LETTER - TO A PERSON OF QUALITY.
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I had the honor of your Ladyship’s letter, and no want of true regard for your Ladyship, or the subject, has been the occasion of my delaying this answer so long. I am in some hopes, that the person that wanted it, may, by this time, have found something better than it, by being left to God and himself, and that I have done more for him by my silence, than I should have done by my writing.
To be always tampering with physicians, upon every occasion, is the way to lose all natural soundness of health; and to be continually talking, and inquiring about the nature of distempers, and the powers of medicines, for the head, the heart, the spirits, and nerves, is the way to lose all true judgment, either of our own sickness or health.
It is much the same, with regard to our spiritual health and constitution, we do much hurt to it, by running after spiritual advice on every occasion, and wanting the help of some human prescription, for every fear, scruple, or notion, that starts up in our minds, and to weaken the true strength of our spiritual constitution, which if left to itself, would do all that we want to have done.
If it be asked, What this soundness of our spiritual constitution is? It may be answered that it is a state or habit of such humble, total resignation of ourselves to God, as by faith, and hope expects all from him alone. This is the health, and strength of our spiritual constitution, and nothing is health in the soul, but this state.
And if we left all our incidental, accidental, sickly notions, and imaginations that so frequently attack our minds, if we left them to be overcome, and done away by the strength of our spiritual constitution, (N.B.) we should never fail of success.
How this pious and worthy person came to think of leaving his parish, or what scruples occasioned his doubting, whether he should stay in it, I cannot guess, and therefore can say nothing to them. I should have thought, that such a change as he found in himself, his parish, and neighborhood, should have everything in it, that could render his situation comfortable to him.
The greatest danger that new converts are liable to, especially if they are young, arises from their conceiving something great of their conversion, and that great things are to follow from it. Hence they are taken up too much with themselves, and the supposed designs of God upon them. They enter into reasonings, and conjectures how they shall be, and do something extraordinary, and so lose that simplicity of heart, which should think of nothing but of dying to self, that the Spirit of God might have time and place to create, and form all that is wanting in their inward man.
There is nothing more plain and simple than the way of religion, if self is but kept out of it; and all the perplexities, and scruples which pious persons meet with, chiefly arise from some idea they have formed, of a progress they ought to make in order to be that, which self would be. But piety makes little progress till it has no schemes of its own, no thoughts or contrivances to be anything, but a naked penitent, left wholly, and solely in faith and hope to the divine goodness. Every contrivance for human help, from this, or that, be it what it will, is at best but dropping some degree, of that fullness of faith and hope, and dependence upon God, which only is, and only can be our way of finding him, to be the strength and God of our life.
Nothing but the life of God, opened by his Holy Spirit within us, can be the renewal of our souls, and we shall want this renewal no longer, than whilst we are seeking it in something, that is not God. The faith that ascribes all to God, and expects all from him, cannot be disappointed.
Nothing could hinder the centurion from having, that which he asked of Christ, because his heart could thus speak, “Lord I am not worthy, that thou shouldest come under my roof, speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.”
He that has this sense of himself, and this faith in God, is in the truth and perfection of religion: if we knew the goodness of this state, we should be always content with the simplicity of it, and let everything else come, and go, as it would; all is well and safe, so long as the heart rests all upon God alone. Your Ladyship says, this worthy person fears his zeal, and yet dreads the abatement of it. It would be better, not to indulge a thought about his own zeal, or to speak a word of it to any person. For if it is godly zeal, it is no more his than it is mine, nor comes any more from him, than it does from me; and therefore when he thinks, or speaks of it as his, or as something he would be glad to keep in its right state, it is giving way to delusion, both with regard to himself, and the nature of true zeal: for as the “wind bloweth where it listeth,” so it is with him, who is driven by true zeal.
I do not wonder, that his audience is so much affected, and increased, since he has preached up the doctrine of regeneration amongst them. All other preaching passes away as a tale that is told, and indeed is nothing better, till it enters into the things within man, brings him to a sensibility of the state of his heart, and its want of God’s Holy Spirit therein.
How far it may be right for him to comply with their request of visiting, reading, and expounding the scripture to them, I pretend not to say; but only thus much, that it seems to be right to be in no anxiety about it, or to put himself under any stated rules about it, but leave it to be done, as he finds himself inwardly stirred up to it, and able out of the abundance of his heart to perform it.
Expounding the scriptures, has a fine sound, but I should rather advise such persons, to read only in love, and simplicity of heart, such scriptures as need no expounder, but their own heart turned to God. Persons who are come to this inward conviction, that they must live, and die, under the power of Satan, and of fallen nature, unless by a fullness of faith in Christ, they be born again from above, have nothing more to inquire about, where, or how Christ is to be found.
They have no other use to make of the scripture, but that of being refreshed, and delighted with such passages, as turn, and stir up the heart, to a fullness of faith, love, and resignation to the blessed guidance, and operation of the Holy Spirit of God.
January 10, 1754.