Epistles of Faith

Letter XXII

William Huntington (1745-1813)

Winchester Row, Sept. 10, 1785.

Dear Brother mid Fellow-labourer.

I RECEIVED your mournful epistle, and read it with joy and delight, because it is the way that God seems to lead most of his ministering servants; and it is by these trials and oppositions that our call to the work is made clear to us, by the power of God that is manifested in times of trouble.

God gives the renewed soul, designed for the ministry, a desire to be useful; sends others that fear his name to draw matter out of his heart; and such as are comforted by his conversation, importune him to speak in prayer, or to exhort in public. He finds the Lord's presence with him; his mouth is opened to the people; matter springs up in his heart; the people seem refreshed under him; the numbers increase that hear him, and importunities increase also for him to persevere in the work.

Thus the poor simple soul goes on with both wind and tide on his side, and the blessed gale attends both the leader and the led. But when he is fairly entangled in the net, and his hands fixed to the plough, then comes his cross. Now he is burdened in his soul, chained in his spirit, troubled in his mind, and fettered in his tongue; and to the great mortification of his pride, he is often obliged to stand trembling in the gospel pillory.

Now he begins to look about him; Satan tells him that he ran before he was sent; that a single eye is wanting; fools deride him; humble souls condole with him and encourage him; his abilities seem all to be obscured; and the work seems to be an impossibility for any but angels. The well in his heart seems to have lost its spring; the bible appears sealed; he is too confused and troubled at times even to pray; he thinks he has committed an infinite offence in opening his mouth for God; and wishes he had never touched the plough. He is afraid to leave off, and afraid to go on; difficulties before, and terrors behind; evil report on the left side, and good report on the right; critics quibble at him, and simple souls travail for him; hypocrites go from him, and persecutors fall on him.

Now is the time to see whether he ran of himself, or whether God sent him; if he ran of himself, he will surely run back again; when persecution comes because of the word, by and by he is offended, and in time of temptation falls away. But if God has sent him, be will bring him through, and let his supporting hand be known towards his servant, and his indignation toward his enemies.

This is often the way that the Lord deals with his ministering servants. Moses set himself about delivering Israel, when he killed the Egyptian; and set the two combating Israelites at one; supposing that they would have understood how that God by his hand would have delivered Israel; but he that did his brother wrong, thrust him away, as a prelude to Moses' future oppositions, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us? Acts vii. 23-27. Thus Moses began the work, and failed; but when God came to set him about it, he frames a whole tribe of frivolous excuses and vain evasions; and, being disconcerted at his own beginning, made him reluctant in making a second attempt. He found it was a difficult work; as he had been pushed away with disdain, and betrayed, for killing the Egyptian, by his own brethren, what could he expect from all the tribes, but worse treatment?

If my reverend and dear brother wades through these fiery trials with fervour, diligence, and becoming fortitude, he will see his way and his calling clearer than ever he has yet done; and they who are entire strangers to these things, never have had their call to the ministry established to them; they may have the testimony of men, but the testimony of God is greater. As to their finding fault and disapproving of your handling this or that text, they are things that we must expect; Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses; and men of corrupt minds, will ever resist the truth, as they did; but they shall proceed no further; for their folly shall be made manifest as theirs also was.

Since I have been in the ministry, I have had masters enough to make a wise man mad; and those who knew the least of God and themselves, were the most forward to instruct me. But as no man can serve two masters, I chose to stick close to the one, and only give the others a hearing.

I was once called on to visit a poor woman who seemed to be in a deep decline; and her state of soul was worse than her state of body. I found her in deep convictions, under sore temptations, and her reason much impaired; after some conversation and prayer with her, I left her, with a full persuasion in my mind that God would bring her out; and told her that I should see her face shine one day or other, and left her with those words, which it seems never left her, but she often turned them over in her mind: "My face shine, what does he mean by that? my face will never shine, I am sure." I saw the woman no more for a year or two; but one night she had the following dream she dreamt that she was in a carriage drawn by black horses, who took fright, and kicked at so a violent a rate, that she was in danger of being killed by their heels. A man spoke to her, and told her there was a way out behind, if she tried she might make her escape; she did so; but the way was so narrow that she could not get out; the man bid her try again, which she did, and got out; and went into a narrow path, which led her out of danger. She awoke, and behold it was a dream; but as it left much confusion and trouble on her mind, she told it to a professing woman, who advised her to come and hear me on that day; accordingly she did. On the same day my mind was kept in uncommon darkness; I shut myself up to study and pray for several hours; but all in vain; no text occurred to my mind to speak from. I remained much distressed till near the time to preach; and suddenly this text presented itself to me, "I have compared thee O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots." I refused the text in my mind, though many things occurred to deliver from it; I tried to get another, but all in vain; and was compelled to preach from that, as a light shined on that passage, and on no other. In handling the words, I observed the chariots of war, which a just God permits at times to go forth for dreadful slaughter against those that he numbers to the sword; as it is written, "And I turned, and lift up mine eyes, and looked, and behold there came four chariots out from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of brass; and in the first chariot were red horses," a war colour The second chariot I represented to be the law, in which God rides to execute vengeance; and the spiritual famine that attended those that were under it, was signified by the colour of the horses, which are said to be black; compare Rev. vi. 5, 6, with Lament. v. 10, agreeably to Zechariah's vision. "And in the second chariot [there were] black horses," Zech. vi. 2. 1 endeavoured to shew the danger of those that were in this chariot; and pointed to another which I supposed to be the covenant of grace, or the church of God in that covenant; as it is written, "And in the third chariot white horses;" compare with Hab. iii. 3. As the church in my text was compared to a company of horses, I handled the properties of the metaphor as well as I could; and mentioned the wildness of the horses, to which I compared the wild notions and extravagant courses of sinners; I mentioned the colour of such a state set of cattle, and how exactly they were matched; and brought that to prove Christians to be of one colour in God's sight, whether they had been in a natural state strict Pharisees or loose libertines. The harness and coupling of the state team I mentioned as expressive of the saint's union; in short, I mentioned their being trimmed, tamed, broke, &c. &c.

As soon as I had finished the discourse, the poor woman above mentioned came into the vestry with all the raptures of joy and. peace imaginable, and informed me of her dream and troubles; of my having visited her when sick, and of my telling her that her face would shine, &c., and was delivered from that hour. The husband of the woman seeing the glorious deliverance of his wife, fell under soul concern himself; and I believe that they now both fear God, and are alive and well this day.

For delivering of this discourse I was reproached, by a certain professor, to numbers of people; I heard of it from all quarters, that it was a discourse not fit to have been delivered; but you see God sent it to unfold the woman's dream, and to extricate her out of all her distress of soul, which I knew nothing of. Thus God sets his seal of approbation, where wise men pass the sentence of condemnation.

I could produce many more such instances about particular texts being opened and applied to particular persons and cases, which have given great offence to many good people; however there is no tracing the understanding of the Almighty; nor can our hearers prescribe ways and means for him to walk or work by. On him we must call, on him we must rely, and to him alone we must look for direction, and follow that light which he is pleased to give, whether people approve or disapprove.

Depend upon it that these trials and oppositions will, through grace settle thee more and more firm both in the faith of salvation, and in the work of the ministry, which God grant to thy comfort, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

I add no more, but my prayers; and remain in gospel love, Ever thine,

W. H.

William Huntington