Letter XXIII.

To Philomela, in the King's Dale

THINE epistle came safe to hand, savouring sweetly of a second benefit. Refreshing from the presence of the Lord attended it. It was a rich perfume. His name, like an ointment poured forth, came with it. Our unbelief shall never make the faith of God without effect; for, if we believe not, he still abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself. Moreover, God will honour his own ministering servants, whom he knows honour him; nor will he let their word fall to the ground; for he will confirm the word of his servants, and perform the counsel of his messengers. The work of God on the souls of his people shall abide for ever. He will carry on the good work begun; he will perfect that which concerns us, and never forsake the work of his own hands. And now, as God has hitherto fulfilled all that I have predicted to thee, and hath made me manifest in thy conscience, and hath given thee a place in my heart to live and die with thee, which joining and knitting together is the work of God's Spirit alone, and is always attended with the bands of peace and love; by strengthening of which bands the Lord is pleased to communicate nourishment to supply every joint, that the whole body may increase, and edify itself in love; it is from this work that Wisdom receives his revenue; all his tributes of praise and thanksgiving spring from hence. He reaps no harvest but from what he sows; no fruits but from his own plantation. With this work he is particularly and more immediately concerned; for, in carrying on this, all his attributes are engaged; and by the faithful and true witness it will be performed and perfected that God may display the riches of his grace in glory by Christ Jesus. Now, that thou mayest know what the various branches of this good work are, and not be wholly ignorant of it, and that thou mayest have somewhat to answer any person who shall appear to glory, but not in heart; I will drop thee a few hints about it, and leave thee to consider the matter, and to compare notes. I mean to compare spiritual things with spiritual; that is, spiritual works within with spiritual words in the book. And, if we take heed to these things, and cleanse our way according to his word, we shall come to a point: for whatsoever the Spirit of God wrote on the hearts of his apostles and prophets, he, by those instruments, wrote the same in the Bible; and an exact copy of it is written on the fleshly tables of all believing hearts; and, when this is done, the quickening Spirit makes us feel the impression, and afterwards shines gradually upon the word, that we may see that the internal impression exactly agrees with the external revelation. And, when the contents on the paper tally with the impression on the heart, then we are the pillars and ground of the truth, and may safely conclude that the mercy of God in Christ Jesus shall be built up for ever, and, in the glorification of our souls and bodies, Truth shall be settled in heaven. The unction on our souls is twofold: love and joy are the effects of the anointing within: and the anointing our eyes with eye-salve is done that we may see, in the word, what he has done on the heart; and that anointing "teacheth us all things, and is true, and is no lie." And, as he hath taught us, we shall abide in him; that is, we shall ever abide in the favour, and under the operations, of the holy Spirit of promise, that the offering of us up may be acceptable, we being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. Now for a few hints upon those things which God calls his own work. He says, "I am the Lord which search the hearts and try the reins of the children of men." And this work you have an account of by the prophets. "I will search Jerusalem as with candles, and will punish the men that are settled on their lees." In allusion to this our Lord called the apostles the light of the world; and asks whether candles were lighted up to be put under a bushel; and tells them to let their light shine before men. And by these he searched Jerusalem, as you see in Peter's audience, who, when cut to the heart, cried out, "Brethren, what shall we do?" The things for the which they were reproved were made manifest by the light that did appear, for, "Whatsoever doth make manifest is light." And, when the elect of God among that people were searched into, searched out, and looked up, he then punished the rest that were settled upon their lees of self-righteousness. Another branch of this work of the Lord is, to give us a sight, as well as a feeling sense, of the exceeding sinfulness of sin; for so he says, "I will reprove thee, and set thy sins in order before thee. Now, consider this, ye that forget God." This is done to make us the more sensible of our pardon when it comes, after we have been sufficiently humbled and brought down. The purging of our guilt and filth is called removing the burden; and chasing our sin from before the eyes of our mind, is termed a blotting out our transgressions as a cloud; for, as it is sin that separates from God, purging them is making us nigh by the blood of Christ; and so it follows, "I nave blotted out thy transgressions as a cloud; return unto me for I have redeemed thee." But to return. Under this convincing and convicting work a kind of legal process is carried on between God and the sinner, in which God appears both judge and witness, as you read: "And I will come near to you to judgment, and I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, and turn aside the stranger from his right, and that fear not me, saith the Lord." The law is sent home to conscience, and we are summoned to appear at the bar of equity. "Come," saith God, "and let us reason together;" for that is all we are capable of while, in the glass of the law, our sins appear as scarlet and crimson, which sets forth their deep stain and dreadful dye. And here he holds us under this fiery trial till our mouths are stopped, our souls humbled, and we become altogether guilty before God. And, when he has stripped us of all our false coverings, he makes us willing, in the day of his power, to be saved in his own way. And here we stand willing enough to be saved, and put our mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. But, "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." Nevertheless, under all this sharp exercise God supports us; which is called instructing us with a strong hand, that we may dare to be singular, and not say, A confederacy to any enemy of the truth, or stranger to the power of it. When God hath thus chastened us, and taught us out of his law, he then gives us rest from the days of adversity, by leading us to the foundation, that he hath laid in Zion, which is called the Rock higher than we. Hence the Saviour's assertion, "It is written, And they shall be all taught of God. Every one, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me; and he that cometh I will in no wise cast out." This is God the Father's teaching, and is always attended with God's blessing; as it is written, "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, and teachest him out of thy law." But to proceed. God having made us willing in the day of his power, he then presents his dear Son to our view, as the only hope and refuge that is left; and all our desires are made to centre there, and now he works in us to do as well as to will He then makes bare his arm, and we believe his report. This is fulfilling the good pleasure of his will, and the work of faith with power; and to this faith the Spirit bears witness. This is another branch of God's work, as saith the Saviour, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath, sent." This faith gives Christ a residence in our hearts, who comes with ail his saving benefits. And this Paul speaks of when he says, "It pleased God to reveal his Son in me." At the reception of Christ the compassion of God flows in, and evangelical repentance flows out, attended with self-loathing, and with wonder and admiration at the long-suffering mercy, and astonishing condescension, of God: and this is called God's granting us repentance unto life. O how the soul now loves and adores the Almighty, who engrosses the whole of our affections, and crucifies us to this world. And this is fulfilling his ancient promise: "And the Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, that thou mayest love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." Thus we are taught of God, and then led to his dear Son, and transplanted into him, in whom we find righteousness and strength, which constitutes us trees of righteousness, the right-hand planting of God, that he may be glorified. This, my sister, is the good work of God upon the soul. To a lively hope he begets us; and from the piercing sting of death, from under the ministration of death, and from bondage to the fear of death, he brings his own children; for so it is written, "He that is our God is the God of salvation; and unto God the Lord belong the issues from death," Psalm lxviii. 20. From death in the law to life in Christ do they pass by faith; and upon Christ, as upon a nail fastened in a sure place, do all the offspring and issue hang their hopes, their expectations, their hearts, with all their burdens, for time and eternity. Read Isaiah, xxii. 24. The next thing is, "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." And now what remains? That every branch in Christ his heavenly Father purges, that it may bring forth more fruit. And under this purging operation thou wast when my former Letter found thee. And thus have I pursued thee, and I have overtaken thee. And now, seeing this is God's work and way, humbly submit thyself under his hand, and attend to these things a little more, and visit less; and thou shalt reap the benefit of it Compare thy state with this account, and comfort thyself with these things, for my God will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. My kind love to your spouse. God preserve and bless you both. Amen and amen, says

Thy ready servitor.

The Desert.

Noctua Aurita.