[To Mr. and Mrs. Thaine.] Pulverbach 3 June 1844.
My dear Friends,
Our Saviour says, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death; tarry ye here and watch with me;" and a little afterwards - "What, could ye not watch with me one hour? WATCH AND PRAY, LEST YE ENTER INTO TEMPTATION." I am amazed how little this caution is attended to, though it extends in all directions to all our occupations and proceedings in life. Hence spring all my troubles, the first of which is a listless spirit, overpowering the sense of danger; and because of the temporary quietness which it produces, we rest in outward comforts, and cover them with the name of God's blessings. How difficult it is to maintain spiritual life in the midst of temporal comforts! I have often thought of these words - "Happy is the man that feareth always." For I perceive that the grace of godly fear will raise many suspicions in the mind, and not let us take every calm for the real comforting presence of God; and by secret self-examination there will be found much false comfort, which, if not honestly taken in hand, will soon show us the power of temptation, and the sore evil of not watching the beginning of declension from the right path; for I conceive that most of the professing church fall asleep in this enchanted arbour, and that many of God's people are for awhile ensnared in it.
All the Lord's dispensations towards us have in them, "WATCH AND PRAY;" but we do not readily enter into that counsel, and therefore are often entangled. The chief entanglement of temptation is to prevent that sweet intercourse and communion with Christ, which is the very life and soul of all our comforts. If that can be stopped, the enemy gains great power, as I have seen both in myself and in some of my friends. One of the first dangers that overtakes us is feeling an unprofitableness in the ministry to ourselves; if this continues, it shows that the temptation has bound us in heavy chains, because the Lord tells us that this is the golden pipe through which the holy oil is sent. I have often pondered the case of such as complain much of this evil; and yet (that I may clear the Lord when he judges) I must say I fear that the power of this temptation is not sufficiently laid to heart. When the Saviour told the disciples to watch and pray, there is no season mentioned for putting off their armour, but the word "ALWAYS" is added, that we may have an insight in some measure into our danger; and it is added against that specious sin of self-confidence. How the Lord opened my eyes to the danger of this in the case of one whom I visited here, and made me look well to the nature of my own confidence; for I felt assured that the confidence of that poor creature would not stand in the day of trial, it was built up of such rotten materials, namely, the praises and approbation of foolish professors who came to hear and flatter. Often have I been alarmed at Peter's words - "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended;" and, "Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." As it respects us, this includes the whole of our backslidings in all directions.
It has pleased God to open my eyes to many things in the afflictions into which he has brought me during the last few years. By the mercy of God my soul has been filled with terror at the discovery of every fresh evil that arises, and with the Psalmist I have prayed, "Let thy judgments help me." O how I fear the most distant approach of temptation, because I have felt its power! We none of us know what manner of spirit we are of. As Dr. Owen says, we are too ready to give flattering titles to our corruptions, and call them by some other name than that which really belongs to them; and thus we wreath ourselves round, and willingly bind ourselves with many things that are too plausible for flesh and blood to find out. How often have I been secretly praying to the Lord with these entanglements about me, and have been overtaken with such a flood of reproof as nearly to sink me into despair, and in my dismay, fearfulness, and trembling, I have given up all my hope; but I have afterwards found that this was the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who would not suffer the enemy to pluck me out of his hands, and therefore discovered the snare and the danger to which I was exposed. I have said but little respecting my dreadful feelings at these seasons, but I must repeat that these have been amongst the most awful moments of my life, which have turned all my foolish and pretended comeliness into sad corruption. Here I have learnt to put my mouth in the dust if so be I might have hope; here I have been made to take the lowest room, and to feel myself the chief of sinners; and here also (I must acknowledge) were brought forth the best robe, the ring, and the shoes, and I was made to feast on the fatted calf. In all this there lies the mystery that vain professors cannot get at; this path "the vulture's eye hath not seen," nor can "the lion's whelp" take one step therein, but the redeemed of the Lord shall walk in safety in it.
I believe, my dear friends, that the Lord has suffered these various exercises to come upon me for the comfort and edification of the poor creatures I am often led to speak to; such power and certainty do I feel in setting forth not only the dark side, but also the true light of life which has reached my heart. I was truly glad to receive both your letters, as I find it needful in this distant corner to have these communications kept up; they are as a cordial to my spirit. How glad I should be to see you both here and take you round to some of the poor people, and show you our order on the Sundays. The Lord is certainly with us.
Yours &c. J. B.