The Christian Correspondent
A Series of Religious Letters Written to Alexander Clunie,
From the year 1761, to the death of Mr. Clunie in 1770
By John Newton
The writer of the following letters is too well known as excelling in that capacity, to need any eulogy on the present occasion; but I think it justifiable to remark that what is here offered to the public seems to merit greater recommendation than the author's former productions of a similar nature, inasmuch as a closer intimacy existed between him and the person to whom these letters are addressed, who was an instrument in the hands of God of bringing Mr. Newton to the knowledge of the truth. In the course of so long a correspondence, many things would naturally occur too trivial to deserve notice, being of a private or domestic concern, and therefore uninteresting.
All such I have suppressed as much as a work of this kind would admit. It is but lately they have fallen into my hands; the preservation of them, considering the circumstances attending it, I cannot but look upon as the effect of a kind Providence. In preparing them for the press, my faith in the dear Redeemer has been strengthened, my hopes confirmed, and my evidences brightened for a blissful immortality.
That the name of Jesus, who is the theme of these epistles, may produce the like effect on the reader, is the motive of this publication, and the hearty prayer of
George Prince, Editor, 1790
Liverpool, February 4, 1761
Mr. B_____'s last letter has prevailed with me to lay aside all thoughts of making a stir at the present and to consign myself to the task I lately engaged in, until the will of the Lord concerning me shall more evidently appear. I thank you for your last letter; I think your apology is allowable. You are of an active disposition and require more exercise and business, than one of my cool sedentary turn. The Lord knows what is best for each of us; yet I recommend to you again: Beware of the world! It is thorny, deceitful and treacherous! Those who are very much engaged in it will find their troubles multiplied with every day.
I hope I have a frequent place in your prayers; entreat the Lord to give me wisdom, humility, and zeal—and if it pleases Him, to honor me with some usefulness before I go home. I often think of you with peculiar pleasure and thankfulness, as by you the Lord was pleased to bring me to know His people. Your conversation was much blessed to me at St. Kitt's, and the little knowledge I have of men and things took its first rise from thence. Would to God I could repay you in kind, that I might be any way instrumental to stir up your fire.
O that all our letters and conversations may be under the influence of His anointing Spirit, and that our hearts may burn within us while we remind each other of the things pertaining to that Kingdom where our Beloved, who once hung bleeding on the cross, now reigns in glory, and where it is His pleasure that we should follow Him and dwell with Him forever! There all our sorrows, fears, and cares shall be forgotten! There all that is uneasy shall take an everlasting flight—and love, joy, and praise shall fill our hearts and tongues forever. Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Polly sends her love.
Your affectionate Brother,
July 30, 1762
My dear Brother,
I think I never received a letter from you that gave me more satisfaction than your last. I rejoiced to find that my suspicions concerning you were groundless, and not a little pleased that you received my plain dealing in good part; for faithful admonition is no small part of Christian duty, and though we have frequent directions to exhort one another daily lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin—yet it is not everyone, of whom we would hope well, who can receive it with meekness and love. Adored be the grace which . . .
keeps us from falling,
seeks us when we are wandering,
heals our sicknesses, and
pardons our innumerable follies.
I desire to praise God on your behalf, that you are so comfortably settled. I trust that the Lord will lead you and Mrs. Clunie in the green pastures of His grace, give you strength to overcome every temptation, make you truly helpmeets to each other in your way to the Kingdom, and at length give us a joyful meeting before His throne in glory!
I confess, all things considered, that I would not expect such long and particular letters from you, as when you had the leisure of a sea-faring life; but one of the reasons you assign, I cannot understand. You say you have been dissuaded from writing so largely by some of your learned doctors. But with due submission to the learned, I cannot see why, when you are writing to a friend whom you know and can trust, you should be at all dissuaded from speaking largely and warmly of what God has done for your soul. No, my friend, you know if every line was a sheet or a quire—all would be too little to commend the excellency of His love and the exceeding riches of His grace.
For my own part I find no reading or writing so profitable and refreshing to me, as a correspondence with my Christian friends. I get more warmth and light sometimes by a letter from a plain person who loves the Lord Jesus, though perhaps a servant maid—than from some whole volumes put forth by learned doctors. I speak not this out of disrespect either to doctors or to learning; but there is a coldness creeping into the churches, of which I would warn my friends as earnestly as of a fire that was breaking out next door.
Blessed be God, we have still some among the learned who are content to become fools for the gospel's sake, and fools I daresay they are and will be thought by their brethren. For though I do not deny that learning, when it falls in good hands and is employed by a spiritual humble man to proper purposes and occasions, may be, through a divine blessing, greatly useful—yet I dare affirm that an over-attachment to human learning and an unjust contempt of those who do not have it—has been formerly, and in many instances is at present, the very bane of vital, spiritual, experimental godliness.
That, my friend, is blessed learning indeed—to be taught of God—to be under the influence of the holy, heavenly Spirit. Yes, "Blessed is the man whom You choose, O Lord, and teach out of Your Law!" May you and I, my friend, know more of that divine Teacher, who can not only reveal truth to our minds, but enlighten and enlarge our understanding to receive it.
Suppose a blind man was desirous to know the nature of light and color—and suppose a philosopher gravely reading lectures to him upon these subjects. There you have an emblem of what human learning can do in spiritual things. But suppose the blind man suddenly possessed of sight and enabled to see the sun and the skies, the land and water with his own eyes—this may represent the teaching of God.
May this be my school, by frequent prayer and constant meditation on the Word of God—to wait and improve the visits of the great Teacher! Then I shall be wise unto salvation myself, and fitted, if the Lord please, to assist as an instrument, in the instruction and edification of others.
I am greatly obliged to you and dear Mr. B_____ for all your care of me. If Mr. S_____ is or should be dismissed from the custom-house, I believe it is not merely for preaching; for this he had done several years. But I am told he has lately obtained, I think by marriage, a considerable fortune; and so, very probably, he may be indifferent about his job as a clerk.
Though I have made inquiries, and those who are good judges and most concerned, do think I might preach publicly in Liverpool without the least risk of my place; yet other circumstances are not likely to be favorable; and until I see the Lord making my way clearer, I shall continue as I am.
As to laying aside all thoughts of the ministry, it is quite out of my power. I cannot, I will not give up the desire—though I hope I shall not run before I am sent. I agree with you that my call has not yet been clear, because I think no one's call to the ministry is complete until the Lord has confirmed their desire by His providence and placed them in the work. But I believe I have in some degree that inward call—that desire and preference to the Christian ministry, and a little measure of that experience and those gifts which would justify my embracing a proper invitation or opening, whenever it should happen.
Until then I shall wait; if the Lord sees not fit to employ me, it is well; but for me to give up the thoughts of my own accord because my little views and designs have been hitherto over-ruled, would be to act lo contrary to my light, to my vows, and to the advice of most of my Christian friends—that I should think myself in the very case of Demas, who forsook the gospel for love of the present world.
I hope it is not a high conceit of myself which makes me want to rush upon that important service, but a serious regard for the honor of God, the good of souls, and especially the constraining force of that redeeming love which spared me, the chief of sinners, to be a pattern and encouragement for others to believe in His name. While these reasons exist, I hope and pray that neither frowns nor smiles may engage me to retract the solemn surrender of myself I have made, and so often repeated, to the Lord's service within these past four years; especially as in all my little essays I find a liberty and acceptance which confirm to me that I have chosen a good part.
Please to give the enclosed to Mr. B_____, and let me hear from you at your leisure. My dear wife joins me in love as usual. I am yours in the Lord,
Liverpool, May 21, 1763
Your last letter was highly agreeable and welcome. I rejoice in the Lord's goodness to you and pray that He may add to your graces and usefulness daily. "Blessed is the man whom the Lord chooses and causes to approach unto Himself," no matter by what means, so long as this is the happy end.
The evil principle of SELF lies deep and spreads wide into many branches:
One or other of these abominations is continually sprouting up from the poisonous root within, and defiling our hearts!
The heavenly Gardener, whose love is engaged to make us fruitful, and whose wisdom chooses the best means—sees when and how far it is necessary to use the pruning-knife, to cut off the growth and prevent the increase of these weeds—that the plants of His grace may flourish in our souls. This is the reason why we are so often afflicted and disappointed both in temporals and spirituals.
A tendency to rest in creature comforts—often deprives us of what we might otherwise enjoy.
And a tendency to rest our souls on something received, rather than on the unsearchable riches and fullness of Christ—brings us into many a dark distressing frame of mind, which might be avoided if we knew how to live by faith in the Son of God.
O that from a heart-felt knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done—we could at all times and in all circumstances, say with the apostle, "I have all and abound; I have learned to be content; yes, doubtless, I count all things loss and dross for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord!"
Were it as easy to do as to say—I would be continually happy; for the Lord has shown me how true peace is to be possessed, even by a simple reliance on His all-sufficiency and love, living upon His free grace and sure mediation, and receiving strength continually from Him suited to the occasions of every hour! O the happiness to commune with him, to contemplate His glory, His faithfulness, His power, and the near relation He stands in to His poor children! Here is an ocean of consolation suited to every case.
The man who drinks deep at these streams, will not thirst after other waters. When we behold Jesus and His love by the eye of faith, we may, with the prophet of old, sit down by a barren fig tree and a failing crop—and still rejoice in the God of our salvation.
I say, to talk of this is easy, but I find the experience of it not so easily maintained. With respect to this life of faith, I may say as Paul in another place, "I delight in it after the inner man, but when I would enjoy this good, evil is often present with me." I have not yet attained to it; but blessed be God I am pressing after it, and I hope, through grace, He is, according to His promise, drawing me nearer to Himself.
I hope I am gaining a more abiding sense of my own utter vileness, depravity, and helplessness; and that in consequence of this, the name of Jesus is sweeter to my soul, as I find I cannot without Him take a single step, nor enjoy one glimpse of comfort.
My heart's desire is to love Him more and more; to live still more entirely upon Him and to Him—that He may be, as He well deserves, my ALL IN ALL.
I have lately been a journey into Yorkshire, which is one reason why I have not written sooner. That is a flourishing country indeed, like Eden the garden of the Lord, watered on every side by the streams of the gospel. There the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in all quarters, and multitudes rejoice in the light. I have a pretty large acquaintance there among various denominations, who though they differ in some lesser things, are all agreed to exalt Jesus and His salvation.
I do not mean that the truth is preached in every church and meeting through the county; but in many, perhaps in more proportionately than in any other part of the land, and with greater effect both as to numbers and as to the depth of the work in particular people.
It is very refreshing to go from place to place and find the same fruits of faith, love, joy, and peace. What then shall it be, before long—when the Lord shall call us up to join with those who are now singing before the throne? What shall it be, when all the children of God, who in different ages and countries have been scattered abroad,—hall be all gathered together and enter into that glorious and eternal rest provided for them—when there shall not be one trace of sin or sorrow remaining, not one discordant note be heard, nothing to disturb or defile or alleviate the never-ceasing joy!
Such is the glorious hope to which God has called us; that day will as surely come, as the present day is already arrived—every moment brings on its approach. While I am writing and you are reading, we may say, "Now is our full salvation nearer." Many a weary step we have taken, since the Lord first granted us to believe in His name; but we shall not have to tread the past way over again. Some difficulties yet remain, but we know not how few; perhaps before we are aware, the Lord may cut short our conflict and say, "Come up hither!" Or at the most it cannot be very long, and He who has been with us thus far, will be with us to the end. He knows how to manifest Himself even here, to give more than He takes away, and to cause our consolations to exceed our greatest afflictions.
And when we get safely home, we shall not complain that we have suffered too much along the way. We shall not say, "Is this all I must expect after so much trouble?" No, when we awake into that glorious world, we shall in an instant be satisfied with His likeness. One sight of the glorified Christ, will fill our hearts and dry up all our tears!
Let us then resign ourselves into His hands; let us gird up the loins of our minds, be sober, and hope to the end. Let us, like faithful servants, watch for our Lord's appearance and pray earnestly that we may be found ready at His coming.
We live in a trying time; how many erroneous principles and scandalous practices abound! How many fair professors miscarry! This should teach us to be jealous of ourselves. We may feel the same root of bitterness in our own hearts. If we stand, when others fall—we have nothing of our own to boast. We stand by grace alone.
But neither need we be distressed and unbelieving—Jesus is able to keep us from falling. Let us be steady in the use of His instituted means, and sincerely desirous to abstain from all appearance of evil. The rest, we may confidently leave to Him, in whom whoever trusts, shall never be ashamed.
Mrs. Newton joins in respects to you and Mrs. Clunie. We beg a frequent remembrance in your prayers.
I am, etc.,
Bugden, April 30, 1764
I reached this place safe and sound at ten on Saturday morning, was ordained yesterday, dined with the bishop, and was dismissed with permission to come to him for orders at the next ordination, which will be about seven weeks hence. He has treated me with the greatest kindness throughout; and though some things that have happened, particularly the refusal I met from the A_____ of York might have given him some cause of suspicion, he has not given me the least hint by way of caution or limitation.
I think myself much obliged to him, and have much reason to be thankful to the Lord—who has all hearts in His hands, who gave me favor in his sight.
Dear Brother, pray for me that I may be faithful, watchful, and humble—that I may trust in the name of Jesus for grace and wisdom answerable to the important scene before me. I shall not cease to pray for you, that the Lord may refresh and revive your soul and keep you very near to Himself. Remember me to dear Mr. B_____ and tell him I desire his frequent remembrance at a throne of grace. My respects to Mrs. Clunie, and thanks to you both for all your kindness. I hope to see you soon at Olney.
May the Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon your soul, and grant you to say, by sweet experience—that it is good for you to draw near to Him. May you taste the beauty of the precepts, and the sweetness of the promises. May the name of Jesus be to us a seal set upon our hearts, to keep us unspotted from the world and to animate us to conduct befitting the gospel of Christ.
Oh my Brother, if these things are so, if He lived and wept and bled and died for us, what kind of people ought we to be? May we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of Him who is all in all, until at length we shall be brought to see Him as he is, and to be perfectly like Him, and with Him forever. Amen.
Yours for His sake,
Olney, June 1, 1764
My dear Brother,
I thank you for your kind letter, your good wishes and good advice, which reached me at Liverpool. The Lord was very gracious to me there. He enabled me to preach His truth before many thousands—I hope with some measure of faithfulness, I trust with some success, and in general with much greater acceptance than I could have expected. I preached in the town and neighborhood six times while we were preparing for our re-location; and when we came away, I think the bulk of the people of all ranks and parties were sorry to part with us.
How much do I owe to the restraining and preserving grace of God, that when I delivered offensive truths in a place where I had lived so long, and there appeared a disposition and readiness in many to disparage my character, nothing could be found or brought to light on which they could frame an accusation; so that all they could do was to invent a base falsehood, that after preaching in the churches I had gone and preached in the Baptist and Methodist meetings—a charge so foolish, groundless, and improbable, that it obtained little belief, but rather exposed the envy and insincerity of those who propagated it, to the whole town.
If any real fault could have been brought to light, I would have heard of it upon this occasion; but the Lord had helped me to preserve a conduct void of offense among them. To His grace I must ascribe it, and not to myself. For alas, the seeds of evil have been fruitful in my heart, and I would have fallen from one iniquity to another—if He had not condescended to keep me.
We arrived safe here last Saturday, and the next day I entered on my public service. Those who know and love the gospel, of whom I hope there are many about me, receive me with the greatest kindness. I suppose, too, that I shall find a sufficient number of opposers to exercise my faith and patience. I beg all my friends to pray for me, that I may be a humble follower of Him who endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself.
As far as I can judge upon so short an acquaintance, I have much reason to be thankful and pleased with the choice the Lord has made for me; for I trust it is His hand that led me here. I have already conversed with many who seem judicious, experienced Christians. The church is large, and I understand there are enough awakened people about the country to make up a considerable congregation.
I hope this will find you and Mrs. Clunie in good health, and your soul in a thriving state. What can I say to you more than you already know? You know the privileges of the Lord's people, and what a conduct befits those who profess the gospel of Christ. You know the deceitfulness of the heart, of sin, and of Satan. You know, from repeated past experience, how good it is to wait upon God. But do not you find (alas, who at times does not?) a proneness to depart from Him? For my own part, I feel a continual cause of humility—I stand in need of every help, of frequent admonitions.
And as I believe all our hearts are alike, this puts me upon offering advice and exhortations to my friends. Though we know these things, we are apt to sink into remissness about them. How far, alas, is the best of us from that humility, spirituality, and fervency which befits poor sinners redeemed from Hell by the blood of Jesus! Methinks we should be growing in grace, in zeal, in faith, in poverty of spirit, every day. And why do we not? The Lord's hand is not shortened, that He cannot save; neither is His ear heavy, that He cannot hear. Let us search and try our ways, lest any root of bitterness, any allowed evil, in heart or life—be allowed to remain, to cloud our peace and damp our progress.
Please give our Christian respects to all friends; especially to Mrs. Clunie. We shall probably accept your friendly invitation, if the time of our journey should not interfere with Mrs. Clunie's confinement.
Olney, June 21, 1764
I received your letter of the 2nd just after I had sent my last letter to you; so that I had not forgotten my promise, though my many engagements occasioned by so sudden a removal obliged me to defer writing awhile. And almost from the first day of my coming to Olney, I have had a great cold, which at times has nearly laid me up.
Your letter is kind and encouraging; thank you for it, as also for your care in forwarding the things I wrote for. I went to Bugden last week, was kindly received by the bishop, and was ordained on Sunday last. Thus hard things become easy, when the Lord is pleased to give success.
I shall now be glad to bring Mrs. Newton to London soon, for until then we cannot get our house affairs completed. I had designed to come immediately after July 1st, which will be my first communion day, but I am reluctant to leave the people without a proper supply. I shall therefore perhaps wait a little longer until Providence shall put a gospel preacher in my way, who may help me for one, or at the most, two Lord's Days.
Next Thursday, I propose to preach my first weekly lecture. Could you come and help us with your presence and prayers? Or if not then, at the end of the week? I can hardly ask Mrs.
Clunie to come with you to an unfurnished house; but if she will venture all disadvantages, we can promise her a good bed, a quiet chamber, and thanks for her company.
I went last week to see Mr. Haweis at Aldwinckle; he is well and promised to have been with me before this, but something has prevented it. His preaching, like the report of a cannon, has already sounded through the whole country adjacent. May the Lord make him abundantly useful!
As to myself, I have reason to be satisfied with my situation, if the Lord should please to fix me here. I have some very cordial friends already, both in town and country; and the greater part of the people, whatever their experience may be, are convinced on which side the truth lies. There are, however, some adversaries, but I think not many. Mr. Brown endured the main brunt of opposition, and they were almost weary before he left them. May I humbly and thankfully improve the opportunity.
However I do not as yet find the number of believers or professors or hearers so large as I expected from the accounts I received at London. The situation of the place is very pleasant at this time of the year, but I suppose we shall find it cold and damp in winter. This will call for large fires—an expensive article—but what seems in a manner necessary to my well-being. However I, above most, have reason to depend on those words, "The Lord will provide."
In hopes we shall meet before long, either here or at Thames Street—I write but a short letter. I did speak a little too loud at Liverpool the first time, because I knew not the extent of my voice, nor how much was necessary in a large congregation; but I corrected it afterwards.
With our joint love to you and Mrs. Clunie, I remain affectionately yours,
Olney, July 3, 1764
My dear Brother,
Your repeated letters are very comfortable to me, not only as a mark of your kind friendship which I highly value, but likewise as I hope they are an indication of your spiritual welfare. I pray that you may prosper and be in health, both in body and soul.
You justly point at a principal root of our frequent complaints—the remnants of cursed pride within us, which prompt and desire us to be, and to be thought—somebody. How unsuitable is such a desire—to the state of unworthy, indigent sinners, who need renewed pardon and renewed supplies from one moment to another! How unworthy is this, to those who profess to be followers of the lowly Jesus!
I hope to have a meeting here of six or seven clergymen who preach the gospel in this and the adjoining counties, on the first Thursday in August. I shall be sorry if your business will not permit you to join us. If you cannot come, help us with your prayers, that the Lord may bless us together and enable us happily to enter upon an association, which we propose to keep up monthly, sometimes at one place, sometimes at another—to strengthen each other's hands and refresh the people by a variety and communication of gifts and counsels.
My first lecture last Thursday was well attended, though it was hay harvest and was the evening before the fair, when people are more busy than at other times.
I write but a short letter, having many to send by this opportunity; and Mrs. Newton will be upon the spot to inform you of all particulars. With our respects, and love to Mrs. Clunie, wishing and praying that the Lord may carry her safely through and make her a joyful mother of a living child, to bear a testimony for God when its parents are called away to a better world, I remain your affectionate and obliged friend,
Olney, July 17, 1764
You bid me write often, and you see I take you at your word. I thank you for your kindness to Mrs. Newton; it is no more than I might expect from you, for you were always kind.
You ask my thoughts of Hampstead, and I sit down to give you them. I have not heard from Mr. Madan upon the subject as you hint; and if I ever do, I can hardly think that he will advise me to leave Olney without a real necessity. If Mr. Brown should ever return himself or dismiss me from his curacy, neither of which perhaps is probable, then I would be at liberty. But otherwise I think I ought to wait until I see the Lord pointing out my way as clear as with a sunbeam, before I so much as listen to a re-location.
To be sure, there is something tempting in the thought of being situated in a fine air, close to London, near all my friends, ministers, and others; how pleasing the prospect, if the Lord had not sent me another way! I may apply what I told you a lady said to a friend of mine about his small church: "The Lord knew how large it was". In the same way, the Lord knew that there would be vacancies elsewhere, before He led me to Olney.
Now let us turn the tables. To this place I owe the opportunity of my ordination—the Lord has brought me to a place where I am persuaded He has many dear children—where the light of the blessed gospel is highly prized, so that they would almost do and suffer anything, rather than be deprived of it—to a place where I have a congregation not much smaller (in an afternoon) than at the Lock—where the people flock in from four, six, or more miles around the country, to hear the Word—where I have been hitherto favored with much liberty in my own soul, am heard with acceptance, and have reason to hope that my poor endeavors have been already in some measure blessed, and meet little or no opposition.
Now, my dear friend, consider seriously before you advise me further, lest you should ensnare me. Can it be my duty to forego all these advantages, because I have not got the living? And so soon, too? Methinks it would look (to consider it in no other light) as if I came into the church merely for profit. I have the promise of Olney, and perhaps a little time may vacate it; if not, I cannot think of quitting immediately for the poor difference of twenty pounds per annum.
But you will say, a family must be provided for. True—and that all I can get from Olney, as curate, will be too small a salary. I confess that, in an unbelieving fit, I am of your mind. But I find my heart, by grace, brought to a point to take the promises and the providence of God for my inheritance. I had long a desire for the ministry—and God has granted it. I was likewise desirous to see a considerable number of people to listen to me (though unworthy and insufficient of myself to speak to two or three). He has granted that too. I feel myself enabled to devote myself to the service of His Kingdom and righteousness. He has a people in this country that were in danger of being scattered as sheep without a shepherd. They did not seek me, nor I them; but the Lord brought us together. He has given us to love one another, and we are unwilling to part.
The question is whether I have a sufficient warrant from the Word (for confidence without a promise is presumption) to trust the Lord to take care of my temporal concerns in this circumstance? I think I have—and especially when I remember when and where He found me—destitute of food and clothing; and how He has led and fed me, and encompassed me with mercy on every side. Surely I ought not either to seek great things—or be discouraged with small trials.
But then, I must consider Mrs. Newton. Yes, there's the rub, indeed. For myself, if my heart does not deceive me more than ever, were I single, it would not be in the power of man to propose a consideration that should make me quit my post. But to see her who never knew hardship or inconvenience, whose tenderness of constitution requires indulgence, whose affections and dependence on me induced her to venture her all with me, and who (to speak the language of the world) has had sufficient ground and reason to expect a competent provision—to see her straitened and struggling with trials beyond her strength, would not this be hard to bear?
Hard, indeed! Almost as great a trial as to lose her, perhaps a greater; for what I feel for her always affects me more than what I feel for myself. However, by the grace of God, I am willing to put her case and my own together into His hands. He knows both our strengths and our weaknesses. He has promised to mitigate, to support, and to deliver His redeemed people. I see all I need in His promise; and though I know not the way of His provision—He will provide for us.
You think that Hampstead promises as fair a field of usefulness as Olney—I am not afraid of being in some measure useful wherever the Lord sends me—but you know all depends on Him. If I would dislike this place and chose another, He might permit me to go; but how can I be sure that He would go with me? And if not, what a wretched exchange would I make!
I heard a sermon from Mr. Grant, of Wellingboro. It was a word in season to me. His text was Exodus 33, verse 15, and after explaining what is intended by God's presence with His people, he made this observation: that the Lord's people had rather abide in the howling wilderness, and have His gracious presence with them—than to exchange it for the best worldly situation without Him. To this my soul, through rich mercy, subscribes.
The people here are mostly poor—the country base and dirty. We shall perhaps have but a solitary life in the winter time; however, with His presence—in the closet, the family, and the assembly, all will do very well.
I sometimes conceive myself as changing my place, possessing a good provision in a genteel neighborhood—many friends to smile upon me, perhaps some people of distinction to take notice of me. And I think again, that this is the very situation the devil would wish me in—then he would have many new strategies to play upon me. If the Lord calls me into the midst of danger, He can preserve me in it; but I must be well satisfied that it is His will and His doing, before I think seriously about it. I thank you, however, for your care and good wishes. If you do not agree with what I have written, or whether you do or not, let me hear from you soon. My love to Mrs. Clunie and all friends.
I am your much obliged brother,
Olney, August 14, 1764
This letter is chiefly in my dear wife's name, to inform you that she got safely home, and to thank you and Mrs. Clunie for all your friendship.
The point is now settled about publishing my letters; and soon after Mr. Haweis comes here, I shall send them to Mr. Johnson, of which you may give him notice. It was recommended to me by several of my friends in London, to print them by subscription. If this is to be the way, I beg you to show this first to Mr. M_____ and ask him if he will give me permission to mention his name in the advertisement. If this meets his approbation, please ask the same favor of Dr. Gifford; I have written to Mr. B_____ myself. These three gentlemen are sufficient, both by their situation and character, to invite and receive what subscribers may offer at London. I shall likewise write to procure a person of character at Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, and Shrewsbury. As I suppose the impression will be made from the copy now in Mr. Haweis' hands, I shall direct Mr. Johnson to leave it with Mr. M_____ a few days, and to beg the favor of his final revisal and additional authentication, before it goes to the press. Mr. Haweis, as they were addressed to him, proposes to prefix a little piece of a preface.
I am glad your journey was so pleasant; hope it will be an encouragement to you to come again. Mr. B_____ gives me hopes of seeing him. I wish you may be able to come together. May the Lord give you more and more to feed upon His love, and may a bright view of His glory and grace lay you low in humility and exalt you high in confidence and spiritual joy! Blessed be His name for what little of His goodness we have already received; but He has much more to bestow than we have as yet either asked or thought of! He bids us to open our mouths wide and assures us that He is able and ready to fill them.
Alas! We as yet know but little of the unsearchable riches of His grace! But we shall know, if we follow on to know the Lord; and if we are resolute and faithful, not to divide between God and the world, but to be all for Him, as He has been all to us.
We often suffer by not watching, striving, and praying against our besetting sins. All of us have something of this sort—something evil; to which, by our situation or constitution, we are more particularly inclined, and against which we ought to place a double guard of prayer and watchfulness. Yet, with all our striving, it is well to remember that we have no inherent strength, but must depend upon divine grace to support, renew, and refresh us from one moment to another. May we be enabled thus to do.
I remembered your love to many of our friends; they return their thanks and love again.
Give our respects to Mrs. Clunie. I trust the Lord will be with her in the time of need, raise her up again, and give her an affecting sense of His goodness.
I am, your affectionate and obliged brother,
Olney, August 27, 1764
Though I have two of your kind letters to acknowledge, I must send but a short letter to thank you and tell you that we are well, and that many of our friends here offer their love and respects to you.
Through mercy, all goes on well here—sinful infirmity excepted; and this I trust shall grow weaker and weaker, until at length corruption shall put on incorruption, and death be swallowed up of life! Jesus is the Conqueror's name. He is faithful who has promised, who will also do it.
I last night received the newspaper which you sent. I thank you for your punctuality. Living retired, I have quite forgotten how the world goes; for I do not choose to go to a public house to look at the papers. Would you believe that I did not know a word of the sickness in Naples, until last night? This month is almost out, and we hope to see you again in September. I think you said so, and please put Mr. B_____ often in mind of us, that he may try to come too, if possible.
We are pretty well, through mercy, and join in love to you and Mrs. Clunie. Mrs. Newton is a poor, dilatory correspondent; she would write to her herself—perhaps one time or other she will try.
The Sabbath after you left us, I began with the story of good old Jacob, for my morning's discourses—and it will probably last until we see you again.
I am, your affectionate and obliged,
Olney, September 13, 1764
My dear Brother,
I spent the last week at Aldwinckle, which is the reason you have not heard from me. Mr. Haweis is well and gives his love to you. We had a pleasant journey and came safely home on Saturday night. Mrs. Newton is in tolerable health, and all goes on much as when you were here.
We have had two deaths within the last week.
The one person was the leader of opposition against the truth. I hope I heartily pitied and prayed for him during his illness; but he had no desire to see me, at least I was not sent for until his funeral.
The other was a quiet believer, a man in years, little noticed and distinguished; but the Lord was comfortably with him in his last illness, and he departed in full assurance.
May you and I, and those who are nearest to us, find the same gracious supports when we come to make the untried experiment! Soon, very soon, we must leave all that we hold most dear. May we, in the awesome season when flesh and heart shall fail and no creature-comfort stand in any stead, be enabled to rejoice in God as our strength and portion forever.
I would not have troubled you at this time but for fear you should think me negligent, having nothing new to offer. Indeed I could enlarge upon gospel topics, and I trust the repetition of them would not be irksome either to you or me. Yet must we not confess that if we are too faintly affected with divine truth, it is not for lack of hearing and reading frequently about it? The gospel is sounded in our ears and set forth before our eyes almost continually. Look where we will, we see something to remind us, either of the necessity or of the value of a Redeemer.
But alas! Amidst ten thousand teachers, how slow are we to learn. I am almost ashamed to write and talk so much about Jesus, when I can feel so little love to Him in myself—so little I mean of the exercise and effects of that love, as to the principle itself. I trust His own hand has planted it in my heart, and that none shall be able to root it out. But I would gladly express it more evidently in my life as well as with my lips.
I suppose Johnson will soon put the letters in the press. I believe all will be settled about them this week. I am not solicitous for the sale. I make little doubt of their going off fast, especially with the assistance of my friends. I doubt not your endeavors to forward them, and will thank you as well as I can. But what I desire to be most solicitous about, is that they may be attended with a divine blessing to the readers, and may be a means of comforting the distressed conscience and awakening the careless. For this, I beg you to help me with your prayers.
Believe me affectionately yours,
Olney, November 3, 1764
The several things sent, arrived safely. Thus much I can say in general, that the people to whom I give the Bibles, value them more than gold.
We have many here who esteem the Word of God as their food, and yet are very poor and unable to buy a Bible. Several such hearts I have gladdened by what I received from you and Mr. Guyther. I have perhaps as many Bibles as I shall have fit occasion to distribute for some time—two or three months; but I would be glad for more of Dr. Watts's hymns, and likewise some of his "Divine Songs for Children". Wilcox's "Choice Drop of Honey from the Rock Christ" is a little thing I much like; it is not given away by your Society, but I think Dr. Gifford reprinted it, and perhaps by inquiry you could procure me a few.
We still continue to go on peaceably, have the blessing of health, and are surrounded with mercies. Mr. B_____ preached for me last week. We agreed well, and seemed both pleased. I very much approved both his sermon and conversation. Our auditory keeps up, or rather increases, the weather having been remarkably fine of late; and I hope we have proofs of the Lord's presence. I frequently come to the knowledge of one or another experienced Christian person whom I had not heard of before.
I wish I could find a greater revival in my own soul. I see in some measure the importance of the precious gospel truths, and yet am but half affected with them. This is indeed a common complaint of mine—I am relieved by considering that it is a dispensation of rich love and grace, and that these infirmities are in some degree inseparable from this mortal state. Yet I desire not to sit down satisfied with my own dullness, nor to be easy because grace has abounded; but so much the rather stir up myself to press forward, to strive and pray for a greater conformity to the Lord Jesus my Head, and a more lively sense of His love.
O what a privilege would it be to have Him always in thought and view, to be always aiming at His praise, always sending forth ardent desires toward Him, always rejoicing in His blessedness, and always depending and resting upon His arm of strength—to live under an abiding sense of who He is and where He is, and to feel our hearts springing upward in acts of faith, love, and self-abasement continually. This would be Heaven upon earth; but alas, how often is our sun clouded—our comforts fail, our strength falters, our enemies prevail, and we cannot do the things that we would.
Remember us to dear Mr. B_____; when he can find leisure, a letter will be welcome.
With a repeated sender of our love to Mrs. Clunie, we remain affectionately hers and yours,
Olney, November 26, 1764
It begins now again to be time to ask how you do, and to tell you that by the Lord's goodness that it is well with us, sin excepted. My dear wife has had a slight illness, but is better again. I am still enabled to preach, and the people still willing to hear. Neither short days, uncertain weather, or dirty roads make any considerable diminution in our assemblies; and their attention and seriousness give me hope that they do not all come in vain.
When one spring dries up, the Lord opens another. He has always done me good, and I find myself enabled to trust Him now without worry. If He sends income as fast as I need it, is not this sufficient? Is not money in the bank, as good as money in the house? And are not the promises of the all-sufficient God better and surer than a whole ream of bank-bills?
My subjects yesterday were Genesis 32:28, Numbers 21:8-9. What can I wish you better—than frequent, lively, and affecting views of Him, who, like the brazen serpent of old, was lifted up on the cross, that we, beholding Him by faith, might live, notwithstanding the old serpent has so often stung us and filled us with the baneful, painful poison of sin!
Wonderful are the effects when a crucified, glorious Savior is presented by the power of the Spirit, in the light of the Word, to the eye of faith. This sight . . .
destroys the love of sin,
heals the wounds of guilt,
softens the hard heart,
fills the soul with peace, love, and joy, and
makes obedience practical, desirable, and pleasant.
If we could see this more—we would look less at other things. But, alas! Unbelief places a veil before our sight, and worldly-mindedness draws our eyes another way. A desire to . . .
be something that we are not,
or to possess something that we have not,
or to do something that we cannot—some vain hope, or vain fear, or vain delight—comes in like a black cloud and hides our Beloved from our eyes. This shows what poor creatures we are! Notwithstanding our hope that we are converted, we need a new conversion every day and may say, with good old Herbert, "Lord, mend, or rather, make us!"
I shall be glad to hear that Mrs. Clunie is well and that you are both busied in the Psalmist's inquiry, "How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?" Psalm 116:12.
May His grace work in you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure, and grant us at last to behold Him as He is in glory! I am, etc.,
Olney, December 11, 1764
I have little to add since my last letter. The one hundred books I have received would have been perhaps all gone by this time, if they had been all bound. The forty that were, went the same day they arrived; but the people are more slack about the others, for they do not know how to get them bound in the country.
Betty P_____, the sick woman whom we went to see twice, died about ten days ago. She continued strong in faith and patience to the last. I preached a funeral sermon for her from Revelation 7:14-17: "These are those who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 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."
We had a large congregation, though it was a very wet evening. I hope it was a good opportunity. May you and I, and yours and mine, be followers of her and all those who, through faith and patience, now inherit the promises. Then we shall think little of all the trials that stood in our way to the Kingdom.
There is, without doubt, an awakening and reviving work in and about Olney, though not attended with any noisy or very remarkable appearances. Blessed be God for it.
My health continues, and my dear wife is pretty well; so that I have little to complain of but my own heart.
Give our dear love to Mr. B_____ and put him in mind of writing. Though I am not so fully or so profitably engaged as I believe he is—yet I have enough to make me beg letter for letter. I have reason to hope that the publication of my letters will give some additional weight to my ministry here. The people stare at me since reading them, and well they may. I am indeed a wonder to many—a wonder to myself. Especially I wonder that I wonder no more. I doubt not your assistance in helping them off; but let me beg you likewise to help them with your prayers, that they may be not only sold, but read; not only read, but accompanied with the blessing and unction of the Holy Spirit—that they may be a means to . . .
awaken the careless,
confirm the wavering,
and comfort the wounded.
We join in love to you and Mrs. Clunie and all friends. I am, etc.,
Olney, January 3, 1765
I thank you for remembering me and my friend. I make no difficulty of recommending him in the strongest terms—as to integrity, capacity, and diligence. I know him well, and have known him long.
The Lord has declared His will by the late awful stroke, and it is our part to submit. We endeavor to submit, not as of necessity, but as acknowledging His hand. But the flesh is weak. I doubt not but you have a friendly sympathy with us. Continue to pray that the Lord may give us a full resignation to His whole will and lead our hearts and affections beyond the reach of disappointment. May this mournful providence be sanctified to surviving friends.
My dear wife suffers a good deal, though silently; but I hope the Lord does and will support her. If we are believers in Jesus, all shall be well, before long.
I have had a busy time this two weeks past—five sermons each week. May the Lord give a blessing. I trust He does. Without Him, it is in vain to either speak or to hear.
My engagements grow so upon me, that I did not think myself at liberty to come to London without something of a call—though it is probable my love to you, and my many friends, would have tempted me to have thought a slight one sufficient.
But now that the Lord has been pleased to make this breach upon us, there must be some real and commanding occasion, or we shall hardly see London very soon. It would be only reviving fruitless, perhaps sinful grief. The wound must have some time to heal. I therefore hope, when the days grow a little longer, you and other of my friends who have opportunity, will come to us. We shall be vastly glad to see Mrs. Clunie.
This is lecture day. I have several letters to write, and the post will go soon. The Lord bless you both, and fill your hearts with that love and peace, which no outward dispensation can take away. Alas, for those who have no hope in God, no access to the throne of grace, no sure promise whereon to rest in time of trouble. Pray for us, as we for you. I am your obliged and affectionate brother,
Olney, January 19, 1765
Last Thursday I entered upon a new service. A room in the house being prepared for the purpose, I began to meet the children of the parish. But though the room was large, it proved rather too small for the purpose. I had eighty-nine children the first time; and though perhaps some will be weary and drop off—yet as there are many more intended who did not then come, I expect my usual number, when settled, will exceed a hundred. I propose to meet them every Thursday after dinner—not so much to teach them a catechism (though I shall attend to that likewise) as to talk, preach, and reason with them, and explain the Scriptures to them in their own little way.
It would have pleased you to see them—there are several among them who reveal a seriousness and attention beyond their age. I have proposed rewards—a great Bible and five shillings each to the best boy and the best girl, at Whitsuntide, besides proportionate rewards to all who behave well. Three-fourths of them attended at the lecture, and sat together in the middle aisle. It was an affecting sight, and moved me to pray for them with some earnestness from the pulpit. If the Lord affords His blessing, I hope this step will be attended with advantage, not only to the children, but perhaps to some of the parents, who will be sure to hear from their little ones what we have been talking of at the great house. And where it goes no further at present, the children will be more orderly and under restraint, and more constant in their attendance at church.
You see why I want the little books. I had lately the honor to receive a public affront for the gospel's sake: A man in the neighboring parish came to beg I would preach a funeral sermon for his father; he said he had the church warden's consent, and owned that he had been to several of the neighboring clergy; but they were all engaged, or he would not have come to me. The roads and weather were both very bad—yet I was unwilling to lose the opportunity; therefore I readily consented, and proposed to defer the usual afternoon preaching at Olney until the evening. All things were prepared, and notice given.
But on Saturday evening the man came to tell me that a neighboring curate, who had the charge of the parish in the rector's absence, absolutely refused to let me enter the church. I hear since, that there was a very large congregation disappointed; yet I trust the invitation, though it did not succeed, will have some good effect. The poor man was grieved; he cared not about me before, but now he says he will come to hear; and, I believe, others in the parish who were disappointed and vexed, will do so too, if only to show their displeasure. He would not have the other to preach the funeral sermon, nor invited him to the burying.
I hope this little adventure did me good. It led me sincerely to pray for the poor man who knows not what he does in opposing the gospel; and it made me thankful to distinguishing grace for myself, as well as gave me encouragement to hope that I have been in some measure faithful and useful, or they would not have treated me with such ill manners.
My dear wife loves and thanks you. She is pretty well—yet the wound is not fully healed. We thank Mrs. Clunie for being willing to come; I cannot blame you for deferring your journey until the spring; for there is no rambling about Olney with pleasure at this time of the year. I believe I have a score or two believers to show you, whom I was not acquainted with when you were here last, and more than one or two who were not then born. Blessed be God.
With our love and respects to you both, I remain, etc.,
Olney, February 23, 1765
I believe I have two letters to thank you for, as well as a barrel of oysters, which came to hand last Saturday. We promise ourselves the pleasure of seeing you and Mrs. Clunie when the spring gets forward; the leaves and flowers will now soon begin to peep forth.
May you and I experience a spring-time in our souls! How pleasing, when after a dark winter season, the Sun of Righteousness shines in upon the heart, and, by the powerful influence of His healing beams, draws forth our dormant graces into exercise. Then the ice melts, and the waters of evangelical repentance flow—then the desert becomes a fruitful field, and the wilderness blossoms like a rose. Then, instead of the thorn of self-conceit and the brier of worldly care, the plants of the Lord's own hand planting spring up and flourish. Then the voice of joy, peace, and pardoning love is heard in the conscience.
O that it were as easy to feel it, as to write about it! But alas, I find my garden in a poor backward state; but blessed be God, there is life in the root.
Almost everything seems to flourish at Olney, but myself. The prayer-meeting I lately set up on Tuesday evenings is likely to thrive and be profitable—our number is about forty. We might easily enlarge it; but I chose to have none but such as I hope are downright in earnest; however it increases every time.
The children on Thursday now amount to one hundred and seventy-five, and additions are coming every week. I have furnished them all with Mason's Sermon and Catechism and Dr. Watts's little hymn book. They are very fond of coming, and there are some onlookers. I expect there will be more when the weather is warmer. In speaking to the children, I sometimes speak to the bystanders without seeming to intend it; and who knows but a random shot may now and then hit the mark?
As to the public preaching, I believe the Lord is pleased to own it. Last sacrament day I had the pleasure of seeing two of my own children at the ordinance, who, I trust, can give a solid reason of the hope that is in them; and I know of six others that have been awakened within these few weeks, who seem to be in a good way.
I think the congregations have been as large within this past month in cold weather, as they were any time last summer. There is a probability that when the spring advances, more will come than we shall be able to seat. This put me upon planning a large gallery to be erected the whole length of the north side of the church, from the door to the chancel. A plan has been made, and the estimate is eighty-five pounds—to have four depths of handsome pews, and an open seat behind. As I intend to have the best front seat for the accommodation of my friends, and as I think it well to set a good example to the parish, that they may be stirred up to give freely—I have myself promised to subscribe five guineas; you will perhaps think this is more than the poor curate of Olney can well afford. If you do (and you are not far from the mark), I hereby authorize and empower you to levy the said sum upon yourself, and your and my friends, in the city and eastern quarters. To be serious, what assistance you can procure will be acceptable, and I believe, necessary; and it was in dependence on your good offices that I have ventured as above.
The people that wish best to the gospel interest here are, in general, such as are least able to assist it with their purses—but we will endeavor to pay you in prayers. I hope your soul prospers. Let me hear from you.
I hear more or less good news almost every week. Pray for us. Our love to Mrs. Clunie.
I am your affectionate and obliged,
Olney, March 16, 1765
Thank you for your last correspondence. We shall not wish our time away, but propose ourselves pleasure, if April or May shall bring you and Mrs. Clunie to Olney. The leaves and blossoms are peeping out, and the birds beginning to sing already, and things will blossom fast every week.
We are all well as usual, surrounded with mercies on every side, and lack nothing to make us more happy than we are, but a warmer sense of redeeming love. Blessed be God we are not altogether asleep, though too drowsy. All my church plantations flourish. The prayer meeting is well attended, and in general, I hope, proves a time of refreshment; so that some of the younger and more lively sort are encouraged to attempt another on Sunday mornings at six o'clock, to pray for their poor minister, and for a blessing on the ordinances. My children now exceed two hundred, as I expected.
I shall be obliged to you to procure me what accounts you can, printed or otherwise, of the Lord's work in America. I have had some imperfect hints, but want to know more. I have heard of something remarkable in and about Long Island—likewise of a schoolmaster that has had remarkable success among the Indian children. Such as this, is the news I want. I am little concerned with the treaties and policies of the kings of the earth—but I long to hear of the victories and triumphs of our King Jesus and that the trophies of His grace are multiplied!
I want more experience in my soul of that spiritual energy which is mighty to pull down strongholds, to lay every imagination and high thing low in the dust, and bring every roving thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. My heart is like a country but half subdued, where all things are in an unsettled state, and mutinies and insurrections are daily happening. I hate the rebels that disturb the King's peace. I am glad when I can point them out, lay hold of them, and bring them to Him for justice. But they have many lurking-holes, and sometimes they come disguised like friends, so that I do not know them until their works reveal them.
What a quiet posture Job's affairs were in. The oxen were ploughing, and the donkeys were feeding besides them—all in peace, and no danger near. Who would have thought of the Sabeans coming to carry all away? So it is sometimes in my experience. The bands of the enemy break in, hinder my plowing, spoil my pastures, and rob me of my graces. But the mercy is that there are infinite resources in the name of Jesus. One act of lively faith in Him sets all to rights, heals every breach, and makes up every loss.
I am not in a writing mood, so shall put you off with this for the present. With our dear love, and repeated invitations to you both, I remain
Your affectionate Brother,
Olney, August 4, 1765
I have not yet time for the long letter you expect, and know not when I shall; but I was unwilling to let Mrs. S_____ go without sending a pledge of our love to you and Mrs. Clunie and to let you know we continue, through the Lord's mercy, to go on in our usual way. I am sorry you think Mrs. Clunie will not be with us this summer.
Our house is now clear again. Mr. Ryland sends me word that he expects Mr. and Mrs. Weft will be at Northampton by this day two weeks, and that you propose to accompany them. I have some thoughts of meeting you there on Monday the 19th to escort you all to Olney; but if I should be prevented, I devolve the care of my dear friends to you.
The gallery is finished, but the seats not yet put up; it was pretty full this afternoon, and the church below stairs as much thronged as ever before. It seems, if the Lord continues to afford us His blessing, that we shall need another gallery next summer. It is pleasing to see how the people flock from all quarters. The Lord grant that they may not only hear, but do His will.
Both I and my people have many helps and many encouragements. I hope they are enabled to make a good use of them; they are as lively and as attentive as ever—all our meetings well attended, and some new additions which I have good hopes of.
As to myself, I have more and more experience of the evil of my heart—and this affords new occasions for discovering and acknowledging the Lord's grace and goodness. You will hardly find anyone so singularly indebted to divine grace and providence. But, alas! What poor unsuitable returns, what mixtures of evil debase my best services! I could go on complaining, but I check myself. I am vile indeed, but Jesus is full of grace and truth. He leads and guides. He feeds and guards. He restores and heals. He is an all-sufficient Savior. May my soul rest and rejoice in His precious salvation, take the comfort of His free promises, and give Him all the glory.
I hope your soul prospers. Take care of SELF—this is the worst enemy we have to deal with: self-will, self-wisdom, self-righteousness, self-seeking, self-dependence, self-boasting. It is a large family! I cannot reckon up all the branches, but they are all closely related to Satan—they are all sworn enemies to our peace. If we lie low, then the Lord will raise us up. But if we will be something, then His arm will surely pull us down.
I think I have done pretty well, considering it is Sunday evening. I have been engaged about six hours in speaking at church and at home—yet find myself in good health, little or nothing fatigued; if there was occasion, then I could readily go and preach again. This is one of my mercies, which will not last always: time will have an effect on my aging body. I this day enter my forty-first year. How many miracles have I been witness to in the space of a short life! The Lord grant to us and ours, that our latter days may be our best days.
It grows dark—and I must conclude. The Lord bless you both; pray for your affectionate and obliged,
Olney, October 8, 1765
I thank you for your letter, and for your and Mr. B_____'s intention to come to see us. I hope your next attempt will succeed, and that the Lord will permit him to come in good time. We shall expect you both.
The chief occasion of this letter is to introduce Mr. O_____ to you. He was recommended to me by a judicious friend, and I believe him to be a pilgrim of the right sort. He has been traveling about to see gospel ministers and people, and I suppose that is his chief errand at London. He is quite a stranger there. I leave him to tell his own story, which he will not do very hastily; for he seems to be a man of few words, and very modest. I understand that his intention is to fix on some place to settle in, where he may have the benefit of the ordinances, and that he is in easy circumstances.
We are glad to hear that you and Mrs. Clunie are in health; we wish you both abundance of grace and peace.
As to Aldwinckle, I can say no more: time will show. I hope the Lord will direct for the best; but I can hardly either think or wish that Mr. Haweis should have the place. I expected him and Mr. M_____ last week, but the latter had some slight illness that prevented.
It is a small matter who comes or goes—so that the Lord is pleased to manifest Himself with us; I hope, in a measure, He does, and that He may be graciously with you and yours, is the frequent prayer of
Your affectionate Brother,
Olney, November 24, 1765
I send you a little note by Mr. S_____ though I have not much to say, nor much time to say it in. I came back safe and sound—found all well, and we go on as usual.
Dear Mrs. Haweis did not die until last night, but hardly spoke a word after my return. Her funeral will be some day this week. I expect a large congregation, and solemn opportunity. Help me with your prayers, that the Lord's presence may be with us, and some good done. If we have not some raised up in the place of those who are taken away—then we shall grow weak and thin; but I trust He will make His word His power.
The person to whom I refused the Lord's table, died last week.
Nothing appeared in his case to make me think I had been too strict in that point, but rather reason to be thankful. They desired I would let the clergyman bury him who had attended in his illness, to which I had no objection.
I hope we had a tolerable day in our church services. I preached from Genesis 22:14 and Philippians 2. Happy change, that grace makes—happy believers, to whom the Lord is engaged by promise to appear in every moment of difficulty. May we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our dear Lord and Savior.
Our love to Mrs. Clunie. I will let her know when the trees and meadows are newly dressed and ready to receive her. Please give our respects to Mr. and Mrs. Duncan. We shall be glad to see them, winter or summer. I am, etc.,
Olney, December 15, 1765
Your letters are always welcome, but few more than that which gives us hope of seeing you and dear Mr. B_____ next week. We will settle preaching times when he comes.
On Christmas Day I preach in the forenoon, and at six in the evening. If Mr. Duncan comes down, you may tell him that we have two beds, and we shall expect the pleasure of accommodating him.
I am truly concerned for Mrs. West; hope I shall pray daily for her, for them both. I hope the Lord will restore him, and that this will only be a lesson in the hand of His grace to teach her to set loose to creatures. I think none sympathize more truly than we. An over-solicitude is our besetting sin, and we have known once and again, what it is to watch by each other's bedside in sickness.
This is the third letter I have written since our evening meeting was over; so I must be short, especially as we hope so soon to meet. Tomorrow I have a little journey in view.
I will try to pray for your little girl and her parents. If the Lord takes her—then she escapes a troublesome world. If you resign her into His hands and He gives her back again to you—I hope she will live to your comfort.
We wish you both a good night, and are, etc.,
Olney, January 5, 1766
We rejoiced to hear that you and dear Mr. B_____ got well, and go well on. You have both been earnestly remembered among us in prayer, in public and in private, since you left us, and I hope the good effects of the visit are still, and will be, long felt among us.
Some of the Dissenters have thanked me for bringing Mr. B_____ to Olney. My dear wife is a little angry that you have not sent his picture. I closed the old year at the great house with the same text with which you tell me Mr. R_____ opened the new one at the Lock. I preached on New Year's Day morning from Psalm 38:7; in the evening from Numbers 10:29. We had a large congregation, and I hope a blessed time. The Lord grant that fruit may appear—that some poor soul may date the beginning of a good work from that day. On Thursday we entered upon the history of persecution from Romans 8:36. I shall spend three or four lectures upon that verse.
We are glad to hear of Mrs. Clunie's welfare. The spring will be coming again, before long. I will send her word when the trees begin to look green and the flowers peep abroad. I think we have as beautiful a spring country as most, but just now all appears dreary and waste.
May the Lord send us a spring-time in our souls—may that Voice, which is sweeter than the turtle-doves, be heard proclaiming love, joy, and peace in our hearts.
Remember me to all dear friends; I hope you will soon send me word that the little society has begun, that we may know when to pray for you. Give my love to Mr. C_____; we wish him much success and satisfaction.
I have many letters to write today—so must therefore break off, with the warmest expressions of friendship, and thanks to you and Mrs. Clunie in both our names.
May Jesus, the gracious and compassionate Shepherd, feed, guide, and guard you both, and give you an increase of every spiritual blessing! I am, etc.,
Olney, February 9, 1766
My dear Brother,
Mr. M_____ was with us from Thursday until yesterday morning. He preached a good and acceptable sermon, which I think you will easily believe.
We shall reckon upon seeing you again before very long. The sooner and the oftener, the better. I beg you either to bring me one of Mr. Hart's hymnbooks or to send it, if you have time, by Mr. S_____. Tuesday night I hope we shall meet again before the Lord. Our hearts will be with you in our prayer meeting.
Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, like the sun in the firmament—can shine upon millions at once. O may we rejoice in His beams—may we be emptied, filled, stripped, adorned, killed, and made alive, by the power of His Spirit from day to day! Happy are those moments when we are humbled into the dust, and sink, as it were, into nothing—under a thought of what we are, and what unspeakably glorious love is manifested to us in the dear Redeemer.
Our best love to Mrs. Clunie. I hope we shall see you before the butterflowers and daisies are scattered over the meadows. If so, she must stay until the next time, unless she will come twice; for I would have her see the country in its court-suit.
Our respects to Mr. Duncan, Mr. and Mrs. West, and all our dear friends. We shall be glad to see them at Olney. Pray for us. I am affectionately, and so we are both, hers and yours,
Olney, February 1766
Thomas R_____ is not coming to London as was expected. The weather hindered him on Thursday, and now his journey is put off. I am glad you had a pleasing meeting last Tuesday; we met with you in prayer, and I trust the Lord was with us likewise. I doubt not but Mrs. W_____ will be a shining member of your society, and hope it will be a help to her soul.
The Lord bless you all, jointly and individually, when together and when apart.
In the Gentleman's Magazine for the year 1739 (I think that is the year) there is a memorable and solemn relation of the death of Sir Francis Newport, who pined away under most terrible agonies of despair. It is a story that ought not to be forgotten. If Mr. Johnson could procure me the volume in which it is contained, I would be glad.
Our love to Mrs. Clunie and all friends.
Olney, February 12, 1766
We are glad to hear of your prosperity and wish you both a thriving state of soul and peace in all your concerns.
I thank you for the contents of your letter; I have had opportunity of knowing much of Mr. T_____ . I do not wonder that you liked him, for I believe he is not only an earnest seeker, but a happy possessor of the grace of God; and though for the reasons he told you, he lived snug—yet I have no reason to think he is little, if at all, behind the best of us—in solid knowledge and true experience. I trust the Lord will, in good time, give him the desire of his heart.
I hope, in a few weeks more, to send my sermons, or some of them, to London. They must pass through the hands of two or three, and by the time they are ready to be put to the press, I hope to have prepared the rest. I trust we met in spirit last night at the throne of grace. I can tell you, you are all heartily prayed for at those seasons. My subject was from those cheering words: "It is finished."
May Jesus speak them powerfully to all our hearts—He was pleased to bless what He enabled me to say, to the deliverance of one poor soul who has been some time in great distress. She came to me this morning, rejoicing as a bird that has just escaped out of the snare of the fowler! May the Lord bless you both. We are your much obliged,
Olney, March 4, 1766
My dear Brother,
We have been some days in the furnace—may the Lord grant that we may lose nothing but dross. My dear Polly has been visited with a fever, attended with uncommonly violent pains in her head, for twelve or sixteen hours together. Her disorder began last Monday. The fever is at length come to a distinct intermission, but its returns are very fierce and trying. I send this intimation to stir up you, and our other dear friends, to pray for a blessing.
Severe as this affliction is in some respects, in others we must account it a gracious dispensation. The Lord has favored her with remarkable patience and submission, and has, I believe, manifested Himself more nearly to her soul than ever before. I, likewise, am supported according to His good promise; was remarkably so on Sunday, when I went through the usual services.
Tell Mr. M_____ I thank him for his kind letter, and would have written myself before now but for what has happened. If it please God that Mrs. Newton misses the return of her fever, he will hear from me soon.
We join in love to you and dear Mrs. Clunie and beg to be remembered to and by all our Christian friends. I am affectionately yours,
Who is a God like our God, who can preserve . . .
a spark in the waves unquenched,
a drop in the flames unconsumed,
a feather in a tempest immovable!
Olney, March 9, 1766
I believe you have pitied and prayed for us—therefore it is right that I should thank you and tell you that your prayers have been heard. My dear wife is, I trust, in a fair way of recovery. I hope the cough will, by the Lord's blessing, keep the fever away, for she has not had it since Thursday. It will, however, take some time to restore her strength, for she has been brought exceedingly low. Pray that we may be both brought out of the furnace, refined as gold, and help us to praise the God of our lives. We shall be glad to see you whenever you can come. I hope we shall meet on Tuesday evening. Adieu, the bell rings at church.
Olney, March 23, 1766
My dear Brother,
I have several of your very kind letters to acknowledge, but that in which you mention your tour to Olney by the way of Oxford, did not reach us until today.
There are a few students of the right sort at Oxford, but I know none of them but Mr. Fly. I cannot tell what college he belongs to; but if you call on Mr. James Stillingfleet of Merton College, he can give you a clue to find them all. I am not personally acquainted with him, but believe he will excuse my saying that if you mention that I have the pleasure of being your friend, it will be sufficient for an introduction.
The persuasion that we had an interest in your prayers, and those of our many dear friends at London, was a great comfort to us in our late affliction. The Lord grant that if we are spared to meet, you may find that our trial has been sanctified. I hope we can say it was a gracious visitation, and though frail flesh and blood staggered a little—yet the Lord, at the same time that He made us feel our own weakness, gave us proof that His everlasting arm was underneath us.
My dear wife has in a good measure recovered her appetite and gets forward in strength. If tomorrow should be a mild day, I hope she will attend church. Therefore as you have prayed for us, go on to help us to praise Him, and pray for us again, that we may be humble and thankful.
Mr. V_____ came here on Monday, and we parted on Thursday morning. He is now a silent preacher. His example will preach wherever he goes—and such an instance of so zealous, humble, skillful, and useful a man being laid aside from public service does, or should, preach loudly to me—not to be high-minded, wise in my own conceit, or to dream myself a person of importance; for I may see in Mr. V_____ and Mr. C_____, that the Lord can do without those who are better qualified to serve Him than myself. It should likewise teach me to be thankful that my health and ability are continued, and stir me up to be diligent and humble in the use of them.
It gives me the greatest pleasure to find and to hear that the Lord is with you, that you are comfortable in yourself and useful to others. You and I are bound to speak well of Him: how often has He healed our breaches and recovered us from backslidings! When He renews forgiveness, He does it fully and freely as at first. He does not upbraid us with what is past; yet we should not forget it, but often remind ourselves of where we were when He first found as, and where we would have been at last, if His mercy had not restored our souls. The recollection of His dealings with us and our dealings with Him, may be a means, by His blessing, to make us more humble, thankful, and watchful.
Our love to dear Mrs. Clunie and all friends. I am, etc.,
Olney, April 5, 1766
My dear Brother,
We could have sympathized with you and Mrs. Clunie at any time, but especially at the time when the case has been so lately our own. I hope I may promise never to bow my knee before the Lord without remembering you both, until I hear she is better. I hope Jehovah will be Rophi, her healer, as we have found Him a healer with us. May she be restored soon, and come to Olney to hear our birds sing, and to tell us what the Lord has done for her: that He has both healed her disease and pardoned her sin, and put a new song of praise in her mouth. I am glad, however, to hear that you thought her better; may the Lord confirm your hopes; then, when we are spared to meet, how shall each of us attest, from our own experience, that He is indeed a God who hears prayer.
What a mercy is it that all our concerns are in sure hands! Not a hair of our heads can fall to the ground, but by the appointment of Him who orders and marshals the stars and calls them all by their names!
Is sickness the present cross? It can come no sooner, nor fall heavier, than He bids it; and when His end is answered, and His hour comes to give relief—then sickness departs at His word. The cure becomes easy then, even where it seemed desperate before. Let this comfort you: that Jesus is the Physician! "Great crowds came to Him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them!" Matthew 15:30
I hope this sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God and your mutual comfort: that she will live to praise the Lord, who drew near in the day of distress, and that you will be fellow-helpers of each other's joy and edification.
As to myself, I could complain much. The Lord gives me liberty in public service—but in my own soul I feel lean, burdened, and far from God. I closed my lectures on the 8th chapter Romans last week, and last Thursday, by way of epilogue to them, preached from John 13:17.
It is Saturday evening, and I have a letter to write to Mr. B_____, before I retire to pray for a blessing tomorrow on you, on me, and on all who love the Lord Jesus. I must therefore add no more but our best love to you, Mrs. Clunie and all friends.
Olney, April 17, 1766
Your last letter gave us much concern, but I hope it stirs us up to renew our prayers for dear Mrs. Clunie. I beg you will favor us with a line by Saturday's post; and may the Lord grant that it may contain a fresh testimony of His goodness in answering prayer. I am glad to find that you seem composed and resigned. Our comforts are never safer than when we can fully trust the Lord to do with them, and with us, as He sees fit. He will not willingly or unnecessarily grieve His children. When His arm seems lifted up to strike them, how often does He put it into their hearts to run toward Him and humble themselves before Him, and thus prevent the blow. May His grace be with you both; then all shall be well at last; but I pray and would hope, likewise, that He will appear in this trouble, and raise up dear Mrs. Clunie to be a living witness of His love and grace, to your great comfort.
D_____ was again prevented from coming to Olney, but he favored me with a very kind letter. I am to continue expecting him until I see him. Mrs. Hinde and Tammy came safely down last night, and I hope the Lord will favor us with a blessed time. We shall remember you and yours, I hope, every time we bow our knees in prayer.
Last Sunday I had an opportunity of preaching at a place about five miles away. The church tolerably large, was much crowded; several were around the walls outside and could not get in. I suppose there were more than eight hundred people, three fourths of whom, perhaps, never heard the gospel in their lives. I am to preach again there the next Sunday evening. May the Lord grant that good may come of it.
I owe this opportunity not to favor, but the minister died a few months ago; the care of providing is in the widow. Other clergymen have served hitherto, and at last I was asked, and gladly embraced it.
We join in our best love to you and Mrs. Clunie. May the peace of God fill your hearts. I am, your affectionate and obliged brother,
Olney, April 22, 1766
We sincerely rejoiced by the receipt of your last letter. We desire to thank the Lord for His goodness to you and dear Mrs. Clunie. May He perfect what He has begun and bring her forth as gold from the furnace, refined and fit for the Master's use! We shall long to see her among us; and as she has been brought so low, I would have her come and take the benefit of our Olney air, as soon as she conveniently can travel. The meadows and bushes will very soon be completely dressed to receive her.
I thank you for your caution about over-preaching; but I think an occasional opportunity now and then is gladly to be embraced—of preaching the gospel to those who sit in darkness. However I can by no means consent to leave Olney destitute. I suppose the door now open, will not be so long; and therefore, for once or twice, I determine, in the Lord's strength, to venture out to other churches.
We find Mrs. Haweis a very agreeable visitant. I trust the Lord has truly begun a good work in her, and hope she will grow and shine. Tammy, likewise, seems to turn out a good girl; though volatile—yet I hope she has some serious thoughts at times. I trust the Lord, who has wonderfully led her under the care of so good a friend, will, in His own due time, answer my prayers and desires concerning her, and draw her nearer to Himself.
Through mercy we go on pretty well, though few new awakenings come to my knowledge. We hope to be all in prayer tonight. May the Lord meet with us and incline our hearts to unite in prayer for the best blessings for each other.
I am affectionately, your obliged friend and servant in the Lord,
Olney, May 4, 1766
We have only time to love and thank you for your letters, and all your favors. I am already shut out from the extra services for which I stood engaged, and I am afraid I shall be seldom in danger of hurting myself by preaching outside of Olney. This makes me willing to catch every occasion of making hay while the sun shines. I desire to bless God that I can preach at Olney, and since the last repulse, I hope I am aiming to set a higher value upon my privilege than before. I think and hope that I would not sell my liberty of the pulpit, for what even the world might account a large estate; for though I am happy in many comforts, I trust the chief thing for which I wish to live, is to proclaim the praise of the grace that called me out of darkness into His marvelous light.
We thank God for dear Mrs. Clunie's recovery. I hope the Essex air will repair her strength; then let her come to Olney, for (no offence to Essex) our air is very good; and we have hitherto sent our company back well, who were ill when they came to us. I hope Mrs. Hinde will tell you she found benefit by it.
The beginning of your letter raised our spirits about dear Mr. & Mrs. B_____; but they sank before we came to the bottom. We thank them for intending to come; however, we are not willing to take the will for the deed, but shall wait in hope that the Lord will afford, in the best time, the desirable opportunity.
We have the pleasure of Mr. Butcher's company; he sends his compliments. We shall, I hope, have a meeting in spirit, Tuesday evening, with our dear friends in Spitalfields. May the Lord give us to hear His voice, feel His power, and taste His love. My subjects were today Proverbs 3:11-12 and Philippians 2:12-13. I commend the first to Mrs. Clunie, the other to you, or rather both to each.
I expect another pulpit to be open to me (for once at least) at a place about eight miles off. Pray for me, that I may be faithful and useful. I suppose it will be too soon to expect you down to accompany me thither, but hope you will make what haste you can.
I have got a young lamb or two added to my fold lately; one of them is still lying, as it were, within the wolf's paws, but I trust the good Shepherd will not allow him to tear her. Pray for her. May the Lord add to their number. What an encouragement is it to know that the work is the Lord's, and He will command the blessing. My dear wife says I must leave off, when I have mentioned my best love to you both and to all friends.
I am affectionately,
Olney, June 3,1766
My dear Brother,
Excuse my sending you this, which you will hardly think worth postage. We hope we are now satisfied that Mrs. Clunie is well content to prolong her stay with us, if you do not come to fetch her away next Saturday, which we hope you will not. We will do our best to make her comfortable. May the Lord make her stay profitable to her soul. We are all well. The weather will not allow us to go to Aidwinkle this week—perhaps we may go next week. I have written two long letters to Mrs. Haweis and Mr. B_____ that my eyes, pen, and spirits all fail together. Adieu, may the Lord bless you, prays affectionately yours,
Olney, June 29, 1766
We are very glad to hear that you and Mr. O_____ and Mrs. Clunie got safely to town. We are now tolerably fixed in our new house, and it is to be consecrated this evening by our usual prayer meeting. The old building is down, and the cellar almost dug.
Pray for us that our hearts may be kept from cleaving to the dust or having our thoughts too much taken up with trifles. May we never forget that we are strangers and pilgrims. All houses and places are nearly alike—all pleasant, when the Lord shines upon the heart—and none tolerable to a soul who has tasted that He is gracious. We are now ready for the reception of our friends as usual.
The West Indian manatee came safe and sound. He is at present a prisoner in a tub of salt water. We intend he shall live (if he pleases) until tomorrow night, because tomorrow is the fair-day, for all the country to stare at him—and then off goes his head. You would be astonished to see with what amazement he is viewed. Some admire him; some are frightened—some say it is a fish, some think it is a bird, but many suppose it to be an outlandish toad. Just so wise are the wise men of the world—in judging of the true believer.
We are now entered upon a new Sabbath. My heart has been with you. May the Lord bless the provisions of His house this day; and may your soul and mine thrive in the fat pastures of His love. My dear wife and I send our best love and thanks to your dear and you. Farewell. Yours affectionately,
Olney, July 3, 1766
Enclosed you have a packet for Mr. M_____, which I beg you to deliver. Mr. Catlett proposes calling on you, and will tell you that we are, through the mercy of God, in health and peace. We shall be glad to see you in our new house. The works at the vicarage are begun, and, if it please God to favor us with good weather, would proceed apace. Indeed, we have need to pray for weather, not for our concern, which is trifling, but on account of the country, that the hay may be gathered in and the corn matured; we have hardly seen the sun for a week past.
On Tuesday evening we attended in a body to hear Mr. G_____, of R_____. I was willing to do everything in my power to remove his prejudices (if he has any) against us; and the greatest compliment I can pay anyone is to suspend our meeting when it interferes with their preaching. Besides this, I met him to breakfast at a friend's next morning. It came to my turn to pray, which gave me an opportunity to express my good wishes for him. Monday evening being fair night, I preached from Proverbs 23:23: "Buy the truth and sell it not." I thought I had liberty; we had a tolerable congregation; may the Lord give His blessing.
Today I begin again to meet my dear children, a service which partly through necessary hindrances, and partly through sloth on my part, has been too long interrupted. I find it is not safe to desist or stop short in a good work, for the enemy will try various ways to prevent our resuming it. May the Lord make me wise and watchful, to withstand and overcome all his devices.
The poor woman who has been so long ill, whom Mrs. Clunie went to see, was taken to a better world last Monday. I trust she will stand at the Great Day as a monument of rich grace, and of the Lord's particular goodness to unworthy me. She was a heinous, wicked creature when I came to Olney, and some time afterwards. May we all meet there to rejoice in the joy of His people. Farewell. Pray for us, as we for you.
Olney, July 22, 1766
We were concerned to hear that Mrs. Clunie had a touch of the fever, but hope (as your last letter says nothing to the contrary) that she is quite well again. If not, try an approved remedy—send her back to Olney. Your information about Mr. Whitaker came but just in time. I hope the next time the appointment will be certainly kept; for it is very disagreeable to give notice and raise people's expectations for nothing. Therefore do not let us hear of it, until you are reasonable sure of its taking place.
I can now tell you that my dear wife is groaning with a great pain in her face, and I am sometimes groaning to see her. How many ailments are these frail bodies subject to! But as it is not a threatening disorder, I hope we shall both be enabled to bear it with composure. May the Lord sanctify our sicknesses and pains, to quicken our desires and fitness for that better world, when pain shall be no more.
I hope you will find time to come down again, and take a lodging in our present habitation. The new building at the vicarage is going on, and we hope to have all the masons' work completed before winter, but we shall not be able to return perhaps until midsummer. Is not this too far forward for such frail creatures to look to? Blessed be God for the hope of better and unchangeable mansions!
We add no more but our best love to Mrs. Clunie and remembrance to all friends, especially those whom you see on a Tuesday evening at Spitalfields. I am affectionately, etc.,
Olney, July 26, 1766
We are much disappointed at not having seen you and Mrs. Clunie yet, especially as you have lately been ill. What more likely means to confirm your health—than to change the smoke of London, for good wholesome country air?
I hope you find affliction sanctified; let not the strong man trust in his strength. A little illness you see, makes a difference. Let not a living man depend upon life, for what is life but a vapor, which continues a little while and then vanishes away! But let us glory and trust in Jesus—His strength never fails—His years have no end.
I have been preaching today from Joshua 4:10-11 and 1 Kings 17:7. O how valuable is a saving interest in Him, who is an abiding spring when every stream fails, and who can dry up Jordan at the very time when it overflows its banks and make a safe and pleasant passage through the swellings of the black river—death! I hope you found the value of His precious name, when your late sickness gave you a sensible proof of the vanity of everything else.
We reached Bunyan's wicket-gate last Tuesday, and shall perhaps stay there two weeks. There is such a fullness and depth in The Pilgrim's Progress, that a small portion of it affords a sufficient text for an evening sermon. I see more in it, now that I come to examine it closely, than I ever observed before—though I have read it so often, that I almost know it by heart.
We have set up a new meeting on Friday evenings, in which my sheep and lambs are to be divided into small flocks of eight or ten or twelve at a time—for conversation, so that their turns will come round about once in six weeks. Pray for us that we may be healthy and thriving and that the wolf may be kept from the fold. I have about twenty lambs, every one of which is worth more than all the cattle in Smithfield.
With our dear love to you both, wishing you all the blessings of the New Covenant, I remain,
Olney, July 26, 1766
My dear Brother,
I seldom choose to let Mr. Semples go without a line to you; nor will I now, though I have little to offer. Indeed, we should never be weary of writing and reading about Jesus. If His name sounds warm to your heart, you may call this a good letter, though I should not add a word more.
How fast the weeks return—we are again upon the eve of a Sabbath. May the Lord give us much of His own Spirit on His own day. I trust I have a remembrance in your prayers. I need them much—my service is great. It is, indeed, no small thing to stand between God and the people—to divide the word of truth aright—to give everyone his portion— to withstand the counter tides of opposition and popularity—and to press those truths upon others, the power of which I, at times, feel so little of in my own soul. A cold, corrupt heart is uncomfortable company in the pulpit.
Yet in the midst of all my fears and unworthiness, I am enabled to cleave to the promise and to rely on the power of the great Redeemer. I know I am engaged in the cause against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. If He died and rose again, if He ever lives to make intercession—then there must be safety under the shadow of His wings; there would I lie. In His strength I would go forth, do what He enables me—then take shame to myself that I can do no better, and put my hand upon my mouth, confessing that I am dust and ashes, less than the least of all His saints.
I suppose you will get this before your next meeting at Mr. West's; my heart will be with you there, and I and my dear friends attempting to pray for you all. May that little meeting be as a garden planted and watered by the Lord; may great grace be with your dear minister and with all the members; and may you and dear Mrs. Clunie grow up as plants of renown, and find every ordinance, opportunity, and providence sanctified to the good of your soul.
Olney, October 12, 1766
My dear Brother,
I met my dear wife at Newport, and we came safely home to tea. How gracious is the Lord! Several whom she left well, have died in her absence; yet we are preserved in peace and enriched with comforts on every side.
We return our joint thanks to you and Mrs. Clunie and all our dear friends, for their great kindness. I have not written to you lately because you had one with you who could tell you much of my mind.
I am blessed with perfect health, and all things have been well with us abroad and at home. My only causes of complaint arise from my depraved nature and the workings of indwelling sin. I wish I was more humbled for them, and watchful against them.
I trust I do, in some measure, know what manner of people the Lord's redeemed ought to be, and I hope sincerely to be growing and pressing forward. But indeed, I am not what I would be, or should be.
I would be thankful—few have more evident causes.
I would be humble—none can have greater reason.
I would be more spiritually-minded—for even my experience tells me that all below is vanity. Surely my lot is peculiarly favored, for the Lord has wonderfully anticipated and exceeded my wishes on every hand. But without the light of His countenance, all is faint and tasteless.
Blessed be God for the news of a better world, where there will be no sin, change, or defect, forever!
Let us praise Him, likewise, that He has appointed means of grace and seasons of refreshment here below—for a throne of grace, a precious Bible, and returning ordinances. These are valuable privileges, and so they appear to us when our hearts are in a lively frame. Then everything appears little and worthless, in comparison with communion with God. O for a coal of fire from the heavenly altar to warm our frozen hearts! O for a taste of divine love and a glimpse of glory—that we might mount up as with eagle's wings! Let us pray for each other.
Sunday morning: I am unwilling to send this paper half empty, therefore would scribble something additional. Mrs. Newton came home well, but was yesterday morning seized with an illness that has proved rather violent and made her weak; but I now hope it will go favorably off, and perhaps prove a means of preventing something worse; but it will confine her from public worship today. It is a comfort, under all changes, to be enabled to look to covenant love and special grace.
The Lord has promised to direct, moderate, sanctify, and relieve every trial of every kind. I long to have a more entire submission to His will, and a more steadfast confidence in His word—to trust Him and wait on Him—to see His hand, and praise His name, in every circumstance of life, great and small. The more of this spirit—the more Heaven is begun upon earth. And why should we not trust Him at all times? Which part of our past experience can charge Him with unfaithfulness? Has He not done all things well? And is He not the same yesterday, today, and forever? O my soul, wait only upon Him. And may this be the desire and attainment of you and dear Mrs. Clunie.
The bells are just beginning to call me to church. Lord, meet us there and pour forth Your good Spirit on all my fellow-laborers and fellow-worshipers. May you and yours taste today that He is gracious.
Our best love to you both. Remember us to all friends time presses.
I am, sincerely,
Olney, October 19, 1766
I received your letter, and thank you for your news. The Lord has brought us through another Sabbath. I have been some weeks on Isaiah 42—today I began the 5th verse. In the afternoon I spoke a little of Satan's trials, from 2 Corinthians 2:14. May the good Lord keep us from his delusions; he is always dangerous, but never more so than when he pleads for gospel doctrines in order to abuse them, and when he tries to pass his counterfeit humility, zeal, and sanctity upon us—for true gold. No coiner can equal him for imitation; where Christ has a church—he will have a synagogue; where the Spirit produces any graces—he, like the magicians of Egypt, will do something as like it, and yet as-unlike it as possible. He has a something that comes so near the gospel, that it is called by Paul "another gospel," and yet, in reality, it is no gospel at all. He deals much in half convictions and almost Christians—but does not like thorough work. He will let people talk about grace as much as they please and commend them for it—provided mere talking will satisfy them. They may be zealous either for the blood or the water or the Spirit, whichever they themselves choose—provided they will be content with one, to the neglect of the other two. He will preach free grace when he finds people willing to receive the notion, as an excuse and a cloak for idleness.
Satan is never more a devil, than when he looks most like an angel! But let him look and talk as he will—he is Satan still. Those who are experienced and watchful may discern his cloven foot hanging below his fine garment of light. Let us beware of him, for many wise have been deceived, and many strong have been cast down by him. Let us continually apply to Him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us spotless in the end.
I remain, etc.,
November 23, 1766
My dear Brother,
Your last letter led me to hope that I would see you this past week; I shall now continue looking for you until you come. We were glad to hear of your welfare and Mrs. Clunie. May the Lord continue it, if it be His good pleasure; but especially may He graciously sanctify every comfort and every cross to you and to us; methinks this should be our chief desire—it will little signify hereafter what were the means by which the Lord was pleased to do us good. In general, we may expect a mixture of each.
Old Bishop Cooper compares the life of a Christian to a piece of cloth—the long threads reaching from the cradle to the grave, are all trouble and sorrow from end to end; but then, the whole space is filled up, and interwoven with innumerable mercies. I think it is a good comparison; for what moment of our lives is not attended with blessings and favors beyond our power, either to count or value? Especially it is so with you and me and ours, for even in what we call our times of trial and affliction—we are surrounded with numberless mercies, which thousands of our fellow creatures are strangers to.
The Lord has brought us comfortably through another Sabbath—thus eternity draws near us by weekly strides. It is a mercy to be able to think how fast time wears away, without being alarmed. Indeed, if we belong to Jesus, we need not wish time moved slower—for can we be with our Beloved, or be like Him too soon? Yet the flesh is cowardly, and there is something yet remaining in our hearts that cleaves to the dust—otherwise nothing would make this life desirable, or even tolerable to a believer, but for opportunities of glorifying God and promoting the good of precious souls. Well, since we know we cannot live long—may the Lord enable us at length to begin to live to purpose.
My texts today were Jeremiah 23:6 and Numbers 23:19. They are both sweet subjects and go well together—the righteousness of Christ and the faithfulness of God; if these are on our side, then come what will, all shall be well.
Olney, December 4, 1766
I thank you for your last letter, and for your intention to see us next week. We are heartily glad to hear that Mrs. Clunie is better. I hope we shall continue to pray that all your trials may be sanctified. We desist from the means when our end is answered, and so does the Lord. He sends afflictions to humble and prove us, to quicken us in prayer, and to fit us for praise. And when they have had these effects, He commands deliverance—yes, so tender is He, and compassionate to our weakness, that He often removes the cross before our hearts are duly humbled by it; and He seldom sends His heavier dispensations, until He has tried lighter ones and they have proved (through our stubbornness) ineffectual. Then, indeed, He will add to them both in number and weight, until He has accomplished His design, and done us good, in spite of ourselves.
We have had a great deal of preaching at Olney these two weeks past; indeed I never saw a place so much favored in that respect, enjoying, besides the stated ordinances, such a variety of occasional helps. O that there were a heart in the people, and in me also, to improve these privileges!
December 18, 1766
I thought of you yesterday about four o'clock. I trust that you and our friends had a comfortable meeting, and that you found Mrs. Clunie well. I have little to say, as we so lately parted; only that we love you and wish you both much prosperity in the name of the Lord. Let us follow on to know Him; He has greater things to show us, than we have ever yet seen—heights and depths and lengths and breadths of love—surpassing knowledge. We are as yet but entered upon the ABC's of Christianity. We are mere elementary grade believers, and like young scholars, we think we know a great deal—because we are ignorant of what remains to be learned.
Olney, January 15, 1767
My dear Brother,
You were kind to send me the texts you heard preached in the late holidays. Mine were: Christmas morning, Luke 2:14; evening, Galatians 4:4-5; New Year's morning, Deuteronomy 2:7; and my anniversary sermon to the young people from Amos 5:14. O that I may be able to inform you that it was a time of love to some poor soul.
I was much alarmed and concerned last night at an intimation from Mr. T_____ that the stock of corn in your metropolis was nearly expended. I think I never was more sensibly struck with any news; and indeed, I never heard any of such vast importance. My thoughts were filled with the distresses of the poor, and not the poor only. But I was something composed by Jonah 4:11 and by recollecting that in our great city, the Lord not only looks upon the whole with the compassion of His common providence (Luke 6:35), but upon many (I hope thousands) as His dear children in Jesus, to whom He has given that precious key of prayer which will open every lock.
Therefore, though we had a very heavy snow last night, I went to bed with good hope that the Lord would very soon cause the weather to change, and thereby restore the communications with London. My hopes are so far answered; I found the frost broken when I awoke in the morning, and we are now favored with a general thaw. Indeed times are very hard at Olney, and the poor suffer much, for they are exceedingly numerous; but I hope we are in no danger of an absolute dearth.
I wish we may all learn to be more thankful to our gracious Provider, and more sensible of His hand and goodness in every morsel of bread we eat. How soon could He starve us—and how justly have we deserved it!
I am glad to hear that the Scripture cards are done. I can distribute as many as you please at the gospel rate—Isaiah 55:1. But in the way of sale, I suppose two or three dozen packs will be as many as I can dispose of for some time. I should hope the sermons are by this time published, or at least that the books ordered for presents are sent off, but Mr. Johnson is as still as a mouse. It is time, however, to beg of you and of my dear friends in your circuit to pray earnestly that they may be attended with the blessing and unction of the Spirit of God, and made of some use to confirm the hearts of His people and to open the eyes of lost sinners.
I have had some favorable accounts of two people within these few weeks, but they are such as none would have looked upon but the Lord. It is well for them (as it was well for me) that He keeps the dispensing of saving grace in His own hand. Had it been left to me to have chosen two out of the congregation—I certainly would not have chosen them. One is a woman subject to great disorders in her head, which make her not much better than what we call half-witted; the other an old man, some years above seventy—and both as poor as Lazarus. The old man I have not yet had opportunity to speak with, but I have good hopes of the woman. Well, if they and I get safely to meet together in glory—then we may look and wonder at each other to all eternity. Let those will cavil and dispute who will, I have good cause to admire and adore sovereign, distinguishing love, that chooses freely and acts as far above our thoughts and ways, as the heavens are higher than the earth.
We shall be glad to hear from you, and especially if you can tell me good news respecting the dearth; do not defer it a single post, for this concern lies with a weight upon my mind. Last Tuesday night I spoke from the case of Hagar when she sat weeping over her empty bottle and talked of dying for thirst when there was a well just by her. Is not this too often the very case with us? When our stock is spent, we are ready to despond, as though there were no treasury appointed for our relief, or we had no liberty to apply.
I am, your affectionate and obliged,
Olney, January 29, 1767
My dear Brother,
I thank you for your remembrance of our poor, which has been distributed according to your desire, where it was much needed. Indeed, the times are very hard, and call for all my compassion and assistance. I trust we met last Tuesday night at the throne of grace. I spoke from Isaiah 40:31, and I hope we had a blessed time. Indeed, the Lord is often gracious to us in these meetings.
The week before, in the height of the severe weather, I spoke from Genesis 9:14, which the Lord has been graciously pleased to verify, by sending a desirable change of weather. Thus in the midst of judgment—He remembers mercy. I hope the people of London (especially His own people) are mindful of His goodness in answering prayer and removing the threatening apprehension of extreme distress. We had prodigious quantities of ice at the breaking of the frost, brought down the river, which we were apprehensive would have destroyed the bridge. There was, however, little damage done here; but it carried away the flood-gates of Mr. Perry's mill, and has reduced him to a poor situation; for he will not be able to grind until the damage is repaired, and they say it cannot be attempted until toward May. It is a cross and will probably be a loss to him, but I trust he sees the Lord's hand in it and submits without repining.
We continue, through mercy, in good health, and all things are comfortable about us. There is nothing worth complaining of, but the body of sin and death, which cleaves to us in all things. But blessed be God, there is a fountain opened where we may wash and be clean, drink and be satisfied.
May the Lord give us all nearer access to Himself by the blood of the Covenant, and make us more sensible of our privileges, and more thankful for them.
We join in love to you and Mrs. Clunie and all friends. Remember us earnestly in your prayers. May the Lord be with you and with yours. Your affectionate and obliged brother,
Olney, February 12, 1767
My dear Brother,
It has been a time of sharp trial with us, and blessed be God, I trust it has been likewise a time of much prayer. The Lord has not shut us out from His mercy seat, nor withheld a spirit of supplication; therefore, I hope He who has bid us and enabled us to call upon Him in the day of trouble, will fulfill His promise and give us, at length, occasion to glorify Him.
I thank you, and all our dear friends, for your part and prayers in our concern. Indeed, my views for some days last week were very dark, and my distress exceedingly great. But on Friday evening, the Lord was pleased to set me in some measure at liberty. I am, or would be, thankful for the interval that has been afforded for prayer and the consideration for the most proper means. Now I desire to be passive and leave the event in His hands.
If after all that has passed I should be fixed on, I hope He will enable me to own His hand in this affliction, and to submit to His appointment; but when I look round me upon my dear people, I am willing (as the thing is not yet finally determined) to pray and hope that He will direct to some expedient, at once, to supply the opening for Cottingham and to gratify our desire of continuing together. I know the great Healer of breaches can provide Olney with a better shepherd, and fully make up the loss of unworthy me. O that it may be so if He takes me away: but there is such a natural affection and suitableness between us, through His blessing, that will make a separation, however circumstanced, very painful on both sides, at least for a season.
But if His service should call for this sacrifice, I only pray that He would be pleased to give us satisfaction that it is His hand, and enable us to submit. And for this I rely on His word of promise: "My grace shall be sufficient for you." My part now is only to wait and pray, until He shall be pleased to make His pleasure known. For the rest I may refer you to what I wrote to Mr. B_____, which I suppose you have seen.
Give our best thanks to our dear friends for their kind remembrance of us on Tuesday evening. I took it for granted they would do so. I hope it was a blessed time with us. I spoke from Psalm 91:14-15. My aim now is, in all our exercises, to prepare and compose our hearts for whatever the Lord may be pleased to appoint concerning us. With this view I preached on Sunday evening from Genesis 22:2 and Psalm 42, last verse.
We sympathize with you and dear Mrs. Clunie in her affliction. I trust that the great and good Physician will sanctify and heal both soul and body. Diseases and sicknesses are His messengers, and, when they have answered His end—then He will recall them. But on many accounts there is a need be that we should sometimes be in heaviness for a season. O may we learn to take up the cross, and to kiss the rod of affliction—to look through all second causes—to Him who appoints and over-rules, and without whose permission, not a hair of our heads shall fall to the ground. I hope she will yet praise him and sing the song, Psalm 103: "Who forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases."
We have given the cards a new name—we call them Packs of Promises. I have sold four sets, but I believe the sale will be slow; for most of our folks can hardly find money for bread. I have just drawn one to send you—Number 4, Deuteronomy 32:9-10.
It is very applicable to me, and I suppose you will see your own name in it as well. He found me in a waste, howling wilderness, indeed—in the house of bondage—the coast of Guinea; and wonderfully He has led me about from place to place, taken care of me, and done me good in every change. Why, then, should I, why should any of us distrust Him?
We join in our dear love to you both. Pray earnestly for us—believe me to be your very affectionate and obliged servant and brother,
P.S. It is our wedding-day! Seventeen years married! How many who set out with us, or long after us, have been finally separated—how few who have such abundant causes to rejoice in the union. May the Lord make us thankful.
Helmsley, March 12, 1767
My dear Brother,
You will doubtless expect to hear from me, and I promised to write; but I have not much time. I came down, as you know, to collect honey this spring, to carry home for a sort of winter's stock. The reason, through mercy, is suitable, and here are so many flowers, that I am busy from morning to night; for I must make the most of my opportunities while they last, lest my people should find me a mere drone upon my return. You will expect, perhaps, a large account of Helmsley; but you must wait until we are permitted to meet, unless you can guess all I mean, when I refer you to 1 Kings 10:7.
I cannot yet say how long I shall stay here, but believe I shall be at or near Leeds by Saturday the 28th. Our headquarters there will be at Mr. James A_____'s, at Hunslet, within a mile of Leeds. If you say it will suit you to meet us there, then we will make a point of keeping to that time. You will have time to let me hear from you, if you write soon, directed for me at the Rev. Mr. Conyer's, Helmsley.
I beg you likewise to send, by the York wagon, six of my narratives, bound, and six packs of promises. Give our dear love to Mrs. Clunie, and may the Lord be with you and your companions in your intended journey.
Since I wrote the above, I learn that Mr. V_____ is gone to Bath, and Mr. B_____ to France, which will occasion some alteration in my scheme; and I am not sure that I can be in Leeds so soon as I mentioned above. Therefore I must give up the expectation of seeing you until you return from Scotland.
I hope we shall be mindful of each other until we meet. I pray that the Lord may enable you to do and to receive good in your tour, that you may be guarded by His providence and refreshed by His Spirit in every place.
I trust I have well provided for Olney in my absence by Mr. Powley. He is a very valuable young man; he loves the people, and they him. May the Lord bless them together. I believe both you and I have the privilege of a frequent remembrance in their prayers. Help me to pray for them. I am, etc.,
Olney, May 16, 1767
I am willing to inform you that, through the Lord's goodness, we reached Olney today. We were favored with a safe and pleasant journey after you parted with us, and peace and satisfaction in every place—many kind friends, and frequent opportunities of attempting a word for the service of precious souls. May the Lord pardon and succeed my poor services.
Notwithstanding all the pleasure we found abroad—home is still more pleasant; it always was agreeable, and seems doubly so after so long an absence. I have the happiness to find all my dear people alive, in health, and, I hope, in a thriving state, and that they have suffered no loss since I have been away. We are mutually and heartily glad to see each other once more, and I steal a little time to write that you may share in our satisfaction.
In returning from Shropshire we spent two nights at Warwick, the first time I have been there since my proposed settlement was over-ruled. There, likewise, we joyed and sorrowed; the people among whom my mouth was first opened, and where I met some sweet encouragement on my entrance into the ministry, will always be dear to me. They are at present but few—those few are lively and steady; their minister is about to leave them. May the Lord provide for them.
We expect Mr. and Mrs. Clunie down the week after next, and that they will stay a week. We long to see you both. We left your children and Mr. West well this morning at Northampton. May the Lord bless them all, and grant them to know and love their parents' God.
I have not time for a long letter at present, as I am just come home, and have not received half my visitors. They are coming one after another every half hour, or oftener, to congratulate us on our return.
We join in love to you both. May the Lord be with us all tomorrow, and bring us to His everlasting Sabbath.
Olney, September 27, 1767
My dear Brother,
This is the day the Lord has made; may you and I, and all who love His name, rejoice and be glad in it. I steal a few minutes this morning to tell you that we are well, and have been praying for you.
Last Sunday morning I began to expound Samson's riddle, as applicable to Jesus; today we are to have a second part and to show, as I am enabled, how the law, Satan, afflictions, and death, like so many roaring lions—threaten to devour His people; and how they, by His power, get the victory and find food and sweetness in the carcasses of everything that seems to rise up against them. O that the Lord may grant us today that food which the world knows nothing of; and that honey, which, like the honey Jonathan ate, enlightens the eyes of those who eat it.
We are very happy in the company of our friends, who I told you were to come from Huntingdon, and will dwell with us until their own house is ready, which will be some time first; but remember, we can always find room for you and Mrs. Clunie after we are fixed in the vicarage, which I hope will be about the middle of October. Tell dear Mr. B_____ that I beg one book out of his study toward furnishing my new den. His name must be in it, and I leave the choice entirely to him. I make the same request to you, and to Mr. West; whatever you please to pitch upon; for I doubt not but you will, without my telling you, give the preference to those books that can say something to me about Jesus, or give me some directions toward stirring me up to faith and communion with Him.
I received Mr. M_____'s answer to K_____ yesterday. I read it with great pleasure and hope it will prove satisfactory. To me, I must confess it is so. May the Lord over-rule the affair for good, and silence the clamors of those who seek every occasion to disturb and slander the ministers of Christ. I desire to watch and pray, that while I am concerned for the wrongness of spirit which I see in others—I may not catch something of it myself; but ever write, act, and speak under a deep sense of my vileness, unprofitableness, and ingratitude in the sight of the Lord. O it is a blessed privilege to be humbled before Him; and, if we have a right sense of our own sins, we shall seldom attempt to cast a stone at others.
Believe me, your obliged, etc.,
Olney, July 7, 1768
I hope soon to send you a longer letter; at present I must entreat your patience.
Mr. T_____ of Pusey has been with me three days, and goes off tomorrow for Aldwinckle. He is a ready, lively, humble man, beyond all my conceptions of him. I preached this morning; he is to bear his testimony afternoon and evening. We expect the whole country in to hear him. The Lord give us ears and hearts to understand.
As to the compliment paid me by The Christian Magazine, as I believe their displeasure is owing to the testimony I have borne to Scripture doctrine—I account such contempt my honor, and, with submission to my friends' judgment, I think I would be poorly employed to spend an hour in the vindication of dear SELF.
Our dear love to Mrs. Clunie. We shall be heartily glad to see you both here.
I am your obliged,
Olney, April 1, 1769
My dear Brother,
I had a safe and pleasant journey to Kettering, found Mr. M_____ much recovered; however I took occasion from his sickness, to preach among them from John 12:35.
Sally Perry was buried at Lavendon. Mr. P_____ applied for permission for me to preach her funeral sermon, which the minister refused and would preach one himself, though undesired, and, indeed, though he desired not. But as he thought the family and some others who hear me would be there, he seized the occasion to talk away against gospel truth. He chose Romans 8:16 for his text, though it little suited his purpose; for he aimed to prove that none could know their sins were forgiven in this life, and that it was presumption to expect it. Last Lord's Day, in the afternoon, I borrowed his text and endeavored to show (though without naming names) the falsity of his assertions.
On Thursday evening I preached a funeral sermon for her from Job 33:23-24, which passage I hope and believe was remarkably verified in her case. I have been pretty full in preaching of late. I trust the Lord was graciously with us in most or all the opportunities. We are going to remove our prayer meeting to the great room in the great house, which I know not if you have seen. We proposed to open it next Tuesday evening; but if the present very sharp weather continues, we may perhaps defer it a week longer. It is a noble place with a parlor behind it, and holds one hundred and thirty people conveniently. Pray for us that the Lord may be in the midst of us there, and that as He has now given us a Rehoboth and has made room for us, so that He may be pleased to add to our numbers and make us fruitful in the land.
Surely there is need of a spirit of prayer to disperse the clouds which seem to be gathering around us. Every newspaper brings us sad tidings from your great city, but I hope there will be mercy afforded for the sake of the Lord's remnant. O that all who know His name may be found crying day and night before Him, that iniquity may not be our ruin! Then at least we shall have a mark set upon us, and find favor for ourselves if the sentence should be gone forth.
Saturday evening has come again. How quick the time flies! O that we may have grace to number our days, and to begin to view the things of this world in that light which they will doubtless appear in, when we are upon the point of leaving them. How many things which are too apt to appear important now, and to engross too much of our time and thoughts and strength—will then be acknowledged as vain and trivial as the imperfect recollection of a morning dream.
May the Lord help us to judge now, as we shall judge then—that all things on this side the grave are of no real value further than they are improved in subservience to the will and glory of God; and that an hour's enjoyment of the light of His countenance, is worth more than the wealth of the Indies and the power of kings.
How often are we, like Martha, cumbered about many things, though we say, and (I hope) at the bottom believe, that one thing alone is needful. May the Lord give us a believing, humble, spiritual frame of mind, and make it our earnest desire and prayer that we may be more like the angels of God, who are always employed, and always happy, in doing His will and beholding His glory. The rest we may be content to leave to those who are strangers to the love of Jesus and the foretastes of Heaven.
I have been attempting to pray that you and our friends in London may, together with us, behold the King in His beauty tomorrow—that we may, like David, be satisfied in our souls as with marrow and fatness, and feel something of what Thomas felt, when he put his finger upon the print of His nails and cried out with transport, "My Lord and my God!"
With our dear love to Mrs. Clunie and all friends, I remain, etc.,
Olney, June 13, 1769
I am sorry your recovery advances so slowly—it is in the Lord's hand. Afflictions shall cease, when His end in them is answered; until then we ought not to wish it. I have you and your welfare much at heart, and hope I shall not cease making mention of you in my prayers. If the fruit of all, is to take away sin and to show us more of the power of God and His faithfulness to His promises—then we shall have reason to rejoice for all our tribulations.
Mr. _____'s indiscretions have given us much concern. What, between the corruption of the heart and the subtlety of Satan, there is strange work among professors; yes, among believers. It is well that their Shepherd is God, and not man; for, if His compassions were not infinite and His power were not almighty—then they would weary Him out. But Jesus knows their frame; and though He will find a way to humble and soften them and will make them smart for their follies—He will still consider that they are but dust. He will visit their transgressions with a rod, but He will not utterly take His loving-kindness from them, nor allow His faithfulness to fail.
We have had many deaths lately, but our serious people are all spared still and, in general, hearty. Indeed, this is a great mercy to me, for I can hardly tell how to think of parting with any of them. I hope that before they are removed, the Lord will call others to supply their places.
Through mercy I continue well, and am as strong again as before! Wish I could say that I am more thankful, spiritual, and humble, than before I was sick; however, I trust the Lord has the possession of my heart and that my desire is toward Him; and, through Christ Jesus, my Lord, I hope for victory over sin and unbelief.
Pray for us, and believe me affectionately yours,
Olney, May 18, 1769
My dear Brother,
Little has happened since my last letter. I hoped to hear from you by this post—and long to know that you are getting better. Through divine mercy, we are all well. I have been endeavoring to lay the right foundation today from Isaiah 28:16. The Lord grant that we and all whom we love, may effectually build upon it and renounce every other foundation. I have seldom much relish for writing after preaching—yet love to send a line. You were remembered at our Bethel tonight; bear us and ours upon your heart before the Lord. We send much love to dear Mrs. Clunie. Good night. The Lord be with you, prays your affectionate and obliged,
Olney, July 13, 1769
My dear Brother,
As you used to write so frequently and I have not yet had an answer to my letter of the 2nd, we are afraid that you are not well again. I therefore send this second letter to inquire after you, for you may be assured that our hearts are much concerned in your welfare. I hope the next post will relieve our suspense and that you will be able to inform us, that however the Lord is pleased to chasten you—He lets you see that it is for your good.
There is surely a need be for all we suffer; if we are not frequently put in mind by the Lord of the truths we have surely received—we are very prone to forget them; or, as the apostle expresses it, to let them slip.
For this purpose He has appointed His ordinances, that the great things He has taught us concerning the evil of sin, the iniquity of the human heart, and the mysteries of His redeeming love in Christ—may be brought home upon our spirits and impressed with fresh power; and to the same purpose, He directs all His providential dispensations.
The events and trials of every day are a perpetual commentary upon what we read in His Word, and strongly illustrate the vanity of the creature, our own insufficiency, and the truth and suitableness of His precious promises. If we were to choose for ourselves—we would chose an easy path. Our trials would be very light, and such as being most agreeable to our own inclinations, would therefore be no trials at all. But we are not only unworthy to chose our own lot, but unskillful likewise. We see but a little way before us, and our enemies need wish us nothing worse than to be left to the consequences of our own desires. It is well that the Lord condescends to choose for us.
When His afflictive hand is upon us, it is our first duty to humble ourselves before Him, and pray for a resigned will.
Second, to search our ways and entreat Him to direct our inquiries, that we may know why He contends with us.
Third, to continue patiently pleading the promises and wait for the blessing, the peaceful fruits of righteousness, which He has promised shall grow from our afflictions when we have been duly exercised thereby.
I trust you have many praying hearts engaged for you in Olney. I hope to see the day when you will come and join with us in praise to a prayer-hearing God.
Last Sunday evening I preached a funeral sermon from Psalm 39:13: "Remove Your gaze from me, that I may regain strength, before I go away and am no more." We had a very full church, and the Lord gave me liberty. That text expresses a prayer which is (as we say) every man's money. It suits even believers—the best had need to cry for further supplies of grace, strength, and comfort, to prepare us to meet a dying hour. Whatever we meet with along the way, may it go well with us then, and it shall be well forever. O that you and I and those we love best, may, like Simeon, rejoice in the Lord's salvation, when we are going hence.
I am, etc.,
Olney, August 12, 1769
As Mr. J_____ is going to London, I am willing to send you a line by the opportunity, though I think you are a letter in my debt. I have no news to offer from Olney. We go on much as usual, and, through divine mercy, are in good health. I still feel myself burdened with indwelling sin—and hope you do the same; I say, I hope so, because I am sure this is the case with us all, whether we feel it or not. But I hope, likewise, you feel the comfort of drawing near to God by the blood of Jesus, for a renewed sense of pardon from day to day. In ourselves, we are all darkness, confusion, and misery. But in Jesus, there is a sufficiency of wisdom, grace, and peace suited to all our needs. May we ever behold His glory in the mirror of the gospel, until we are changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit.
When shall we see you at Olney? You are ready to answer, "As soon as I can," and I believe it. I doubt not but you are willing to come, and I hope the Lord will give you opportunity, before long, and crown your visit with a blessing to us all. It is now almost a year since you were here, and you are often inquired after among our people, and often prayed for. I hope, however, you are upon the mending hand, that your spirits and strength are recruiting, and that you find grace upon the revival. Make much of the means of grace—hear, read, pray. In these things the Lord is found; and He who bids us thus wait upon Him says further—watch, watch the heart, the tongue, the world. We walk in the midst of snares, dangers, and temptations—and Satan is watching always to gain advantages over us.
I have scribbled a few lines in great haste. Please accept them in good part, and believe that I love you. Pray for us.
I am, sincerely,
Olney, September 7, 1769
My dear Brother,
I was glad to receive your letter of the 5th and to hear that your health and spirits are on the recovery. I join my prayers with yours, that all your afflictive dispensations may be sanctified; and I trust it shall be so. We shall have cause to be thankful for all our afflictions—if the Lord is pleased to employ them as means to make us more humble and broken-hearted, and to wean our hearts from this vain world.
Dear Mr. M_____ has met with a heavy stroke indeed. He informed me of it by letter. But the Lord is able, and will be faithful to give him strength according to his trial; and I hope this also shall work for good and yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness to his soul.
Our dear friend, Mr. Cowper, is at Cambridge with his brother, who is extremely ill. The physician is not without apprehensions for the outcome, nor is he without hope that he may recover. But we know a better Physician, who can heal all manner of diseases with a word. We are making application to Him, and I hope He will hear us. We desire all our praying friends to join with us in this behalf at the throne of grace.
I wrote to Mr. Whitfield last week, but have not had an answer; perhaps my letter came when he was all in a hurry and upon the point of departure. May the Lord go with him and bless him wherever he is led.
When the time shall come that you can find opportunity to visit Olney, we shall be very glad to see you. Until then let us meet frequently in prayer before the Lord. I am affectionately for His sake, your obliged Friend and Brother,
Olney, December 9, 1769
I am trying to write because I suppose you expect to hear from us now and then—otherwise I have little in view to offer.
We are much as usual in all respects, only our friends talk of moving to their own house today—we feel somehow as if they were going to the West Indies. We have lived so long together, that we cannot separate without some reluctance. It is the Lord who makes people of one mind in a house, and I am sure He has given us this mercy; so that the longer and more intimate our acquaintance has been, we have been the more united. And though Satan has been busy enough with us in other ways, I do not know or believe that he was ever allowed to whisper the least thought to either of us, which might occasion shyness or displeasure for a single moment, from the first day we saw each other.
I wish all Christian friendships were so happy. But alas, how often does the enemy find opportunity to make those weary of each other—who, upon a first acquaintance, seemed to be quite happy in their connection. Well, it will not be so in heaven—there perfect love will reign, and all disorderly passions, prejudices, and mistakes shall be shut out forever!
May the Lord pour out His Spirit upon His people, that they may make nearer approaches to the heavenly state while they are yet upon earth. It will be so, in proportion as our hearts are impressed with the truths we profess to believe. A sense of the Lord's forgiveness and forbearance, will teach us to forbear and forgive others. His love shed abroad in the heart, will break
down all the bars of bigotry, selfishness, and prejudice. His compassion toward us, will dispose us to be compassionate and kind to others. A believing view of the land that is afar off, where the King reigns in His beauty—will wean our affections from the present evil world, and fix them on invisible realities.
I believe we shall finish The Pilgrim's Progress, if we are spared to the last Tuesday in the year. We are to attend them over the river next week. May the Lord teach us all how to die—it will be a solemn and important moment; but if Jesus is with us, we shall not fear.
I begin to put my friends in mind of praying for a blessing to attend my annual sermon on New Year's Day. I long to see an inquiring spirit among the young people; but I think, in general, I see much of the contrary, which sometimes affects my heart. I wish it did more and oftener, that I might cry day and night for a blessing to be poured down from on high, to make the wilderness a fruitful field. Alas! What will become of the nation—unless the Lord is pleased to raise up a new succession of witnesses to plead for it, when His people who are now living shall be taken away? Pray for us.
I am affectionately yours,
Olney, January 28, 1770
My dear Brother,
Having heard nothing of you lately, we begin to be apprehensive that you are quite ill; and therefore, though I seldom write letters on the Lord's Day, I cannot be satisfied without giving you a line to beg that we may soon know how you are; and that if (which I hope will not be the case) you are not able yourself, dear Mrs. Clunie will do us the favor of a letter.
Our people are now at the great house—where you are often remembered and where, I doubt not, you often endeavor to meet them in spirit. This is our comfort under all our tribulations—that we have liberty of access, by the blood of Jesus, to a throne of grace for ourselves and in behalf of each other. We have found, by repeated experience, that it is good for us thus to draw near to God. Let it encourage us to come again, to come often, to call upon Him as long as we live. For though the needs of His people are innumerable and their unworthiness and ingratitude are unspeakable—yet He is never weary of doing them good. That prayer may be more frequent and fervent—is one reason why He visits them with repeated afflictions. When we thus hear from Him—then we are constrained and stirred up to let Him hear from us. I hope you find it so, if you are at present under the rod.
May the Lord help you to believe and remember that it is a Father's rod! Though He will chastise His people for their good—He will not forsake them; though He causes grief—He will, in due time, manifest His compassion.
I pray that all your trials, whatever they are, may be sanctified—and then I am sure you will be supported under them and obtain deliverance in the best season.
You will not receive a long letter from me today—the church bells begin to put me in mind of what is before me. O may the Lord meet us here today, and all His people of every name, in His ordinances, that we may go with large expectations, hungering and thirsting for the bread and water of life, and desirous of His cheering presence, that we may feel His power and see His glory in the sanctuary! I am, etc.,
Olney, February 22, 1770
I was prevented from writing last week, but I do not forget you. I sympathize with you for the continuance of your illness, but trust that it is sent in love, and pray that it may work for good—so the Lord has promised to His children. There is a need be, when they are in heaviness. When afflictions are sanctified and have answered the end for which they were sent—they cease, of course. May the Lord support and comfort you, and give you sweet communion with Himself.
I have little news to acquaint you with. Things go on with us much as usual, and this is a great mercy in such a changing world, where so many are suffering and falling around us. It is a very sickly time at Olney, and many have died; but we are spared. Many of them who have been ill, are on the recovery.
Dear Mr. Cowper is gone to Cambridge—his brother is again dangerously ill, and there are but little hopes of his recovery. Such is the state of things here below—every day brings its new trials, and all the Lord's people meet with trials in their turn.
Happy are those who have a way of access by faith, to the throne of grace, who are savingly interested in the promises of the covenant, and have a right to ask and expect strength equal to their day.
The Lord writes vanity upon everything below the skies. He sends a succession of afflictive dispensations to remind us that this poor world is not, and cannot be our rest—for it is polluted.
I hope, if you are still confined to bed, that your solitary hours are refreshed by the teaching, comforting communications of His good Spirit, leading you to a humbling survey of yourself, a delightful contemplation of the power and grace of Jesus, and giving you a foretaste of the blessedness within the veil. All other things are dross and loss in comparison with these.
I shall expect to hear from you soon, and shall be glad if you can inform us that you are better, and that Mrs. Clunie is well.
We bear you both upon our hearts, and remember you in our prayers. I trust we have the same return from you. I would willingly engage the united and unceasing prayers of my friends. I much need them, and greatly value them. It often comforts me to think that I am remembered by many at the mercy seat.
But O, what consolation to reflect that we have a prevailing, righteous, compassionate Advocate before the throne, who ever lives to make intercession to the utmost, and never forgets us a single moment.
To His grace I commend you and yours. We join in love to you both. I am sincerely, your affectionate and obliged,