LETTER VI - TO THE SPARROW ALONE
Dear Friend in the best of bonds,
You may say of me at the reception of this as Joseph's brethren said at the sight of him, "Behold, the dreamer cometh;" for the ensuing contents were prefaced with a dream. I one night dreamed that I was in a garden in company with another person, but know not who that person was. This garden was some part walled, and some part of the wall was in ruins: some parts of the garden were cultivated, well cropped and planted, and the plants were in a very thriving condition. Other parts were undug, very foul, and covered over with various heaps of rubbish, and with many old slabs of oak timber thrown about; and on these uncultivated parts I saw a vast number of large black toads, as big as a Jersey croppo: I was not in this ground as an idle spectator, but as a labourer, digging, planting, &c. I got hold of a tool resembling a gardener's edging-iron, and advised the man who was with me to help me in killing these reptiles; and we both laid about us like madmen; and I saw that I laid the back of every one open that I struck at; and as we were killing these I saw others creeping away, some under the old slabs, and others in among the old bricks which lay in the heaps of rubbish: and, having killed all we saw, I said, Now let us dig, and clear away all these parts where the toads lay, and let us sow and plant them: and when we have done that, then we will fall upon the others we will turn over a slab at a time and kill all we find, and then we will have at them that are hid in the rubbish. To this we agreed, and to digging we went; but labouring, as I thought, exceeding hard, I awoke myself, and behold it was a dream. Mr. Jermain, at Paddington, and Morgan, one of my pew-openers, were that morning brewing for me, and to them I told the dream, but none of us could make any thing of it.
It came to pass soon after this that a gentleman from Plymouth-Dock came to town, and who often attended my ministry during his stay: and before he departed he wrote me a very kind letter, inviting me to preach at a meeting at the Dock, to which himself and some of his family belonged; and gave me to understand that he thought they had the gospel tolerably clear preached to them. This I considered; and, having formerly had various invitations to go to that part of the country, signed by many persons, I was inclined to go; and I have no doubt now but it really was the mind and will of God that I should go. But being sometimes much put to it to get a supply in my absence, and the good man's letter intimating that he thought the preacher they had was sound in doctrine, and useful in the work, I thought it best to agree with the old gentleman's request, to let their preacher come up and officiate for me in my absence: and this was agreed on, and I took my journey. But, previous to my going down, I had been much grieved and exercised in my mind at seeing the rapid progress of the sentiments and rebellion of Tom Paine; and especially when I saw some simple God-fearing people much leavened with it.
Never did I see so evil a spirit so rapidly spread before, and I hope I never shall again: many of the poorer sort neglected all business, and all care for their families, till they brought death into the pot. And many of the real children of God, when they saw that whole families and crowded societies were all moved as the trees of the wood are moved, and that many ministers in the pulpit, and swarms of hypocrites in the pews, were carried away with it - it tarnished not a few in the simplicity of the gospel; and the image of Christ began to be sadly defaced in many; and instead thereof sprung up self-conceit, worldly wisdom, high notions of equality, and a thirst for revenge against all that differed in sentiment from them. Many professing people, as well as others, began to meet together in companies to read the wisdom of Tom Paine, till the strongest union was cemented among them by disaffection to others: wherever it came it preyed upon the very vitals of godliness: filial fear, tenderness of heart, conscience before God, timidity in prayer, self-diffidence, humility, meekness, watchfullness, quietude, peace, diligence in business, zeal for God, and fervour in devotion,, seemed to have forsaken many; and not a few that my soul loved were sadly fermented with this leaven of malice and wickedness. Satan cares not what we strive and contend about, so that we do not strive at the strait gate, nor contend for the faith of the saints. When I saw what a hand the devil made, and the advantage he gained by trading with Tom Paine, my soul was grieved, and my zeal inflamed against this monopoly of Satan, and God filled me with power and might by his Spirit to oppose it; and the further I went on in it the more the word of God opened to me, until he was pleased to shew me whereabouts in his word this trying hour stood.
Much displeasure did I incur at this work: some (like the Galatians) who would formerly have parted with their own eyes for me, now viewed me as their greatest enemy for enforcing the dearest truth; not a few hissed like a viper in the gallery, while I was insisting on obedience to him that bruised the serpent's head, About this time I published my sermon on "The Books and the Parchments," and this exasperated many still more, till one would have thought that the former cry of Hosanna, was now changed into that of, Crucify him, Crucify him. But God's servants have a better foundation than either the testimony or the applause of men. I was open the rock long before either their applause or reproach fell upon me. The Jews rejoicing in John's light added nothing to his grace, and their changing their minds and calling him a devil never altered his complexion: "What God doth it is done for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it; and God doth it that men might fear before him," Eccl. iii. 14.
In the midst of this bustle, and under this cloud of displeasure, I set off for Plymouth-Dock, and the preacher at the dock came up as a supply in my absence. The man was an entire stranger to me, and so he remains still, for to this day! do not know him. When I came to the place I heard that there had been a division and a sub-division among the people, which I never knew till then; and during my stay there I had various reports from those of my own chapel, some greatly disgusted at his doctrine, and others as much admiring it; but before I left the place I heard very disagreeable things from a real friend of his own, who was compelled in point of conscience to divulge what he did. This sent me home with a heavy heart; and at my return I saw a wonderful blaze, but I was sure the coals were never taken from the altar of burnt-offering; they were zealously affected, but not well. Wild rant and empty oratory, moving the corrupt affections of depraved nature, produced all these sparks; and many poor souls walked in the light of this fire, and in the sparks that they had kindled; but the light of this flame burns no longer than the audible accents of the orator operate, it all dies before the hearer can reach the threshold of his door; and at a dying hour, and at the midnight cry, the very remembrance of it shall vanish: "Walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled; this shall you have at my hand, you shall lie down in sorrow." Isa. 1. 11. I had all these briers and thorns to cope with: "And surely the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear, and they shall be utterly burnt in the same place," 2 Sam. xxiii. 6, 7.
When I insisted upon fire from the altar of burnt-offering, and that it appertained to the tribe of Levi, or to them that were joined to the Lord, to burn incense, this brought the whole company of Corah upon me; and, if I enforced obedience to rulers for conscience sake, this stirred up all the disciples of Tom Paine. And now I had need be made a new sharp threshing-instrument, having teeth, to thresh these mountains, and make these hills as chaff; in order to fan them, that the wind might carry them away, and that the whirlwind might scatter them, that those that were left might rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the Holy One of Israel, Isa. xli. 15, 16. And by the good hand of our God upon us we saw every word of this prophecy exactly fulfilled; for as the thresher went on the vermin hissed in the mow, the chaff flew like smoke out of the chimney, while the pure grain fell not to the ground, but under a spirit of meekness consolidated together into one heap, and the rest were scattered in the imagination of their hearts, and soon after not less than fifteen were in their graves. While it pleased God to continue me at this work of threshing, the Holy Ghost spoke these words to my heart: "Shall not God avenge his own elect? A word spoken in due season, how good is it?" Prov. xv. 23. I thanked my God, and took courage still to labour at threshing the mountains, expecting more wheat as soon as the chaff was gone; for I had not a single doubt but I should still "prophesy upon the thick boughs." In this I was not disappointed of my hopes, nor were my expectations cut off; for, when the floor was purged, those that were scattered sent for this new standard-bearer up, with many promises of fidelity. But those who are false to the true riches are never true to the unrighteous mammon, for they abode less time under him than they did under me. And sure I am that this work was of God; for some few among us, who were much looked up to as something more than men, were now looked away from as being less than nothing; others, who had some exalting notions of their own self-sufficiency to tread out the corn, set up a prayer-meeting, as an introduction to the pulpit; but, not succeeding in this, "with shame they took the lowest room:" while many poor honest souls, who could read only the Bible before, now learnt to read men; and not a few, who long had appeared all meekness and placidity, lost that garb, and the envy in their bosom never suffered them to put it on again. In this storm I had a five-hundred-pound debt upon the chapel, and many, filled with envy, prophesied that I should carry that burden to my grave; but all men know not he thoughts of the Lord. I one day, sitting in my chair in the chapel, asked the Almighty what I had done to these men, wherein I had misled them, or whom I had wronged? And the Spirit of God answered, "When they shall make an end to deal treacherously, thou shalt deal treacherously with them," Isa. xxxiii. 1. And so it fell out, for not a few acted the part of Sanballat and Tobiah; when they grew weary and ashamed of hindering the work, turned about and offered to assist in building: but there is little trust to be put in men whose hearts are not fixed trusting in God.
But time fails, I must therefore take my leave of my dearly beloved friend, with my best wishes attending these scraps; and, as you seem pleased with them, and are no great admirer of money, the postman will, in all probability, call for another eighteen pence, as soon as my head and my hands can collect materials for another packet, which in time will bring you to live by faith, as well as
Your humble servant,