[To E. L.] London, February 1841.
My dear Friend,
I was very glad to find that your present indisposition is attended with the hopes of a quick relief. Our spiritual maladies are not so easily removed. I have been in manifold exercises since I saw you, and have scarcely seen any way of escape, but the Lord has been my refuge. Fears within and fightings without troubled me on every side; "NEVERTHELESS, God that comforteth them that are cast down" has often come to my relief in the very time of extremity. My sorest enemies, next to my own heart, are those who hold the truth in an unpurged conscience. These smite my life down to the ground, while they establish their own hope upon my ruins. This casts me down, and fills me with fear, and overwhelms my spirit, causing sleepless nights and sorrowful days; and I seem to thirst after the Lord, and cry, "Hear me speedily, O Lord, for my spirit faileth. Hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit." In this struggle the compassion of the Lord is moved, and he gives me some secret intimation of his tender care and mercy. He still keeps me in a low place that boasting may be excluded, and that I may keep in remembrance the bitterness and evil of sin, and be humbled.
I do not find these exercises once in my life and then have done with them, but no sooner does one wave of trouble subside than another arises; so that I am made in some measure to understand that this captivity is for long, even as long as I live; only now and then mingled with divine and spiritual revivals, which "drop as the rain, and distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass." You may say, This is a mournful religion, I want more comfort; but God declares, "This is not your rest;" your sin and mine has polluted it; yet these drops of heavenly dew upon the soul will teach us to say, "He is the Rock; his work is perfect, for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he." [Deut. xxxii. 2-4.]
This sort of sharp exercise will teach us distinctly the difference between the letter and the spirit, and between the word of God, as a word only, and the divine and spiritual work upon the heart and conscience by the Spirit. When the Spirit of truth thus enters he guides us into all truth essential to salvation, and gives us a peculiar discriminating knowledge of truth and error; a discernment of a wrong spirit where there may be some right words, even so that "if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect."
These are dangers, which as yet you are not fully aware of. Your friendly bosom receives all who move themselves aright, and whose words give their colour in the cup. You are little aware that at last they bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder. They have a peculiar soporiferous effect upon the conscience, and you will not know that death is there; but Solomon says, "thine heart shall utter perverse things." This is a terribly dangerous place, for it is "as he that lieth on the top of a mast," or he that sleepeth in the midst of a stormy sea of trouble, instead of praying. [Prov. xxiii. 31-34.] Nothing short of the power of God can cause any one to tremble at these dangers. How many are warned of them, and yet venture all, both body and soul, upon their own wisdom; and cannot or will not see that their hope is built on carnal reason, which must prove a sandy foundation, or that they make a false claim upon the word, without the Spirit of God testifying his approbation, and sealing home upon the conscience that the Lord Jesus Christ has cleansed them from all their sin.
If that work of the Holy Spirit takes place, how it humbles the soul; and brings us out of the genteel religious world, as it is called; and makes us look back with abhorrence upon that part of our profession wherein we were then held fast until the rod of correction drove us out, and brought in a little more tender regard for the honour of God, a little more humiliation of self, and sober watchfulness into the nature of our communion with God - how far it affects us iii society, and whether we now can spend our hours in levity or idle talk about many things that concern not the salvation of our souls. A due examination into these things (if we are made honest) will presently discover the nature and extent of our profession, and whether the heart be duly affected, or only the head furnished. If we walk tenderly, I am persuaded that conscience will do its office, and we shall soon come to the true state of the case. The Lord's complaint is, "YE WILL NOT come unto me that you may have life," but will lean to your own understanding. Solomon says again, "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool;" because it is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" The fool says he can, and there lies his rain. May you and I be able to receive instruction from the Lord, suspect our own hearts, and learn to lean upon the Beloved in all this wilderness journey of life we have to pass through; then shall we safely arrive at the end of our course, and it shall prove the salvation of our souls.
Yours faithfully, J. B.