[To Mrs. T.] Pulverbach, 29 August 1844.
"Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to youward " [2 Cor. i. 12].
Seldom a day passes but the enemy has a snare ready by which we are more or less entrapped; and I think that much of the trouble we fall into is in consequence of not attending to the above words. It would seem that men, both good and bad, dare not give credit for any one walking in that SIMPLICITY AND GODLY SINCERITY in which the Apostle testifies that he, by the grace of God, had his conversation; but are more ready to put an evil construction upon words that fairly state the intention, and to believe (without foundation) that something much further than what is expressed is intended. Hence come bitter envyings and strife amongst such as ought to manifest the true fear of God. Where transparency and godly sincerity should be seen, there is nothing but suspicion and a bar. One keeps his eye upon another, for the purpose of forming a fleshly judgment; and the root of bitterness grows, and defiles many. Somebody says, How strange that he should utter such things! He must mean so and so. The hearer replies, O how wrong it is! I am surprised that one who is in reputation for so much godliness can walk in such a spirit. Another adds, All that I hear puts a proper caution upon my spirit, and I hope to be on my, guard, and take care when I meet him not to be entangled by him - I will neither speak nor write to him, and then I hope I may escape. And perhaps the same person, so prejudiced, notwithstanding all his caution, happens to fall into the company of this dangerous character, and is surprised to find that he has a broken heart, and has been deeply humbled under the mighty hand of God, and made so tender that he never considered how it might be with others, but felt too much ashamed of himself to look up, and could but just cry in a low tone of voice, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Then says the now unprejudiced hearer, O how his words enter my heart! How his sorrowful complaints move my pity! How my own spirit is revived by the manner in which he describes the hope he now and then finds, and what liberty I find in conversing with him! And so he acknowledges that the poor creature sets forth in practice the Apostle's words, "that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God," he had his conversation in the world, and more abundantly toward the people of God.
The greatest caution is necessary to be tender toward those in whom this simplicity is found, that nothing more nor less be said than what their words will bear, and no hasty conclusions be drawn that ten thousand other things are intended, though the poor creature is evidently walking in the fear of God. Let us seek to confirm the feeble knees, and not add to their weakness by needless blows.
If we are in earnest to attain to the godly simplicity which the Apostle speaks of, we must look for many a blow, from sinner and from saint. It is no small thing to give up all for Christ; it is easy in speculation, but not in practice. I have found it hard work to suffer reproach, especially from the people of God. But God knew what was needful, and by these cutting dispensations taught me to read men, and showed me that my testimony must come from him, and not from man. Godly simplicity is truly brought into the heart when such things as these are from the bottom of the heart felt as needful, and acknowledged to be directed by the hand of an all-wise Sovereign, who never makes any mistake, nor ever acts unjustly. It is hard to bear the reproach, "He is not clean; surely he is not clean" [1 Sam. xx. 26] - a random judgment of man, suffered of God for the humbling of the proud sinner; but the only way to be brought really and thoroughly to understand godly simplicity, is by being continually humbled and made truly to feet that "we are all as an unclean thing" in the sight of God, and that if spared, it is of sovereign mercy alone. This puts a caution upon our spirits, and makes us watchful that deceit should not reign, and honestly tender towards others, not from flattery, but from a feeling sense of what trouble is, and how wretchedly low we ourselves have been brought by double-dealing.
You and I have often been in these dreadful places, and surely ought to make it manifest that we have not suffered so many things in vain. Whatever we perceive in ourselves to be a stumbling-block to others ought to be by much prayer set aside. "What manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness?" that it may be seen that the true fear of God moves us; and though (as I have said) wrong constructions will, through the desperate rage of the devil, be continually put upon all we say or do, yet the Lord has promised (and will do it) that he will bring to light that simplicity and godly sincerity that he has planted in our hearts, and will testify that it is indeed the fruit of the Spirit in us. Remember what Paul says of godly sorrow "What carefulness it wrought in you; yea, what clearing of yourselves!" This surely ought to be the effect of sanctified afflictions, and woe to us if it be not in some measure found in us; so that when it is said, "An evil disease cleaveth fast unto him, and now that he lieth, he shall rise up no more," we may not listen to that, but rather listen to what the Lord will say, and follow HIM.
The only way to seek unity with the church of God is to acknowledge that the Lord's hand directs every blow, the feeling of which will teach us to humble ourselves, and not to judge one another. To a soul thus humbled there is nothing so distressing as to find a bar where the sweetest unity should subsist; and I know of nothing so likely to keep out that bitter root of prejudice and enmity, as walking in godly simplicity, which will effectually teach us in honour to prefer one another.
Yours affectionately, J. B.