LETTERS of J. C. Philpot (1839)
January 7, 1839
My dear Friend—As my time is in various ways a good deal occupied, I trust you will excuse my not replying to your kind letter before.
I believe that we see eye to eye, and, I trust, feel heart to heart, in most points; and this is what I rarely find in this great day of widespread, but powerless profession. It seems to me that the grand foundation of what I call 'dead experimental profession' is this—natural conscience healed by sound doctrines. As to the professions of Arminians, Independents, General Baptists, and the like, I conceive that conscience has had nothing to do in the matter, and that they, for the most part, have never had any convictions, natural or spiritual.
But the class which has puzzled me most are what I call "doctrinal experimentalists"; that is, men who have a correct 'doctrine of experience'. To make my meaning clear, I will just state that I believe, as all truth may be divided into doctrine, experience, and practice, so each of these three branches may be held doctrinally; that is, in the letter and form, without the Spirit and power. Thus some hold doctrines doctrinally, others hold experience doctrinally, and others hold practice doctrinally. The first are dead Calvinists; the second, dead Experimentalists; and the third, dead Pharisees. But you may say, "how can men hold experience doctrinally?" I will tell you. They have felt convictions of natural conscience, like Cain, Esau, Saul, Judas, and others of whom we read in the Word of God. These convictions drove them into seriousness, and from chapel to chapel, until at last the doctrines of grace met their ear, laid hold of their understanding, and brought a relief to their natural convictions. And now behold them "established in the full assurance of faith." Their bark has found refuge in a harbor of the Dead Sea, and knows no storms nor waves. Their tacklings are never loosed, nor are they ever driven up and down in the Adriatic (Acts 27:27), but lie at their moorings, until they are rotten from stem to stern, and from gangway to keel. This crew of landsmen in blue jackets make a captain over them like unto themselves, a fireside traveler and a chimney-corner voyager, who keeps telling them of the security of their harbor, and of the stoutness of the vessel; and sometimes, perhaps, amuses them with tales of waves, rocks, winds, and storms, which they listen to as a very interesting piece of information, and then all turn in, and sleep very comfortably below. No wonder such as these are free from doubts and fears. You and I last night had not many doubts and fears about the storm that blew over our heads, when we were cradled safely in our beds. But if we had been on the sea, and near a rocky shore, we would have had terror enough. I believe that in the absence of divine testimonies, and the cheering smiles of the blessed Redeemer, we shall always have doubts and fears in proportion to the sense and feelings of eternal things. There are two seasons when I am pretty free from doubts and fears. The one when I feel the anointings of the blessed Spirit leading my heart and affections upwards where Jesus sits at the right hand of God; and the other when I am carnal and careless, and as destitute (experimentally) of religion as a dead branch of sap and verdure.
But on other occasions, when eternal things lie on my conscience, I am filled with fears just in proportion to the weight that accompanies Divine realities to my soul. It seems to me that a man's religion needs continual motion to keep it alive. Like the air or the sea, which breed corruption when stagnant, but are purified by winds and waves, so true religion needs continual exercise and change, to preserve it in its purity, life, health, and vigor. Our body without exercise becomes flabby, diseased, unhealthy, and weak; and so our soul without continual exercises becomes listless, stagnant, sickly, and pining. I have often thought of Paul's words to Timothy, "Exercise yourself unto godliness," and have seen and felt the blessing and the benefit of continual soul exercise.
When God cursed the ground for Adam's sake, He imposed on him labor in the sweat of his brow; but this very original curse has become a blessing, in rendering the body thereby vigorous and healthy; and thus exercises of soul through strong corruptions, powerful lusts, violent temptations, tormenting doubts, and harassing anxieties, are made a means of keeping the soul healthy and strong. The Word of God becomes opened up to us, promises are made sweet and suitable, salvation by sovereign grace unctuous and savory, a compassionate Redeemer highly prized, and a throne of grace sought and cleaved to.
But take any professor that is unexercised, or any child of mercy even, when settled on his lees, his conversation is powerless, his prayers wearisome, his company a burden, and his visits unacceptable. He may say a few words about religion, just as he would ask after the mistress and the children, for form and compliment's sake; but, as Solomon says, "his heart is not with you."
As John Kay quotes in the Gospel Standard, "It takes twenty years to learn that we are fools," an expression I fully agree with; and I believe the more we know and feel of divine teaching, the deeper we shall sink into nothingness, helplessness, and insufficiency. The High and Holy One who inhabits eternity dwells with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit, while He beholds the proud afar off. And sure am I that He must prepare His own habitation, and bring down the heart with labor; for "we are the clay, and He is the Potter," and we (if we know or feel anything aright) are the work of His hands. I have read many books, but I have never found spiritual profit in anything but Divine teachings, and am deeply sensible of my own blindness, ignorance, and helplessness, perhaps more so than many who despise what they never had, and are after all puffed up with the little they know. Wishing you much of the Spirit's anointings, and of the Redeemer's gracious presence,
I am, yours in the bonds of the gospel,
J. C. P.
June 7, 1839
My dear Friend, Joseph Parry—I have felt desirous for several reasons to write to you before the time arrives when I hope to see you again in person at Allington. I cannot, however, precisely fix the time when I intend (D.V.) to visit my Wiltshire friends, owing to a cause which I doubt not you will be sorry to hear. Coming up outside the coach from Welwyn has been the cause, under God's designing wisdom, of giving me a severe attack on my chest, such as you have witnessed at Allington in times past, and from which I have been for some time mercifully free. I was able to preach twice last Lord's-day at Zoar; but in the evening with great inconvenience, through hoarseness, which, indeed, I sensibly felt in the morning. I have been confined to the house ever since, and, indeed, for most of the time to bed, but am, through mercy, slowly mending. I have been obliged to write to the deacons at Zoar to decline preaching in this week and on Lord's-day next. It gives me pain thus to disappoint them as well as the congregation, which is so usually large and crowded; but I have no alternative, as I am utterly unfit at present to preach. My wife's uncle [Mr. John Keal, of Upper Woburn Place, W.C.] is attending me, and says I am better today.
I spent a few days at Welwyn very pleasantly with friend Smart. We walked, and talked, and confessed, and got on without one jarring note. He is truly a gracious man, and, in my judgment, much improved. Without losing any faithfulness, boldness, or decision, he has become more softened in manner and expression. He preached a very sound, blessed, and experimental sermon. The collection was £27 18s. 6d., which I consider very handsome for so poor a people. The chapel, I believe, never was seen so full as it was all three times.
I trust our friend Tiptaft was better when I left Stamford. He finds that most beneficial which his hearers would willingly not have so—cessation from preaching. Those only who are engaged know what a trying thing it is to the health and constitution, and how it acts on mind and body. I have felt sometimes most desperate rebellion against it on this score. But our nature is so desperately crooked and rebellious that it will quarrel with God Himself if He comes across our path or thwarts our carnal wishes. Surely those who speak of growing sanctification know nothing of that leprosy within which is always breaking out in thought if not in actual word or deed. I am well convinced that we are incurables, and that even the great remedy unapplied is like untasted medicine at the bedside of the patient. I am baser and blacker than ever. I seem, at times, the very prince of hypocrites and impostors, as I feel so unlike everything a minister and a Christian should be. I am like a watch wound down, and need a heavenly hand to put in the key, and I find that there is no such thing as 'winding one's self up' by prayers, reading, meditation, etc.; and I find also that the Heavenly Engineer does not just wind up in twenty-four hours, and then leave the machine to go; He puts in the key by littles and littles, and no sooner does He take out the key than I stop. Neither do I find that illness sanctifies the mind or creates religion. I am stupid and carnal, ill or well, unless the blessed Lord makes me to feel otherwise.
Friend Justins has just been here, and expressed the disappointment of the friends last evening. This being the case, I cannot refuse to speak next Lord's-day, and therefore have promised to do my best. I don't know that I would do it for any other place or people, but they were quite crowded last evening, and will probably be more so on Sunday. A man must pay dearly for being followed, both in his soul and body.
Believe me to be,
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
September 5, 1839
My dear Friend Joseph Parry—You will no doubt wish to hear how we are, and how we arrived safely, through mercy, at our destination. We arrived in London on the same day we left your hospitable abode. I went on the following day to see my friend Justins, whom I found in great perplexity, from not being able to procure a minister for the Thursday evening; their supply having left them the day preceding. The old man said he had been praying the Lord to send him a minister, and laid hold of me as an answer to his prayer. I fought off as much as I well could, until I could resist no longer, and consented to preach for them, upon which he said he would do his best to make it known, and would publish a few handbills. Well, to my surprise, and, I believe, to that of the deacons, when Thursday night came there was quite a large congregation, the body of the chapel and galleries being comfortably full. I trust the Lord was with me, and, I hope, enabled me to tell them a little of what true religion was, and how the soul came at it. I felt gratified to see such a congregation, as the notice was so short, and there was no other means of giving it publicity than what friend Justins adopted.
There were two very good congregations, morning and afternoon, on last Lord's-day, and the friends seemed glad to welcome me home.
I presume that J. Kay arrived safely on Friday. It is my sincere desire that the Lord may come with him and bless him, and make him a blessing. He may talk about golden and wooden trumpets, but "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the dumb or deaf, or the seeing or the blind?" (Exod. 4:11.) One word spoken by God Himself to the soul will wound or heal, kill or make alive, when all the words of human wisdom and power will fall useless to the ground. If God chooses to speak by and through a man, who or what shall hinder? And if He will not speak by him, who or what shall make Him? No one contends more for this than J. Kay, and those who honor God He will honor.
Preaching is a mysterious thing, and God's mode of blessing souls through such weak, ignorant, defiled, worthless creatures, as some of us feel ourselves to be, is a mystery of mysteries. I have not been able often to receive a testimony of being blessed in preaching, from a feeling of my ignorance and vileness. If I knew more, felt more, prayed and read more, believed more, and were more diligent, fervent, jealous, watchful, humble, separate from the world, and so on—I think I could believe in the blessing more. But when I feel so dark, stupid, blind, worldly, foolish, sinful, and guilty—I find it hard work to receive any testimony of being made a blessing to any of God's elect. Yet, if I were all I wished to be, I might soon burn incense to my own drag, and, instead of wondering how God could bless me, might fall to wondering how He could not bless me for being so diligent, prayerful, watchful, and so forth. Thus, God will take care to secure to Himself all the glory, and in our right minds we are willing to give it Him.
My dear wife is busy getting the house in order. We have a servant whom we much like, being very steady and quiet. So we have everything, as far as this world goes, to make us comfortable. But what is all this in the absence of Divine consolations? I feel still tried about my religion, and spend most of my days in Doubting Castle. I seem to want the right marks, and more decisive and continual testimonies to my adoption into the family of God. I do not at all regret my journey into Wilts, as I never felt, I think, more union to the friends than during my last visit. Though my heart is not a very capacious one, I think some of my Wiltshire friends have a place in it. I have only to find fault with their kindness and esteem, both of which are indeed undeserved. But those who have warm friends, have generally bitter enemies, and so I have proved it. The friends here, I understand, find fault with me for being absent so long, and hope I shall not be away next year for so long a period.
Give my affectionate remembrance to John Kay, friend Dredge, Mrs. Wild, and all friends. We beg our united kind regards to Mrs. Parry, Mrs. Cannings, Mr. and Mrs. Tuckwell, and all those friends for whose kind attentions we desire to be grateful.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
September 17, 1839
My dear Friend, George Isbell—I feel I have need to apologize for neglecting to answer your last friendly and experimental letter. I have had, however, many hindrances, some of an external, and others of an internal nature. What with traveling, preaching, and moving from place to place, I have had my time much occupied. These external hindrances, however, have not operated so powerfully as internal ones. Sometimes unconquerable sloth and lassitude, arising, perhaps, much from over pulpit exertion—at other times, deadness and coldness of heart—at others, the feeling I could write nothing worth sending—and at others, fears of writing hypocritically and deceitfully. I must throw myself, therefore, on your kindness to excuse my apparent, but not real, neglect and forgetfulness.
What a mass of filth and folly, blindness and ignorance, deceit and hypocrisy, carnality, sensuality, and devilism are we! Prone to all that is bad, utterly averse to all that is good—bent upon sin, hating holiness, heavenly-mindedness, and spirituality—what earthly wretches, guilty monsters, abominable creature are we! And if our minds are sometimes drawn upwards in faith and affection, and we pant after the living God, how soon, how almost instantly, do we drop down again into our earthly self, whence we are utterly unable to rise until the Blessed Spirit lifts us out again! What fits of unbelief, shakings of infidelity, fevers of lust, agues of carelessness, consumptions of faith, hope, love and zeal; yes, what a host of diseases dwell in our poor soul.
"Who heals," says David, "all your diseases." Well, then, the soul must have many, and I am inclined to think there is some analogy between the body and soul in their diseases, and that a scriptural and spiritual parallel might be drawn between them. Some I have hinted at above, and blindness, deafness, dumbness, paralysis, leprosy, etc., are scriptural analogies. But they all admit of a twofold cure, that wonderful medicine which John saw run from the wounded side of the Redeemer, blood and water, the one to heal, the other to wash; the one to atone, the other to cleanse—justification by blood, Rom. 5:9, and sanctification by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
I feel I have but little religion, but I feel, also, that many who think they have a great deal, have none at all. I have been cut off from what they worship and idolize. "Tekel" and "Ichabod" have been written on my conscience on scores of things set up by hundreds for religion. I cannot build up the things I have destroyed, lest I make myself a transgressor; and thus naked, empty, and bare of creature religion, human faith, fleshly righteousness, and external sanctification, I stand often in my feelings, devoid of religion altogether. If I am only to believe when faith is given; hope, when the Spirit casts forth the anchor; love, when divine affection is shed abroad; pray, when a spirit of grace and supplication is poured out; be holy and spiritual when heavenly-mindedness is communicated—what am I, and where am I, when divine communications are withheld? A desolate being, without religion. Oh! tell it not in Plymouth, publish it not in the streets of Devonport, that there can be such a wretch as to have no religion but what, when, and how God gives! Why, Methodist, Ranter, Baptist, Independent, Calvinist, and Hawkerite will all hold up their hands in pious dismay, and cry, "Lives there such a man who only sees when he has light; hears when words are spoken; runs when he is drawn; feels when divinely wrought upon, and speaks when he has something to say? Where, then, is all our religion, our family prayers, and personal piety, progressive holiness, preaching, reading, prayer-meetings, love-feasts, Calvinism, religious privileges, and morning and evening portions? Breathes there a wretch whose grand aim, prayer, and desire it is to be the clay and have God for his Potter?"
Aye, more than one, or a dozen, or a score, I trust, of such wretches still cumber the ground, and spread dung upon the pious faces (Mal. 2:3) of creature religionists. It is, indeed, an unpardonable offence to be nothing; and a spiritual beggar and bankrupt is as much despised and hated by the rich Laodicean church of our day as a shiftless, tattered and torn ragamuffin by a purse-proud, richly fed alderman. As to the religion of thousands, I have been scraping it off for about nine years, and it sticks to me like pitch still. Oh, when tarred and feathered, I was a delightful young man, so sweet, and holy, and spiritual! But when sickness, and temptation, and doubts and fears, and gusts of infidelity, and boiling corruptions, and a deep-growing conviction of the worthlessness of all but divine teaching, and heaven-sent religion, began to scrape away the feathers and show the naked skin—and as I was scraped myself I began to scrape others—oh! then I was of a bad spirit, and in the eyes of some, a very devil. And what is my trespass, and what is my sin, that they so hotly pursue after me? That I make the creature nothing, and Christ all in all. May I be more vile than thus, and drop daily into nothingness, and rise up in Christ as my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
I understand you have been at that great ice-house, Exeter—that abode of deadness, ignorance, and heresy. I should be glad to hear your message was blessed in that city of churches, where the power of vital godliness is so little felt and known. It gives me pleasure to hear that my relations sit under your ministry, and that you call occasionally upon them. May the Lord bless the word to their souls. My chest has been suffering pain from over-preaching, but is, through mercy, better. You, perhaps, have not yet found the bodily as well as mental fatigue and labor of preaching, It will surely come if you labor hard and often. I would say, do not anticipate it unnecessarily; my friend Tiptaft is nearly laid aside from this cause.
May the Lord guide and lead you, plant His fear deep in your heart, give you many sweet testimonies of His favor, and bless you, and make you a blessing.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
October 16, 1839
My dear sister, Fanny—I was indeed deeply surprised, as well as gratified with your letter, and cannot but receive your testimony to the reality and power of the blessing you have received. It is indeed wonderful that any guilty wretch of Adam's fallen race should receive such a blessing as a revelation of the mercy and love of God in Christ Jesus, and to us a wonder of all wonders that any of us so alienated from the life of God should find any blessing at His hands. I have no doubt you have often perceived how slow and backward I have been to speak or write to you about religion. And what chiefly kept me back was that I could not receive your religion at that time as divine. I always thought you far removed from insincerity and hypocrisy, but still there was in my mind something lacking which prevented me from receiving it as a divine work, and arising out of heavenly teaching. But I cannot but fully receive your present testimony, as the spirit and savor of it has much rested on my mind since I received your letter. May you enjoy the sweetness of it for a long time, and may the chilling blast of winter and the nipping frosts of temptation be held back by the hand of the Saviour from your soul for some time to come. You must expect persecution from a world lying in wickedness and a world lying dead in profession, and your own corrupt, deceitful, treacherous heart will cause you many a pang. Hart says—"When the pardon is signed, and the peace is procured, tis then that the conflict begins,"—not "ends," as most think. And this great change of heart and spirit will effect a corresponding change in your life, and this will draw down persecution; as Paul says, "Every one that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;" because your life and conversation will bear witness against the evil of theirs, and this will stir up their carnal enmity against you.
I hope the Lord, who has dealt so graciously and mercifully towards you, will keep you separate and peculiar, lead you up into much and sweet communion with Himself, deaden your heart and affections to the things of time and sense, and make you a pattern of faith, love, and good works. I would not have you battle and argue with Mrs. R., it will only make you barren, lean, and dry. Let her see by your spirituality of mind, devotedness of life, tenderness of conscience, simplicity, and godly sincerity, that you possess a treasure obtained not in the congregation of the dead, but where God is worshiped in spirit and truth. If she be a heaven-taught character she cannot resist heavenly evidences, and I would not marvel if, after a time, she too had her eyes opened to see the corruptions and formality of the Establishment.
People often fight for a while against convictions, especially if they oppose strong prejudices or the worldliness and pride of our heart, but are obliged after a time to bend to the force of truth. I resisted convictions about the Church of England as long and as much as I could, and could not bear to hear her spoken against, but I was obliged after a time to feel those convictions were right, and that I must obey them.
I can hardly gather from your letter whether Mrs. R. is staying at your house, or living near so as often to come in. We breathe out no curses against the Establishment, but simply proclaim her corruptions. As for myself, it is very rare that I mention her name, or say anything about her, having far more important work to do than batter her walls. Nor would I lift up a finger to pull her down, nor do I covet any of her possessions. If we act conscientiously we must prepare ourselves for persecution.
It must have been a trial to you to have refused standing proxy for Mrs. Watts. You acted quite right, however, in refusing to go if your conscience witnessed against it. And, indeed, how could you promise for yourself or another, that the child should keep all the commandments, and such vows as are made at the font by the sponsors. It would have been awful mockery in you, having an enlightened conscience, to make such promises as you knew no flesh, especially in an unregenerated person, could perform. May the Lord make and keep your conscience increasingly tender, may He bring you again to His blessed feet, and preserve you from backsliding in heart and life from Him. The children of Israel, after they had passed through the Red Sea, soon forgot His works, and their next step was to make an idol and bow down before it.
I heard from Mr. Isbell this morning, and felt a sympathy with his letter. He speaks of sending me some hymns to read. If so, you might send them in your parcel to L. When the penny post comes into operation I shall hope to correspond with you more frequently. You will be increasingly anxious for our dear mother's and sister's spiritual welfare. Oh, what a mercy it is to escape the wrath to come! What a terrible weight of wrath will consume all that know not Jesus and the power of His resurrection! May we have our evidences again and again renewed. Pray for me that I may be blessed indeed. My chest is rather better. I have now less pain in it. I was afraid at one time I must for a time give up preaching.
You will find Huntington's works profitable to read. Some of them are published cheap, as The Kingdom of Heaven taken by Prayer, and Contemplations on the God of Israel. The last is a very sweet production of his pen. Hart's Hymns, too, are a choice treasure for a child of God, who knows his own grief and his own sore. But, after all, the Word of God, under the teachings of the Blessed Spirit, is the most profitable companion for a living soul. It is said of Jesus, "Then opened He their understandings that they might understand the Scriptures." Blessed instruction is it when He who has the key of David opens His own Word, and opens our heart to receive it with heavenly unction and divine authority! When He puts His hand in by the hole of the lock, and moves our hearts to hear His voice speaking in the Word!
You will, no doubt, attend as much as you can on Mr. Isbell's ministry which the Lord has blessed to your soul. Under the word you will find many secrets opened up, many mysteries of godliness as well as of corruption discovered, and will be sometimes wounded and sometimes healed, sometimes rebuked and sometimes comforted, sometimes cast down, and sometimes lifted up. The life of faith is a strange, mysterious life to lead, and contains many lessons of a painful, and some of a very pleasing nature. Well may it be said, "Who teaches like God? "
I will add no more for the present than our united love to our dear mother, Mary Ann, and yourself.
Your affectionate Brother,
J. C. P.
October 17, 1839
My dear Friend, Joseph Parry—We were expecting a letter from you for several days, I had almost said weeks, before it came, and were disappointed at seeing the postman so continually pass our door without entering our gate. I was anxious to know how friend Kay was heard, and perhaps a little jealous feeling intruded itself lest his larger foot should have obliterated my footmark. I am glad you have heard him profitably, and that his testimony has found an entrance into your conscience. Comfortable hearing is not always profitable hearing, and often that which condemns us does us more real and lasting good than that which encourages us. To hear others on whom can we depend speak of their manifestations and enjoyments, while we ourselves are dark and dead, writing bitter things against ourselves, and cutting ourselves off from eternal life, often stirs up much jealousy as well as self-pity and rebellion. But sometimes it gives us encouragement to feel that they too had to grope for the wall before they got in at the gate, and this stirs us up to cry, seek, and pray, and say, "Have You but one blessing? Bless me, even me also."
If you read or hear the experience of gracious men, such as enters with power and conviction into your heart, you will always find that they wrestled much and long before they won the prize. And this encourages us to wrestle too, and so run that we may obtain. I could wish that our dear friend Mrs. Wild had obtained a blessing as well as E. Pope and some others, whom I may call choice feeders. It is most desirable to relieve friend Tiptaft of the burden he has borne so long and so cheerfully, yet those who would push John Kay out should be well persuaded he is called to the ministry, lest in their anxiety to befriend one party they really injure the other, and act against God's Word. I know it is W. Tiptaft's opinion that he will never hold a body of people together, and, I presume, he speaks from what he had seen at Abingdon. I gather from your letter that the chapel at Allington is not crowded.
I am convinced that a door of utterance, and some measure of what is popularly called "a gift," is absolutely needful for a preacher who is to be useful or generally acceptable to God's family. And, indeed, it might be asked, why should a man mount a pulpit at all unless he can teach the church of God; and how shall he teach, if not abundantly supplied with spiritual feelings, thoughts, and words? The scriptural qualification of a minister is, that he should be "apt to teach." A certain measure of divine utterance is therefore absolutely needful for a minister of truth, and I will defy anyone to point me out a minister widely or abundantly blessed who is destitute of such a gift as renders him acceptable to God's family. I am speaking all along of a divine gift, for all that falls short of this is wind and vanity. I am glad to hear W. Tiptaft means to come for a short time to Allington at the end of next month, and could wish for your sake that he had accepted a longer invitation. He writes word to Oakham that he is stronger and better.
I received a remarkable letter on Monday from my elder sister; I say remarkable, for I was as much surprised at its contents as if she had written it in Greek. It was written under the powerful influence of a divine manifestation, and carried with it to my mind all the savor, reality, and power of a heavenly blessing. In fact, she could scarcely write from her feelings of joy and praise, which she was afraid would be too much for her weak body. She has been under soul concern for some years, but there was always to my mind something lacking, and I could not receive it as a divine work. It appears she has been more tried lately, and sought much of the Lord to manifest to her if she were a child of His. She especially implored Him to make it plain under Mr. Isbell's ministry one evening, but she could get nothing until towards the end of his sermon, when he suddenly changed his subject, and began to read Isaiah 57. She says, when he came to verse 10 the veil suddenly dropped from her eyes, she had a view by faith of the Saviour and entered into the strait gate after so long groping for the wall. She hurried home, fell upon her knees, and could say without a doubt, "My Lord and my Saviour." She has been full of praise and blessing ever since. I never saw such an alteration in my life. Her letter to me is full of power, and I can scarcely believe she wrote it, so different is it from anything I ever heard her write or speak of. She is a very sincere person naturally, and has always been afraid to profess anything, and has never been among experimental people to pick up canting whine. I know her so well that it must be either a strong delusion or a divine work, and I dare not say it is the former, lest I do despite to the Spirit of grace. It is fully received by Isbell, from whom I have since heard, as a divine work, and he appears to have been much led out in private prayer for her previously. The savor has been on my mind nearly ever since, and has continually occupied my thoughts. I trust it has stirred my spirit up, and led me to offer up many fervent supplications by night and by day, that I too may enjoy a blessing. She writes at present in the full assurance of faith, calls Jesus brother, and says, whatever comes she is sure she is safe. I am astonished at her language, and the way in which she expresses herself, which puts me in mind of some of Huntington's correspondents.
Mr. Isbell is the person who writes in the Gospel Standard as G. I., Stoke. I think him a well taught, and much tried and exercised young man, who is, I have felt, encouraged to believe in God as one who hears and answers prayer. Oh, it is a good thing to wait upon the Lord, and, like Paul, to serve the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears and temptations! What a dread sovereign is He! How fearful in justice, and yet to His own how abundant in mercy!
My chest is, through mercy, better. It has been very unwell, so much so that I thought I must diminish for a time my pulpit labors.
I have been expecting a letter from friend Dredge; but I know that he cannot sit down like many and write, whether he feels or not. He must have something like a springing well before he can lay hold of the pump-handle. I am glad he gets on well with Kay, and goes about with him to the various villages and towns, where there is a door opened for him to preach. Your Wiltshire professors will have a good opportunity to put John Kay into the balance; but, perhaps, like the man who laid hold of a warrior in the wilderness, you may find he has caught you instead of your taking him.
I am sorry the bookseller's delay prevents your accumulating a store of agricultural knowledge. You will find some useful hints in the book, I doubt not; but, like other precepts, they must be obeyed to know their value. At the same time, I should be sorry if Loudon took you away from Huntington, or that you preferred reading his Cyclopaedia to the Word of God. I wish I had more appetite for the blessed truths of God, and could search and read the Scriptures more. How sweet, how suitable, how wise, how heaven-tending, how world-deadening is the Word of God! What rich treasures of truth are there stored up, and when we read them in God's light, and feel them in God's life, what a penetrating power is there in the truths there revealed! "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." Blessed opening, when He who has the key of David puts in His hand by the hole of the door, and opens our heart to receive His own Word. Then when we go to the Word of Truth, after it has come to us, our fingers drop with sweet-smelling myrrh upon the handles of the lock.
It is said that "the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live." Oh, to hear the voice of the Son of God in our hearts! Surely it shall make our dead hearts, cold frames, withering hopes, drooping love, dying faith, languishing prayers, and fainting minds live; yes, revive as the corn, and grow as the vine. What is all religion without a Divine beginning, middle, and end, commencing, carried on, and accomplished with a heavenly power, supernatural life, and spiritual unction? Well may we be ashamed, sick, and sorry of all our thoughts, words, and works, all our knowledge and profession that have not stood, or do not stand, in the power, teaching, and wisdom of God. All our talk has been but vain babbling, our prayers lip service, our preaching wind and vanity, our profession hypocrisy, our knowledge the worst kind of ignorance, and all our religion carnality or delusion, if they have not been divinely communicated.
Sir Isaac Newton, the wisest philosopher, is said to have remarked to one who congratulated him on his knowledge, "I have been like a little child on the sea-shore taking up a little water in a shell when the vast ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me." Much more may a spiritual man feel how little, how nothing, he knows of the unsearchable riches of Christ, and the boundless stores of wisdom hidden in them. As John Kay somewhere quotes, "It takes a man twenty years to become a fool." Look back, and see how, with Hart, you can say, "His light and airy dreams I took for solid food." What has become of the tons of instruction you have heard in your chapel from the old Supplies? Surely they have all vanished, like the gas from a torn balloon; and all the "preliminary remarks," as well as the "concluding observations," have been to you as the morning cloud and early dew.
I believe we must learn to be ashamed of our religion as well as of our sins. I see such hypocrisy, presumption, deceit, and falsehood in my profession, that I am obliged to confess it continually, and seek pardon for and deliverance from it. Anything does us good which racks us off from our lees, stirs us up to cry and pray, leads us to search the Word of God, and makes us earnest and sincere. I am so rarely sincere, so seldom in downright earnest, and am so lukewarm, and cold, and careless, and carnal, and sensual, that I have reason to take a low place. Some professors are always, as they think, sincere; but those who think so are the most remote from spiritual sincerity, and know it not as God's gift and work. If they knew their own hypocrisy it would make them cry for sincerity, and they would learn that to be sincere brings with it a daily cross, and very often a furnace.
My love to John Kay and the friends.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
November 18, 1839
My dear sister Fanny—I was glad to hear that the good Lord was still dealing graciously with you. I also received a letter and package of hymns, etc., from Mr. Isbell, which I hope shortly to acknowledge. I have read the hymns, and think they have many beauties; but there are roughnesses which need polishing, and in some instances false rhymes, which, if possible, should be altered. I think I prefer the first, entitled, "The Bloodhound," to any. There are, I think, too few for publication, unless through the medium of some periodical, as the Gospel Standard. His hymns would appear diminutive indeed in print, and the expense would be nearly as great as a larger volume. Purchasers like some quantity as well as quality, and so few would hardly find a sale beyond his own congregation and immediate friends. If he would go on composing more, and polish what he has already written, I think it would be a preferable step to a hasty, perhaps premature, publication. A certain amount of poetry is absolutely requisite in hymns, the lack of which, as in the case of Herbert's (of Sudbury), is a positive impediment to their wide diffusion, in spite of choice experience and sound doctrine; while Cowper's and Kent's owe much of their circulation to the sweetness of the poetry. It may be said these are carnal embellishments, but it may be replied that we may as well write in prose if we set aside the main essence of poetry, and by choosing that mode of conveying our feelings and ideas we tacitly assume that we take with poetry that which belongs to its essence. Hart, the chief of hymn-writers, had an especial gift for that work, but next to the experience and blessed unction that rests upon them, I admire the beautiful fullness of every line where every word conveys an idea. If I did not like much of Mr. Isbell's hymns I would not advise him to go on writing more. I hope to write to him more at length on this and other subjects, but don't know whether it will be just at present.
I felt your letters profitable to my soul, and this induced the desire of sending some extracts to the Gospel Standard—only initials—and I have erased or altered anything of a family nature. May the promise spoken to your soul be fulfilled. My faith cannot rise so far. But continue in prayer and supplications, my dear sister, for all whom you believe that promise to encircle, and for me also, that I may have the love of God shed abroad in my heart, and the atoning blood of Jesus sprinkled on my conscience. It is not always those who manifest enmity are farthest from the kingdom of God. Pliables are sometimes worse than opposers. Rachel envied Leah's fruitfulness, which, if it stirred up her enmity, also awakened her desire, and she in time had a similar blessing, though she paid for it with her life.
Nothing is impossible with the Lord, and nothing can frustrate His designs; no, not our dreadful corruptions and wretched unworthiness. You were not allowed to fall into those outward sins which many of God's elect have been betrayed into before called by grace, but if sin could have defeated God's purposes of mercy towards you, you would never have had the blessing. You will have to learn many painful lessons of inward corruption, and will have to wade through depths of which you have little present experience. When the flame of indwelling sin is stirred up, and Satan blows the coals, and the blessed Lord hides His face, you will find that a Christian soldier has to "fight with hell by faith," as Hart says. But whatever trials and difficulties you may be called upon to pass through, faithful is He who has called you, who also will do it.
Like yourself, I have been often much exercised upon family prayer. I cannot think written prayers acceptable to God, who as a Spirit must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. And if prayer be the cry of a child to his father, it should come freely from the heart, and not according to a written form. If a child were to ask for bread from its parent according to a paper put into its hand, it would seem more to be at play than really in need of food. I certainly would not advise you to act contrary to conscience, or any way seem to mock God. But could you not offer up a few words yourself, extempore, as it is called? There is nothing to forbid a female praying among females, for we read (1 Cor. 11:5) of a woman praying, that is, publicly, though not before males, for then she is to keep silence (1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:34). A few simple words might be more blessed to the rest and would relieve your conscience, for then you need only utter what you feel. What is called "a gift of prayer" is not needful so long as a person does not break down, and can express his needs in simple language. But I desire to leave the matter entirely to yourself, and may you seek counsel and direction from the Wonderful Counselor.
You will find that many who have heard of your having received a blessing will very narrowly watch your conduct to detect some inconsistency. Those especially who go to the same chapel will minutely examine your dress, looks, and very gestures to find some flaw inconsistent with Christian perfection, for many believers, as well as unbelievers, form an idea that such is the state of one who has received a blessing. And marvel not if some of that mire and mud which is so liberally bespattered on Mr. Isbell should be thrown at you, for similar doctrines and experience will call forth similar enmity. Satan, too, has his baits skillfully prepared and set. You will not find yourself dead to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life. And Satan has temptations, too, as the angel of light, and can instill presumption, hypocrisy, spiritual pride, Pharisaism, and a host of other evils. But He who has called you to be a soldier, will teach your hands to war and your fingers to fight, and greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world.
What a wonderful revolution is effected by divine teaching and heavenly visitations! The soul is brought to live in a new world and breathe a new element. Old things pass away, and behold, all things become new. New desires, feelings, hopes, fears, and exercises arise, and the soul becomes a new creature. The world appears in its true colors, as a painted bauble, and as its pleasures are valued at their due worth, so its good opinion is little cared for or desired.
But what complete dependents are we on the bounty and love of God, and on the divine operation of the Blessed Spirit, to feel or realize one grain or atom of heavenly things! And how unable to believe, feel, taste, handle, or enjoy the smallest particle of eternal realities, except from spiritual manifestation of them!
Of reading as well as of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. It is not advisable for children of God to read much of the writings of fallible men. Their writings often confuse the mind, and lead to controversies and vain jangling, or, at any rate, tend more to impart that knowledge which puffs up, than that love which edifies. Not but that a sound, savory, experimental author is sometimes profitable, especially at those seasons when we cannot read the sacred Scriptures from distracting thoughts. But when there is an appetite for God's Word, far more weighty, powerful, heavenly instruction is to be derived thence than from any writings penned by man. And why need we go to cisterns when we have the fountain? All that is good in human writings has been gotten from the Bible, and why need we obtain that at secondhand which we can have immediately from the same source? And the pen of man has been far more frequently wielded to propagate or support error than the cause of God and truth.
We return to Stamford tomorrow, yesterday being my Lord's-day here. We like our new house much, and have a very steady, confidential servant, whom we like much. My love to our dear mother, Mary Ann, and her little ones. My very kind regards to R. and Mrs. R., whom I so well remember from almost her infancy.
Your affectionate Brother,
J. C. P.
November 29, 1839
My dear Friend, Joseph Parry—Knowing you are one of those who do not grudge postage when a letter comes from a friend, I answer your letter earlier than I otherwise should have done, especially as it contains some questions which require an immediate reply. . .
I can well sympathize with you in your various doubts and fears. I often feel as if I had not one grain of religion nor spark of divine life. I am often groanless and sighless, and as reckless as if there were no heaven or hell; and then wake, as it were, out of my sleep and sigh out a desire. But I cannot swim in —'s vessel, nor any such smooth-sailing craft—I, like a shipwrecked mariner, must be picked up out of the deep unfathomable sea—or perish. My sister's deliverance for a while much stirred up my mind, but, alas! I am got pretty much into my old spot again. An extract from two of her letters will appear in the Gospel Standard for next month. Some may quarrel with it, and others doubt it, but let those who quarrel and those who doubt bring forward a better one of their own. I should myself be well satisfied with such a one, and if similarly favored would fight for it against flesh, devil, conscience, law, the world, the Pharisee, and the Antinomian, professor or profane, God's children and the devil's. And I find we need hold fast what we have, however little, for doves will pick at it as well as ravens, and sheep will nibble as well as goats. But he who has God's testimony in his soul will stand by that, and that, too, will stand by him when all other witnesses fail or bear testimony against him.
When we first start, we are like a child learning to run alone. We lean on a chair, or get hold of somebody's hand, but by-and-by, when we have had some tumbles, and fallen sometimes over a friend's foot, and sometimes through an enemy's push, and sometimes slipped down through our own corruptions, we learn to walk alone, hanging only on free grace and divine teaching.
People are looking to me to teach them, and what can I teach them but this, that we are fools and God only wise—and that, therefore, none teaches but He and like Him? And this makes people angry who have not yet learned their folly. People are building up religion all over the country, but there is not one of a thousand who has yet learned the first lesson– to be nothing. Some extol faith and some works; some are preaching free-grace and others free-will; but of all this noisy crowd, how few lie at Jesus' feet, helpless and hopeless, and find help and hope in Him! I wish we lived nearer, that we might sometimes compare notes, and talk over some of these hidden mysteries.
The review of Hawker and Huntington has stirred up the wrath of many, but I believe experimental Christians will not very much quarrel with it. I wrote it out of my own heart and described my own feelings. Many, I believe, have given up the Standard in consequence. William Tiptaft's letter is much liked at Oakham. I think "a Traveler" (J. H., I believe) has written well, and touched some strings that will vibrate in feeling hearts.
Mr. R. is discontented at my drawing away his hearers, and says he has lost his very best. Mrs. —, once a lost one, but now reformed if not regenerated, begins to find, I believe, that all he could do was to build her up in presumption, and the trowel having got into a chink which he did not sufficiently plaster up has made the whole coating tremble. When it has all come down she will begin to learn a little of what religion is. I can't help picking away at every piece of untempered mortar, whether Pharisaism or Antinomianism, presumptuous confidence or feigned humility– but as soon as it is all down, I foolishly try to build it up again with better materials. But I am a sad and bungling workman, and sometimes, perhaps, stick the pick into sound mortar while aiming at the rotten, and at other times put up a plaster of road mud instead of well-tempered cement. But my way is to keep picking at what I find in myself rotten and unsound, and not to put on any cement that does not satisfy or heal my own soul.
Sometimes guilt makes one's hand shake, and, anon, recollection of inconsistencies makes the uplifted blow come down more softly, and then doubts and fears of presumption make all the cement fall out of one's hand. I find this to both pull down aright as well as to build up aright. Hart, in his "Preface," that invaluable piece, has hit the right nail on the head, where he advises "no one to trust the directions of his own heart, or of any other man; therefore let the Christian ask direction of his God." I find myself more and more brought off from looking to or leaning upon man, as I see and feel all are liable to err, and that none can teach but God.
Mr. Isbell has written to me some very nice letters lately. He speaks very highly of William Tiptaft's letter in this month's Gospel Standard. Remember me affectionately to him, your wife, and children. My kind love to Dredge, Mrs. Wild, E. Pope, the Cannings' women, etc., etc. I have few friends, after all, better than my Allington ones.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
December 24, 1839
My dear sister, Fanny—I received safely your packet yesterday, and was much interested in J. G.'s letter to George Isbell, and think with a little revising it will do very well for the Gospel Standard. Surely every quickened and regenerated vessel of mercy is a fresh proof of that sweet passage, "Where sin has abounded, there did grace much more abound." And those who owe all they are, and all they have, to sovereign, distinguishing, superabounding grace must sing to the praise of the glory of His grace wherein He has made them accepted in the Beloved. Well may we hang solely and wholly on grace, for the past, the present, and the future, and while others spin their spider-woven garments out of their own works, may the grace of the Three-One Jehovah be all our hope here and all our song hereafter.
I am not surprised that you feel your ignorance. This is far better than boasting of your knowledge. You will see one day, if not now, that it was your mercy your head was not stored with knowledge, as it makes the change more striking and evident. By feeling your ignorance, too, you are made more dependent on divine teaching, and will be kept from sacrificing to your own drag, and the cry of your soul will be, "What I know not, You teach me." "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law." I have long been deeply convinced of the necessity of divine teaching, and have at different times, and do still from day to day, put up many earnest petitions for the blessed teachings of the Holy Spirit. The promise stands fast for evermore—"All your children shall be taught of the Lord." And Jesus Himself has put His own blessed seal upon it where He says, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore who has heard, and has learned of the Father, comes unto Me" (John 6:45). This is the "unction from the Holy One, whereby the children of God know all things;" "the anointing which teaches of all things, and is truth, and is no lie" (1 John 2:20, 27).
You will find it good to read much of the blessed Word of truth. It is, when applied by the eternal Comforter, "spirit and life" (John 6:63); and the leaves of this tree are for medicine, and the fruit thereof for food (Ezek. 47:12; Rev. 22:2). "For all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." By continually reading the Word you will make up for a defective memory, and let none despise having the Word of truth stored up in the mind, as the Blessed Spirit will sooner or later apply to the heart many passages which at present may be only in the memory. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16). "This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; but then shall meditate herein day and night" (Josh. 1:8). See also the following scriptures—Deut. 6:6-9; 17:18, 19; 30:11-14. Compare with Rom. 10:6-10, Psalm 1:2, 3; 119:97, 99, 103, 115, 130, 148.
You have received such encouragement to pray that I doubt not you still persevere in making your requests known unto God. I have not been blessed with that spirit of prayer nor assurance of an answer that you have been favored with. My earnest desires and breathings have been more for a blessing on my own soul. I feel my daily need of visitations and manifestations from the Lord. Jabez offered a sweet prayer (1 Chron. 4:10)—"Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast, and that Your hand might be with me," etc. To be blessed indeed is the soul's desire of one taught of God, and the application of His love and blood to the conscience is a blessing indeed. And to have His guiding, directing, supporting, upholding hand with us, what more can we desire? And to be kept from evil that it may not grieve us—what tender conscience does not desire such a blessing too?
I am not surprised Mrs. — is cold. Expect many such chilling looks from former friends. There can be no real union with, nor cordial approbation of people who condemn us. "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" To be brought out of Egypt condemns those that are yet in the house of bondage, well pleased with the leeks, onions, and garlic. Such coarse fare pleases well an earthly appetite, however little suitable to those that have tasted the hidden manna. You will find your motives misrepresented, your words misinterpreted, your actions narrowly observed, your gestures, dress, and general appearance strictly scrutinized.
I am sorry to hear your health continues weak, but it may be a blessing to keep you more at home, and thus in some measure preserve you from the keen eye of saint and sinner, professor and profane. May the Lord in His own time and way bless the word to our dear mother. Encourage her to seek for mercy from Him who is merciful, yes, rich in mercy. And as the Lord enables you, continue in prayer and supplication for her, and may I add, for me also, that the Lord would bless me indeed, by the manifestations of His love to my soul.
I seem to think that in hearing Mr. Isbell you are somewhat under the influence of 'excitement', at least it struck me so in your last, from the feeling you express of expecting to hear a scream or a shout under his preaching. The Lord does not usually work in that way—witness yourself when He speaks with power. He was neither in the storm, the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the still, small voice. The waiting prophet did not wrap his face in his mantle, nor go out of the cave during the raging war of elements, but when he heard the still small voice of love and power, he went forth and stood in the entrance of the cave. Excitement is frequently substituted for religion, as among the Wesleyans and Ranters.
[The remainder of this letter is lost.]