To Philomela, in the King's Dale
MY dear sister's epistle is arrived, with all its good tidings, and the reflections of good news from a far country. The night is not only far spent, but gone; with thee: and nothing but the day-spring from on high visits thee. The wilderness springs, and the desert blossoms as the rose. Nothing now but honey from the comb, wine from the cluster, and milk from the breast. The old man is crucified with Christ, yea, dead, buried, and the body of sins destroyed; and there is an end of him. Satan, who had the power of death, is destroyed also, for Christ hath triumphed over him upon the cross; so that no evil is expected from that quarter. Self-denial, a daily cross, the furnace of affliction, and the fiery trial of faith, are all out of sight, and out of mind, and neither desired nor expected.
You inform me that you should like to continue in that mount. But I must confess it is a mystery to me that thou art not down from it before now. Faith must be tried with fire before it shall be found unto praise, and glory, and honour, at the appearing of Jesus Christ. Can you glory in your infirmities? Can you take pleasure in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake? To be sure the most useful soldiers in an army must be the young recruits, who are engaged in spending their bounty; and the most useful children in a family must he those who are hanging at the breast. Such soldiers serve to fill the muster-roll; and such children serve to increase the number of a family; and that is all the use they are of God hath set the day of prosperity and the day of adversity one against the other. But your evil days come not. The reason of my long silence is your long prosperity. I may be a fellow-helper of your joy; but to comfort them that mourn is a greater act of charity. It is not my peculiar province to tune the love-strings of a heart that is always filled with melody. Besides, you have very few, in that part of the world, to sing to but those of heavy hearts; and much music to these may provoke them to jealousy, and they may envy your happiness, and be led, by the devil and unbelief, to curse their hard fate, unless you can mingle a little wisdom with it; that is, conceal it, when need requires, and become weak to the weak, and as bound to them that are under the law.
I once knew a young man who continued in his comforts for three or four years, and who seemed to have nothing else but joy and happiness; and at that time I had seldom any thing else but temptations, bondage, persecution, hunger, cold, and nakedness; and I have often envied his happiness, longed to be indulged, like him, and cursed my hard fate and evil days. But he turned out an awful apostate, and, when he had filled his measure, came to his end in the midst of his days. I am watching to see what sort of a suckling thou wilt turn out to be; whether one of them who always need milk, being unskilful in the word of righteousness; or one of full age, who, by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil, and so live upon strong meat. When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me, with all his saving benefits, when pardon, justification, and adoption, all came in at once, and perfect liberty was proclaimed, I looked at him whom I had pierced, and mourned; not for him, for I had got him; but over him, to think of his dreadful sufferings for such a worthless wretch as me. His dying love melted me; his comforts filled my soul with holy grief; I rejoiced in his salvation, but wept all the day long over my suffering Saviour. My unworthiness made me coyly put away his tender mercy from me, and I cringed from him to shun the light. But he pressed his love upon me, and pursued me, and compelled me to use freedom and familiarity with him. This glorious vision, and the blessed effects of it, continued, excepting a few intervals, for near twelve months; and every evil of my heart was entirely hid from me; at which time the promises came into my seal swarming like bees; and, as they came into my heart, so they discharged their rich and blessed contents, and that with power, love, and comfort; when at the same time the Spirit explained their meaning to my understanding, and applied their blessings to my heart; and I sucked the breasts of these consolations; I milked out, and was satisfied and delighted with the abundance of Zion's glory. I was dandled on the knee, and borne upon the side; and, as one whom his mother comforteth, so did my God and Saviour comfort me; and was comforted in Jerusalem; for I had an open vision of that mystical city for some hours together, and that in the day-time. This open vision enlarged my mind, and extended my views, and my inward consolations abounded; insomuch that my soul melted with love, gratitude, meekness, humiliation, contrition, and godly sorrow, all the day long. I loathed myself in dust and ashes, and thought I could never be enough avenged on myself for my former folly, nor ever appear little enough in my own eyes, nor be enough grateful to the King of kings and Lord of lords. This continued, as before observed, well nigh a whole year, without much variation; and in these frames I was wonderfully secure, and expected daily to be ripening for glory, and that I should soon be called to the upper world; and I hinged for it. Little did I think that these comforts would ever be exchanged for spiritual desertions, the piercing frowns and slights of heaven, and the dreadful assaults of Satan. I had, in my unspeakable joy, defied both the devil and sin. The sucking child had played on the hole of the asp; but it is the weaned child that shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. I had, in my prosperity, said, "Surely I shall never be moved; for thou, Lord, of thy goodness, hast made my hill so strong." After the expiration of the above term I found the corruptions of my heart begin to stir, and appear in sight. John could not be more terrified at the appearance of the beast with seven heads and ten horns, than I was at the appearance of these. I cried mightily to God, and down they all went, and out of sight. Soon after they appeared again; and I prayed, and all these little foxes, that spoiled the vines, sculked into their holes. But soon they appeared more formidable, first one and then another; and, before I could get one out of sight by prayer, there would appear ten more, till I quite despaired of driving out these old inhabitants of the land. And now my comforts fled, and the Lord left me; and Satan came to present to my view the holiness of a real saint, and how widely I differed from one of that happy number, by suggesting such texts as these: "He that is born of God sinneth not;" "They do no iniquity; they walk in his law," &c. And with this temptation also was I beset, namely, that I had inadvertently sinned against the Holy Ghost. This cut my girdle. I cast away all my confidence, repented of my presumption in claiming Christ as mine, and relinquished, as far as unbelief could go, all pretensions to any part or lot in the great salvation of Christ. At this time the Lord returned with double love and treble glory, and revived the whole work, and brought it all forth to light again, and led me to compare spiritual things with spiritual. His work within, with his word of promise without, and what I read in his book, I found to be engraved on my heart, and I appeared to be established like the everlasting hills.
And now I must tell my friend how this trial came upon me. I had been for some time turning over in my mind such passages as these; "You shall be hated of all men for my name's sake." "It is through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of God." "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." "He that will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me." I knew that I had none of these exercises, and therefore concluded all was not right with me; that I was not in the footsteps of the flock; and, fearing of coming short of the promised rest, and of any thing being lacking in my faith that is essential to salvation, I secretly wished for trials and troubles, and for such tribulation as lay in the way to the kingdom; and soon after the above-described desertion came on. But, after the above-mentioned revival of the work, my mountain seemed so strong, that I thought, as before, that I should never be moved again. But, soon after, another spiritual desertion came on, attended with wrath, bitterness of soul, legal bondage, and intolerable hardness of heart. And with this a very strange fire was kindled, which I never had felt before, and that was spiritual jealousy; and this stirred up the most bitter rebellion, and laid me open to the cruel assaults of Satan. All these came on at once. This sad complication of miseries so confounded me, and drank up my spirits, that I was obliged to quit my lawful labour, and to wander into the fields and woods. At length the Lord came again, as before, and brought his whole work on my soul to light again; and I cursed my folly in giving way to Satan and to unbelief, and for calling in question the faithfulness and truth of the unchangeable Jehovah; and secretly wished for another onset with the devil, not doubting but I should quit myself like a man. But, as soon as the next attack came on, I turned back in the day of battle, although harnessed and carrying a bow; for the devil, varying his temptations, surprised me on that side where I was most secure. And hence it appeared as though some strange thing had happened unto me. For some months I went on, up and down in the balance of the sanctuary, this way. And I learnt one lesson in this field of action, and that was, that the Lord's strength was made perfect in weakness. For, when I resolved and mustered up all my courage, I never stood at all, out fell when the first dart reached me; but, when I feared, trembled, and cried mightily to my God and Saviour, he hath strengthened the weak against the strong, so that the weak hath come even to the fortress. I have, at such times, been enabled even to resemble a soldier of Christ. I have rebuked the devil for his insolence and blasphemy; I have cursed him and defied him, in the name of the living God. I told him he was damned, and his punishment would certainly come on him, and that my eyes should see it; and he could not deny it, nor reply against it. However, these continual changes, one day at the gates of heaven, and the next day in the belly of hell, led me to conclude that it was not pleasing to God that I was so insatiable after comfort; because I perceived that my joys got more and more short-lived, and my bitter seasons were more and more lengthened out. The day of prosperity appeared but an hour, and the day of adversity a month. My heart was well acquainted with its own bitterness; nor did strangers intermeddle with my joy. Yet I secretly wished that my feet stood in a more even path. But must I tell you all the secret? must I disclose my own shame? Take it then. I thought in my heart, and muttered out with my lips, the following perverseness: "I believe the Lord grudges me my comforts, or else he would never suffer me to be so buffeted by the devil every time they are gone; and I would sooner be without them than go on so." And the Lord took me at my word; for the sweet breast of consolation was immediately withdrawn, to my great grief, and no small mortification; and I found it just as the evangelical prophet represents it: "Whom shall he teach knowledge! And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little," Isa. xxviii. 9, 10. The breast being withdrawn, I searched the scriptures day and night, to see what security I could get, what confirmation and establishment the word of God afforded. I compared his work on my soul with his word, and especially those parts where he promises to make a new covenant with us, to pardon sin, and give us a new heart, &c.; and I found the work to be genuine, and that it would stand the test of every text, except such as these: '"He that is born of God sinneth not." "They also do no iniquity; they walk in his ways," Psalm cxix. 3. These I could not make out, as they seemed to assert nothing less than perfection. At these I often staggered; and they were sad stumbling blocks to me. However, I considered the decrees and purposes of God, his covenants, promises, faithfulness, and truth; the immutability of his nature, the finished work of Christ, the oaths of God, the Spirit's work, and his faithfulness to his children in every age; and got much light, and gathered much strength, this way; and the blessed Spirit who before was my comforter, was now a spirit of revelation and understanding to me; and having lost all my milk and honey, I fed upon strong meat; the breast was taken away, and knowledge and understanding became my food. I had before grown in grace, and now I grew in knowledge; and my mind was much employed in heavenly meditation on the glorious truths of the gospel. But this did not afford that nourishment, warmth, and heavenly sweetness, to the heart, which the other did. I often sat down and considered the days of old, when "the visitations of God preserved my spirit, when his glory was fresh in me, and when the dew lay all night upon my branch;" and wept, sighed, whined, and sobbed after the milk and honey. But the Holy Spirit, at such times, would produce submission and resignation in me to the will of God, and suggest to my mind, that when I have finished my course, I should have my heart full of that sweet fare, and that for evermore; which made me long for death. At these times I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul was even as a weaned child, Psalm cxxxi. 2. About that period I was working in the coal-barge, and suffering hunger, cold, and almost nakedness; besides the conflicts within, persecutions without, and the loss of that which to me was dearer than life. It pleased God to pity and visit me again. I had an old lumber-room, where I often withdrew when my burden was too heavy for me to bear; and as sure as I entered that place, so sure did the Lord of all lords visit me. He would come down as rain upon the mown grass, and as showers that water the earth; till I could compare it to nothing but what I had read of entering into the holy of holies, when the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord. O what condescension for the Most High to humble himself to take notice of such worms of the dust!
After many of these soul-reviving and soul-establishing visits, those trials, which are peculiar to the ministry, came on, attended with legal bondage, and various temptations and oppositions; and beset I was with every class of heretics, till I went, like the woman the Saviour healed, bowed together for several years; till what with trouble, real want, and hard labour, I was at the brink of the grave, and longed for it; but it came not. At length it pleased God to renew my youth like the eagle's, and he supplied me with temporal necessaries, equipped me with truth and fortitude, and gave me a great desire to be useful; and he soon let me see that I did not labour in vain. And now this became my food; it was my meat and drink to do his will, and to see his work prosper. And this led me to walk steady with my Clod in peace and equity; and, having obtained help from him, I continue to this day. Thus, Delilah like, your three succeeding epistles have drawn the secret out of my heart. And after all, what is it? Why, divine power lodged in a lock of human hair; or to speak in New Testament language, it is God's strength made perfect in man's weakness. Adieu. I must attend the household; but cannot help subscribing myself,