Epistles of Faith

Letter XXXI

William Huntington (1745-1813)


Reverend and dear Sir,

I WISH thee much of the presence of God in this thy affliction. You know we are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. I trust this sickness is not unto death, in the least sense, but to answer some wise purpose, that the Son of God may he glorified thereby, in some future usefulness, when humbling grace operates, and patience has had her perfect work. The walls of our earthly tabernacle are often wounded, and often healed, but never whole. They are brought down to the, grave, and lifted up; their beauty often consumes like a moth fretting a garment, and again their youth is renewed like the eagle's; but they seldom continue long in one state. You know, sir, by woful experience, that the tenant is a leper; you have sensibly felt the plague of leprosy; and, if the tenant be corrupt, the walls must undoubtedly be infected. He that has felt the plague of the heart must be sensible that the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. Under a sense of this, many have covered their upper lip, and cried, Unclean! unclean! Lev. xiii. 45; or, "I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." It is the eye of our great High-priest looking upon the sinner that discovers the raging infection, and by the same is the leper healed. Though all are infected, all feel it not. It is when the leprosy becomes a plague that he is brought to the priest, Levit. xiii. 9. And, when he sees himself all over infected, and no part clean, in his own eyes, then the priest is to pronounce him clean by the command of God. Those who are pure in their own eyes, who have only a white spot or rising in the skin; who have quick raw flesh, never quickened by the Spirit to feel the deadly infection; are to be shut up, and pronounced unclean. He who feels himself wholly infected, and he that is plagued with a burning boil, are both pronounced clean; but he that hath only got a white spot, and white hairs in it, is pronounced unclean to the end of the chapter; for he neither feels the plague of leprosy, nor knows the plague of ignorance. Grey hairs are here and there upon Ephraim, but he knoweth it not; he hath not cried unto me with his heart; he is a cake not turned, Hos. vii. 8, 9, 14. Thus God sees not as man sees: man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart; and blessed is the man whom the Lord hath pronounced clean, and to whom he will not impute sin. Surely it is well with such a tenant, though the house of his tabernacle be far from being sound, and he will be complaining, though in tile and of Canaan, and often coming to the priest, Saying, "It seemeth to me there is as it were a plague in the house," Lev. xiv. 35. And it is a rare thing to find a house without it.

"Then the priest shall command that they empty the house before the priest go in to see the plague." We must be self emptied, or emptied of self; and self must be denied, if we would be favoured with the soul-satisfying visits of the priest; for as all fullness is in him, and we receive from his fullness, so there must be an emptiness felt in us before the good treasure be communicated.

"And afterward the priest shall go in and see the house" that is, after it is emptied; not swept and garnished, for that makes the matter worse. It is the trembling sinner the Saviour looks at, and the broken and contrite one that be visits: nor is it the whole, but those who are sick of the plague, that need the great physician.

"And he shall look on the plague; and behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house, with hollow streaks, greenish, or reddish, which in sight are lower than the wall." If the plague appears with hollow streaks: hath made any deep impressions, so as to reign in the mortal body, and be obeyed in the lust thereof, or gained ground on the afflictions: and, by guilt contracted, left visible marks or traces of its venomous infection, either greenish or reddish; any streaks of hypocrisy, like the green fruitless fig-tree with its verdant leaves and barren boughs: or reddish; any sins of scarlet hue, or crimson dye, Isa. i. 18; which in sight are lower than the wall; have sunk deep, and infected the soul.

"Then the priest shall go out of the house, to the door of the house, and shut up the house seven days." You have known, sir, what it has been to have the Lord stand at the door, and knock; but it is far worse, after taking possession of his temple, and filling it with his presence, for the glory of his majesty to go up to the threshold of the house, Ezek. ix. 3; as if going to leave it. But to shut it up is worst of all: "1 am shut up, I cannot come forth," saith the Psalmist. And when these seven days will be ended, we cannot tell; but we may pray, as the Psalmist did, "Return, O Lord, how long?" "And let it repent thee concerning thy servants."

And the priest shall come again the seventh day, and shall look." Blessed be God for that, that he is not to go for good and all. And the seventh day is a poor Sabbath indeed, if the High-priest doth not come, for there is none but he to bless the sacrifice; and, if he gives us but a look, it is enough to let us know that he is alive, and that he has not forgotten to be gracious. A look was enough to melt Peter; but if he neither smile, speak, nor look, it is a dreadful seventh clay indeed! it is not the Lord's day with us, much less one of the days of the Son of Man.

"And if the plague be spread in the walls, then the priest shall command that they take away the stones where the plague is of all plagues, a hard, impenitent, unrelenting, undissolved, and rebellious heart, is the worst. When this stubborn thing is demolished, the plague is half healed. But the Lord hath promised to take away the stony heart out of our flesh, and to give us a new heart and a new spirit. But both smiting and burning must be endured before this is done: "Is not my word like as fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer, that breaketh the rock in pieces?" Jer. xxiii. 29.

"And they shall cast the stones into an unclean place without the city." Nothing cuts a worse figure in Mount Zion, the city of our solemnities, than impenitent hearts, and spirits that are hard and obstinate.

"And he shall cause the house to be scraped within round about; and they shall pour the oust that they scrape off without the city, in an unclean place.' This scraping is to get dead Works and worldly cares from the heart, earthly vanities from the mind, ignorance from the understanding, and stubbornness from the will, as well as guilt from the conscience. Nor is the sinner a little chafed under this operation: but the intent of it is to take away his sin; that, after he has repented in dust and ashes, the dust may be carried into an unclean place; which is a more fit place for it than the temple in which the Lord dwelleth.

And they shall take other stones, and put them in the place of those stones." Wise master-builders, or even common workmen, such as need not to be ashamed, who rightly divide the word of truth, will be always careful to bring forth the stone of help to the sensibly infected sinner, who begins to feel his hardness; and point him to the stone with seven eyes, as the only way to get rid of the stony heart.

"And be shall take other mortar, and shall plaster the house." This mortar, it seems, was not proof against this walking pestilence; and it is a rare thing to find an house that has nit been, or at times is not, daubed with untempered mortar. Those who seduce God's people from the High-priest, instead of bringing them to him; and cry, Peace, peace! and he hath not sent peace; are said to build up a wall, and to daub it with untempered mortar, Ezek. xiii. 11, 12; which is all to be scraped off, and other mortar is to be taken. Which shews that a religion of human invention is of no use in the plague of leprosy; and that such daubers only heal the wound slightly; and, in such fatal cases, are physicians of no value. Other mortar must be got; the word of truth must be brought; the priest must look on the house; and faith must be mixed with the word, and exercise itself on the efficacy of the priest's propitious look; before it can be properly plastered.

"And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that he hath taken away stones, and after he hath scraped the house, and after it is plastered." As it most surely will; for who can say, "I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no Good thing," saith a wise master-builder, who had been employed in plastering many a house. "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain," says one, " and washed mine hands in innocency; for ail day long I have been cleansed, and chastened every morning;'" Psalm lxxiii. 13, 14. The plague, therefore, will undoubtedly break out again; and, when this is the case.

"Then the priest shall come and look." Blessed be God for that; the priest is to look again. Those who are perfect to the flesh have nothing for this priest to look at, or to do; for they are not troubled as other men; neither are they plagued as other men.

"And behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a fretting leprosy in the house; it is unclean." According to this, there is no getting perfect in the flesh; it will lust against tile spirit, and the spirit against the flesh: which is a fretting leprosy; for it hath caused fretfulness in the minds of many who live under the propitious eye and tender care of him who is a priest for ever and ever after the order of Melchisedec. On which account we are exhorted in the following manner: "Fret not thyself because of evil doers;" much less to pervert our own way till our heart fretting against the Lord, Prov. xix. 3. According to the following account, the fretting leprosy seems to be somewhat like an incurable disease; and they who never fretted under it are so foolish in their inward thoughts, as to think that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations, Psal. xlix. 11. But the house of the sensible leper is unclean. Whatever such a patient may be as considered in his priest, or whatever he may be in the eye that hath looked upon him, he is, as considered in himself, a leper; his house is infected; and, in the eye of this law, his house is unclean: and, therefore

"He shall break down the house, the stones of it, and the timber thereof, and all the mortar of the house; and he shall carry them forth out of the city into an unclean place," Lev. xiv. 45. The house shall be broken down: the earthly house of this tabernacle must be dissolved; the celestial inhabitant must be unclothed; the stones of it, all its impenitency and hardness of heart; and the timber, the ribs of the body, and all the bones, together with all false confidences; and the mortar of the house, must all be pulled from the house, and the whole materials be carried forth without the city. The keepers of this house must tremble, and the strong men must bow themselves, and those that look out of the windows must be darkened; man must go to his long home, and the mourners must go about the streets, Eccles. 3-5. And the whole house must be carried without the city of Mount Zion, as it is a city for the living, not a receptacle for the dead. And be carried out into an unclean place. The grave is the house appointed for all living, Job xxx. 23. An unclean place it is; a place of dead men's bones, and all uncleanness! Matt. xxiii. 27.

"Moreover, he that goeth into the house, all the while that it is shut up; shall be unclean until even." He that goeth into this house after the priest hath looked upon it, and is gone from it, shall be unclean until even: which skews that there is no confidence to be placed in the house after the priest is gone from it But the eye and the heart of the patient is to be toward the priest; for the patient had no other object to look to, or to trust in; and, for another visit, he was to exercise his faith and patience. His whole trust was to be in the pitiful eye of the priest; and whosoever went into the house was to be unclean: which shews that all trust or confidence in the flesh, when the Lord is withdrawn, contracts filth in the sight of God. Such shall be unclean until even; but, when joy cometh in the morning, it is removed: and, when the night of death cometh, in which no man that fears God can work., it is to go, with the rest of the materials of the house, into an unclean place. And, after the evening of the world, and the midnight cry of it, no more uncleanness shall be found among this sort of lepers, who look, and trust alone for their perfect healing, to this priest, who is our only physician, and the only balm of cure.

"And he that lieth in the house shall wash his clothes, and he that eateth in the house shall wash his clothes." Which shews that, when the priest is gone out, and the house is shut up, there can be no real rest in it; and he that eats in the house, or banquets in it, after the priest is gone, feasts not upon the fatted calf; and therefore must wash his clothes, for he contracts filth by unhallowed food, and by covering himself with a covering that is not of God's Spirit. He must wash his garments, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb: and, if he lie in the house, he must be purged from his carnal security, for it is sinful ease The priest is gone, and he rests securely in his absence, instead of seeking him in the streets, and in the broad ways.

"And if the priest shall come in, and look upon it, and behold the plague hath not spread in the house, after the house was plastered; then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed." There are some who, after being called by grace, and well plastered with well tempered morter, keep their eyes continually on the priest; who neither wander from him, nor feed, nor get rest, without him; and who are cut off by death in their first love, and may be pronounced clean every whit; as the High-priest said of his followers, "Now are you clean through the word that I have spoken unto you" But, if they live long upon the earth after their effectual vocation, they will need washing; as the Saviour said to Peter, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." And he said, "Not my feet only but also my hands and my bead." But the Lord replied, "He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet." But, if he gets into carnal ease, he must wash his robes, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.

"And he shall take, to cleanse the house, two birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet and hyssop." There is no cleansing that can be applied without the hand of faith; nor virtue but in the object of faith, who is perfect God, and perfect man; two natures in one person. Man cannot cleanse for want of efficacy, and deity will not cleanse without shedding of blood. The Lord from heaven, and the son of man, the root of David, and David's offspring, can do it. But none but this Christ can: he must be David's son, and David's Lord, that performs this work. And cedar wood must be taken, which prefigured the Lord's humanity. The temple was built with cedar; and Christ, the temple in which dwells all the fullness of the God-head bodily, is a top twig from the highest branch of the high cedar which was planted on Mount Zion, as a shelter for all fowls of every wing, Ezek. xvii. 22, 23. And scarlet, or scarlet wool, the wool of the lamb; which prefigured the atonement of Christ: One of the coverings of the tabernacle was badgers' skins dyed red; and, if ever our persons become tabernacles of the Lord of Hosts, we must be washed in the blood of the Lamb. He that is our high-priest is red in his apparel, and all his garments like him that treads a wine vat; he is clothed in garments dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And hyssop, which is a bitter herb; and was to be used in striking the blood of the paschal lamb on the doorposts, and here in cleansing the leper. "Purge me with hyssop," says the Psalmist, "and I shall be clean." Christ is the wall of our salvation; and the fragrance of his offering is like the smell of hyssop that springeth out of the wall, 1 Kings iv. 33; for there is a sweet savour in his name, and in his offering; for he offered himself, an offering of a sweet smelling savour, acceptable to God, for us.

"And he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel, over running water." It was in the earthen vessel of human nature that Jesus died; and they were all lepers, in the worst. sense, that killed him; for they who were made clean through his word had no active hand in it. And over running water. He offered himself, through the eternal Spirit, to God, which is the water of life; and it is the cleansing efficacy of that atonement, flowing with the operations of the Holy Ghost, that makes the Spirit such a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God: for there can be no gladness without pardon and peace; nor can there be either of these without an application of the blood of the cross.

"And he shall take the cedar wood," a branch from David's top, and no other.

"And hyssop," the herb that wars used in striking the door-post; which is the sweet odour of his sacrifice.

"And the scarlet wool," the blood and covering of the lamb.

"And the living bird," which represented the deity of Christ; for he that made atonement for us is the first and the last, the Almighty. Man cannot make his own heart clean, much less ours. "And he shall dip them in the blood of the slain bird." Which shews that the efficacy of the Lord's atonement arises from his divinity; on which account the Lord of life and glory is said to be crucified, and the church of God to be purchased with his own blood.

And in the running water." Which skews; that it was through the eternal Spirit that he offered himself; and by the same Spirit are the benefits of his cross applied to our consciences, when we are brought to the blood of sprinkling that speaketh better things than that of Abel.

"And sprinkle the house seven times." Seven is a number of perfection. Christ is called a stone with seven eyes, and a lamb with seven horns; and the Holy Ghost, because of his perfect gifts and various operations, is called the seven Spirits of God. There was a sprinkling of us, in the purpose of God, when Christ -undertook for us; and a sanctifying of us, when Christ suffered without the gate; another, in blotting out our sins when he entered the Holy of holies; another, when we came to Mount Zion, and to the blood of sprinkling, and many times since; and again, before we go hence, that we may appear without spot before God; and another, when these our vile bodies shall be changed, and these robes shall be made white in the blood of the lamb; when mortality shall be swallowed tip, and immortality be put on.

"And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird." Without shedding of blood there in no remission; nor can there be any cleansing without the running water; for he saves us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost. "And with the living bird;" for without the living God none can be cleansed; "From all your filthiness will I cleanse you," saith Jehovah. "And with the cedar wood." It must be the Son of David. "And with the hyssop." The sweet smelling savour that the Redeemer made. "And with the scarlet wool" The covering of the lamb, or the robe of the Saviour.

"But he shall let go the living bird out of the city." However precious the death of Jesus may be to a poor cleansed leper, yet he should have higher thoughts of the Redeemer's divinity, than to think it could expire by death. Eternal life absolutely considered, or he that says, "I live for ever," cannot die. And he that said, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up," is more than man. It was the temple in which the Godhead dwelt, the weaker part, that went to the wall. "He was crucified through weakness." Eternal, self-existent, and ever-living divinity, absolutely considered, cannot expire. In union with deity, the human nature died; and by the omnipotence of divinity the dead body was raised. "But he shall let go the living bird out of the city "

"Into the open fields, and make an atonement for the house; and it shall be clean." This is the law for all manner of plague of leprosy; and a precious law it is in the gospel sense of it, and in the hand of our great high-priest: and so all will allow who have been forced to cover their lip, and cry, Unclean! unclean! and put their month in the dust, if so be there might be hope; and, after all this, have been cleansed, and brought to the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins.

According to this law, sir, the house is to be broken down; this earthly tabernacle is to be dissolved; this earthly house is to be put off. But, blessed be God, it shall rest in hope; it shall be set up again; the ruins will be raised, the breaches made lip; and this tabernacle of David, that must fall, shall be set up as at the first, and in a better state: and not a cord, or a stake; be ever loosed or moved again: it shall be a tabernacle and a sanctuary for evermore.

Seeing we have such hope, we may use great plainness of speech for in nothing shall we be ashamed, as we stand in Christ Jesus; for we are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power.

I did not think, Sir, to have sent you such a long scroll; but, happening promiscuously to meet with this leper, I could not get rid of him; and, being infected with the same disorder myself, my pen ran nimbly on, respecting the Lord's dealings with him. And, as you are confined to your room, I thought it might serve to employ your mind: for any employment is better than listening to Satan, to carnal reason, or to unbelief; for these enemies never prophesy any good of us, but evil; for which reason I wish they were all confined to their own prison, anti kept both bound and dumb, till thou return in peace. Let patience have her perfect work. When resignation takes place, the field is won. Grace must reign, and faith must prevail. You know the old man is crucified, and the cross will stick close to him; and it is through the Spirit that we mortify the deeds of the body. If there were no cross upon the old man's back, he would, at times, be ready to outrun the new man. Wisdom keeps a whip for that horse, and a bridle for that ass: the one mortifies him; and the other checks him, lest he should be too restive for his rider. Sin shall not reign, nor shall the old man ever conquer the new one.

The Lord be with thee, and strengthen thee upon the bed of languishing, if there, and make all thy bed in thy sickness, agreeably to his promise; and then thou wilt have to say, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted." I shall add no more but my prayers: and remain,

Reverend and Dear Sir,

Your willing Fellow Servant,

In the kingdom and patience of Christ,

Winchester Row, Paddington.

W. H.

William Huntington