May the good Lord continue to prosper the soul of my dear friend. Amen.
I received your epistle, and am glad to find you are pressing on, and holding fast.
You expect me to give you some information respecting the doctrine preached at-----. I live about 30 miles distance, so may not know what is going on there. I doubt not but the theory of truth may be clearly set forth; as the doctrines of the gospel and the experience of the children of God are in theory abundantly preached throughout Sussex, and in a way that renders it difficult to distinguish between the counterfeit and the real work. This I will say, if a true servant of God was preaching at------, surely the report would go abroad, and it would be a vexation to many to hear it. When a true servant of God goes into a town or village, he is counted a "troubler," one that " brings certain strange things," one that "turns the world upside down." When the "sower comes and sows the true word of life," temptation, persecution, commotion, and tribulation will arise because of the word; and generally many are offended. "If they have persecuted me," says Christ," they will also persecute you." A minister may preach the truth clearly; yet if Christ be not with him the devil is not offended; but as sure as Christ is with his servants, so sure will all the artillery of hell be played against them. Where, then, is the hubbub and commotion on account of the word at---? Woe, woe unto those ministers who are at ease in Zion! They may elate and refresh the passions of their hearers (I mean of the children of God for a time), but it is that vital godliness may go down, and false zeal and self step up; but if an established child of God should hear such, and feel the same working, there would be resisting it; for they can distinguish the voice of Christ by the unction within, "which is the truth and is no lie," which teacheth the truth in all things, embraceth the truth, and resisteth that which is not.
One thing now occurs to my mind, "Where the carcass (Christ crucified, whose flesh is meat indeed) is, thither will the eagles (children of God) be gathered together." God will influence his people in the neighborhood to hear and approve of his servants. "I will gather them one by one, and they shall come and worship the Lord." "Their eyes shall see their teachers." Now, there are deep experienced and established children of God about----; but they have found no minister of Christ there, no food for their souls; nothing but dry theory; that which had better be withdrawn from than attended to. I am sure they would be surprised were I to write to them to say the gospel is preached there. Remember, the true gospel is not bare words; it is the power of God. "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God;" and where this is, the minister is one who hath much labor, travail, and sorrow; and out of the abundance of bis heart the mouth will speak of what he has; for the devil will violently withstand him. Also commotion, persecution, and tribulation will arise on account of his ministry. His name will be cast out as evil; he will be accounted the offscouring of all things. Such as have the truth in their heads, but not in their hearts, will be his worst enemies and persecutors. The real children of God would, by the power of the word, be gathered under him. Further, those who have any of the inward unction would find in his ministry a speaking as never man spake; I mean the speaking of the Spirit of God, whose words have in them a godly reality that cannot be imitated, and they contain and communicate real spiritual food to spiritual hunger; not to give a glow and refresh the natural passions and affections, but to move towards God, to humble, meeken, and soften the affections of the mind, to revive hope and persuasion in God and his goodness, and increase the appetite for spiritual things in reality; and in following after to leave self behind. And when the children of God find this, they need no "letters of commendation of the minister," but in heart are sweetly constrained to "report that God is in the man of a truth."
But seeing there is so much preaching that, if possible, would deceive the very elect, the word does give a double caution: "Take heed how ye hear," and "Take heed what ye hear." We ought to take heed to our own spirit in hearing, and we ought to take heed to the spirit there is in the ministry. That which feeds the legal spirit and false zeal is not of God; that which feeds pride and self-consequence in profession, which elates and lifts up the soul, is not of God; that which feeds with refreshment, causing a glowing which elates selfishness, is not of God; that which refresheth the heart with refreshment, not coupled with contrition and self-abasement, is not of God.
0! How many there are who preach up a painted Christ to feed the fancy of their hearers, that their hearers may in return feed their consequence, by speaking of their refreshments and extolling the ministry! Now, if the child of God gets entangled in this work, let him retire in private, and he will find all is not right and straight at the bottom. In the fullness of his refreshment he will be in straits; there will be a moth gnawing at the bottom. "I," says God, "will be as a moth to the house of Ephraim." After all, it will be found that the life of God is not fed; for as soon as the fire that was kindled in the fancy, the passions, and the natural affections is gone out, there is no reality left. Nothing remains but an itching ear, caused by the secret poison instilled.
I rejoice to find you are in the school where, as you say, you are learning the lesson of self-denial. Well may the Word say, "A man's enemies are they of his own house;" and I think self the worst of all these intruding visitants. This monster will never be still. It is like a wolf insatiate for food. We are bid to deny it wants; and to learn this lesson fully, to give self a complete denial, is the highest degree that can be attained in the school of experience. I find I am quite a novice and a dunce in learning this; for self is sure to come over me in all manner of crafty ways. It puts on deceitful dresses, and I am deceived. It works with bewitching charms, wheedles and cringes till it has sucked in a hearty meal. Sometimes it overcomes me as by magic, and I am entangled in an instant. Sometimes, when I have a little melting of heart from a sense of the goodness of God, I look self in the face with disgust; there is a denial to its cravings, and a thrusting it back; but even then I find it climbs up somewhere, gets in some back way, and steals enough to keep up its corpulence and strength.
Nothing, nothing, Mary, will bring us fully to deny and abhor self like the exercise of faith in Christ. When the dying Saviour is revealed in our heart, and with the eye of faith we see him, and look upon him whom we have pierced, then we begin to loathe and abhor ourselves. "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself." A sense of the infinite humility of Christ for us humbles us to loathe proud self. Christ "humbled himself to death, even the death of the cross." While we look in this glass we are ashamed of our self-consequence; worldly self is abhorred. By faith in Christ we have the victory which overcometh the world. His glory stamps deformity on all that the world calls good or great. Easy self and self-pleasing is abhorred; for now the pleasure of the Lord prospers in the hand of faith, and our wills are absorbed in his. His ways are a pleasure, and we delight to run therein. Experience in the furnace of affliction discovers our selfishness; but the gracious presence of God melts our hearts into self-loathing. In proportion as self is discovered, we are truly edified; in proportion as self is denied, grace is exercised; in proportion as things connected with self are denied, self is denied,—such as the pleasure of life, the pride of life, the profits of the world, the ways of the world, the company of the world, carnal relations, &c., the carnal ease arising from consulting with flesh and blood, peace and quietness with relations or people against truth and conscience. In proportion as these are denied, self is denied, we are edified in the school of experience, and growing in the divine life.
June 17, 1822.