To Philomela, in the King's Dale
Having a little leisure time upon my hands, I am inclined to write to thee, having a desire to know how thou dost. But which way to steer my course, so as to find thee, is the difficult task that I have undertaken. In my former epistles I always went before thee by the spirit of prophecy; and, as thou camest after, thou didst set to thy seal that the word of the Lord was true. But, moving from my old habitation, and the troubles which have attended it, have so interrupted our correspondence, that I know not where thou art. However, I will pursue the footsteps of the flock; and I have no doubt but I shall overtake thee, either in the valleys, or in the heights of Israel.
To go back to the days of thy dispersion, when thou wast stumbling upon the dark mountains, must be altogether vain. The Shepherd's promise to thee in that state hath been fulfilled: "I will seek my sheep, and search them out; and I will gather them out of all places whither they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark days." Frown these dismal and dark regions he hath put thee forth, and gone before thee, and caused thee to pass under the rod, and to hear his voice; and he hath led thee into the bond of the covenant, that thou mightest be bound up in the bundle of life with the chief Shepherd. This is the summit of all happiness, the height of Zion's dignity, the high mountain and the eminent on which so many have said, "I shall never be moved, thou, Lord, of thy goodness, hast made my hill so strong." Upon this eminence he carries the lambs in his bosom, as well as leads gently those that are with young. The former feel the warmth of his heart, the latter the strength of his arm. But it is vexatious, grievous, yea, and dangerous, coming down from this mount; because the horrible pit and the miry clay are so near to the foot of it, one of old tumbled into it: "I stick fast; I am come into the deep waters, so that the floods overflow me." This stiffened his joints, and relaxed his nerves, and made him stagger and waddle in his walk. "I am ready to halt, and my sorrows are continually before me." This being put out of the bosom, and driven from the suckling-house, and turned adrift to go behind, and only now and then allowed to hear the Shepherd's voice, and being bid to follow him instead of riding in the bosom, appears to be hard treatment. However, he always heals them that halt, hinds up that which is broken, and feeds that which is faint; "the Lord is my shepherd, therefore I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters; he restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake." Thus to lie down and find rest and satisfaction, encompassed and supported by the lively oracles, or life-giving words of promise, and to be led by the streams which flow from the river of divine pleasure, makes us fat and flourishing. But, alas! these vanish again, and we lose sight of these waters: "I am a stranger with thee; hide not thy commandment from me. O, when wilt thou come and comfort me!" Here the old man, and the sheep's worst enemy, entangle him; he is hung up: "Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; O bring thou me out of my distresses!" Out he comes again: "I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities, and hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy. Thou hast set my feet in a large room." But he soon wanders out of this into the desert, and gets upon the barren mountains of Sinai, and here gets both blinded and impoverished: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant, for I do not forget thy commandments." What part of this path of tribulation my sister is now on, or which of these footsteps of the flock suits her present steps, I know not; but, when I saw her last, she was shut up and could not come forth; and, when I informed her of a future enlargement, her answer agreed with that of her sister of old, "Nay thou man of God, do not lie to thine handmaid;" for I shall never be comfortable any more in this world. Has experience, from that time to this, proved that saying to be true? or did the Lord confirm the word of his servant, and perform the council of his messenger?
Once more: Hast thou found, in the course of thy pilgrimage, any thing to confirm that common saying of many, namely, that those who, by the Spirit, are brought once into liberty, are never exercised with, nor entangled in, legal bondage again? or whether this bondage be not one ingredient in the cup of Zion's sorrow, which all must drink of, more or less, who follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth? A solution of these matters will lay me under an obligation, which shall be acknowledged with that thankfulness which I hope will ever abound in
Your affectionate friend and brother.
From the Desert.