To Philomela, in the King's Dale
THINE epistle comforted my heart. My hope of you is steadfast. Nothing ever raised a doubt in my mind of the goodness of thy state but thy long abode on Mount Tabor; for, when once meekness, contrition, godly sorrow, compunction of heart, self-abasement, and humility, wear off, and dryness and lightness attend our joy, there is danger. Pride and self-seeking creep in; nor is watchfulness and diligence in prayer attended to. The vessel goes on but wants ballast; and, when the rod comes on, we fall many leagues back. But now, blessed be God, we keep pace; we are in one and the same way. "If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him." If we share in the afflictions, so shall we in the consolations. I have had some uncommon seasons of refreshing of late; I mean secret refreshings on my own spirit. His soul-humbling advances towards me dissolved me, and sensibly affected both my body and soul. My hair moved upon my head, and I could feel my blood run in my veins. His presence, his unparalleled condescension, the freedom and the familiarity that he used with me, made my soul soar aloft in the most profound gratitude. I was obliged to stand still, and weep it out, for my mind floated on the river of self-abasing and unspeakable pleasure. The world and all about me seemed reduced to the drop of a bucket, or the small dust of a balance; my eyes poured out before him the tears of undissembled love, and I kept waving my hand, and coyly putting away the effects of his undeserved visit, crying out, "I am not worthy, I am not worthy,! am not worthy, I am not worthy." But, like himself, for he is like no other, he pressed his good-will, and the tokens of his eternal love, upon me, without taking the least notice of my repeated cries of unworthiness. My soul's unwearied enemy, who seldom leaves me one whole day together, fled, and not a corruption moved, nor a wandering thought sprung up to lead my mind astray. I had three of these unexpected visits; but they were transient, like those of a wayfaring man, who turns aside and tarries but a night. But I knew that they were earnests of more enduring and uninterrupted felicity. Soon after this my implacable enemy returned with double force; not to dispute me out of the reality of what I enjoyed, for I have felt more of that than ever he did, and know the sweetness of it better than he does; nor did he attempt to call in question my interest. He has dropped that for upwards of twenty years; nay, he has acknowledged it, and confessed it, when he hath wanted to tempt me to presumption. But, as all the doubts that his lies have raised in my mind could never move me from the foundation, so all his acknowledgments of the goodness of my state never added to my establishment. He can neither bless us at all, nor curse us at all. The work that he came to do was to stir up hard thoughts, prejudices, and enmity, at the best of friends, because I was then deserted, and my mind suffered to be defiled with a foul-mouthed devil, a rebellious and most blasphemous Jacobin. This word flew into my mind, "But I gave myself unto prayer." I took the hint; and, for three or four days, shut myself up, for the space of four or five hours in a day, to attend upon that very thing. And never, to be sure, did that holy and blessed Spirit, that all prevailing intercessor, that quintessence of all meekness, simplicity, and purity, help my infirmities more. I was amazed a the fortitude, boldness, freedom, fervour, argument, and powerful pleadings, that he equipped and furnished me with. Well might the Ancient of Days say to his apostles, "I will send you a Comforter, which the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you." For years have I watched and attended to the secret and wonderful operations and influences et that benign and unchangeable friend of sinners, and have admired his quick, seasonable, and invariable counsel, cautious, and instructions, and have often called him by all the sweet names of heavenly Dove, sweet One, blessed Comforter, sure and faithful Witness, yea, and every sweet and pathetic name that my heart could indite or my lips utter; and, while I have been heaping them upon his blessed head, he has kept my mind tranquil, and his pleasing operations have wonderfully proclaimed his approbation of my simple encomiums. Soon after this I fell ill, and have been laid by a fortnight, during which time he left me not, but favoured me more than usual; and one night I had the following dream. I dreamed that I was sitting at table with many of my friends. I do not remember any entertainment on the table. My mind was chiefly taken up at looking at my friends; and, among the rest, there sat the Lord Jesus Christ in person; and I knew him immediately; nor did he vanish out of my sight; and I found my mind inclined to put two questions to him. I said to him, "Lord, there are but few in this world that know thee, and there is bread enough in our Father's house, and to spare; and, as there are but few that know thee, and as thou hast but a few to feed, how is it then, that thou givest us so little?" He smiled, but gave me no answer. But I thought that every one at the table were looking at him, waiting for his reply; which convinced me that my open question was the language of all their hearts. As I could not succeed in this question, I put another, and the eyes of all at the table seemed to look at me. I said, "When you begin your work on us, you spare no pains, nor let our souls find rest, until you have weaned us from every thing under heaven; nor will you appear satisfied till you have brought us to love you with all our heart, and with all our soul; and, when you have gained this, what can be the reason of your leaving us, provoking us, and trying us, in so dreadful a manner?" The eyes of all the company, as soon as I had done with my question, were turned from me, and looked at him. But all that I got was another pleasing smile; for my beloved gave me no answer. I cannot, at this time, describe to my dear sister how dead my soul is to this world, nor how dealt this world is to me. Never did I see so clearly as now the meaning of the former and latter rain, mentioned Hosea, vi. 3; James, v. 7. The former shower, at conversion, I understand, when the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, took place; when righteousness, joy, peace, and praise, sprung up. This purged from guilt and filth, and a wonderful crop of the fruits of the Spirit succeeded. But the latter rain, at death, which is to root up and purge off the very in being of sin, must be a most stupendous work! The work of regeneration, and that of changing our vile bodies, and fashioning them like unto the glorious body of Christ, cannot be greater than this. But this is the thing that he hath spoken to us of; and then there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts. And I must tell thee that, at times, it is much on my mind, according to what I do now and then feel, that the latter rain is not far from me. O then shall the fruit of the earth be excellent and comely, when he that laid the foundation of the earth shall plant the heavens! Isa. Ii. 16. Then shall there be no more treading down, trouble, nor perplexity, in the valley of vision, Isa. xxii. 5. In this confidence I subscribe myself
Yours to serve in the kingdom and patience of Christ,
In the Desert.