To Philomela, in the King's Dale
I PROMISED myself much happiness and satisfaction in the hope and prospect I had of one more interview with you at Gasson's Bower; and I have no doubt but you expected a second benefit in hearing the joyful sound once more in the old barn. But, alas! our purposes were broken off, even the thoughts of our heart. We decreed the thing, but it was not established unto us. I was to go to the barn, and you sick to bed. O, the disappointment! Had I set out on a tour of pleasure I might justly have expected it; but I went hoping and expecting to hear the voice of my beloved. And was you disappointed? Is there no voice but that of the chief Shepherd by the mouth of his servants? Is there not a voice in Providence? And is there not a voice in his rod? "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name; hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it," Micah, vi. 9. The Lord's voice crieth to the city of Zion now as well as to Jerusalem in the days of old; and those who have wisdom shall see the Lord's name; and that name is the angel of the covenant, who went in the cloudy pillar through the wilderness. This name is to be seen by those who have wisdom in the hidden parts of the heart: "All the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and the hearts." Therefore hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it; for all these things are appointed for thee, and many such things are with him.
I was much surprised last Lord's-day to hear that thou wast not as yet returned to the King's Dale, but that you was in hope of quitting the Bower this week, being somewhat restored to health again. I wish much to know whether this hath been amongst the all things that work together for good to them that love God. Hath he fulfilled his promise? Hath he strengthened thee upon the bed of languishing? Hath he made all thy bed in thy sickness? I am persuaded by the Lord that he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men, Lam. iii. 33. It is to empty us of self, that we may savour more of him and of his good ointments. if the vessel of mercy goes but for a short space without the rod, without the cross, without discipline, without afflictions, without the furnace, it soon settles upon its old lees, and the scent remains, and we savour not of the things of God, but those of flesh and blood. Sanctified trials banish the spirit of this world from the mind, and keep those worldly cares, which too often choke the word, from rooting in the heart. When God comes with a fiery trial he goes through these briars and thorns, and consumes them altogether, Isa. xxvii. 4. It was these that overtopped the good seed in the thorny-ground hearers. Fiery trials scorch these at the root, and the blasts of divine resentment wither them; and legal bondage to fear drives us to care for matters more weighty, and to seek for a more enduring substance; and, when sensible union with the living Vine begins again to take place, a better crop is produced. "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off?," Isa. Iv. 13. Divine life within, and a verdant profession without, make the believer appear as a fir tree, the sap of which is always up, and the leaf of which is never withered, but always green; and, when the robe of humility is put on, and the influences of divine grace perfume the soul, it is like the myrtle, low, green, and fragrant; and where these things are experienced, enjoyed, and felt, it is to be to the Lord for a name; it is the fulfilment and full proclamation of the name of the Lord, proclaimed before Moses; I mean, that of the Lord's being gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in goodness and truth, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin, &c. &c. And, as this is to be to the Lord for a name of praise, so it is to be to the Lord God for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. It is like the rainbow; that is a sign to God of the promise that he hath made to all men, that he will drown the world no more, and a sign to man that he shall not be drowned. But to us the former is a sign that God will no more be wroth with us nor rebuke us, and a sure sign to us that we never shall be drowned in destruction and perdition. The fir and the myrtle shall not be cut off; they never shall be cut asunder with the sword of justice, nor be separated flea the communion and fellowship of God the Father, and God the Son: they shall ever abide in the favour of both. I think my dear sister is a good deal relapsed into legal bondage; she has lost the Lord's presence with respect to sensible enjoyment; and now she lives too near home, she creeps too much into self, and pores too much over the members and motions of the old man; and she has lived upon the old stock of past experiences so long that sac has nothing left but the bare remembrance of them, and the hope which past experience hath wrought in her. Manna in the wilderness was to be gathered every day, except the Sabbath; and you know that hidden manna is promised to us under the gospel. Water from the rock followed Israel, and they drank of it: and we have the promise of being watered every moment, and of being kept night and day. When the land of Canaan was to rest on the seventh year, a blessing was promised on the sixth; and on the eighth year, when the new crop came in, some of the old store was to be found, that the householder might mix it with the new. And every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of God is to be like one of those old householders; he is to bring forth out of his treasures things new and old. But who are these stores for? The Lord tells you: "At our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved!" Song vii. 13. The Passover offering was to be offered up but once in a year, in remembrance of Israel's great deliverance, and to lead their faith to their great Deliverer then to come, and to a greater deliverance by him; and we know that Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us, and we are to keep the feast. But then there was to be a lamb offered every morning and evening throughout the year, which was called the daily sacrifice; and with which was to be offered a perpetual incense. This was to lead their faith to look daily to the Lamb of God, both for help and for life; and the sweet perfume of unctuous prayer and praise, under the influence of the spirit of supplication, must, as our incense, attend our daily looks to the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. We are to live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us.
At thy first deliverance thou hadst little else but banqueting for a whole year; then came weaning time; the breast was put up, and stronger meat was brought forth; the sincere milk of the word was left for other little ones, who are coming after, and for those who are unskilful in the word of righteousness; whilst knowledge and understanding are to feed them which are of full age. Ezekiel's roll and John's little book, were both to be eaten, and they were sweet in their mouth; but, when they came into the belly, and discovered all the innermost parts of that, attended with the candle of the Lord, it caused much bitterness there, through the risings of inbred corruptions against the heavenly contents. John's little book produced the wise man's twofold ingredients: "The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger intermeddleth not with his joy." And this hath been the experience of all that ever received the word of God in power, in the Holy Ghost, and with much assurance. As for those who receive it into their head, and have their natural passions moved and stirred up under the sound of it, their joys seem long to abide; they are always the same; they have no changes of joy and bitterness, prosperity and adversity; they are not in trouble as other men, nor plagued as the people of God are; their strength is firm, until God's fan, or the midnight cry, comes on them; and then all their joys wither, like grass upon the house-top, "wherewith the mower filleth not his hand, nor he that bindeth sheave his bosom." But God's choice of his people is made manifest to them in the furnace of affliction. When temptation and persecution began to fall heavy upon the apostles and primitive saints, when the sun waxed hot, and the fiery trial came on, the way-side hearers, the stony and thorny-ground hearers, those who went a warfare at their own cost, and those who began to build and were not able to finish; all went back and fell away. But God will bring his own elect through fire and through water: the former shall not kindle upon them, nor shall the latter drown them; in the furnace their election is made sure to them; "I will bring the third part through the fire, and will purify them, as silver is purified, and try them as gold is tried; they shall call upon my name, and I will hear them, and I will say, It is my people, and they shall say the Lord is my God." Here is God's acknowledgment of them; he is not ashamed to be called their God: and here is their warrantable and compulsive claim' upon him. By the faith of God's elect they shall say, The Lord is my God. And would my dear sister escape the furnace? Would she wish to carry all her dross and tin with her? Would she desire a whole heart that needs no physician? Doth not the Lord promise to look to, and dwell with, them that are of an humble and a contrite heart, and tremble at his word? to revive the heart of the humble, and the spirit of the contrite ones?
Come, old girl, thou hast been compassing the old mount, and poring over the old fretting leprosy long enough: look once more with Jonah, towards the holy temple. Jonah did more by looking than he did by kicking. Looking at the brazen serpent had better effect than looking at the bite, or complaining of the pain. Manoah and his wife did nothing but look on while the angel did wondrously before them: and this was all that the disciples did when the great work was finished. There was none to help, there was none to uphold. The disciples followed to see the end. Matt. xxvi. 58. And what did we do when the great work was wrought in us? We looked to him, and were saved; we looked to him, and overcame him. And we must continue at this; we must not look at the things which are seen, for they discourage us, but at the things which are not seen. We must look at the eternal things that Christ is in full possession of for us; yea, we must run the race set before us, looking to the great possessor, the author and finisher of our faith.
If accused by Satan, law, or conscience, where can we look but to the Advocate? If exercised with God's chastening rod, or the reflections of fatherly anger, there is no where to look but to the great. Mediator. If iniquities prevail against us, there is no hope but in the fountain opened by Christ, and in the fullness of grace treasured up in Christ. If sick, we must look to the great Physician; if our own heart condemn us, to the end of the law for righteousness; and, if weak, to the hope of his people, and to the strength of the children of Israel. Dost thou believe, my sister, that the whole body mystical, from the least to the greatest, is complete in the everlasting Father, Head, and Representative, of the church? Canst thou believe what the divine Bridegroom asserts, that those who are called to the fellowship of him are all fair, and that there is no spot in them? Dost thou believe, that when God laid our sins upon him, his righteousness became ours; that when he was apprehended, we were let go? that when he died we suffered the law in him, who is a part of ourselves? that we were crucified with Christ, and with his dead body we arose? that for our justification he left the tomb, and we were raised up, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: accepted in the beloved, and blessed with all spiritual blessings in him, and in him without fault before the throne? Hold fast then the Head, to which the whole body is knit and joined, and from which the divine unction descends which every joint supplieth. All the bands of love and peace which hold us together, and all the joints of union, friendship, judgment, and affection, and all the confirmation and renewing of these, are of him and from him. This blessed Head ministers nourishment to the whole body, which body is bound up in the bundle of life, or in the bond of eternal love with the Lord our God.
The temptations and trials which have lately fallen to thy share are no other than such as are common to men. After I had been for a considerable time much indulged with the Lord's presence, and with such tender mercy and lovingkindness as is unspeakable, and with the fullest assurance of the reality of the work, and of my interest in his everlasting salvation, insomuch as not a fear, a scruple, or even the shadow of a doubt, remained about it, it pleased the Lord to try me sorely; not only with the loss of these heavenly visits, blessings, and never to be forgotten sensations, but all my corruptions appeared in all their infernal vigour. This sunk me; and peevishness, rebellion, and fretfulness, followed: then I went to striving against sin in my own strength; and this betrayed me into the shackles of legal bondage, till an army of unexpected terrors surrounded me, and the apparent anger of God, as I then supposed, pursued me on every side; and Satan, with his evil insinuations, suggested to me that all was a delusion; that God had done it to extort confessions of my own vileness and just deserts from my own mouth, that he might condemn me by them. And here I was almost ready to cast away all my confidence, despond, and get into madness. But the Lord fulfilled his promise again and again; for he revived the work, and was as sure to shine upon it, and bring it forth to the light again, as ever Satan and unbelief were to call it in question. And so wilt thou find it, and so thou hast often found it already. The sentence of justification passes through the court of conscience at once, and sensibly silences every accuser that the poor condemned sinner has. Upon this both law and justice, sin, Satan and conscience, let us go: and from that hour the tree of righteousness stand complete in the Lord, having both righteousness and strength. This work is perfect, and is not by any inquisition to be brought into court in order to be sifted up and canvassed over again. This would. reflect dishonour upon the omniscient and impartial Judge. No: but when God hides his face it is for the trial of our faith, and that by his going and coming he may familiarize himself to us, and the better known by us, and that we, nay be led to distinguish between flesh and spirit. The adversary takes advantage of these our desertions, and confuses us, and casts us into a hasty spirit that he may confound and baffle our judgment; and when we are filled with confusion he spreads a dismal gloom over the mind, and obscures our evidences; and in our hurry the Spirit's witness is not attended to. But when the Lord comes he brings us forth to the light again, and we behold his righteousness. Then for our shame we receive double, and for confusion we rejoice in our portion; yea, in this world we possess double, and in the world to come everlasting joy shall be unto us, Isa. lxi. 7, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
I long to know the state of your corn, whether your lord and master hath waded through this unparalleled harvest. It hath fallen to our lot to be cast on the stage of this world when perilous times are come. For many months before this war broke out I had little before my eyes but calamitous tithes, and nothing but wars and rumours of wars followed my fears; and now, for these five months back, famine is continually in my view and little else upon my mind. Seed time and harvest, promised to all, seems this year to be denied to us. And I have long prophesied that the awful rebellion discovered in this hour of temptation would be followed by some external or internal judgment; by famine, pestilence, or something awful. But no judgment so fatal as an internal one; I mean that of being given up to blindness of mind, hardness of heart, and being left under the awful curse of God. Many of our impostors and hypocrites in profession have been so engaged in political matters, and in the concerns of government, that they have neglected their lawful calling, and the concerns of their family, and have brought themselves to want bread. But it looks now as if they must fetch up their lost time by working over-hours, even to keep themselves from starving.
I know, by the word of the Lord, that oppression will be the crying sin throughout this world when the Saviour comes to take to himself his great power to reign. And this sin will extort more lamentable cries from the poor and needy than ever Pharaoh's cruelty did from the children of Israel; and a more conspicuous Deliverer will appear than ever Moses was. Read Psalm, lxxii. And, what is more astonishing, I have fainted in praying God to remove what I see to be coming on. I have no heart to pray against it, my faith fails; and, if I attempt it, it is against wind and tide, for the Spirit helps me not; nor will he ever make intercession for us contrary to the will of God. Therefore I take it for wanted that it is appointed for us. Not long ago our oppressors contrived an artificial famine; and it seems now as if God would send a real one, that the oppressor may have an opportunity of filling up his measure; for sure I am that God will never forget that work.
At present I am but poorly, very weak inwardly; which makes me often look to the end of my race; for, look which way I may, I see nothing but causes of grief and sorrow; and yet the whole bulk of professors seem to sit still and be at rest. They see the whole country blessed with gospel ministers, and tine work of the Lord going prosperously on every where; but I am so blind that I eau see nothing of it, but quite the reverse; for, go where I will, I find here and there a poor perishing sinner starving for want of the bread of life, and there are none to break it unto them. In my view of things this is a time of spiritual famine, when many of the poor and needy seek water, and there is none. Wells without water, and clouds without rain, we have plenty; but the ministry of the Spirit, and the power of God unto salvation, is rarely to be found. But we must leave the government upon the shoulders of the wonderful Counsellor; for none of the subjects of his kingdom shall ever perish, but shall have eternal life. I have run quite out of the way; but it is out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
Our glass is running out apace, and the bitterness of death is past; life and immortality hath been brought to light in our souls; the incarnate Word hath quickened us; he hath chastened us sore, but he hath not given us over unto death. Then "wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sin?" Out of the dark regions of the shadow of death have we been brought: our sins have been removed, and our guilt purged; he hath begotten us to a lively hope, and blessed us with inward peace; he hath circumcised our hearts to love him, and will not suffer any thing to satisfy us short of his presence, his grace, and the light of his countenance; and, though these be often denied us, yet the time cometh when we shall see him as he is; and our present sorrows and sufferings shall be all forgotten; when we shall hear no more the groanings of Zion, nor shall her children say any more, "Behold, I am sick;" for all the remains of corruption shall be done away. Farewell, dear sister, and let me know by a few lines, as soon as you are able to write, what support, what relief, what encouragement, what views, prospects, meditations, smiles, or visits, you have been favoured with in this last furnace: and you will much oblige
Your affectionate friend and brother,