NOTE: This will be an ongoing project as I put in all the letters, keep checking back for new ones to be added.
We are told that "whatsoever was written aforetime was written for our learning, that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope:" (Rom. 15:4) and I find this written, among the rest, that "whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world;" (1 John 5:4) and to find we have learned this by divine teaching yields the comfort of hope. The flesh profiteth nothing; it is the Spirit that giveth life. Whilst we are dead in sin, and only born of the flesh, all we read of the Bible profits us nothing; for, notwithstanding all our reading, and all our natural knowledge, we still are the servants of sin, Satan, and the world. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, carry us on in the broad way that leads to the wide gate, and that goes down to the chambers of death. And we now know it was absolutely necessary that a new man in us should be begotten of God, before we could overcome the world; and the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, are not of the Father, but are of the world. Faith is one feature of the new man, and an active one, for this is said to be "the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
But then, when may it be said to do this?--This we must learn by experience, otherwise this Scripture cannot be comfortable to us. Through faith we are said to understand; but then what we understand is applied with such power as gives life and feeling; and one of the first things that faith understands, in a convinced sinner, is God's wrath revealed against his sin; we then believe his justice is incensed at us: we would pursue our old course, but something withstands us; when this slavish fear and dread is a little worn off, we are found at our old trade of sinning against God. Conviction works sorrow of heart, because we fear we shall be damned: here is nothing but legal working, and then running away; then a few lashes, and sticking to the old yoke again; this is all that is to be found in us while unbelievers, and shut up under the ministration of death. Whilst here, so far are we from overcoming the world by believing and loving God, that we hate him in our hearts, because we think he will punish us; and if we could think he would not, we should soon sit down in carnal ease, and take as much of the pleasures of the world as we could get, and hold them as long as we were able: this, I am sure, is true, for the mind will seek happiness in something, and, till it knows God, it cannot delight in him; of course it would, if permitted, take up with the world, knowing no higher good; for none in this state love to be always in one tenor of mind. Therefore it is asked in the next verse, "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?"
And wherever faith is begotten of God, in order to the salvation of the soul, by the same God that wrought it at first, is it kept in motion till Christ is revealed; it believes God will be true to his word, and that all its threatenings will have their accomplishment on ungodly sinners:--"The soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezek. 18:4,20) Eternal death the soul fears most; and this it understands and feels: it is the wages of sin. Paul found this to be true by his own experience; the commandment came home and made his sin revive, and so exceeding sinful, by the commandment, did it become, that he died under its sentence to all hope of salvation in that way; and here he learned that salvation, or eternal life, was the gift of God through Jesus Christ, our Lord; for when he prayed, Ananias was sent, who preached to him remission of sins by the mercy of God, through the death of Christ; and here he washed his sins away.
So, in our worst condition, it pleases God to reveal a crucified Christ, and give us believing views of him; and here we find a fullness of all good, which every where else we sought in vain. Life to set against death, pardon and peace proclaimed with God, to cause our souls to draw nigh, as to the fountain of all happiness, with delight and love: now our former heart-idolatry appears in its worst light; we never saw sin in so base a light under the law as is now discovered to us in the sight of a crucified Saviour; Jesus now appears the only one deserving our love and affection, and takes all our heart; we have at this time no spirit left to return to our native country, seeing we have been in a delusion all our days; and also who much good we have lost by being at such a distance from the Saviour.
We now know we have found the highest good in the Son of God; for none less than himself, who is God, could so fill our hearts; all fullness is in him; this we feel: but no creature has this; and out of his fullness we receive, and rich grace it is, and wonderful to us; his love appears then what it really is, passing the love of all. Here we overcome the world, having found the love of Christ, who is all in all. We see the delusion of this vain world in holding out its empty offers of happiness, in order to keep us from Him, in whom alone true happiness is to be found. The flesh, with its sinful appetites, brought our sufferings on us; and Christ, to redeem us from our deserts, must and did suffer; we now, having fellowship with him in his sufferings, and being planted together with him in the likeness of his death, loathe ourselves for our iniquities.
The lust of the eye is also overcome when faith lays hold of Christ; for whatsoever is desirable, whatsoever is lovely, and whatsoever is good, is to be found in Christ, who is now the altogether lovely, the chiefest of ten thousand, the one thing needful, and without whom nothing is good. The pride of life, also, here receives a deadly blow; our natural pride and self-righteous presumption is cut up; we become fools in our own eyes, that we may be made wise; we sit at Christ's feet, to receive the word of life from his mouth, and take the lowest seat, and thence are exalted into the joy of the Lord. To have self crucified, and Christ in us exalted, is our continual work; and, ever after, the pride of life appears to us but a vain thing, and although our corruption will strive against our experience and better interest, yet God has promised grace shall reign and sin shall not have the dominion: and we may truly say, none but he who believeth that Jesus is the Son of God can overcome the world. Whilst destitute of Christ and faith in him, the devil leads us captive; but when he that is stronger turns him out and takes possession, then it is said, "Greater is He that is in you [and He is said to dwell in their hearts by faith,] than he that is in the world;" and this is rendered as the true cause why we are overcomers. That you may see this in your experience, and give God the praise, is the desire and prayer of your affectionate friend,
As you are prevented by indisposition from attending at the gates of Zion, I thought I would send to the dwelling of Jacob the few things that follow. "Power belongeth unto God." (Ps. 62:11) This is readily admitted by most, so far as the work of creation goes; the upholding of all things by the word of his power, and the government of the world. The work of conviction is, by many professors, also confessed to be a work of God's power; but then as to the feeling and contrite heart--of that most are ignorant. In the days of the Saviour, while upon earth, some were astonished at his doctrine, "for his word was with power;" and true it is that, when the word first comes with power, the application is made home to conscience: our sin is pointed out, we feel the same, and cannot get rid of it while these convictions are continued, and one sin after another appears in view, it being the Almighty that thus sets them in order.
Under the sight of sin we then have; the weight of guilt we then feel; and the wrath of God thus revealed against us, we sink into despondency and despair; and while in this situation, we are taught, sooner or later, that we are destitute of power; for though, from our natural legal bias, we strive ever so much to keep ourselves upright, and make ourselves better, yet at length we despair of accomplishing this, and under this sinking of heart he often sends a word of encouragement: at such times we feel that power belongeth to him: but then it often happens, in spiritual travail, that after these little respites given us by a word of encouragement, we fall into greater labors, dreadfully fearing we shall never get through; and when we fall down bound, and no help appears, at such a time in answer to earnest cries, attended with giving all up to God's sovereign will and way, he sends his word and healeth us, by granting us our desire, and that is, to see our interest in Christ, the worth and virtue of whose blood and righteousness we have been taught under our trouble, and this we then esteem a special work of his love and power.
I find to this day, that when I get destitute of spiritual power, or lose the powerful sense of spiritual things, if I would give all the substance of my house for that love that would revive them, it would be, yea, it is, utterly contemned. When Christ is not present, it is common for the old inhabitants of the land to show themselves in his place; at such times as these, though we are standing in the holy place, where they ought not to be, the word does not seem to reach our case; it comes with no power; it appears with no glory; we can settle no where, nor fix on any thing, except poring upon our inward pollution and unfitness for every good work. In this state we are prone to wish rather to sit by ourselves all day than go out: however, the best method to take, at such times, is to confess our weakness, and cast ourselves on Him as well as we can; and, as he is the worker of all good, pray him to work in us, who can neither do any thing, nor get any thing, of ourselves; but this, in his sight, is no easy thing. We want something to look at as a substance that we can see, instead of acting faith only, which is to be to us "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen." Against this continued dependence, indeed, nature struggles with all her might, but his power makes us submit; then gives us to find his strength made perfect in our weakness, and thus by experience we learn the good of submission.
While I was thus before him, under the necessity of casting myself upon him for every thing, this word came to my mind: "Now ye are clean, through the word I have spoken to you." (John 15:3) I really found my strength renewed, and all the unwillingness removed; and from the application of these words I was made to see they were true from the beginning of his work on my soul; for I remembered when his word first came with power it found me altogether filthy, polluted, and unclean; the word of the commandment came in power, and sin revived, and sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful: the bitterness of sin is felt in the reflections of God's anger, which, while operating, makes us stand aloof from the commission of sin; we cannot, while this power is working in us, follow it as when we were dead and past feeling. He says he will refine us, but not with silver, but he makes known his choice of us in the furnace of affliction:--"I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried;" (Zech. 13:9) and he shall sit as a refiner and purify the sons of Levi, and while in the furnace we confess and forsake our sins, in hopes we shall find mercy according to his word. Thus "he saves us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." (Titus 3:5) By this operation he makes one thing after another drop off before the conscience feels the cleansing efficacy of the atoning blood; and when he sends this word with power, and conscience feels it, "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth from all sin." (1 John 1:7) Then we are led to see that all cleansing, from beginning to end, is through the word that he speaketh to us, and every renewal of the effects of the atonement, or comfortable frame therefrom, is by the power of him who speaketh as man never spoke.
In Solomon's Song there is a passage, next preceding the last verse in the book, "Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it." (Songs 8:13) It is now two or three years since the last clause of that verse became the desire of my heart. I knew that those who were his companions in Israel understood his voice and hearkened to it, but I did not then know, so well as, I hope, I do now, what it was to hear his voice; and why we are so often at a stop is because we so seldom hear it. I am sure it is a sore trial to be put behind, and only now and then to hear the Shepherd's voice; for, says William Huntington, his voice gives life to the dead; and we are proofs that it gives eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, ears to the deaf, and a tongue to the dumb, and that it cleanses the lepers, gives healing to the sick, and strength to the faint; and that you and I, and many more, may often hear it too, is the sincere prayer of my heart.