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LETTER I. My dear Miss,
August - 1772. The Lord brought us home in peace. to **** was agreeable, and I shall often think of it with pleasure; though the deadness and dryness of my own spirit, a good part of the time I was there, proved a considerable abatement. I am eager enough to converse with the Lord's people, when at the same time I am backward and indisposed to communion with the Lord himself. The two evils charged upon Israel of old, a proneness to forsake the fountain of living waters, and to trust to broken cisterns (which can do me no good unless he supplies them), run through the whole of my experience abroad and at home. A few drops of grace in my fellow-worms endear them to me exceedingly. If I expect to see any Christian friends, I count the hours till we meet : I promise myself great benefit; but if the Lord withdraws his influence, the best of them prove to me but clouds without water. It was not, however, wholly so with me all the time I staid with my friends; but I suffer much in learning to depend upon the Lord alone : I have been at this lesson many a long year; but am so poor and dull a scholar, that I have not yet made any tolerable progress in it. I think I received some instruction and advantage where I little expected it: I mean, at Mr. Cox's Museum. The efforts of his ingenuity amazed me, while at the same time I was struck with their insignificance. His fine things were curious beyond all I had any idea of; and yet what are they better than toys and amusements, suited to the taste of children! And notwithstanding the variety of their motions, they were all destitute of life. There is unspeakably more wisdom and contrivance in the mechanism of a butterfly or a bee, that flies unnoticed in the fields, than in all his apparatus put together. But the works of God are disregarded, while the feeble imitations of them which men can produce gain universal applause.
If you and I could make self-moving dragons and elephants, what would it profit us? Blessed be God, that he has given us some glimpses of his wisdom and love ! by which our hearts, more hard and lifeless by nature than the stones in the street, are constrained and enabled to move upwards, and to seek after the Lord. He has given us in his word a greater treasure than all that we ever beheld with our eyes, and a hope which shall flourish when the earth and all its works shall be
What will all the fine things of men's device be worth in that day?
I think the passage you refer to in Mr. **** justly exceptionable. His intention is good, and the mistake he would censure very dangerous ; but he might have explained himself more clearly. I apprehend he and you do not mean the same thing by being in the dark. It is not an uncomfortable, but a careless, frame which he would censure. They who walk in darkness and see no light, and yet are exhorted to stay themselves upon God, Isa. 1. 10, are said to hearken to the voice of his servant. Though they cannot see the
Lord, they are seeking and mourning after him, and waiting in the use of means, and warring against sin. Mr. **** had another set of people in view, who trust in the notions of Gospel truth, or some past convictions and comforts; though at present they give no evidence of spiritual desires, but are worldly in their spirit and conversation; talk of trusting in the Lord ; account it a weakness to doubt of their state, and think all is well, because they profess to believe the doctrines
grace. In a word, it is the darkness of sin and sloth, not the occasional darkness of an exercised soul, against which his observation is pointed. Or if, indeed, he meant more than this, we are not obliged to believe him.
Remember your privilege; you have the Bible in your hands, and are not bound to follow books or preachers any farther than what they deliver agrees with the Oracles of Truth. We have great reason to be thankful for the instructions and writings of spiritual men, but they are all fallible even as ourselves. One is our master, even Christ: what he says, we are to receive implicitly; but we do not owe implicit subjection to the best of our fellowcreatures. The Bereans were commended that they would not take even the Apostle Paul upon trust, but searched the Scriptures to see whether these things were so. May the Lord give us a spirit of humility and discernment in all things.
I am, &c.
May 4, 1773. METhinks it is high time to ask how you do, to thank
for your last letter, and to let you know, that though necessity makes me slack in
writing, yet I can and do often think of you My silence has been sometimes owing to want of leisure; and sometimes when I could have found leisure, my harp has been out of tune, and I had no heart to write. Perhaps you are ready to infer, by my sitting down to write at last, that
my harp is now well tuned, and I have something ex-; traordinary to offer: beware of thinking so, lest you should be sadly disappointed. Should I make myself the subject, I could give you at present but a mournful ditty. I suppose you have heard I have been ill: through mercy, I am now well. But indeed I must farther tell you, that when I was sick I was well; and since the Lord has removed my illness, I have been much worse. My illness was far from violent in itself, and was greatly sweetened by a calm submissive frame the Lord gave me under it. : My heart seemed more alive to him then than it has done since my cough, fever, and deafness have been removed. Shall I give you another bit of a riddle; that, notwithstanding the many changes I pass through, I am always the same? This is the very truth: “ In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing ;" so that if sometimes my spirit is in a measure humble, lively, and dependent, it is not I am grown better than I was, but the Lord is pleased to put forth his gracious power in
my weakness; and when my heart is dry and stupid, when I can find no pleasure in waiting upon God, it is not because I am worse than I was before, but only the Lord sees it best that I should feel, as well as say, what a poor creature I am. My heart was once like a dungeon, out of the reach of day, and always dark : the Lord by his grace has been pleased to make this dungeon a room, by putting windows in it; but I need not tell you,
that though windows will transmit the daylight into a room, they cannot supply the want of it. When the day is gone, windows are of little use : when the day returns, the room is enlightened by them again. Thus, unless the Lord shines, I cannot retain to-day the light I had yesterday; and though his presence makes a delightful difference, I have no more to boast of in myself at one time than another; yet when it is dark, I am warranted to expect the return of light again. When he is with me, all goes on pleasantly: when he withdraws, I find I can do nothing without him. I need not wonder that I find it so; for it must be so of course, if I am what I confess myself to be, a poor, helpless, sinful creature in myself. Nor need I be over-much discouraged, since the Lord has promised to help those who can do nothing without him, not those who can make a tolerable shift to help themselves. Through mercy, he does not so totally withdraw, as to leave me without any power or will to cry for his return. I hope he maintains in me at all times a desire of his
presence; yet it becomes me to wait for him with patience, and to live upon his faithfulness, when I can feel nothing but evil in myself.
In your letter, after having complained of your inability, you say you converse with many who find it otherwise, who can go whenever they will to the Father of mercies with a child-like confidence, and never return without an answer—an answer of peace. If they only mean that they are . favoured with an established faith, and can see that the Lord is always the same, and that their right to the blessings of the covenant is not at all affected by their unworthiness, I wish you and I had more experience of the same privilege. In general, the Lord helps me to aim at it, though I