London, 8 February 1844.
Dear Miss H.,
I am sorry to see by the spirit of your letter so much death and darkness, knowing that he who begins the good work "will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." What grieves me still more is that you should hear so faithful a minister as Mr. Vinall, and yet find so little life communicated. If you felt the danger of these things as I do, you would (I trust) give the Lord no rest until he show you the causes and hindrances that are in the way; for the Apostle prays that where that work is begun, there may be an abounding "more and more in knowledge and all judgment, that ye may approve things that are excellent " [Phil. i. 6-10].
Alas, how men differ in opinion respecting the things that are here called excellent! I have proved the rod, the cross, and the sharp furnace to be excellent; being sanctified by the Lord, they have been the means of my speaking a " pure language," and of my not going long without some of those sweet and refreshing seasons which he has promised to them that mourn and cry to him. Therefore we approve of the most painful dispensations as excellent, because we find them so profitable to the soul, and in the exercise of them are filled with the fruits of righteousness. If you ask, What are these fruits? I add, Seek first to attain to the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and you will find its work is "peace" and its effect "quietness and assurance for ever." Then you will know how to give glory and praise to the Lord, and not be always in so low a condition as to be unable clearly to set forth the distinct work of the Spirit upon your heart; but all dark, dark, and no description of anything particular, only a religious letter about nothing.
I am anxious for your own sake, and especially for your youngest sister's sake, that you should be better instructed, so as to be a wise teacher to her, that she may be encouraged to press at the strait gate, and not be alarmed at a few difficulties, but from you be assured of her attaining, because she sees and hears of your continual prevalency in prayer, through the intercession of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This is to set the candle upon the candlestick, that all in the house may see it; but if it be put under a bed of ease, it will bring no glory to God.
You and I must be taught that the fault is in ourselves. If once we begin to deny this, we bind ourselves with many chains; but if we are enabled from our heart to acknowledge our foolishness, we shall not lie long before spiritual life and energy will be communicated. The word of God is full of encouragement to such; but not one kind word does it speak to the backsliding in heart who cannot stoop. This is the watchword - "Come, and let us return unto the Lord, for he hath torn, and he will heal us." It is the secret whispering of the Spirit in the heart that leads us to this; and then it is said, "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord; his going forth is prepared as the morning," which means that there will be light upon our path, and not the confusion you set forth in your letter. [Hos. vi. 1-3.]
Do, my dear friends, excuse my freedom and faithfulness. I have had a sharp warfare, and would willingly point out to you some of the dangers to which you are exposed. I am sure, if you see them not now, you will see them on a dying bed. I have always perceived a something wanting in your profession, but I am not able to discern what that something is. May the Lord make you honest and transparent, and fill your souls with divine and godly simplicity before him; then I am sure you will attain to a clearer and brighter evidence of your interest in Christ Jesus, and then I shall rejoice together with you. I hope sincerely you will both be profited temporally and spiritually by your visit to Brighton.
Believe me &c. J. B.
P.S. It is most likely I was writing the above while you were writing to me, and as it seems an answer, I venture to send it, that you may see my feelings and fears. I was sincerely pleased to receive this last letter, and hope that before long you and your sister will set forth a clear work. I am sure you will need it when the fiery trial comes on, which "shall try every man's work, of what sort it is." "For every one shall be salted with fire;" and if this be wanting, our profession is good for nothing. I have been utterly astonished to find in these terrible places more of the presence of God and of the teaching of the Spirit than in all other places; also a great readiness and gladness to put into practice the lessons learnt in this sharp furnace.
The Holy Spirit of God often advises us in a very secret way what to avoid and what to do; and we find a clear light at the time, and know it to be of God. But this secret teaching often so clashes with many things in the flesh, that we foolishly start aside, just in the place where we ought to make a stand. Hence comes the deadness, darkness, and confusion in which we walk; and the Spirit ceases to be a reprover, because of our not hearkening to his counsel. This again brings on disunion with the tried people of God, and we presently fall into many ways that the Lord never cast up, and a sort of displeasure is felt towards such as are supposed to make the gate straighter than the Saviour sets forth. On the contrary, where the divine power reaches the heart it has an amazing constraining effect, attended with great light upon the truth, to receive it most cordially with those also who are manifestly partakers of it. This is the true effect of divine charity, which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things," and never fails in the time of extremity. It is my sincere desire that you and your sister may be partakers of these heavenly blessings, and that spiritual life may be maintained in your hearts, to the true comfort of the afflicted people of God.