[To Miss H.] London, 20 November 1840.
My dear Friend,
I cannot help expressing myself as much encouraged by your honest and simple letter. When I have corresponded with persons of high rank, I have generally found them too humble in the onset, but ending in great pride, and a manifest proof of their not understanding the nature of spiritual life. I have observed in such a remarkable attachment to certain persons who have obtained great influence by their talents, and their head-knowledge of general truths, and this has set them down satisfied with man's application of the truths of God, without searching diligently what the Lord's testimony is. At this point we have generally parted; they satisfied with the letter of the word, flattered into a profession of their belief of it, and yet remaining with an unbroken heart.
I exceedingly like your hints concerning your present afflictions, as well as those that must abide you in every place, if you are made honest in seeking for mercy in Christ Jesus. The word tells us that the way to the wealthy place is "through fire and through water," and that it is "to the poor the Gospel is preached." I have been long inured to this path; and though sometimes pressed so hard as to see no way at all, yet then I have found the Lord has opened a way through all obstacles. "The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm;" and when they rise to the highest, I have often found that these tremendous clouds "are the dust of his feet," that is, his approaches to my help have been very near. He has rebuked the devouring sea, and made the hills of difficulty to melt. Thus the Lord has manifested his goodness to me, and become "a stronghold in the day of trouble." [Nahum i. 3-7.] When young I was called upon to give up all that was dear to me upon earth. I understood not as yet my path. I concluded that ruin was at hand; that the Lord intended to destroy me, and make manifest to all that my religion was hypocrisy. But though driven out friendless and penniless, his eye was upon me for good, and he suffered no man to do me essential wrong. Thus he humbled me, and proved me, and showed me something of the deceit of my heart, and how ready I was to sit down satisfied with a false profession; but the Lord would not have it so.
You ask, How do you apply the promises to obtain comfort? I answer, One of the first things I was convinced of was the unbelief of my heart, and my want of power to understand anything aright. I was lost in confusion, and could not ascertain how people got at that secret religion which differed so essentially from the general profession. I had been in that general profession, and was sure it never cut at the root of pride, nor gave one blow to the spirit of the world in me; but gave me much vain and empty confidence, which the Lord never owned nor honoured. But when the Lord took me in hand, and made the whirlwind to blow from all quarters, then my comely confidence and conceit began to give way; and instead of saying, I know, I trust, or, I am sure Jesus will help me, a great alarm sprung up lest the Lord should turn his back upon me for ever. I did not now consider how to apply the promises, but watched very narrowly whether the Lord would speak one kind word to prop up my sinking spirit; looking diligently whether I could perceive any hope of mercy. It was some time before the Lord was pleased to favour me with a clear sense of pardoning love. When I was at the point of despair, under the loss of my friends, my health, and all my fair prospects in life, then he spoke these words upon my heart Thou shalt return in the power of the Spirit. This came with such divine authority as to raise my sinking spirits, and make me rejoice in the great salvation I found in Jesus Christ. I walked long in the comfort of this; as it was with the prophet of old, the Lord knew I had a long journey to perform, and had need of much support. The whole of it has been disputed in the hot furnace, but never finally given up; because "Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God doeth it, that men may fear before him." [Eccles. iii. 14.]
When the Lord comes effectually into the heart, he will over-power all opposition, and make us to know in that day that it is he that speaks [Isa. lii. 6]. There shall be no mistake here to the poor trembling soul. His sheep hear his voice, and know it, and follow him; and that through all fear and misgivings, until the cloud be cleared up, and matters are brought to a sweet assurance.
I am glad to find your mind so tossed and unsettled, and hope I shall see more of this; for it is no small thing to be LOST, and it is only to the lost that the Saviour is sent. If in secret you are longing after the Lord, and find a desperate opposition within, this I believe is the conflict of the two natures, and will be found in the end to be coming burdened to Jesus Christ. Sooner or later you will understand it by the spiritual rest the Saviour will bring. It will be nothing without the Saviour's sweet power felt. Many take such things for granted, and this makes their religion as unsavoury as the white of an egg.
I feel with you the necessity of waiting; but perhaps you may not be aware, that waiting spiritually is a very active principle, as sweetly expressed in Psalm cxxiii. I have often found myself in such trying circumstances that 1 have scarcely known how to wait or what step to take; but have endeavoured most cautiously, by the help of God, not to go before HIM I have always found that according to my burdens, so has been my cry; and that sooner or later an opening has been made for me. You will never find your conscience defiled by waiting upon and for the Lord.
Be very tender of bringing needless reproach upon the cause of God. Make sure ground. If you ask, How shall I? By not moving until the Lord manifestly directs your heart in answer to many confessions and prayers. Godly simplicity is a rich treasure; transparency before God is little known. The heart is full of duplicity. A legal spirit hides many things, and the spring of their actions from many. Hannah was a woman of a sorrowful spirit; she waited long, and obtained an answer at last. You must not conclude that the Lord never decides. He says, "My time is not yet come, but your time is alway ready." There is much pride and impatience to be brought down; much independence of God to be removed; and these things will never be effectually clone without many vexatious disappointments, many crosses, and many sharp rebukes from the Saviour for our unfaithfulness to the convictions given, and many charges against us for turning a deaf ear to his reproofs and counsels.
When these enter, who may abide the scrutiny? I cannot express the alarm they work in my mind, although the Lord has a thousand times manifested his love and mercy to me. O what mournful confessions and entreaties are made under these exercises, and how we seek for the lowest place, and put our mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope! Here we come nearer to the promises than we are aware. We need not apply them; nay, we do apply none but such as make point blank against us; but the Saviour himself comes as the good Physician, and pours in his oil and wine, and comforts our dejected spirits with a sweet hope in his mercy. This is so testified by the Holy Spirit as to need no explanation, nor any enquiry into its truth, for "when he, the Spirit of truth, shall come, he will guide you into all truth."
You with me many times consider yourself a reprobate, for if you are made honestly to seek the Lord, the grand adversary will find out many arguments to prove you are a reprobate. He will tell you that it is too late to seek, and that real believers do not find what you perceive in your heart, and many more such foolish reasons, which the Lord will overrule by making you sick of yourself, and to all intents and purposes LOST. This will create a short cut in your experience; it will bring you to a point - "Lord, save or I perish." Here you begin to do business in great and deep waters; and the cry of fire within will move you to escape for your life. This is the law of God entering into your conscience, and showing you that you lie under the sentence of death, temporal, spiritual, and eternal; and that there is no hope, no way of escape. None are brought here by the Spirit of God, but they have a discovery more or less of Christ as a suitable Surety and Saviour; and we often see his suitableness, beauty, and power, for a long time before we can believe he is willing. He will be honoured and waited upon, and in due time he will appear to the joy and rejoicing of our hearts.
During the whole of this work of God, from first to last, even from the earliest dawnings of the fear of God, we can surely call to mind some intimations of God's intended favour in answer to prayer, very feeble, perhaps, yet mournfully presented in all humility to the Lord Jesus Christ for instruction and mercy; some little circumstances, also, in his divine providence, wherein he has shown us that his eye was upon us for good, both as to our preservation and the special appointment of our lot. On one or another such time we often look back with hope, and say, Surely this was the Lord's doing.
I have many times feared the Lord would give me up to despair. Not more than two years since, I thought he had taken his eternal leave of me, yet I did not give up crying to him; and to my surprise he applied these words to my poor distressed soul - "As I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee." This turned my captivity, and showed me my interest in that everlasting covenant, made between the Father and the Son, and now applied to my conscience by the Spirit.
Whatever the Lord speaks at such a time to comfort you, be sure to hold it as fast as you can. You may judge by the fruits from whence it comes. If such encouragement humbles you, and makes you more tender and watchful, then surely it must be of the Lord; but if it works self complacency and a conceit of know-ledge, resist it as unprofitable and vain. Be honest to your convictions.
There is no end to confusion in going up and down for religious advice. I have nothing to say on my own behalf on this subject. If God has enlightened you, you will by the same Spirit discover where the truth is, as well as what it is. If you have no discrimination on this point, I fear you have watched but little of the Lord's movements in your conscience, for this is called "the candle of the Lord," which searches the deep recesses of the heart.
Your faithful friend in the Lord, J. B.