Church Street, Paddington, May 17, 1798.
Beloved of God, elected according to his foreknowledge, and predestinated to the adoption of daughter, preserved in Christ Jesus, and shortly to be called to the fellowship of him, W. H. S.S. sendeth greeting.
THE divine teaching of God is wonderful, and unaccountable to the children of men, as nothing is more debasing, nothing more confounding to worldly wisdom and natural prudence. Alive we are without the law, and sin is dead; guilt benumbs the conscience, sin in its true colours is hid, and the bare commission of it banished from both mind and memory. In this state of insensibility, or spiritual death, we flourish like grass, and adorn ourselves with an external form of godliness, to gain applause, till in our own eyes we appear like the flower of the field. But God's voice says, "Cry;" and the echo is, "What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever," Isai. 6. Under the motions and operations of this heavenly wind thou now art, my daughter; this scripture is now fulfilling in thee. God hath sent it on thee, and the effects of it are produced, and producing daily.
This wind is sovereign, it bloweth where it listeth; thou feelest the effects, and with mental ears hearest the sound thereof; and so must: and shall every one that is born of the Spirit. This wind, that bloweth, is to wither both the grass, and the goodliness thereof, which is compared to the flower of the field. Under the cutting convictions, the reproofs, rebukes, and quickening operations of the Spirit, we pine, sink, wither, and die to all the vanities of this world: . our souls can no longer feed upon mirth, pleasure, evil imaginations, the lusts of the flesh, nor the pride of life; and, as we cannot feed upon these vanities, we cannot grow nor flourish in them; nay, the sweet stolen morsels that we have eaten we now wish to vomit up, for the remembrance of them becomes grievous to us when God smites us, and a sore burden to the soul that God wounds: being dead to sin, we cannot live any longer therein. Hence carnal company becomes a sore plague, and past follies a heavy burden the goodliness of this flower of the field fades also. Every intellect is impaired, shattered, wounded, puzzled, perplexed, and confounded; so that neither reason, nor all the light of nature, can form the least judgment of our case and state, nor give the least account of the change and wonderful operations that have taken place. Natural and acquired abilities vanish, and leave the sinner as a poor senseless idiot. Recollection, memory, and understanding, fail: absence, reserve, and pensiveness, possess us; and lonely retreats and silent solitude suit the gloomy and dejected sinner best. And here it is that we lose all our forms and outward show of godliness. The anger of God enters into our conscience, guilt and sin are stirred up, and all false hopes give way, and down we go; for self-righteousness is no breastplate, no defence, no armour proof, against the wrath of God, the curse of the law,. the sting of death, and the fiery darts of Satan. Thus all the goodliness of this poor flower of the field withers when the Spirit of God bloweth upon it.
When God, by the teaching of his Spirit, hath thus made our wisdom foolishness, and stained the pride of all our glory, he goes on with his own work upon us, but keeps us altogether in the dark about it, till he sets things to rights by his own presence. "I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight: these things will I do unto them, and not forsake them." Thou art now in this path, and one of the blind ones that God is thus leading; and it is a way that thou knowest not, being "the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it." But, by the help of my God, I will point it out to thee. David mentions it thus: "God be merciful to us, and bless us, and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations," Ps. lxxii. 1, 2; and Solomon hints at it; "The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath." Many labour hard who never find this path; "The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city," Eccl. x. 15. Nor is the light of nature sufficient to guide him; every one that follows that taper is sure to be wrong at last; "There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death," Prov. xiv. 12. This is the way to life by keeping the commandments of the moral law, and always seems right to the natural man; but, as the law cannot give life, so this way must end under the sentence of death; and they obtain the curse instead of the blessing; "Their portion is cursed in the earth; he beholdeth not the way of the vineyard," Job xxiv. 18. This is the way of the fool, which is right in his own eyes, Prov. xii. 15. But the ways of God differ widely from this. Hence the charge, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord: for, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways," Isai. lv. 7, 8, 9.
The path that leads to God, and the way in which he leads his children, is hid from all living, nor can it ever be discovered but by the light of the Lord's countenance. "There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture's eye hath not seen. The lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it: it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the 'fowls of the air," Job xxviii. 7, 8, 21. The prophet Isaiah quotes this passage of Job, and makes the ways of God, which lead to heaven, a little more plain than Job did. "And an highway shall be there, and a way; and it shall be called the way of holiness, the unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon; it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there,"' Isai. xxxv. 8, 9. But then what is this highway, and the way? The highway is Christ; and the way, which shall be called the way of holiness, is regeneration. "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me," John xiv. 6. This is the highway that leads to the Father. This is the way cast up, a highway prepared for God's people: "Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway, gather out the stones, lift up a standard for the people, Isa. lxii. 10. And the way that shall be called the way of holiness is regeneration;" Then answered Peter, and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye which have followed me in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel," Matt. xix. 27, 28."Of his mercy he saves us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost;" and he that overcomes shall sit with Christ on his throne, even as he overcame and is set down with his Father on his throne.
Thus have I shewn you the highway, and the way. And now for a short explanation. Those that receive Christ in faith, and walk in him, or by the faith of him, and not by sight, are in the highway to the Father; for we have access with confidence to the Father by the faith of him; every believer in Christ, therefore, is in this highway. And "he that loveth is born of God,. and knoweth God." Regeneration removes our carnal enmity, and draws the heart to love God above every object in heaven or earth; and to walk in love, as Christ hath loved us, is to follow the Lord in the regeneration; and such shall end their days in endless glory, for charity never faileth, it is the more excellent way; and all profession is nought without it, 1 Cor. xii. 31. And now put this highway and a way together, and it amounts to this, "Faith which worketh by love," Gal. v. 6. Into this way the Lord is now leading thee, and it will not be long before thou wilt descend into the valley of vision, Isai. xxii. 1; then he will make darkness light before thee, and crooked things straight; and then thou wilt read all that he hath written upon thy heart, and unriddle all that he hath done for thee. Lie passive in his hand, however confused or confounded; and remember this, that the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err in that way: - how can they; when God himself leads them? and it is the blind that he leads; nor shall one led of God fall into the ditch.
Was I in thy place I would not go to hear preaching at all; for thou wilt not find one interpreter among a thousand who can explain the impressions of God on thy soul, ,Eccl. vii. 28; Job xxxiii. 23. And, when God delivers-thee, thou wilt find it as I did I told "the vision, but none understood it," Dan. viii. 27. I would give my mind to lonely solitude; and read, confess, and groan out, my troubles, burdens, and desires, before God; who will hear the groanings of the prisoners, and will up at the sighing of the needy. But, as for any ministry that cannot point out your case and state, and by which God doth not search, try, and discover thine heart, that ministry will be of no use to you; but it may stifle convictions, and lull into carnal security, which is much to be shunned and feared. Read this epistle over every day, and the Lord will communicate some light by it; and forget not that life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel; nor is there any thing in us that is not made manifest by the light which doth appear; and this light is now making manifest the counsels of thy heart; and will ere long shine in the face of Jesus. Let me know how you go on. God will bless the correspondence.
My love to Mr. H. Adieu, thine in Christ Jesus,
W. H. S. S.