Letter XVII.

To Philomela, of the King's Dale

THE epistle of my sister is come safe, and now lies before me. It is, according to the prophet Habakkuk, a song of various things, sung in various tunes. Your days have been sorrow, and your travail grief. Call this time of adversity Gad, for there is a troop behind; or call them the beginning of sorrows, for unbelief will often tell you that there will be no end of them. Satan is a skilful adversary. He can alter both his appearance and his influence. While I lay in the dark regions of the shadow of death, under the arrests of divine justice, and filled with fury and the rebukes of my God, he worked constantly upon the hardness of my heart, the carnal enmity of my mind, and on that soul-destroying sin of unbelief, in which I was shut up. He took occasion to multiply his accusations by the sins which stood before mine eyes, the burden of guilt which I felt, and the wrath of the law which worked in me. And I knew that this was the devil and the works of him. But, after my deliverance had been proclaimed, my calling made clear, and mine election sure, he came to me again, so altered in appearance, in language, and in influence, that I really did not know my old acquaintance. He came not now in his sable garb, but in his shining robe; not to attend my funeral to hell and the grave, but as a friend at my wedding; not to accuse, but to give me counsel; not to drive, but to draw; not to sink me into despair, but to lift me up to the wind, and make me ride upon it; not to reproach me, but to praise mo; not to tell me what an awful rebel I had been, but what a saint I then was. Satan had changed his voice. And surely among them that are born of women there had not appeared a greater wonder than Parson Sack. I, not in the least suspecting this strange visitor to be one of the king of Babylon's ambassadors, was pleased with his coming as much as Hezekiah was, and shewed him all my precious things; for he came not with heavy tidings, but with smooth things; not as a destroyer, but as a builder up. He treated of the goodness and safety of my state: of the height of divine favour in which I stood, and of my certain arrival at the desired haven. From this he descended to the small number of God's elect; very small, when compared to the world at large. And as he preached, so he endeavoured to apply the doctrine. He worked his bottle-screw into my natural affections, and made my bowels sound. He set before me all my little ones, and my dame, as not included in the bond of the covenant; and then operated upon and influenced every tender feeling I had. My compassion, earnest desires, &c. &c. began to rise up and flow out at such a rate, just as Milton describes the lust of Adam and Eve working in them, after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, till they conceived it was new divinity springing up within them. And so I thought that my heart was filled with grace. Having worked me up to the highest pitch of natural affection for my wife and children, he then left the old hen and chicken, and led my mind abroad to my friends and relations then to my old acquaintance; next to many tender-hearted, pitiful, and well-meaning people which I knew in the world. And still my heart enlarged, and, as he presented them to view, so I took them in. Then he came to the nations at large. Still my heart opened and extended as he brought them to bear upon my mind. Then the poor heathens were presented to my view, until my bowels sounded like an harp, not only for Moab, but for all these. And then the irrevocable decrees of God were set before me, just as they are set forth by the Arminians. And next the devils were presented to me as objects of my pity. And this last chamber of imagery discovered the cheat. Satan could no longer be hid; and I remembered his former fiery darts, and soon was delivered from this snare of the fowler. However, this was of use to me in the ministry; for from that time I knew most assuredly who it was that instructed, furnished, equipped, and sent out, the whole herd of Arminian teachers, for sure I am that it is the devil transformed that supplies them all.

Some time after this he paid me another visit, similar to last. At that time I was in the ministry. He came now as parson-maker, to instruct me how to proceed in the important work; and that was, to draw no lines between saints and sinners; to make no applications; to enforce no marks, evidences, love-tokens, nor sure tokens; to insist upon no criterions, characteristics, infallible proofs, signs, nor touchstones; and then I should give no offence, nor should I raise any bars of prejudice against me, nor have any stigma fixed upon my character; my usefulness would be extensive, and my reputation a sweet savour to all. I should endeavour to cast my net so as to take in all that come within the walls of my meeting, and endeavour to win all to love me; and those who love a believer are passed from death to life. This plan I intended to adopt. But, when I was in the work, the fire of zeal, of love, fervour, holy fear, boldness, and fortitude, flowed into me; so that, instead of saying, A confederacy, I became a divider and scatterer wherever I went. The hypocrite hissed, and the honest soul felt the energy; and soon God led me to see this stratagem of the devil; and I learnt this lesson by it, that of all the workmen of God, and of all the works of God under heaven, except the death of Christ, a minister of the Spirit, and the Holy Ghost's work on the souls of men, are the greatest enemies to Satan. He has no objection to external reformation, if there be no internal regeneration. It is the Holy Spirit that casts out the strong man armed, takes away his armour wherein he trusted, spoils his Louse, and takes the prey from the mighty. Having escaped this snare, through the good hand of my God upon me, he paid me one more visit in his counterfeit rays; at which time he set before me all the real and imaginary evils and dangers that would attend me in the perilous work of the ministry; the oppositions from the world, from heretics and hypocrites; the hunger, cold, and nakedness, that I was exposed to; the treachery of pretended friends; the difficult work of getting to be clear in the greatest mysteries of religion, and of escaping all errors; the danger of my life by the way, and of death at the end, in a hundred forms; together with the uncertainty of the Lord's presence, aid, and support, which he argued from the sad desertions which had lately befell me. He then shewed me my own safety, the goodness of my state, and the happiness which, would occur if I withdrew to some lonely place, and kept all the dealings of God with me locked up in my own breast. But, not succeeding, he soon made good his predictions; for there was not a tool, falsely called a gospel minister, in town or country, but what was barking, biting, warning or cautioning people against me. And this has continued, without intermission, for twenty-four years and upwards; and I should think it an ill omen should it cease, which I am in no fear or danger of, seeing the devil has stocked the nation with so many novices, whom he puffs up with pride till they fall under the same sentence that fell upon him.

The bowels of compassion and the inordinate affection that you felt for the child, and the rebellion against God that attended it, you may safely conclude were the effects of a visit from this transformed devil. For God is as well able to regenerate a child as a man; and can perform that good work in the last moment now, as well as in the thief upon the cross. "His hand is not shortened." Besides, you have no scripture to prohibit or forbid your praying for your child, nor yet for the life of the child, supposing you conclude with "Not my will, but thine be done." And, if we cannot say this from the heart, then we can pray for submission that we may do it. David fasted, cried, and prayed, all day and night long for his child, though God, by his prophet, had declared it should die. He prayed even against the revealed will of God. But your prayer would have been according to his will. This is plain, because the child is restored to you again, even without being prayed for.

Your nice distinction between jealousy and envy I must leave to the learned. I believe that Rachel was provoked to jealousy at the fruitfulness of Leah, and thought that she stood higher in the divine favour than herself; and the consequence was, that she envied her sister. The apostles were provoked to jealousy when James and John craved their seats on the right and left hand of Christ in his kingdom: and the other ten were filled with indignation against the two brethren. But, you may reply, Wisdom says, "Who can stand before envy?" True. And in another breath she tells you what stirs it up: "Jealousy is the rage of a man; therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance." Solomon had learnt this by experience. God sent his prophet to Jeroboam to tell him that he should be king over ten tribes. This was a scourge to Solomon for his idolatry: and this provoked Solomon to such rage and jealousy that he sought to kill Jeroboam. The latter could not stand before the envy of the former, and therefore, to save his life, he fled into Egypt.

If thou wilt nurse, suckle, swaddle, prate, and preach, go on: "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand, for thou crest not tell which shall prosper, either this or that," either the envious or the jealous; "or whether they shall both be alike good." But thou wilt be a better judge of this than thou now art when thy preaching season is over; for there is a time to keep silence, as well as a time to speak. Thou wast not very fit for the pulpit in this thy last high fit of the fever; but that was nothing, either in weight or duration, to that which is yet to come. Walking with the footmen wearied Jeremiah; but afterwards he was called to contend with horses: and, when he was tired out in a land of peace, he was ordered to cope with the swellings of Jordan. God will have us at his feet; and it is not a little crossing and trying that will bring us there, and keep us there. To be stripped of all comfort, and to be laid in irons for a whole year, and this attended with intolerable hardness of heart; to be left free among the dead, and be given up to the influence of a sleepy devil, who shall give you a dose of his opium under every prayer that is put up, and under every sermon mat is preached; this, this will be worse than all the afflictions that have befallen little Isaac. So I conclude, and so you shall confess. Call it one more secret from the locks of Samson.

In the Desert.

Noctua Aurita.