To Philomela, in the King's Dale
Yours came safe to hand; in which you intimate that the snare of the fowler is, in some measure, broken. Satan can quote and apply scripture when it will serve his own turn; but he is never divided against himself in that work.
As the angels were the first creatures that God made, and are called the morning stars, and sons of God, who sung their anthem together, and shouted for joy at the creation of the world, Job, xxxviii. 7; so I have no doubt but they were present when God gave the law to Adam, as they were also at the giving it to Israel at Sinai, Heb. ii. 2. And this appears plain by Satan, after his fall from heaven, quoting the word of God in his first attempt to deceive Eve: "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?" He used the same art in his tempting Christ to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple: "It is written," saith Satan, "He shall give his angels charge over thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up," Matt. iv. 6.
In this way Satan labours to discourage every broken-hearted sinner whom the Lord hath awakened, quickened, and wounded; I mean, by quoting and applying the most terrible texts of scripture to them, which he does to obstruct our way to Christ, to dishearten us, to sink us in despair, and to stop the mouth of prayer, and to stir up hard thoughts of Christ; and some of the most alarming passages in the Bible are thrown as stumbling blocks in our way, and we stumble upon the dark mountains of Sinai, and stumble at election and at reprobation, Zech. vi. 1; Heb. xii. 18. In this way he harassed me, by bringing continually to my. mind the unpardonable sin, or sin unto death; and that of Esau's finding no place of repentance, though he sought it with tears; the deplorable state of Saul, when God answered him no more; that also of man giving an account at the day of judgment for every idle word; and the soul that sins shall die: all these, and many more of the like import, were perpetually brought to my mind with forcible suggestions that I was the man; and that God had sent me into the world, as he did Pharaoh, to shew his wrath and power in me. These, and many more, were brought hourly to me, and set before me as my sorrowful meat. And who applied them to me? not God; for, if he had, they must all have been fulfilled; for whatever God says, whether against us or for us, shall most surely come to pass. But none of these came to pass with me in the way that Satan predicted they would.
But, on the other hand, every promise that God sent to me stood fast. The first word that ever came to me from him was, "Believe that I am in you, and you in me;" and that moment everlasting light shone into my soul, to shew me where I was; and there it is to this day.
The next was, "He that overcometh shall inherit all things." God did enable me to overcome in that dreadful temptation; and I believe to this day that God hath called me that I might receive the reward of eternal inheritance.
The next was, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." And at that time righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, filled my heart.
Being once much concerned in my mind about the state of many poor quiet people who did not run to the same excess of riot as many do, I asked the Lord what would become of them, and he said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Being at another time brought into bondage by disputing with an old Arminian, and being sadly tossed in my mind between free will and free grace, and some passages of scripture which seem to favour both, the Lord spoke to me thus, "Do not the scriptures say that no man can come to me except the Father draw him?" I answered, I know they say so. Then it came again saying, "If you can find a place where it says that a man can come without being drawn, then you may prove the Bible lies;" and away went all my confusion and bondage, and sweet tranquillity followed. From that moment Arminianism kicked the beam, nor did it ever stagger me afterwards; and I am at a point that none but the devil is the author of that system.
When I carried coals, a person came into the neighbourhood, and took a room for an Oxford Blue to preach in. A voice told me that the room was opened for me. When the man came to speak his mouth was stopped, and I was invited to speak there, which I afterwards did for some years.
One Sunday morning, going out to hear a minister that was to preach out of doors, a voice came to me, saying, "You must preach out of doors to-day;" and it told me what text I was to speak from also; and the minister that was expected disappointed the people, for he came not; so they constrained me to speak, which I did all that summer, and the summer following.
Being once in great distress and want, these words were spoken to my heart," I know thy tribulation, and poverty; but thou art rich." And I believe, with my whole heart, that the Lord did take notice of my poverty and sufferings, by his kind appearance for me afterwards in providence; and that the Lord is the portion of my soul I have no doubt, for he hath redeemed me; and, "The ransom of a man's life are his riches," Prov. xiii. 8. When he sent me to London he told me to "prophesy upon the thick boughs." And surely none could be more opposed than I have been, by almost every dissenting minister and congregation; besides the oppositions that I have met with from false-hearted friends, from worldlings, from devils, heretics, and hypocrites. And still the boughs are thick, and thick they will be as long as it pleases God to speak by me.
When I had that disturbance in the church, which you know of, God told me, by his Spirit, that he would avenge his own elect. And no small number have got that vengeance lodged in their conscience to this day; besides the many that went out of the world in less than two years after God had discovered the bane of their hearts.
Soon after this, when I was wondering at their hardness of heart, and hearing of their continual calumny, he spoke these words to me, "When they shall cease to deal treacherously thou shalt deal treacherously with them." This passage shewed me that they were to fill up their measure this way, and to go on reproaching me till they were weary of it; and that some would then desire to come back again; and that others, in their distress, when the judgments of God overtook them, would come to me for my counsel and my prayers; and, further, that I should be a savour of death unto death to them in my ministry, and a witness against them in the day of judgment; the former has come to pass already, and so will the latter.
When Europe appeared in such confusion under the influence of that spirit of rebellion which the devil, by the instrumentality of Tom Paine, poured out upon men, I had long begged of God to shew mo what part of his word contained this perilous time, and he told me it was the hour of temptation, as is related in a sermon lately published by me. And it was explained to me as being the same trial as came upon the Jews in the days of Jeremiah; and that it was sent to try the obedience of professors, and the loyalty of the nations; and I soon perceived that no class of men in this nation were more easily taken, nor more effectually bound in these bonds of iniquity, than the hypocrites in Zion, and impostors in the ministry; and the calamity of both will come suddenly upon them. Thus my dear sister may see that what God speaks and applies comes to pass. But all the fearful predictions which came to me from Satan, in the days of my trouble, fell to the ground. And as Satan can apply scripture, so can he also work by dreams. All the fearful and miserable dreams which he tormented me with, such as dying by suicide, being thrown into wells, and down unfathomable precipices, and being burnt alive, and of coming to the worst of ends, and by dying innumerable deaths; have none of them, as yet, come to pass; nor do I believe they ever will; whereas the dreams Which came from God all came to pass. One which I had in my distress was, I was climbing up the outside of a most spacious fine building, but many enemies opposed me; but I gained the height in spite of them all.
Another was a most furious attack of a dreadful and formidable monster to devour me; but, though he made several attempts, ye he could not come near me by several feet. I wondered at this, and looking up, saw a beautiful man smiling at me, and holding a chain in his hand, which chain Was round the body of the beast, just as a monkey is chained. And I believe the Saviour holds the devil in chains to this day; so that he cannot destroy God's people, though he often tries.
I had another dream, which was that of two innumerable armies drawn up to engage on a very high and spacious plain. I was there to watch their motions, and to hear tidings; and, as soon as they began to engage, off I set over the plain and down into a narrow road, through a low and hollow field: the cannon and muskets roaring as I ran, I thought they might kill me; but, looking towards the plain, I saw a very high stone wall between me and the plain, and that the plain was level with the top of the wall, and the village to which I bore tidings was in a lane at the bottom of the field in which I was. Soon after this the war broke out; and I have borne tidings throughout this war, and the wall of salvation hath protected both me, and those who have received my tidings, even to this day.
Soon after this I had another dream, which was, that I saw a very high and strong fence, somewhat like posts and rails, but exceeding strong, and the top of it reached to the clouds; on the other side I saw a numerous herd of black bulls, exceeding fierce, and they leaped, many of them, clear over this high fence. When I awoke, I conceived the high fence to be the laws of nations, and the boundaries or frontiers of countries; and, when I heard how he French overran divers nations, and how the disaffected were let loose here among us, I thought of the fat bulls of Bashan, mentioned in the Psalms and other scriptures. Some I saw in my dreams could not leap over, and those that did could not destroy the fence, for that stood firm, just as it was. And so I have seen it; the bulwarks of national laws stand as they did; and our disaffected, who tried hard to leap over, could not; and those that did will never leap back again. This my dream came fresh to my mina when I saw in the newspapers that the French commander in Italy informed the Directory of his engagement on the mountains, saying that his army fought above the clouds.
Thus I have informed my dear sister of the various applications the most terrible passages of scripture to me in my deepest distress, and of the fearful dreams; neither of which came to pass, being the work of the devil, to keep me from Christ. And this I was confirmed in by the Lord's visits to me; for every glimpse that I had of the Saviour dispersed these dismal things; but, when he withdrew, then they came again. It is with the seeking sinner as it was with the lunatic in the gospel, while he was coming to Christ the devil threw him down, Luke, ix. 42. Furthermore: not only by fearful dreams and false applications hath Satan distressed me, but even by horrible sensations in the night; and that even when I have gone to bed in the most profound peace and tranquillity, without the least sense of any guilt, shyness, or distance, between me and my God; yea, and sometimes when I have been much favoured with his sensible presence overnight. I have often, in former years, waked up in the dead of the night, and felt that my comforts were all gone, and a most melancholy and dismal gloom hung upon my mind, and such horrors and terrors had succeeded as quite terrified me, and such darkness as might be felt, with a multitude of the most ghastly spectres drawn upon my imagination, with death and the grave represented in their most dreadful forms and awful consequences. These things drove me to examine myself, and to seek the face of the Lord; and, when I found that prayer dispelled them, and the Lord. appeared still propitious to me, and that none of these things brought any guilt on my conscience, and that they were not attended with the burden of unpardoned sin, nor with the piercing sensations el unappeased wrath, nor with the curse of the law, nor with the apprehensions of an angry God, nor with any dread of damnation; I concluded that they came from the devil, and the word of God bore me out: "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty;" such "shall not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth at noon day," Psalm xci. 1, 5 I was not a little exercised with very foul dreams also, but prayer removed them all; and Satan hath dropped this method of proceeding against me for many years, for he knows that I am, in some measure, up to it.
Now, as Satan thus works against sensible sinners, whose hearts are honest, and who come constantly to the light to have their real state discovered, and who are made willing to take up the cross, to follow Christ, and to be saved by him; I say, as Satan works against these by fearful dreams, and applications of the most terrible passages of scripture; so, on the other hand, by applying the promises to hypocrites, and by encouraging dreams, he also deceives them, and leads them into perilous presumption. I once was acquainted with a great professor, who was a man of much wealth, and who stood very high in his confidence, too high to admit of any doubting in believers. This person invited me and my wife to come and dine with him, which we did; and he told us of a wonderful view that he had had, and of a voice that had spoken to him; both of which were respecting the sonship of Christ; and he was so pleased and charmed with his wild conceit, that he put it in the newspaper. He and I could not agree in our opinions; we differed widely. He laboured hard to gain me over to his sentiments, but I was inflexible; and therefore he ordered me out of his house, and I obeyed and went out; and as soon as I was gone out, I told my wife that that man would go mad; and, about seven years after that, he went raving mad, and died so.
I knew another, a woman, and a very sensible one, and who attended for many years one of the brightest ministers which the church of England hath lately been honoured with, and was very fond of his ministry; nor could she sit under any other. This woman had the promises of the gospel continually applied to her, as she thought, and mentioned many of them to me; and I once asked her how it was that none of them came to pass? She replied, "I know that they must all be fulfilled," and added, "God cannot be just except he does fulfil them." Soon after this she had heard that I had insisted that God required worship in spirit and in truth; and that a form of prayer was not sufficient; and that some things in our forms of prayer were repugnant to scripture. At this she was much exasperated, and said, "Such a fellow as that presume to take the work of our great reformers to pieces!" At last she began to sink in her confidence, and fearful bondage came upon her, which made her a burden to herself, and to all about her. A near relation of hers brought her up to my house in Winchester-row; but I was not at home. The request of her relation was, that she might come and lodge and board with me My wife gave her to understand that it would not be agreeable; so she went away, and not long afterwards she hung herself upon bet bed's head; which fully convinced me that the implacable enemy of mankind had deceived her by applying those promises to her.
Poor Tom Smith, whom you know, or at least have heard something of, was wonderfully tossed to and fro, up and down, this way, by every scripture that came to his mind, however contradictory; as, for instance; at some times the Lord had told him he was to go and settle at such a place, and then another text contradicted it, that he was to stay where he was. He mentioned to me the fearful state that he had been in, and the temptations that he had to suicide, and of the people that were gathered together about him in this his distress, and of the sudden deliverance, from misery to laughter, by the application of a passage of scripture, which I now forget, and which first set him off in a profession, as one that had obtained mercy; and of his joining himself to a church in the country; and, after some time, that one of my pamphlets fell into his hands, and of his reading it; and of this passage coming into his mind, "I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter." This he looked upon as an order from God to come to London to see me; and he came, but could not find me, and therefore went back again; and if I mistake not, he came again, and found me not. However, the same text followed him, and he came the third time, if I mistake not, but not succeeding, was returning home; but, seeing a road across the fields which led to Hampstead, some passage occurred to his mind directing him to go there; and thither he went, and inquired of a shoemaker if he knew me: he answered, he did, and gave him a shilling, and sent him to another person in Hampstead, who knew where I lived; he gave him a direction to me, and put sixpence more into his hand. This appeared a kind providence, for he had no money in his pocket; it served also to confirm him that he was right in seeking me. At first I could make nothing of him, but thought him deranged, and gave him a trifle. However, he kept coming to me; for, Providence thus appearing for him, confirmed him more and more that he was to go and see his supposed Peter; but, when he began to sink, and found his hopes give way, and madness come on, he was much astonished that he could be thus deceived, but was forced to own that the whole was nothing but the works of the devil; and, indeed, self-abhorrence, godly sorrow, evangelical repentance flowing from pardoning love, tenderness, meekness, and an abiding sense of his insufficiency for the great work, never appeared in him.
I once knew a gracious woman who laboured long under heavy persecution both from her husband and his friends, and who was long kept in fears and distress by the following text: "He will surely violently turn and toss thee like a ball into a large country: here shalt thou die," Isaiah, xxii. 18. It is spoken of Shebna's captivity, who was steward and treasurer of the king's household; and the devil applied it to this poor woman, and she construed it to mean that persecution was coming on the church, and that she should be banished into a strange country for her religion. And true enough she was, for soon after she died, and made a most glorious end; nor was there any violent turnings or tossings in her death, for she was taken ill and died in less than ten hours after. Thus the devil can apply scripture when it will serve his own turn, and promote his own interest. His aims with the children of God are to discourage them, to raise doubts in the mind, and to stir up unbelief; to call the truth of God, and the work of God on their souls, into question, that they may murmur, rebel, be discontented with their state, and unthankful to God for what-they have. And here he often prevails by damping their affections, and so robs God of his praise and glory, by tempting the believer that he has no grace to thank God for; and this he partially believes, and so holds back the Lord's revenue. This is a temptation, it is plain, because "every visitation of God disproves it, and expels it."
By applying scripture the devil encourages the presumptuous, and blows them up with pride and vain confidence, to dream of the goodness of their state, without any sight or sense of the heniousness of sin, or any humility under it, or sorrow on the account of it, and even to expect the great reward of inheritance without either pardon, righteousness, or holiness by the Holy Ghost, which alone can give us right unto it, and meetness for it. Under these delusions the consciences of some are seared, so that they have no bands in their death; and the presumptuous, he goes on till his hope expires with him: "Their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost." In short, every believer is conscious to himself that he has a claim upon God, as his covenant God, and an interest in him. This is made manifest to him by the Spirit's work, and by the witness which the Spirit bears with our spirits; and such souls do expect to be dealt with as sons, not as slaves or criminals; and that the promises are yea and amen in Christ, and the reward sure to all the seed; a daily cross, and an ever-abiding Comforter; prosperity and adversity; purging the branch with trials, and making it more fruitful by fresh indulgences, and with union and communion with the living Vine. Thus the sheep which enter by the right door, go in and out, and find pasture. When God speaks to his children his word never contradicts, but always agrees with that teaching which the holy anointing teacheth. Sometimes God speaks to encourage hope and expectation, as to Habakkuk: "The vision is for an appointed time, wait for it." Sometimes to support and fortify: "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days." Sometimes he speaks to stir up diligence: " Seek ye my face." And sometimes to encourage to prayer; "Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice." But either power, life, peace, mercy, or love, always attend his voice to those that love his name. But sure I am that he never will send a word to the hearts of his children to make them mourn after his presence all their days, and yet mourn in vain. No; they that mourn shall be comforted: "This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise." And all real praise must spring from his sensible presence, not his absence; from his goodness, not his anger. Therefore expect the fulfilment of his promises: "I will bear them from the womb, and to your old age I am he; and to hoary hairs will I carry you; even I will bear, and I will deliver you." Dear sister, adieu.
Ever yours in faith and affection,