To Philomela, of the King's Dale
I HAVE paid several visits this week, both to you on the mil and to those in the valley, only I was absent in body; so that my appearance was imperceptible; somewhat like that of the beloved standing behind the wall, and shewing himself through the lattice. Whether any troubles have happened to either of your families, I know not; but you have been much on my mind when I have been secretly engaged in that greatest, best, most blessed, and most glorious privilege that ever perishing sinners were favoured with.
Private prayer is my court visits to my God, the life and breath of my soul; it is the ascension of the soul to the Almighty, and its returns are the descension of Christ to the soul's help. It is the assuasion of grief, the easement of a burdened heart, and the vent of a joyful one. It is the rich savour of mystical incense, the overflowings of a living fountain, an all-prevailing sacrifice, the delight of the Almighty, and a ravishing charm to the heavenly bridegroom.
Prayer has made the Sun of Righteousness to stand still in his firmament, though discharged from the lips of a blind beggar. It bas brought the Ancient of Days to dwell in a bush; and even a worm, by this simple mean, has held the King of kings in the galleries; yea, Omnipotence itself has been constrained to say, "Let me go, for the day breaketh." But dust and ashes replied, "I will not, except thou bless me." And he blessed him there, and allowed that himself had been conquered, and styled his antagonist a prevailer with God. Thus Judah's Lion was overcome, and the lame duck waddled off with the victory.
Prayer is a defence against the spirit of this world, and a guard against the inroads of vanity; it is a maul upon the head of the old man, and a lash of scorpions for the devil.
Prayer is a bridle in the jaws of a persecutor, a spell to a voracious enemy, a dagger at the heart of a heretic, a key to parables and dark sayings, and a battering-ram on the walls of salvation. "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."
Prayer opens the bountiful hand of God, opens the door of mercy, keeps Christ in the throne of our affections, and covers every rival and usurper with, shame and confusion of face.
Prayer is my royal-exchange, where I have brought thousands of cares, burdens, snares, troubles, vexations, temptations, doubts, fears, misgivings of heart, sorrows of mind, fainting fits, unbelieving fits, fits of love-sickness, fits of carnal and spiritual jealousy, hardness of heart, rebellion of heart, and ingratitude of heart; together with every other disorder, as the leprosy, the evil of the heart, the plague of the heart, and the plague of the head; together with deaf ears, blind eyes, feeble knees, languid hands, baiting feet, and a stiff neck; with many oppositions, persecutions, false charges, slanderous accusations, and vile reproaches; and have, by this simple mean, got rid of them all at times. I have gone to this change with all sorts of devils, as an unclean devil, a false preaching devil, a blasphemous devil, a reforming devil, a furious devil, a fawning devil, and a sleepy devil, and have left them in the hands of him that could manage them, when my strength has been all gone, and self-despair has seized me. All these, and thousands more, have I taken to tiffs royal-exchange; and you know that one of the names of a believer is that of an exchanger, Matt. xxv. 27; and I have received in return thousands of kisses, blessings, mercies, and deliverances; many refreshings, renewings, revivals, restorations, and returns of comfort, peace, love, and joy; together with fresh discoveries, love tokens, wholesome truths, profound mysteries, glorious glimpses, bright prospects, terrestrial views, undoubted evidences, infallible proofs, heavenly lessons, confirming visits, conspicuous deliverances, earnests, pledges, and foretastes, reviving cordials, precious promises, or bank notes, payable this day, and every day through life, and even to millions of ages after date, signed, sealed, and delivered, by Jehovah himself: and God knows, and conscience too, that I lie not.
Prayer has scattered many confederate enemies of my soul, marred the schemes of Jacobins, frustrated the tokens of liars, and made diviners mad. It counteracts the designs of Satan and his dear children; it hath made me the enemy of the world, the rival of impostors, the envy of hypocrites, an eye-sore to the devil, an admiration to perishing sinners, a spectacle to the world, and a wonder to myself. "He that prays to his Father, that seeth in secret, shall be rewarded openly." By prayer the poor come up from the dust, and the beggar from the dunghill, and get a seat among the princes of God's people, and an inheritance in the throne of glory. Mental prayer hath brought me from sleeping in a barn to a comfortable lodging, from a lodging to a cottage, from a cottage to a house, and from a house to a little farm: it hath brought food for my need, apparel for my use, furniture for my dwelling, fuel to my hearth, money to my pocket, and faithful friends to my heart, and hath kept my pot boiling almost thirty years. For all these things I will be inquired of by the house of Israel, that I may do these things for them, Ezek. xxxvi. 37.
Prayer brought me from the coal-barge to a pulpit, from being a servant of servants to be a ruler in the Lord's household; it delivered my hands from the shovel and my shoulders from the sacks.
Yea, earnest desires hath raised four houses of prayer for God, and brought the presence of God into the houses; it hath brought living waters to my well, oil to my cruse, joy to my heart, and a blessing to many souls. And what shall I say more? Why, prayer hath brought little animals to my fields, living creatures to my yard, a horse for my use, when the King's business requires haste, and a vehicle at my command in inclement weather. This has caused the very abjects to gather together about me, and the eyes of the envious to look on me, who have seen it, and grieved, grudged, and gnashed, and wandered up and down, and gone round the walls of my dwelling grinning like a dog. "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly."
Prayer hath brought the souls of some, when departed, back into their bodies again. It engages the Almighty on the side of the suppliant, and establishes an alliance with God. It hath stopped the bottles of heaven for three years and six months, and opened them again at the expiration of that term; yea, and brought a miraculous plenty into the house of a poor widow, while destruction and famine were riding all around in universal triumph. "All things are possible to him that believeth;" "And whatsoever ye ask in prayer, I believing, ye shall receive."
Prayer hath brought health to the sick, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, eyes to the blind, life to the dead, salvation to the lost; and even driven the devil himself from the heart of many, and brought the God of heaven to dwell in his room.
Prayer is pouring out the soul before God, and shewing him our troubles; it is casting our cares upon him that careth for us, and our burdens upon him in whom we are to say we have righteousness and strength; it is opening to our well-beloved, opening our minds, our hearts, and our mouths to him who tells us to let him hear our voice, and see our faces, the one being sweet, and the other comely. This is besieging an everlasting kingdom, moving the throne of grace, and coming with a treble rat-tat at the door of mercy. In prayer we must take no denial, if we have but a feeling sense of our wants, a scriptural warrant to go upon, or one promise to plead; we must sue, argue, reason, plead, supplicate, intercede, confess, acknowledge, thank, bless, praise, adore, repeat, importune, observe, take hold of, and turn every thing that we can to our own advantage, so as we can but get something for the soul. Sensible sinners, that are poor and needy, have gotten many invitations, encouragements, precedents, promises, the covenant, the oath of God, the merits of Christ, and all his covenant engagements, undertakings, and performances; the covenant characters that he sustains, his incarnation, and near relationship to us; together with all the glorious train of divine perfections found in the proclamation of the name of God to Moses; for they all harmonize and shine in Christ crucified. Thus far I had written in this second epistle, my dear sister, when your last Letter came to hand. I see where you are, and will endeavour to point it out to you.
And now observe: when God the Father is about to bring us, as his chosen children, to his dearly beloved Son, that we may be openly and experimentally espoused to him, he comes near to us in a broken law, as it is written, "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord,' and teachest him out of thy law, that thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, till the pit be digged up for the wicked." This rest from the days of adversity is to be found only in Christ Jesus. He is our rest and our refreshing; and this rest Christ promises to them that are weary and heavy laden. This lading is sin, guilt, and wrath; and this labouring, and being weary of it, is our fruitless toil under the legal yoke; for the law works wrath and death in us, and this is truly hard labour; and, as we have no success in it, we faint, and get weary of it. This, my sister, is our heavenly Father's teaching; and so saith the Saviour," It is written, And they shall all be taught of God. Every one, therefore, that hath heard and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me; and he that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." When Christ espouseth us, he doth five things for us; but, antecedent to this, God, by the application of the law, makes us feel our need of them all. When the law comes home the first thing that it does is to discover our filthiness. "By the law is the knowledge of sin;" and sin by the law becomes exceeding sinful.
Secondly, The curse of the law, and the wrath of God, pierce through the poor breastplate of all self-righteousness, which convinces us that we are unrighteous in the sight of God.
Thirdly, It discovers and stirs up our carnal enmity. "The carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be."
Fourthly, The law fills us with fear and torment, and leaves us in bondage to it. And,
Fifthly, It discovers our blindness and our ignorance, and makes the old veil that is upon our hearts a darkness that may be felt. Such a soul and no other, is a fit object for Christ to embrace; and under these circumstances, God leads us to him, as he did Eve to the first Adam; and Christ receives us, at his hand, as his gift.
The first thing that Christ does for us is to cleanse us from our filth, which the law has discovered to us: "From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you."
The second thing is to bring forth the best robe, and put it upon us, this is the wedding-garment: "The Lord," says Zion, "hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels." Now the filthy garments of self-righteousness, discovered by the law, are put off, and this change of raiment is put on.
Thirdly, The ring of everlasting love is brought forth to adorn the hand. This ring of divine love subdues the carnal enmity discovered and stirred up by the law.
Fourthly, The next thing is, the shoes are brought forth for the feet; which shoes are peace with God through Christ, and peace with our own conscience through the application of the atonement: "Having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." These shoes much charm the heavenly wooer: "How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O princess daughter!"
The fifth thing is, the Sun of Righteousness now shines upon us with healing in his beams. He views us with approbation, complacency, and delight. This is the saving manifestation of himself to us, and to all that the Father hath given him. This removes the old veil from the heart, which hung so heavy upon us under the law: the face being turned to the Lord, and we emboldened and encouraged to look up, the veil is taken away. All this work is done, in a greater or less degree, on the day of our espousals, and on the day of the gladness of the bridegroom's heart. And now let me shew thee the hand that faith, as an instrument, hath in all this.
First, Christ is the fountain open that cleanses from all sin, and faith applies the atonement: God purifies our hearts by faith.
Secondly, The Lord Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth; and faith lays hold of his righteousness, and puts it on. Hence it is said, that the righteousness of Christ is to all and upon all that believe.
Thirdly, Now, as faith has the honour of being the hand of the soul, which hand appropriates all these things to us; so faith, as the hand of the soul, is honoured with wearing this ring, which is the eternal love of God: "Faith worketh by love." And, as a wedding-ring is an emblem of love, and, when put on the proper finger, is a sure token from a husband to a woman of her wedlock with him; so the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Spirit of God is a sure token of our espousals to Christ, and of eternal union with him, and of God the Father's love to us in him. And, as there is, at times, in an affectionate young woman wooed, doubts and fears whether her intended will prove faithful at last or not, which will not be removed until she is espoused with a ring; so here the match will not appear clear to the soul; nor will doubts, fears, misgivings of heart, and torment, be cast out, till perfect love takes place, or until we are made perfect in love, or until this ring be put on the hand of faith; the greatest, the hardest, and most difficult work of faith being this, to persuade the soul that Christ loves it with an everlasting love; and even faith's persuasion must be attended with a feeling sense of this love too, or else the soul cannot rest satisfied. But, when this is done, the match is made, and is indissoluble, and the soul is more than sure of it. And now,
Fourthly, Faith puts on the shoes. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;" and, "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts."
Fifthly, Faith now looks through the veil, and sees him that is invisible; yea she sees the promised seed, and embraces him. And it this eye that captures the heart of the heavenly wooer: "Thou hast ravished my heart my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes." This, my beloved sister, is our espousals to the Lord Jesus; thus comes the second Eve to the second Adam. But still the Father doth not let his daughter go out of his hand; no, "None," saith the bridegroom, "shall pluck them out of my hand;" and adds, "My Father is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one." Thus God holds her, and claims her as his daughter, and Christ holds her, and claims her as his spouse, and as his Father's choice and gift to him. And, indeed, it was our heavenly Father that decreed, proposed, and made this match. Thus have I shewed thee how we become dead to the law that we may be married to another, even to him that is raised from the dead, that we may bring forth fruit unto God, even as the branch in the vine brings forth grapes.
But now observe what the Saviour says: "I am the vine, and ye are the branches, and my Father is the husbandman; every branch in me that beareth fruit my Father purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." After we have enjoyed the dearly be loved of our souls for a few months, our love, our simplicity, meekness, contrition, tenderness, filial fear, &c. abate in their exercise; and we begin to creep into self, wax proud, get secure and careless; dream of ease all the way, and are very nice, and rather dainty; nothing but the best wine of the kingdom, and the very marrow of the feast, will do for us; we must shew ourselves, seek admiration and applause, and appear to be something. But, when the Father sees this he takes us in hand again; he visits our sins with the rod, and our iniquities with scourges, as he says he will do; he turns us loose on the barren mountains of Sinai, he exercises us with legal bondage again. This stirs up every inbred corruption, which astonishes us; this convinces us of the need of diligence and watchfulness, and that we have not much to be proud of, seeing the root of every sin is still in us, though guilt is purged and sin is subdued by grace. And here our beloved withdraws himself, and is gone. He is not to be found at Horeb, but at Zion. From this mount we get nothing but barrenness, dryness, and deadness of soul. These things falling upon us, bring us to rue our pride, security, lightness, and folly; and, though we come no more under the curse, nor under vindictive wrath nor unpardoned guilt, yet it is a grievous yoke to an heaven-born soul, and not a little mortifying to one of the spouse's dignity. Bitter reflections, cruel jealousies, and humbling mortifications, attend this purging rod. And it is very debasing to appear with the yoke of a slave, and a fallen countenance, like a thief, before the meek and lowly soul; as it is written, "Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women ! My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices." He was gone down to them that were more meek and lowly. But when we are humbled the Father leads us back again to the enjoyment of Christ Jesus, who is God's salvation to the ends of the earth; and we are again influenced by a spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind; and now we are all tenderness, care, and circumspection, simplicity, meekness, and gratitude. But, alas! this soon wears off again, and then another purging comes upon the fruitful branch; and, after that is over, sweet union is felt again, and we feel our abiding in him; and do, by these means, bring forth fruit: and thus we go in and out, and find pasture. This, my dear sister, is the purging hand that thou art now under. Thou art, for the third time, under the all-wise management of the great husbandman; and he is puzzling and confounding thy wisdom, and taking off some of thy luxurious branches, and casting down some of thy high reasonings and contentions, which exalt themselves against tile knowledge of him And now for the spouse's request in the Song. Know thou that, when God shook the house where the apostles were assembled, together with the rushing of a mighty wind, and filled them all with the holy Comforter, under which influence they went forth and wrought, and the Lord worked by them, confirming their word with signs, that then was fulfilled this prophecy, "And the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south," Zech. ix. 14. Thus is the spirit of love called the south wind; wind being a known emblem of the Holy Ghost. Read Isaiah, chap. xl. Whereas the wrath of God in the law, which stirs up our enmity, is the spirit of bondage to fear; and, as it brings a cold chill on our love, and much fear and trembling, it is therefore called the north wind. Hence Solomon, knowing that bondage always precedes liberty, the one bringing grief and the other joy, says, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; for God hath set the one against the other." Prosperity is the time when our Lord embraces us; out our adversity is the time when the Lord refrains from embracing. Hence Solomon represents the spouse as being dissatisfied with her carnal ease, and dead, indifferent state; and that, to such a hungry soul, the bitterness of legal bondage would be sweeter than such a dead frame. He sets forth the spouse as praying thus: "Awake, O north wind, and come thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out;" knowing that there would be no divine embraces till humbling trials had taken place. In this way is the believer purged. Take notice further, that, as some souls are called servants, and are under the law in bondage to it, and strangers to grace; so gracious souls, though often humbled, and exercised with the bondage of the law, are still under grace: the former being a corrupt tree in its natural state, and the other a good tree, purged, and made good by the grace of God. Solomon represents death as a woodcutter, cutting both down, and both falling under their own proper influence; or as bending under that wind that blows upon them; "Whether the tree falls toward the north, or toward the south, in the place where the tree falleth there it shall be." No change shall be made in the soul after death. The former dies in self and self-righteousness, looking to the law; the latter dies in faith, looking to Jesus: and so shall each appear in the great day. Let my sister, therefore, kiss the chastening rod, and consider that she procures it to herself, and God appoints it for her good, and it is intended to make the spouse fruitful. But not so the servant, who is in a false profession; who without being dead to the law, or divorced from it, yet claims Christ the second husband before the first be dead. These are otherwise dealt with; and so it follows: "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away;" as he did Judas. And to such, and only such, in the most dreadful sense, is that awful text applicable, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;" as every fruitless branch doth, which God the Father takes away from Christ, and from his church. These soon wither, and soon burn. If any thing in this scrawl is encouraging, comforting, or establishing, receive it as one espoused to the Lamb of God; for, "All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or Christ, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours;" and, among the rest, in the indissoluble bond of the everlasting covenant, I subscribe myself, in the Covenant Head, and for his sake,