Epistles of Faith
William Huntington (1745-1813)
Winchester Row, July 18, 1785.
I HOPE this epistle will find you in a better state of health than I left you in, and heartily wish that the Almighty may sanctify the affliction for the good of your soul. I received your letter, and have carefully perused it, and. remain quite unconvinced of any of those evils you charge me with. My long silence was not occasioned by the consideration of your letter being unanswerable far from it, for as it contained no scripture proof, it consequently had no weight with me; in this matter I would answer with pious Job "How forcible are right words! but what doth your arguing reprove?"
As to my exposing my pedigree in the book of my conversion, which you are pleased to style wickedness, ignorance, and a thing unreasonable, I think God himself hardly stands clear of this your charge; for he exposed the pedigree of Solomon's father and mother to all the world, if the world would read the Bible; and I assure you it was a point of conscience with me, "And why am I judged of another man's conscience?" God made Solomon's pedigree of great use to me in my distress, and he may make my pedigree of use to others in distress also; and for my part, I see nothing in it to displease chaste Christians: it may indeed be offensive to some carnal professors, who have forfeited all the honour God has conferred on the honourable state of wedlock, by defiling the marriage bed; but then, a minister of the gospel is to use his liberty in the gospel, without standing in awe of such as these.
As I published to the world my spiritual troubles, and the sharp discipline that God brought me under, I thought it was my duty also, to let the world know my base original, and wretched life, that the world might see that God afflicteth not willingly, nor grieveth the children of men without cause, but that it is sin that he visiteth with the rocs, and iniquity with stripes, even in them that are the objects of an eternal affection, Psalm lxxxix. 32. And this is so far from being unreasonable, that it directly falls in with the connected chain Of Festus's reasonings, who I suppose you will allow to be a very nervous logician; for he insisted upon it before king Agrippa, that it was a thing that seemed unreasonable to him, to send. Paul the prisoner to Augustus Caesar without signifying the crimes laid against him, Acts xxv. 27. But that after Agrippa had found out Paul's faults, if he had any, Festus might have something to write. And it appears to me as unreasonable to send an account of God's severe chastisements into the world, without specifying the crimes that procured these things to these that fell under the rod.
The charge you lay against me of using a borrowed language in my writings, stands on so weak a basis, that it may be blown away with the wind of a sparrow. Your letter that now lays before me, has not a word in it but was borrowed; you were not born a grammarian any more than I; nor was you born with any language at all; for had you been trained up from your infancy among the Arabs, you would doubtless have spoken Arabic; and if I had been trained up from five months old in Paris, I should have muttered something like French.
But if your wealthy father had got his hundreds to spare, and put you to school at a great expense, to learn other people's language and words, this gives you no licence to reflect on the poverty of my progenitors; for it is God that maketh poor and maketh rich; he therefore that despiseth the poor, reproacheth his maker, Prov. xiv. 31. But if I, by the dint of hard study and observation, am enabled to cope with you, my study and observation rather merit your praise than your derision. However, this charge of yours has no more weight with it, than that of the Jewish Rabbies against Christ, "Whence hath this man all these things, seeing he never learned letters?" And the Saviour's answer may justly be turned on you, "Whatever I speak, therefore. even as the father said unto me, so I speak."
But alas! when men, and especially professors of religion, begin to turn their backs on the Bible, (which is the only true basis of all sound reasoning,) and launch forth to establish their logic on what they got from the schools, the weakest scripturalist, if experienced in the power of truth, may soon overturn all that they can establish; for he that reasons from God, is sure to lose himself in a labyrinth, and leave all his arguments floating on the surface of confusion. God is the only centre where every line of argument may be drawn, and the only fountain of wisdom where all doubts may be dissolved, all controversies end, and the only foundation where every distressing thought about our state can be established. He that reasons with truth on his side up to God, is sure to end well; but he that pursues his argument from the centre, is sure to make a ridiculous finish. This is loudly proclaimed by the writings of the atheists and deists, who have drawn all their lines of creation from God, down to such a ridiculous fancied mass of gendered, or compounded atoms, as will leave to all enlightened posterity an everlasting reproach upon that paradise of fools; and I think the skeleton of a cabbage, properly dissected by an army of caterpillars, is sufficient to rebuke such carnal reasonings both with respect to the creation and government of the world; for they leave every vein of the cabbage leaf centering in one stock, and are all at the command of God; for the caterpillars are called an army, raised, sent, and mustered by God himself, Joel, ii. 25. Nor do they return till they have accomplished that for which they were sent, as appears by the former quotation; God that sends them can only drive them away; and for my part, I should never care to head that army which God opposeth, if his host consisted only of a hive of bees; for such a regiment, which is never unarmed, if commissioned by God, would be sufficient to rout the most formidable host of men that ever combined together. God's hornet put-the land of Canaan into confusion, and a band of locusts, and a troop of frogs, made all the land of Egypt cry for quarters.
The other charge you bring against me for speaking against the form of prayer, and for not using the Lord's prayer, is nothing new; I have had enough of that from other pharisees but you have not brought one scripture proof that contains any sentence against me for that crime, nor does the Bible afford you one.
It appears plain to me, that Abel had his sacrifice to look to, when he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts, and by his faith he has still a voice in the word of God.
Noah had both his altar and sacrifice to look to, when he called on the name of the everlasting God.
Jacob had his anointed pillar, and his Galeed to look to, and here he was commanded to go and build an altar to God, who answered him in the day of his distress.
Moses had the pascal lamb to look at, and by faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the first-born should touch them.
Israel had the passover, Moses the mediator, and Aaron the priest, set before them, which were all eminent types of Christ. And when they came into the Holy Land to engage in the battles of the Lord, they had Joshua the son of Nun to look to as a saviour, and captain of the Lord's host, whom the Gentiles called Jesus.
The Israelites afterwards had the judges to look to, such as Jephthah, Gideon, Samson, Samuel, &c. And in David's time, they had the ark, a throne of grace, and a gracious king to look at, all types of Christ. And in Solomon's days they had the temple to look to, where all was commanded to look that felt the plague of their own hearts; and here Jonah looked from the whale's belly, and here Daniel looked at the expense of the lion's den. And it is plain, that both Jonah and Daniel received the promised blessing by looking there; and all these types now centre in the one great antitype Christ Jesus, who is called the sacrifice, the altar, the pillar, the witness, the lamb, the mediator, the priest, the captain, the saviour, the ark, the judge, the king, the temple, the mercy-seat, and the veil: and it is to him alone we must all cast our eyes, if we would look for redemption in Israel; "Look to me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and besides me there is no saviour."
I find that the greatest advocates for the Lord's prayer, are those that appear to be destitute of the spirit of God, and of all people they are the last that should use it; it is the spirit of adoption that cries Abba, Father; and he who is a stranger to that spirit, only compasses his maker about with his lips when he calls God his father; and the Saviour's words are applicable to him, "You are of your father the devil."
However I am no judge over you; but as I cannot find Christ in any covenant character in the Lord's prayer, I take it for granted that it served the disciples for that time, while the Saviour, the substance of all the above-mentioned shadows, was with them; but they were to see him as their altar, priest, and sacrifice, offered up upon the cross; and after that, they were to receive the Spirit through him, and to offer up their spiritual petitions through the same mediator by whom they received the spirit of prayer from on high; and to this agrees the Saviour, "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my name," though ye have often used the prayer that I taught you, yet "hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name; and in that day ye shall ask me nothing," as ye have done; "Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you;" though ye have used the form that I taught you, yet "hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. These things have I spoken to you in proverbs; but the time cometh, that I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but shall shew you plainly of the Father; at that day ye shall ask in my name."
And I believe the disciples did as Jesus commanded them, when the Spirit of prayer came upon them; for they prayed in Christ's name, and spake as the Spirit gave them utterance. Nor can I find in all the Bible that they ever used the Lord's prayer after the Holy Ghost came upon them. The Lord's prayer served them very well while the mediator was personally with them, and one of the company; but when the Saviour was exalted at the right band of the Father, he then sent forth the spirit to testify of him, and to teach them that he was an object of prayer as well as the Father. "He is thy Lord, and worship thou him." Or if they asked of the Father, it was to be in his name. I have said nothing in all this against the Lord's prayer; I have only assigned my reasons for not using it.
I believe it to be the most compendious and comprehensive set of words in the whole world; and he must be a Christian indeed, in spirit, practice, and principle, that uses it; or else, as I said before, be will act the part of Ephraim, compass his Maker about with lies. Your asserting that there is the Saviour's name in the Lord's prayer, in "Our Father," Christ, being called the everlasting father, is very weak. To go to God the father, in the name of the everlasting father, is an odd way of expression, and has nothing in it respecting the mediatorial office of Christ. The mediator respects chiefly his manhood, whereas everlasting father respects chiefly his godhead. "There is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus." The new and living way of access to God, is consecrated through the veil, that is to say Christ's flesh, Heb. x. 20; and he that goes to God any other way, whether he uses the Lord's prayer, or men's prayers, goes to God as a fool goes.
For my part, I can say the Lord's prayer, being so used to it formerly, with my lips, while my heart and thoughts are all over the world; and I suppose this is sometimes the case with you; and if it is, though you do honour God with your lips in saying the Lord's prayer, yet your heart being far from him, is but vain worship. However, I have no dominion over your faith, nor do I desire that your confidence should stand in my wisdom, but in God's power; nor should I have troubled you on this subject, if you had not begun in that furious manner to cavil at me.
As to what I said against the form of prayer, or church service in the pulpit, it is true; God on the Sabbath day is more abused and mocked by that form, by graceless souls, than he is by all the open profanity that sinners are guilty of all the six working days besides. I insisted upon it, that it is not prayer; and you know it is in general called reading the prayers, or performing divine service. But there is a material difference between praying, and reading of other men's prayers; and as to divine service, the word divine might be left out; for while that service is performed, any discerning eye may see that there is no divinity operating on the servants, therefore it ought to be called forced service; for when that long harangue is over, the people look as lively as a Papist does when he arrives at the end of Lent, when he is allowed to quit the Pope's stocks, and fill his belly.
Performing of service it is; lip-labour and bodily exercise, that profiteth little. God himself has promised to create the fruit of the lips, but such lips go on without any new creating work of his; that is done to their hand.
Your bringing no proof in favour of it, but Mr. Whitefield and other good men's approving and using of it, has no weight with me; I don't pin my faith upon good men's formality, but upon Christ crucified. Aaron was a good man, but I have no command from God to worship his calf, thought he builds an altar, and tells us plainly in his proclamation, that his new-invented piece of service was a feast to the Lord.
Though the Holy Ghost be an infallible Spirit, yet a man inspired is not an infallible man. Peter was inspired, and yet he erred in the matter of circumcision; James was inspired, and yet he says, "In many things we offend all;" and David says, "Who can understand his errors?" and yet the Spirit of God was upon him, and it was in his light that he discovered what errors he did; "For whatsoever maketh manifest is light."
If forms of prayers are sufficient, who had more than the Pharisees had? They made many long prayers; and if the Lord's prayer had been intended to have been used as a sufficient form of words on every occasion, why was the Spirit of grace and supplication poured out on the house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost? God does nothing in vain, therefore the spirit of supplication is essential to salvation God is a spirit, and will be worshipped in spirit and in truth. I verily believe the form of prayer has a tendency to slacken the operations of the Spirit of God in many young Christians; and I am sure the greatest enemies to my ministry this day in London, are those lifeless professors, or refined Pharisees, who sit under the gospel, and hope in the form of prayer; and many such would leave the gospel entirely, if the form was gone. This shews, that it only settles sinners on their old leaven; and the gospel is used by such, to make them sit more easy on their old bottom.
However, the Spirit was sufficient to instruct all the Patriarchs, the Prophets, and the Apostles, in the matter of prayer, without any forms of human composition. If you deny the Spirit's sufficiency, you condemn all the prevalent petitions of faith that ever have been put up in the world.
The greatest advocates for a form of godliness, in the days of old, were the Jewish Pharisees; and they were the greatest enemies to the dear Redeemer, and the furthest from the kingdom of God; and why you, a professor of Christ, should undertake their cause, and defend their quarrel, I know not. The word of God, or my own conscience, will never condemn me for enforcing the Spirit's work on the souls of men, nor yet for insisting on his sufficiency on every branch of his enlightening, quickening, and renovating work on the soul; for the gospel itself is a dispensation of the Spirit, which is quite sufficient to make a Christian, and to keep him holy and happy, without being shackled with human forms. This ark will keep on its own wheels, without the arm of Uzza. I must confess I was surprised to hear your weak arguments, which you made use of in so violent a manner when I was last with you, as well as at your rancour in this your letter. I believe you have forgot what you once mentioned to me on the road home, after I had been preaching on the subject of spiritual prayer. You said, with many tears, that this had long been a sore burden on your spirit, namely, because you could not pray. I was amazed when I came to consider your attendance for so many years on one of the brightest preachers in London, and yet never be able to pour out your soul before God in prayer; and I am more surprised at your speaking so lightly of the blessed Spirit of God, who helpeth our daily infirmities, and maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered, especially now you are so near to the verge of eternity. Dear sir, if this oil be wanted in your vessel, after all your profession, wo be to you!
There are many in our day who will laugh at inspiration, that will one day cry heartily for it, as the one thing needful. "Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out." However, if you never could pray, inspiration has not troubled you; therefore you nave no reason to speak lightly of it. You are not confined, sir, to ml ministry; nor did I ever invite you, or any body else, to attend me, nor even attempt to bind them that do. To my own master I stand or fall, and you are at full liberty to choose as much form as you please. But your presence will never awe me in the pulpit, nor shall I alter my subject on your account; for neither my conscience, nor the word of God, condemn me for enforcing the sufficiency of the Spirit, in his operations on the souls of God's elect, as the spirit of grace and supplication. Blessed is the happy soul who has found his way to God, and is favoured with access to him through the rent veil of the dear Redeemer. This is the blessed privilege of all the children of God. The Lord indulge thee with it, before he takes thee hence to be no more seen. Amen and Amen, saysThy willing Servant in Christ,
W. H. S. S.William Huntington