Dearly beloved brother in the grace of Jesus
Although we correspond but little by letter, yet I can say in simplicity before God, that I love you, and find myself united with you in spirit; as also, that your last letter of the 17th of January, has afforded me pleasure. I observe, it is true, that you form too good an opinion of me; but this is the effect of your love, and I wish to derive benefit from it. I have endeavored to lay before the Lord in prayer, your state of mind, respecting which, like a brother, you have communicated something to me; and shall continue to endeavor to do so, according to the grace which I myself expect from him.
The great importance of perseverance in the exercise of prayer and inward retirement may be sufficiently learnt, next to the experience of it, merely from the tempter’s artifices and endeavors to allure us from it, and make us negligent in it. He knows that by this delightful exercise alone, his gloomy empire in the soul will necessarily be destroyed, by the imperceptible influx of the light, love, and life of Jesus; and that all the flowers and fruit of the fairest gifts of grace and virtue fade of themselves, if he can only break them off from this their root. Jesus alone is the Mediator and medium, by which divine life and strength can be again imparted to our illegitimate and depraved humanity. By the exercise of the prayer of the heart, in which faith, love, hope, etc. concentrate themselves, we are, and continue united to him, and rooted in him; the hungering desire and affection, and ardent inclination, being as it were, the root, by which we imperceptibly receive from Jesus, sap and strength, although we do not always obviously see and feel how it is, and whether it take place. O let us pray, and prepare ourselves for retiring within our hearts! The most imperfect prayer is of more advantage than the best diversion from it. The adversary lets us do many things, which seem to be good, and even incites us to them, only to cause us to neglect prayer.
My dear brother’s letter only confirms me in what my own experience, and the experience of others, has repeatedly taught me: that is, that the tempter especially watches, in the season of abandonment, barrenness, and darkness, to detach the soul from the steadfast exercise of prayer, and to weaken its strength, these being precisely the times when we might be prepared for making the most rapid advancement, and for thoroughly forsaking ourselves, if we only continued firm in enduring the Lord’s will, and knew how to submit ourselves entirely to him. I mean to say, that when we cannot proceed with the exercise of prayer in the customary manner, we ought not to holdfast, with firm effort and self-will, what the Lord pleases to take from us: but humble ourselves, quietly consent to our nakedness and poverty, sacrifice our relish, light, and pleasure, to his good pleasure, and make the latter our prayer and our food; we should then find, in time, the advantage of thus letting go of ourselves, of deprivation, and the loss of self, so to speak, and be made capable of a more profound, or rather of a purer retirement, mode of prayer, and union with God, which is the very object the Lord has in view.
But our misery and weakness is, that we are so much under the influence of self-love, and seek ourselves, even whilst thinking we are seeking God: and if we then find nothing for ourselves; no light, relish, nor anything that is agreeable, we imagine we are unable to find God, become weary, and coward like, and even seek support for this selfish principle in other things, because it is no longer granted to it in God, and in that which is good. O my God, how extremely unsuitable is such a disposition of mind for one, who has devoted himself to thy pure service and thy love! Destroy this principle of self-love, that we may seek, not ourselves in thy service, but thee in reality; not our own pleasure, but thine: for thou art our end, and in thee, and not in ourselves, is all our salvation!
Before the day of Pentecost arrived, the disciples could not hold it out long in solitude, without the corporeal visible presence of Jesus. “I go a fishing,” said Peter. Time appeared long to them in solitude, and such is the case also with us. We go (as it were) a fishing in a book, in the company of others, etc. and it is a favor when we can catch nothing during the long night, and when the Saviour meets us, and shows us, as he did the disciples, the fruitlessness of all self-attempts. I testify with fear, shame, and deep acknowledgement of divine long-suffering and goodness, what my own experience has taught me with respect to this; namely, that the exercise of prayer is of so much importance, and that in seasons of inward darkness and barrenness, we fall into this temptation so easily. The injury occasioned by it, is not immediately perceived; but one gradually wanders further, and sometimes so far from the track, that one has scarce courage enough to turn back again. A soul without the exercise of prayer, is like a solitary sheep without a shepherd. The tempter is aware of this: he avails himself of the dark and destitute state of the mind, to draw the soul away from its shepherd; he then cunningly spreads his nets, puts the mind into doubt and confusion, places something plausible before it, urges it to a variety of changes, and that it should make trial for once, of some particular exercise, of this or that particular place, or join itself to some plausible sect, by which, many well-meaning people in this and former times, during the darkness of the night, have been deceived, as a warning for us, that when in a state of darkness and barrenness, we ought not easily to change our exercises, but continue where we were.
In the name of Jesus, let us only take courage, begin again where we left off, and conduct ourselves precisely in the same manner as before our deviating! The wonderful goodness of our God makes use of everything, even of our very faults and sins, for our benefit: adored be his wisdom! We must also, by looking back, make the best possible use of ourselves, and lay up from it a good stock of self-contempt; although we ought by no means to exculpate our faults on this account, but avoid them with all diligence. (Rom. 6:12) When by divine light, we perceive our nothingness, it produces humility, but a humility of which we are sometimes a little proud; but when our nothingness is felt by experience, self-love has then no hole left for escape; we can then do nothing more than stand and confess our disgrace.
There are many, who talk of denying self-righteousness, who have, perhaps, little or no righteousness to deny; but this poison is the first to steal into the minds of faithful souls, that they imperceptibly place their righteousness and their confidence in their fidelity, in their self-denial, in their virtues and graces, in their devotional exercises, and not entirely in God alone. The Saviour then opens our eyes, as with our own clay, by which his wonder-working hand has alone the glory, we the shame. The experience of our weakness and misery, and of our entire nothingness, ought not to dispirit us, but to give us occasion to empty us of ourselves, to forsake ourselves, to turn unto God the more nakedly, and consequently the more efficaciously, in order that he may fill us with himself, and become that in us, which we ourselves could not attain nor render. And this is the will of God concerning us, that no flesh might glory in his presence, but Jehovah alone becomes our righteousness and our glory. You see therefore, dear brother, that the state of destitution, emptiness, and abandonment, to which the experience of our misery gives occasion, would make us subsequently capable of the most sublime method of prayer, and of union with God. Blessed be the wondrous and infinite lovingkindness of our God in Christ Jesus towards us!
Having been continually interrupted, whilst writing, and led to think of other subjects, by visitors and engagements, my letter may perhaps appear to you irregular and obscure. I only wished to show my artless love, and accordance with that which the Unction itself teaches. Let us continue, my dear brother, to go to school to this infallible teacher of wisdom, and become ever longer little children after God s own heart. O yes, it is truth, which the Unction teaches, and there is no other truth besides. I greet and salute you in the spirit of love. Remember me before God, whenever you are enabled to do so: I desire through God, to do the same.
Remember me kindly to the dear members of your community in N***. I often send them a hearty blessing. May Jesus warm and animate their hearts and ours with his precious love! Amen !
I continue in a weak state, and but little able to write, and this weakness now tells me to break off.
I remain through grace, etc.