Epistles of Faith
William Huntington (1745-1813)TO MR. CHAPMAN, DORMAN'S LAND, LINGFIELD.
I RECEIVED yours; and, in compliance with your request, I send you my thoughts on the subject: but at the same time, I inform you, that none but God can give you an answer of peace. The priest's lips are to keep knowledge; and we are to require the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts, Mal. ii. 7. Which great high-priest, prophet, and apostle of our profession, is the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom we are to go, and of whom we are to seek wisdom; who giveth liberally and upbraideth not; and there is none that teacheth like Now for the words;
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened." A man may be enlightened, as Balaam was, who saw the vision of the Almighty, fallen into a trance, but having his eyes open. The Lord came to him first at Pethor; and he afterwards saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. He saw likewise the safety of Israel, under the blessing of God; the immutability of God and his counsel, that he is not a changeable being. He saw that Israel should never be reckoned among the nations, but remain a distinct people, even when dispersed throughout the world. He saw the destruction of Amalek, &c. &c. and the blessed death of the righteous, and wished that his last end might be like his. The eye of a man's understanding is one thing, the eye of faith is another. By the former, the rich man in hell saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom; by the latter, the patriarchs saw the promises afar off, and embraced them, and applied them. By the former, a man sees the blessed state of others; by the latter, he sees his own state. Balaam saw God for others, but not for himself. Job says, "I shall see him for myself, and not for another." Balaam never saw the desperate evil that there is in sin; nor the spirituality of the law; nor the Lord as a Saviour, but as an angry judge with a drawn sword, in which character every eye shall see him in the great day. The Lord shone into Balaam's head; he shone into Paul's heart: he opened the eyes of Balaam, but he opened the heart of Lydia. Balaam saw a sword; Paul saw an atonement. Balaam saw a judge; Paul saw a Saviour. Balaam and the Egyptians saw God for Israel; Job saw him for himself.
If thou art enlightened, thou hast seen sin; but halt thou ever been and felt the killing evil of sin? Thou hast been enlightened to see the word, which is a light shining in a dark place; but has the day-dawn and day-star arisen in thy heart? If enlightened, thou hast seen the spirituality of the law; but hast thou seen and felt the dreadful havock it makes, by working wrath in the conscience? and has the sight and sense of this made thee fly to Christ for refuge, in whose face we see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God? If the light of faith shines into a man's heart, whatever that man sees, he applies sooner or later. By faith he sees the promise, and by faith he applies it By faith he comes to Christ, and by faith he receives him. He views the atonement, and pardon is the effect of the vision. Imputed righteousness is revealed, and peace is the fruit of it, as soon as applied. Eternal life is the gift of God, and by the gospel it is brought to light. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself; faith applies the word of reconciliation; while friendship, and fellowship, are felt and enjoyed.
"And have tasted of the heavenly gift:" By which is meant, not Christ, nor eternal life, nor the gift of faith, nor repentance, for these gifts and calls of God are without repentance; Lilt. I think a spiritual gift, such as the Corinthians were zealous of I Cor. xiv. 12; is chiefly intended; a gift of prophecy, or a ministerial gift to preach, attended with a reformation, zeal, and a gift of utterance: which things have a relish in them to a carnal heart; yea, they taste a sweetness in them, because they procure much applause from men, which is the sweetest morsel that can be given to an unrenewed, unhumbled man. He delights in his gift, because it procures him the praise of men; he tastes the former, and fills his belly with the latter, for he loves the praise of men more than the praise of God; but this tasting differs widely from what is called eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, which is peculiar to believers, and by which they live for ever.
And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost" Not that the Holy Ghost ever took the possession of their hearts, so as to become a spring of living water there: for the above-mentioned persons were not partakers of eternal life; nor had they received the first-fruits of the Spirit, nor his testimony in their conscience:, nor his grace in their heart; nor the impression of his ratifying, confirming, sealing power, by which the saints are assured of their interest; and which things accompany salvation; and are so many foretastes, pledges, and earnests, of future glory. They are made partakers of the Holy Ghost in no other sense than Balaam or Saul was; the Spirit of God came upon both, and they both prophesied. This is a spiritual gift; and there are divers gifts, but all of the Holy Spirit. It is he that divides them to every man severally as he will; he gave utterance both to Saul and Balsam, and it was by him they spoke, or prophesied, I Cor. chap. xii.
"And have tasted the good word of God." As Herod, who heard John gladly; and the Jews, who rejoiced in his light for a season; and the way-side hearers, who heard the word, and anon with joy received it. They were pleased with the sound, amazed at the light and understanding of the preacher, admired the fluency of his speech, and were charmed with the heavenly tidings that were brought forth; and all this time they found no opposition, either from the law, conscience, Satan, or the carnal enmity of their own hearts against these things: therefore they received the word with joy, and sprung up into a warm, zealous, joyful profession; but, when temptation and persecution came because of the word, they withered away as suddenly as they sprung up; which fulfils the saying of the wise man, "An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning, but the end thereof shall not be blessed." It is not enough to taste the good word of God, Ezekiel eat the roll; John eat the little book; Jeremiah found the word and eat it, and it was to him the rejoicing of his heart. "My word," says Christ, "is spirit, and my word is life;" but he says of the Jews, "I know you that my word hath no place in you;" it is not in your heart, affections, or conscience. They did not receive the truth in the love of it, nor the love of the truth, and therefore it is no wonder if strong delusions were sent, and they were given up to believe a lie. In short, these persons could have no more than a natural faith; and as to their joy, it sprang from natural affections; for as to the love of God, the root of the matter, they had not: it was for want of this root that they withered away.
"And the powers of the world to come." By which I understand the power of working miracles. There were in those days numbers of persons who had spiritual gifts; such as gifts of healing, working miracles, speaking with tongues, &c. &c. And the Saviour owns, that many dill say to him in that day, "We have prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and done many wonderful works," whom he will never own for his people: for it is not what the man does for God that saves him, but what God does for the man; not man's wonderful works, but God's free grace. This power of working miracles may be called the powers of the world to come, because it is a divine power sent from heaven, and that from God himself, who displays his power and glory there; and by these wonderful works be displays the same, in a measure, on earth. These miracles produce amazement, astonishment, and wonder, in the beholders that see them performed: on which account they may be called the powers of the world to come: for in that world every thing will appear miraculous, wonderful, and astonishing, beyond all conception. Moreover, it was common among the Jews in days of old, to call the days of the Messiah the world to come; and Isaiah foretelling many wonderful things of a miraculous nature that were to be performed by him, such as making the lame lean like an hart, and the tongue of the dumb to sing, &c. These miraculous operations were, by the Jews, called The powers of the world to come; and these miracles were wrought by many that will not be saved, as hath been shewn.
True joy springs from the manifestation of Christ to the heart "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." This manifestation produces pardon and peace, the experience of which worketh hope; and such a soul rejoices in hope of the glory of God. "And hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart;" which is the root of all real joy. Did you ever know what it is to abhor yourself in dust and ashes? Did you ever mourn in private under a sense of your lost estate, and the wrath to which sin hath exposed you? And were you ever bowed down under the intolerable burden of guilt, and the fear of death? If this ever were your case, to whom did you apply? how did you get rid of your troubles, or where did you leave your burden" Christ says, "I will give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." If this is your experience, your joy is the joy of the Lord.
The faith of those who for a while believed sprang from a conviction in the mind of the supernatural power of Christ displayed in his miracles: "When they saw the miracles that he did, many believed on him;" but, when these performances were over, their natural convictions sunk; and, as persecution attended their profession, their natural confidence failed, and they fell away. The faith of God's elect purifies the heart, by bringing the atonement home: it lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and puts it on; it leads the soul to Jesus, and works by love to him; attends prayer, and brings answers from God; it is very busy under a sermon; it mixes faith with the word; and applies the promises; while God fills the soul with joy and peace in believing. In short, if thou art a real believer, thou hast had a share of persecution and temptation to try thy faith as well, as they; and if these have not withered thy profession, it is a plain proof that thy faith is not natural. Farewell. While I remain.
Thy willing Servant,