a mortal blow given by revenge in the heart. This is speculative murder. There has also been coveting a neighbor's estate, etc.; and what is this but a speculative robbery?
So spiritual pride shows itself in many branches. When I have been enlarged in prayer, how has pride and the devil clapped me on the back and said: Well done! you have been very great to day. How abominable is this, to attribute an enlarged frame, in any respect, to self! How often have I been pleased with flowery words and fluency in prayer, more than spirituality!
Again, how often are worldly objects and creature-comforts been set up in the heart; and have not the affections too frequently bowed down to them?
Or when a near relation, or a beloved prattling child it may be, have been called away by the Superior Owner—how often has the heart whispered, and the tongue been ready to blab out, You have taken away my gods, and what have I more? What is this but speculative idolatry?
How have pride and covetousness worked themselves into a palace! Really, Sir, I am ashamed of these inward masquerades. The heart will turn into any shape. Well may it be said to be deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked!
This is still a black picture; but in a distant prospect. I sometimes hope at the closing hour, when I shall exchange worlds, Jesus will help me to lay hold of every sinful serpent that has long twisted round my soul, and keeps me company all my pilgrimage; and enable me, by the hand of faith, to hold them up, crying out, Behold the heads of traitors, which shall never come to life again! Oh! what a joyful shout shall I give when I shall feel these vermin drop off!
At times I am ready to hope the gloomy territories of the grave are almost ready for me, that I may lay down this body of sin upon the block for everlasting execution. O! when shall these clogs and fetters be knocked off, and the dark and gloomy walks of this valley of tears turned into bright and peaceful realms!
Dear Sir, these have been black letters for your aspiring soul to read; though I do not question but you have found something of these combats yourself, and therefore can pity and sympathize with a poor, weak, wounded, shall I call myself, brother soldier. You have your enemies, I doubt not, and can trample upon them. I congratulate you on your victory (though not yet a complete conquest) through the Captain of your salvation. I would gladly bear a part in shouting salvation, and honor, glory and power to the conquering Savior. He rode triumphantly to glory after he had obtained a complete conquest over sin, death, and Hell—and dragged the monsters at his chariot wheels. He then gave Satan such a blow that he has not recovered since, nor never will.
From hence I fetch all my hope. If ever I am saved, it will be, I am well assured, by mere grace and almighty all-conquering power.
Alas! what has such a depraved, polluted, and corrupted miscreant as I to reckon upon, why mercy and grace should be exerted in my salvation—but free, rich, sovereign grace? This will be the topic of the eternal songs of redeemed souls.
And what, Sir, if such a poor, weak, weather-beaten, tossed, tempted, and almost ship-wrecked vessel as I, should, at last, land safely on the shore of everlasting rest? Surely you would strike up a new song to see me harbor in the heavenly port—if you are there before me. And what, if such a poor, weak, stripling as I, should come off a conqueror; and more than so, over an armada of enemies, from sin, death and Hell? And what, if you should meet me in the peaceful realms above, with my robes washed in the blood of the Lamb, and a palm of victory in my hand? Perhaps you may know me by my scars; but even every one of these will be a set-off to the freeness, sovereignty, and unchangeableness of the love of God; the worth and efficacy of the dear Redeemer's merits; and the power and prevalence of the Almighty and ever blessed Spirit. The theme of my song will be Grace! Grace! if ever I reach the heights of Zion.
I bless the Lord since the first essay I wrote to you, I have found some new recruits from the inexhaustible storehouse; the brave General has got the field, and is keeping off the enemy, and I trust has given a renewed blow to all the confederate troops that are in league against me; and I firmly believe I shall be an overcomer through the blood of the Lamb.
As I have experienced some special advantage from the study of the old man and all his cursed artillery, with the powers of the infernal kingdom, and this world, with all its bewitching sweets—I would earnestly recommend soul-study, wiles-of-the-devil-study, and the snares-of-the-world study to every Christian friend. Commune with your own heart daily; beware of Satan's devices; and be ever on the watch lest you enter into temptation; for though the spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak.
But it may be, dear Sir, while I have been giving you some of the living sorrows of my heart, I have ripped it open (in order to examine the entrails of the soul) with more freedom than you have met with before; but either I have a worse heart than any other, or there are many counterparts in the experience of others. Indeed, I sometimes think I am by myself; and when I get to Heaven I shall be truly a wonder there; I shall be as an eternal monument set up to the honor of divine grace, and the inscription upon me will be this: A black hellish brand plucked from the burning, now made, through rich mercy, a pillar, to stand forever in the temple of God.
Wishing you the prosperous gales of the Divine Spirit, and all success in your sacred work, I am dear Sir, sincerely and repeatedly yours,
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To Rev. Cornelius Winter
Pray frequently, and wait quietly, and the Lord will make your way plain. Jesus trains up all his servants to waiting, and if you are called to the ministry, he will exercise your soul beforehand with sharp conflicts. Joseph must be cast first into a pit by his own brethren, then into a prison by his master, before he rules the kingdom. David must be hunted as a flea upon the mountains, before he gets the scepter.
How can you tell what others feel, unless you have felt the the same yourself? How can you sympathize with a prisoner, unless your own feet have been fast in the stocks? How can you comfort those who are cast down, unless you have been often at your wits end? Expect nothing but conflicts day after day to humble and prove you, and teach you to speak a word in season to one that is weary. This is indeed the high road to the kingdom for all—yet a minister's path is not only narrow and stony like others, but covered also with thorn-bushes; and if you labor to remove them by your own hands, they will quickly tear your flesh and fill your fingers with thorns. Let your Master remove them at your request, and remember it is always his work, as it is ever his delight, to clear our way and lead us on until sin and death are forever trodden down.
Undertake nothing without first seeking direction from the Lord, and when anything offers that is plausible and inviting, beg of God to disappoint you if it is not according to his mind. You cannot safely rely on your own judgment, after God has told you: He who trusts in his own heart is a fool. This advice relates to all important changes in life. Go no where, settle no where, marry no where—without frequent usage of this prayer.
I find your heart is yet looking towards America; this inclines me to think God will some time send you thither; in the mean while be thankful you have a pulpit in England to preach Jesus Christ in, and health to preach him. Be not in a hurry to go, lest you go without your passport, and then you go on a fool's errand. Do not wish to be anywhere but where you are, nor anything but what you are. It is want of communion with God that makes our thoughts run a gadding. Daily beseech the Lord to make your way plain, then leave it to him to direct your steps. Wish not to do good in America next summer, but to do good in England every day you continue here.
I am yours,
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[A letter from Mr. Berridge to a Clergyman, giving a short account of his Life and conversion, etc. In this letter there are some expressions, which he himself, when his knowledge and experience were more matured, would not have used. This is one instance, where he speaks of making progress in sanctincation, before, as he himself acknowledges, he has taken one step in the right road to Heaven. Whereas he soon after knew that real sanctification was only the fruit and effect of union and communion with Christ, the life-giving Head of all true believers.]
Everton, July 3, 1758.
Rev. and Dear Sir,
My desire and intention in this letter, is to inform you what the Lord has lately done for my soul. In order to this, it may be needful to give a little previous information of my manner of life, from my youth up to the present time:
When I was about the age of fourteen, God was pleased to show me that I was a sinner, and that I must be born again before I could enter into his kingdom. Accordingly I betook myself to reading, praying and watching; and was enabled hereby to make some progress in sanctification. In this manner I went on, though not always with the same diligence, until about a year ago. I thought myself in the right way to Heaven, though as yet I was wholly out of the way; and imagining I was traveling towards Zion, though I had never yet set my face thitherwards. Indeed, God would have shown me that I was wrong, by not owning my ministry; but I paid no regard to this for a long time, imputing my lack of success to the naughty hearts of my hearers, and not to my own naughty doctrine.
You may ask, perhaps, what was my doctrine? Why, dear Sir, it was the doctrine that every man will naturally hold while he continues in an unregenerate state, namely, that we are to be justified partly by our faith, and partly by our works. This doctrine I preached for six years, at a curacy, which I served from college; and though I took some extraordinary pains, and pressed sanctification upon the people very earnestly—yet they continued as unsanctified as before, and not one soul was brought to Christ. There was indeed a little more of the form of religion in the parish, but not a whit more of the power.
At length I removed to Everton, where I have lived since. Here again I pressed sanctification and regeneration as vigorously as I could; but finding no success, after two years preaching in this manner, I began to be discouraged, and now some secret misgiving arose in my mind, that I was not right myself. (This happened about Christmas last.) Those misgivings grew stronger, and at last very painful. Being then under great doubts, I cried unto the Lord very earnestly, "Lord, if I am right, keep me so; if I am not right, make me so. Lead me to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus."
After about ten days crying unto the Lord, he was pleased to return an answer to my prayers, and in the following wonderful manner: As I was sitting in my house one morning, and musing upon a text of Scripture, the following words were darted into my mind with wonderful power, and seemed indeed like a voice from Heaven, namely, "Cease from your own works!" Before I heard these words, my mind was in a very unusual calm; but as soon as I heard them, my soul was in a tempest directly, and tears flowed from my eyes like a torrent. The scales fell from my eyes immediately, and I now clearly saw the rock I had been splitting on for near thirty years.
Do you ask what this rock was? Why, it was some secret reliance on my own works for salvation. I had hoped to be saved partly in my own name, and partly in Christ's name; though I am told there is salvation in no other name, except in the name of Jesus Christ: Acts 4.12. I had hoped to be saved partly through my own works, and partly through Christ's mercies; though I am told we are saved by grace through faith, and not of works: Ephesians 2.7, 8. I had hoped to make myself acceptable to God partly through my own good works, though we are told that we are accepted through the beloved: Ephesians 1.6. I had hoped to make my peace with God partly through my own obedience to the law, though I am told that peace is only to be had by faith: Romans 5.1. I had hoped to make myself a child of God by sanctification, though we are told that we are made children of God by faith in Christ Jesus: Galatians 3.26. I had thought that regeneration, the new birth, or new creature, consisted in sanctification, but now I know it consists in faith: 1 John 5.1. Compare also these two passages together, Galatians 6.15, and Galatians 5.6, where you will find that the new creature is faith working by love: the apostle adds these words, working by love, in order to distinguish a living faith from a dead one.
I had thought that sanctification was the way to justification, but now I am assured that sanctification follows after justification; or in other words, that we must first be justified by faith, before we can have any true sanctification by the Spirit. When we are justified, it is done freely, and graciously, without any the least merits of ours, and solely by the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, Romans 3.24-28.
All that is previously needful to justification is this, that we are convinced, by the Spirit of God, of our own utter sinfulness, Isaiah 64.6. convinced that we are the children of wrath by nature, on account of our birth-sin, Ephesians 2.3 and that we are under the curse of God, on account of actual sin, Galatians 3.10. And under these convictions come to the Lord Jesus Christ, renouncing all righteousness of our own, and relying solely on him, who is appointed to be the Lord our righteousness, Jeremiah 23.6.
Again, Christ says: Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden (with the burden of sin) and I will give you rest; that is, I will take the burden away; I will release you from the guilt of sin. Where you may observe that the only thing required of us when we come to Christ, is to come burdened, and sensible that none can remove this burden but Christ.
Again, Christ did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. See also Luke 4.18. Hear how he cries out in Isaiah, Ho, every one that thirsts, come to the waters and drink; come, buy wine and milk (That is, the blessings of the gospel) without money and without price. Where we are ordered to bring no money—that is, no merits of our own; we must not think to make a purchase of these blessings by any deserts of ours. They are offered freely—that is, graciously, and must be received freely. Nothing more is required from us, but to thirst after them.
Why was the Pharisee rejected? Luke 18.10, etc. because he came pleading his own works before God. He was devout, just, and chaste; and thanked God for enabling him to be so. But then he had some reliance on these works, and therefore pleads the merits of them before God. Which showed that he did not know what a sinner he was, and that he could only be saved by grace, through faith. He opens his mouth before God, and pleads his own cause; though God declares that every mouth shall be stopped before him, and the whole world brought in guilty before God, Romans 3.19.
And why was the publican justified? Not on account of his own good works, but because he was sensible of his evil ones; and accordingly came self-accused, self-condemned, and crying out only for mercy.
And now, dear Sir, hear what is the rise and progress of true religion in the soul of man. When the Spirit of God has convinced any person that he is a child of wrath, and under the curse of God (in which state everyone continues to be, until he has received Jesus Christ into his heart by faith,) then the heart of such a one becomes broken for sin; then, too, he feels what he never knew before, that he has no faith, and accordingly laments his evil heart of unbelief. In this state men continue, some longer, some a less time—until God is pleased to work faith in them. Then they are justified, and are at peace with God: Romans 5.1. That is, have their sins forgiven them, for that is the meaning of the word peace. See Luke 7.48-50.
When we have received faith from God (for it is his gift, Ephesians 2.8,) to justify our persons, then we afterwards receive the Spirit to sanctify our natures, Ephesians 1.13. Galatians 3.14. And now the work of sanctification goes forward; now his fruit is more and more unto holiness; now the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit, Romans 5.5. Now he walks in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, Acts 9.13. Now he is filled with joy and peace in believing; Romans 15.13. Now he rejoices with joy unspeakable, and full of glory, 1 Peter 1.8. And now he has the Spirit of God bearing witness with his own spirit that he is a child of God, Romans 8.16, 1 John 5.10.
These are things that I was an utter stranger to before, notwithstanding all my reading, watching, and praying; and these are things that everyone must be a stranger to, until he is made a child of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
But to proceed; though a believer is continually more and more sanctified in body, soul, and spirit—yet his hopes of Heaven are not built on his sanctification, but on his faith in Christ; he knows that he is only complete in Christ, Colossians 2.10. And that the moment he seeks to be justified by his own obedience to Gods law, that moment he falls from Christ, and ceases to have an interest in Christ, Galatians 5.4.
Accordingly, though he labors to abound in all the fruits of righteousness; yet, like Paul, he desires to be found only in Christ, not having, that is, not relying on his own righteousness, but on the righteousness of God by faith, Philippians 3.8, 9.
And now let me point out to you the grand delusion which would have ruined my soul. I saw very early something of the unholiness of my nature, and the necessity of being born again. Accordingly I watched, prayed, and fasted too, thinking to purify my heart by these means, whereas it can only be purified by faith, Acts 15.9. Watching, praying, and fasting, are necessary duties, but I, like many others, placed some secret reliances on them, thinking they were to do that for me, in part at least, which Christ only could.
The truth is, though I saw myself to be a sinner, and a great sinner—yet I did not see myself to be an utterly lost sinner, and therefore I could not come to Jesus Christ alone to save me; I despised the doctrine of justification by faith alone, looking on it as a foolish and dangerous doctrine; I was not yet stripped of all my righteousness, could not consider it as filthy rags, and therefore I went about to establish a righteousness of my own, and did not submit to the righteousness of God by faith, Romans 10.3. I did not seek after righteousness through faith, but as it were by the works of the law. Thus I stumbled and fell, Romans 9.31, 32.
In short, to use a homely similitude, I put the justice of God into one scale, and as many good works of my own as I could into the other; and when I found, as I always did, my own good works not to be a balance to the divine justice—I then threw in Christ as a make-weight. And this every one really does, who hopes for salvation partly by doing what he can for himself, and relying on Christ for the rest.
But, dear Sir, Christ will either be a whole Savior—or none at all. And if you think you have any good service of your own to recommend you unto God, you are certainly without any saving interest in Christ—be you ever so sober, serious, just and devout, you are still under the curse of God, as I was, and knew it not, provided you have any allowed reliance on your own works, and think they are to do something for you, and Christ to do the rest.
I now proceed to acquaint you with the success I have lately had in my ministry. As soon as God had opened my own eyes, and showed me the true way to salvation, I began immediately to preach it. And now I dealt with my hearers in a very different manner from what I had used to do.
I told them very plainly, that they were children of wrath, and under the curse of God, though they knew it not; and that none but Jesus Christ could deliver them from that curse! I asked them, if they had ever broken the law of God once in thought, word, or deed? If they had, they were then under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one who continues not in all the things that are written in the book of the law to do them. And again: He who keeps the whole law, and yet offends in one point, is guilty of all.
If, indeed, we could keep the whole law, without offending in one point; if we had done, and continue to do, all the things in God's law—then, indeed, we might lay claim to eternal life on the score of our own works. But who is sufficient for these things?
If we break God's law, we immediately fall under the curse of it—and none can deliver us from this curse but Jesus Christ. There is an end, forever after, of any justification from our own works. No future good behavior can make any atonement for past sins. If I keep all God's laws to day this is no amends for breaking them yesterday. If I behave peaceably to my neighbor this day, it is no satisfaction for having broken his head yesterday. If, therefore, I am once under the curse of God, for having broken God's law, I can never after do anything, of myself, to deliver myself from this curse. I may then cry out: O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin? And find none able to deliver, but Jesus Christ, Romans 7.23-25.
So that if I am once a sinner, nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse me from sin. All my hopes are then in him; and I must fly to him as the only refuge set before me.
In this manner, dear Sir, I preached, and do preach, to my flock, laboring to beat down self-righteousness; laboring to show them that they were all in a lost and perishing state, and that nothing could recover them out of this state, and make them children of God, but faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And now see the consequence, this was strange doctrine to my hearers. They were surprised, alarmed, and vexed. The old man, the carnal nature, was stirred up, and railed, and opposed the truth. However, the minds of most were seized with some convictions, and the hearts of some were truly broken for sin, so that they came to me as those mentioned in the book of Acts, thoroughly pricked to the heart, and crying out with strong and bitter cries: What must we do to be saved?
I then laid the promises before them, and told them, if they found themselves under the curse, that Christ was ready to deliver them from it; if they were really weary and heavy laden, Christ would give them rest; if their hearts were broken for sin, and they would look unto Christ, he would heal them. I exhorted them also to thank God for these convictions, assuring them it was a token of good to their souls. For God must first smite the heart, before he can heal it, Isaiah 19.21.
I generally found that they received comfort from the promises; and though they complained much of the burden of sin, and of an evil heart of unbelief—yet they always went away refreshed and comforted. Many have come to me in this manner, and more are continually coming; and though some fall off from their first convictions—yet others cleave steadfastly unto the Lord. They begin to rejoice in him, and to love him; they love his word, and meditate much upon it; they exercise themselves in prayer, and adorn their profession by a suitable life and conduct.
And now let me make one reflection, I preached up sanctification (by the works of the law he means) very earnestly for six years in a former parish, and never brought one soul to Chris! I did the same at this parish for two years, without any success at all. But as soon as ever I preached Jesus Christ, and faith in his sin-atoning blood, then believers were added to the church continually, then people flocked from all parts to hear the glorious sound of the gospel, some coming six miles, others eight, and others ten, and that constantly.
And now let me ask: What is the reason why my ministry was not blessed, when I preached up salvation partly by faith, and partly by works? It is because this doctrine is not of God; and God will prosper no ministers but such as preach salvation in his own appointed way—namely, by faith in Jesus Christ.
Let me now apply myself to your own heart, and may God dispose you to receive my words in the spirit of meekness. Indeed, Sir, I love and respect you, else I could not have written to you so freely. Are you then in the same error that I was in for nearly forty years, namely, that you must be saved partly by faith and partly by works? And have you constantly preached this doctrine? Then you may be certainly assured of these two things:
First, That you never yet brought one soul to Christ by your ministry.
And, secondly, That you are not yet in the way to salvation yourself.
Oh! be not displeased with me for telling you the truth.
But you will say, perhaps, that you have not only been sincere, but ever zealous in preaching the word of God. So was I; but there is a zeal which is not according to knowledge; and that zeal I had, though I knew it not. You may say farther, that you have read and prayed much. So have I; but still I knew nothing, as I ought to know, until God was pleased to show me that I was blind, and then I cried heartily to him for light and direction, and he opened my eyes, John 9.39.
Dear Sir, will you attend to the following advice, it is very safe advice, be the state of your soul what it will. Pray to God to lead you into the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. Beseech God to keep you in the truth, if you have received it; or if you are in error, to reveal it unto you. If you will do this heartily and constantly, God will not allow you to abide long in darkness, if, indeed, you are in darkness, James 1.5.
I now proceed to give you some further account of myself, and of the impediments which kept me from the truth. When I first came to the University, I applied myself diligently to my studies, thinking human learning to be a necessary qualification for a minister, and that no one ought to preach unless he had taken a degree in the University. Accordingly I studied the classics, mathematics, philosophy, logic, metaphysics, and read the works of our most eminent divines—and this I did for twenty years; and all the while was departing more and more from the truth as it is in Jesus; vainly hoping to receive that light and instruction from human wisdom, which could only be had from the word of God and prayer.
During this time I was thought a Methodist by some people, because I was a little more grave, and took a little more pains in my ministry than some others of my brethren. But, in truth, I was no Methodist at all, for I had no sort of acquaintance with them, and could not abide their fundamental doctrines of justification by faith. I thought it high presumption in any to preach, unless they had taken holy orders. But when God was pleased to open my eyes, about half a year ago, he showed and taught me other things. Now I saw that nothing had kept me so much from the truth, as a desire for human wisdom. Now I perceived, that it was difficult for a wise or learned man to be saved, as it was for a rich man or a nobleman, 1 Corinthians 1.26. Now I saw that God chose the foolish things of this world, to confound the wise, for two plain reasons:
First, That no flesh should glory in his presence, 1 Corinthians 1.29.
Secondly, That faith did not stand, or was not produced, by the wisdom of man, but in the power of God, 1 Corinthians 2.5.
Now I discerned, That no one could understand the word of God, but by the Spirit of God, 1 Corinthians 2.12. Now I saw that every believer was anointed by the Holy Spirit, and thereby led to the knowledge of all needful truths, 1 John 2.20; and, of course, that every true believer was qualified to preach the gospel, provided he had the gift of utterance. Now I saw that the Methodist's doctrine of justification by faith, was the very doctrine of the gospel! I did no longer wondered at the success which those preachers met with, whether they were clergymen or laymen. They preached Christ's doctrine, and Christ owned it; so that many were added to the faith daily.
But you will say, perhaps, that these Methodists are schismatics. Let us therefore examine the matter. A schismatic is one that dissents and divides an established church; at least this is the general notion of a schismatic.
Now, I ask, What do you mean by a church; or what is it that makes one church differ from another? It is the doctrine. The church of England differs from the church of Rome, not by its steeples, bells, or vestments, but by its doctrines.
Schism, therefore, consists in departing from the doctrines of a church, and not from the walls of a church. In the time of Stirbitch fair, one sermon is always preached in the open field to the people at the fair, and preached by some Fellow of a College, or Clergyman at Cambridge. Now, I ask, would you call this Clergyman a schismatic? No, surely, and yet he preaches in the open fields, and upon unconsecrated ground.
It is plain, then, that schism does not consist in preaching out of the walls of a church, but preaching contrary to doctrines of the church.
Now, dear Sir, let me lay open my sin and my shame unto you. I solemnly subscribed to the articles of our church; and gave my hearty assent and consent to them. Among the rest, I declared, that, we are accounted righteous before God, only for the merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works and deservings, and that we are justified by faith alone—as it is expressed in the eleventh article. But though I solemnly subscribed this article, I neither believed nor preached it; but preached salvation partly by faith and partly by works.
And oh, what dreadful hypocrisy, what shameful prevarication was this! I called and thought myself a Churchman, though I was really a Dissenter and a schismatic—for I was undermining the fundamental doctrine of our church, and the fundamental doctrine of the gospel, namely justification by faith alone, and yet, dreadful as my case was, I fear it is the case of most of the clergy in England. Scarcely anything is preached but justification by faith and works.
And what is the consequence? Why, there is scarcely any true religion among us, the gospel of Christ is not truly preached by us, and Christ will not own our ministry. Look around the parishes which are near you, and see whether you can find anything besides the form of religion, and not much of that. Nay, among those who are thought religious people; who are sober, serious, just and devout; who read, and fast, and pray, and give alms; among those you will scarcely find one who knows any thing of the power of religion, and has experimental knowledge of it. For if you ask such people, in the very words of scripture:
Whether they know that Jesus Christ is in them, otherwise they are reprobates, 2 Corinthians 13.5.
Whether Christ dwells in their hearts by faith, Ephesians 3.17.
Whether their sins are forgiven for Christ's name sake, 1 John 2.12.
Whether they have received an unction from the holy one 1 John 2.20.
Whether the love of God has been shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, Romans 5.5.
Whether they are filled Math joy and peace in believing, Romans 15.13.
Whether they walk in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and ever rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, Acts, 9.31, 1 Peter 1.8.
Whether the Holy Spirit bears witness with their own spirit that they are the children of God, Romans 8.14-16.
If, I say, you ask the better sort among us, whether they have any experience of these matters—they would stare at you with the utmost amazement, and would think you an enthusiast, if they did not call you so!
Now such people who have all the form, but none of the power of religion; who are outwardly reformed, but not inwardly renewed by the Holy Spirit. These are what our Savior called whited sepulchers, beautiful without, but full of rottenness within. They are striving to enter into the kingdom of Heaven, but are not able because they do not strive lawfully. For they do not seek to enter in through Jesus Christ, but partly through Christ, and partly through themselves; partly by faith, and partly by works. These are the almost but not altogether Christians.
If at any time it happens, that some among us are seized with deep conviction, and are made sensible of their utter need of Christ, and that they can only be justified by faith in his blood; these people not finding proper food for their souls in our churches, are obliged to go elsewhere, and seek it where they can find it. It is no wonder, therefore, that there are so few real Christians among us!
If you read over the homilies of the church, if you read over the fathers of the church, if you read the works of the good old Bishops that were published a hundred years ago—you will there find the gospel of Christ preached, and the true doctrine of our church. But since that time, I mean in the last century, our clergy have been gradually departing more and more from our doctrines, articles, and homilies; so that at length there was scarcely a Clergyman to be found, but who preached contrary to the articles he subscribed. And almost all the sermons that have been published in the last century, both by Bishops and Curates, are full of that soul-destroying doctrine—that we are to be justified partly by our own works, and partly by Christ's merits.
Do you ask how all the clergy came to fall into this pernicious doctrine? I answer, very easily. Every man, while he continues under the power of the carnal mind, and is not awakened to see his utter lost condition—is naturally disposed to embrace this doctrine. For not being convinced by the Spirit of God, that all his righteousness is as filthy rags, Isaiah 64.6. and that he is without help and strength in himself, Romans 5.6. I say, not being convinced of this, he naturally goes about to establish some righteousness of his own, and cannot submit to the righteousness of God by faith.
Not being yet sensible of his utter lost and helpless state, he must have some reliance on himself—and thus, instead of looking wholly to Jesus Christ for salvation, he looks partly to Christ, and partly to himself: instead of seeking for righteousness and strength from the Lord Jesus Christ, he seeks for it partly from Christ, and partly from himself. Instead of seeking to be justified in the Lord, he seeks after justification partly through the Lord, and partly through himself. But see what Christ says of this matter, Isaiah 45.22-25.
And now let me ask how the whole Church of Rome happened to depart from the simplicity of the gospel, and to fall into this doctrine of works and faith which we now preach? It was owing to the depraved nature of man, which makes him think himself to be something, and that he can do something—though he is nothing, and can do nothing to justify himself in God's sight.
At the Reformation, our church returned again to Jesus Christ, and placed justification on the gospel footing of faith alone. And so it continues to this day: but though our articles and homilies continue sound and evangelical—yet our clergy have departed once more from both, and are advancing to Rome again with hasty strides; preaching, in spite of articles and subscription, that most pernicious, papistical, and damnable doctrine of justification by faith and works. Which doctrine, I am truly assured, no one can hold, and be in a state of salvation.
But I trust God is once more visiting, in mercy, our poor distressed church. He raised up Mr. Whitfield and Mr. Wesley about twenty years ago, who have courageously and successfully preached up the doctrine of our church. And he is now raising up more and more clergymen. At last Christmas, I was informed, there were forty clergymen who were brought to the acknowledgment of the truth; and three more have been added to the faith within the last six weeks. And oh! forever adored be the mercy of God in opening my eyes and leading me to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus.
I have sent you a couple of books, and a pamphlet, and I make you a present of them. Read them over carefully; and before you begin to read at any time, always look up to the fountain of wisdom for light and direction. For if you rely on your own abilities, or other men's labors, God may keep you ignorant of his glorious gospel, as a punishment for your presumption and neglect of him.
When I sat down to write, I did not intend to have filled more than half a sheet, but when I took my pen in hand, I knew not how to lay it aside. I have written my sentiments with great freedom, and, I hope, without offence. May God give a blessing to what I have written. May he enlighten your eyes, as he has done mine, adored be his name. May he lead you by his Spirit to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, and make you instrumental in bringing souls from darkness into light, and translating them out of the kingdom of Satan into the glorious kingdom of his dear Son. Amen, Amen.
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To Lady Margaret Ingham
Everton, Jan. 28, 1766
Last Thursday I received a cheque value fifteen pounds, conveyed by Mr. Romaine, but presented by your Ladyship, which is now converted into cloth for the use of lay preachers; and for this donation I now send you my hearty thanks. The Lord has promised to return it with a hundred fold into your bosom, and I believe you can trust him.
I wish you had sent along with your cheque, a few minutes of your life of faith, and then you might have taught me while you were clothing others. For, indeed, I am one of those strange folk, who set up for journeymen without knowing their Master's business, and offer many precious wares to sell without understanding their full value.
I have got a master too, a most extraordinary person, whom I am supposed to be well acquainted with, because he employs me as a riding peddler to serve near fourteen shops in the country, besides my own parish; yet I know much less of my master than I do of his wares. Often is my tongue describing him as the fairest of men—while my heart is painting him as the Witch of Endor. Many big words have I spoken to his credit; yes, and frequently beseeching people to trust him with their all, while my own heart has been afraid to trust him with a groat. Neither, Madam, is this all. Such a profound ignoramus am I, that I know nothing of myself as I ought to know, having frequently mistaken my sheer pride for deep humility; and the working of self-love for the love of Jesus.
When my master first hired me into his service, he kept a noble table, and scarcely a day passed without sumptuous roast meat; then my heart said, I love Jesus, and was ready to boast of it too; but at length he ordered his table to be spread with only bread from above and water out of the rock. This my saucy stomach could not brook; my heart thought it prisoner's fare, and my tongue called it light food.
Now my love for Jesus disappeared, and I found I had yet been following him only for his fish and loaves, and that, like a true parasite, I loved his provisions better than his person.
Presently after my Master detected me in a very dirty trick, which revealed the huge pride and amazing impudence of my heart. Hitherto I had been kept a stranger to the livery which my Master gives his servants to wear, only I knew he had many rarities, such as diamonds and pearls in plenty to dispose of; accordingly I had begged a bracelet of him, a necklace, an earring, and many other pretty things, which he readily parted with, being of a generous and noble nature. And will it not amaze you to hear? I had the vanity to fix these ornaments on my old rags, intending thereby to make up a brisk suit to appear at court in.
Well to be sure, one day while I was busy mending my rags, and pasting on my pearls, in comes the Master, and giving me a sudden wrench which went to my very heart, he said in an angry tone, 'Knave, follow me.' I arose and followed trembling while he led me to the house of correction, where having first made my feet fast in the stocks, and stripped off my ornaments, he then took up his nine-tailed rod, and laid it upon me very stoutly. I roared for mercy, but he declared he would not lay aside his rod until he had scourged every rag off my back. And indeed, Madam, he was as good as his word.
Think then how confounded I must be to stand before my master naked, and especially when I now first saw myself a Zipporah with an Ethiopian skin, which the rags had concealed from me before. For awhile I kept upon my legs—yet overwhelmed with shame, until at length being choked also with the dust and stench that came out of the rags in the beating, I fell down at my Master's feet, and wept.
Immediately the rod dropped from his hand, his countenance softened, and with a sweet voice he bid me look up. I did so, and then got the first sight of his priestly robe, the garment of salvation. O, Madam, it was a lovely sight! A charming robe reaching from the shoulders down to the feet, well adapted for covering and defense; yes, excellent for beauty, and for glory also!
Here, prodigal John, said he with a smile, put this robe on your back, and then you may come to court, and shame an angel; it was wrought with my own hand, and dyed with my own blood; wear it and remember me.
I thanked him and bowed. But I must tell you, Madam, although I do not ask you to be a confidant—when my Master opened his robe he gave me a hasty glance of his person; it was so divinely sweet and glorious, and withal so condescendingly humane, that I felt quite in love with him.
And now, would you think it of me, old fool as I am, near fifty, and swarthy as a Negro, nothing will content me but a wedding; nay, I have frequently proposed the match to my Master, who sometimes only gives me a smile, and sometimes replies, when I can forsake all others then he will take me.
The other day when I asked him, when he would take me to his bosom, he answered, when I could lie at his feet; and then he promised also to set open his table again, and to keep it open. Thus I am removed out of the book of Proverbs into the book of Canticles; but am got no further than the first chapter, and the beginning of the second verse: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, etc.
I now want, or seem to want nothing else but a closer union with the dear Redeemer. The world at times diverts my attention from this chief object, but my soul is ever pining after him; yes, my heart and my flesh cry out after this living God. O come quickly.
May the Lord daily strengthen your union, and thus increase your communion with the Prince of peace. I send my kind and brotherly love to Mr. Ingham, and am, Madam, your Ladyship's much obliged and affectionate servant, for Christ's sake,
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To the Rev. John Newton
Everton, March 13, 1771.
I have no prospect of going abroad at present, for though my flesh has re-visited my bones, my chest and stomach remain weak, and my body is tender.
I like your ecclesiastical history much; but am rather sorry you have undertaken to carry it through; sorry for your sake, not the readers. I fear it will chill your spirit and deaden your soul. Much writing is pernicious. Besides, you must read over many dry and barren histories; you must bring to light many controversies, foolish or noxious, which had better lie buried fifty fathoms deep; and from the 4th century to the reformation you must be rooting in kennels continually. However, study to be concise.
I have enclosed half a guinea in the letter for the sermons and history; present my Christian respects to Mrs. Newton, and to such of your flock as know me. The Lord bless both the shepherd and the sheep, enriching all your souls with active faith, fervent love, and deep humility.
And may dear Jesus bless poor
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To the Rev. John Newton.
Everton, June 10, 1771.
I could not omit this opportunity of testifying the sincerity of my love and esteem for you, which, like other good fruits, are growing riper with age. Though I write but seldom to you; for writing almost overwhelms me—yet I frequently converse with you, and receive instruction from you. I have read over your sermons and history twice, and am now perusing them a third time without weariness.
When the warm weather first set in, I began to sink apace, and was apprehensive that I would soon be laid aside, but through mercy I am somewhat braced up again, and again enabled yet to do whole duty on the Sabbath. I can bear very little exercise in walking or riding, and a gentle hurry overturns me, but I can still bear quiet company, and am refreshed by it. I hope a gale of grace is now blowing my furnace, and purging out some of my dross. I see clearly the utter need I stood in of rods and scorpions, and can thankfully say, it is good for me to have been afflicted. By a token received I expect to be kept an invalid two summers more. Well, I am out of Hell; and it is a mercy to be on mercy's ground, and under the correction of a merciful Jesus.
Dear Lord, let every stroke of your rod be received with meekness, and convey heavenly instruction to my heart. We know but little of ourselves, and gain but little of gospel-broken heart, until we have been emptied from vessel to vessel, or fried like a cake in a pan, and turned a hundred times over.
Your first sermons are good, but there is no comparison between the first and the second publication. It is pleasant to behold the improvements of a Christian. May your heart keep pace with your understanding. I find a great difference has arisen between two old clerical friends, who have been long connected. A quarrel must be bad in either, but the separation may be good for both. May Jesus water your soul, and water your flock, and water all the dry grounds belonging to you.
P.S. Kind respects to Mrs. Newton and all friends.
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To John Thornton
Everton, April 3, 1773
Dear Sir, you have much business on your hands, and will need much prayer, beside family worship, to keep the world at your feet, and God in your heart. Where many irons are in the fire, a live coal had need be in the heart continually; else while we are waiting on other vineyards, we may impoverish our own spirits.
Mr. Cowper's hymn needs no advocate to plead its cause; it speaks sufficiently for itself. But the poor author cannot take the comfort of his own hymn, being now in much deplorable distress. How dark and feeble is a Christian's understanding without the light and comfort of God's Holy Spirit!
I find you walk much; and I hope you can wear your shoes out praying, as well as walking. Praying walks are healthful walks indeed: they fetch down corruption as well as carcass. I wish you right Christian cheer every day, a gentle cup of tribulation, and a full cup of supplication, sweetened with divine communion. The good-will of him that dwelt in the bush, dwell with you and yours,
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To John Thornton
Everton, Aug. 18, 1773.
Dear and honored Sir,
I have just received your Golden Treasury by the hands of my dear brother of Yelling, and thank you kindly for the pretty little valuable present. It is much improved in its present dress; the Lord bless the book and the Editor.
In May I began to itinerate, after a five year's discontinuance through illness, and kept on, though with much feebleness, for two months, when I was seized with a smart attack of my old illness. I am now, as the world account, a miserable man, but lying at Jesus' gate; and am reduced to a mere Sunday preacher. May the Lord be praised, that I am not wholly laid aside.
What a store of corruption is lodged in the human heart! Every stripe I receive, my Master's word tells me, I have procured for myself. Lord, I own it; sanctify the rod, and make the furnace purge away my dross.
I trust the Lord has taught me to hate sin, and to hunger after righteousness; yet I am often seeking after holiness in such a manner, as stiffens my heart, brings a dry and lean soul, and makes my eyes lose the sight of Christ's salvation. This convinces me, that there is a mystery in the manner of obtaining sanctification that we are not soon acquainted with: we are apt to consider sanctification as a separate work from justification, following after it, and wholly independent of it; whereas they seem to be connected works, and inseparable from each other, one resulting from the other.
The clearer sight we get of Christ, and the sweeter views we have of our adoption, the more our hearts are filled with love, joy, peace, and all the fruits of the spirit, which is sanctification. When Jesus gives a clearer view of his dying love, he always accompanies that view with the graces of the Spirit. The heart is filled at the same time with pardon and holiness, with justification and sanctification. So that if we desire to be holy, we must seek to be happy in the Savior's love, must seek a clear evidence of our adoption, and labor to keep it clear. As our views of Christ are more cloudy and discouraging, our bosoms will be more barren of heavenly tempers.
A man may be constitutionally meek as the lamb, constitutionally kind as the spaniel, constitutionally cheerful as, the lark, and constitutionally modest as the owl—but these are not sanctification. No sweet, humble, heavenly tempers, no sanctifying graces are found but from the cross. Jesus says, He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has (or possesses) eternal life. Where he shows how eternal life (which must comprise the whole of spiritual life) is obtained, namely, by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. That is, by feeding on his atonement. Thus all divine life, and all the precious fruits of it, pardon, peace and holiness, spring from the cross.
And is not this intimated by John, when he says, One of the soldiers pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. They did not follow one another, but came out together; the blood betokening pardon, the water sanctification. Carnal men make the water come out first, and the blood follow; they seek a little obedience first, and then hope to have the benefit of the blood. Professors often make the blood come first, and the water follow. That is, seek first to be justified, and then to be sanctified.
But experienced Christians make the blood and water flow together: get holiness by clear views of the cross, and find eternal life by feeding on the Savior's flesh and blood.
Was not a lamb sacrificed every morning and evening in the Jewish temple? And was not this intended to show us, that we must feed on Christ's atonement every day, and derive all our life, the life of peace and holiness from his death?
Upright people are often coming to me with complaints, and telling me that since they received pardon, and have been seeking after sanctification (as a separate work) their hearts are become exceeding dry and barren. I ask them, how they find their heart when Jesus shows his dying love. They tell me, full of peace and love and every heavenly temper. Then I answer, Jesus hereby shows you that holiness as well as pardon is to be had from the blood of the cross. Labor therefore to get your conscience sprinkled every day with the atoning blood, and sanctification will ensue of course; the blood and water flow together.
When Jesus only gives a smile, and seals some promise on the heart, though it be not the seal of pardon, it occasions a sweet transforming change in the soul. And all imagined sanctification, which does not arise wholly from the blood of the cross, is nothing better than Phariseeism; and if persisted in, will end in Pharisaism. For when sanctification is considered as a separate work from justification, and wholly independent of it, by and by it is considered as a justifying work itself; and men profess and preach they are first to be justified by the blood of Christ, and then by their own obedience.
O, dear Sir, if we would be holy, we must get to the cross, and dwell there; else notwithstanding all our labor and diligence, and fasting and praying, and good works—we shall be yet void of real sanctification, destitute of those humble, sweet and gracious tempers, which accompany a clear view of the cross.
But mere doctrinal knowledge will not give us this view; it only proceeds from a lively faith wrought in us by the Prince of life. A legal spirit helps forward our mistake in the matter of sanctification. We would gladly divide the water from the blood, gladly would separate sanctification from justification, that we may make a merit of it. Whereas if they are inseparably connected, and both pardon and holiness spring from the blood of the cross, the root of merit is dug up thereby, and Christ is all in all!
Another thing confirms our mistake, which is, that all heavenly graces are called fruits of the Spirit. Hence we conclude, that pardon must spring peculiarly from the blood of the cross, and holiness be a separate work of the Spirit. But though all gracious tempers are the Spirit's fruits—yet that fruit is bestowed at the foot of the cross; eternal life is found at Calvary by eating the Savior's flesh and drinking his blood.
In my pamphlet I wrote something against what the world calls sincere obedience, and with a twofold view:
first to expose that insincere obedience which is commonly cloaked under the name of sincere obedience, or doing what we can.
Secondly, to show that obedience, where it is sincere, and the fruit of the Spirit, is no ground of merit, or cause of justification. And I thought that no professor could misunderstand me; but in a letter just received from Mr. Fletcher, he writes thus, "What you have said about sincere obedience, has touched the apple of God's eye, and is the very core of Antinomianism. You have done your best to disparage sincere obedience, and in a pamphlet (ready for the press) I have freely exposed what you have written." Then he cries out in a declamatory style, "For God's sake, let us only speak against insincere and Pharisaical obedience."
Indeed I thought I had been writing against insincere obedience throughout the pamphlet; and that every one who has eyes, must see it clearly. But I suppose that Mr. Fletcher's spectacles invert objects, and make people walk with their heads downwards.
May the Lord Jesus bring and keep you and yours at the cross, to see and sing the wonders of redeeming love, until you are called up higher to sing eternal praise with all the saints. Grace, mercy and peace be with you, and with your much obliged and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Aug. 31, 1773.
Dear and honored Sir,
Your letter of the 26th came duly to hand, with an inclosed paper, which brought me on my knees for a blessing upon you and yours. A hundred Golden Treasuries are also received, and more than half were disposed of last Sunday; the rest will follow quickly. My stock of Bibles and Testaments is almost gone, and when it suits I would be glad of a few of the smallest Bibles and Testaments. The laboring poor who go out to work, may carry these in their pockets, and peruse them at meal times; and the type of the smallest Bibles is near as large as that of the larger ones.
I thank you for the friendly admonition you gave me respecting Mr. Fletcher. It made me look into my heart, and I found some resentment there.
What a lurking devil this pride is! How soon he takes fire, and yet hides his head so demurely in the embers, that we do not easily discover him! I think it is advisable to write to Mr. Fletcher, though despairing of success. His pamphlet will certainly be published now that it is written. Indeed I have written to him aforetime more than once, and besought him to drop all controversy, but he seems to regard such entreaties as flowing rather from a fear of his pen than a desire of peace. His heart is somewhat exalted by his writings, and no wonder. He is also endowed with great acuteness, which, though much admired by the world, is a great obstacle to a quiet childlike spirit. And he is at present eagerly seeking after legal perfection which naturally produces controversial heat. As gospel and peace, so law and controversy go hand in hand together. How can lawyers live without strife? But his heart seems very upright, and his labors are abundant; and I trust the Master will serve him, by and by, as he has served me, put him into a pickling-tub, and drench him there soundly, and when he comes out dripping all over, he will be glad to cry Grace, Grace, and a little child may lead him.
We learn nothing truly of ourselves, or of grace, but in a furnace. Whatever Mr. Fletcher may write against my pamphlet, I am determined to make no reply. I dare not trust my own wicked heart in a controversy. If my pamphlet is faulty, let it be overthrown. If it is sound, it will rise up above any learned rubbish that is cast upon it. Indeed, what signifies my pamphlet or its author? While it was publishing I was heartily weary of it; and have really been sick of it since, and concluded it had done no good because it had met with no opposition.
I thank you heartily for the kind offer of your assistance, but no more will be wanted of a long season; and until I am sunk in a deep slough, I dare not ask you, or any one, to help me out. God has given me a free heart to dispose of my substance, and I am no more indebted to myself for this liberality, than a nightingale is for her wings or voice.
But I feel a backwardness sometimes to be another's almoner, lest my honesty should be suspected. And this, perhaps, arises from the pride of my heart. A liberal mind was given me from a child, which made my carnal relations prophecy of me, that if I lived to be a man, I would surely become a beggar. But I find, He who waters, shall be watered again. And though I am possessed of a good vicarage, and some substance besides, I know of no effectual way to keep me from starving, but by giving. When Jesus opened my eyes, my heart was so enlarged, that I gave away money and books without discretion; and was frequently imposed on, chiefly by the borrowing people, who all forgot to repay me, excepting one.
Upon my own credit I once borrowed twenty pounds for a person, paid the interest for two years, and then was forced to pay the principal. These impositions are everywhere met with by benevolent people, and are trials for benevolence; for every virtue must be tried; and where benevolence is not rooted in the heart by grace, such trials overset it. I suppose such impositions are intended also to teach us caution. They have made me cautious, but I am afraid of growing suspicious, for we are apt to run into extremes; and it is better to be imposed on sometimes, than turn away a real needy person unrelieved from our door.
Mr. Williams' case shows, that when the Lord has brought his people into extremity, he is near at hand to relieve them. And by the providential steps to bring Mr. Williams into the ministry, and his antecedent trials, it should seem that a great door of usefulness will be opened.
May the good will of him who dwelt in the bush, dwell with you and yours, and with your much obliged and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To the Rev. John Newton
Everton, Sept. 20, 1773.
My dear Brother,
I write this letter, expecting an opportunity of conveying it to you by my dear neighbor, Mr. Venn; and I wrote another some months ago, intending to send it to Bedford; but before an opportunity offered, yours came to hand, acquainting me with your purpose of coming to Everton speedily; so I burnt my own letter. I was heartily grieved to be absent, when you came to my house, but dared not omit my own journey; and I knew you could excuse my absence, when it was occasioned by our common Master's business.
For two months I was able to travel and preach two days in a week, and then had a return of my old illness; not so violent as usual, but enough to confine me at home. Since the cool weather set in, I am growing better, through mercy, and hope to be on horseback shortly, and preach a little in the neighborhood, but fear I shall not be able to reach you at Olney. My midway preaching at Bedford seems to be foreclosed by the stench which my pamphlet has occasioned, and I cannot reach Olney in one day. However, I hope Mr. Venn's visit will provoke a returning visit from you this autumn, and I entreat you not to pass by Everton without warming a bed, and a pulpit.
If the Lord gives me strength, I will pay off all my debts; but if I am forced to be insolvent, you act like a generous Christian, and continue your loans. My Master will repay you, if I cannot. The Vicar of Madeley has sent me word, that my prattle in my pamphlet of sincere obedience "is the core of Antinomianism, and touched the apple of God's eye," and that he intends to put my head in the pillory, and my nose in the barnacles for so doing.
How fierce a tiger is zeal without knowledge! and I have been that tiger myself. And what utter destruction the Lord's own servants would make in his vineyard, if the Lord himself did not hold the vines in his right hand! Oh, for that world, where all will say, I am of Christ; and oh, for more of Christ, while we live in this world!
Kind Christian salutation to Mrs. Newton, and true hearty love for yourself. Grace and peace be with you both, and with your flock, and with your affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Sept. 25, 1773.
Dear and honored Sir,
I have received six dozen of Bibles, as many Testaments, and 386 of Watts' Songs, a most acceptable present for God's children. May the God of grace give a recompense, by filling you with all joy and peace in believing. You know the promise: He who waters, shall be watered again—how gracious is God! He grants ability to give, and bestows a heart to give, and then recompenses the gift.
Oh, how little my eyes behold the riches of grace; yet my heart longs, and prays to behold it more, and to adore and glorify it more. The Golden Treasuries are dispersed among my flocks, some in one town, and some in another, and are much valued. About a dozen are yet left to drop into people's hands, as I shall find occasion. Watts' Songs are tempting things for children, and well adapted to season their minds with religion. The sight of your Bibles and Testaments filled my heart with joy. For my hearers are Bible readers, and prefer the word of God to everything. In general, they are people of great simplicity, and are Calvinists, but unpracticed in disputes, and so happy as not to know what a Calvinist or Arminian means.
I have wrote to Mr. Fletcher, and told him what was my intention in speaking against sincere obedience, and that my intention was manifest enough from the whole drift of the pamphlet; I have also acquainted him, that I am an enemy to controversy, and that if his tract is published, I shall not rise up to fight with him, but will be a dead man before he kills me. I further told him, I was afraid that Mr. Toplady and himself were setting the Christian world on fire, and the carnal world in laughter, and wished they could both desist from controversy. A letter seemed needful—yet I wrote to him without any hope of success, and it appears there is not any.
Mr. Jones has just been with him, and called upon me last Saturday, as he returned to his curacy. Mr. Fletcher showed him what he had written against my pamphlet, which has been revised by Mr. Wesley, and is to be published shortly, and bound up, I hear, with another tract, which he has wrote against honest John Bunyan. Mr. Jones says that he considers and treats me as an Antinomian; but why should I resent it, when my Master was so considered and treated by the Pharisees, who called him a friend of publicans and sinners. I believe it is a healthful thing for every author to have his head in the pillory, and the barnacles on his nose; it may help to chill his vanity, and make him sick of scribbling. I seemed sick of my pamphlet before, but my Master knew my heart, and saw I was not, and he is now sending me a puke, to make me cast it all up.
Well, let me have Jesus near my heart, and let the world take my reputation; which is not worth keeping. A sinner I am, and a miserable one too; and the reputation of such a sinner must be a miserable thing at best; yet poor as it is, we are reluctant to part with it, until Jesus hooks it away from us. A storehouse of vanity is lodged in the heart, and we perceive it not until the filthy pool is stirred by some dabbling hand. A Savior of infinite compassion well befits us: we know not how to bear with each other, and none but Jesus can bear with us all. He is God, and therefore we are not consumed.
A Smithfield fire would unite the sheep and fright the goats away; but when the world ceases to persecute the flocks, they begin to fight each other. Indeed, the worst part of the sheep is his head, which is not half so good as a calve's head, and with this they are butting at each other. Until the Millennium comes, and perhaps until the resurrection—Judah will be vexing Ephraim, and Ephraim will be envying Judah.
Teach me, Lord, to become a child, and to have no part in this envy or vexation. I only add, what I have abundant cause to add, the Lord bless you, and unite his upper springs with your nether springs, causing them to water well your own heart, and the hearts of all your family. Grace and peace be with you, and with your much obliged and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To the Rev. John Newton
Everton, Nov. 2, 1773.
I received your kind letter by the gardener, but could not return an answer by the same conveyance, because he intends no more journeys to Olney for some weeks. My housekeeper has been ill of a fever for three weeks, and is so weak that she cannot sit in a chair, and so fainting on her bed, that life is scarcely kept in her. There is a hope of her recovery, but a distant one.
This circumstance, with the approach of winter, has induced me to put off my visit until the spring. It is an easy matter, I find, to get into debt, but no easy matter to get out. Yet what are my debts to you, in comparison of my debts to God? These are numerous indeed, and attended with every kind of aggravation; and the weight of them so presses down my spirit at times, that I can scarcely look up. However, when they have well broken and melted my heart, the surety appears, and cheers up my spirit; and then, with a tear in my eyes, I sing hosannahs to the lovely Jesus.
Ten years ago I expected to be something before this time, and seemed to be in a very hopeful way, but Jesus has cropped my locks, and sawed my horns, and harrowed my back so stoutly, that scarcely any thing is left me besides the skin of my teeth, and that I suppose must go by and by, for he will have all.
Well, though I sometimes snarl and snap at my Master, I think the more he whips me, the more I love him. Solomon says, a rod for a fool's back; and I am sure no instructions suit me, like rods and scorpions; for my heart is a quintessence of folly and madness.
A furnace seems a hot atmosphere to breathe in, and a deadly path to walk in, but is really a place of liberty. Like the furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, it only burns our bonds, our earthly and selfish attachments, and consumes no other flesh but proud flesh. A handful of grace sprinkled into a furnace changes its nature, like the handful of meal thrown into a pot, and makes fire, in its nature destructive, prove a beneficial heat.
I need not tell you that I love you, nor that Jesus has taught me to do so; and the less cause you can find in yourself to be esteemed, the more cause I shall have to love and esteem you. Kind Christian salutations to Mrs. Newton and your guests, unknown indeed to me, but known to Jesus, I trust; else they would not seek a place in your house. If Capt. Scott, is with you, let him know he has long had a corner, and a large one too, in my heart; and may have when he pleases, a corner in my house for a lodging, and my horse-block for his pulpit. May Jesus Christ bless you all, and the smallest of you all.
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Nov. 10, 1773.
I owe you many thanks and many prayers, and a letter beside; but the debts I owe my God are without number, and a daily increasing sum, and exceedingly heinous. Everlasting thanks for a Surety, whose blood is of infinite value, and who can save to the uttermost.
Ten years ago I hoped to be something long before this time, and seemed in a promising way; but a clearer view of the spiritual wickedness in my heart, and of the spiritual demands of God's law, has forced me daily to cry: O wretched man, that I am! God be merciful to me a sinner.
I am now sinking from a poor something into a vile nothing; and wish to be nothing, that Christ may be all. I am creeping down the ladder from self-delight into self-abhorrence; and the more I abhor myself, the more I must hate sin, which is the cause of that abhorrence.
A legal heart may strive against sin, through fear of Hell; or strive against sin, to glorify himself, as laying a foundation for merit.
But a gospel-broken heart strives against sin, through a loathing of it, as the filthiness of his spirit, the image of the devil, and a contradiction to God's holiness.
Until men are brought with Job to this state of self-abhorrence, I believe their righteousness is merely Pharisaical, a Dagon in the Lord's temple, a rival set up against Jesus. I am confident, where saving grace is, it will reign, and cast this Dagon down; and though set up again, and yet again, will surely break his legs, and bones at last.
God says that He will dwell with a broken heart; but a heart cannot be broken, where there is a sense of merit. It is only broken down by a dread of sin, or by a loathing of it. First, we are made to dread past sin, an account of its guilt; and as grace thrives, we are taught to loathe ourselves, on account of our sinful nature. As the heart is more washed, we grow more sensible of its remaining defilement—just as we are more displeased with a single spot on a new coat, than with a hundred stains in an old one.
The more wicked men grow, the less ashamed they are of themselves.
The more holy men grow, the more they learn to abhor themselves.
You desire me to become a friendly monitor; but am I qualified for the office? I seem to be sent forth as a reprover in the gate, rather than a chamber-counsel. I have so many beams in my own eyes, that I can scarcely see, or find a heart to pluck a mote, from a brother's eye. What I can do, I will do; but I imagine that you will prove the best monitor; and I must thank you for the hint you gave about my foxes. ("Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards." Song of Songs 2:15) Others have given the same hint—I thank them also for their kindness, but confess to you, that I am growing sick of my kennel, and intend to go no more a fox-hunting.
Alas, dear Sir, you know the man, and his communication. My pamphlet and my letters testify sufficiently that I was born with a fool's cap on my head; and the fool is ready to show his cap, not only in a parlor, but sometimes in a pulpit; for which he has had many drubbings from his Master when he came down. But this is not the worst. Through mercy I know myself to be a fool, and can lament my folly to my friends; but my pride is such, that I do not like the world should call me what I call myself.
In my family I now have a strong proof of the power of grace. My housemaid has been ill for many weeks of a fever and jaundice, and when she seemed near death, would cry out, Lord, I am ready, I am coming, I am coming! Her fever and jaundice are abated, but we are now apprehensive of a dropsy. She is feeble, and faint, and swollen, but meek and patient as a lamb.
Oh, Sir, though our breath is in our nostrils, and we know not what an hour may bring forth—yet how faintly do eternal things affect us, and how little we live as on the confines of death! May the Lord bring eternity nearer our minds, and Jesus nearer our hearts.
May God bless you and yours with covenant-blessings, and make you a truly royal family, even heirs of a crown that fades not away. Grace and peace be with you, dear Sir, and with your much obliged and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To Samuel Wilks
Everton, April 8, 1774.
I received a kind letter from you in town, which I laid in a drawer along with some others, and intended to call upon you before I left London; but a cold attended with much feebleness of body, prevented my going out some weeks. When my cold was somewhat removed, your letter had wholly escaped my memory, and did not occur to my thoughts until it presented itself to my view on rummaging the drawers to pack up my things for my journey.
Well, dear Sir, though you have had a very forgetful preacher, you have a kind remembering God—a faithful Jesus—who watches over his vineyard day and night, lest any should hurt it. And what a mercy it is, that your beloved wife and yourself are both looking and drawing the same way. The Lord draw you both near to his side, and keep you there!
Troubles you need, and troubles will sprout up every day from within or without; but a sweet view of Jesus will make rough ways smooth, and rough winds calm. Our business is to follow Christ with the heart as well as life, in the affections as well as actions, and to cultivate a closer acquaintance and stricter union with him. The nearer our union is, the sweeter will be our communion; and the end both of tribulation and consolation is to drive us or lead us nearer to Jesus.
Old pilgrims, I find, are apt to talk of past attainments, and to nestle in them; by which they soon become dry-skinned, and footsore, and formal. Oh, dear Sir, let us be ambitious of the best things, and daily covet more of the true riches; pursuing our heavenly calling as men pursue a worldly one, with all our might. No labor so sure and so gainful as Christian labor; and no laziness so shameful as Christian laziness. The Lord help us to gird up our loins, and trim our lamps! The Lord make us watchful and prayerful, looking and longing for the coming of the Bridegroom!
I feel a Christian affection for you; but you must not be jealous when I tell you honestly, I find a stronger affection for your wife. My love for you is brotherly; for her, is fatherly; and none but a spiritual father knows what affection he bears to his children. The Lord bless you both. Grace and peace be with you, and with your affectionate servant, for Christ's sake,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Aug. 10, 1774.
Dear and honored Sir,
Through mercy I have been enabled to itinerate thirteen weeks this summer, and am now resting my old bones during harvest, and sitting down to pay my epistolary debts, which have risen to a large amount. Indeed they have lain too long unnoticed (but writing does not suit when I ramble), and they now threaten me with letters of attorney unless due satisfaction is made before harvest is out. It is therefore high time to call for paper, and to mend up my pens.
In most places I find very large auditories. My cathedral barns are much crowded, and the cathedral yards are well sprinkled with hearers. No outrage or mocking as usual, but silence and attention. Inside and outside passengers, the living and lifeless professors receive me with more favor since my Master has cropped my ears, and turned his old donkey out of doors again, which confirms a sweet passage given me in my illness: Job 11.16-19.
I have been recruiting for Mr. Venn at Godmanchester, a very populous and wicked town near Huntingdon, and met with a patient hearing from a numerous audience. I hope he also will consecrate a few barns, and preach a little in his neighborhood, to fill up his fold at Yelling. And sure there is a cause, when souls are perishing for lack of knowledge.
Must salvation give place to a fanciful decency, and sinners go flocking to Hell through our dread of irregularity? While irregularities in their worst shape traverse the kingdom with impunity, should not irregularity in its best shape pass without censure? I tell my brother, he need not fear being hanged for sheep-stealing, while he only whistles the sheep to a better pasture, and meddles neither with the flesh nor fleece. I am sure he cannot sink much lower in credit; for he has lost his character right honestly, by preaching law and gospel without mincing. The scoffing world make no other distinction between us, than between Satan and Beelzebub. We have both got tufted horns and cloven feet, only I am thought the more impudent devil of the two.
Your three hundred and fifty copies of Alleine's "Alarm to the Unconverted" are dispersed about the country, thirty miles round. The Lord attend them with a blessing. I have lately received two hundred Hymn books, and a dozen of John Newton's letters, for which I return you hearty thanks.
How sweet is Christian simplicity, and how much preferable to mere human eloquence! I suppose by the matter and style that shame-faced Omicron is Mr. John Newton. He wears a mask, but cannot hide his face. Pithiness and candor will betray the Curate of Olney, notwithstanding his veil of a Greek signature. I expect him at Everton to day, and a covey from Yelling Rectory, if they can bear to ride in a baker's coach.
It is much rumored that Mr. Jobson has an offer of a minor Canonry in the church of Ely, and is going to leave his present curacy, and reside there. Alas for him! He has need of Daniel's faith before he steps into a den of lions. When young gospellers change their quarters speedily, and without constraint, I mistrust they are growing lousy, and will soon be eaten up with vermin.
I have little to write in respect of myself. I have enough of temporals to supply my own proper needs, but in spirituals I am poor indeed! and the older I grow, the poorer I seem. From an imaginary something, I am sinking into mere nothing. I am ashamed of the little I do for Jesus, and of the poverty of that little. Worms are eating holes in my duties, as fast as I do them; and flies are blowing their maggots into all the pots of my ointment. No prayer sits so well on my heart now, as God be merciful to me a sinner!
I hope you give the Lord daily thanks for your ability and inclination to do good, and take nothing to yourself but the character of an unprofitable servant. May the Lord increase you more and more, you and your household, giving you bread from Heaven, and water from the rock, to sanctify and sweeten all the nether springs. So prays your much obliged and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To Samuel Wilks
Everton, Aug. 16, 1774.
I have been itinerating for thirteen weeks; and when I ramble about to preach, I have neither leisure nor inclination to write; but the harvest is now come forward, which affords me some rest, and I am set down to pay my epistolary debts. Indeed, my spirits have been so weak and shattered since my late long illness, that writing of letters is a real burden to me, and makes me a very tardy correspondent. At times, when I am very low, a letter that demands a speedy answer will drain me as much as a large bill requiring prompt payment would a sinking tradesman.
The Lord has led you through a variety of scenes, but he knows what he does, and does all things well. Sitting safely on the beach is very sweet after a stormy voyage; but I imagine you will find it more difficult to walk closely with Jesus in a calm than a storm, in easy circumstances than in a strait. A Christian never falls asleep in the fire or in the water, but grows drowsy in the sunshine. We love to nestle, but cannot make a nest in a hard bed.
God has given you good abilities. This, of course, will make you respected by men of business, and tempt you at times to admire yourself, and thus bring a smart rod upon your back. Sharp genius, like a sharp knife, often makes a wrong gash, and cuts a finger instead of food! We scarcely know how to turn our backs on admiration, though it comes from the vain world; yet a kick from the world does believers less harm than a kiss.
I apprehend a main part of your trial will lie here; and when you are tempted to think gaudily of yourself, and spread your feathers like a peacock, remember too, that fine parts, in themselves, are like the fine wings of a butterfly, which garnish out the moth or grub underneath.
Remember, too, that one grain of godly fear is of more worth than a hundred thousand heads-full of wit, or full of philosophic, theologic, or business acumen. Kind Christian love to Mrs. W. The Lord bless you both, and bless your children. Grace and peace be with you all, and with your affectionate servant, for Christ's sake,
~ ~ ~ ~
To Samuel Wilks
Everton, April 11, 1775.
I received your very friendly letter, and thank you for it; but is it not rather too profuse of honor conferred—upon whom? Why, truly, on a miserable sinner, like yourself. One toad may croak to another, but, surely, it would raise a smile on your face to hear one toad compliment another, and speak very handsome things of his toadship.
I do not love hard words—yet am much afraid of kind ones: they have procured me many a whipping. Sweet words are to the heart what sweets are to the stomach; unwholesome, producing sickliness. Children may bear such sweet things, but elderly people cannot digest them.
I make no visits to London; my weak body, and still weaker spirits, will not bear it. My late long illness has made preaching in large congregations exhaust me wholly; and I am forced to sit still, and keep close in my chamber, to recover myself for the next preaching.
However, though I do not go out myself, some few of my friends pay me short visits; and if the Lord should bring me again to London, I cordially invite you, your wife and children, to drink tea or coffee along with my toadship, on any afternoon, excepting Tuesday or Wednesday, which are my preaching days, when I must be alone.
I perceive by your letter, that your constitution is breaking up, as well as my own. It is well when a cottage gives a crack before it falls; this, like the warning of a clock, prepares for the stroke—the stroke of death! The nearer you come to Canaan, expect the more rubs in your way. They are designed to rub off your rust, to wean you from transitory things, and to wing your soul for its passage. It is a great thing to live in faith, but greater still to die in faith, full faith, bearing a glorious testimony to the love and faithfulness of a covenant God in Christ.
The first work of our heavenly potter, is to fashion the vessels of mercy by the finger of his Spirit; but the vessel is of little use yet, for lack of fire; therefore his last work is to cast the vessels into a furnace; and when baked well there, they come out fit for the Master's service.
Afflictions, in the hand of the spirit, are of excellent use; therefore be not afraid of them. Our Master's honey is very pleasant, but his rod is most profitable. Since writing hurts my chest, and wearies my spirit exceedingly, my London friends demand no more than a single letter a-piece; and I trust you can be as moderate in your demands as the rest.
Through mercy, I got home to Everton safe and well, but found my congregation cast into a spiritual lunacy, by the Newfoundland tales of Mr. C.
Present my heart's love to your wife. The Lord accept her, and bless her dear other half, yourself, and bless the children. Grace and peace be with you all, and with your affectionate servant,
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To John Thornton
Everton, April 11, 1775.
Dear and honored Sir,
I have received six dozen of Bibles, six dozen of Testaments, one hundred Alleine's Alarms, one hundred Treasuries, and a Scotch Bible, for which I return my hearty thanks. May the Lord remember the donor for good, and accompany the books with a blessing! At my return to Everton, I found my congregation cast into a spiritual lunacy, easily mistaken for spiritual liveliness, and such gospel-junketing introduced, as made Methodism exceeding palatable to a carnal taste; and this occasioned by the sermons and conduct of Mr. Jonathan Coughlan, a Newfoundland divine. Such a light-spirited, vainglorious, and Canterbury Tale's man, never stepped into my pulpit before; and if Mr. Foster's account of him is true, which I do not doubt, because it comes from Mr. Foster, a pillory would suit him better than a pulpit. He claims some acquaintance with you, and talks of the books you have sent him, and therefore I send this short history of him, to prevent any further deception by him. I could let a carnal cheat pass by me, and be thankful that I passed him safely, but would tear a sheep's coat from any wolfs back that I met, and pursue a gospel-cheat with alarms and cries.
How insensibly our hearts are drawn away from the right object; and when once seduced, how easily we can mistake frothy mirth, for gospel-joy; and yet how wide the difference! Joy in the Lord as it is the most delightful, so it is the most serious thing in the world, filling the soul with holy shame and blushing, and drawing tears of sweetest love. Merriment and laughter compose the foundation of human joy; and where no better can be had, this may be thought excellent. But an angels mouth is out of taste for such froth; and so is a saint's mouth, when his harp is well in tune. Laughter is not found in Heaven—all are too happy there to laugh; it is a disease of fallen nature, and as such infested me sorely when sunk into the lowest stage of a nervous illness. It forced itself on me without provocation, and continued with such violence, as quite to overwhelm me; and nothing could check it, but choking it, namely, filling my mouth with a handkerchief.
I dare say, Adam never laughed before he fell; and am sure he had no cause to laugh after; nor do we read that the second Adam ever laughed. Laughter sprung with sin; and as it makes the life of Esau's joy, it often proves the death of Jacob's comfort. More prayer would cure us of this itching disease; and make us exchange our treacle for honey, that honey which flows from the cask. The lightness and barrenness, that is found in ourselves, is owing to the want of more prayer. No divine communion can be had without it; and when the heart is destitute of that communion, it snaps at any worldly comfort. The Lord encompass your heart evermore with that piece of armor, called all-prayer! Grace be with you, and yours, and with your much obliged and affectionate servant,
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To John Thornton
Everton, June. 12, 1778.
I have received twelve dozen small Bibles, nine dozen small Testaments, and one thousand Hymns for children, which I will distribute as carefully as I can. Indeed some care is needful, that your bounty may not be interrupted in its course, by passing through slippery fingers. I gave thirty of Watts' Hymns to a neighboring Baptist minister, who sold them at half price. He had maintained a good character for many years, but is now dismissed from his flock, by the breaking out of some heinous misconduct. Such misapplications call for caution in the original giver, and in his almoner, but should not stop the current of bounty. For if good is only to be done where it cannot be misapplied, but little good can be done at all. If only half of the books, or money you give, is given to good purpose, you may think yourself well off, and shall not lose the benefit of the other half. If only a quarter of the sermons I preach, is made effectual, I need not grudge to throw in the other three quarters.
Jesus Christ was an excellent fisher of men, and toiled much in letting down his net; yet the fish that he caught were but few. The most part were not gathered into his net, or slipped through the meshes. Hear his complaint: I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing. Yet he goes forward with this consideration, My work (or my reward) is with my God, Isaiah 49.4.
Oh, Sir, it is worth while to spend much money and labor, if some good, though but little, is done thereby! Misapplications of your bounty will be made, but the whole of it remains still your own, and your children will fare the better tor it. I sometimes put a small book into the hand of a traveling beggar, and desire him to read it, but expect he will sell it for a trifle to the first person he meets. Yet bread thus cast on the waters, is found again, and often proves a savory meal. Yes, such is the temper of some people, they will read a book, which cost them something—but they will lay it aside, if it cost them nothing; treating man's free gift with the same neglect, as God's free grace.
My fever is making a forcible attack, and weakening my strength and my spirits exceedingly, so that I can scarcely bear company, or struggle through the fatigue of a letter.
I often feel a foolish wish for stronger health, and would sanctify that wish by the hope of doing more service to God. But I forget that our God is called a gardener, and that His cultivated grounds need a fallow in due season—to tumble them over, and break them well, with harrow and plough, again and again, in order to cleanse them from rubbish, and make them more productive for fruit-bearing.
Some wealthy farmers about Everton have lately cropped their grounds every year, and thought to make the ground amends by laying extraordinary fertilizer upon it. But they see their mistake, and return to the old method. For the grounds being deprived of their fallow year, the proper season for cleansing them, are much overrun with foul weeds and twitch.
I know of no ground that needs more ploughing and harrowing, than the ground of my heart, so churlish it is, and full of rank weeds.
Young Venn is the most promising youth I have seen; great mental abilities, close application to study, and much unction from the Holy One.
I am weary with writing—accept a warm prayer, and I conclude. May the Lord Jesus multiply grace and peace upon yourself and your wife, and make your whole household a household of faith. Amen.
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To John Thornton
Everton, Oct. 24, 1778.
Dear and honored Sir,
On Wednesday morning last, a dissenting minister, not a Baptist, called at my house, and, finding me gone abroad to preach, he left a note and pursued his journey, having engaged to preach that evening at a village thirty miles distant from Everton. Two years ago he was settled at Oundle, in Northamptonshire, where he found a congregation, very meager in all respects, but which is now in a thriving state. I believe him sound in faith and practice, and he loves itinerant preaching, and practices it much. He is zealous, but not furious, undogmatic without lukewarmness, and his fire warms without scorching. We were both born at Nottingham, and are very distantly related.
The purpose of his note is as follows: "My congregation increases, and I trust the Lord is with us, but the people are very poor. My income is under thirty pounds a year, which is too narrow for a wife and four children. I need ten pounds to discharge a few debts, and wish for a friend to lend me that sum. At my father's death, who is aged and infirm, an estate at Nottingham, of a few hundred pounds value, comes to me, which will then enable me to discharge the loan."
Had I seen him, I would have given him a guinea, but could not lend him ten pounds. I have many demands upon me, and am often in the deep myself, with my chin under water, but the Lord keeps my nose above it, which is enough, quite enough to keep me from sinking, but not enough to save a brother from drowning. Had I Mr. Thornton's heart and purse, I would not lend him a groat, but send him ten pounds immediately, and thus refresh my own affections, by relieving his needs. I know your poor's bag is a deep one; but how far exhausted at present, I know not; yet if a ten pound bill lies skulking in some corner of the bag, I do wish and pray you would drag him out, and send him to Oundle. It would occasion many thanksgivings to God, and many prayers for your welfare.
Mr. Venn has informed me of your fall and recovery. The latter will fill you with thankfulness, no doubt; and the former inspire you with caution, I trust. Indeed, Sir, you appear too venturesome. And since you are neither very young, nor very slender, is it not seasonable to adopt some caution, for the sake of your family, as well as yourself. Caution in the hand does not wrangle, but harmonize with faith in the heart. Since the Lord affords you numerous servants, is it not a disregard of this mercy, to travel in the dark, and in danger of thieves, without an attendant? Mercies are bestowed for use, and the use creates thankfulness in upright hearts; but your leaving all the servants at home, is like a miser's hoarding all his cash in a bag, to the neglect of his bodily wants. And if you persist in this track, the money-miser will claim kindred, and call you cousin; and Jesus Christ will not thank you for this new relation. The Lord bless you abundantly, and enrich your family with his choicest blessings. I remain, with much affection, your obliged servant,
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To John Thornton
Tabernacle, Feb. 11, 1779.
Dear and honored Sir,
I have received your kind letter of the 9th, inclosing another with a cheque in its bosom, value £25; five of which are appointed for the poor, and the rest for Mr. Kennedy. Accept my hearty thanks for the same.
London congregations are almost too much for me; and I am usually in great travail while I am here. My head very cloudy, my body exceeding heavy, and my thoughts frequently so fugitive and scattered, that sometimes I know not where to find them; at other times cannot hold them, when I have found them. Yet, if through this travail any children are born, it is well; and if others are suckled, better still. A feeble body damps my spirits, and somewhat my zeal, but not my desire to labor and die in the service of my Master.
Through grace my heart pines after God, for more of his image, and nearer communion, which are not obtained by mere preaching or reading, or hearing, without much prayer and watchfulness. Formality steps into ordinances quickly, unless they are salted with prayer, before and behind.
Crowded and attentive congregations are reviving sights; yet perhaps this is rather an age of much hearing, than much praying. The old puritan spirit of devotion is not kindling and breathing among us. Religious controversy has hurt the work much, religious gossiping hurts it still more, and deep-mouthed Calvinism loves sitting and hearing much better than kneeling and praying. May God make all grace abound to yourself, to your family, and to your affectionate servant,
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To John Thornton
Everton, July 27, 1775.
By the favor of Mr. T. Astell, I received a copy of the Olney Hymns. They are experimental and sound; the language intelligible to all believers; and the sense sufficiently closing at the end of each line: a very needful thing in public worship, where many are destitute of a hymn book. They seem to want a little unction sometimes, and sometimes a little more poetic vein, and I wish there had been more hymns of praise; but on the whole, I think it the most edifying hymn book yet published. The worst fault I can find in the book is, that it proves a single copy, a private treat, without a general feast, a meal for myself without any dole for others. Methinks I see you upbraid my ravenous appetite, and indignantly ask, "Will his mouth be always gasping after my publications?" Indeed, Sir, it may, unless you wisely clap a padlock on my lips, and keep the key in your pocket!
We have been in a state of war at Everton for two years, and have had preludes of a French and Spanish invasion. The_______ and the_______ are making incursions on each other alternately, and laboring to harass and vex each other sufficiently.
A notable fruit is this of the religion of nature (under Christian profession) which loves to traffic in misery, and studies hard to render unkindness for unkindness.
Oh, from what wretchedness does precious grace save a true believer! The Lord fill my heart with this precious grace!
The times are awful; and likely to be more so. Rods have been used without effect, and now the scorpions are coming. May their bite awake, but not destroy us! National pride, infidelity, and profligacy are growing very rampant, and will grow from bad to worse unless restrained by heavy judgments. The worst evil God can bring upon a nation is to say to it, as once he said to Ephraim, "Let him alone!" But if the Lord intends our good, he will chastise us sorely. This is the Bible-road to reformation.
On this account, however formidable judgments are, I know not whether I should fear them more, or bid them welcome. Strong medicine has become needful for the nation; and however nauseous to the palate, or painful in the operation, it must be deemed a blessing. May the Lord prepare us for the tempest, and prove to be our hiding-place!
I suppose you have received a letter of thanks from our Society at Stretham, for assisting them to build a small barn—a threshing floor for Jesus. The barn is now erected and thatched, and the people are happy and thankful. May the Lord keep yourself and family under his gracious protection; and enrich you all with his choicest treasure, the blessings of salvation. Amen and Amen. I have just room to subscribe,
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To Rev. S. Lucas.
Everton, Oct. 23, 1779.
Your letter of the 2nd of July came duly to hand; but has waited a wearisome while for an answer. Indeed, I have been much—yet not too much, afflicted with my old disorder for some months, a nervous fever. We have been housekeepers every summer for forty years; and this fever-friend has kept me this summer twelve weeks at home, and forbid me all literary correspondence. As winter comes on, I begin to revive; and when the swallows march off, I begin to march out; as when the swallows return, I am often obliged to keep in.
'Tis well we are not in our own keeping, nor at our own carving, since we so little know what is good for us. I do not love this fever-friend; yet he is certainly the best earthly companion I have. No lasting gain do I get, but in a furnace. Comforts of every kind make me either light or lofty, and swell me, though unperceivably, with self-sufficiency. Indeed, so much dross, native and acquired, is found in my heart, that I have constant need of a furnace. Jesus has selected a suitable furnace for me, not a hot and hasty one, which seems likely to harden and consume me—but one with a gentle and lingering heat, which melts my heart gradually, and lets out some of its dross. Though I cannot love the furnace, yet the longer I live, the more I see of its need and its use. A believer seldom walks steadily and brightly, unless he is well-furnaced.
Without this furnace, his zeal is often scalding hot; his boldness is attended with fierceness, or rather rashness; and his confidence at times more the result of carnality than the fruit of the Spirit. But a furnace consumes these excrescences, and when sweetly blown with grace, will make a Christian humble, watchful, and mellow; very censorious of himself, and full of compassion for others.
May your congregation be increasing in numbers, and the power of the Lord be present to wound and to heal, to quicken and comfort and build! But let me add, the growth of the children will greatly depend on your conduct; for a congregation quickly drink in the spirit of the preacher. Much reading and thinking may make a popular minister; but much secret prayer must make a powerful preacher.
If you converse much with God on the mount, as Moses did, and the old puritans did, your hearers will see a gospel-luster on your countenance, and stand in awe of you. And, what is best of all, like Moses, you will not be sensible of that luster while others see it and reverence it. Much secret prayer will solemnize your heart, and make your visits savory as well as your sermons. The old puritans visited their flocks by house-row; the visits were short; they talked a little for God, and then concluded with prayer to God. An excellent rule, which prevented tittle-tattle, and made visits profitable. May Jesus bless you, and water your flock! Your affectionate brother,
P. S. When you pass near Everton, call upon us, and give us a sermon.
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To Mrs. Elizabeth H______
March 31, 1780.
Through mercy I got home safe and well, and my lame foot seems to gather strength daily. Last Lord's day I preached without a stool, and found but little inconvenience from standing all the time. I found some thankfulness for my lameness while I was in town, but now find it abundantly more. It is good for me that I have been afflicted. I was made to see a need of it soon after it came, and now find a blessing from it. The Lord be praised for past sickness, and returning health.
While we dwell in houses of corrupt clay we shall need continual correction. We cannot, therefore, wonder at the lesson written on the Lord's school door, "Take up your cross daily." It must come because it is needful—it will come because it is healthful. Expect the cross daily, and it cannot surprise you, nor much hurt you when it comes. It will come from every quarter just as it is needed. It comes with a rough and scolding countenance, but brings a blessing secretly in its hand for you.
We are often foolish enough to think that any other cross were better for us than the one which Jesus gives us. Yet since He is a kind and wise physician, He always sends the most suitable medicine. He lays a plaster on the proper part—and takes it off too when it has done its work. Afflictions have been to me some of my greatest mercies.
Seek daily for a full manifestation of Christ's love; yet be not anxious lest you fall short of it. Diligence is required, but anxiety is forbidden. The times of awakening, reviving, or comforting are acts of sovereignty, in which the Lord consults his own glory and his people's profit. It is enough that we are told, "Ask, and you shall have." And again, "If I tarry, wait for me." And again, "Whoever will, let him come; and he who comes, I will never cast out."
You have need, and are required to rejoice in the Lord evermore. Rejoice in Jesus, that he has quickened you. Rejoice, that you are drawn to seek his face. Rejoice for the glimpses of his countenance, and the frequent refreshings of his word. These are tokens of love. Rejoice that you can mourn for an absent Jesus; such mourning is a sure proof of your love to Jesus. You could not love him unless he had first loved you. Seek on, therefore, dear Madam, and seek rejoicing, and may the Lord water your heart abundantly.
I remain your affectionate servant,
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To John Thornton
Everton, Oct. 20, 1780.
Dear and honored Sir,
I am seldom without thorns in my flesh, and now have a thorn in my family, through insanity. My poor maid, who has lived seven years with me, and is fifty years old, began to droop on August twelve-months, and in February last fell distracted. For a two weeks she was very violent, rolled on the floor, tore her flesh, and endeavored to destroy herself. Afterwards she grew calmer, and has been tolerably calm ever since—yet roaming at times, and afraid of being cast into prison for her past ravings. She tells her fellow servant I shall certainly hang her, and weekly appoints a day for her execution. These fears emaciate and enfeeble her much, and nothing I can say removes them. Yet she retains her recollection pretty well, is rational enough in many things, can do most of the housework, and seems displeased when I provide a helper. Some gracious words have been given her from the Lord, which make me pray and live in hope she will be restored, and the visitation sanctified.
O, Sir, the partition between sane and insane is so slender, none but God could keep the partition up. What a mercy to have full use of reason, and reason preserved, and reason improved and illumined by grace; to be sane in mind, and faithful in Christ; a ready hand for the world, and a willing heart for the Lord!
Old age, with its winter aspect, creeps on me apace. My mind waxes feeble as well as my limbs; my windows grow dark, my memory leeks, and my grinders are few. I am much ashamed for loving the Lord so little, and doing so little for his name; and much out of temper with administration for persisting in a ruinous war, and trying to entail poverty, popery, and slavery on us. Surely the Lord's hand is in this, to scourge the nation for their contempt of his word and his Christ. War comes judicially from the Lord, which bids me lay my hand on my mouth. When I read of convoys taken, I think of you with more concern than he, I suppose, feels for himself. We may live without anxiety when we are alive to God.
Mr. Astell has gained much credit by his upright conduct in office; and Mr. Venn gave great satisfaction to real Christians by his assize sermon. He is gone into Yorkshire, hoping to ride off his disorder in the mountains. I have no opinion of going so far from a parish to ride for health; yet some uncommon providence seemed to point out this step. I wish it may succeed: but Dr. Doddridge's going to Portugal for health, and dying in his passage occurs to my thoughts, on such like occasions.
You have now had a specimen of young _______, and may form a judgment of him. Is anything wanting, you could wish to see in a young man, designed for the ministry?
A new alliance with your family is brewing, I hear. May the Lord accompany it with his blessings. That all your branches may be grafted into the living vine, and the parent-stocks be well watered with the dews of grace, is the hearty prayer of your dutiful and affectionate servant,
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To Mr. John Berridge, a Nephew
Everton, May 30, 1780.
I am glad to hear that you are well in health, and diligent in business, and well esteemed and spoken of among your neighbors. Honesty, sobriety, and civility are blessings from God; they are his gifts; but no righteousness of our own can save us. Happy is the man who is brought to a right knowledge of Christ, and a saving acquaintance with him—who is taught of God how to believe in Jesus Christ, to love and delight in him, to pray to him and praise him, to trust in him wholly, and to cast every care and burden upon him. May you be found among these happy people!
Dear John, you will find as well as others, care and troubles enough in the world—and after a few years must be removed from it forever. Oh, think seriously of that other world, which is eternal; and read the good word of God daily, and pray earnestly for the grace of Christ, and for the guidance of his Spirit! Now is your spiritual seed-time; now is the day of salvation. Be diligent while the day of life lasts, for the night of death comes wherein no man can work.
Oh, let the concerns of your soul be your daily thought and prayer! Your body will soon be laid down in the dust, but your soul must live forever. Take care of the main concern: be wise for your soul, and then you are wise forever. May the Lord protect you by his providence, and direct you by his grace, and bless you in body and soul. I remain, your affectionate uncle,
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To the Rev. John Newton
Everton, Dec. 12, 1780.
Mr. Keen recommends a Mr. Mayor to supply my church during my London visit, and refers me to you for a character. Is he moral; is he also evangelical? Can he preach without notes; and will he condescend to visit some neighboring country town once a week, and give a sermon or an exhortation in a barn or a house? Is he also a single man? A speedy answer to these queries will be esteemed a favor.
Next week I go to preach in a parish church; a high honor indeed! Mr. Peers, the Rector of Ickleford, is newly enlightened to preach Jesus, and desires help from evangelical brethren. Sixteen years ago I preached in one of his neighboring barns, and now am invited to preach in his church. He has driven the Squire and his family from the church, which is a mighty good sign; and if he has any reputation still remaining among the neighboring clerics, it cannot survive my preaching in his pulpit. Indeed, he is a bold man to ask the madman of Everton to dust his cushion.
Mr. Venn has been traversing the mountains of Yorkshire for ten weeks, and is returning home this week, full of power, I hear, stout in body, and vigorous in spirit. The Lord has restored my leg to perfect soundness, and strengthened my body for itinerate preaching the last three months, and is crowding my church abundantly on a Sunday afternoon—glory be to his grace. I hope a latter rain is coming down—indeed, it is wanted. Our skins are growing very dry; the spiritual pulse beats very low; and grey hairs are sprinkled upon us.
I hope you find some refreshing seasons in your new barn floor, and some grain beating out of the straw. Present my very kind Christian respects to Mrs. Newton. If you could peep into my bosom, you might see how much you are loved and esteemed by
P.S. Much grace and peace be with you all.
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To Mr. John Berridge, a Nephew.
Everton, July 21, 1781.
I am glad to hear from a friend, that you are well in health, are sober-minded, and diligent in business. I wish also that your soul may prosper; that you may not only be sober-minded, but heavenly-minded; and while you are diligent in business, may be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. If you hope to dwell with God in Heaven, you must have the kingdom of Heaven brought down into your bosom; your heart must be devoted unto God, and taught to delight in him as your portion, to trust in him alone, and to worship him in spirit and in truth; but this you cannot do until you are born again. You must have a heavenly nature given, before you have a heavenly mind. My dear John, may the Lord give you this heavenly nature, that you may walk with God here, and dwell with him hereafter, I remain, your affectionate uncle,
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To John Thornton
Everton, Nov. 24, 1781.
Dear and honored Sir,
Your letter, bringing present gift, and plenty of good promises, came safe to hand, for which I do most heartily thank you, and beg of God to enrich you with his heavenly treasures. No fear of your proving a defaulter, but I must take heed lest I make a little Christ of you. The human heart loves a human prop, and is glad to see an earthly supply near at hand. I believe the children often lose a benefactor, because they hoist him up into the place of God. However God will not allow his children to starve, but as one channel dries up, another is set a running to supply their wants, and teach them to place their whole trust in the living God.
I came from Yelling not much improved in my health, but greatly delighted with their family worship, and with the gracious behavior of the whole family. Truly it seems a little household of faith. Nelly is quick and smart, and appears to advantage in company; but Jenny is the most solid, and has the best abilities. She visits all the sick in the parish, makes up their medicines, delights in the work, and would make a good parson's wife. Her health is but indifferent—yet she does not seem to quarrel with the Lord on that account.
Kitty had a wonderful breathing of the Holy Spirit upon her three or four years ago, which continued for many months. A spirit of prayer was given in rich abundance with divine consolations, and her heart seemed wholly taken up with God. I hope this has left such a relish for divine things as will never be lost.
Jacky is the top branch of the tree, highest and humblest. His abilities seem equal to anything he undertakes, and his modesty is pleasing to all that behold him. He has daily hours of retirement for waiting secretly on his God, as have his sisters, father, and mother. He is so recollected in his talk, that I seldom hear him speak a trifling thing. His behavior in College has turned the hearts of the teachers entirely to him, who were very averse, and even injurious for a season, on account of his being the son of a Methodist Clergyman. There seems not a doubt but he will be elected Fellow next Easter; yet no profit will accrue to him from his Fellowship until he is Master of Arts, which will be two years after he is chosen. He talks of taking Deacon's Orders next Trinity Sunday. The Lord surely delights in that Yelling family to bless it; for grace reigns and triumphs over parents, children, and servants.
I feel something within which haunts me daily, and troubles me. It is an eager desire since my fever was removed of growing well presently, and of mounting my pulpit out of hand. But the Lord fits me accordingly, by sending frequent colds, which throw me back again. I have no prospect of a thorough recovery until spring; yet if two or three cheerful days come, I am expecting wings to fly abroad.
Oh for that blessed world, where every will is melted down completely into God's will, and God becomes their all in all!
May the Lord shine upon your heart daily, and refresh you with his mercy, and make all your children monuments of Jesus' grace. I remain, dear Sir, your much obliged and affectionate servant,
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To the Rev. John Newton
Everton, Sept. 17, 1782.
My dear Sir,
Your kind letter refreshed my spirit once again, and may refresh me still more when it has received an answer; but for the last month I dared not peep into it for fear of the date, so disdainful it looked for lack of an answer. During my latter years I have been continually making apologies for slack returns to my corresponding friends, and am not one jot better yet. No one can be ashamed more, or grieved more, or repent more, or resolve more, than I have done—yet no reformation ensues. My heavy constitution weighs down shame and grief and repentance, and buries all resolution.
Indeed, I am now sinking into the dregs of life, just able to preach once in a week, and for two or three days after preaching my mind seems so weakened, and my thoughts so scattered, that I scarcely know how or where to pick them up. My outward case, the soul's coffin, is well to look at, only rather too portly; and my health is better than usual in the summer, but my strength is soon exhausted by preaching, and my chest complains long afterwards.
I read your letter to Mr. Venn, who seemed to be affected with it, and has returned an answer, I hope to your contentment. His son, a very gracious youth, is gone to Buckden for orders, and prays earnestly for the Lord's unction along with the Bishop's hands on Sunday next. He seems intended for a polished shaft, and has been much in the furnace of late—a good school for Christian experience.
Mr. Simeon, a young Fellow of King's College, in Cambridge, has just made his appearance in the Christian hemisphere, and attracts much notice. He preaches at a church in the town, which is crowded like a theater on the first night of a new play. A gospel Curate is also sprung up at Royston, a market town, ten miles from Everton. Thus Christ is opening many doors to spread his gospel: may he open many hearts to receive it!
(I did not expect a reply from Mr. Cowper, but came off as well as I could expect. It is beneath a good poet to heed the vituperation of a crazy old Vicar. My strictures will not hurt him; I wish his muse may hurt him no more. Poetic fame is a sweet morsel for the mind to feed upon, and will try to beguile his heart into idolatry. Indeed, the muses are all wanton girls, with meretricious hearts, and quickly draw poetry-hunters into their embraces.)
After two years' of insanity, my housemaid is perfectly restored, better in health now than ever, and thus enabled to do her work with ease. The Lord be praised for this mercy.
Church-work goes on heavily here. Many of the old sheep are called home, and a few lambs drop into the fold. The wealthier sort seem to be growing downward into the earth, and find solid gold a more tempting idol than poetic fame. Sometimes I am ready to be offended at them, but this is stifled by finding more cause to be offended with myself.
I hope this will find Mrs. Newton, your dear other self, perfectly recovered. The Lord continue her life for your comfort, and your health for the church's profit. Many blessings of every kind attend you both. Give my love to Mr. Foster, when you see him; yours very affectionately,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Tabernacle, Jan. 23, 1783.
Dear and honored Sir,
Your kind letter I received, including a ten-pound cheque on the poor's behalf, for which I thank you heartily, and the Lord will requite you. Blessed are those who sow beside all waters. As you keep abounding in good works, may you also grow rich in faith, and abound in sweet humility, feeling yourself nothing, and living as a pauper daily on heavenly alms. The longer I live, the more need I see of the apostle's advice, to pray always with all prayer, not only the congregational and social, but riding prayer, walking prayer, reading prayer, writing prayer—in short prayer of every posture and exercise. We lose many a good bit for want of asking, and often starve in the midst of plenty.
I have been laid up with a fever and sore throat since Sunday, and was not able to preach at Tabernacle last night. My place was supplied by Mr. Bull, an able minister. The chapel was full, and the congregation seemed at first dissatisfied with his whining prayer (a tone more familiar to our Dissenting brethren formerly than now), but his sermon was noble and bold, and the people were so agreeably disappointed, they thought no more of old Everton, but begged he might preach again next Wednesday, which was granted. I should have returned an answer yesterday, but was not able to read or write. Today, through mercy, I am much better. Starvation, and a few grains of James's fever powder, through the Lord's blessing, are restoring me.
How wonderfully God is bringing his gospel into the Church of England, and what sweet humility appears in newly enlightened souls!
My hearty respects wait on Mrs. Thornton: the Lord repair her physical frame, and continue her your companion for life. That blessings of every kind may richly descend upon yourself and family is the prayer of your affectionate and dutiful servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Nov. 15, 1783.
Last Friday I had a note from Mr. Venn, which acquaints me with the loss of your wife, who, I find, expired suddenly after a long illness. When your rib is gone, you must lean firmer on your staff. Psalm 23
What a bubble is human honor, and what a toy is human joy! Happy is he, whose hope is the Lord, and whose heart cries out for the living God. Creature comforts may fail him, but the God of consolation will be with him. When human cisterns yield no water, he may drink of the river that waters the throne of God.
You may now, perhaps, think of drawing yourself into less compass. It is a desirable thing for an aged pilgrim, who is going home, and glad to drop encumbrances more than are really needful.
Youth, without grace, wants every worldly embellishment. But a gracious heart and hoary hairs cries out for communion with God, and says, Nothing on earth can I desire in comparison with Him. What a mercy, you need not fly to wordily amusements for relief or to find comfort! Along with plenty of this world's husks, the prodigal's food, God has bestowed a pearl on you which creates an appetite for spiritual cheer, and brings His royal dainties into your bosom.
May this season of mourning be sweetened with a sense of the Lord's presence, bringing many tokens of His fatherly love, and sanctifying the visitation, by drawing the heart more vigorously unto Him and fixing it on Him!
I have been ill for three months, and my body is wasted and weakened pretty much. My disorder seems to be asthmatic, and is attended with a deep cough and much phlegm. For two Sundays I was kept from my pulpit; but through mercy I am now able to preach once a week. My appetite is better, and I sleep better, but am feeble still.
May your children, along with this world's tawdry honor, partake of the true honor, by being adopted into God's family, and made the sons and daughter of the most high. Jesus' grace and peace be with you, and with your affectionate and dutiful servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Oct. 1, 1784.
Dear and honored Sir,
Mr. Astell has just paid us a transient visit, and acquaints me that you are returned from your ministry visitation of the seaports, and that Lady B_______ is gone to Scotland. It proved a sad rainy day, I hear, when she set out, not a single dry eye in the family, nor in several of the neighbors. A lovely farewell indeed, revealing the love and esteem she had won. Her marriage is somewhat like Rebecca's, only the groom, and not the steward, comes to fetch her from her native soil. May she find an Isaac, a kind and faithful wife in her Lord B_______. I suppose you felt a pang at parting, and did not know how much you loved until you took your leave; and though a bustle of business oft diverts your thoughts, your heart will miss your daughter long. But I must sympathize with your wife, who in parting with an amiable daughter, has lost her only female companion, and at a time of life when she may want her converse most.
Mr. Newton has fallen into the hands of a slaughter-man, I hear, Dr. Mayhew, who will certainly cleave him down if he can. He set Mr. Madan on his head about Aldwinkle, and almost made him crazy. I hope my dear brother will bear the Doctor's operation with Christian patience, and make no reply. Then the matter may rest, and he bandied about no further.
Controversy usually goes on briskly, but gospel work goes on heavily, at least among us.
All decays begin in the closet; no heart thrives without much secret converse with God; and nothing will make amends for the want of it. I can read God's word or hear a sermon at times, and feel no life; but I never rise from secret prayer without some quickening. Even when I set about it with heaviness or reluctance, the Lord is pleased in mercy to meet me in it. I find more sweet communion in secret than in social or congregational prayer. Much preaching and hearing is among the Methodists, and plenty of ordinances are a great blessing, but if they do not bring us much upon our knees, they suckle the head without nourishing the heart. We shall never obtain the old puritan spirit of holiness, until we obtain their spirit of prayer.
The Lord has given you the fat things of the earth in abundance; may he give you a heartful and a houseful of the upper blessings, watering the roots well, and all the branches! With all becoming esteem, I remain your affectionate and dutiful servant,
N.B. If I am called to London in winter, I have thoughts of publishing a Hymn Book, which has been oft threatened with the fire, and is now designed for the press.
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, July 2, 1785.
Dear and honored Sir,
Sin, which has kindled a fire in Hell, is kindling fires on earth continually. And when they break out every one is asking how they happened. Amos replies, "Shall there be disaster in a city and the Lord has not done it?" And when desolation is made by fire, Isaiah declares, The Lord has consumed us, because of our iniquities.
Many years ago my house was oft threatened to be destroyed, but the Lord insured it, by giving the 10th verse of the 91st Psalm; and the Lord's providence is the best insurance.
Potton felt the Lord's fiery ravage some time past; and Biggleswade smarts under it now. One hundred and twenty houses, eight malt-houses, and a Meeting-house, with barns and stables are consumed. The wealthy sufferers had insured three-fourth of their substance. This loss therefore will not break their backs, nor does it seem to humble their hearts; but the little tradesmen and poor laborers have lost their all, and are herded together in an old malt-house, and barns; among whom are several of the Lord's dear children, begotten under my ministry. I would like to deal out all my mites privately among these, but for the gospel-credit I must appear a public contributor, which will shorten private relief. A man is taken on suspicion of setting the town on fire, but alas! sin needs taking up, for sin is the incendiary.
Yelling church is well attended under Mr. Simeon's afternoon ministry. A brave Christian Sergeant he is, having the true spirit of an Evangelist, but his feet are often put into the stocks by the Archdeacon of Yelling, who is doubtless become a vagabond preacher as well as myself, a right gospel hawker and peddler, but seems desirous of having the trade to himself. Through mercy he is grown as scandalous as I could wish him—yet he wants to fasten the shackle on Simeon, which he has dropped from himself. O worldly prudence, what a prudish foe you are to grace!
Some little time before Mr. Venn went to London, he preached at Bluntisham, a village in the Fens, and finding great power and success, he promised to preach there once every two weeks in some barn at his return. In the mean time I desired Simeon to strike while the iron was hot, and to visit Bluntisham as well as Yelling. He consented. After preaching at Cambridge on a Sunday morning, he preached at Yelling in the afternoon, and at Bluntisham in the evening; and finding a very crowded and attentive audience, he preached early on Monday morning, leaving off before six.
This he did for three weeks, and then acquaints his principal with what he had done, expecting a letter of congratulation; but lo! a funeral answer comes, declaring Mr. Venn is grieved at his conduct, grieved at Simeon for doing what he himself had done, and intended to do. This surely is grief of all griefs, too deep even for tragedy. Pray, Sir, lay your cane soundly on the Archdeacon's back, when you see him, and brush off this heathen grief else it may spoil a Christian Sergeant.
I am growing, as I should, more base and loathsome in my own sight, and Christ is growing more precious and lovely; but I cannot walk in his strength, as I ought, nor feast on his fullness, as I might. Here I am an infant still, but am praying daily for larger stature of faith—faith to remove mole hills at least, if not mountains.
I suppose you are now preparing for a visitation of the sea-coast. The Lord direct your course, and prosper your own, and your Chaplain's labors. May the Lord's blessing attend yourself, your wife and children, and make the several families one household of faith. That grace may bring you all to glory is the prayer of your affectionate and dutiful servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, July 13, 1785.
Dear and honored Sir,
Your kind letter I have received, which brings comfortable relief to the poor and distressed people at Biggleswade. The Lord has rewards of grace to give, and such you are seeking, being blessed with a supernatural ambition of coveting the best things. Most of the wealthy prove bankrupts or beggars at last, spend all or leave all behind, live rich and die poor, regale their palate here with the choicest wines—and cannot gain a drop of water hereafter to cool their tongue!
But God is making you wealthy for both worlds. Providence provides the nether springs for you, and grace is preparing the upper. O, Sir, what mercy embraces you! A rich man—and yet saved from being high-minded, from loving or trusting in Mammon! A rich man in this world and rich towards God! May your children share in the double blessing!
I lately preached at Grantchester, one mile from Cambridge, to a very numerous audience, among whom were several gracious young Students, and three Masters of Arts. One of the Masters, who had been a zealous Socinian, came to me after preaching, and embracing me with tears, thanked me for the sermons I had preached last summer at Wistow and Harston, and for the private discourse before and after sermon. From what I saw and heard of him, I hope he is coming home to Jesus.
My church is usually very full in afternoons, and the people are awake and attentive, but the congregation is almost a new one. Many old sheep are housed in the upper fold; and many, who live at a distance, are dropped into neighboring meetings, and only pay occasional visits to Everton. I shall meet them all by and by, and a blessed meeting it will be, when sheep and shepherds will give to Jesus all the glory of it.
I find you have thoughts of visiting North Wales. Whenever you steer north or south, east or west, may Jesus, the God of the earth, go with you, preserve your going out and coming in, and prosper what you undertake for his glory. I am your obedient and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To the Rev. John Newton
Everton, Nov. 12, 1785.
My dear Brother,
I thank you for you gift, and can rejoice with yourself and your dear wife, for the gentle dismissal and blessed translation of Eliza—no longer your niece, but the Lord's bride, trained up for wedding at your own house and church, and solemnly espoused on Oct. 6.
Jesus has paid you well for the cares and pains you bestowed in the training, having dropped a recompense into your bosom, with full gospel measure, namely, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. Indeed, our Lord does every kindness royally, and like himself. May his love fill our hearts, and his praise employ our life!
I am full of expectation for your book, Messiah, and hope it will not be long before it appears. A glorious subject indeed, and God has engaged your hand to the work. All ministers should preach about Jesus, but only his secretaries are fit to write about him. I find him growing very precious to my soul, and wrapped more closely round my heart. My daily prayer is to grow up into him, and lose myself in him, and find him my all in all. Perhaps I may be called up soon to see him, whom my heart loves, and to throw myself at his feet.
I have been ill for three months, and for two Sundays kept out of my pulpit. My body is wasted and weakened, and my trumpeter's face is subsided. Through mercy I am somewhat better, and just able to preach once on a Sunday, but am far from well, and not likely to be so, until I get home. What a mercy to have a prospect of a heavenly home, and well-founded too, when the earthly cottage is feeble or falling!
My brother Venn came home a cripple from Surrey Chapel, and confined some weeks to his couch. One leg was exceedingly swollen from the ankle to the hip, but the swelling is almost or wholly gone; he can now wear his proper shoes, stockings and breeches; and is able to ride to Everton and back the same day. A marriage is expected at Yelling about Christmas between his eldest daughter and Mr. Elliot.
Mr. Cowper has published more poems, I find; but his poetry, though excellent, is not likely for sale. There is too much gospel for the world, and too little for most believers. Pray give my kind respects to Mr. Foster, when you see him; and to Mr. Romaine when you catch him. I send my hearty love to you and your dear. Much grace and peace be with you, and with your affectionate brother,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Tabernacle, Feb. 20, 1786.
Dear and honored Sir,
On Sunday, the 12th of March, I purpose to wait upon you at Clapham, and beg of Christ to give us the meeting. I am to preach at Tottenham in the morning, and the afternoon service will be over before five. May I have permission to expect your carriage to convey an old drone, for such I am now, to Clapham. Indeed I now belong to the family of Dolittles; the Lord make the little I do effectual; and I heartily thank him for giving me a will when I had strength; and for not laying me aside, but continuing a small measure of strength, now that I am old.
There is no master like Jesus. Every endearment meets in this master, the father, the brother, the husband and friend. Every office centers in him, the prophet, and priest, and King of his people. He has abundant charms to captivate a heart when the eye is opened to behold him. Blessed are your eyes, for they see, Jesus says to his disciples. May we not join in thanking God for this blessedness bestowed on us also? May Lord open our eyes more clearly, and keep them open, until we behold this precious Jesus face to face.
You are indebted to him, for the will and the power to be bountiful; and for continuing the will, notwithstanding the daily trouble and frequent impositions attending your bounty. The praise is his due, give it, I trust you do, give it him all.
But chiefly are you indebted to Jesus for giving you a sight of himself, and drawing your heart after him. This is the dawn of eternal blessedness. A view of the Lord of glory, is glory springing up in the soul. And as this view grows clearer and more abiding, the glory increases, until at length it is consummated by an eternal weight of glory!
What a prospect is here opened to the believer, and what a claim of eternal praise from him, who was born a child of wrath, and an heir of Hell—but through grace has been snatched like a brand from the burning, adopted into the heavenly family above, and made a child of God, and an heir of God most high! Thus the beggar is lifted up from his dunghill, and exalted among the princes of Heaven!
May the Lord make all your dear relations partakers of his blessing; and for this purpose may Jesus' grace be with them all, and abound in yourself, and your affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
Everton, April 27, 1786.
My dear Lissey,
Through the Lord's protection I came safe to Everton on Tuesday, the 11th, at half-past four, and found my servants all well, and everything well about me. Blessed be God for seventy years mercies! May they follow me all my days, and bring me to the land of everlasting praise, where mercy endures forever!
We lose much of the savory comfort that springs from providential bounty, for lack of duly discerning what a mercy it is. The starving beggar, who receives pittance from a charitable hand feels the value of this mercy, and blesses his benefactor with a warm heart. And is not every mouthful you eat the same mercy? Is it not as much unmerited, and as much a free gift, as a beggar's alms? Why then is not every meal a feast of gratitude? Because we lack the beggar's hunger and poverty, to make us duly thankful for food.
One morning, last week, as I lay in bed, thinking of a person, I could not relish on account of selfishness, these words were dropped into my bosom, "Look at what is good in him, overlook the rest." I found the words came from the Lord, by the effect which they had; for they instantly removed the disgust which I had long conceived. Thus when a veil was thrown over selfishness, I could discern good things in him, and think of him with pleasure.
This may be of use to my Lissey to remove my present disgusts, which are cankers, that prey upon the spirits.
Alas! how little do we possess of that love which bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. We grow more like Jesus, only as we grow up into Him in love; and this grace purifies, and sweetens the affections, banishing selfishness, so far as it prevails. It is the temper of Heaven, and the nature of God; for God is love.
And can a God of love allow His children to lack anything needful? Does he feed His birds, and will He starve his babes? Has He given us bodies to be fed and clothed; and will He withhold food and clothing? If you happen to feel anxiety about these matters, remember the sweet, quieting word, which Jesus has dropped to hush your heart, "Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of these things!"
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew 6:25-26
And again, fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom; and if he gives you the kingdom, he will bear your charges thither.
I send my love to Betsey and Sally; the Lord send his love, and that crowns all. Grace and peace be with you all, and with your affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To the Rev. John Newton
Everton, June 14, 1786.
My dear Brother,
I have received and read your sermons on the Messiah. I thank God for the sermons, and for the testimony you have borne against Oratorios. They seem a growing evil. The public prints give notice that three Oratorios are to be performed in Louth Church at the end of this month. The fiddling of scripture in a theater seems to me a profanation of God's word, making it a mere carnal amusement; and the matter is made worse by bringing Oratorios into God's house, they then become a satanic ordinance.
The bringing an Oratorio band, an army of pipers and fiddlers into God's house, appears to me a worse profanation than selling oxen and sheep in the temple. I am not sorry that a stir has been made about this matter to nip the evil in its bud.
But if I had known Mr. Hill's declaration, that no more Oratorios should be performed in his chapel, it would have saved me the trouble of writing my letter, which was sent to Mr. Mills, of Moorfields, in answer to a letter from him, and designed for no one else.
I am sorry to find that many agree in calling Oratorios unwise things and nothing more. Whereas, if they are lawful exhibitions for God's house, the devil will soon find a way to make them expedient. For what more expedient to ease a chapel of its debt, than a lawful Oratorio? And what more expedient to repair a decayed chapel, or to help to support the ministers, than a lawful Oratorio? Jesus Christ is Lord of his house, and no one has a right to appoint what goes on in the church but himself. All human inventions are invasions of his authority, and are neither wise nor lawful.
I send my kind Christian respects to Mrs. Newton, and to our common Christian friend, whom I hope to see at Everton. Grace and peace be with you, and with your affectionate brother,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Oct. 11, 1786.
Dear and honored Sir,
You are now returned, I suppose, from your ministerial visitation, and have made a seaport ring with gospel tidings. The Lord attend them with his blessing. You do well to change your station every year, and may the cloudy pillar always go before you, and direct you where to fix the gospel standard. What a honor the Lord Jesus puts upon you, in employing you to carry abroad the best news that can be heard—news of salvation; and while others travel to behold the vain glitter of earthly glory, you are traveling to show to sinners the unsearchable riches of Christ, and allure them to his arms. The Lord, who employs you, is a good master, and will remember every labor of love you undertake for his sake. May his presence be ever with you to animate and protect you, and his love to refresh you; and may his own dear self be the growing love and joy of your heart, your strength and confidence, a sweet present portion and your everlasting all.
Infirmities, I find, are growing upon me; but they come at the Lord's bidding, to make room in the heart; and come with his blessing, to make them welcome. My ears are now so dull, they are not fit for converse; and my eyes are so weak, I can read but little, and write less. Old Adam, who is the devil's darling, sometimes whispers in my ears (and he can make me hear with a whisper) What will you do, if you become both deaf and blind? I tell him, I must think the more, and pray the more—yes, and thank the Lord for eyes and ears enjoyed until I was seventy; and for the prospect of a better pair of eyes and ears, when these are gone.
What a mercy to have a never-failing Jesus, when all things else are failing! O my God, I thank you for the precious gift of your beloved Son, and for sweetly joining my heart unto him.
My chest is so weak, I cannot walk ten minutes—yet am enabled to preach once a week, and have more enjoyment of my body, when sitting still, and better rest at nights, than usual.
So here is mercy along with judgment, and by and by it will be mercy without judgment. I hear Mr. Robert Thornton is married: may the Lord betroth both the groom and the bride to himself, and plant his faith in the hearts of all your children. Grace and peace be multiplied upon you, dear Sir, and upon your much obliged and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Tabernacle, Feb. 20, 1787.
Dear and honored Sir,
My turn is to preach at Tottenham, on Sunday, the 11th of March, when there will be no noon sacrament, and on that day I purpose to wait upon you at Clapham, if convenient, and shall be thankful for your conveyance thither.
Dr. Peckwell lately hinted to one of our Trustees his intention of practicing medicine; and when the society, called the Poor Man's Friend, met at Tottenham on Wednesday last, he proposed himself, as a physician to prescribe for the patients under the care of that society. This looks like an introductory step to the practice of medicine, and as designed to make his intentions generally known.
A dispensary seems to me a poor exchange for the Bible, and a Materia Medica of little value in respect of Christ's calvary balms. Where Christ is known and felt, his pulpit service is far beyond all medical fees. Happy are they, that grow hoary in its service, and find it more and more delightful. A good master He is, kind to all his servants, his love like himself boundless, his wages beyond computation great, and measurable only by eternity—yet wholly undeserved.
When I get a glimpse of Jesus, and we have only glimpses here, he seems so precious, so desirable, so all over glorious, I wonder that my thoughts can be employed on any other object; but mists come on to cloud the spiritual hemisphere, and Christ is hid behind his cloud; yet faith can trust an unseen God, and rear its head, when sense and reason fail. Oh, for much of this heaven-born faith, to cheer us on while running the race, and hold up the heart when it is ending! The Lord plant this faith in the hearts of all your children, and give you the comfort of beholding all its fruits in them. And may the God of peace give you his peace at all times, and afford the same to your truly affectionate and much obliged servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Oct. 27, 1787.
Dear and honored Sir,
The word of God and prayer has been my employment for a long season, and I had purposed to read no other book but the Bible; but your Remembrancer being a small tract and savory, I read it through, and found it so profitable, that I purpose, if coming again to London, to buy a dozen for my Lay-preachers.
By duly reading the holy word, and mixing it with prayer, I find my faith and my affection more steadfastly fixed on Jesus, and at times he appears so exceedingly sweet, that I could kiss his feet, were he bodily present; but being absent, I kiss his name in the Bible with reverential love.
Oh, dear Sir, if Jesus appears so precious with only a glimpse of his glory, how precious must he appear when beheld in all his glory, and in the full smile of his countenance. What Sheba's Queen said to Solomon, is only verified in our Jesus: Happy are your servants, who stand continually before you.
I know not of any growth in grace, but what arises from growing out of self, carnal, worldly, and righteous self—up into Christ, and finding him become more and more, our love and joy, our strength and confidence, our pleasant meditation, and our all in all.
I do not much like our Church Catechism; it begins so very badly, calling baptism our new birth, and making us thereby members of Christ, children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of Heaven.
Mr. Stillingfleet should have spoken more fully and pointedly about this weighty matter; for all carnal churchmen imagine they are new born, because baptized, and quote the Catechism as a proof of it, and the carnal clergy preach accordingly, and quote the same authority. The acting as sponsors is now become a mere farce, and a gossiping business; and the promising for infants, what they cannot engage for themselves, may suit a covenant of works, but not a covenant of grace.
My health, through mercy, is rather better than in some years past; but my body grows tottering, my eyes dim, my ears deaf, and my faculties feeble. However, I look for new eyes, new ears, and new faculties when this vile body is ground down in the grave. Thanks be to Jesus for this prospect, the fruit of his purchase and effect of his grace.
May the Lord give you much of his presence, with a daily waiting for his coming, and bestow the blessings of his spiritual kingdom on all your dear children and relatives. Grace and peace be with you, and all yours, and with your affectionate and dutiful servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Tabernacle, Feb. 21, 1788.
Dear and honored Sir,
I am so tumbled about in preaching, without any regularity, that I know not where I am to preach, until an order comes. However for once I will fix my time, namely, the 2nd of March, and wait upon Mrs. Wilberforce afterwards.
I begin to be weary of London, gossiping visitors weigh me down. Everton suits me best, where I can be alone, with the word of God for my companion, and leisure enough for musing and prayer.
Never am I well, but when at home with Jesus. May he draw me nearer, and keep me closer with him.
Captain Scot is here, a truly spiritual man. The Lord give you all you can desire, much grace in your own heart, and much in your children. May Jesus' peace be ever with you, and with your dutiful and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
Everton, Oct. 9, 1788.
When our expectation is too much raised on account of any creature, the Lord Jesus in wisdom disappoints it, that we may seek our whole happiness in him. He expects that our whole dependence should be placed on him. He will have it, and is worthy of it. The human heart would gladly be roosting a little on some earthly thing, but Jesus will unroost it, and bring it fluttering to himself like the dove to Noah's ark, where alone it can find rest. Delight yourself in the Lord, in him wholly, and he will give us the desires of our heart.
If the heart happens to seek delight elsewhere, it is kindness in the Lord to deny us our desires. Your late affliction may bring you more profit than a sermon or a visit from myself. Indeed I was so deaf that a visit would have been very troublesome to you.
During our earthly warfare, troubles will come by sixes and sevens—a gracious company, and not one too many. If we could live well without afflictions—we would not have them; but we cannot, and therefore Jesus in love sends them.
You are an afflicted family to be sure, but mercy, much mercy attends you. If three are cast down one is held up, and though feeble, is supported until some other is raised up. If you see no family so afflicted as yours, can you find any family so blessed. All of one heart and one mind seeking after Jesus. Surely the Lord delights in you, and bestows his best blessings on you, a healthy soul—while the world is satisfied with a healthy body. Yet the best need correction, and must have it. Whom the Lord loves, he rebukes and chastens. Some foolishness is bound up in the hearts of all of his children, and he will not spoil a child by sparing his rod. Grace and peace be with you all, and with your affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton
Everton, Oct. 26, 1788.
Dear and honored Sir,
Mrs. Bewick tells me that you are now returned from your ministry circuit, having visited France and Flanders. I believe Great Britain is chiefly designed for your diocese—yet a little gospel seed, scattered in a foreign land, may not be lost; and this kind word follows, wherever you go, Labor for the Lord shall not be in vain. If others reject the offered blessings, it shall return upon your own head.
How much more excellent and kindly are your campaigns than the imperial ones! You are bringing news of life and peace—and they are carrying horror and death, wherever they march, to themselves and others.
How mad is wordily ambition, and yet how much admired, if it succeeds, by men of a worldly mind, who call these murderers of the human race, heroes! Little do these heroes think what vengeance they are drawing on themselves by the slaughters they occasion, and how Hell will be moved to meet them at their coming down. Isaiah 14.9-15. These heroes are the devil's champions, who go forth to people his dominions, and upon their standards should be written, Death and Hell.
Blessed be God for engaging us in a better warfare, under the Prince of peace, who calls us forth to a noble victory, attended with glory, honor, and immortality. All thanks to his grace for enlisting us, and keeping us steadfast to his standard. The praise is all his own, and must be all his own forever. Hallelujah!
Mrs. Bewick pleases me much; there seems a real heart-work in her; worldly losses may have brought much spiritual gain. Mrs. Astell is some little better, but exceedingly feeble, and not likely to continue very long. I hope there is something good in her, but cannot truly read her spiritual state, and I fear that she has been going backward lately. May the Lord revive the work, if begun—or begin it effectually, by sanctifying the visitation, and drawing the heart quite home to Jesus. In neither of the partners can I see anything at present, but decency.
My ears have been stopped for two months, but now are somewhat opened. The Lord does all things well. I am growing infirm, as I must expect; and out of conceit with myself more and more, as I ought. I am decreasing, that Jesus may increase. A precious Christ and his precious word are everything to me. My chief converse is with him; and find myself best, when alone with him. He is instead of all company.
May the Lord refresh your heart daily with his peace, and bring your children well acquainted with his grace and love. With affectionate and dutiful respects, I remain your much obliged servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To John Thornton.
Everton, Dec. 30, 1788.
Dear and honored Sir,
I am favored with two letters from you, the former of which brought me ten pounds for the poor. The Lord return it in special blessings on yourself. I am now daily calling on my heavenly Counselor to provide me a Curate; telling him that I am unable to find or to choose one; but he is able to do both; and I am running much to his door on this errand. He will not be offended.
Sometimes an anxious thought creeps into my bosom, and weighs me down, but I send it off to Jesus. He is willing to take, and able to bear all burdens, that are cast upon him.
My Curate cannot help being glad at having a living of his own, but he is himself in no haste to be gone, and our sorrow will be mutual at parting, whenever it be. There is, I perceive, a horrible fear that he and his wife will be poisoned, but the fear comes too ate, for the mischief is done already. Richard's loins are well girt with truth, and his heart upright and steadfast: his wife also accords well with him. I could wish the purchased living might be at some good distance from Pharisaic friends; however Christian faith must be tried to prove it genuine.
On Saturday I wrote to Mr._______ acquainting him with my speedy want of a Curate, and desiring him to inquire among his Cambridge friends about Mr._______ or any other that might seem suitable. But indeed I am not very fond of College youths; they are apt to be lofty and lazy and delicate—and few of them might like to unite with such an offensive character as mine. I should think a young man from the Hull academies might suit better; but my thoughts are not worth a groat, and when they perplex me, I throw them into the lap of Jesus.
I am glad that your dear sister is removed from a frosty world, into a better region, where Jesus, precious Jesus, makes eternal spring and sunshine.
Troublous times are coming, I fear, but two things comfort me; the Lord reigns, and my life is drawing towards its close. The 9th of January is appointed for my journey to London. The Lord accompany me thither and there with his presence, protection and blessing.
May Jesus give you all that you wish for yourself and your children, hearts full of faith and love, and a life adorned with good works. Thus praying, I remain your much obliged and affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To Benjamin Mills
Everton, Oct. 3, 1783.
Your kind letter is received with an enclosed cheque for the poor sufferers at Potton. A hay stack, which had long been smoking and neglected, at length threw up large flakes of fire into the air, and these being driven and scattered by the wind, set half the town on fire in twenty minutes! Whatever the fire reached it consumed—and the mischief was done in four hours. If during that time the wind had shifted from north to south-east, the whole town would have been burned. The best part of the town, I mean, the best houses are burnt; and the poor have suffered, but not in such numbers as the rich. Professors have fared the best, but not wholly escaped. Much of the market-place is burnt, with the two great inns, and the large street leading from the church into the market.
Mr. John Raymond's great house, with his wool-house, barns, stables, and grain, and two thousand pounds worth of wool, just laid in, are all consumed. He computes his loss at five thousand pounds, and says he is still worth twenty thousand, but is so dejected, and his health is so impaired by this loss, that his life seems in great danger.
Livelong's house, wool-houses, and buildings are consumed. He is reckoned one of the most infamous in Potton, and was thought in very declining circumstances; but people say, the fire will set him up, he is insured so deep.
Butler's house, wool-house, and buildings are also consumed, but part of his stock is insured. John Keeling has escaped. John Miller's house and workshop are consumed. He has suffered more than any of the professors, but is not offensive now to the carnal world, and will be well considered in the general contribution; however, at your desire, I shall send him two guineas. He names himself Elijah, and calls all other ministers Baal's prophets; yet since the fire, he has had the vanity to beg of me to recommend him as a preacher to the Tabernacle. He now openly declares that Jesus Christ is no more God, than Paul was, which has this good effect, that it keeps the good people at Potton from hearing him altogether. Indeed he is grown very lofty and censorious, and I wish his late calamity may be sanctified.
The furniture of my Curate's house had cost £300, which was all consumed; and no linen saved, but what was on their backs, so rapid was the fire. I was forced to take them in, and a mournful sight it was to see them come in the evening, the husband with a cradle, the wife with a young child, and the maid with an infant in her arms. Through mercy a house was provided for them at Gamlingay in a fortnight's time.
My feverish complaint is much removed, but my head, and chest are but indifferent; however I have been just enabled to preach once a Sunday through the summer.
My kind Christian love to your wife, peace and protection be with you both, and grace with your children. I remain your much indebted and thankful servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To Benjamin Mills
Everton, Nov. 4, 1785.
Your letter occasioned thankfulness to God, with prayers for blessings on yourself— blessings, according to scripture, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. I know not what my poor Lay-evangelists would do without some assistance received from yourself and your society. They are laboring men, whose paws maintain their jaws, and two of them have seven children, and their wives are kindling every year. They seem the only free grace preachers in the land; for they do preach free grace freely, without money, and without price, having nothing for their preaching but a plain dinner, and sometimes not even that.
I believe Dr. P. could take leave of Tabernacle and Tottenham without tears, if he met with church preferment that is warm and blanketing, such as would lap quite round him, and keep his four wheeled curricles in sprightly order, and support a decent number of liveries. But the Lord seldom loads the back with preferment when the eye has got a squint.
Traveling by coach is an evil that creeps among Methodist preachers. It brings a high head, and a low purse; it lifts the preacher above his hearers, and keeps the poor at a distance from him. The Gospel seldom runs well on wheels. Our dear Master always rode upon his own legs, except once, when he borrowed a donkey to make an entry into Jerusalem; and then any disciple might have got up behind if he pleased. It is no wonder that hearers run into worldly fashions, when their preachers lead the way!
I have been ill for two months, much weighed down with coughing and phlegm, sometimes almost strangled with it, which has wasted and weakened my body, and narrowed and bleached my face. I was kept out of my pulpit for two Sundays, and my cadaverous countenance made many suspect I was going to take leave of them. Through mercy I am better, but not recovered, and am able to preach once on a Sunday, but am in travail three or four days afterwards.
I am naturally fretful in pain, and the Lord sends me coughing and phlegm to puke the fretfulness up, which, along with grace, may do the business.
I send my kind respects to your little wife, and being a good wife, there is enough of her, and respects to your brisk shopkeeper, who is a part of you. Much grace and peace be with you, and with your affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To Benjamin Mills
Everton, Nov. 1, 1786.
I had bought some very strong good cloth to make two coats and breeches for two very poor but upright preachers, and had sent it two weeks ago, with a guinea to each to make the clothes up, with some thoughts of your bounty to eke the matter out. But I find you are no friend to eking, for you have made the whole up, with a remnant beside. On opening your letter I gave the Lord hearty thanks for your donation, with a prayer for a blessing on the donor; and may his blessing ever rest on you and yours! Amen.
I had much of my nervous fever in the summer, which kept me at home; and the Lord took away my hearing for three months, so that I was not able to converse. Then my eyes seemed to be going fast; and at one time I had an apprehension of being both deaf and blind. At first I prayed daily to the Lord for my hearing, but with submission to his will; and on Sunday two weeks ago, he gave me a better pair of ears (thanks be to his grace) not perfectly restored—yet so as to make me able to converse with comfort; and they seem still to be mending. This has encouraged me to ask for a better pair of eyes. And why should I not? Jesus has eyes to give as well as ears, and he can bear begging; nay, is never better pleased than with a thousand beggars at his door. Well, my eyes are somewhat better (thanks again to my healer) and I keep praying on.
I am glad to hear you write of a visit to Everton; we have always plenty of horse provender at hand, but unless you send me notice beforehand of your coming, you will have a cold and scanty meal; for we roast only twice in the week. Let me have a line, and I will give you the same treat I always gave to Mr. Whitfield—an eighteen-penny barn-door bird; this will neither burst you, nor ruin me; half you shall have at noon with a pudding, and the rest at night.
Much grace and sweet peace be with yourself and partner; and the blessing of a new heart be with your children. With many thanks I remain your affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To Benjamin Mills
Everton, Oct. 9, 1788.
This comes with a thank-offering for your kindness, and a prayer that God may multiply his mercy on yourself, your wife and your children. Through the Lord's gracious providence, I got to Everton safe and well on Saturday afternoon about five, and not quite so tired as I expected. On Sunday I preached, and felt the effect of Wednesday's sermon. What a poor Do-little I am, next door to a cumber ground! Twenty-one good meals in a week, with a beverage besides, and one sermon chiefly. Sure no lazy servant was ever so fed; but I live upon a King's bounty, who exceeds not only all deserts, but all our thanks and praises. He delights to make his servants stand amazed at his bounty and grace—bounty too rich to be exhausted, and grace too deep to be fathomed, except in glory.
Let others prattle of their works and one sinner praise another—but I will sing of the mercy of the Lord forever and ever. Thanks be to my God for giving me an appetite for this heavenly manna, and a taste of it. His mercy endures forever; how sweet the sound—how rich the food to a gracious soul! A pleasant thing it is to be thankful; and saints will feel a pleasing, growing debt of gratitude forever, which will fill the heavenly courts with everlasting hallelujahs! May you and I attend and join the choir!
I was sorry to see Mr. West look so lank and walk so feebly; and as Mr. Keen, though seemingly revived, is old and tottering like myself, I wish another Trustee might be chosen before their removal. It would be bad to have the whole Trust lodged in a single hand, and him a preacher too. I trust the Lord Jesus, who has removed two High Priests from the chapels, and has shown a providential care of them hitherto, will direct the Trustees properly.
Solomon's account of old age suits me well. The windows are dark; the daughters of music are low; the grinders cease, for all are gone; and the grasshopper is a burden. Well, thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, for the prospect of a better world. Grace and peace be with you and yours, dear Sir, and with your affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
To Benjamin Mills
Everton, Nov. 23, 1790.
Our years are rolling away fast, and will quickly roll us into eternity! How needful that admonition: Prepare to meet your God! Without business to mind, my heart will rove in the world—get bemired in it, and stick so fast in a quag, that I am forced to cry: Lord, pull my heart out!
Thanks to grace, I have been crawling many years on the road to Zion; the Master has somewhat quickened my pace. Now being almost through the wilderness, very sick of self, and of a daggling world, I am drawing near to Mount Pisgah. When I stand on its top, may the Lord give me an open eye of faith, to see all the promised land, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The windows of my house grow dimmer, I can scarcely give a straight line, or spell a word right, and dislike a pen much. Yet thanks to the Lord, my health is better, my ears pretty stout, and my legs keep mending, are peaceable in a chair, though fretful in bed.
I purpose, with the good permission and help of my Master, to set off for Tabernacle on Tuesday, the 28th of December, unless a fall of snow happens, which would delay me until the roads are cleared.
May the Lord afford his presence, protection, and blessing! Blessed be God for a prospect of peace: much wrangling here about things civil and sacred, but no belligerents above. One Heaven holds all; one Temple services all; and one Jesus feeds all with his own love, joy and peace. My eyes cry for rest, so with affectionate respects to your wife, the Trustees, and preachers, I remain your much obliged servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
Everton, May 6, 1792.
Once more I am paying a corresponding visit to you, and others, expecting it to be my last on account of my eyes, which are growing so dim, that I can read but little of what I love dearly, the precious word of God. I now lament the many years I spent at Cambridge in learning useless academic lumber—that wisdom of the world which is foolishness with God. I see nothing worth knowing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified; for him to know is life eternal. Follow him at all times, and let your heart dance after him, as David danced after the ark. And when he comes into your bosom hold him fast, and turn all other company out. He loves to be alone with his bride. You may find him in the shop, or in the street, if you seek him there; and often whisper in his ear, 'Dear Jesus, come and bless me!'
If he sometimes surprises us with his visit, and comes unexpectedly; yet he loves to see the doors open, and the bosom waiting for him. Many kind visits are lost through a gadding heart; therefore keep at home with the Lord, and let him hear much of your loving talk, and tell him all your wants, and all your grievances, and cast all your care upon him, and hide nothing from him. Lean firmly upon him, and he will cheer your heart in every trying hour, and bring you safe at last to his eternal home, where sin and sorrow never come; but where joy and peace forever dwell. In this world we must expect tribulation—it is the Christian's fare, and comes because it is needed, and stays no longer than while it is needed. Hereafter he will make us know, if not before, that he has done all things well!
I am very feeble in body, but as well as I should be, and must allow my heavenly Physician to prescribe for me.
My kind respects attend you all. Peace be with you, my dear Lissey, with spiritual health and joy in the Lord. The Lord give us a happy meeting above—Farewell.
~ ~ ~ ~
Everton, Aug. 2, 1792.
My dear N,
You ask me how I do, eyes very dim, ears deaf, head much shattered, and spirits very low—yet much exempt from pain. Here my Jesus shows his tenderness, he knows his old horse can scarcely carry his legs, and he will not overload him. I am apt to think the Lord may continue me here a year or two longer, because he has sent me a pulpit supply for that time.
Having lost my benefactors, I was thinking what I must do—go on and trust, was the word. When we are low, Satan will batter us with unbelief. I dare not argue with Satan, but cast myself at Jesus' feet, committing soul and body to him, asking and expecting his assistance, it is not long before it comes with a loving reproof. O you of little faith why did you doubt?
The two last Sundays I was led to church and into the pulpit; my voice was feeble but hearable, and Christ was precious. Oh to see Jesus as he is, and surrounded with his ransomed people, hearts full of love pouring out hallelujahs, and filling Heaven with his praise! Thanks to my Jesus for putting me in the way of his kingdom, and for holding onto me hitherto; give me, dear Lord, a safe and honorable passage through the wilderness, and a joyful entrance into Canaan. The Lord bless you, with great and endless blessings, and keep you under his care. Amen.
~ ~ ~ ~
My purpose was to wait upon you when in town, but was disappointed various ways. Here we meet and part, but when we meet above we shall part no more—taking leave of journeying and dying friends will then be over. The Lord will be our everlasting light, and our days of mourning will be ended. And should we not live above, while dwelling here below? What is there worth an anxious thought, but Jesus Christ, and his salvation—salvation from the lowest depths of misery to the eternal heights of glory! Not only bought and freely offered, but to be tasted and enjoyed in its first fruits, while we journey through this valley of tears!
What does Jesus say from above to his traveling saints? "Come up hither, and I will show you things, which must be hereafter!" Rev. 4:1. Not only prophetic views to be imparted to John, but heavenly views of rich grace to be disclosed to his nether saints, with blessed foretastes of those riches, if they come up hither; but we often lose anticipations of this grace for lack of coming up.
When the thoughts are hurried or bewildered in the world, the soul is cleaving to the dust, and made unfit for divine refreshments. Many attend duly upon ordinances—a few only are seeking to walk with God; yet the Lord's remnant is among these few; and to these he reveals his secrets.
Great watchfulness and prayer are needful for all, who seek to walk with God, but especially for those, who have large dealings in the world. To such Jesus says, take heed your hearts be not overcharged with the cares of this life. He knew such a caution was needful, and his children will attend unto it. But if their desires are growing eager after the world, he sends disappointments, or affliction to sicken their pursuit and bring their hearts home to himself. Happy are those who are suffered to find no rest, but in the Lord. Your affectionate servant,
~ ~ ~ ~
If every parish church were blessed with a gospel minister, there could be little need of itinerant preaching; but since these ministers are thinly scattered about the country, and neighboring pulpits are usually locked up against them, it behooves them to take advantage of fields or barns to cast abroad the gospel seed. But all are not designed to be rural preachers. How are we to judge who are?
If you are enabled to preach without notes—feel an abiding desire to spread the gospel—meet with calls for this purpose—comply with the calls—find the word sealed, and, if persecuted and threatened, have the word given for support. Where these occur (and these are just my own experience) I have no doubt but such a minister is designed for a rural or rambling preacher.
When you open your commission, begin with laying open the innumerable corruptions of the hearts of your audience. Moses will lend you a knife, which may be often whetted at his grindstone. Lay open the universal sinfulness of nature; the darkness of the mind, the frowardness of the will, the fretfulness of the temper, and the earthliness and sensuality of the affections. Speak of the evil of sin in its nature, its rebellion against God as our sovereign, ingratitude to God as our benefactor, and contempt both of his authority and love. Declare the evil of sin in its effects, bringing all our sickness, pains, and sorrows; all the evils we feel, and all the evils we fear; all inundations, and fires, and famines, and pestilences; all brawls, and quarrels, and fightings, and wars—with death to close these present sorrows, and Hell afterwards to receive all that die in sin!
Lay open the spirituality of the law, and its extent, reaching to every thought, word, and action, and declaring every transgression, whether by omission or commission, deserving of death.
Declare man's utter helplessness to change his nature, or to make his peace. Pardon and holiness must come from the Savior. Acquaint them with the searching eye of God, watching us continually, spying out every thought, word, and action, noting them down in the book of his remembrance, and bringing every secret thing into judgment, whether it be good or evil.
When your hearers are deeply affected with these things (which is seen by the hanging down of their heads) then preach Christ. Lay open the Savior's almighty power
to soften the hard heart, and give it repentance,
to bring pardon to the broken heart,
a spirit of prayer to the prayerless heart,
holiness to the filthy heart,
and faith to the unbelieving heart.
Let them know that all the treasures of grace are lodged in Jesus Christ for the use of the poor needy sinner, and that he is full of love as well as power. He turns no beggar from his gate, but receives all comers kindly; loves to bless them, and bestows all his blessings graciously and freely. Farmers and country people understand that. Here you must wave the gospel-flag, and magnify the Savior supremely. Speak it with a full mouth, that his blood can wash away the foulest sins, and his grace can subdue the stoutest corruptions. Exhort the people to seek his grace, to seek it directly, seek it diligently, seek it constantly, and acquaint them that all who thus seek shall assuredly find the salvation of God.
Never preach in working hours; that would raise a clamor. Where you preach at night, preach also in the morning; but be not longer than an hour in the whole morning service, and conclude before six. Morning preaching will show whether the evening took effect, by raising them up early to hear.
Expect plain fare and plain lodging where you preach—yet, perhaps, better than your Master had. Allow no special treatment to be made for you, but live as your host usually lives, else he may grow weary of entertaining you. And go not from house to house: Luke 10.7. If the clergy rail at you where you go, say not a word about it, good or bad; Matthew 15.14. If you dare be zealous for the Lord Almighty, expect persecution and threats; but heed them not! Bind the Lord's word to your heart.
The chief block in your way will be the prudent Peters, who will beg, entreat, and beseech you to avoid irregularity. Give them the same answer that Christ gave Peter: Matthew 16.23. They savor of the things which be of men—heed them not. When you preach at night, go to bed as soon as possible, that the family may not be kept up, and you may rise early. When breakfast and morning family prayer is over, go away directly, that the house may be at liberty. Do not dine where you preach, if you can avoid it—it will save expense and please the people. If you would do work for the Lord, as you seem designed, you must venture for the Lord. The Christian's motto is: Trust and go forward, though the sea is before you! Exodus 14.15. Do then as Paul did, give up yourself to the Lord; work, and confer not with flesh and blood, and the Lord be with you. Dear brother, yours affectionately,
~ ~ ~ ~
With a melancholy pleasure; and at the same time self-abasement, I heard your lectures on man's heart as fallen by original apostasy, and the dreadful epidemic disease of sin, which has spread itself over the whole soul. When you dissected and anatomized the heart of man as before and after conversion—you went into the private closet of my heart, and the under-ground vaults, where you have dug up some of the bones of the old man, that have long lain rotting there.
Here is the general exchange for corruption; here the world and the devil often meet together; here they correspond, trade, and traffic; and Satan well knows this is the best place for vending his contraband goods, having so many friends that court the heart, and recommend his wares, namely: vain thoughts, worldly imaginations, evil and impure sensations, earthly affections, inordinate desires, ambitious views, high-mindedness, riches and sinful pleasures, or Pharisaical righteousness, moral confidence, unscriptural hopes, formal sanctity, uncovenanted mercy, etc., etc.
Satan takes a turn around these walks, and pays his compliments (if I may so say) to the inhabitants of my soul, who are his good friends, every day, ay, every hour; he tries all ways to find out the constitutional sin, or what the apostle calls, my besetting sin. He has baits for all sorts of corruptions, and he endeavors to time his assaults. Sometimes he bids good-day to one lust or corruption, sometimes to another, and so makes his cruel visits from one place of the soul to another, all day long. He never bids good-night; for even when I go to bed he lies down with me, and sometimes in my sleep he haunts and awakens me.
If I go into my closet, in order to lock myself up from the busy world—this impertinent intruder, the devil, will break in there too, without asking me permission; and so in the family, and even in the sanctuary, the house of God, I am dogged by this roaring lion! Sometimes he snatches the preached word from me in a way of forgetfulness; sometimes presents other objects to my view, and sometimes would have me make an ill use of it, by misapplying it.
Sometimes I pray as if I was praying to a wooden God, without a proper sense of his divinity and omniscience, and so only word it with God. By the way, I would not charge the devil with more than is his just due, for I know my own corrupt heart sometimes invites Satan to come in, and has often entertained and bid him welcome.
O how ought I to be humbled, that I have so often fetched a chair for Satan the tempter to sit down in, while he has entertained himself upon the lusts and affections of my soul. He has had the insolence sometimes to tempt me to sin from the abounding of grace! O horrid injection! And sometimes such cogitations have worked upon the imagination and the heart in and under ordinances.
What power Satan's temptations have had, and how often the seeds of sin have sprang up and blossomed, and budded, and brought forth fruit, to my sorrow as well as shame, I cannot express. But I would open the matter with soul-abasement to the eye of him that looks down into the heart, and sees all the workings of iniquity within me.
Respecting what you are now upon, it is pleasing to find that experience answers experience, as face to face in a looking-glass. There is a prodigious alliance formed by the empire of Hell, the god of this world, and by unbelief, with all its train of sins, in the heart of every natural man, and the unrenewed part in every true believer. This is the threefold cord that is not easily broken; this is the grand alliance, Sir. Thus the case stands; and on these accounts my soul has often bled; afraid of myself, afraid of the devil, afraid of every one, and sometimes afraid even of my God.
I have sometimes had hopes that grace had enthroned itself in my heart, and I have had, as it were, a cessation from corruption; at least, in some branches, the war has seemed to be at an end almost, and I have often sung a funeral song of victory over (as I thought) a dead corruption. But Satan has called up all his forces, and fired again, and with his fire-balls has set the whole city of my soul into a flame, and there has been a resurrection of the monster sin again.
O pity me all you combatants in the field of battle, who know the force of temptation, and are haunted, as I am with these ghosts continually! The devil sometimes gets me down and buffets me with the sin that most easily besets me, and then turns accuser, and brings railing accusations against me; and if he cannot keep me from the throne of grace, he makes me go limping and halting there, afraid to open my mouth; and sometimes I can only hold up my hand at the bar, and cry, guilty! guilty!
And now, Sir, let me ask you: is this balm of Gilead for an old stinking sore, as well as for a constant running one? A sore that I thought had been healed long ago, but breaks out again and again with its bloody issue. Is there a physician? What! For such a nauseous, denied, stinking, as well as weak and sin-sick soul as mine? I truly need a physician within as well as without; Christ and his blood and righteousness to justify and acquit, and the blessed Spirit to sanctify and cure the inward diseases of my soul. For what would it avail a condemned malefactor, to be pardoned and acquitted of his crimes, if he had the jail distemper upon him, and was to die by it?
Indeed God never justifies, but he also sanctifies. Election is God's mark to know his own children by. Calling and sanctification are our marks, by which we come to know that we ourselves are his elected children.
O then set forth the work of the Spirit in a rebellious will, a blind understanding, a hard heart, a stupid conscience, and vile affections; renewing and sanctifying all these powers, and so proving it to be truly the work of God and not of man. This gospel-sanctification I need and earnestly desire; and if you could help me in the present prospect, of the eye of Christ scanning the hidden parts of man—it would be doing a good piece of service, not only to me, but perhaps to many others, who may be in the same case.
Dear Sir, may you be helped to lay open the inward powers of the soul, and the deceitful arts of the body, for the alarming and rousing the stupid and careless, and for the search and inquiry of every real Christian, both with regard to the principal growth and activity of grace, or the decays and witherings of it; what interest God has in the heart, and how much sin and Satan have; what advantages heavenward, or what loitering, backslidings, or falls there are found too often in the way to glory.
I am, dear friend, yours, etc.
~ ~ ~ ~
I perceive, by some hints in a late discourse, the rough draught of my soul has reached your hands; the lines, perhaps, were strong in many parts, but yet imperfect. This I call its fellow; but alas! were I to write whole volumes upon the subject, they would still be but small sketches.
To anatomize my own soul, and point out the irregular turnings and windings of a deceitful heart—is beyond my skill. Satan is always beating and hunting the powers of my soul; watching what will start next, whether pride, sensuality, covetousness, wordily pleasure, etc. Whatever sins they are, he will be sure to strike in and follow. How often has the soul gone hand in hand with Satan in chase of pleasures, until it has been even tired, and then what fruit has it produced, but sorrow and shame?
But, Sir, in order to my deciphering the combined forces of sin, Hell, and the world against me—you have justly opposed the threefold grand alliance that is for every believer: namely, Father, Son, and Spirit. True, but the query still remains, can such a one as you be in alliance with the King of Heaven, or bear the image and stamp of the Lord Jesus? Where is the consistency? I want to know the worst of myself. I own that a spark of real grace shall be kept alive, let the wind of temptation blow ever so high and strong, or the waves of temptation beat ever so hard—true grace shall be victorious. This is a matter of comfort, to find a smoking ember under a load of ashes.
There may be, indeed, two men in one person, the old and the new man, flesh and spirit. So upon a medal there may be on one side the image of the devil, rebellion, slavery, lust, and tyranny. And on the other side, the effigy of a good prince, loyal subjects, peace and plenty, and the enemies' hearts trampled upon as conquered. This I think a lively representation of the case, and it would be a happy turn could I make it out so to my soul.
I want to see the divine image carved more legibly on my heart. I am sure I see the picture of the devil strong enough there. I do not so much fear the allied army of the Prince of the World, and the world itself, under the command of its captain-general, the devil—as I fear the rebellion in my own affections, the restless monster sin within me. Civil wars are the most shocking and the most fatal. Besides, my soul is the seat of wars and conflicts; and you know, Sir, what havoc is made usually in such places.
I know all the powers of the enemies (let the devil call them invincible if he will) cannot harm me, were it not for inbred foes. It is the corruptions within me—not the contagion of enemies outside of me, which I fear, or the bloody armies around me. It is that unruly rebellious regiment of banditti within my heart, my lusts, appetites, and passions, that I fear will destroy me. It is I who infects myself; and therefore it is my daily prayer, Lord, deliver me from myself. This is always a part of my litany, and sometimes the first voice of my retired prayers.
Indeed, Sir, this is an unnatural rebellion: to be in arms and in conjunction with one's own inveterate foes, who are aiming at my heart's blood. What! fight against myself? Yes, so it is; flesh against spirit; the unrenewed against the renewed; sin against grace. Indeed, I have proclaimed war in the name of the King- of Heaven, against the states-general of Hell (so far as it is in league with Satan) and against the potentate of sin; but to tell you the times how often I have been foiled and beat, or been wounded, or had a limb shot off, or been plundered, or taken prisoner, I know not. But I can never sign a truce, and I am determined, through grace, if I die, to die sword in hand.
I must own I have sent out a cry many times after the traitors, and have sometimes hoped I had secured some of them. I have had them in prison and in fetters, perhaps for weeks and months together, and they have been brought out to several courts of judicature, particularly the court of conscience, but that is partial. There have been bribes at times, but not sufficient chastisement. At other times there have been very severe rebukes, and conscience has condemned the vassals to run the gauntlet with horror, doubt, and despair. The charges of the court of conscience have been read aloud; terrible peals have been rung, and the chains of Hell have rattled in the ear.
Though sometimes conscience has given the verdict on the side of grace, at other times there has been an arrest of judgment, and a citation before the Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench of Heaven; and though the wretch deserves no hearing, as being outlawed; yet to the honor of the grace and mercy of the Sovereign—the criminal is brought to the bar, and though there is no room to say anything but guilty, yet every plea that can be made in his favor is heard; how they were drawn in by some of the clans of hell—perhaps forced, as it were, against the settled judgment of the soul; and perhaps, through weakness and infirmity, could not get out of the way; or from ignorance of the crime, or from extenuation of the guilt, or from being hurried away into the service of the invader without so much as giving time for a cool thought.
And sometimes my poor soul has been like a galley slave, wishing for deliverance from the bondage of corruption, and crying out against the load and fetters of sin, and saying with him of old: Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise your name.
The high court of judicature hears particularly the relenting groan; and the Attorney-General of Heaven has compassion enough to put in a petitionary plea for the guilty wretch whose hand is still upon the bar. But the dread warrant is come down from Heaven for the execution of sin, and all the heads of the clans of Hell. Mortify therefore your members which are on the earth, fornication, etc., so if an eye or hand offends you, cut it off.
A reprieve at last has been issued out for the soul; and the repenting rebel has gone again in pursuit of those invaders of the peace and court of grace, and the soul has laid hold of some of them, and cried out afresh for justice and revenge against these traitors in his own breast, and has laid the sacrificing knife to the throat of these brats of Hell.
But how often have they raised up their seemingly dying heads when on the very block, and asked for pity! and during the very execution have done much mischief, and made me bleed and groan afresh!
I hope at times they are being crucified; but crucifixion is a lingering death, and I find they have still life, which, with the help of Satan, their grand ally, they too often revive and break out again. All I can do is to cry out murder! murder! to the Lord Jesus. I may truly call them murderers, for they often destroy my peace and comfort; I long to see them dead! dead! dead! I desire your prayers for the poor wounded, but your affectionate servant, etc.
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The following epitaph was inscribed on his tombstone:
I Was Born in Sin, Feb. 1716
Remained Ignorant of My Fallen State till 1730
Lived Proudly on Faith & Works for Salvation till 1754
Admitted to Everton Vicarage, 1755
Fled to Jesus Alone for Refuge, 1756
Fell Asleep in Christ Jan. 22, 1793