LETTERS of J. C. Philpot (1840)
January 9, 1840
My dear Friend, George Isbell—I have been expecting to hear from you every day, to obtain permission to send J. G.'s letter to the Standard. But as you do not write, I presume you are waiting a reply to your kind letter. Indeed, I am at times fit to write to nobody, because of my darkness of mind and carnality of heart. It is mostly ebb-tide with me, and when the tide turns and begins to flow, I am too much engaged with opening all the gates and sluices to sit down and write. I have often been most able and willing to preach and write when opportunity did not serve. And when the season has come, the thoughts are gone, the feelings flown, the dew evaporated, the warmth extinguished, and the food got cold and tasteless. Sometimes when walking or when dressing I have felt zeal, life, power, ideas, words, so that I could have with boldness set forth the word of life, or penned down truth with what seemed at the time vigor and decision. But when I have afterwards been in the pulpit, or taken my pen, not only has the power and feeling flown, but the very train of thought, the texts of Scripture, the light thrown upon them, and all clearness of idea, have fled, too, and left me shut up, embarrassed, confused and almost worthless. I have spoken on a text sometimes in a way that has been a wonder to myself, and then, perhaps, in another place from the same words have been so shut up that I could scarcely muster an idea, or utter a sentence that to me seemed to the point; and have wondered that the people should ever come to hear me again.
Many of the Calvinist ministers could preach the same sermon from the same words to any congregation. But it is not so with me. I am dependent on the Lord for every sermon and every occasion; and find a different vein of thought, or different mode of expressing myself, which varies with the congregation. Nor can I write when I please, nor express my thoughts and feelings when I wish. Some of my correspondents shut me up, and the ink freezes, as it were, in my pen; while to others I feel handling the pen of the ready writer, and can freely turn out the thoughts of my heart as my hand moves along the page. "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" enquires the Holy Spirit; and the experience of all honest men answers, "No!" Dissemblers and hypocrites can walk together; and so can enemies of truth, like Herod and Pontius Pilate, run in couples like bloodhounds to hunt down the precious life.
My experience for these last seven or eight years has been to keep much to myself, and to have nothing to say to men with whom I do not feel a cordial union. Some call this pride, others bitterness of spirit, but I have never reaped anything from false unity without spiritual union but vexation and trouble. Illegitimate children and servants can never be anything but spies (Gal. 2:4) and enemies. Ishmael will mock Isaac, though born in the same house, nor can any wisdom of man reconcile the two seeds between whom God has put enmity. And however distasteful and wearisome the company of worldly men is to me, I honestly confess that the presence and conversation of a moral man, who does not absolutely pain me by his worldliness, is more tolerable than the smooth cant of a hard-hearted professor. I hope always to avoid the company of either, but I would sooner ride 100 miles inside a coach with one than the other.
Nor have I ever found it wise to tell to such the feelings of my heart. If one dances, like Michal they despise, and if one is cast down, we are as a lamp despised in the mind of him that is at ease. With them the prophet is a fool, the spiritual man is mad, and though they smooth their tongues, and their words are softer than butter, they only do it that they may the better bend their bow and shoot in secret at him who is perfect. I was once for 'loving everybody that talked about Jesus Christ', but I have learned a different lesson, and find my affections now flow in a narrower channel, and, I believe, all the deeper from its contracted width. "As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." And what rule is that? "A new creature in Christ Jesus." So says the Spirit by Paul, and so answer I, "Amen."
But not new creeds, you letter men; nor "new lives," you reformed, but unregenerated sinners; nor "new tongues," you glib talkers. To all who come short of the new creature we must answer to their question, "Is it peace, Jehu?" "What peace so long as the whoredoms of your mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?" But in this warfare we shall have no better treatment than those who have gone before us. If they hated the Saviour, they must hate the saved; and if they called Him Beelzebub, how much more those of His household?
I have heard from friend — on his brother's marriage. He seems much pleased and gratified with all he heard and saw. You would perceive he is not a man of strong mind, nor deep experience; yet, I trust, a sincere lover of truth and the possessor of it. But he is not what a friend of mine calls "a front-rank man." He will support another, and follow, better than lead. Such, however, are useful when they know themselves and their own weakness, which I trust he does; and are content to boil the camp kettle, or help the wounded, rather than head the forlorn hope. He had been set up, before I knew him, by those who sought to build, but who knew neither how to dig the foundation nor handle a trowel; and, I believe, was much cut down before cut to his right dimensions.
Alas! alas! how many in a church would squeeze down to nothing if grasped by the hand of the Spirit! And many others, were they put into the hydraulic press, as the Americans do their bales of cotton, would shrink into woefully small dimensions. You may depend upon it, that with all the light in our day, there is very little grace. Most are boasting themselves on a false gift, and are potsherds covered with silver dross. The best taught are crying, "My leanness! my leanness! woe unto me!" and mourning over their barrenness and death. The professing church is in the Laodicean state of affairs, saying that she is rich, and increased in goods, and in need of nothing. She feeds on 'mere doctrines' without knowing or caring to know their power, and rests on the general security of the elect without feeling or desiring to feel her own personal security.
'Antinomian presumption' is the error of our professing day—the damning sin of Calvinists; just as 'self-righteousness' is the damning sin of Arminians. The millstones are not wider apart than in the days of Hart, and the path between them is still what the vulture's eye has not seen. If temptations, doubts, fears, crosses, and afflictions keep us from crying, "Peace, where there is no peace," it is far better for us than being at ease in Zion.
Our flesh loves ease and carnal security, and absence of trials produces and brings that which the flesh loves. But in such seasons, when all is dead within, how soon does all the power of religion evaporate, how cold are our prayers, how dark and hidden is the word of truth, how pointless and worldly is our conversation, how vain and flesh-pleasing are our thoughts, and how feeble are our pulpit ministrations! Religion becomes a burden, and everything connected with it a task; while all the time we are sensible we are not what we were before, and yet, like a dreaming man, can tell neither what we are nor where we are.
But when the entrance of the word of reproof or of promise gives light, a ray is cast over the path we are in, our backslidings reprove us, our leanness rising up in us bears witness to our face, and we cry, "Bring my soul out of prison; deliver me for Your mercy's sake; visit me with Your salvation, and lift up the light of Your glorious countenance upon me." But we soon veer aside like a broken bow, and go a whoring after our idols under every green tree. Like the wild donkey of the wilderness we snuff up the wind at our pleasure, and in our occasions, who can turn us away?
You ask how I was convinced of believer's baptism? I don't know that I can add any more to what I mentioned in my note. When the subject first arrested my mind I turned from it with enmity, as I saw it was like a man with a saw coming to cut down my apple-tree which bore the golden apples. This was evident, that if believer's baptism was the only scriptural one, I must relinquish my connection with a system that was based upon infant sprinkling. But this I had neither inclination nor faith to do, especially as my health was poor, and all my income derived from the Established Church. Still, however, as I read the Scriptures, I could see neither precept nor example of any other than believer's baptism, and together worked with this the awful mockery of the Church of England's service for sprinkling infants, which, however, I escaped, as having an assistant who did that as well as all the other formal work. Some friends of mine, too, at this time seceded from the Establishment, and were baptized, and as I still maintained equally friendly relations with them, we sometimes conversed upon it, and my convictions were still more strengthened until they outgrew and outweighed all bonds and shackles, and forced me out of Babylon. I was baptized by Mr. Warburton about six months after I left the Church of England, and have never swerved from believing it to be a gospel ordinance, though I feel little disposed to make a Shibboleth of it, or make it a prominent topic of my ministry.
The way in which many Baptists bring it forward I much object to, as though it were 'the all in all', and the grand turning point, whereas I rather regard it as an ordinance to be obeyed from divine teaching and love. "If you love Me, keep My commandments." But some of my dearest friends and best hearers are not Baptists, nor has this come in as a bar or a stumbling-block between our friendship and love. I cannot, however, agree with Mr. Triggs, or the late Mr. Fowler, to make it an indifferent thing, and in our zeal for spiritual substances to set aside the Lord's clear command, and His apostles' undoubted practice, as though they were mere nullities and shadows. Jesus is a law-giver to His chosen, and they honor Him little, who despise His precepts. That is a dreadful word (Matt. 5:19), and you are well aware of the difference between 'transgressing through weakness', and 'neglecting through contempt', or 'despising through hardness of heart'. And I dare say you have felt the keen edge of the verse I have quoted, in the expression, "And shall teach men so."
I have sometimes derived comfort from this thought, that wherever I have transgressed I have not taught men to do so, and have neither justified to myself nor to others, any deviation from the strait and narrow path. And here I draw a distinction between the 'opponents' of baptism and the 'neglectors' of it. S— has preached against, and, I believe, ridiculed believer's baptism. I would not, therefore, pass by an opportunity of correspondence without telling him of his error. This produced some warm defensive language, and when I stated in my reply that I did not, perhaps, bring forward baptism once a year in the pulpit, he could not understand how I could be faithful in so doing, when I opposed him for denying it. He could not see the difference between a man's not seeing a truth and opposing it. Had you, for instance, been silent on the subject, I would not have brought it forward; but had you opposed it, I would soon have defended it, and I think this is a very intelligible distinction.
If your church is not a Baptist church, you will find that to bring baptism forward will set it all on fire and prove a bone of contention. But I would not have you the less bring it forward, if the Lord has laid it upon your soul, and the most powerful sermon you could preach upon it would be to submit to it yourself. The very storm, however, might winnow out some of the old chaff, of which, I doubt not, you have more than you wish. You have probably found before this, that old members of churches are not usually the most spiritual or teachable, and that your chief hopes rest upon those whom the Lord has given you as fresh seals of ministry. And you may find baptism to give the old members more offence than your other preaching, as being a more tangible point, and as affording them a rallying spot of ground whence they may discharge their artillery against what they call your bitter spirit, etc. It may therefore be a turning-point with you, and yet should not be so brought forward, but simply as a truth taught you by the Lord.
It is good for us to have little to do with men. I have had, I think, sufficient reason to be shy of most ministers, nor are there above half a dozen to whom I feel any union. The review of Hawker and Huntington in the Gospel Standard, generally ascribed to me, has made many very angry, who never knew the experience therein spoken of, and therefore their language is, "Master, in speaking thus, you condemn us also!" Truth, however, will stand when the world is in a blaze.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
January 16, 1840
My dear Friend, Carby Tuckwell—I felt much interested in your account of your trip to Plymouth. You need not have felt such trepidation at calling on my mother and sister, as they are plain people, and would be glad to see any friend of mine. I am glad you liked my sister's conversation. Whatever others may think I care not. I myself fully receive it as a divine work, and those who doubt or disbelieve it, let them produce a better. I mean as to the feelings produced by a visit from Jesus; and if any cavil, and say there was not this preparatory work, and that preliminary hell and damnation terrors, all I can say, "Who shall limit the Holy One of Israel?" As Hart says in his golden "Preface"—in my opinion the most weighty piece of writing ever penned by man after the blessed Scriptures—"The dealings of God with His people, though similar in the general, are nevertheless so various that there is no chalking out the paths of one child of God by those of another; no laying down regular plans of Christian conversion, Christian experience, Christian usefulness, or Christian conversation." I heartily assent to what I have thus quoted, and though I believe there is no revelation of Christ without previous condemnation by the Law, who shall define the necessary degree of depth, or the indispensable period of length? Who shall take the compasses and scale, and mark out a circle for the Almighty to move in, or a line to walk by?
Let the measurer first cut and clip all the trees of the forest into a certain prescribed figure and uniform symmetry. Let him examine an unknown leaf from some Indian forest, and say, "This is not a leaf at all; it is not jagged, nor scalloped like the only leaf I admit as my standard that of the oak; and therefore I cast it from me as a base counterfeit, a vile imitation, the work of some ingenious artist." You would say to such a critic in vain, "Why, look, sir, is it not green? Does it not spring from a branch? Does it not fulfill all the functions of a leaf? Does it not, by its minute pores and vessels, give out all the surplus moisture of the sap, and at the same time inhale the oxygen of the air, which, by combining with the sap, becomes nutriment to the tree?" Still he would answer, "I don't care what it does. I say it is not jagged or scalloped, nor like an oak leaf, and therefore away with it."
Apply this to the case in hand. I believe my sister has not felt the terrors of the Law, as many have; but if she felt lost, guilty, condemned, without hope or help, she had a work of the Law in her conscience. But I look more to the deliverance, and the effects produced by it. Who shall say, in reading her simple statement, that her leaf is not green? Does it not give out, and take in, as the leaf does—give out the flowings of love and contrition, and take in out of the fullness of the Saviour? Deliverances, my friend, are the grand evidences to look to. No other evidences will satisfy a needy, naked soul, and deliverances are what a wise man will chiefly look to in estimating others. He will not, indeed, pass by, or think lightly of the sighing of the prisoner, but he will consider the knocking off the fettered captive's chains a better evidence than lying in the dungeon. And whatever some may think about the most searching ministry being that which deals chiefly with dark evidences, I have not the least doubt that that ministry will be the most cutting, and at the same time the most establishing, which deals most in deliverances.
This is a very different thing from the flighty, dry, letter ministry of preaching assurance and comfort. Deliverances imply trials, sorrows and temptations. Troubles and their corresponding deliverances are the scales of a balance; when one is up the other is down. But they who are all for darkness and unbelief have no balance, but a scale-pan detached from the beam; and they who are all for assurance, have the other scale unhooked from the beam also. They are thieves and deceitful weighers, who have stolen the scale, and left the beam behind them; and, being partners in the robbery, one rogue has taken away one scale, and his accomplice the other. The honest man holds the beam with the scales attached to it, and he puts the light-hearted and untempted into the scale of trials. They cannot make it move a peg; they are found lacking. He then puts the mourners into the scale of deliverances. The beam trembles, but does not move. It is worldly sorrow that works death. They are light weight too. But a living soul tempted will at one time weigh down one scale, and a living soul delivered will at another time weigh down the other scale, and thus be full weight in each. When I get into figures and comparisons I am like a trained horse getting upon the turf. Away he goes, and there is no stopping him until out of breath. The first horse I bought had run a race a week or two before I purchased him, and when I got him upon a down I had hard matter to hold him.
I am glad you get on pretty well with the 'reading of sermons' at chapel. An exercised soul in prayer, who is enabled in simple language to pour out his feelings and desires, is worth all the prating, starched-up, letter parsons in the world. My soul has been softened with a single sentence of living prayer out of an exercised child of God, when a long sermon, well dovetailed and jointed, from a letter preacher would have filled it with barrenness and death.
I am, through mercy, pretty well. My chest still at times continues to give me pain, and is, I think, weaker this winter than it was last. I still, however, continue to preach twice on the Lord's-day and once in the week, and usually to good and listening congregations, which increase rather than diminish. My ministry is too cutting to please the generality, and, I think, many are wounded who have the root of the matter in them. I trust I am not become mealy-mouthed, or a man-pleaser, though my flesh would gladly lean that way. I think, however, they give me credit for seeking their spiritual good, and that I do not speak in bitterness and enmity to wound their feelings. But it is hard for those to relish faithfulness, who have been used to flattery. I hope my valued friends who attend Allington chapel are well. Remember me to them in Christian affection, such as E. Pope, the Cannings' women (including Dorcas and her sister Sally) Mrs. Wild, Mr. and Mrs. Parry, Mrs. Cannings, and all my other sincere and steadfast friends.
Yours affectionately, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
January 29, 1840
My dear Friend—I feel desirous to hear how you are going on in that spiritual warfare in which you are now engaged on the side of 'faith and feeling' against 'presumption and dry notions. I gather from a piece or two in the Gospel Standard that you are still seeking, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, to pull down strongholds, and to cast down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. But no one can effectually pull down the lofty imaginations of delusion, the towering castles of presumption, the strong bulwarks of letter-faith, and the high walls of carnal security, unless these self-same refuges of lies have been laid low in his own soul. The strongholds of false religion must have been undermined by doubts and fears, sapped by spiritual troubles, blown up by powerful temptations, cast down by guilt and wrath, and pulled to pieces by daily and hourly strugglings with misery, darkness, helplessness, beggary, bankruptcy, and thorough insolvency, before we can firmly handle pickaxe and spade, and plant the battering-ram boldly against the high towers of notional religion.
Some years ago, before I knew much of this leveling work within, I used to feel there was something wrong in many professors, something that repelled me from them instead of drawing me to them; but I could not tell where the disease lay. The apple was so round and well colored, that I had not discernment to see the little round hole which the maggot had bored through the peel, and that it was eating up the core. I did not know where to strike them; and as I saw they held truth in the letter, and my conscience was tender, I could neither take them into my heart, nor throw them over the wall. But when, in the winter of 1830, the Lord, as I hope and trust, began to pull down in my soul 'letter-faith' and false religion, and has gone on more or less teaching me the same humbling lessons, line upon line, line upon line, here a little and there a little, I have felt emboldened to stand as the captive and blind Samson between the pillars, and try with all my strength to pull down the banqueting-house of notional religion.
Thus we can say to all letter-men and their letter-hearers—"I have been where you are. I once thought the ground firm and good, but I found it a deep morass, which was near swallowing me up. I, like you, was once dreaming, and behold I ate; but I awaked, and my soul was empty; and I, too, as a thirsty man dreamed, and behold I drank; but I awaked, and behold I was faint and my soul had appetite." (Isaiah 29:8) When a minister can from soul experience trace out a notional religion, and show how this opiumed draught stupefies the senses, bewilders the heart, hardens the conscience, blinds the judgment, inflames the pride, and intoxicates the whole soul; and then can experimentally work out the feelings of this opium-eater, when some of the leaves of the tree of life, as heavenly medicine, made him vomit up the inebriating poison—I say, when a man can feelingly describe both malady and remedy, he is, in my judgment, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. And what will be the lot of such a workman? Opposition, hatred, and contempt from the professors whom he unmasks, convictions in the spiritual consciences of the poor and needy to whom he is a faithful steward, and a satisfaction in his own soul that he is not doing the work of the Lord deceitfully.
The high faith letter-hearers will say he is in bondage, that he does not preach the gospel, that he does not set forth the glories of Christ. The beggars and bankrupts will find his chains their liberty, his darkness their light, and his death their life; as Paul speaks—"We which live are always delivered unto death," etc.; "So then death works in us, but life in you." The same blessed apostle tells us that many of the brethren waxed confident by his bonds (Phil. 1:14), alluding probably to his temporal chains; but the same thing is true spiritually. I am at a point here that all faith which does not act, move, stir, live, and breathe in a man's soul, is nominal and notional—not the faith of God's elect.
I believe there are but two healthy states of soul; one hungering, and the other feeding; one mourning, and the other rejoicing; one sighing, groaning, and panting after testimonies, love favors, sprinkled blood, revealed righteousness, and eternal mercy, and the other banqueting on the same. But you find many towering professors who are neither in one state nor the other. They neither spiritually mourn, nor spiritually rejoice; they neither grieve for Christ's absence, nor are cheered by His presence. They are always the same; always confident, but never confiding; always cheerful, but never cheered; always at rest, but never experimentally resting on the bosom of Jesus. Now, I do not say that a child of God cannot be entangled in this snare. I believe he may and often is. But you will find he can never go all lengths with the 'all-head and no-heart' man. It appears to me that Job was at one time somewhat entrapped here. "Then I said, I shall die in my nest." He was settling down in dead assurance; but there was always something which kept him from quite falling asleep. "I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came." He had his fears whether this warm downy nest might not be pulled away, and therefore says, "The thing which I greatly feared is come upon me."
The living work of God in the soul will never unite with dead faith and presumptuous confidence. There is in many living souls, especially if they fall into the hands of presumptuous men, a hastening to be rich; but such in the end will be convicted of not being innocent. They want to exchange their hobbling gait for eagles' wings. They are so eager for a living child, that they will adopt the son of the bond-woman, sooner than be barren and wait God's time. "He who believes shall not make haste." "Though it tarries, wait for it." But they are tired of waiting, and therefore offer up the burnt-offering before Samuel comes down. They out-run their heavenly Teacher, who is too slow with His line upon line, for their nimble fancies. They take the highest place unbidden, instead of seating themselves at the bottom of the table. Thus presumption, under the name of faith, carries them along. But by and by, running so fast, they slip and fall, or darkness overtakes them, or temptation assails them, or doubts and fears seize them, or eternity on a sick bed stares them in the face. Then they find their faith all vanished, like the chaff that is driven with the whirlwind out of the floor, and the smoke out of the chimney. They must now retrace their steps with bitter lamentations, and take with shame the lowest room.
I believe I can say from experience, that few sins cut into a living conscience deeper than presumption. "Keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; . . . so shall I be innocent from the great transgression." Surely this verse shows that a child of God has a proneness to presumption, and it is the great transgression from which he needs to be kept back. In my opinion very few are free from it. I feel its workings pretty well every day, and have to confess it again and again. But having this tender part, I know where to hit others, and I can at times drive my sword fearlessly up to the hilt into this abscess, and let out the gory matter.
Write to me, and tell me how you are going on. Are you satisfied that you have acted rightly in staying where you are? I hope you are. A soldier that leaves his post because the bullets are whistling about him, runs a risk of being tried for cowardice. And the bullet has never yet been molded at Rochford that is to kill you. I was glad to see M. G.'s testimony in the Standard. I like your remark that there was reason to question a work where there had been no conflicts for some years. As I quote from memory, excuse if I quote incorrectly; I have, I believe, the substance of the remark. But I could by no means cut off the first work in her soul. "Evil communications corrupt good manners;" and, as I have endeavored to trace it out, presumption may have come in under the name of faith. It will be a part of your wisdom to remember this, and to spare the children while you flog the illegitimate children. And remember that the sword which glances off the seared conscience of a professor will often pierce a living child, as one of our ancient kings was shot by an arrow that glanced from a tree. May you fight the good fight of faith, and be blessed to the building up of the elect on their most holy faith.
Yours very sincerely, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
To a Dying Youth
[The recipient of this letter lived at Bourn, Lincolnshire. He had been blessed under the ministry of William Tiptaft, and of the writer of the letter, who visited him and found him a living soul, though under a dark cloud of heaviness and gloom. He died, however, in the full enjoyment of that peace which passes all understanding.]
February 1, 1840
My dear Friend—I promised your mother that I would write to you, and this promise I now endeavor to fulfill. May the Lord the Spirit guide my pen, without whose heavenly teaching I shall write, and you will read, in vain.
I said in my interview with you, that I was always desirous to trace out the workings and actings of faith in the soul. Faith we know is the good and perfect gift of the Father of lights, "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning," and therefore the sure herald of salvation. But this faith, however good and perfect, is lodged in a vile body, and is daily and hourly thwarted and opposed by an evil heart of unbelief. Thus it lies often so smothered, buried, and oppressed under the dead carnal load of unbelief, infidelity, worldliness, filth, hardness, darkness and sensuality, that it seems utterly extinct and perished. Like the embers under the ashes, the wheat under the chaff, the tender blade under the snow, the pure gold under the scum of the melting pot, the goodly pearl under the sand of the sea shore, and the lost piece of money under the dust and rubbish of the room, precious faith is at times lost and buried under the weight and mass of our most vile unbelieving nature. And yet, under all this heavy weight and pressure, it lies not as a dead, inert, motionless thing. As Hart sweetly says, "It lives and labors under load."
There are times when it heaves, and gasps, and pants, and breathes, and cries out from beneath its oppressive burden. Thus Jonah cried out of the belly of hell; Jeremiah out of the low dungeon (Lam. 3:55); Hezekiah out of the sentence of death, when he turned his face to the wall. The first said, "I am cast out of Your sight;" the second, "I am cut off;" the third, "I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the land of the living." But there were the blessed actings of a living faith in their cries, their fears, their sorrows, their self-condemnation, their desperate hopeless, helpless condition. And were they left to perish? Ah, no! Their cry came up into the presence, and entered into the ears of the Lord Almighty. Each and all were delivered, and praised their God and Savior with joyful lips.
But the office and province of faith is to look out of self for help and deliverance. Unbelief and despair look wholly and solely to self, and when the utter ruin and bankruptcy of the creature are discovered, they sink with the creature into an unfathomable gulf. But faith, coming from the Lamb of God, looks up and out of self unto the Lamb of God. As Jonah looked out of the very belly of hell unto God's holy temple, the type and figure of the Temple made without hands, that is, the holy human nature of Jesus in which the Godhead dwelt, so does faith look out of guilt, and filth, and misery, and ruin, and helplessness, and hopelessness, unto the Son of God, once crucified, and now risen and glorified, and thus casts anchor within the veil. And though the eyes of faith be often dim, and its ears heavy and well-near closed, yet will the one anxiously look out of obscurity, and the other listen earnestly, to see the face, and hear the voice of the Son of God.
As a fond wife, anxiously expecting her husband's return, will open the cottage door, and strain her eyes through the dark night to observe his form, or listen with suppressed breath if she can hear his footsteps, and the longer he delays his coming, the higher will her anxiety rise; so will a believing, longing soul, in the exercise of living faith, look up until its eyes fail (Isa. 38:14), to see Jesus, and listen with intense anxiety to hear His still small voice. And are not both these spiritual senses needful to living faith? Jesus says to His disciples, "Yet a little while, and the world sees Me no more; but you see Me—because I live, you shall live also" (John 14). Again—"My sheep hear My voice," etc. The command is—"Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears" (Isa. 43:8). "Look unto Me, and be you saved." "Hear, and your soul shall live."
You have seen an end of the creature, that it is vanity; of your own righteousness, that it is filthy rags; of your strength, that it is utter weakness; of your natural religion, that it is a broken reed and a cobweb garment. You now need power, life, feeling, heavenly manifestations, precious promises applied with sweetness, visits from Jesus, tokens of distinguishing favor, a conscience sprinkled with atoning blood, and a glorious robe of spotless righteousness cast round your naked soul.
May the Lord speedily grant your desires, and visit your soul with looks of love, rays of mercy, and beams of tender kindness, so as to smile you into humility, resignation, patience, gratitude, contrition, love, and godly sorrow. A languishing body is a heavy cross. Sickness often depresses our spirits, shatters our nerves, and casts a gloom over our minds. But it is good thus to be weaned and detached, and gradually loosened from the strong ties that bind us to earth. I was ill once for many months, and many thought I would never recover. I found it a heavy trial, but I believe it was profitable to my soul. May the Lord make all your bed in your sickness, give you many testimonies of His special favor, and when He sees fit to take down your earthly tabernacle, remove you to that happy country where "the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick," where tears are wiped away from all faces, and sorrow and sighing flee away.
Yours affectionately in the bonds of the gospel,
J. C. P.
February 6, 1840
My dear Friend, Joseph Parry—The cheapness of postage increases my incoming correspondence, so my time scarcely admits of my writing so often or so long to my friends. In this, however, as in other cases, I feel a certain degree of self-denial and exertion necessary to prevent my friends thinking me guilty of neglect. We would all like the miserly plan of receiving letters without answering them. I call it miserly, for the essence of a miser is to receive as much and pay as little as he possibly can. In all friendship, forbearance, self-denial, and exertion are needful to keep it alive. He who will make no sacrifices, use no self-denial, and employ no effort in behalf of his friends, will soon find himself without them, and thus reap the just reward of his indolence and self-indulgence. A certain degree of communication and friendly communion is absolutely necessary to keep spiritual friendship and affection alive. Communication by bodily presence, or by letter, is the oil poured from time to time into the lamp which keeps it alive. I have generally found that, as I ceased to see or write to my friends, coolness arose, which increased with neglect, until at last I seemed to care as little about them as if I had never known them. These remarks, the truth of which you will, I believe, acknowledge, I trust will stir you up to put them into practice and use that small quantity of self-denial which is needful to pay, as well as to receive.
Afflictions and trials are the appointed lot of all, elect and non-elect. Solomon observed this in his day (Eccles. 9:2), and Job before him (5:7; 14:1). So that crosses and losses are no distinguishing mark of divine favor, nor yet of divine wrath, though the elect and non-elect draw just opposite conclusions from them. The elect often fear they are tokens of wrath, and the non-elect hope they will be a payment for their sins. The great question is, what do they for a man's soul? Is any humbling of heart, breaking down of pride, deadness to the world, earnest fleeing to a throne of grace produced these trials? It is good to have a deep and feeling acquaintance with the malady, to groan and sigh under a body of sin and death, to be cut down, cut up, and cut off—but why good? Is it good in itself? No, not at all. It is only good so far as the soul is led thereby to the cross of Jesus, to taste and feel His blood and love. Everything that brings us there in faith and feeling is good; everything that keeps us away is bad.
Since I began this letter I have received one from our friend Dredge, in which he mentions the trial you had at Allington with S. Poor fellow! he must have been miserably shut up, not to be able to fulfill his engagements, and come all that way for nothing. I don't understand it; when God raises up a man to preach His word, I cannot understand his being totally shut up. Warburton speaks of it twice having happened to him, but one of those times was in early days when there was a special need of his being humbled. Such a thing has, I would imagine, never happened to him for these last twenty years. I never heard of such a thing occurring to Huntington, nor do we find it happening to Smart, Tiptaft, or others. Most complain of great deadness at times and shutting up in feeling, as though they could never preach again, but when the time has come they have been mercifully helped through. Friend Dredge, however, gives a right account of him, and speaks of many sweet marks of grace and godliness in him. I don't see that the Allington hearers and friends have any reason from this circumstance to write bitter things against themselves, as though they had shut him up, and that it is a mark of the Lord's displeasure and absence from them. Warburton and others have found liberty there, though he felt bondage; and we know not what secret need there was for him to be humbled thereby, or what spiritual profit to him or them is to spring out of it. "Judge not the Lord by feeble sense," etc.
Poor C. seemed to have had a roughish journey to Wincanton, and his fellow-traveler came in a storm and went away in one. Oh what trials the poor fellow must have had when he got home, and how the devil would set upon him that he was no minister, and only a deceiver and deceived! If it were bad for you, it was a great deal worse for him, and yet I most fully believe good will come out of it. Storms and roaring waves sometimes cast upon the shore valuable treasures hid in the sands—and thus, spiritually, tempests and roaring seas often bring to light secret treasure. I have a strong suspicion that my Allington friends must tread the old track of 'reading sermons' and praying among themselves, as there is little prospect of their having a man to go in and out before them, and like many a laborer in these hard times they must satisfy themselves with long fasts and short meals.
I am sorry to find Mr.— is still such a trial to you in every respect. I expect for you nothing but sorrow and trouble until he is no more seen. Yet if spiritual profit arises from it to your soul; if it weans you from the world, gives you an errand to a throne of grace, makes you helpless and hopeless, and through all this, a heavenly smile breaks through the cloud to ravish your heart, you will not think you have one trial too many. We are poor judges of our own conduct and, even if in the wrong, are ready to justify ourselves.
I was much pleased with friend Dredge's letter, and see him a very altered man from when I first knew him. I have seen him more softened and brought down, and less harsh in his speeches. Faithfulness is one thing; harshness is another. A man can't be too faithful, but he must speak the truth 'in love' if he speaks aright. Paul, even of the enemies of the cross, speaks with weeping. But it is, indeed, a most narrow line, and most of us err through softness and compliance rather than severity and harshness, and, I believe, 'severe faithfulness' is far better than 'compliant softness'. Our friend's faithfulness makes him so hated, and I would be sorry to see him softened down to put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. But his enemies treasure up his hard speeches and turn them against him, and say, "Here is Dredge's religion." I like the way in which he talked to —, and it was more likely to find an entrance into his mind, than if he had harshly cut him off.
I heard from Smart this morning. He wishes me to pass through Welwyn for their anniversary, but I scarcely think I shall be able. I would stretch a point, however, to please a friend.
I am more and more satisfied with my sister's religion, and believe it will swim when thousands will sink. She has been brought more into darkness and conflict lately, and says what pleasure she found in reading my "Heir of Heaven." A lady who has been staying with them some time—a great professor—has been an incredible trial to her. To save my hand, which is rather fatigued, I got my dear wife to copy a part of her last letter, which, I think, shows life and feeling—
"Mrs. — has been a terrible trial to me, and I believe if I had been a worm, and she could have put her foot upon me and crushed me, she would. She has goaded and worried my soul, as a bull-dog would do a sheep. Even now I dread her coming into the house, and my whole frame is in agitation when she speaks upon the precious Word, and what she takes to herself. She has no doubt of her salvation, and all Mr. Isbell preaches upon to the comfort of the Lord's dear ones she says she participates in. She has none of the doubtings and fears, no inward corruptions, no hidings of the Lord's face, no lack of communion with Him, no lack of prayer does she feel. And I am sure Mr. Isbell does cut down root and branch; so much so, that unless quite dead to the word, no one could hear him without being brought down into the dust. There could be no towering of the head, no watching or 'being constantly on the watch to detect errors in others' (as she unwittingly told me she did), were she brought to see her own nakedness before the Lord. Still her visit has been in love; it has taken me much from man's knowledge, made me look more entirely to the Lord for teaching and strength. Some of the Sabbaths have been, indeed, days of rest and peace to my soul, softened down quietness, a resting in the Lord, a peace and sweetness I would not part with for worlds (but without any rejoicing).
"I read, last week, your 'Heir of Heaven,' and it was a blessed sermon to me. My mind had been very wretched; no prayer, no understanding of the word; all was dark and miserable. I could not go up to the chapel on Sunday. Mr. Isbell came in in the afternoon. I had been poring over some chapter in Isaiah; all was a blank, and I said so to him. Very soon after Mrs. — came in and began to talk to him on various portions of Scripture, and he partly expounded two of the chapters in Isaiah I had longed to ask him. I think this is very singular—here is one with a vast deal of scriptural knowledge running from one part of the Bible to another, grasping at the meaning, and here am I, a very fool, hardly knowing one text from another, sitting by without a word to say. Blessed Lord, how have You dealt with me, a cobweb in Your sight, and left Your creature without a certain assurance of Your love to her? Then Mr. Isbell spoke upon the chapter above named; in an instant a ray of light darted into my soul. I was sure I felt the rain of heavenly light was coming upon me, and as she rose, courteously thanking him for the pleasure she had had, and saying she would go home and consult her Bible—I think to myself—you know not the instrument you have been in the Lord's hand of sweetness to my soul, and I never did enjoy a more blessed evening, quite alone in the house, if I can call it being alone. The 40th Psalm was deeply entered into, and I was again directed to the 14th of John; all entered into my inmost soul, and I did love the dear Redeemer and thank Him for His visible mercy to me. The same peace lasted several days, during which I read your sermon; but, alas! there was to be an end, and for several days I have been without a word to say to the Lord. Very miserable, no reading reached me, and I dare not kneel down lest I should mock the Lord. Today I have had a little comfort, and been able to feel that the Lord is still my rock and my strength."
I need not apologize for the length of this quotation, as I think you will consider it the best part of my letter.
Give my Christian love to all the friends, and believe me to be,
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
February 18, 1840
My dear sister Fanny—I am always pleased to hear of your spiritual state, and to find that He who has begun a good work in you is still fulfilling it until the day of Jesus Christ. A life of faith in the Redeemer is not one of continued, nor indeed frequent enjoyment. There is an enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ; and soldiers, you know, have often to fight and receive painful wounds. Our carnal nature is not sanctified by grace, but remains in all its unmitigated venom, and in all that mass of depravity, filth and corruption, into which the fall of our first parents precipitated it. Satan is a powerful, as well as a most wily enemy, and is continually prowling about either to wound or ensnare. We are told "to fight the good fight of faith," and that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood (that is, not against flesh and blood only), but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness (or 'wicked spirits,' margin) in high places."
The strength of Christ is made perfect in our weakness, His victory in our defeat, His grace in subduing our sin, His free payment in our bankruptcy and insolvency. Here, then, is the life of faith, and a struggling, battling, wrestling, and sometimes despairing fight it is. We would gladly have it otherwise, and be wise, and strong, and holy, and full of joy and triumph; and, could we gain our wish, we would take the crown from the Redeemer's head, and put it on our own.
Surely 'free grace' is a sweet theme to all the ransomed family of God. But what makes it sweet—but sheer necessity? If there were no sins to pardon, no backslidings to heal, no wounds to cleanse, no broken bones to restore, no aggravated iniquities freely to blot out, free grace would be but a name, a sound in the ears, a Bible word, the article of a sound creed—but not a felt, tasted, and enjoyed possession, sweeter than honey or the honeycomb in the soul. You had long heard the doctrines of grace, but they only reached your outward ear as, perhaps, a pleasing sound, but without making heavenly melody in your heart, altering the current of your desires, thoughts and affections, making you a new creature, and setting up the kingdom of God in your soul.
Many hate and revile me for speaking and writing against "dry doctrines." By "dry doctrines" I mean the intellectual, speculative, notional, dead and dry knowledge of certain truths as they stand in the letter of God's Word. They are not dry in themselves, but rich, unctuous, savory, and full of marrow; but as merely lodged in the speculative brains of natural men, they are dry to them as destitute of heavenly application.
I always suspected you overrated —'s religion; but, not knowing her since her profession, I felt unwilling to hint anything to her disparagement, and wished to leave it more to your own discernment. You need not envy her her clear head, strong memory, inquisitive mind, and good understanding.One grain of divine teaching is a million times more valuable than the highest doctrinal knowledge. One smile from the God of all grace is a pledge of an eternal inheritance--incorruptible, undefiled, and which will never fade away. And what are the best and brightest of human attainments? Alas! they are linked to life's short span, and the stroke that snaps the thread of life crumbles all natural attainments into the dust. . .
[The remainder of this letter is torn off.]
February 19, 1840
My dear William Brown—Hearing a good account of your experience and ministry, I feel desirous to invite you for three Lord's-days in August next, to preach among my people at Stamford and Oakham, where I statedly labor. . . . I sincerely hope you may be induced to comply with our wishes. It is not every minister whom I would admit into my pulpit, nor the friends willingly hear. We look more to experience, feeling, unction, and power, than eloquence or abilities. An honest, sincere, God-fearing man, who knows divine things by divine teaching, and who will neither stretch himself above his measure nor crouch beneath it, but simply stand up as he is, will suit them better than a pasteboard giant or a lord mayor's show champion. . . . I shall say no more; you know the man and his communication.
I hope you may be induced to accept the invitation in the same spirit that it is given.
Wishing you every New Covenant blessing,
I am yours sincerely, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
March 4, 1840
My dear William Brown—I hope the Lord may incline your heart to accept my invitation to come and supply for me at Stamford and Oakham, and that He may come with you to bless you.
My people, especially at Stamford, are very young, and for the most part weak and feeble. They love, I believe, however, savory food, winnowed with the shovel and the fan. Experimental preaching alone suits them, and, indeed, I would not knowingly introduce any other than an experimental preacher into my pulpit. I am deeply conscious of my own baseness, ignorance, blindness, and folly; but my malady is too deeply rooted to be healed by dry doctrines and speculative opinions. The blood of the Lamb, spiritually and supernaturally sprinkled and applied, is, I am sure,the only healing balm for a sin-sick soul. "No man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Spirit." And all our knowledge that does not spring from the teachings of that holy and blessed Comforter I must cast aside as a thing of nothing. A childlike spirit, a thinking lowly of ourselves, a panting after God, an insatiable desire after the waters of life, a conscience exercised upon good and evil, a love of the holy Lamb of God, and an abiding affection to His people, I look upon as more satisfactory evidences of grace than a sanctified countenance and a fluent tongue. We live in a day of great spiritual light, but it is to be feared of little spiritual life.
I feel increasingly disposed to turn away from the opinions of men and seek spiritual knowledge at the fountain-head. But, unless a man comes nowadays with a Shibboleth, he is almost set aside as a man of truth. He must use certain words, whether Scriptural or not, must preach in a prescribed manner, as well as with prescribed matter. He must not vary from a certain mold, and if he dares to use his own way of setting forth truth, in his own simple language, and as he simply feels and has felt, many can hardly tell whether he is right or wrong, and the majority perhaps set him down as wrong altogether. I dislike, amazingly, the artificial mode of setting forth truth by which, when you hear a text given out, you know all the divisions and mode of handling it before they are mentioned, and can tell the end of every sentence nearly as soon as you hear the beginning. It smells too strongly of Dr. Gill and collusion to suit me, but some cannot eat the dish unless served up every day in a plate of the same pattern; and, like children, when a differently shaped or differently painted cup comes on the table, cannot drink, as being so occupied with the novelty.
But God will bless His own truth and His own servants, and when He thrusts forth His own stewards, will not send them forth as apes and imitators either of Huntington, Gadsby, or Warburton. They shall have their own line of truth and their own method of setting it forth, and they shall be commended, sooner or later, to spiritual consciences as men taught of Him. My pen has run on, as it often does, according to the flow of my own thoughts.
Believe me, I shall be glad to hear from you your willingness to come. If I did not esteem you as a man of truth I would not ask you, as I feel responsible for the supplies. My love to the Brighton friends.
Yours sincerely, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
February 26, 1840
My dear Friend, George Isbell—I think in writing letters I sometimes feel as a self-justiciary does. Being sensible of my defects, imperfections, and shortcomings in them, I offer or promise to write again, hoping I may then send something better worth reading, yet I fail again like the character alluded to, and then I am almost sorry I ever promised to write. Some such feeling I am now sensible of, and, therefore, hope you will throw a 'mantle of love' over all that you see foolish or deficient.
I felt much the savor in your last letter but one, I mean that containing Mrs. B.'s experience. I hope you will not deny me what I am about to ask, that is, to insert it in the Gospel Standard. I would omit the name, and would leave out all personal allusions, and anything that might painfully particularise you or her. But I mean not only that part which contains her experience, but what you have said of yourself also; of course, omitting everything strictly personal. A free letter to a friend is often far more sweet and profitable than a set piece, however well written, and I believe the private letters of gracious men have been much blessed, as Huntington's, Romaine's, Newton's, etc. Some letters of Warburton's, Tiptaft's, and others have been blessed in the Gospel Standard.
I fear — is an unhumbled man, and mistakes what the world calls "spirit" for gospel boldness and faithfulness. Bunyan in the Holy War represents the ejected servants of Diabolus returning into the city of Mansoul, and hiring themselves as servants under assumed names. For instance, "Covetousness" hires himself under the name of "Prudent Thrifty"; "Lust" and "Licentiousness" under the names of "Gallantry" and "Good Breeding"; "Carnal Security" under the name of the "Assurance of Faith." I don't know that these are the exact names, but such is the idea of this deep observer and graphic delineator of nature and grace. So I think pride and self-importance have hired themselves to — under the names of "Gospel Boldness" and "Spiritual Faithfulness." I dislike exceedingly the bold, arrogant way in which he calls himself a minister of the gospel, knowing, as I do well, how he had previously starved the 'living family', and amused or bolstered up 'dead Calvinists'. I do not say he is not a good man; I do not say he is not a minister of Christ; but in my judgment, I see in him a spirit very different from what I observe in those whom I love and honor as such.
You will find, I fear, your visit to Ireland a painful one. You know what enmity is in the heart against all light which forces the Cross into view. Formerly, when people breathed a word against the Established Church, I felt the bitterest enmity rise up, and I wanted to put them down, stop their mouths, or keep them in any way from broaching a subject so painful to flesh. But still light would break in and work in my conscience. The burdens of a 'liturgy' and the awful lies which I was compelled to tell a heart-searching God, pressed me sore. There was no use my fleeing to this or that explanation. I stood before a holy God, and told Him with lying lips a 'senseless babe' was "born of water and the Holy Spirit", when I knew the blessed Spirit had no more regenerated the child than He had regenerated the font. I thanked Him for "taking a dear brother to Himself", who I knew died under His eternal wrath. But some might say, "How did you know either the one or the other?" "How did I know there was a God at all but by faith in His Word?" and by the same faith that I believed in Him did I believe that His enemies were not His friends, nor 'carnal children' the living members of the true Vine. I twisted and turned every way, but I was here held fast. It is a lie, and the worst of lies, as being a lie unto God. "You have not lied unto men, but unto God" (Acts 5:4); and, therefore, far more aggravated. Let this be laid spiritually on the conscience, and a living man whose heart has been made tender must leave, come what will.
I saw a gloomy prospect before me. My health so weak that I could only preach once a day, with no other service or using my voice, and hardly recovering the effects until the following Wednesday. All my independence, which kept me comfortably, gone at a stroke, and I felt most unwilling to burden my mother, whose income is small. But I cast myself into the waters and found standing-ground. My health after a time so improved that I now stand two full services, rarely preaching each time under an hour, and often to a crowded congregation, with one and sometimes two services in the week, when I preach at least an hour. I found friends raised up, pulpits offered, my needs freely supplied; greater liberty of soul, and more utterance and power. Two years after I left (which was in March, 1835), my elder brother died, almost suddenly, which gave me a little present property and a prospect of more. See how the Lord has fulfilled to me His promise (Mark 10:29, 30). Oh, my unbelieving heart! which pictured a thousand gloomy things never yet realized, as sickness, poverty, and almost a parish workhouse! And here I am better, or certainly not worse, in worldly circumstances, with a free, unfettered conscience, improved health, kinder and more enduring friends, and a much larger field for my ministerial labors. I have been several times invited to settle in London, where I generally go to preach once a year, and should there have a congregation exceeding probably eight hundred persons, and many, if not most of those, not carnal, dead, bowing and curtseying Papo-Protestant parishioners, whose formality and ignorance made my heart ache—but a living, discerning people.
Have I not made a good exchange? an easy conscience for a galled one, liberty for bondage, worship in the spirit for worship in the form, and a living people for dead formalists. Oh, how the Sacrament, so-called, used to gall me! At the head knelt my carnal Pharisaical squire, with his pleasure-loving, God-hating wife, who was so filled with enmity against me that she would never hear me preach. I was compelled to tell them individually and personally that Christ died for them and shed His blood for their sins (I believing all the while particular redemption), of which I put the elements into their hands, saying, "Take, eat this," etc. Lower down knelt a man generally suspected of having once committed murder, and near him the most hardened Pharisee I ever knew in my life, whose constant reply to my attempted warnings, etc., was, "I dare say it be as you say." I was so cut up and condemned that at last I could not do it, and employed my assistant to perform the whole, but then I had to kneel down with these characters, which was as bad; and so I found myself completely hedged in and driven from every refuge, until at last, like an animal hunted down to a rock by the seaside, I had only one escape, which was to leap into the water, which bore me up and afforded me a sweet deliverance from my persecutors.
Lying reports have been circulated that I wish to return, and some that I have actually gone back—but I have never repented leaving for five minutes since I came out of her walls. I am convinced she is corrupt, root and branch, head and tail. . . .
I was long held by the example of others, but what is that? Am I to commit adultery because David so fell; or deny Christ because Peter so acted? "Every man shall bear his own burden." I cannot in death or judgment hide myself under another's garments, as the Papists think of entering heaven in the habit of Dominic or Francis. I stand before Him whose eyes are as flames of fire to search out the secrets of my heart. And what is this poor vain world, with all its gilded clay, painted touch-wood honors and respectability, and soap-bubble charms? What is all the wealth of the Church (falsely so-called), piled up in one heap, compared to a smile of a loving Saviour's countenance? And we must follow Him, not in respectability and honor, with maces and organs, and greetings in the market-place, and "Rabbi, Rabbi," but in contempt and shame, hated by the world, despised by professors, and condemned by well near all.
You will find poverty and wretchedness enough to break your heart in Ireland. What a pity that so rich and fertile a county as Meath should have a population well near famishing! Devonshire peasantry complain of poverty, but what is theirs to Irish misery? . . .
My pen has run on at a great length, and I have much to ask you to excuse. I generally write freely, and, therefore, often foolishly; but, I trust, as sincerely as a desperately deceitful heart permits. You will long to return to your own country and people. There seems in Ireland to be such a conflict between Popery and Protestantism that it nearly absorbs all other considerations. My recollection is, that the outworks were so vigilantly guarded that the citadel was neglected. The heavy blows the Establishment has since received have probably driven in her champions from attacking the Catholics to defend their own emoluments, and united, as in England of late years, parties once quite discordant, as the Evangelical and Orthodox. When parties thus unite to defend a system in the maintenance of which both are deeply interested, it usually detracts from the spirituality of the one without altering the carnality of the other. In my remembrance the Evangelical clergymen (so-called) in England were quite separate from the Orthodox (so-called equally falsely), but they have been united within these last ten years. I had but one pulpit besides my own open to me in the Establishment in my neighborhood, and that was more as an accommodation for the person than love to the truth, as he preached it, and, I believe, knew it not. I and another clergyman, a notorious adulterer, almost a taurus publicus in his parish, were the only people the bishop refused to bow to at his visitation. And did I mind his public slight? No. I saw and felt he was dead before God, and that it was for Christ's sake I suffered reproach, being classed with a man known everywhere for the basest immorality. And now, through mercy, I am free from all their shackles, the iron of which entered into my soul.
Write to me as soon as you return, and give me a full account of your voyage, and how you got on with your host. I have not heard from my sister since I wrote to her. I like much of what you said in your last letter but one. It describes much of my feelings. I insist upon an experimental knowledge of Christ in the soul as the only relief for poverty, guilt, leprosy, bankruptcy, and damnation. This is, I believe, the true way of preaching Christ crucified, not the mere doctrine of the Cross, but a crucified Jesus experimentally known to the soul.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
March 31, 1840
My dear sister, Fanny—Though you might feel your letter was written in a presumptuous spirit, I cannot say that I perceived any trace of it, but thought it, like your other letters, breathed a tone of sincerity and humility. It is well, however, to be of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord, and to condemn ourselves when we feel guilty, for if we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged.
I fully agree with Mr. Isbell that Hebrews 10 and 11 refer not to the elect, but graceless professors; nor do I see any great difficulty in what is said of their attainments, though the language is very strong. I fully agree with you that the saints sin wilfully if by that expression is meant "deliberately." When David wrote to Joab to set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and then witdraw from him, that he might be smitten and die, he certainly acted in the most deliberate manner. Consider his writing the letter, signing, sealing, and sending it off to the camp. What room there was for conscience to work and check his meditated crime! So also when Aaron made the golden calf; what an interval of deliberation was there between breaking off the golden earrings, and fashioning it with a graving tool!
David's numbering of the people, in spite of the remonstrances of Joab, was clearly a deliberate sin; and so was Abraham's, in twice denying his wife. The conclusion, therefore, is inevitable, that as the saints sin wilfully, that is, deliberately, the Apostle in Hebrews 6 cannot mean such transgressions as all saints more or less fall into. My own conviction is that by "willful sinning" the Apostle means willful and deliberate apostasy; and that by falling away (Heb. 6:6) he means falling into open apostasy. For he speaks of treading under foot the Son of God, and "counting the blood of the covenant an unholy thing," and "putting the Son of God to open shame." Now to sin is not "to tread under foot the Son of God," and still less "to count the blood of the covenant an unholy thing;" for when a saint falls into sin, even with his eyes open, when he awakes out of his delusive dream, he longs for nothing so much as to feel the atoning blood of the Saviour applied to his conscience. Nor in the greatest hardness of his heart does he ever tread under foot the dear Son of God, but shudders at the thought. And the Apostle adds even "wilfully" to apostasy, as Peter openly apostatised, but not wilfully, as Judas did. I acknowledge the words of the Apostle respecting the attainments of apostates are very strong, and that there is much difficulty in many of his expressions.
But I think they all may be explained of such a natural work as counterfeits the operations of the Blessed Spirit. It says, for instance, that they were "once enlightened." Now, this may certainly signify light in the head as distinct from grace in the heart. In the times of the apostles there were gifts of tongues, etc., as pointed out in 1 Cor. 12. Now it seems probable that these outward gifts were bestowed upon characters devoid of grace for the benefit of the Church, and therefore Paul (1 Cor. 13) supposes he may have all these gifts and yet be nothing. I think, therefore, that such expressions as "tasting the heavenly gift," and "being made partakers of the Holy Spirit," refer not to inward regenerating grace, but to such outward gifts as were then common. That they "tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come," I think may be explained by their having such an acquaintance with it as amounted to a taste only in the mouth, without an eating, feeding upon, or digesting it. We know there are natural joys in professors, as well as natural convictions, and the power of Satan working as an angel of light upon a deluded heart is amazing indeed. All this may amount to a taste where there is no real feeding on the flesh of the Son of Man.
You will also observe that faith, hope, and love are not once mentioned as existing in such characters, nor is anything said of repentance, regeneration, godly sorrow, filial fear, contrition, humility, or patience. No, the Apostle compares them to earth that brings forth thorns and briers, and is near unto cursing, while he expressly says that he is persuaded "better things, and things which accompany salvation," of those to whom he was writing, plainly implying that such things as he had previously spoken of did not accompany salvation. These "better things" and "things which accompany salvation" are "love" (ver. 10), manifested by its work and labor; "hope" (ver. 11), as an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, entering within the veil (ver. 19); and "faith" (ver. 12), whereby the promises are inherited. These are graces in opposition to gifts. A man may fall from the latter, but not from the former.
Again, if you refer to the connection of Hebrews 10:26, I think it is plain the Apostle refers to apostasy. He says (ver. 23), "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering;" implying there was a danger of letting go even the profession of faith. And he adds (ver. 25), "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together," etc., which it appears many then did, for fear of persecution; and then adds, "For if we sin willfully," etc., connecting the willful sin for willful apostasy with ceasing to hold fast a profession, and forsaking the assemblies of saints. He also adds the pangs of remorse in such (ver. 27), and styles them "adversaries."
Now, to fall into sin, or commit it in a measure willfully, that is, deliberately, is a very different thing from being an adversary of Christ, despising His Gospel (as implied ver. 28), treading under foot the Son of God, counting His blood an unholy thing, and doing despite (literally, treating with insult and contempt) unto the Spirit of grace. The sin of the Corinthian (1 Cor. 5:1) was not so much as named among the Gentiles, and was a complication of adultery and incest. Of course, his taking his father's wife was a deliberate act, and not what is commonly called "a fall." And yet, when he repented after his being put out of the Church, and manifested repentance, he was to be forgiven and comforted (2 Cor. 2:6-8). Peter sinned wilfully when he withdrew himself from the Gentile converts for fear of the Jews (Gal. 2:12), and therefore Paul withstood him to the face, and reproved him before them all. "There is," says John, "a sin unto death" (1 John. 5:16). This, I believe, is willful apostasy, or the sin against the Holy Spirit; but he adds, "There is a sin not unto death;" such are the falls and backslidings of saints. I have here, according to your request, given you a mere sketch of my views on this subject, which cannot be fully entered into without considerable space, and, after all, there are great difficulties in the passages.
I have thought, sometimes, there is a purposed ambiguity to stir up the souls of the saints who need continual warnings of this kind to preserve them from declensions. God preserves all His saints, but He does so by means of promises, precepts, warnings, exhortations, threatenings, dreadful examples, etc., which serve as hedges against their falling away. He does not keep them from falling as a man puts a plate on a shelf, but as a mother warns her child of a deep well in the garden, and not to go too near it. I fear you will not find my exposition very satisfactory, but it may be a clue to further thought on your part.
I have received both Mr. Isbell's letters, and was much interested in his account of his visit to Ireland. He found things much as I expected. The Evangelical clergy are a dark tribe as to any internal acquaintance with the things of God. The little they know is chiefly in the letter, and they are not sound even in that.
I have a high esteem for Triggs. What a revolution that the daughter, wife, and mother of a clergyman should like to hear a poor mason! I am sure, if we have satisfactory evidences that it is a real work of the Blessed Spirit, we may well say with Hart, "Then grace is grace indeed." Oh, who is beyond the reach of sovereign, matchless grace? What a sweet way of salvation! How safe and secure to the elect! If our mother feels her deep need of the Savior's blood to be sprinkled and applied to her conscience, she has every encouragement to cast herself at His feet. Who were farther from God than we in our affections and desires? But He is found of them that sought Him not. It will be a blessed link in the grand predestinated chain that you left Walmer, that barren and icy land, to settle at Stoke, should the Lord's grace and mercy be clearly manifested in the remnant of our family. You are certainly highly favored in having Mr. Isbell at Stoke.
You do wisely I think, to mix but little with those who attend at the same place. To see occasionally a tried and exercised soul is profitable. "Those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another." "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend." To visit the poor, also, of the flock, removes the imputation of pride which is easily affixed to too great seclusion.
You seem to begin to find the believer's path more rough and thorny than you at first anticipated. I have little opinion of those who find it a smooth and flowery road. As Berridge says—"The strait and narrow road they missed, which leads to Zion's hill."
There were little need of promises and such other encouragements as the Word of God is full of, if believers were not brought into such straits and difficulties as to continually need them. Our heart is full of unbelief, infidelity, worldliness, pride, presumption, hypocrisy, and every other hateful sin. Where these evils exist they will manifest themselves, and it is this warfare between flesh and spirit which makes true religion such a continual scene of changes. What deadness is often felt, what darkness of soul, what coldness and hardness of heart, what disinclination, yes, what aversion to the things which belong to our peace! Thus guilt comes in and the conscience becomes defiled therewith, and we cry out, "Woe is me! My leanness, my leanness! Woe unto me! My soul cleaves to the dust; quicken me according to Your word. Will You not revive us again, that Your people may trust in You?" Some of God's people are not exposed to gross temptations. The fortress of their heart is not assailed by storm, but gradually undermined by the slower process of coldness, deadness, disinclination to spiritual things, and a miserable, careless, carnal, worldly, slothful state, which benumbs all the spiritual, faculties.
I am very pleased to hear my brother-in-law is so affectionate to dear Mary Ann, and allows her to go to chapel; and I am very glad she has an inclination to go and hear the word of truth. May the Lord visit her soul with His own rich mercy and love, and that will abundantly satisfy her soul! You must expect to bear a cross if you are on the Lord's side. The carnal mind is enmity against God, and you know from personal experience what dislike and contempt the carnal mind has to dissent; and you well remember what a character was entertained of Mr. Isbell, even by yourself, before you knew the meaning and power of what he preached. You need not marvel, then, if you are despised and hated, as well as slandered and misrepresented. It is the usual lot of those who follow Jesus in the regeneration. Yes, He has promised a blessing on all such reviled and; slandered followers of Himself (Matt. 5:11, 12; John 20:18-21).
Sarah sends her love to our dear mother, yourself, and Mary Ann, in which I heartily join.
Your affectionate Brother,
J. C. P.
My dear James Fowler—I consider it the part of a friend to act as you have done in asking me for an explanation of what you consider me to err in, instead of following the multitude to do evil in spreading my supposed errors behind my back and concealing them to my face.
I am glad you have asked me for an explanation of my meaning, as it allows me to clear up a point on which I think you misunderstand me. What were my words? "There are but two healthy states of the soul—hungering and feeding, etc. All other states are maladies and sicknesses." Is this new or strange doctrine? My friend, what are we by nature but one mass of malady and disease? But this malady and disease are not seen nor felt but by the entrance of divine light and life into the soul. The entrance of these heavenly blessings brings what I may call a principle of health into the soul, which, as Hart sweetly says, "lives and labors under load." And it is the working of this healthy principle, this new and heavenly nature, under the Blessed Spirit's operations, in which the greater part of experience exists. Darkness, deadness, aversion to all good, headlong proneness to all evil, pride, unbelief, infidelity, lust, covetousness, enmity to God and godliness, what are those but maladies and diseases? Sorrow of heart for sin, breathings after God, hatred of self, living desires towards the Lord of life and glory, separation of spirit from the things of time and sense, faith in exercise, hope casting forth its anchor, love drawing forth the affections; these, when felt, are states of health, that is, the healthy man of grace seems for a while (alas! for how short a while!) lifting up his head amid diseases and sickness. Is this inconsistent with sound doctrine or sound experience? You and I would often much sooner read the Examiner than the Bible, and would sooner talk on indifferent subjects with our wives than seek the Lord's face. Is this deadness and coldness, and miserable aversion to all good, health or sickness? I feel it to be my malady, not my health.
But again I feel what a base wretch I am; I hate myself for my base lusts; I sigh after the Lord to come down and visit my soul; I feel a little spirituality of mind, and taste a sweetness in the Word of God. Is this a sick or healthy state of soul? I call my soul sick when sin reigns and rules; I call it healthy when grace more or less predominates. I may use wrong expressions, but you are not one who would make a man an offender for a word.
Now let us come to experimental preaching. Does he preach experimentally who traces out the workings of corruption, or he who traces out the workings of grace in and under corruptions? I believe the latter. You know much of the workings of pride, lust, and covetousness; and you know something of godly fear, self-loathing, and contrition under them. Which am I to enter into? You are dead, cold, and lifeless. Am I to describe deadness, or trace out life working under deadness? Am I to describe pride, or the self-loathing of the soul when pride is discovered? Am I to say to my hearers, "You are cold, dead, hardened, unbelieving, proud, lustful, covetous. All these are marks and tokens of life"? Or am I to say, "Life struggling against death, godly fear leading to self-abhorrence, groans and sighs under a guilty conscience, cries for deliverance, pantings after God, and so on, are marks of life"?
There is a precious experience, and there is a vile experience, and he who would be God's mouth must take the one from the other. I believe that to preach the corruptions of our nature apart from the workings of grace in them and under them is to build up illegitimate children. One is preaching the remedy without ever entering into the malady, thus bolstering up hypocrites and making the heart of the righteous sad. The other is this—to set forth corruption in all its workings towards evil, and leave out the workings of godly fear, in and under corruption. If I feel dissatisfied, burdened, grieved for my wicked and wayward heart and life, the very feeling marks the existence of life. But is a minister to build me up in this, that I am to take deadness as an evidence? Let him tell me to feel and hate myself, for it is a mark of life, and I may get some encouragement. But to tell me that deadness (that is, deadness unfelt) is a mark of life, is a pulpit-lie fit only for the twice dead.
You might write to me that you are quite tired of all religion, that you hate going to chapel, that you rarely pray, scarcely ever read the Scriptures, never feel a sigh or a groan, nor any pantings after Christ. Well, I would answer, I know what you mean, for I am too like you. But do you mean to bring this forward as Christian experience? If you do, you are deceived. For if it be experience, the more of it the better, for we can never have too much experience, and to find it in its perfection I must go to the dead Pharisee or the twice dead professor. But tell me of some revival, of some brokenness, of contrition, of some glimpses of mercy, of some workings of life within, and I will say this is experience, and the more we have the better. I find the experience of the Scriptures that of mourning, complaint, sorrow of heart, pantings after God, hoping and trusting in His mercy. David, in Psalm 51 does not describe the workings of his lust towards Bathsheba, but cries and groans, "Cast me not away from Your presence," etc. If the experience of corruption be good, why should not the practice of it be good too? If to have eyes full of adultery be experience, that is Christian experience, why should not hands full of adultery be Christian practice? But, on the other hand, if to sigh and cry to be kept from evil is Christian experience, then to be kept from it is Christian practice.
What I call experimental cant is this. Professors without life say, "I am so dead, I am so dark, I am so unbelieving." "Are you ever otherwise? Are you resting upon that as an evidence? Is that your state for months together?" I would answer, "Then it is to be feared that you are a illegitimate child and not a son." I once heard a person give a long description of what a proud, covetous, lustful, slothful, rebellious heart he had. Among other things, he said that he never saw a farm, or a nice field, but he coveted it, or a carriage in the streets that he did not want to possess it. This, I suppose, he called experience. I do not; for if it is, Nabal and the rich fool are the most experimental saints in the Bible.
Suppose I coveted Woburn Abbey, and the titles, estates, and power of the Duke of Bedford, would you call this Christian experience? If so, there must be a throng of experimental saints every day in the week that the Abbey is shown. But suppose I were to walk in the park, and feel that I would sooner have Christ in my heart than a thousand dukedoms; suppose under that feeling I panted after Christ as the deer after the water brooks, and suppose that I dropped a penitential tear over my proud, covetous heart that ever coveted such toys, I might call that Christian experience. If pride, lust, and covetousness are experience, then the greatest sinner is the greatest Christian. See, my friend, to what great error, this kind of reasoning leads?
Had this person told us of his covetousness, and the checks, the sighs, the deliverances he experienced out of it, I would have called it experience; but to set forth corruption separated from the workings of grace under it, I call a mistake altogether. Who paints corruption like Hart? But who paints more strongly the working of grace in corruption? I believe the malady is to be described, but never apart from the strivings of godly fear, faith, etc., under it. Why do we preach experimentally? To find out the feelings of living souls and cut off dead professors. But to trace out sin without godly sorrow, guilt, or condemnation under sin, is to preach the experience of the dead, not of the living.
I meant no more than this, and if you have understood me otherwise, it must arise from my lack of expressing myself clearly. I believe I have advanced nothing here in which you will not agree. If there be, I shall be glad to explain myself more fully, either by word when we meet, or by letter. Remember me affectionately to Smart, who, I suppose, is with you. I hope he and you will not set me down as wavering from the truth.
Yours sincerely and affectionately,
J. C. P.
May 12, 1840
My dear Joseph Parry—. . . I am sorry our dear and highly esteemed friend Dredge should be so hurt at my piece on "Strict Communion." [Gospel Standard, May. 1840, p. 97] Did he not always know that I held and practiced it? and what is to hinder my public defense of it when called upon to do so? I did not seek nor volunteer the controversy, but was called upon by name to defend it, nor could I shun it consistently with faithfulness. Will not friend Dredge defend and contend for his views of truth, and am I not at liberty to do the same? I love and esteem him far more than I do hundreds of Strict Baptists; but I am not to love and esteem his errors. And I say deliberately, that were the question ever to arise whether I am to part with a friend or truth, I would not hesitate to part with the former. For truth, hitherto, I have had to part with the kindest friends after the flesh, as well as all my prospects in life, an independent income, good name and respectability. I hope I shall not now be left to swerve from it, even though to defend it wounds kindest and warmest friends. A living soul cannot long fight against truth; its keen edge must sooner or later enter the conscience, and be well assured if there be an abscess anywhere it will pierce it, and let out all the blood and gory matter.
I have felt myself of late very jealous of doctrinal errors, seeing to what consequences they lead, and that they usually are connected with delusion in experience and inconsistency in conduct. It is a mercy to be well guarded by having the loins girt about with truth. Friend Dredge will see by W. Tiptaft's letter that both he and John Kay are of the same mind with us. His opposition produces no unkind feeling in my mind, but it will not move me a jot to swerve from truth. Let him search the Scriptures, like the noble Bereans, whether these things are so. I was forced into the controversy, and being in it was bound to defend the side I believe to be true as well as I could. No, more, I feel disposed to go on with it if needful, and not to shrink from the combat.
I have had an attack of my old complaint, which has confined me to the house, and in great measure to bed, since Friday. I could not preach yesterday. The day being wet, the disappointment was not so great, though some had come fourteen miles. Mr. Morris read a sermon of Huntington's; I am very sure a hundred times better one than I could have preached, but you know reading is rarely relished like preaching.
I shall be glad to have a friendly chat, or rather a series of them, with you. An author is once said to have published a book with this title (that is, translated), "Upon everything in the world and something besides;" I think this might almost serve for a title to our conversation. I could very well wish to pass through London altogether and miss Zoar. It is a trying place to preach in, and I often feel I have no business in the pulpit at all. I was sorry to see the word "anniversary" used for the Welwyn preaching, as I have so often declined preaching at anniversaries, and this lays me open to the charge of inconsistency; neither can it be an anniversary, as it is on a different day from that of last year. Friend — will not find me making baptism a bone of contention, publicly or privately. When attacked I defend myself, and when called upon for my reasons I give them; but I never wish to introduce strife or needless contention. Can friend Dredge say I ever cut him off because he was not a Baptist? Can he say I showed more favor to Mrs. Wild and others? Can he bring forward any sermon, or any speech, in the pulpit or out of it, wherein I condemned the non-Baptists? I believe if I have erred it has been more in the other way. He has, therefore, no reason to say I have cut them off. I have a firm conviction in the matter, one formed before I knew him, and for this belief I have my scriptural grounds. If he can, he is at liberty to overthrow them, but if he cannot, he will do well to follow the advice of Gamaliel (Acts 5:39).
If I went through the world nipping a piece of truth off here, and clipping a corner off there, how many arrows would I escape from others? A faithful man like him should not complain of faithfulness. If he or anyone can with meekness of wisdom show my arguments false, let them do so; but let them beware of opposing truth because it cuts them. I hope, however, he will have some of the mollifying ointment fall upon his eyes and into his heart, and that will set him all right. I am happy that our highly esteemed friend, Mrs. Wild, is not angered by my remarks on strict communion; I am sure she is worth a thousand rotten Baptists.
Kay seems to have wielded the sword pretty freely and forcibly at Allington. But if he cuts off seeking and seekers, what becomes of his experience for a good many years? But, after all, his sword can never cut out that text from the mouth of the blessed Lord, which has been the support of thousands, "He who seeks finds." I believe the following verse is the key to his text (Luke 13:25)—"When once the Master of the house is risen up, and shuts the door," etc. This is spoken of foolish virgins who find, too late, there is no oil in their lamps, of a deathbed natural repentance, and tallies with Prov. 1:24-32. But it was never meant to cut off spiritual seekers and groaners, who put their mouths in the dust, if so be there may be hope. For if so, it would cut off the whole family of God at one time or other of their experience, for all are seekers before finders of the pearl of great price, though in the first manifestation of the only true God He is found by those who sought Him not. But the finding of guilt through the finding of the Book of the Law hid in the temple, makes the finder of a heart-searching God to become a seeker of a Saviour from the wrath to come, and thus these texts become reconciled.
"What comfort can a Saviour bring?" etc., says our great experimental authority. "Oh! beware of trust ill-grounded," etc. Hart will not allow a man to be healed before he is wounded, to be saved before he is lost. What can wounded folks do but seek for healing, and what can lost souls do but seek salvation. To discourage such is to act differently from the great Shepherd, who came to seek and to save that which was lost. Yet to set them down safe as seekers before they find Him of whom the prophets have spoken, Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God, is certainly as great an error on the other side, and this Kay, perhaps, was anxious to avoid, and so, instead of hitting the narrow channel, ran aground on one of the sand-banks, where a buoy had been fixed, but escaped the eyes of the pilot, seeing breakers on the other side of the vessel. Well, all of you came safe to land whom God had quickened, though the steersman pulled the helm the wrong way and drenched all who were heavy laden with doubts and fears. I dare say the salt water made you all cry, "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." The pilot, however, seems for the present to have lost his commission, and another hand has got hold of the helm. May the God of Israel guide his hand and show him the narrow channel, and may he remember he has a precious freight on board, even if one pew could hold all the living souls in the chapel, and I believe there are more than that there. I am glad to hear that the Lord is with him, and that he is so well heard. May the Lord make one heart and one mind to be in us that love His truth.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
July 27, 1840
My dear Friend, William Brown—May the Lord go with you to Stamford and be your Protector. You know enough of the ministry to be deeply sensible that only in the Lord's light do we see light, and only in His life do we feel life. To be a daily pauper living on alms is humbling to proud nature that always is seeking to be something and to do something. "Though I am nothing," was Paul's highest attainment in the knowledge of self. Much pain in wounded pride and mortified self would we be spared were this self-nothingness wrought in us. "Venture to be nothing," says Hart. But it is like a man casting himself into the sea from the ship's upper deck, that he may be buoyed up by an invisible arm. If you can venture to be nothing in your meditated journey it will save you a world of anxiety and trouble.
But proud, vain, conceited flesh wants to be something, to preach well, to make a name for himself, and be admired as a preacher. With all this there is at times a hatred of such base feelings, and a willingness to be nothing that the Lord may be All in all. But doubts whether the Lord will be with us, whether He can condescend to bless such base wretches, and whether we have not presumption enough to damn thousands, will all at times work with earnest desires and breathings that He would bless us indeed, and that His hand might be with us, and that He would speak in us, and by us, and through us, to the hearts of His chosen.
Yours faithfully, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
My dear Friend, John Hards—I have thought that some of those sermons that I preached at Zoar, which I would myself most wish to have been published, were not, while others, in delivering which I felt less favored, have been printed in the Penny Pulpit. I certainly felt my soul opened and my tongue loosed to set forth the various wiles of the crafty adulteress in hunting for the precious life, the last evening that I preached at Zoar [On July 14, 1840; Proverbs 6:26]; but as I cannot now call to mind what I delivered on that occasion, I fear it would be useless to attempt it. I might, indeed, were I so disposed, trace out the workings of this base adulteress; but I could not say it would resemble the discourse I then delivered, except in the general drift. Here the painstaking ministers, who lay out all their discourses by rule and plummet beforehand, have the advantage of us, who are compelled to trust to the Lord for His supplies of wisdom and utterance at the time. The text occurred to my mind as I was getting up on Tuesday morning, and I saw that there was a view of experience in it suited to the occasion, as well as to the daily feelings of living saints. I, therefore, was encouraged to take it with me into the pulpit, and the Lord, I trust, set before me an open door, for He shuts and no man opens, and He opens and no man shuts.
I was certainly gratified at seeing so large a congregation as was then gathered together, more especially as no notice had been given on the previous Thursday of the alteration of the evening to the next Tuesday. Having so many discouragements from my own fearful heart and unbelieving nature, and so much opposition from the professing church, as well as the world, I need occasional liftings up, lest I should sink into utter despondency that the Lord had not called me to the work of the ministry; dark in soul, dead in desires, cold in affections, earthly in appetites, barren in heavenly fruits, and everything but what I wish to be, and I feel I should be; I need many tokens for good to persuade me that I am in the King's highway of holiness, where none but the redeemed walk.
Many think that a minister is exempt from such coldness, deadness, and barrenness, as private Christians feel; and the hypocritical looks and words of many of Satan's ministers favor this delusion. Holiness is so much on their tongues, and on their faces, that their deluded hearers necessarily conclude that it is in their hearts; but, alas! nothing is easier or more common than an apostolic face and a Judas heart. Most pictures that I have seen of the "Last Supper" represent Judas with a ferocious countenance. Had painters drawn a holy, meek-looking face, I believe they would have given a truer resemblance. Many pass for angels in the pulpit, who if the truth were known, would be seen to be devils and beasts in heart, lip, and life at home.
It is our mercy, if we only feel and groan under corruption inwardly, without it breaking forth outwardly, to wound our own souls, grieve the people of God, and gladden our enemies. Let God but take the cover off the boiling cauldron of our corrupt nature, and the filthy scum would surface in the sight of all men.
I am glad you felt satisfied with my refusal to attend the anniversary, to which I was, through you, invited. I see no warrant for them in the Word, but rather to the contrary. "You observe days, and months, and times, and years, I am afraid of you," etc. (Gal. 4:10, 11). They are generally money-getting contrivances, and more fit for apes to play their mimicry at in the pulpit than for ministers of truth to attend. Many places which hate me for the truth's sake are desirous to deal with me as the monkey did to the cat, when it made use of its paw to pull the hot chestnuts out of the fire. I may preach and bring down all the hatred of professors; but as long as I can get a few sovereigns for them, they munch the chestnuts, and abuse the hand that procured them. So I am resolved not to attend such places and seasons unless I well know the people and am certain they are striving not only for the faith of the gospel, but also among themselves to support the cause and pay off their debt. This is the case at Welwyn, where I have preached these last two years. Mr. Huntington, I believe, found that many wished to use him as a means of getting money, who hated his preaching; he, therefore, declined such invitations.
I understand that Mr. W. has declared his renunciation of that abominable error which he held in denying backsliding, but as I have not read his letter to Mr. A., I cannot say how true this rumor is. We feel ourselves to backslide too constantly and too basely every day to deny it. We must give the lie to all our feelings, our sighs, our groans, and our tears, as well as to the Word of God, if we deny the backsliding of believers.
May the Lord smile graciously upon you, and be the light of your countenance. I am, my dear Friend,
Yours affectionately, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
My dear Friend, William Gadsby—I am truly sorry to hear of your serious injury, and wish it were in my power to render you some assistance. Were we Arminians, I could supply you with abundance of precepts and counsel to act faith, exercise patience, and cultivate resignation under your present affliction. But all such counsel you would value at its due worth; and I believe were all the property of Manchester of equal value with such advice, it would puzzle all its accountants to find how much it was worth less than zero. My desire, then, for you is, that you may feel yourself the passive soft clay in the hands of the heavenly Potter, and experience His blessed fingers molding you to His divine will. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without Jehovah, much less the body which lodges the ransomed soul of William Gadsby. But what can old nature do under pain and confinement but murmur, rebel, argue, question, and find fault with the garden walk, and the slipping foot, and the fragile limb, and the splints, and the bandage, and the aching back, yes, and the Sovereign Ruler of all things Himself, who appointed this among the all things that are to work together for your spiritual good.
I have been long searching ineffectually for something good and holy in self, but after much investigation I have been obliged to come to Paul's conclusion—"I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells no good thing." But to be a pauper, and live all one's life upon alms, and they, too, to be rarely given, and usually not before the eyes fail with looking upward, how galling and mortifying to the proud spirit of a rebel! And then to have such long seasons of neither food nor famine, without either begging or receiving; but to be borne down by a heavy mass of carnality and death, well may the soul thus situated cry aloud:
"Needy, and naked, and unclean,
Empty of good and full of ill;
A lifeless lump of loathsome sin,
Without the power to act or will."
Wishing you a speedy recovery from your present state and that the Lord may favor your soul with many sweet visitations from Himself,
I am, my dear Friend,
Yours affectionately, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
September 28, 1840
My dear friend, Joseph Parry—I was sorry that you would think I cut you off so short by sending only a note, but I wished you to write to Mr. Isbell without delay, and thought a few lines would be sufficient. But, indeed, it is now much with my writing, as Warburton sometimes says of his preaching, it seems "going spark out."
* * * * *
My wretched helplessness and beggary were never more painfully felt by me, and my most miserable impotency to all that is good seems to run through all I am and have, all I think, say, or do. I feel, too, more of a bankrupt in the pulpit than, I think, I ever before experienced, and seem to have nothing, and be nothing that is holy, heavenly, gracious, or spiritual. Were I not kept and held in I should feel disposed to run away from the work altogether, so burdensome do I at times feel it to be. But the Lord can and will keep us to the work, whether we will or not. I found this the case at Stadham. I could not leave it, though I wished to do so, and now only wonder how I stayed. I think were I then as rebellious and flesh-indulging as now, I should soon have bid farewell to the damp green, and the miry roads, and the unhealthy village; but, go where we will, we carry with us the body of sin and death. The load of our nature's evil is so unalterably fixed upon our shoulders that nothing but the icy hand of death can loosen it; and were we to sally forth in a fit of rebellion, and rush to the ends of the earth—the old man, with all his diseases, would still be part and parcel of us.
We are continually praying to have the fear of God in our hearts, and this very godly fear causes all our trouble. Had you no inward principle of godly fear you could soon slip your neck out of the collar by filling your pulpit with a parson. My daily and hourly idolatries, sins, and pollutions, my ignorance, folly, and blindness, my pride, presumption, and hypocrisy, my utter insolvency and impotency would give me no pain, and cause no sighs had I no internal principle, whatever it be, which discovers to me these evils, and causes me to feel pain under them. I was thinking this morning of Tiptaft's words, "Lord, grant that we may not sin cheap." If that prayer be answered it will cut us out abundance of trouble; for, as we sin every moment, we shall pay dear for it every moment. A dear bargain costs us sometimes, in earthly things, a good deal of pain and annoyance; but if we are never to sin cheap, our dear bargains, spiritually, will be always causing us pain and sorrow. . . .
Were you to get a minister whom neither you nor the people could hear, and you Allington folks are somewhat nice in your hearing, you would be worse off than you are now. The way to heaven is not to be lined out like a railroad, but traced through all its windings like a path through a forest. I don't know whether I would not sooner hear doctrine preached, than a cut-and-dry experience, so regularly laid out as though the all-wise and wonder-working Jehovah must needs move in a line chalked out by a worm. He never made our natural faces alike, nor created two flowers, nor two leaves precisely similar; nor do I believe that we can find two vessels of mercy dealt with precisely in the same way. And yet there is a blessed family likeness running through all the quickened elect race, whereby all are brought spiritually and savingly to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. Were there not these family features, there would be no use in experimental preaching, and it would no longer be true that, as in water, face answers to face, so the heart of man to man. I hope the Lord may bless Mr. Isbell's ministry to your soul and the souls of the people.
You have probably heard that Mr. Gadsby has broken his leg by falling down while walking in his garden. The church at Manchester has written to me to supply for a month; but the friends here are unwilling to let me go, and therefore I have been obliged to decline. It is feared he will be laid aside three months.
I am sorry to find Mrs. Parry continues indisposed. The afflictions of our wives are our own, and must always be keenly felt by those who have any affection for their second selves. . . .
If farmers were now to have no reverses I hardly know what would become of them. They would ride over everybody's head. Ballast is a very painful thing to carry, but what vessel could sail safely without it? Not the farmers, when the gale of prosperity so swells their sails. But, I doubt not, that you find temporal prosperity is but a poor balm for an aching heart. Guilt and fears of perishing eternally, with the heavy load of a wicked heart, are not to be allayed by wheat selling at forty shillings a sack. But with all your ballast and heavy weight you have not an ounce too much; you would not walk steadily without it. What has kept us both, ever since we knew one another, steadfast to experimental religion, but having so many bruises, wounds, and putrefying sores, which need mollifying with gospel ointment. You would have been long before this satisfied with dry doctrine, if your weights and burdens had not made you feel your need of divine power and heavenly manifestations. Probably you would have been shooting arrows at Huntington as an enthusiast, and at Hart's hymns as of too gloomy a cast, and have been despising Warburton as always muddling in corruption, unless you had had the top of the boiling pot of your own heart lifted off. Were we walking together by the side of your canal I could talk of many things more freely than I can write. Give Mr. Isbell my love and sincere desires that the Lord may be with him. My love to the friends, especially Mrs. Wild, E. Pope, and Mr. Dredge.
Your affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
My dear Friend—I fear if I delay writing much longer, that you will begin to think that I have forgotten my promise to do so altogether. But indeed I feel such a disinclination to put pen to paper, that I often drive off answering the letters of my correspondents until shame fairly compels me to write to them a few lines, and then, perhaps, when I have broken through my backwardness, I feel less difficulty in writing than I expected. Various causes make me slow to write. Sometimes slothfulness, sometimes inability to think, much more to write a good thought, sometimes darkness of soul, so that I can scarcely discern my right hand from my left, sometimes such deadness and iciness of spirit that I have no heart whatever toward one spiritual thing, and sometimes pressure of other business, as preaching, traveling, etc. these and other causes hinder me continually from writing to my friends.
It seems a sad tale to be complaining continually to God and man of our deadness, unbelief, darkness, filth, and pollution. We would gladly soar above these "miry places," which cannot be healed with the waters of the river of life, but are "given to salt," that is, perpetual barrenness (Ezek. 47:11). We would gladly mount upon eagles' wings, and feast upon dying love and atoning blood. We are weary and tired of so much wintry weather, and, finding all the leaves, flowers, and fruit stripped from our trees, compelled by soul feeling, we cry out against ourselves as so perpetually base and vile, so idolatrous and adulterous, so backsliding and prone to err, so unbelieving and unable to do the things that we would. But how could grace be grace, how could it be manifested as grace abounding and superabounding over sin, unless we daily felt our vile body of sin and death? We would be conquerors without fighting, winners without running a race, at peace without ever having been at war, professors of religion without a possession of reality and power, were it not for having such a daily conflict.
I can fancy an ignorant person standing by the seaside, and seeing the sailors bringing ballast on board. "What are you doing," he would cry, "with all that dirty sand, and all those pebbles and gravel that you are putting into the ship? You will surely sink her. She is half-way down in the water already. The first storm will blow her over. She can never sail with all that heavy load on board." Such are the words a landsman would use. But a gray-haired, weather-beaten sailor would say, "Friend, I see you know nothing about the matter. All this ballast and these heavy loads which we put into the hold of our ship make her sail steadily. These very weights are her safety; and, were it not for them, our gallant ship would go to the bottom in the first gale of wind." So spiritually. What makes a Christian sail steadily? Weights and burdens. What makes him contend for life, and power, and feeling? A heavy load in his soul. What makes him separate from dead professors, notional Calvinists, whitewashed Pharisees, painted Arminians, and ungodly Antinomians? Plenty of inward trouble. Not that weights and burdens in themselves can have any gracious effect, any more than the ballast in the hold of a ship can drive her through the waves. But God the blessed Spirit works through and by means of these weights and burdens. They are tools in His divine hands, just as the carpenter handles the axe and the hammer, and so a work is done by them in your soul. What is the saw or the hammer without a skillful hand to use them? There they lie, motionless and useless, on the ground; but the carpenter takes them up, and forthwith brings out a chair. So all our troubles, and doubts, and fears, and sorrows and afflictions do our soul no good, unless the Lord works in and by them, and then they become really and spiritually profitable. Thus guilt makes way for pardon, darkness for light, deadness for life, unbelief for faith, impatience for resignation, and despair for a hope both sure and steadfast, and that anchors within the veil. Salvation, with all its accompanying blessings, is sought for as a divine and revealed reality.
Christ is desired, highly prized, and, when manifested, firmly believed on, because He is felt and found to be a Saviour so suitable to our deep necessities. The teachings, operations leadings, visitations, consolations, and gracious anointings of the Holy Spirit are sought after, earnestly desired, sighed and groaned for, because the needy and naked soul is utterly destitute without them. God the Father is worshiped and adored in spirit and in truth, and the soul is spiritually taught to serve Him with godly fear and holy reverence. The Bible is loved, because so full of suitable food and instruction. The true sent servants of the Lord are highly prized, as messengers of mercy and interpreters of our experience. The children of God are valued and loved, as travelers in the same path, and fellow-sufferers, as well as fellow-heirs of the grace of life. Worldly people are shunned, because their hearts and lives are at enmity with the God of truth. Carnal professors are departed from, because they savor not of the things of God, but the things of men. Secret prayer is practiced, because the soul is taught its deep need of spiritual blessings, and that they are the good and perfect gifts of the Father of lights, who sees in secret.
And what follows all this secret work in the conscience, so far as it is outwardly manifested by the life and conversation? The scorn and hatred of the world, the slanders of false professors, the persecution, where possible, of worldly superiors, the malice of the devil, and the rebellion of our own vile and wicked heart. By these things, as by hard labor, is the heart brought down; and this opens a way for visits from the Lord of life and glory—sips, tastes, and drops of divine favor, and the dewy operations of the Holy Spirit in the soul. There is found to be a power in vital godliness. We feel that we have not followed cunningly-devised fables, and that there is a solemn and abiding reality in spiritual religion, which, when experienced, makes ample amends for all difficulties, risks, losses, crosses, and persecutions. Were the soul always here, we would think it would do well enough. But to go back to the old spot of doubt, and fear, and darkness, and inability, and soul poverty, this seems to dampen all, and be like making ropes of sand, and drawing up water in a bucket with the bottom knocked out.
But when, with all our exertions, we can neither twist the rope nor draw the water, we are compelled to cry to Him who has all power in heaven and in earth, who can let down a cord from above of His own blessed twining (the cord of love and the band of a man), and supply our parched lips with a draught of living water. Our mercies we get by begging, and by begging hard too; and you know that hunger and nakedness make very importunate beggars.
Your cause seems still to stand, in spite of all enemies. I dare say it is often in your eyes, as well as in theirs, feeble enough; but the Lord has hitherto kept you together. May He lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. Give my love to your minister and the friends.
Yours very sincerely, for truth's sake,
J. C. P.
October 28, 1840
My dear sister Fanny—l would feel sorry if you thought that there was any cause in yourself which has made me neglectful of my promise to write to you a long letter. Believe me, that it is not so. The cause is in myself alone. Sometimes other occupations, sometimes preaching engagements, sometimes traveling backwards and forwards to Oakham have been hindrances; but frequent as well as more powerful obstacles have arisen from my own slothfulness, leanness, and spiritual helplessness and inability. The apostle says of himself, "The good that I would do, I do not—and the evil that I would not do, that I do;" and again, "When I would do good evil is present with me." Such were the complaints of this man of God, the highly-favored vessel of mercy and ambassador of peace and salvation. He was not "a saint," in the Popish and Protestant-Popish sense of the word, that is, a man universally and perfectly holy, one elevated, as it were, on a pedestal above human passions and creature infirmities. But he was "a saint" in the only true and scriptural sense—that is, one sanctified by God the Father, and separated in His eternal decree, sanctified by God the Son when He bought him with His own precious blood, and sanctified by God the Holy Spirit when He regenerated him and made him a new creature in Christ Jesus. And one evidence of his being thus sanctified was that he groaned in the body, being burdened. Sin was, in him, an indwelling principle, which continually put itself forth in thoughts, words, and actions, contrary to that new living and holy principle which the Blessed Spirit had implanted. So that, not absence of sin, but the groaning of the living soul under it is the evidence of saintship.
Sin, in our carnal mind, is like the blood that circulates through the arteries and veins of our body. I cannot pierce any part of my body with a pin where blood will not flow from the wound. Nor can I put my finger on any spot of my carnal mind where sin is not, and whence, if pressed by temptation, sin will not gush forth in a larger or smaller stream. And, to pursue the figure a step further, as blood is the element that nurtures our bodies, so sin is the nourishment of our carnal mind. Humbling thought! that what God hates, what made the Son of God bleed and die, what fills hell with miserable beings to all eternity, dwells in our carnal mind, and fills and occupies every part of it. But it will not destroy nor separate from the eternal love of God those whom Christ has redeemed by His blood. "Now, therefore," says Paul, "there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." And he asks triumphantly, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ Jesus?" Not even sin shall effect this separation, nor undo the finished work of Christ upon the cross.
I was sorry to hear of Mr. Isbell's temporal and spiritual troubles. I would think that the anger of the old members of his chapel had a deeper root than that of baptism and strict communion. His faithfulness in turning up the deep corruptions of the heart, and insisting so strongly on divine manifestations, is much more likely to have drawn forth their enmity, and have made baptism and strict communion merely a pretext. It is a tangible thing, and affords them some standing ground to accuse him of departing from their original church order, while to find fault with his faithfulness would be to accuse themselves.
You will, with the rest of his hearers that are attached to his ministry, be glad to welcome him home from Allington. I think it most probable that Mr. Isbell may meet my friend Tiptaft at Exeter, and I hope the interview may be pleasant and profitable. I have not seen Mr. Ireson since he returned from Plymouth, but I understand that he was gratified with his visit. His usual manner is very reserved, and I would think his silence arose more from what he felt in himself than from anything he saw in you or others. When our own conscience points out anything as inconsistent, we easily believe that others see that which we so keenly see ourselves. But their eyes are fixed upon something which we do not ourselves perceive, and which, perhaps, they view as more objectionable and inconsistent than those things which we ourselves feel. A conscience made tender by grace is a blessed gift of God, but it produces daily and hourly matter of self-condemnation.
"The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death." Proverbs 14:27. Snares of death surround and beset our path. Some arise from the world, some from Satan, some from the people of God; but far, far most from ourselves. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life which detects and manifests these hidden snares, and by its bubbling up as a living spring in the heart it brings the soul into the presence of God, and thus strength, wisdom, and grace are communicated to flee them when perceived before fallen into, or deliver our feet out of them when unhappily entangled.
I have read Mr. Isbell's sermon, which he preached at Saltash, and which you sent me. I think it is a very good one.
I am glad that Mr. Smart's sermon was made profitable to you. He has a deep insight into the corruptions of the heart, and of salvation through the glorious atonement of the Lord Christ.
I am sorry that any among you should be stumbled by my delay in baptizing and forming a church. I am waiting for materials before I begin. There are many here, I believe, quickened souls, but hardly advanced enough for baptism; and, as to myself, I believe I could not, with any safety, baptize, as the immersion in cold water for so long a time, and partial exposure of my body to that cold would probably be very injurious to me. But several have expressed a wish to be baptized. I expect Mr. Warburton next year, who will probably be requested to baptize, as he did when here before. To wait does not imply I mean to defer it altogether. A beginning has been made already, Mr. Warburton having baptized two of my hearers when here last year, who would be members of the church when formed.
The formation of a church will bring with it many troubles. Satan will blow the embers of pride and jealousy, envy, suspicion, and contention, and love will be hardly strong enough to endure the flame that will be created. I have found it so painfully wherever I have been. At Allington one of my warmest friends, and, apparently, attached hearers, seems now quite alienated from me on account of my defense of strict communion in the Gospel Standard. I hope never to give up truth, whoever's friendship it may cost me, and to care neither for frowns or smiles in defense of the Gospel. You must expect many hard speeches and unkind words from professors of truth as well as from the world. This we are not at first always prepared to expect, or, indeed, well able to bear. Rebuffs we expect from the world and enemies of truth, but from those who profess to be people of God we as little anticipate unkindness as feel able to bear it. But all these things, however painful to the flesh, work together for spiritual good. They drive the soul more simply and more earnestly to the Lord, wean it from idols, and draw it off from leaning on Assyria or Egypt, finding that to do so is to lean on a broken reed, which runs into the hand and pierces it.
You will find it, I believe, your wiser, safer, and happier course to keep clear of party spirit, and to turn a deaf ear to all the whisperings, surmises, and tales that too often form a large portion of the conversation of the Lord's people when they meet together. Were they to talk more about the Lord and what He has done and is doing in their souls, and less of religious tittle-tattle, they would leave each other's company more profited and edified. We read in Malachi that those who feared the Lord spoke often one to another, and that the Lord hearkened and heard; but this implies that He heard with approbation. I fear, however, that He hears with similar approval few conversations now among those who profess to fear His great name. The exaltation of self seems more the object than the exaltation of the Lord of life and glory. . . . Our united love to our dear mother, Mary Ann and her children, and accept the same, my dear Fanny, from
Your affectionate Brother,
J. C. P.