Feb. 4, 1803.
Dearly beloved in the Lord,
FELLOW soldier, and fellow invalid; fellow sinner, and therefore fellow sufferer for sin; I am at this time closely pursued with a troop of harbingers, all loyal and staunch to the king of terrors; I mean an assemblage of the infirmities of old age. But let us bless God that all our strength has not been exhausted in the drudgery of Satan. Grace has changed our hearts, and divine power has made us willing to come over to the royal standard; and, though we have cut no great figure in military prowess, yet they that are not against us are on our side, says the Captain of our salvation.
Noble warriors, and the feeble infantry; those that go forth to the battle, and those that abide by the stuff; all that favour his righteous cause, and those who are in alliance with him, have their muster in the book of life, and are enumerated in the camp of the saints. But, as for poor me, this winter has tried me not a little; and I am ready at times to conclude that I shall never be able to stand another campaign. But is there no portion or inheritance in our father's house? Yes, both a mansion and a pension; and, when the last enemy is conquered, (and that conquest must be gained in weakness) a man hath no "power over the spirit, to retain the spirit, neither hath he power in the day of death; and there is no discharge in that war;" Feel. viii. 8; but the crown awaits it. - "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." In this last onset only the feeble can go to the wall; on the soul the second death can have no power. But the stronger will help the weaker; a man's spirit will sustain the infirmities of the body. These are both united; and yet the fall of the one is the rise of the other; the' outward man decays, but the inward man is renewed day by day; death works in the one, and life in the other.
But what is the armour for this last conflict? -
First, the shield of faith; "I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." Hold fast this shield, for "he that believeth shall never die," only sleep in Jesus. This shield purifies the heart; Jesus is a fountain opened, and his blood cleanses from all sin. "O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin:" but "God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
2. The breastplate of an imputed righteousness. Christ's obedience to the law justifies many, and justifies from all things. By the imputation and application of this the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, though not by us: "The strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
3. A good hope. This is an anchor of the soul in crossing the river Jordan to the heavenly country. "The righteous hath hope in his death;" and, as the anchor is sure and steadfast, so the vessel is secure and safe.
4. Peace with God through Christ. "By sin came death." Death is sin's undertaker, and an enemy to us. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." But, being conquered by Christ's resurrection, he has lost his power as a king, and is reduced to a state of servitude to the saints. "All things are yours," whether life or death. Death is a porter to set at liberty the prisoners of hope, and to put a final period to the war in the members. "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; the end of that man is peace."
5. But who is to make our bed in sickness? God says he will. Love is the best pillow, faith in Christ's arm the best support, and submission the softest feather. King of kings is the Lord's name, and right and righteous is his sceptre, and therefore he will swallow up death in victory. "The Lord is my ,Shepherd, I shall not want." He is and must be faithful to his crook, in leading his flock out of one pasture into the other. He gives grace and glory, the latter of which is as sure as the former. - "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me;" thy kingly sceptre and pastoral rod shall feed, protect, and deliver me. As a sheep of such a Shepherd, I cannot perish; as a loyal subject of the King of kings, I cannot be conquered. It is faith's business, and her last act of kindness, to close the eyes to this world, and all beyond is open vision. "These all died in faith." By her persuasion we have lived in hope upon things not seen, of which faith is the substance and evidence. "We are saved by grace, through faith."
Faith's end is our best beginning; "receiving the end of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
Thus, my friend, I am come before hand to anoint thee to thy burial. In this I have done what I could, for most likely I shall be gone when this work is to do. About the time you had the gout I had a fit of it, which lasted for some time. At Lewes it began to swell, and since my return it has got into the extremities, so that it is going off apace. I have had a good deal of fever with it, inward heat, heart burning and heart rising; and I had hard work to keep it from breaking out about the mouth. And now I long for a little new wine, and wish I could obey Paul, "Drink no longer water," the waters of Marah; "but a little wine, for my stomach's sake, and for mine often infirmities." I believe this is good for the present distress, both in your complaint and mine; but, as it is more precious than rubies, a drop must suffice. Ever yours,