The Coalheaver to his dear brother Hedger and Ditcher, sendeth greeting.
BELOVED, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. I read thy epistle with tears of joy, believing in my heart that it is in every sense an original; the style, the diction, the artless strokes, and simple embellishments, made the author manifest in my conscience hat he is taught of God, insomuch that I have thee in my heart both to live and die with thee.
Beautiful upon the mountains of Zion are the feet of those who bring me such tidings. That God hath chosen the weak and the foolish to confound the strong and the wise, is manifest, both in you and me; and, whilst either of us live, the earth will not be left without a witness to that truth.
Your epistle came in season. I have lately been in much heaviness through manifold temptations; but the Lord, who often comforteth them that are cast down, comforted me by the coming of Titus, 2 Cor. vii. 6. Pay no regard to any reproach cast upon me: I expect evil report and good report; this ever was and ever will be, the lot of God's servants: for the two-edged sword of the Spirit cuts both ways still, and works death in some, but life in you.
O the condescension of the King of kings! who not only humbles himself to behold the things in heaven, but to visit those on earth! Moses found him in a bush; the shepherds found him in a manger; I found him in a tool-house; and you found him in a barn! Thus he puts down the mighty from their seats, and exalts them that are of low degree. "What house will ye build unto me, and where is the place of my rest?" Solomon had seen servants on horseback, and princes walking as servants on the earth; but I have seen criminals in coaches, and kings and priests threshing in a barn. Go on, my son, the flail will never go round thy head so fast, nor down so hard, as when thou art favoured with the presence of the Lord.
I am a thresher, and a threshing instrument having teeth; I work in the barn as well as you: let us thresh as clean as we can, and separate the chaff from the wheat, and pray the master to use the fan and purge the floor, and, while we are sifting the corn, we had need to watch and pray that we do not fall into Satan's sieve ourselves, as poor Peter did.
They tell you that Satan can condemn, accuse, comfort, &c. That he can condemn and accuse I believe; but he must be a miserable comforter, because his comfort generally springs from revenge, as Esau's did, when the murderer influenced him; "Thy brother, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, purposing to kill thee," Gen. xxvii. 42. But the elect shall all be taught of God, and they shall all know him from the least of them unto the greatest, and great shall be their peace; so that, if any of them are out of the way of public means, yet they cannot be forgotten; or, if they fall into the hands of a blind guide, they cannot be finally deceived nor finally misled: God will either bring them to the means, or call them, as he did me, without means. I have had two persons that heard the joyful sound under me from Denmark, four from Germany, and several from Ireland "I know my sheep," says the Shepherd, "and am known of mine, and they shall all hear my voice." And who teacheth like him? God makes us feel the impressions of his own perfections, and the blessed energy of his own truth. Under the deep impressions of holiness and justice we sink and tremble; under his quickening operations we feel, with the most acute anguish, his anger, his threatenings, and our own guilt and shame; but, under the impressions of his loving-kindness and tender mercies in Christ Jesus, we bow, we bend, we yield, we melt, we resign, we submit, we approve, we wonder, we adore, we weep, we repent, and abhor ourselves in dust and ashes, and love him with all our souls. Here we are less than nothing, and he is all in all; on this mount of transfiguration the covering veil is destroyed; here our interest in him is made plain, and reconciliation takes place: old things pass away, and all things become new; upon this mountain the feast of fat things is prepared, the evidences of our adoption are manifested, and sensible union takes place; jealousies subside, and everlasting light and love discovers the day of espousals, and knits the marriage knot.
Verily there was joy in heaven in the presence of the angels of God while my poor brother hedger was weeping, rejoicing, and making the faggots. 'Ah,' say you, and sure the hand-bill never cut so well, nor went through so sweetly; no, nor had even the withes been seasoned a whole month, and warmed over the fire, they could not have been more pliable, nor have bent better, than at that time, when I found my soul bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord my God, 1 Sam. xxv. 29.
As thou hast received him, so walk ye in him; beware of remissness in prayer, or in attendance on the means, which leads to backsliding; for backsliding often leads to legal bondage; and, if thou get the old yoke upon thy neck again, every thing will go contrary; the bill won't cut, the eathers they will break, the stakes won't drive, and you will often hit your hands with the beetle instead of the stake, and break great gaps in the axe; the white thorns will run through the cuffs, if not through the buskins, and you will forget the wallet or the bags, and at some places in the bank the spade will have gone in too far, and in other places not far enough; the stuff will not lay, nor stick, but tumble in the ditch again, for two or three yards together; and, when you come to step it out, or to run the pole over it, on the Saturday afternoon, it will not answer to more than three rods per day, and then you will go murmuring home, saying, Sixpence per rod is too little; what is nine shillings per week to keep a wife and family?' You read in scripture of some who Sowed much and brought in little, for God Wowed upon it. Others planted vineyards, but did not drink the wine of them; others olive-yards, but did not anoint themselves. "Ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah," Isai. v. 10. As it is with the farmer, so with the labourer, when they backslide. All this comes upon us for walking contrary, and for which, cause God walks contrary to us.
The Lord's servants are to bring some to the marriage from the highways and hedges; yea, the poor, the halt, the lame, the maimed, and the blind, that the Lord's house may be filled with guests; but who would ever have thought that the coalsack and the leather jacket would have been had in remembrance; and that such as you and I should have been brought in? not by the instrumentality of the servants, but by the Master himself: Verily this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. The first heavenly visits that God paid to me were chiefly in a garden; and my studies and qualifications for the ministry were finished in the barge and on the wharf. Gideon went from the barnfloor and the flail as well as you; Elisha from the plough, David from the ewes and lambs, and Amos from the herds. Surely God has provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. They saw things at a distance, and predicted what should come to pass; but we see them all accomplished, and Christ evidently set forth crucified among us; and blessed are our eyes, for they see; and our ears, for they hear. They laboured to find redemption out, and travelled to see it accomplished; and we are entered into their labours, and reap the benefit of them, and so gather fruit unto eternal life, and live in comfortable hope of the harvest-home, when the Master shall gird himself; and come forth and serve the reapers; then he that soweth, and they which reap, shall both rejoice together. ' Seeing we have such hopes, such views, and such expectations, the Lord grant unto us that we may run with patience the race set before us, until it shall please God, who sent his angels to fetch Lazarus the beggar from the gate, to condescend to fetch my brother from the faggots, and me from the scourge of the tongue; then those that have lain among the pots, and some that have worked in the woods, shall be as the wings of a dove. Honourable, honoured, and highly-favoured brother in the Lord, adieu. The Coalheaver wisheth all peace; not forgetting his love to all in Wellwyn, of every sect, name, denomination, and party, 'that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth.
W. H. S. S.