LETTER I - TO THE SPARROW ALONE.
Beloved in the Lord Jesus,
BELIEVING in my heart that the good hand of God has been revealed in you, and that his providence is observed by you; and having long had a most intimate acquaintance with, and a most cordial affection for, your lovely family, to whom I have reason to believe God has made me in some measure useful; and knowing that you are stationed at a distance from the main stock of the family, and in a barren land, where no water is; and being too remote from the breasts of consolation to pay attendance at the nurseries; I have determined with myself to send these displays of divine providence to you, hoping, under God, they may supply that lack of service which the distance between you and Bethel forbids in the common course of the ministry.
I know that neither you nor yours are, or ever were, reduced to such a state of indigence as myself; nevertheless, the long acquaintance that I have had with you, and the soul-union I have felt in your company, together with the pious grief I have seen manifested by you in others calamities, and your joy of countenance at the report of their deliverance, convinces me of the certain indwelling of a spirit of love and meekness in you, enabling you to weep with them that weep, and to rejoice with them that rejoice. In this confidence, and with these motives, I send these things to you, hoping they will be neither unpleasant nor unprofitable.
Moreover, as I have kept no diary of one single providence, and have nothing to trust to but a treacherous memory, which seldom refunds what is intrusted with it, especially mine, which begins of late sensibly to fail, unless it should please God to bring back what has elapsed for more than sixteen years; I am more inclined to pen the matters down in epistles to you, than to sit down and write a volume off hand, because I shall have more opportunity between the times of writing to consider and recollect the facts; besides, I can redeem time for an epistle, when I cannot for a large pamphlet. What I request, my beloved friend, of thee, is to lay them up carefully, and together, as I send them, in case they should, in some future period, be called for to be scattered from the press.
Among all my acquaintance in rural life, I know of none whose mind is so free from incumbrances and whose heart is less engaged and less entangled in the affairs of this life, than yours, and therefore you are the more at leisure to attend to and to keep this charge. And as you acknowledged to me that you gained ground in the path of life by retirement, reading, meditation, and prayer, I hope these remarks will add strength to your feet, prospects to your sight, encouragement to your hope, and divine love to your heart.
WHEN I laid the foundation of the chapel I was twenty pounds in debt for the necessaries of life; and when I had finished it I was in arrears 1000 pounds more; so that I had plenty of work for faith, if I could but get plenty of faith to work: and while some deny a providence, Providence was the only resource I had. I had 47 pound per annum ground-rent, and almost 50 pound per annum for interest, a large chapel, and a small congregation; and those who lent me the money a poor, industrious people, and weak in faith, being but young in the ways of God; and there were plenty of hypocrites in Zion to tell them that all who had a hand in that chapel would burn their fingers. If God sends Moses and Aaron to preach, Satan sends Jannes and Jambres to oppose: and it Zerubbabel and Joshua begin to build, Sanballet and Tobiah are raised up to discourage them. And here I must bring in a circumstance which is truly laughable: A gentleman who had for some time frequented Margaret-street Chapel, and to all appearance he was a very penitent hearer, as he was generally bedewed with tears; but whether they were tears of misery from a sense of sin, or tears of gratitude from a sense of pardon, I knew not: but I have been convinced since that they were neither. This good gentleman came to us when the chapel was in building, and hearing the builder say that he should want some window sills, and some columns to stand in the cellar to support the ground floor, he generously offered his service to go into the country to buy them, as he had formerly been in the wood way himself. This kind offer was gratefully accepted; and another gentleman offered him his horse to go on. He accordingly received his orders of the length of the columns, the size of the heart at the small end, and that they must be the ground ends of young trees, able to support the weight they were intended to bear. So off he went, and in a day or two returned, and informed several of my friends that he had saved me three pounds by the journey; which to me was something considerable. Soon after his return the timbers came, but by no means fit for the purpose they were designed, being only the limbs of large oaks, small, and not one straight among them, the builder appearing disgusted at them, he ordered the carter to reload them and take them home to his own house, which he accordingly did. The builder then went over the water and bought a fine, large, straight stick, at the price of nine pounds, and intended to cut it into proper lengths, and quarter it; which, when our kind friend saw, he got a cart and brought his materials back again, and threw them down on the premises, which rather hindered than helped us. He then delivered the bill to me, which, to the best of my remembrance, was five pounds seven shillings, which, with the three pounds that he had saved me by the bargain, made them worth eight pounds seven shillings. I offered to pay his bill, and to make him a present of the timbers if he would accept it, but he would not, nor could we use it; so that this good man's favours became a hindrance rather than a help. At last I resolved to have them valued, and sent for a timber merchant, who attended me to value them: he valued them at two guineas; but thinking the gentleman might undervalue them through partiality to me, I sent for an entire stranger, who was a timber merchant also, and he fixed their price at forty shillings. Upon this my good friend took the materials away, and for this price he sold them, clearing much less for himself than he saved me. But to return to my subject. These were the difficulties I had to surmount; and for three years together I lost ground, for Satan waylaid me in a path which I knew to be charity. My bowels were moved to extricate from debt a man that I took to be a fallen saint, nor could all the inward checks God gave me stop me from embarking in this good work, though I had many. He cost me forty guineas; and when God unmasked the hypocrite, then I saw where the inward caution came from. Three chapels were opened about the same time not far from mine, and one set up an additional lecture, in order to keep the sheep from straying; but the inward anointing taught me that by these means I should see more clearly the hand of God, for where there is no opposition there is no salvation; and where a multitude of hands are employed in one work, it is not so easy to see the distinguishing approbation of the employer. I must stand alone, and work alone, that I might not say a confederacy, nor rely on human aid. Paul's companions all forsook him at Nero's bar, that by him the preaching might be fully known; for Paul's doctrine was immediately from Christ, but theirs mediately from him.
After this blank of forty guineas loss, another borrowed three more, and another ten pounds, neither of which ever paid a mite again; and soon after thirty pounds were demanded for the follies of my youth, and another thirty pounds for rent for the chapel I had left, and thirty guineas more for a law-suit about a little meeting-house for which I had collected forty pounds to build at Sunbury, in Middlesex. All these blanks, at three years end, set me down just where I began; and all this time my income was only twenty-five pounds per quarter, and my children at one time nine in number. This sailing against wind and tide not only tried the faith of the debtor, but it exercised the faith of my poor creditors also; for, if I could not get on, they must go back; nevertheless, most of them exercised more patience than I could, mouth I could do no more than just keep the interest paid up. At length God enabled me to put out several little books which were almost universally exclaimed against, both by preachers and professors, and by these means God sent them into all winds; so that I soon rubbed off one hundred, and soon after another, so that in a short time I had reduced my thousand pounds down to seven hundred. The booksellers, in general, would neither countenance nor circulate the works, being influenced, as I suppose, by some of their employers. But, as the workman began to be known, so the works spread; and what some despised others admired; and the doctrine that starved the self-sufficient fattened the poor in spirit. People who attend my ministry, coming from various parts of the country, often bought them, and sent them down among their friends. By these means they made their way where I was not permitted to go myself. But it often happened that where they came the preachers warned the people much against them, which frequently excited the curiosity of some to read them; and, if they found any thing in them that suited their cases, they judged by the unction they felt. They are calculated, in some measure, to suit the earnest inquirer; the soul in bondage, in the furnace, in the path of tribulation, or in the strong hold of Satan; and I have heard of them from Wales, from Scotland, from Ireland, from various parts of America, from Cadiz in Spain, from Alexandria in Egypt, and I believe from both the East and West Indies: and, as they fell into divers hands, I accordingly received various reports. Many vilifying and scurrilous letters from different parts; and, to counterbalance these, many letters of blessings to God, and thanks to the author; which, put together, make it to be the good old beaten path; through evil report and good report, as deceivers and yet true. Beloved, farewell.
Thine to command.