LETTERS of J. C. Philpot (1858 - 1859)
February 25, 1858
My dear Richard Healy—I was glad to receive a few lines from you, and still more pleased to learn that you were once more enabled to set up your Ebenezer to the love and faithfulness of a covenant God. Amid all our miserable departures and wanderings from the only real Object of our soul's desire, and amid all our temptations and trials, He remains still "the same yesterday, today, and forever." When we get into a low place, and think over our dreadful backslidings, we expect stroke after stroke of chastisement; but the Lord's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways. Hart says—"I expected hell, he brought me heaven".
And so when the poor, guilty, self-condemned soul looks for a stripe—comes a kiss; and for a frown—a smile. But it is this undeserved mercy, this unlooked-for and almost unhoped-for grace, that so melts the soul into penitence, love, and obedience. Oh what poor nothings are we; how devoid of all power, and sometimes of all will, to look unto our best, our only Friend—the blessed Jesus, whom we do love with all our heart and soul, and yet can and do so basely and foully forsake! Oh how I have sinned against and before His blessed Majesty! It makes me weep sometimes to feel how I have sinned in His holy and pure eyes; but all I can do, and that only by His grace, is to look again and again to His atoning blood—that precious blood which cleanses from all sin. I believe you, as Mr. Huntington says, have passed the line; you will no more taste the gall and wormwood of unpardoned sin, but will doubtless have your measure of trials, temptations, sorrows, and afflictions. Without these your soul would soon cleave to the dust, and would seek its home and happiness here in this world.
We were all much pleased to hear of your dear wife's safe deliverance. It is a most trying time for a husband. I can well enter into your trials and exercises about it. We know what we deserve, and feel if the Lord took away the wife, or sent a deformed child, we only have received what we fully merited. But He is better to us than all our fears; He deals not with us after our sins, nor rewards us according to our iniquities. May our desire be to live more to His praise and glory. I hope I am slowly mending, but only slowly. I feel the cross and the separation from the friends. So much illness is a heavy trial and depresses my mind, but I hope I am learning some lessons in the furnace.
J. C. P.
June 29, 1858
My dear Friend Mr. Tips,
I hope that the blessed Lord, who has called you by His distinguishing grace, who has planted His fear in your heart—a precious new covenant blessing (Jer. 32:40), who has convinced you of your lost and ruined state by nature, and given unto you to believe in the Son of His love (Phil. 1:29; Eph. 2:8), is also carrying on His divine work in your heart (Phil. 1:6), and making you fit for the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:12). It is a most rich and unspeakable mercy, that those whom Jesus loves, He loves to the end, and that His sheep shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of His hand. This is the grand security of the saints of God; for their inherent sinfulness and weakness are so great; Satan is so crafty and so strong; sin so powerful and deceptive; and the world so entangling and alluring; that but for the special and unceasing grace of God, they must perish, and concerning faith make sure and awful shipwreck.
But the members of the mystical body, of which Jesus is the exalted Head (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18), can no more perish than He can, for they are united to Him by an act of sovereign grace, given them in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); and thus being constituted members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones (Eph. 5:30), the members can no more perish than their Head. Would you willingly allow the tip of your little finger to be cut off, or to perish of mortification? Would it be a complete body if any member were absent? The high priest under the law was to be "without blemish." He was to have no member deficient, and none superfluous (Lev. 21:17-21). So it is with the blessed Jesus, the great High Priest over the house of God (Heb. 10:21). His body is a perfect body, as set up in the mind of God, as the Holy Spirit describes in Psalm 139:16. Before an architect builds a house or any other structure, he has the plan carefully drawn out in his mind, and then upon paper. While the building is going on, the bystanders have a very imperfect conception of the plan of the architect, and the beauty of the building; but he knows where every stone should be placed, and when the whole is completed, it is but the execution of his original design. So in grace; the church of God is compared to a building (1 Cor. 3:9; Heb. 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5). These stones of which this spiritual house consists are "living stones", that is, stones made alive unto God by His regenerating grace; and by their union and communion with the Lord and with each other, grow up into a holy temple in the Lord, being built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:21, 22).
Amid all the errors that abound, and all the declensions from the faith, experience, zeal, hope, and love of those great and godly men who once formed the bulwark and the glory of your country, it is a mercy that the Lord has yet a seed to serve Him in your native land. Those very universities and schools which were founded for the purpose of becoming fountains of truth, to spread their healing streams over the land, have now become springs of deadly poison and error. It is something like what is described of the star called Wormwood, which holy John saw fall from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and falling upon the rivers and fountains of waters, (Rev. 8:10, 11). When the springs are poisoned at the fountain-head, they must carry death and destruction wherever they flow.
But there is a precious promise given to the believing disciples of the blessed Lord, that if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them (Mark 16:18). Thus while the children of the wicked one greedily drink down the poisonous cup that is filled with the vine of Sodom, and the fields of Gomorrah, whose wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps (Deut. 32:33), the children of God reject the deadly draught, and can only drink the pure wine of His grape (Deut. 32:14). The wise mother of King Lemuel gave her son gracious directions, when she bade him to "give strong drink unto him who is ready to perish, and wine to those who are of heavy hearts" (Prov. 31:6). It is when we begin to feel the misery into which we have been cast by sin, and thus become ready to perish and of heavy hearts, that the pure wine of Gospel grace is suitable to our lost condition. As the holiness and justice of God are discovered to the conscience, and we are made to see and feel the depths of the Adam fall, we look out of ourselves for a salvation which we could not find in our fallen nature, or in our deeply corrupt and unbelieving heart. When then we obtain, by living faith, a view of the Son of God as a Mediator between God and men; when we see by the eye of faith the blood of the cross, and the full and complete atonement which He, as the Lamb of God, made for sin, then we heartily embrace Him as "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). We see and feel that there is salvation in Him and in no other (Acts 4:12); and as this salvation is seen to be worthy of God and suitable to us, as it answers all the demands of God's holy law, and glorifies it by rendering it an obedience as far excelling ours as heaven excels earth and God surpasses man, we embrace it as our justifying righteousness and covering robe, from the eyes of Him who, outside of Christ, is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29).
These doctrines, however they may be neglected or despised, are the doctrines according to godliness, which God has revealed in His Word of truth, and which He makes known by a divine power, to the hearts of those who fear His great and glorious name. Because men of corrupt minds, destitute of the truth, and supposing that gain is godliness (1 Tim. 6:5) have perverted the truth of God, their wicked and erroneous perversions do not at all impair divine revelation. They have not succeeded in polluting God's pure Word, or shutting it up from the people. They may, and do, deceive themselves, and their wretched disciples; but they never can, never will, deceive the elect of God (Matt. 24:24). All who are taught of God will escape their bewitching errors, for to them there is given an annointing from the Holy One, and they know all things. This anointing which they have received from the Lord abides in them; it teaches them of all things, and is truth and no lie, and the effect of it is to cause them to abide in Christ (1 John 2:20 27).
I hope that my dear friend feels more and more his weakness and helplessness, and is enabled to look more believingly and steadfastly to the Lord Jesus Christ. You will never find anything good in yourself, for the Apostle's own testimony is—"I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwells no good thing." . . . As my sermons are often read in congregations where there is no preacher, and as those who know and love the truth are for the most part poor and illiterate, I have to guard against using such words and expressions as are beyond the reach of uneducated people. Being myself an educated man, naturally fond of literature, and acquainted with both some of the ancient and modern languages, I find it difficult always to suit my expressions to my hearers. But I hope the Lord has given me a desire to "condescend to men of low estate", and made me willing and desirous to speak in that simple, clear language which suits all classes, being neither too high for the low, nor too low for the high.
My desire is to exalt the grace of God, to proclaim salvation alone through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ; to declare the sinfulness, helplessness, and hopelessness of man in a state of nature, and to describe, as far as I am able, the living experience of the saints of God in their trials, temptations, and sorrows, and in their consolations and blessings. All this brings with it labor and trial; but I do not know what else we have to live for in this world but to advance, as far as we can, the kingdom of Christ, the glory of God, and the well-being of the saints of the Most High; and if the Lord has, in His providence and grace, called me to the distinguished honor of ministering in His holy name, it should even be my object, as I hope it really is, to proclaim His grace and glory, and to seek so to do it that it may be owned and blessed by God the Holy Spirit to the souls of the saints of God.
I never sought the position in which I find myself placed, and the thought of that is sometimes a comfort to me. My natural desire would be to lead a quiet, obscure life, as I know both the perils and the trials to which a more public and prominent situation exposes a man. Many eyes are upon him to watch his movements—some waiting for good, and some for evil; some as friends, and others as foes; some as "helpers of his joy", and others hinderers, and as far as permitted persecutors, because he preaches a Gospel which they hate.
The struggle between truth and error, free grace and free will, Christ and Belial, heaven and hell, is still going on in this country as in yours; the strong man armed is keeping his palace in many hearts, nor will he give way until one stronger than he comes upon him, takes away all his armor wherein he trusted, and divides the spoils. If we are on the side of Christ, we must expect much opposition from without and from within; many afflictions, trials, and temptations, to prove the reality and strength of our faith, as well as those communications of wisdom and strength out of His fullness, without which all our own strivings are worthless and useless.
It rejoices me to find that there is in Holland a poor and afflicted people who trust in the Lord, and know and love His truth. I have read with much pleasure and interest the prefaces prefixed to the various issues of my sermons, especially one by den Heer A. P. du Cloux, which has given me a greater insight into the character and condition of the people of God in your country, than anything else which I have seen on the subject. In spite of all the miserable Socinianism and infidelity which from Germany and France have flooded your unhappy land; notwithstanding the atheistic influences of the first French Revolution, from which we, as an insular nation, were in some degree preserved; notwithstanding the state of theology in the universities and schools, one cannot but think that a country which produced so many martyrs to the Spanish Inquisition in the time of the Reformation, and has since given birth to such gracious and eminent divines as Herman Witsius, Hoombeeck, &c., cannot be abandoned of God. Nothing can be sounder than your old Dutch confession of faith, or the articles of the Synod of Dort, and you as a nation are blessed with one of the most faithful and admirable translations of the Word of God from the original languages, that any Protestant nation has been favored with. The blessing that has rested upon our English translation is inexpressible; nor is it possible that so great a gift as the Scriptures in the Dutch language can have been given to you as a nation in vain. Though divine matters may be at a low ebb with you as regards spiritual experience and vital godliness, and though schools and universities, professors and preachers, may be enemies to Christ and His Gospel, yet you have as a nation, beyond almost any in Europe, the elements of a gracious revival. You have a large measure of civil liberty, toleration, a free press, an admirable translation of the Scriptures, and a sound confession of faith. You have the memory and example of godly ancestors, whom all the power of the Spanish monarchy could neither daunt nor crush; and you have as their descendants, a scattered people who know and love the Gospel.
How differently are you situated from the neighboring countries of Belgium and France; and though perhaps one is apt to attribute too much importance to one's own labors and productions, I cannot but hail the favorable reception and the large sale that my sermons have met with in Holland as a token for good. For I know who they are, for the most part in this country, who read them with interest, pleasure, and profit, and that they generally are those who know and love the truth of God as applied by the Holy Spirit to the soul. I come before my own countrymen as one known to them for more than twenty years, speaking in a language which is familiar to them; but I come before my friends and readers in Holland as a foreigner, unknown to them by name or character, and having the disadvantage of speaking in an idiom not altogether agreeing with their own. To what then am I, under the blessing of God, to attribute their favorable reception, but to the force with which they commend themselves to men's consciences? I may perhaps here quote the words of Heer A. P. A. du Cloux—"Shall I recommend these sermons? No, they recommend themselves."
I was also struck with a remark in the same preface, that while the poor and afflicted family find the truth in other men's writings, they do not find their life in them, and that is just what they find in mine. My aim and desire have been to put into them, so to speak, the life of God, and the true experience of a living soul; and seeing that many of my readers in Holland have found that life in them, does it not show that they must have themselves divine life to find and feel it there? I also hail with great pleasure the fact that ministers of God's Word in your country have been found willing to translate and recommend the sermons. There is so much miserable jealously in the human heart, that I cannot but think grace must have overcome their pride and prejudice against the writings of a stranger, and made them willing to listen to a voice from beyond the sea.
And now, my dear friend, accept my thanks for your affectionate and welcome letter and
Believe me to be,
Yours affectionately, in the bonds of the Gospel,
J. C. P.
July 23rd, 1858
My dear friend,
I fear that you will almost think that I have forgotten you by not writing before; but you know how much I am usually engaged in writing until I have got the month's Standard off my hands. I take then the opportunity of a few days' quiet and rest down here in this retired spot, to send you a few lines to encourage you, I hope, to look unto and trust in the Lord above. I was reading this morning, at our family prayer, Psalm 51, and was struck with a few things in it, which seem so suitable to the needs and feelings of every sensible sinner; for it is not necessary to have committed David's sin to have a measure of David's repentance and confessions, and of David's desires, breathings, and supplications. "Have mercy upon me, O God", he says, "according to Your loving-kindness." To ask God to have mercy upon us is one of the first cries that a convinced sinner puts up to God. It was so with the tax-collector in the temple—and where it is sincere, God will certainly hear it "according to His loving-kindness", for He is full of love and kindness to poor mourning sinners.
How also he begs of the Lord to "blot out his transgressions according unto the multitude of His tender mercies." As our sins in thought, word, and deed are a countless multitude, of which every one deserves hell, we need "the multitude of His most tender mercies" to blot them out. We may see the stars in the sky, the sands on the sea-shore, the drops of dew on the grass, the waves rolling in upon the beach; but both our sins and God's tender mercies exceed them all. How He showed these tender mercies in giving His dear Son to suffer, bleed, and die for miserable sinners—and how we need all these tender mercies to pity and pardon us and our transgressions. And how earnestly David begged, "Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." It is only the washing of God Himself that can wash us clean. If we could shed an ocean of tears, it would not wash away one sin—but the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. In order to make us feel this, the Lord shows us and makes us feel the guilt and burden of sin, and that we can do nothing to put it away. Pardon must be His own free gift, and that every sensible sinner is made to feel. But David says—"I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me." It is good to confess our sins, for there is a sweet and precious promise that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
You may find it very difficult in your weak state of body to be able to kneel for any length at a time. But the Lord who searches the hearts knows all the real desire of the soul, and can and does listen to a sigh, a desire, a breath of supplication within. He knows our state both of body and soul, and is not a hard taskmaster to require what we cannot give, or lay upon us more than we can bear; but can and does give all that He desires from us. But very often He delays to appear, that He may teach us thereby we have no claim upon Him, and that anything granted is of His pure compassion and grace.
I hope you may be able to say—"It is good for me that I have been afflicted." You might have had everything that the carnal heart desires, and only been hardened thereby unto worldliness and ungodliness. But to be brought down in body and soul, to be weaned and separated from an ungodly world by affliction sanctified and made spiritually profitable; to be brought to feel your need of Christ, and that without an interest in His precious blood your soul must be forever lost—how much better it is really and truly to be laid upon a bed of affliction, with a hope in God's mercy, than to be left to your own carnality and thoughtlessness. Affliction of any kind is very hard to bear, and especially so when we begin to murmur and fret under the weight of the cross; but as I used to tell you when I sat by your bedside, when the Lord afflicts it is in good earnest; He means to make us feel it. Strong measures are required to bring us down, and affliction would not be affliction unless it were full of grief and sorrow. But when affliction makes us seek the Lord, with a deep feeling in the soul that none but Himself can save or bless, and we are enabled to look up unto Him with sincerity and earnestness, that He would manifest his love and mercy to our heart, He will appear sooner or later.
I do hope that the Lord in His own time and way will give you a blessed manifestation of His pardoning love, and fill your soul with sweet peace, so that, compared with it, all affliction will be found light indeed.
We called upon Dr. C. the other day at the hospital, and were with him for nearly an hour. He spoke of you with much interest and affection, and expressed the strongest faith about you that the Lord had begun His gracious work in your heart. You appear to have been laid upon his mind in a remarkable way, so that he feels quite a spiritual union with you. We hope to see him again before we leave town.
I think you would be pleased to see our congregations at Gower Street so large and so attentive. I hope it may please the Lord to bless the word to many poor souls who come to hear from various parts in town and country. The world may despise the Gospel and the people of God; but they are dear to the Lord, and He will one day make it manifest that they are His, when He comes to make up His jewels. May you and I, and those whom we love, be found among their number. Our united love to yourself, R., and the children.
Yours most affectionately,
J. C. P.
September 20, 1858
Dear Mr. Copcutt—l am much obliged to you for the interesting account which you have given of the removal from this valley of tears of both your parents, and hope the God of all grace will give you power to follow them as they followed Christ. Your deceased mother was one of the most remarkable women of whose experience I ever heard or read. I was much struck with one expression concerning her in a letter which I received from one of her family—"That she lived for no other object but the salvation of her soul." The Lord had separated her in a remarkable manner, not only from the profane world, but from the professing world. No doubt she saw the necessity of it, and that it was bearing the strongest testimony against it; but it did not diminish her affection for the real saints of God, or make her less kind and affectionate to her own family. And now your aged father is gone, as we hope, to join her in that blessed land where sin and sorrow are alike unknown, and where the Lord Himself wipes the tears from off all faces.
As you cannot hear the pure Gospel, and have no confidence in the ministers by whom you are surrounded, I think you do well to be separate from them, and follow out your mother's plan and read the Scriptures and the writings of sound authors. You cannot do better than read the writings of such gracious men as Bunyan, Rutherford, Erskine, and especially Mr. Huntington. These men had the Spirit of God, and were taught of Him to preach and write. They had tasted, felt, and handled what they wrote, and so far as we are taught by the same Spirit, we shall see eye to eye with them, and feel a dew, unction, and power attend their writings to our soul. It must be a very trying path for you to walk in, as it must bring down upon your head much reproach and misrepresentation. But if you are favored with the testimony of God in your own conscience, and have some manifestations of His presence, it will amply make up for any reproach that may assail you.
It is a great mercy to keep close to the oracles of God and to a throne of grace, to distrust our own wisdom and our own way, and to seek divine teaching. The great difficulty and snare in standing separate is, lest it should foster a self-righteous or censorious spirit, into which we may easily fall, unless preserved by the special grace of God. You will probably therefore have many deep discoveries of the evil of your heart, and many temptations spread in your path; that you may learn thereby that you are internally as sinful and as deeply fallen as any of those from whom you have felt compelled to separate. When separation is a necessity, as appears to have been the case with your late mother and yourselves, the Lord will support you in it, and give you the testimony of His Spirit. Otherwise separation from the church of God is a great evil, and very much to be dreaded.
Being so imperfectly acquainted with the state of things in your country, I am not able to say how far I myself would walk in that path. It is my privilege and mercy to find here in this land saints of God with whom I can unite, and indeed feel that they are profitable companions, and such as I should wish to live and die with. But if my lot were cast in a land or in a spot where there were scarcely any of the manifested saints of God, I would desire to worship God in my own house, or where I could meet with two or three of the living family, with whom I might take sweet counsel in the things which belong to our eternal peace. It is not separation that will do us any good, unless we have good grounds for separating; and it will be tried over and over again how far our walk in this or that point is consistent with the will and Word of God. Our own conscience, our doubting mind, the word of truth, our great adversary, the opposition of enemies, the suspicion of saints, will all in various ways try those movements which seem different from the usual course of the Lord's family. And as you will have to die alone, and salvation is a personal matter, it will be well for you to consider how far you are influenced by the fear and grace of God, or how far you are acting merely out of respect to your mother's example. You must feel at times your isolated condition, and long for the ordinances of God's house, and especially for the Gospel as preached with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven. I hope the Lord may guide your steps, and seal His own instruction upon your heart.
We hear in this country of what is called the great revival in the United States; but those who know the work of the Spirit have much difficulty in receiving it as the work of God, knowing how much of the flesh there is in these matters, and what error is maintained by those who are first and foremost in such revivals. It will do much if it spread a healthier tone of morality among those who profess to be converted by the grace of God, and lead them to exemplify in their life and conduct the precepts and the practice of the Gospel, which they profess to receive by the power of God. But if it be mere fleshly zeal, it will end as it began, or worse, according to the true proverb as quoted, 2 Peter 2:22.
I am much obliged to you for your kind invitation to visit your country; but there are two insuperable obstacles—(1) My health, which is very delicate, having a tender chest which could neither bear the winter nor the summer of your latitude; besides which, I am a most wretched sailor, and could not, unless compelled by the most powerful necessity, face the storms and waves of the wide Atlantic. (2) The second objection is my numerous engagements in this country, not only as the pastor of two churches, and as preaching to various congregations, but as conducting The Gospel Standard. But I am equally obliged to you for your kind invitation, and though personally unknown, respect and esteem you for your dear mother's sake, and your kind liberality to the saints of God. I am much interested in the Aged Pilgrims' Friend Society, as I believe it affords relief to many saints of God—some of them personally known to me, and others by report. I have received two contributions from Australia, so that even distant lands concur in sending help to the saints of God in this country, as they did in Paul's time to the saints in Judea.
Please to present to your sisters my Christian regards and affectionate respects, for their parents' sake as well as their own, and accept the same from,
Your sincere and obliged friend,
J. C. P.
September 20, 1858
For such I call you, though personally unknown; yet I trust we know by grace the same things, and therefore in that sense are known to each other in the things of God.
From your letter, you seem to have passed through a great deal of trial and temptation, but it has all been for the good of your soul—and I doubt not that you would not have one thing altered, when in your right mind, but can bless God for all your afflictions and trials, as well as your deliverances and manifestations. It is a great thing to know both sides of the question—both law and Gospel, misery and mercy, condemnation and salvation, trial and deliverance, the ups and downs, the ins and outs, of Christian experience; for "by these things men live, and in all these things is the life of my spirit" (Isa. 38:16). Without trials and afflictions, we soon settle upon our lees, and get at ease in Zion. The heart grows cold toward the Lord, prayer becomes a formal service or a wearisome task, the ministry of the Gospel is little prized, the Bible little read, and the company of God's tried people little sought.
On the other hand, if there is no sweetness in the things of God, no dew upon the branch, no heavenly light and life felt within, no access in prayer, and no visitations of the Lord's presence, religion becomes a very heavy burden, and the soul gets peevish, rebellious, and fretful, like a hungry child or a babe weaned from the mother's bosom.
I am, Yours in the best Bonds,
J. C. P.
November 20, 1858
My dear Mr. Parks—I am much obliged to you for your kindness and courtesy in sending me your pamphlet upon Chastisement. I like it very much, and think it is a very clear and faithful testimony against that error which I fear is making great and fearful progress.
Controversial writing is at times as needful for the church of God as that which is more purely doctrinal and experimental. Each has its distinct and peculiar advantages; for truth requires to be set forth in its purity, experience in its divine reality, and error and heresy laid bare in all their naked deformity. Most errors have in them a dash of truth. The potsherd must be covered with silver dross, or its earthen nature would be discovered at once. But the grand deception is to draw natural inferences from Scriptural premises—which inferences are distinctly opposed to Scriptural conclusions. Thus, for instance, the carnal mind draws this inference from the blessed truth of salvation by grace—"Then the more I sin, the more will grace abound", which conclusion is the very logic of hell, and as distinct from that drawn by the spiritual mind as Belial from Christ. So, because the advocates of non-chastisement see in the Word that God has put away all the sins of the elect in and through the blood of Christ, they logically but erroneously infer that God sees in them no sin to chastise. Horrible conclusion!
Of course I cannot altogether sympathize with you in your present position; but I am glad to think there is any one in the Church of England who preaches truth and opposes error.
I am, dear Sir, yours very sincerely,
J. C. P.
January 4, 1859
My dear friend, Joseph Parry—Since I last wrote to you I have been very unwell; indeed, I have been confined to my bed for the last ten days. . . .
One thing is certain, that all who are journeying heavenward are passing more or less through a path of trial, suffering, and exercise; and I need not tell you how the weak and coward flesh shrinks from the weight of so heavy a yoke. I find it often difficult to know what good I get from the cross; and you know there is such a thing as grinding a fool in a mortar. I hardly know at times whether I am that fool who has been so often ground, or whether I have learned anything to profit. But I think I can say this; if I ever have learned anything worth knowing, or got anything worth keeping, it has been through the furnace. That is the place where no self-righteousness, vain confidence, or fleshly faith can stand. They are like putting a piece of lead into the fire, which melts as soon as it feels the flame. But truth, salvation by grace, the blood of the Lamb, and the work of the blessed Spirit upon the heart, will stand the hottest flame, and shine all the brighter for it. I feel much convinced in my own mind that nine-tenths of what is considered to be religion is worth nothing; and I believe that you have come much to the same conclusion. How many forms, rites, and ceremonies, which are thought so highly of, sink into rottenness and death when they are viewed in the light of the Spirit; and perhaps an opposite temptation springs up, which is to think almost too little of the means.
My illness has very much thrown back my meditated publication upon the Sonship of Christ, and I hardly know when I shall be able to take it up again. A good part of the address was written in bed, and most of the sermon No. 22, which has just come out, was revised there also. I understand that they have an increasing sale, and that the publisher has been obliged frequently to reprint the back numbers.
Our friend — would tell you how many of the ministers who have been thought men of truth are entangled in the error of denying the eternal Sonship of the adorable Redeemer. How much we are sunk into the state which Mr. Huntington foresaw as coming upon the churches—and those who live will probably see matters get worse and worse. To deny vital fundamental truths is the first step to apostasy; for when men get indifferent to the truth of God, and view vital truths as mere opinions, the next step from this indifference is to depart from them; and as they go on, they get from bad to worse, until the truth is altogether given up, and error after error greedily drunk in.
There are two things for which a child of God should cry most earnestly; one is to be kept from evil, and the other to be preserved from error. Some are more tempted to one, and some to the other; but both are equally dreadful traps of Satan, and indeed I hardly know which is the worse of the two; but how we see in the New Testament times the prevalence of both in the churches! See what characters there were as drawn by the pen of Jude, and again what erroneous men as depicted by the pencil of holy John. Now I believe we have just such characters in the churches, only they are covered over with a decent profession. What need we have to be ever upon the watch-tower, to be studying the Word of truth, and to be begging of the Lord to give us His Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, to make and keep our conscience alive and tender, and grant us everything which is comprised in the prayer of Jabez. With every kind wish for the New Year,
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
February 4, 1859
My dear friend, John Grace,
We shall be glad to see you if you can contrive to give us a look-in by the way; but should have been better pleased if you could have contrived to have given us a week evening at the chapel. I believe our friends love real experimental truth. In fact, what else can really satisfy a soul which has been made alive unto God? How many, alas! in our day seem to amuse themselves with religion; instead of its being their most weighty concern, to which all others must be subordinate. But the fact is, that the natural, legal conscience wants soothing into quiet like a fractious child; and religion in some shape or other is taken as a kind of tonic to quiet the uneasy babe. There are very many whose consciences would loudly remonstrate against having no religion, for as some are born poets, others musicians, others artists, so many are born religious; and these turn as naturally and as instinctively to religion as a person born with an ear to music takes to playing a musical instrument. It would be a great mistake to call such persons "hypocrites" in the strict sense of the word, as they are to a certain extent sincere and do not put on religion as a mask to deceive others. It is of these people that the great mass of hearers in all denominations is composed; and when, from various causes, such embrace doctrinally the truth, they take their standing among professors of the doctrines of grace. But all this while their heart and conscience are untouched by the finger of God; no spiritual life has been communicated to their dead souls, nor has divine light penetrated into their consciences. In one sense they are the most hopeless of hearers, for they are accustomed so to hear everything which convicts or comforts the child of grace with an unfeeling heart, that they seem almost beyond all conviction.
How we are brought by everything that we see without, or feel within, to be deeply and firmly convinced that salvation, with everything which that term embraces or implies, is wholly of free and sovereign grace! The helplessness, the ignorance, the unbelief, the darkness, the carnality, and death of the heart of man, as sensibly and inwardly felt, preached to us in a way that no preacher can match our case and state by the Adam fall. And as the precious truth of God is opened up and applied to the heart by a divine power, there is a pulpit, and more than a pulpit, within, which proclaims the beauty and blessedness of salvation by grace, that touches every secret string of the conscience. Every minister who hopes to be made a blessing to the church of God must know something of Paul's experience, 2 Cor. 4:13. It is by possessing the same spirit of faith which dwelt in the bosom of David and of Paul, that any minister can be useful or acceptable to the Lord's family.
I am glad to find that the Lord continues to be with you at Brighton. I have always viewed it as a very important place, and we have reason to believe the Lord has many of His dear people there. Sussex has been for many years a highly favored county; but you justly observe that men may hear the truth preached in its purity for years, and yet if the Lord does not apply it to the heart, it has no real entrance, and men will readily turn away from it to error or empty sound.
I hope the Lord will be with you in your journeys.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.
June 18, 1859
My dear friend, John Grace,
It is a great pity that those who are opposed to 'believer's baptism' should have taken such high ground. It is very rarely that I feel my mind led to say anything upon the subject. Not that I do not hold it with a firm hand, but because my mind seems taken up in preaching with matters so much more important, and in which the life and power of godliness consist. The people of God, especially those who are tried and exercised, need some solid food for their souls, and many of them come very much cast down by temptation and sorrow. Such people need to hear something that may be as a blessed balm to their hearts, and everything but Christ and His blood in the blessed power and experience of them to their souls is viewed by them as worthless.
Ordinances are good in their place, but let them not occupy that pre-eminence which nothing can claim but the Savior and His finished work, and the teachings of the Holy Spirit by which He is made known.
J. C. P.
July 22, 1859
My dear afflicted friend Mrs. Peake—I sincerely desire to sympathize with you under your truly distressing bereavement, and hope that the Lord may support your soul in this season of grief and sorrow. When I saw your poor dear husband in town, I could scarcely indulge a hope that his life would be spared. Still I could not have anticipated his removal from this valley of tears so suddenly as it has pleased the Lord to take his soul unto Himself.
I do not pretend to offer you any consolation in this most distressing hour, as I know that grief must and should have its way, and that nothing short of the immediate support of God can bear you up under your load of sorrow. You may say with Job—"The thing that I greatly feared has come upon me." And when I recollect what I have seen you to feel in the anticipation of the event, I hardly dare paint to myself your feelings under the dreadful reality. Still, all is not unmingled grief and sorrow. You have a sweet persuasion that he is safely landed in that happy spot where he has often longed to be. Our dear friend, Mrs. Keal, mentioned in her letter the words which he spoke to you in the night, and I hope that the sweet assurance which they conveyed may impart a balm to your troubled spirit. You did not indeed need any such testimony, as you knew well the ground of his hope. Yet it was a ray of parting light, and as his poor mind seemed to have been allowed to lose its balance, it was a great mercy that he was enabled to leave a dying testimony, to which you will be enabled sometimes to look, in sweet confidence that he entered the open heaven which then seemed revealed to his eyes and heart.
I do hope and pray that the Lord may support you under this most heavy trial, and make it a most gracious means of bringing you nearer to Himself—that He may be Himself your Husband, according to His promise.
Your most affectionate Friend,
J. C. P.
September 6, 1859
My dear friend, John Grace—I thank you for your kind letter and offer to take a number of copies of my meditated little work on The Eternal Sonship of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am sorry to say that my mind has been so much taken up with preaching and traveling, that I have not been able to give it that attention which it requires before I can send it forth. A subject of such importance requires great quietness of mind, seclusion, prayer, and meditation, which I cannot give it when wandering about on the King's errands. I must return to the quietness of my own home, and get my mind, with God's help and blessing, into a frame suitable to the subject, as I wish to enlarge what I have already written, to digest the materials more thoroughly, and to arrange them more orderly than I have yet done. Writing is not altogether like preaching. I often take my pen in my hand and cannot write a single line. The spring does not rise, and if this be not the case, the stream cannot flow. There is no use forcing the subject. It must come freely into the mind, and flow freely from the pen. Unless some savor or unction attends what is written, it will never touch the hearts of God's saints, and there will be a lack of freedom in the communication itself. On such sacred subjects, great caution and holy wisdom are needful, and a close adherence to the very words of inspired truth, or some expression may be dropped contrary to the mind of the Holy Spirit.
I was glad to learn that you had been so well heard in Berks and Oxon. There are many gracious people in that neighborhood, and I think that I had on the 28th, at Abingdon, one of the choicest congregations that met together anywhere that day, for we had a gathering of the Lord's people for many miles in all directions. I have been a long time from home, all July and August; have seen many people, and preached to large congregations. There certainly is a great spirit of hearing in many places, but I fear that vital godliness is, for the most part, at a low ebb. It is rather difficult to reconcile the two things, as a spirit of hearing is generally connected with life and feeling in the soul; and I cannot doubt that there are many saints of God up and down the land, though one finds few whose souls are much favored and blessed. . . .
J. C. P.
October 3, 1859
My dear friend, William Brown—I desire sincerely to sympathize with you under your present heavy trial, especially as I have had myself some experience, both of bodily affliction, and also of being laid aside from the ministry. At the same time I cannot but concur in the prudence, and I might add, in the necessity, of the step which you have taken. Both you and Mrs. Brown have long suffered from the malaria of Godmanchester, and have clearly proved its injurious effects, by being so much better in health when removed from its noxious influence. It is not then a sudden whim or fancy, but unhappily a sad fact, against which you have struggled again and again with the same result.
Illness and weakness of body, we well know, are in themselves heavy afflictions, and when to them is added trials of mind, it is laying on a load at the very time when we are least able to bear it. At the same time, the very feeling of the people at Godmanchester shows a most sincere attachment to you. They could not bear to lose you, and were therefore angry, both with you and the assigned cause for your departure. The air which they had breathed from infancy might be health to them, but death to you. The very atmosphere (Southport, Lancashire) which you are now inhaling with pleasure, and I hope with advantage to recruit your health, would not at all suit me, as I found three years ago the northern air was too chilling for my chest. But I well know how apt we are to make our own feelings a standard for others.
But enough of this. I do most sincerely hope that you may soon be restored to your beloved work, for I am sure that you will feel being laid aside to be a heavier trial in reality than it appears in prospect. You will see the importance and the blessedness of the work, as you scarcely ever saw it before; the weight of the ministry will rest with heavier pressure upon your mind, and like Jeremiah, you will feel a fire shut up in your bones, which would gladly find vent. You must not expect to be favored with many such Lord's days as the first that you spent at Southport. Murmurings and fretfulness may arise in your mind at being laid aside, and when you look round and see the ministers of Satan full of health and strength, and you who would gladly speak in the name of the Lord laid aside, it may stir up many hard thoughts and unbelieving reasonings why it should be so. I do hope that the Lord may enable you to open your mouth, if not so fully or so widely as you could wish, yet with a sufficient testimony that He is with you in the work. There are, I believe, many little 'causes' in Lancashire where, when your health is recruited, you may speak. But the Lord knows best what to do with us.
The lines which you quote from Milton's sonnet, I have often thought of, for they are most expressive of the posture of a Christian. I have thought sometimes that ministers of Christ are too much engaged in spending without getting—and I am well convinced that so much preaching is not good for the soul, unless the Lord be in a very special manner with the preacher. We have to receive before we can give; and if there be no reading, meditation, prayer, waiting upon the Lord, and passing through trial, exercise, and temptation, and being supported and blessed in and under them, there will be nothing, as it were, laid up in the heart to come out of the mouth. It is this lack of reading, meditation, and spiritual exercises which makes the ministry of the day so lean, and to wear out so soon, and become a mere irksome series of unprofitable repetition. I do hope that the blessed Lord will in this affliction be pouring into your soul the riches of His grace, that you may see more and more of the beauty and blessedness of the Lord Jesus Christ, be led more and more into the fullness and depth of God's truth, so that when you come out of this furnace, it may be like gold purified in the fire. The friends both here and at Leicester testify to the sweetness and savor which attended your testimony in your last visit at both places. Oh, it is by these things that men live, and in all these things is the life of our spirit! Our coward flesh shrinks from afflictions, but they are our best friends, and we learn nothing truly profitable but in and through them.
J. C. P.
October 31, 1859
My dear friend, William Brown—I still desire to sympathize with you in your present painful trial, and if I can do so better than some others, it is because I have had some experience of it, both in body and in mind. I remember feeling once so much the cares and anxieties of the ministry, as to wish I had never opened my mouth in the Lord's name. But soon after this I was laid aside for some months by illness and great bodily weakness, and then I felt that the cares and burdens of the ministry were preferable to being laid aside from it; for if there were trials in it, there were also secret blessings. But in all these matters the Lord is a Sovereign, and does not consult our wishes or feelings, but His own glory, though at the same time, with all that wisdom and grace which shine forth so conspicuously in His blessed character, He overrules these trials to our eventual good. To use Mr. Newton's figure, the mower is not idle when he is sharpening his scythe, though he is not cutting down the grass; and so the Lord may be sharpening your scythe, though at present you are not mowing the field.
It is with the soul as with the body. When we are asleep, and even resting after dinner, we are only gathering up strength for renewed exertions; and we know that our success and power in the pulpit depend much upon what we are out of it. If there be no prayer, no reading, no meditation, no exercise of mind upon the things of God, there is nothing gathered up which may be drawn out of the heart and mouth when standing up before the people. A rainwater tub, a tank, a pond soon become exhausted; but a brook, a river, a springing well, ever keep flowing on. And so, where the life of God is in the heart of a minister, it will not run itself out, but like the well of water spoken of by the blessed Lord, will spring up into everlasting life.
You must not think then and I hope that Satan will not tempt you to believe, either that all your work is done, or that you are doing nothing by being laid aside, I sincerely hope only for awhile. As you sit upon the shore, looking out on the ever restless sea, and inhaling the breeze which you find so beneficial, you may be secretly lifting up your heart to the God of all your mercies, and be deriving strength and consolation out of the fullness of the incarnate Son of God at the right hand of the Father. His eyes are ever upon the righteous, and His ears open to their cry; and He knows the way that you take. I need not recommend you to cast all your care upon Him, as He enables you to do, and beg of Him to do that which seems good in His sight. He can raise you up and strengthen your frame, which no doubt has been much debilitated by your long, long residence in the malaria of Godmanchester; and though the effects of the present change may be slow, they may not be less sure. I believe the damp air and soil of Stadham, where I was for nearly seven years in the Church of England, has affected my health up to the present hour, and therefore I know what injury a bad climate may work in undermining strength, or rather weakening the body so as to lay it open to the attack of other diseases.
I hope the Lord may guide you in this matter, and give you the wisdom which comes from above. I am, through mercy, pretty well, and still hobbling on in the work of the ministry.
Yours very affectionately,
J. C. P.