Your letter of the 28th January, afforded me pleasure; for as I have known in my degree, through divine grace, both the unhappy condition of an unconverted sinner, and the blessedness of a true convert, I heartily rejoice, whenever I see a prodigal son coming to himself, and arising to go to his Father. I, also, was a swineherd once, and when, after a thousand threatenings and temptations, I came at length, as I was, to become what I was not, I needed only to beg and wait a little while, before I was infinitely more graciously received, than I could have hoped or expected.
Being now acquainted with the paternal heart of God, I cannot do otherwise than encourage the returning and repenting sinner, by assuring him that the end will be glorious. This impels me also to answer my dear friend’s letter; although otherwise I gladly remain unknown. Extra ordinary mysteries must not be expected from me. Mine is a simple gospel path, and all my theology can be expressed in a few words. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.”(2 Cor. 5:19).
This reconciled and merciful God in Christ is inexpressibly near unto us; he knocks at the door of our hearts, and entreats us to turn from sin, and be reconciled unto him. All anxiety regarding our dangerous state; every view of our own corruptions, darkness, and insufficiency; all our grief and sorrow, on account of our sins, are the effects of this near and intimate love of God in Christ. We have only to confess ourselves such as we are, before the all-penetrating eye of the omnipresent God, and without desiring to exculpate or help ourselves, only hunger with humble confidence, after that grace and love, which is revealed in Christ. Whilst thus engaged, it is this very eternal love of God, which awakens, in the center of the soul, such an unextinguishable longing to depart from the creature, self and sin, and to return to her father and her origin. This fervent longing is very often obstructed by unbelief, particularly when directed to anything else than the pure grace of God, and when the soul expects much from herself; but it is as often re-excited, and induced to cleave simply unto him, who is so near and so faithful.
In the exercise of this faith, the Lord does not suffer a single soul to be ashamed. When his hour is come, he opens his paternal heart, heals, and renews us, frequently in a single happy moment, by the impartation of his love, and the brightness of his appearing. Although we may not perceptibly see and experience that the Lord is good, yet we ought to believe it, according to the scripture, and the testimony of those who have experienced it, and therefore yield ourselves entirely up to God. He is the source of all good, and alone sufficient to satisfy us, both in time and eternity. But this being the case, he likewise desires from us, that we should resign all other delights, and venture that which is most dear and precious to us, from cordial love to him, who is such a faithful friend, and who is invariably so near to us; who, from grace alone, has forgiven us our sins, and called us with a holy calling, in order that he alone may became our treasure. All for all; that is the whole matter; yet still is it not a purchase, but a voluntary love-offering on both sides.
Be not uneasy because you have no one to guide you, and have no acquaintance with pious people; for this the providence of God will grant, when it is necessary. Too many instructors are often a hindrance. We occasionally meet with many good people, who deserve our love; but friends, who are really of advantage to us in God, are not to be met with in such numbers. God brings such characters into connection with us, whenever he sees fit; but he himself is nearer us than any friend can be. He sees, he knows us thoroughly. Tis he who directs us how to walk, more properly than any friend can do; and what he says, he gives. Accustom yourself to the presence of God, and he will lead you aright.
It is good and needful for you, to have renounced all open sin; but still you feel that the source itself is impure. Retire within yourself, with humble confidence, and learn to wait for the Lord. Do not engage in too many external pursuits; that which can afford you comfort now, and delight you eternally, is to be found within; in the heart.
I am not surprised, that the very same light which discovered to you your misery, gives you, at the same time, to see the corruptions of the world, and the declensions of the external church. This is generally the case; but prudence is necessary, in order that we may not turn our eyes, too much, outwardly, and be found inveighing, against an external Babel, whilst we are inwardly, still in bondage and confusion ourselves. Let us first extinguish the fire in our own house, and then we may help our neighbour, but with water. I cannot deny the corruptions of the external church; but I think, my dear friend has now more necessary things to attend to, than to occupy himself with these. Within! Within! With God alone! Neither do I recommend you to separate yourself from church and sacrament. There is no material benefit to be derived by such a separation, and it has often been injurious to many. You must not, however, act contrary to your conscience; but if you find your conscience oppressed by partaking of the sacrament, you do better to stay away, and wait awhile, to see whether the Lord will give you more light on the subject. I should not like to attend the discourse of a blasphemer, or one who was evidently still carnal. If circumstances call for it, one may refrain a while, without resolving upon anything for the future, much less judging others, who act otherwise. The kingdom of God does not consist in meats and drinks, (Rom. 14: 17) or the keeping or omitting of any outward ordinances, but in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
Here I must break off, cordially commending my dear friend to the comforting love of Jesus, and remain his sincere friend, and fellow-pilgrim.