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LETTER I. My dear Madam,
LET what has been said on the subject of acquaintance, &c. suffice. It was well meant on my side, and well taken on yours. You may perhaps see that my hints were not wholly unnecessary, and I ought to be satisfied with your apology, and am so. The circumstance of your being seen at the playhouse has nothing at all mysterious in it, as you say you have not been there these six or seven years : it was neither more nor less than a mistake. I heard you had been there within these two years: I am glad to find I was misinformed. I think there is no harm in your supposing, that of the many thousands who frequent public diversions some may, in other respects, be better than yourself; but I hope your humble and charitable construction of their mistake will not lead you to extenuate the evil of those diversions in themselves. For though I am persuaded that a few, who know better what to do with themselves, are, for want of consideration, drawn in to expose themselves in such places; yet I am well satisfied, that if there is any practice in this land sinful, attendance on the playhouse is properly and eminently so. The theatres are fountains and means of vice; I had almost said, in the same manner and degree as the ordinances of the Gospel
are the means of grace: and I can hardly think there is a Christian upon earth who would dare to be seen there, if the nature and effects of the theatre were properly set before them. Dr. Witherspoon of Scotland has written an excellent piece upon the stage, or rather against it, which I wish every person who makes the least pretence to fear God had an opportunity of perusing. I cannot judge much more favourably of Ranelagh, Vauxhall, and all the innumerable train of dissipations, by which the god of this world blinds the eyes of multitudes, lest the light of the glorious Gospel should shine in upon them. What an awful aspect upon the present times have such texts as Isa. xxii. 12-14. iii. 12, Amos vi. 3–6, James iy. 4. I wish you, therefore, not to plead for any of them, but use all your influence to make them shunned as pest-houses, and dangerous nuisances to precious souls; especially if you know
who you hope in the main are seriously disposed, who yet venture themselves in those purlieus of Satan, endeavour earnestly and faithfully to undeceive them.
The time is short; eternity at the door; was there no other evil in these vain amusements than the loss of precious time (but, alas ! their name is legion), we have not leisure in our circumstances to regard them. And, blessed be God! we need them not. The Gospel opens a source of purer, sweeter, and more substantial pleasures : we are invited to communion with God: we are called to share in the theme of angels; the
songs of heaven, and the wonders of redeeming love are laid open to our view. The Lord himself is waiting to be gracious, waiting with promises and pardons in his hands. Well then may we bid adieu to the perishing pleasures of sin ; well may we pity those who can find pleasure in those places and parties where he is shut out; where his name is only mentioned to be profaned; where his commandments are not only broken, but insulted; where sinners proclaim their shame as in Sodom, and attempt not to hide it; where, at best, wickedness is wrapt up in a disguise of delicacy, to make it more insinuating; and nothing is offensive that is not grossly and unpolitely indecent.
I sympathize with all your complaints; but if the Lord is pleased to make them subservient to the increase of your sanctification, to wean you more and more from this world, and to draw you nearer to himself, you will one day see cause to be thankful for them, and to number them amongst your choicest mercies. A hundred years hence it will signify little to you whether you were sick or well the day I wrote this letter. We thank
for your kind condolence. There is a pleasure in the pity of a friend ; but the Lord alone can give true comfort. I hope he will sanctify the breach, and do us good. Mrs. **** exchanges forgiveness with you about your not meeting in London ; that is, you forgive her not coming to you, and she forgives you entertaining a suspicious thought of her friendship (though but for a minute) on account of what she was really unable to do.
I am, &c.
LETTER II. My dear Madam,
September 1, 1767. I SHALL not study for expressions to tell my dear friend how much we were affected by the news that came last post. We had, however, the pleasure to hear that your family was safe. I hope this will find you recovered from the hurry of spirits you must have been thrown into, and that both you and your papa are composed under the appointment of Him who has a right to dispose of his own as he pleases; for we know that, whatever may
be the second causes and occasions, nothing can happen to us but according to the will of our heavenly Father. Since what is past cannot be recalled, my part is now to pray, that this, and every other dispensation you meet with, may be sanctified to your soul's good; that you may be more devoted to the God of your life, and have a clearer sense of your interest in that kingdom which cannot be shaken, that treasure which neither thieves nor flames can touch, that better and more enduring substance which is laid up for believers, where Jesus their Head and Saviour is. With this in view, you may take joyfully the spoiling of your goods.
I think I can feel for my friends; but for such as I hope have a right to that promise, that all things shall work together for their good, I soon check my solicitude, and ask myself, Do I love them better, or could I manage more wisely for them, than the Lord does? Can I wish them to be in safer or more compassionate hands than in his? Will he who delights in the prosperity of his servants, afflict them with sickness, losses, and alarms, except he sees there is need of these things? Such thoughts calm the emotions of my mind. I sincerely condole you; but the command is, to rejoice always in the Lord. The visitation was accompanied with mercy ; not such a case, as that of the late Lady Molesworth, which made every one's ears to tingle that heard it. Nor is
yours such a case as of some, who in almost every great fire lose their all, and perhaps have no knowledge of God to support them.
Though our first apprehensions were for you, we almost forgot you for a moment when we thought of your next-door neighbour, and the circumstance she was in, so unfit to bear either a fright or a removal. We shall be in much suspense till we hear from you. God grant that you may be able to send us good news, that you are all well, at least as well as can be expected after such a distressing scene. If what has happened should give you more leisure, or more inclination, to spend a little time with us, I think I need not say we shall rejoice to receive you.
I am, &c.
LETTER III. My dear Madam,
September 3, 1767 The vanity of all things below is confirmed to us by daily experience. Amongst other proofs, one is, the precariousness of our intimacies; and what little things, or rather what nothings, will sometimes produce a coolness, or at least a strangeness, between the dearest friends. : How is it that our correspondence has been dropt, and that, after having written two letters since the fire, which removed you from your former residence, I should be still disappointed in my hopes of an answer ? On our parts I hope there has been no abatement of regard; nor can I charge you with any thing but remissness. Therefore, waving the past, and all apologies on either side, let me beg you to write soon, to tell us how, it is with you, and how you have been supported under the various changes you have met with