To Philomela, in the King's Dale
Your last is now before me; and I have just as much right to thank you for it, as you have to thank me for mine; for, if any thing from me may cast a ray of light on thy mind, or on thy path, I am often rewarded in answering thine by some fresh thoughts, or new discoveries, which are often attended with devotional sensations, which melt my soul down, and draw out my gratitude to the best of all friends.
"The wicked have no bands in their death, their strength is firm." But remember, it is their strength. Satan, who blinds their eyes, and keeps their conscience asleep, is the strong man armed, that fortifies their carnal mind, and supports their false confidence and vain hope, even when launching forth into the bottomless pit. These, our Lord tells us, lift up their eyes in hell, and never before. But we, my dear sister, are planted together in the likeness of Christ's death, as well as in the likeness of his resurrection, and must indeed drink of the cup that he drank of. And it is well known that he had bands in his death; for Christ was a bond-servant under the law, as appears by the thirty pieces of silver which he was sold for; which was the price to be paid, according to the law, to the owner of a bond-servant which had been gored to death by the horns of a beast. Read and compare Exod. xxi. chap. with Psalm xxii. and Zech. xi. 12. The Saviour's worst bands were our sins, his Father's wrath, and the Powers of darkness. When the prince of this world came to him to bruise his heel, these deep waters entered his soul, Psalm lxix. 1; besides the insults of the Jews, and the excruciating pains of his body. But all these pains of death were loosed, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it, Acts, ii. 24. Our worst bands are the corruptions of our heart, the law in our members, and inbred sin that works in us, and will work in us as long as we live. These often make us halt, faint, and stumble, and often betray us into a spirit of legal bondage, and procure us many chastisements, many spiritual desertions, and much fatherly anger. And these sensible suspensions of divine favour, frowns, stripes, and bondage, when sanctified, are intended to purge the branch, that it may bring forth more fruit. Not a few of these purging draughts have fallen to thy share already in the short course of thy pilgrimage; and when humbling grace operates, how are our sinful stirrings subdued, how are they detested, and for a while out of sight, when sweet love, meekness, contrition, godly sorrow, self-abhorrence, unfeigned faith and abounding hope, much peace and divine tranquillity, all appear uppermost in the soul, and make it look like a bride adorned with her jewels. This, my dear sister, is what I mean by bands in the saints' death. These corruptions will stick by us to the last, and Satan often works sadly in them and by them; and it is generally seen, though not always, that the child of God, on his death-bed, is not a little exercised with them; as it will be even with the wise virgins when the midnight cry comes. An alarm will go forth; then they will arise and examine themselves, and there will be a little purging work go on upon them; some sharp reproofs, some melting and humbling trials; and then a restoring of them to the joys of the Lord's salvation. Trimming of lamps consists in wiping them out, cutting off the burnt snuffs, pouring in fresh oil, and lighting them up, that the light of the righteous may rejoice when the lamp of the wicked is put out. But the creature, the new creature, the whole mystical body of Christ, shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, and be brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God; for this is the earnest expectation of every new creature in Christ Jesus. For this creature was made subject to vanity, or death, Gen. iii. 19; Eccl. iii. 19, 20; not willingly, for death is not desirable in itself; but God hath subjected us to it in hope, that our souls may be delivered from all corruption at our departure out of this world; that we may have hope of glory in death, and leave the body to rest behind us, in hope of a glorious resurrection, which will be the last work of hope in this world. Thus we must hope to the end, and no longer; for what a man seeth himself in full possession of why doth he yet hope for?
But because I told you, in my last, that "I expected some familiar visits, love-tokens, confirming renewals, and promised revivals, in the course of my pilgrimage, even to the end, as well as a daily cross," I have staggered you; and, in the expectation of these things, you say you seem to turn out of my path. No, no, my sister; I ran to the same extremes that you do. When in my first love I said, and believed it too, that I should never be moved from the mount, the Lord of his goodness had made my hill so strong; but, when spiritual desertions came on, and Satan returned with double rage, and every inherent corruption was stirred up, attended with legal bondage and slavish fear, I then concluded, as Job did, "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope; O remember that my life is wind, mine eye shall no more see good!" Job, vii. 6, 7. David was wrong in his exultation, for God hid his face from him. Job was wrong also in his lamentation, for the Lord appeared to him clearer than ever he did before. I was wrong also, for I have had hundreds of visits since I drew those sad conclusions; and you are wrong, for he will revive and renew his work on thy soul, and bring it to light, and confirm you in it again and again: "They shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine, and spread forth their roots like Lebanon." If they revive, there must be more life; if they grow, there must be more grace given; and, if they spread forth their roots, their love must be drawn forth, for we are to be rooted and grounded in love; and, if we are to root like Lebanon, we must be strengthened, stablished, and settled, this way. But you inform me that you have no such expectations, and that you are confirmed in your opinion by the word of the Lord itself. The passage you allude to in Ezek. xlvi. 9, you do not rightly understand. That the temple spoken of in that chapter was a type of the church of God under the New Testament is plain, for the church bears the same name; and that all the furniture of the temple, in its gospel signification, is now found in gospel Zion, cannot be denied; and that there are such things as north and south winds, which blow on the Lord's garden, I hinted to you in a former epistle; and likewise I mentioned Solomon's trees, which he represents as falling toward the north and toward the south, and of their unalterable state after they are fallen; and no doubt but the north and south gates that you allude to have the same signification. Suppose a poor sinner is seized with a spirit of bondage to fear, and wrath and guilt work in him till his soul is chilled, and he filled with fear and trembling: this is the north wind, the spirit of bondage, which is the wrath of God. But at length he is enabled to fly from wrath to come, and to embrace the hope set before him; and he exercises faith on the Saviour, and comes sensibly into his favour, into his grace, and into his finished salvation. He then passes from death to life, and shah never more come into condemnation. He enters by the north gate. Christ to him is the gate of life, and the end of the law for righteousness. His faith now works by love; and as lovingkindness is never to be taken from him, he shall go out at the south gate. But then, what is or can be meant by going out of the church? Why, in one sense, the believer can never go out at all; for he that overcometh is made a pillar in the temple of God, and he shall go no more out. Going out, therefore, can mean nothing but a being translated from the militant to the triumphant church by death. Moreover, suppose a person, at his first setting off in a profession, is allured and drawn into it by a sense of God's goodness, and a believing view of his kind providence, as Hezekiah was, and as Job seems to be, and the north wind, or a spiritual bondage, falls upon him, as it did upon those two men, that they might see the hand-writing that was against then, and that they might know the sin of their heart by the application of the law; this alters not the state of their souls; they were members of Christ before, so they were when in their troubles, and they were more sure of this when their deliverance came. It remains, therefore, that it cannot, in the worst sense, mean a real believer; for, though he may be exercised in his pilgrimage, and on his death-bed, with legal bondage, yet he cannot go out of the church, and out of the world, under the wrath of God, nor yet in bondage; his end must be peace, not wrath. The covenant, the oath of God, the pro-raise of life, the death of Christ, and the Spirit's work, all forbid this. To conclude this subject, in the strictest and worst sense of the words, the comer-in at the south gate is the way-side hearer, who has his natural affections and passions stirred up; in whom light, joy, gills, and zeal, spring up; and who, in time of temptation and persecution, falls away, and goes out of the church, and into the world, and then out of the world under the wrath and curse of God. And this character is further described by this prophet in the 16th verse of the same chapter; and Christ, in his days, quotes the words, and then applies them: "Thus saith the Lord God, If the prince give a gift unto any of his sons, the inheritance thereof shall be his sons; it shall be their possession by inheritance." This inheritance is eternal life; and Christ came that we might have it; and he that hath it, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; for Christ came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. "But, if he give a gift of his inheritance to one of his servants, then it shall be his to the year of liberty; after it shall return to the prince," Ezek. xlvi. 17. Our Saviour's explanation and application of this text is, "Take the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents; for he that hath not [hath not life, but a spiritual gift], it shall be taken away from him, even that which he hath." And it is often seen that a servant cuts a most glaring figure in the church of God, until the spirit of love and liberty be poured forth upon some of the elect of God about him; and when he sees this, he sinks in his soul at the sight, and at the light, and hates it, as Saul did, when he saw that God was with David. Such an one sinks in the esteem of such heaven-born souls as much as Saul did in the eyes of Samuel, when he said, "Honour me now before the elders of my people." Nothing discovers a false profession, and a false professor, like the spirit of love and liberty being poured out upon poor broken-hearted sinners about him; and, if it come upon such as have looked up to him as something great, discriminating grace discovers him. At this he is offended, and hates the light, and flees from it, and fights against it; and this withers his joys, it blasts his zeal and diligence, and dries up the glee of his animal spirits, and natural abilities too; so that his gifts return to the prince, and he gives the talent to others. He that receives this gift is a servant, and he comes in at the south gate. He begins his profession with having his passions moved, and his natural affection stirred up, and comes in at the south gate; and when the jubilee comes, he either takes offence at it, or else, in persecution and temptation, falls away, and legal bondage seizes him, and he goes back to the first husband, the law, never being divorced from it: and this is going out of the north gate. And, when death cuts such a corrupt tree down, the tree falls toward the north; and where the tree falls there it shall lie. But the name and title of the other is that of a son; and his inheritance shall not be taken from him, nor shall he go out of the church but by death: he came in by the north gate. A spirit of bondage, sooner or later, more or less, doth exercise all the elect of God, till love casts their fears out: such come in by the north gate, and shall go out by the south. Death cuts that tree of righteousness down, and it falls toward the south; and in the place where it falls there it shall lie.
I must confess that I rather wonder at your giving up all expectations of sensible visits from God by the way, only from your constructions, put upon that dark and ambiguous text; "An enemy hath done this." God will never apply any passage of his word in a sense that shall run counter to the whole current of scripture. "I am with you alway to the world's end." "I will water them every moment. I will keep them night and day." "Their leaf shall be green; nor shall they cease from yielding fruit." And sure I am that heaven and earth shall pass away before a jot or tittle of his word shall fail. And as sure as temptations, desertions, legal bondage, or unbelief, obscure the good work on thy heart, so sure will God shine upon it, revive it, revive it and bring it forth to light again; "Being confident of this very thing, that he, which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it, until the day of Jesus Christ," when it shall be perfected, both in body and soul. In this confidence, and in the best of bonds, I remain
Yours to serve for his sake,